My dearest Ela,
Even if I will not actually be allowed to send this, I find enormous comfort in writing it. We have now acquired more paper so I shall indulge myself, though I shall write small. Perhaps one day I will be able to let you know what happened. I have never in my life been so glad you pestered me to teach you how to read, despite father suspecting us. For a woman you were a constant surprise to me, rather better than some of my own students over the years. I hope you have remembered how.
We are currently hiding in the woods, in the mountains somewhere east of the city. My great God, I hope you are safe with Filia and her husband, that the nephews and nieces are all safe… What happened to you in the sack[s] of the city? I’m sorry, I worry and you cannot let me know. I pray to Muunas daily for your health and safety.
You know how I would complain of tutoring the Spark, of his recalcitrance, his defiance. I told you he once hurled a priceless vase over my head? Well. I find myself in a peculiar position and am annoyed with myself that I did not see that most of that was to drive me away. The boy is proving a devious strategist and I realize it is from years of balancing his Father’s [rest he in Selestialis] wishes against justice. Even mercy. I had suspected it, but never confirmed it, as a proper study of him would have shown. As a tutor and researcher I should have seen it more clearly.
We two are now aligned against the boy’s guardian, who is 2nd Amitzas Mahid, the First of the Mahid now, as far as we can surmise. He is an appalling man. Had I not had an inkling of the Spark’s true character I would have thought an unspeakable man exactly what was needed to make him better and merely laughed at the brutality forced on him. I will spare your delicate sensibilities, dear sister and not enumerate any of them to you, I am sure you can imagine, should you care to.
You may have concluded that this is not the case. The Spark is a good boy fighting his guardian, to not be made into a power-mad monster.
I am afraid for Minis’s strength in the situation he is in. He has been driven to collapse. The First of the Mahid is peculiarly blind to the limits of people’s strength and must be informed of it over and over again. I find that odd in a torturer, since he must, to be good at what he does, know to the absolute hair, people’s limits. I believe he is off balance in this situation and is doing what most off balance people do – recurse to the basest of what they know. He knows brute force first.
I must encourage Minis to cease pushing the man. They are settling into a defiant student/teacher mode that is most dangerous to the boy, since by the former Imperator’s wish he is subject to Amitzas’s correction should he push too hard. Yet Minis seems incapable of keeping his head down. Perhaps it is because he is growing up; young males push the older ones by nature. Or perhaps he bowed his head to an oppressive authority all his life and has reached his breaking point here. Neither one is a good reason to provoke 2nd Amitzas and I will certainly attempt to instruct along those lines.
Ela, it is a lonely life for this old scholar. For now, I must keep my proper place with the Spark, both for his safety and mine. I will not be able to intervene between 2nd Amitzas and Minis in any obvious way, and I have no one to talk to. I speak to the Spark’s nurse, out of desperation for a normal conversation and I have found that she is a very sensible woman with a good head on her shoulders. For a woman, of course, but she is pleasant to talk to.
I will write more later, Ela, there is a commotion beginning outside this tent that sounds uncannily like… a goat? Later, dear sister. Your loving brother, Ailadas.
Perisalas Shefenkas reached up under his cap and scratched. He was going to be very glad when his hair finished growing out to his new caste-level. He ran over the equal to equal in his mind, still not used to it. The last thing I want to do is accidentally address these farmers as a slave. I am a Marble Palace official. Fessas. He wouldn’t have it securely until he dreamed in the fessas accent, he knew, but he was getting there fast.
It was mountainous this far north west of the city, but they were not the crags further into the mountain range. These hills were covered in green from crown to foot. The valleys were where the farmers grew their crops and huddled in the shadows of the trees, only here and there did a cliff stand out bare, vertical rock.
So different from the rolling plains around the city. The river that flowed through and powered the city poured from these mountains. Perisalas leafed through his papers, using his hand-case as a desk. The carry chair was moving more slowly now, as the bearers struggled with the latest grade. The road might be smooth enough compared to out-Empire but the up and down grades made their work more difficult, even around all the switch-backs. I see that I have to learn how to ride if I am to do my job. The Imperator wants the Aan found and I’ll be chasing all over the bedamned Empire to do it. I can see it coming.
His escort were all mounted. Not a matched set nor all the best horseflesh either, but that was to be expected after a war that vicious. I’m lucky to have a mounted escort. Hayel, I’m lucky to be in a position to require one.
They made it into the little village tucked between two of the bare cliffs, most of the houses closer to the one side, the fields spreading from the other down to the creek that gave this town its reason for being here. It was a little village that had been here for thousands of years according to the records. Arkomigas. There was a tiny inn, in front of which Perisalas alighted. “Rest the horses, Nomias. I have no idea how long I’ll be here talking to the locals.”
“Certainly, Ser Shefenkas,” There was no irony in Nomias’s voice, as he called him by his new last name. “We will be over at the government office by the barracks.”
“Very good.” The cachet of being elevated so far covers up a lot of years being a slave.
Perisalas stepped into the inn and found the keeper. “I’m looking for a fellow by the name of Besaras Ormon, fessas.”
“Ser, thet’d be the gaffer there. He’s been drinkin’ most ‘t day. Yeh might not get much outta him.”
“Thank you.” I can almost hear him thinking ‘city man’ and ‘government man’. Well, obvious, since I’m wearing a Marble Palace clerk’s livery. He tugged the belt a hair straighter as he went over to the old man.
“Hello, Ser Ormon.” The old man looked up, blinking as if his livery were a bright light. “You sent in a notification of information on Minis Aan, or any of his party?”
“Party? Don’ know about any party.” Oh my meager sla—professional god. This isn’t as official as I thought it would be. And I thought it was so brilliant to offer a small chain reward for legitimate information about the Aan whelp.
“Ser Ormon, you wrote the Marble Palace investigations, with some information about sighting Minis Aan or Mahid?”
The old man blinked again as Perisalas sat down and pulled out his notes… “Oh… oh yeah. Saw him meself I did!” A younger man came in, looked around the taproom and came straight across the room.
“Excuse me, ser, I’m Besaras Ormon, the junior, fessas. You needed to speak to my father?”
“As I am, Ser Ormon, the junior. I am Perisalas Shefenkas, fessas. Investigator to the Imperium, on assignment.”
“Ser Investigator… Da had too much…”
“Shush, yeh young pup! I shaw… saw what I saw… I tell ya! The Heir under the Mountain! He’s tall, taller n’ slender and his hair fell down over his back and over his horse’s cantle… He ‘s ridin’ a white horse w’ silver hooves and tail an’… an red armour t’looked black unner t’ moon! He did! His face was un-earthly calm, and he had a light roun ‘im, glowin’ round ‘is head, he did! He did!. His dogs, his Mahid, and they rode around ‘im they ran around ‘im … his Mahid… they were dogs, black dogs big as a horse, Ser!” Once the old man got going he was obviously a storyteller.
“Ser Investigator! Da had a bit too much o’ the pipe as well as his pint. If you made a trip all this way I’m sorry, I’m sorry. We –“
Perisalas interrupted him. “Ser Ormon –“ The old man continued louder, over-riding both younger men.
“I saw what I saw, yeh tit-lickin’ pup! The Heir under the Mountain! He rode right through me flock oh sheep! Took a dozen of em with! They was followin’ them goats he had on leads. Two golden goats pullin’ t’ sun-wagon. T’ gov’mnt shoulda warn’t us. Warnt us and a dozen o’ ma sheep gone inta t’ mountain w’ IM! He’s tall as two men I say! His black dogs bigger n’ horses! W’ silver teeth!”
Perisalas signaled the keeper and waved at the old man who was struggling to get up, his son holding him down with a kind, firm hand on his shoulder.
"'oo's gonna pay for me fikket sheep? 't new wool-hair -He Whose Hair's Wool-- Him who didn't kilt the old line? Mah sheep!"
“Get him another pint, shall we?” It's going to be a long day. Hayel, it's going to be a long year.