Next morning, Gannara poked me gently in the side to wake me. “He’s coming to roust you out of bed, Minis. I can hear him ordering the off shift guard.”
No need to ask who ‘he’ was. I sat up, and knuckled sleep out of my eyes. “Thanks, Gannara.” He flashed a bit of a grin as he slid out of bed and I grabbed up a book from the stack.
When 2nd Amitzas opened the door, Gannara was just placing my slippers for me, waiting on the side of the bed. I was putting a book down as if I’d been up for a while. “Good morning, 1st 2nd Amitzas.” He stopped, taking in the fact that it was just dawn and I was awake. “I must do my Ten Tens practice immediately, my guardian, I have been remiss. Has ground been marked out?”
I had to seize some kind of control from him. I was not going to be the lazy boy to be whipped into shape. I was Spark of the Sun’s Ray and he better know it, even if I didn’t believe it, he had to. I slipped my feet into my slippers and kicked Gannara out of my way, though not as hard as I made it look. “Get out of my way, slave, you’re slow today.”
“Ah, not yet, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.” Hah, I had caught him out in error. He had planned for something else to drive me through today. “It will be necessary to set your Ascension practice for later today.”
I frowned at him, putting on my best ‘Aan-annoyed’ face. “1st of the Mahid. My Divine Father must be quite annoyed with you from his seat at Muunas’s hand. Just because the city is conquered is no reason for the Mahid to begin failing in their duty. My Ten Ten’s practice is vital to my eventual ascension.”
“I hear.” I could see him react, then mentally trip as he went back to his original track… “You will continue…” He paused as Gannara placed my shirt over my head, pulled my hair carefully through the collar. Binshala hovered behind Amitzas, waiting to dress my hair. “… after the morning meal I shall be giving you your sword lesson.”
"Of course, my guardian. I will have my little brother attend me some time today.” Of course I truly had no control over my life, it was all in his hands, but I had to give him the autocratic attitude because he was expecting it. He would be expecting to fight me on that to exert control. After all, everyone knew I had never had any discipline at all.
It was odd to see him try and adjust to the odd balance developing between us. I’d have to keep pushing him, try to keep as much control as I could, even if this was a minor gain for me. As long as I seemed attentive, or even eager for his training, he would have no reason to press me. “In fact, my little brother should attend my sword lessons, Amitzas, if he is to be my right hand in re-taking the Empire. One can never start too early.”
Let him think I was more fanatical than he was. I certainly didn’t intend to let him think I was going to do anything else but what I’d been hustled out of the city to do. He studied me as if he’d never seen me before, surprisingly like Ailadas, and the calculation I saw in his stillness made the pit of my stomach clench. I would have to be very careful. For all he was rigid, he wasn’t stupid.
I needed the training in swordsmanship and horsemanship. I needed him to teach me every Mahid trick they knew for secrecy and stealth. I needed the best training I could get from him as fast as possible, but I needed it to get away from him and to get everyone I liked... away from him.
This hiding place was more than a hard eight-day normal travel from the city, in the wilderness of the foothills, away from any roads bigger than a single track leading between tiny villages carved out of the forest.
The ruin of the old hunting lodge was overgrown and even though it was more open and I had seen it as a clearing, it was full of brush and low bushes, none of which had been disturbed by my Mahid who had set their tents scattered randomly under the shade, each one with leaves and brush thrown onto the roofs.
The forested slope we were on had once been an astonishing vista for this ruin, out over the hills falling away to the plains. Most of the villages in these hills were hunting towns, with some logging or mining, with tiny fields hacked out of the forest, mostly okas with some fessas and the occasional solas guardsman riding a security circuit between settlements. A hard-scrabble existence, with the nearest big town, with a true solas garrison and a few Aitzas estates, either Bellen or Feren, I wasn’t sure. Either town was several days away.
A tiny stream flowed down the hill at this ruin, barely enough for our water. My single room hut was the only solid building, and that tucked in the midst of a thick stand of needle-trees of some kind, pines I thought. It smelled good, whatever they were, as well as hiding our possible shelter.
I hadn’t missed the protocols I had lived under in the Marble Palace even though I found myself hesitating, sometimes anticipating that some servant would come bustling up with the first of a dozen things that had to be done before I could move, but 2nd Amitzas broke me of that hesitation very quickly.
My sword-training hall was the gloom under these needle trees, the forest floor thick with needles, soft underfoot. Kaita sat to one side, out of the way, preventing Ilesias from either coming to me or tasting the whole world. He rolled on the thick mats of needles, jumping up an down on them to make them ‘thump’. They were better than the best mats I had seen in my salle. Today I wore full armor, more than I ever had before, except for ceremonies in the city.
The Mahid squire had to adjust all the straps to make it fit me better. Amitzas willed that I wear the armour to train, that I become used to it. So I would wear it every day. I certainly didn’t fight him on that.
Minis, I trained with double weight weapons. Chevenga had told me. Probably double-weight armour as well, but I wasn’t capable of that kind of thing yet. I was not wearing a helmet, nor gauntlets yet, though I did have the leather gloves covering my hands. My pell was a standing dead tree and Amitzas had me chopping at it to develop my strength and accuracy, both.
“This is not a High Formal! HIT that pell! Spark! Down and do twenty!” I sheathed the sword, a straight sword from the Mahid arsenal, and got down and managed ten push-ups before I slowed down. Amitzas smacked me with the flat of his own sword at fifteen to encourage me. At twenty he said ‘Hold it there.” I couldn’t hold my head up. I could only stare at the ground, watching my sweat drip off my face onto the ground. “Spark. When using the straight sword in the hand-and a half style one does not address the pell as though offering a cup of kaf and a cake. One hits it straight on. Repeatedly. And as hard as possible.”
“YES, SER!” That was the only acceptable response. “SER. I need to vomit, SER!”
“Do so. Then come back and resume that position.”
I managed to scramble up, arms and lungs and back on fire, take several steps off to the side before the mush I’d had for breakfast came back. I wiped my chin with the back of my hand, accepted a dipper of water from Gannara, who waited at the side of our training space next to Kaita and Ilesias, should they need him to fetch something if I were busy.
I was about to go back to my position when there came a sharp whistle from the sky lookout and everyone disappeared under the canopy of trees.
“Spark, stay where you are.”
I settled onto my heels, not sitting down, next to Gannara, looking out through the trees. From this angle I could see through the pointed tops of the trees lower down the mountain and there was a motion against the whispy clouds, thankfully not over us… but malas away. I peered from the height we were on, out over the vista spread below, with this distant speck flying across the valley.
Was that a flying person? One of the flying machines? Or just a bird, one of the huge eagles, very high? I couldn’t tell and wished for my far-lookers, even my fight-glasses, the fancy ones I'd taken to the Mezem, anything to magnify that distant shape.
A person, flying. I wanted to do it. I wanted to learn how it was done. I wanted to do it and get out of here, fly high and far away from the ruins of my life, away from the Mahid. Was that…? “Gannara… are you willing to get something from Ice-eyes for me?”
He didn’t look up. “’Yeah.”
“I want his far-lookers.” He scrambled over to where Amitzas stood, looking out through the trees at the flyer, his distance viewing lenses carefully angled to not catch any sunlight getting through the vegetation. Gannara knelt at his feet and I saw Amitzas look down at him then at me. He handed the lookers to Gannara who brought them to me.
In the shade under the trees, the black uniforms were hard to see, everyone’s bright head in a fighting braid and most covered with dark knitted caps, a new innovation to make it harder to be seen from the air. But even Mahid looked up to see if they could spot the enemy who could fly.
I took the lookers from Gannara, raised them to my eyes and spotted the spot in the sky before raising the lenses in front of them. The wheel brought the dark blur into focus and it was, indeed, a flyer. It was far enough away that it was still small in the lookers. The wings… the thing… didn’t flap its wings. They were held rigid like a soaring bird. It was hard to see the person held below… in something like a talon… or a harness that clutched them like one. It turned steeply, circling tightly for some reason and it looked like it was rising. Looking for us? Looking for something else? Delivering something? I could not tell.
I wanted to fly and it would be impossible. I watched the wing spiral up and then slide away from us, dwindling in the distance toward the remote ocean coast.
I lowered the far-lookers, handing them back to Gannara. “Here. Give those back to him.”