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I was covered in splotches of soot. Gannara took my armour off and racked it and I was so grateful he’d heated the water for me to wash I almost smiled at him before I remembered and kept my face still. “I have an errand, slave. Clean up and await me.” No one expected me to go anywhere and Donaras, at my door almost looked startled when I stepped out and said, “Attend me.”
He hadn’t been told what to do. Gannara had dressed me for dinner and the sun had set. A wind howled across the mountainside and I wrapped my flapping sleeves around my middle. I would need a coat or something. The ground crunched under my soft slippers and Donaras’s boots made smashing noises as I walked across to the heavy tent where I knew Ilesias was.
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray…” He was torn, not knowing what to do.
“Fetch the Senior Female as a chaperone. I will wait here. And then you will announce me.” Of course they could hear every word inside. Inensa Mahid emerged from inside even as Donaras dithered uncharacteristically. She had a huge black wool shawl wrapped around herself, the ends flapping wildly in the wind.
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray.” Her voice was as dead as her husband’s and the only thing that moved was the fluttering edges of the shawl. “You are commanded here?”
“No, First Wife.” I wasn’t sure of even how to address her and was assuming. “Since the time I have been here I have not been given a great deal of time to associate with my little brother. Even though he is a baby, his birthday is tomorrow and I wish to see him tonight.”
She didn’t answer immediately. They hadn’t planned for it, that I might actually want to spend any time with my brother. “My Father, rest he in Selestialis, wished me to be an excellent brother. I am here to fulfill his wish.”
“Birthday,” she said. Was she one of the fat guy’s mechanisms? “We were aware.”
“Wife.” The dead voice appeared behind me. I’d wondered how long before 2nd Amitzas showed up. “Report.”
“The Spark of the Sun’s Ray has demanded to be announced, apparently to see his little brother, for his birthday.”
What was it about the word that made them all seize up like that? Had they planned anything for Ilesias or were they just going to ignore his third birthday while trying to make me keep an insane propriety? The wind howled around me, around us. I was going to grow icicles on my vile organs if we didn’t move soon.
“I am required, by my Father’s direct command, -- rest he in Selestialis – to attend to my little brother. Either announce me and admit me, 1st 2nd, or have him brought to me. I have no gift for him. I have only my attention, which will have to do.” It was so cold that I wondered at the rain falling… it wasn’t really rain… it must be how snow fell, small bright white spots that drifted. I’d never seen it before.
“Birthday,” 2nd Amitzas repeated a second time.
“Either announce me, or attend me!” I took two steps toward Inensa and she rotated sideways giving way. Amitzas just stood there. It was apparently so far outside his normal way of thinking I had apparently set him completely off the track.
Inensa, once she began to move, continued, falling in beside me. She stepped into the tent beside me. “The Spark of the Sun’s Ray,” she said. “To attend the Coronet Regal.” The women sat clustered around the brazier, decorously lowering the various thread-y things they held. Kaita had Ilesias on her lap, stroking his hair back away from his face. He bucked on her lap, sliding out of her grip like a fish off a rock.
“Minis! You’re here! I’m glad I missed you I wanted to play more are you playing more in armour with the Mahid I like the milk and Kaita says we’re gonna get more—“
The flow of words didn’t cut off as I caught him up and set him on my arm. It was easy, but my arms were always sore now. “Shh… shhh a moment, little bruzzer.”
“Hey! Don’t make fun of me!”
“Let me make my greetings to everyone.” The women were all there, the icy rigid Mahid women all around, Binshala, Kyriala and Kaita sitting together like a cluster of life in the middle of the breathing darkness. “My nurse, good evening and my apologies for disturbing it.”
She got up slowly and dipped her knee to me. In front of all the Mahid I was hardly going to tell her not to, despite her knees. “We are at your service, of course, Chip of the Radiant Light.”
I gave the proper nod to Kyriala and she popped up as Binshala sank down again. I noticed that their chairs were cut stumps with cushions placed upon them. “Mirror. Good evening, thank you for receiving me in the women’s quarters.” Just as I was supposedly the head of the Mahid, she was supposedly the head of the ladies. Right. And it’s not like I gave them much choice about me visiting. It’s not as if I hadn’t see her at dinner less than a bead ago.
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray. Of course you are welcome.”
Like a sweaty hog in a perfume shop, I’m sure. I nodded to Kaita as Kyriala sat down again and she bent her own knee but didn’t say anything.
“So, you see Ilesias,” I said as he wiggled on my arm, his arms flung tight around my neck. “The best of men are polite.” I sank down on the cushion on the floor by the brazier, thankful it was lit. I hoped that Gannara had one burning in my cabin. Ilesias slid down to bounce on my lap and talk and talk and talk. He didn’t know how to tickle back yet so if I wanted a moment, not of silence exactly since he replaced words with shrieks and giggles, all I had to do was tickle him.
The women watched me as though I was some kind of odd thing blown in by the wind, with Inensa standing at my back the way her husband usually did. I assumed that Donaras waited outside. He had a heavy black fur and wool coat. They must have one for me.
“Ilesias. Tomorrow is your birthday.”
“Yah! Do yah have my donkey? My donkey?” And finally I had something to give him as a present. I’d have to fight Amitzas for it but I could ride that stupid war-horse well enough to take Ilesias up on it with me. Maybe even begin teaching him to ride it myself, to keep it from hurting him while I did.
“No, I’m sorry, Ilesias your donkey is in the city. I’m sure he’s fine in the housekeeping stalls in the palace.” I’m sure that Chevenga’s kids are loving it.
“So who has organized the Coronet Regal’s Birthday party tomorrow?”
There was an interesting silence except for Ilesias talking at me. “So no one has. I see.” I could choose to make their lives harder but all I wanted was for my little brother to have a party for his birthday. “Things have been very disturbed. Heya, blob, can I talk at you?” I put my finger over my own mouth to encourage him to listen to me. I remembered how Chevenga giving me his attention had called to mine and tried it.
He looked at me intently, screwing his baby brows together. Thank goodness the birthmark on his cheek had faded so soon. You could see the lines of his father’s face in it, especially when petulant or angry. I could have hated him for it if I didn’t know better. He was innocent.
“I don’t like ‘blob’!” He snapped at me.
“All right little brother, I’ll remember. I’ll talk to my guardian and see if I can convince him you can be part of my training, more than bouncing on my chest armour tomorrow, as my present to you.”
“YES!!!! Yes yesyesyes!” He obviously had wanted to do it more and no one had said anything to me. And I hadn’t listened to him. I poked him with my fist and he poked me and I poked him again… slowly until he and I were trading fist pokes and giggles.
“I wish that someone attempt a cake.”
“I… Spark…” It was Binshala. “I, of course, never learned to bake, but if Kaita and the Coronet are going to risk buying milk and cheese and bread… perhaps we may include some baked sweets as well.”
“Kaita and the Coronet shall be buying milk?”
“Yes, Spark. A woman and child will be unremarkable buying from the markets in either of the closest villages. Certainly it will not compromise your safety. She will attempt to appear fessas. The two covert Mahid have been ordered to instruct her.”
I looked at her and she didn’t seem so brave to me. She didn’t look up. “And Joras should be there as back-up in case of some trouble? My brother’s safety should be as important as my own.” Again there was an uncomfortable silence, but less like someone caught out not thinking but uncertain how to explain to me something outside their ken, outside women’s things.
Well. Someone used to working in the field had to have come up with it in the first place, one of the men, certainly. Then Inensa said, “The three should be sent a market as a hunter/trapper family group. Then the two less threatening, the ‘mother’ and ‘child’ may go in safety, once their identities have been established in the villagers minds.” Parroting her husband’s plans, obviously.
That would give us access to some of the things the Mahid didn’t know how to do. And Joras had already been into the villages. It would give us the amount of time this area could be said to be trapped out. Probably all the way till spring.
“You said cake, Minis? Where? Tomorrow? Now? Now nownownwonow!” He started dancing and singing ‘now now now’. Then he twirled around and ran over to Binshala and then around to Kyriala and Kaita having to tell them each one about cake.
“To celebrate the Coronet Regal’s third birthday there should be games played. It would be proper.” And I’d like to see Mahid trying to ‘play’ with a three year old. On second thought that would be mean… to Ilesias.
He ran back to me where I sat. “Hide ‘n seek like you play al’a time! Minis, I’d beat you!”
I suppose the obstacle courses must look like the best game of hide and seek to a little boy. “All right. I’m sure my guardian would like me having all that extra practice. And you’d beat me? You and whose Mahid?”
“Yes, I’ll beat you! I’d find you! I would!”
“Well, when we have everything arranged… it won’t be tomorrow… when your party is arranged, we’ll play the biggest game of hide n’ seek you ever saw!” My little brother is going to have his birthday party if I have to take a whiplash across the back for defiance.
The 1st 2nd stood outside the women’s tent like a pole with no canvas attached. He had a black fur mantle on and held another in his hands. Obviously they had begun preparing for winter long before I thought of it. The wind had so much snow in it I could barely see him. It settled on him as on a rock. “What is not required, is forbidden, Spark of the Sun’s Ray,” he said.
“Understood. However this is proper and the direct command of my divine Father, may he rest in Selestialis at the right hand of Muunas.” Even if I and the rest of the Aan line are condemned to Hayel by everyone, including the Gods, 2nd Amitzas wouldn’t hear a word against the dead fat guy. He turned and held the mantle out to me to wrap around me against the weather. So careful of my health when it’s simple.
I put it on and he escorted me back to my cabin, Donaras trailing us. “I look forward to seeing the Coronet Regal’s birthday celebration. Such difficult conditions to work in, to maintain the correct form here in the wilderness..”
“Did the women suggest this?” Oh Hayel, he would try to think of someone to blame if he hadn’t thought about it before, and he’s been paying attention to no one but me.
“No, honoured guardian, it was my thought while I attempted to think of an appropriate present for the Coronet Regal. I was hoping to ask your august permission for something rising out of those cogitations.”
“What permission would that be?”
“My little brother loves equines. I was hoping to instruct him, or have him with me while I am receiving riding instruction tomorrow, with your permission. If that would be proper.”
Another half dozen steps in silence while 2nd Amitzas studied the request to see if he should deny it to me for any reason. I held my breath, our steps squealing in the deepening snow. My slippers were soaked through already. Would he deny such a simple request?Just because he can?
“Permission granted, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.”
“My humblest thanks for the permission, honoured guardian.” Was that too much? No, I don’t think so. He wants to think he’s molding my character. We were only a step or two from my cabin door. Replace that little exchange with another thought in his mill-stone mind. “My obstacle courses will be more challenging in snow,” I said.
“Indeed.” I hate your guts and I am pretending I’m on the same side you are on. I hate my own for being contemptuous of you… and I am like you. Chevenga killed all the Mahid according to the reports, all except us. Hayel devils, I’m a stinking little not-bastard. I am so my father’s son.