I tried to duck but my sight flashed red and black at his first slap. My head whipped to the one side as he slapped me.
Then he slapped me backhand, and I fell, my cheeks on fire. I scrambled to get up but he put his boot into my side and knocked me into the snow. He kicked me, unrestrained it seemed, because of the armour.
It was a whirl of snow and pain and dizziness as his feet thudded against me. I couldn’t see, my nose poured blood down my chin. I flung my arms around my head, curled into a ball, and he kicked me around the practice ground in the deep snow.
He grabbed me by one arm finally and dragged me up, half turned and flung me against a tree with a crash, hard enough that I couldn’t breathe. He put his face right up against mine and I stared through hair that had pulled loose from my braid. It was all over my face matted there with snow and sweat and the blood dripping into my eyes. I stared into his tight, pallid countenance and struggled to make my lungs unfold.
“You are merely bruised and bloodied, Spark of the Sun’s Ray. I could do worse. You will never voice that ridiculous, blasphemous, treasonous nonsense again, Spark of the Sun’s Ray. I will raise you at the command of your Divine Father. And you shall not disobey.” He slammed me against the tree just as my breath came back then emphasized each word with another jolt against the trunk, staring into my eyes as if to spike me to the wood with his glare. “You. WILL. Obey. You will. Learn. EVERY lesson. You. WILL, not EVER say such sacrilege, irreverence and insolence ever again.”
I was sick and dizzy and all I could make out clearly was his eyes; his glaring blue eyes, nested in pulsing blood lines in the whites. I couldn’t make sense of up or down and kept blinking the blood running down into my eyes. I hurt. It hurt worse than being flogged. He let go one hand and slapped me open handed. “That, for disobedience.” Then again, backhand. “That, for disrespecting your lessons.” Slap. “That, for wanton destruction of property.” What? Oh, his stick.
Slap. “That, for blasphemy against the Gods and profanity.”
He let me go and I sagged forward slowly onto hands and knees, dripping red into white snow, from forehead, nose and lip. When had I gotten the cut on my forehead? “8th Itasas,” 2nd Amitzas called him as he stripped off his soiled gloves and dropped them next to me. “I require clean gloves.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Gannara stepping out of the cabin to help me, saw Ailadas stop him. Good man. Give the 1st 2nd fewer targets. I couldn’t move yet, just struggling to make things stop spinning. I gritted my teeth. He’d very carefully not loosened any, but my jaw hurt. My head hurt. I looked at the bright red holes in the snow where blood droplets had fallen, clawed a handful of pink up and held it against my face. That feels better. I was vaguely aware of other Mahid moving about, clearing the practice ground of any sign I’d been beaten through it.
The toes of his boots came back into my sight. Then he bent down, grabbed my hair, pulled my face up and held his new stick before my face. “Kiss it. It is for the correction of your sins. Therefore you should honor it.”
I set my split lips to the smooth wood, staring past it, past him. He pressed it to my lips and pushed so it parted them and rubbed against my teeth, making me taste it and the damp iron tang of my bleeding. Next time I will not merely break it. It was marked with blood when he released me. Part of the idea.
“The practice ground has been re-set,” he said, straightening up. “You will repeat the procedural until I am satisfied.” He waited half a heartbeat, moved one foot a threatening fraction. “In war one cannot stop for minor injury. I am being kind to explain. Begin.”
The snow under his feet squealed as he stepped back to let me crawl over to my starting mark. I wiped my face with more snow before I sank back onto my knees. That tilted me up to look down to the massive oak at the end standing for Muunas. Gods, forgive me.
I staggered to my feet, reeling, and began, but because I was dizzy 2nd Amitzas kept rapping me as he followed along behind. He didn’t touch my head though he had his new, blooded corrector. He used the flat of his drawn sword to ring on my armour. It hurt less but was louder and more startling in the state I was in. By the time I finished the fifth repetition I wasn’t seeing anything clearly.
That was when 2nd Amitzas had Boras hand me a short sword. “Spark, attend.”
He turned and I followed after him, staring at the centre of his black back. When had he put his armour on? I’m going to kill you. One day, I am going to kill you. I will live, just to kill you.
He walked a few manlengths away. Floundered really. Even under the pines the snow, beaten down, had fallen hip deep again. I was hot in the armour and wondered if it was because of the beating or the exercise afterward.
Pattering noises above and a rising wind made me wonder. I flinched as a falling clot of snow hit me on the head. The gray blowing up the mountain reached under the massive trees over us and I raised my bruised and battered face to it. It was warm, and that was when I realized it wasn’t just bone chilling fog. It was raining. I was soaked to the bones and I hurt so many places it seemed as though any place that didn’t hurt was wrong.
2nd Amitzas turned and called “Set!” I barely had time to get my sword up in front of me, before he lunged. I managed to turn and block, one handed, staggered back, blocked over my head and he smashed the sword out of my grip and me onto my back.
“Get up. Again.” I thought my jaw would break I clenched it so hard and it hurt. It was swollen. The cuts on my face had stopped bleeding, and my nose as well, but my face was so wet any blood on it wouldn’t be able to dry or pull. My left eye was swollen shut and I couldn’t see out of it, but I was certain 2nd Amitzas had carefully calculated the injury so not to permanently damage or disfigure me.
He was not going to make me throw up, or pass out. He was not going to make me stop fighting him, by brutalizing me. He was not going to make me think nothing but what was allowed, like Mahid. My thoughts he could neither control nor steal. I dragged myself up twice more and twice more he downed me, the last with a foot sweep even in the snow that was soaking heavier and heavier as more water fell on it. “On your knees for your disrespect for your Divine Father.” He said as I lay, unable to get up again. “On your knees and pray for His forgiveness. Out loud where I can hear you. Where everyone can hear you recant your evil words.”
Kneeling in the wet snow I sank back on my heels but still fell sideways. I manage to get to my knees again again and could not straighten up off my heels. I drew the sword through my gauntlet to dry it, fumbled it into its sheathe, aware of the column of him standing at my back, waiting. He still had his sword out.
I managed to cup my hands at my temples, and looked up to the misty sky full of water. “My beloved Father in Selestialis.” Screaming in Hayel more likely. “You, who now sit on the right hand of the most High” Forgive the lie in my mouth, oh God. “Imperator of the Beloved strina.” The true Imperator protects the strina, as he sits upon the Crystal Throne.
“I most humbly beg Your Divine Forgiveness for having expressed any doubt of Your Ineffable Plan for my life and for having sinfully defied your expressly chosen guardian of my childhood. I am very sorry.” Sorry I could not kill him with my bare hands because I’m not trained enough to do so.
The rain fell heavier on my face now and I let my hands fall onto my thighs, my head tip forward. I had a distant and pleasant thought as I huddled in the snow, hurting, wet and cold. One day, I will see you dead. In the open pasture falling away before me, with every rock and bone of mountain muffled and covered over in snow, I saw two of the tiny black and white winter birds flit up and past me, making new twittering, chirping noises in the pattering rain.
“Good enough for now.” 2nd Amitzas sheathed his sword and dusted his gauntlets together, scraping. “Obviously the winter has brought too much slack into the Selestial Heir’s training. We will resume formal dinner, with the Mirror and the Coronet, with a blessing beforehand and a reading from the Book before the sweet. And single, proper, escorted dance with the Mirror afterwards.”
He is mad. He is completely mad. I nodded. I need help to get up. “I hear and obey, my guardian.”