It was Ailadas at my shoulder, but it was Gannara who helped me up to my feet. Now that 2nd Amitzas was gone to his own tent, the hurt washed over me hard and I nearly pulled Gannara down on top of me, trying to stand.
I started shaking, shaking hard. My armour rattled and I could hardly keep my feet, even with Gannara’s help. I didn’t care if they heard me. “I…mmm…d.d.d.one… w…w…ww --.”
“Shh. Spark. Shh.” Ailadas had his hand under my other elbow. “The medic is here to assist you.”
“I am not to ease you, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.” How can you be a Mahid and still try to heal people? “The 1st requires me to check you for your function.” Have to make sure he hasn’t overdone the beating. The mechanism is still required to work.
“Am I correct –ahem- in asking, Ser Mahid, that you are not to ease the Spark’s pain?” Ailadas asked as mildly as if he were asking about the weather.
“That would undo the lesson instilled by it, Tutor of the Spark.”
They steered me toward the cabin where they stripped off the armour and the sodden padding, hanging everything on the hooks near the brazier. The medic, Erias, had me sit while he checked me. “I will return later, Spark. Your normal guard will be replaced today by 5th Boras. Donaras has a minor illness.” I nodded and he finally left.
Gannara looked at me and I could tell he was angry, but not at me. “Minis, you have time for a short lie down before you have to be made ready for formal dinner,” Ailadas said. He sat down on the chair and I put my aching head on the pillow. “As your tutor, I have some advice for you.”
“Yes? Is it… don’t let on that I intend to kill the First of the Mahid at the first opportunity?”
“—ahem—“ Ailadas looked odd as if he were half laughing, half agreeing with me. “Some gentle advice… don’t let the First see what you truly think. He is much more versed in causing pain and punishment than you are in defiance and has control of your person since your father’s death.”
“Yes. Those letters are burned on my memory. I’m at his mercy in other words. But Ailadas, I’m not sure I can bear this until I am twenty-one.”
He pulled a tiny vial out of one of his sleeve pockets and offered it to me wordlessly. I took it and looked at it and realized it was a very old vial of a Haian remedy. I looked up at him.
“I have my own few. I began carrying them all the time after your father hired me. This one is for shock and bruising. Have some water. It will calm you down.” I could only see out of the one eye and hurt all over but I managed to get up on my elbow and stare at him. Ailadas has his own Haian remedies? “I acquired them in my mis-spent youth, Minis, and have renewed them faithfully.”
At the end of the bed Gannara nodded and poured a cup of water. “It’s kyangera. That’s what I know it as… ummm… whack weed I guess is how it’s translated.”
I reached out my hand. “Thank you, Ailadas. I didn’t know… I don’t know… I tried to…” I choked up and took a drop or two on my tongue to shut myself up and flinched at the stabbing pain through my battered body. It was a good sign because everything eased almost immediately. I didn’t realize. I wasn’t here. I wasn’t quite here and now I am again. All of a sudden I was inside my own skin again.
“I understand, Ailadas. I know. But it is going to be hard.”
“Let us think on it, Minis.”
“Spark, this morning, before you and the 1st had your disagreement,” the medic said quietly. “Did you have any kind of upset? Fever?”
I looked at him out of my one open eye. “No. Erias.” He actually looked startled for a moment, dropped his eyes to his medical case. “Are you inquiring about illness in the camp? You mentioned earlier that my regular guard was ill.”
“I… am pleased to hear that the Spark of the Sun’s Ray shows no sign of illness.”
“In other words, yes.” I sat up in the bed. “How many are showing symptoms?”
“Let me examine you, Spark.” He refused to look me in the face but put his head to my chest to listen to my breathing. I held my silence. We hadn’t had much illness this winter which was surprising given that we were not used to anything but the city. Had the winter been harsh?
Truly I had no idea if the winter seemed harsher than usual. It could have been because I had nothing to compare it with. “How many are ill?” I struggled to remember what I had read. I’d read that Haian book a half a dozen times through.
“It is nothing that the Spark needs to be concerned about –“ I blocked his hand as he prepared to check my skull. I’m sure I looked a fright rather than frightening but he stopped. The medic had been trained for field triage, and immediate aid, not to be a healer for an entire court with every age but babies represented and if the women were being used by their husbands there would soon be babies. I wish I had that Haian book I left behind.
“You know about this weather change bringing the chest-clot fever then?” I said to him. Erias actually blinked at me.
“Of course I know about that fever, Spark. It is more common in the mountains and rural areas than in the city.”
And where are we, moron? I did not say it.
“There are a few who have chest-clot. How did the Spark know of the weather connection?”
“I read about it in a Haian book.”
He dropped his hand and looked at me as though he’d bitten into a sourfruit, struggling with the Mahid idea of Haian medicine, but then he sighed. “If the Spark would care to share what he remembers with this one. It would improve my efficiency.”
“It certainly would. How many?” I let him check my skull. His touch wasn’t nearly as bad as most other Mahid. More impersonal rather than ‘I hate you’.
“Five young men. Four of the women.”
“Any sign of it in the older people with us? Or in the Coronet?” I was suddenly frightened for my little brother. I couldn’t remember if the illness struck the young and old, or the hale. I got up and sat down next to the brazier, which glowed bright red. The Mahid medic made me wish for Misahis’ gentle hands and his remedies. I hope you're home safe, Misahis.
“Is there any reason I should not know the condition of people in my court? Has the First of the Mahid forbidden it?”
He looked as though I had stuck a boot into his mental gears. “The First… has not… forbidden this.”
“I will ask you about it again tomorrow, then.”
He nodded as stiff as a mechanical toy and finally left.
Gannara said he would have more of the remedies waiting for me once the dinner was over and I was very glad of that. I kept going light-headed and then being brought back to myself with it.
It was dark and still raining when I was escorted over, growing cold enough that a freezing crust lay on everything, with Gannara carrying my slippers. Kaita came across from the other direction, through the network of paths under the trees holding Ilesias who was having a screaming tantrum that would have her black and blue since he was wiggling, kicking and flailing.
I turned away because his noise cut right through my head and the last thing I wanted to do was be polite, or nice to him, being a little monster. But he cut off suddenly, snuffling, and tried to put his snotty nose into Kaita’s collar. She expertly blocked him with a kerchief she’d pulled from somewhere. “Spark of the Sun’s Ray,” she whispered. “Your nurse cannot attend. It is her joints. She is in bed.”
I nodded. “Hopefully she will have enough rest to be better tomorrow.” I hope to Selestialis she isn't coming down with chest clot.
Gannara pulled off my boots and put my slippers on, in the dining tent. The carpets were not thick enough to keep the cold from striking up through the soles. Joras had managed to pack in bags of dried peas and lentils and though there was meat in it, I was heartily sick of pea soup and pea stew. Ilesias, when Kaita put him down, turned and put his face into her skirts, grabbing on with both hands.
“My pardon for my appearance, little brother.” I said to him, carefully. Even with the remedy my face had swollen up some and I’m sure it was as colourful as it was stiff. “Mirror, to you as well. I am sorry my visage must needs reflect my sins.”
“Well said, Chip of the Radiant Light. Remember your lessons,” 2nd Amitzas spoke from behind me. I turned, more stiffly than I actually felt, and managed a short bow.
“My lessons are ever present, honoured guardian.” I stumped over to hold the chair for the Mirror and seated her, she thanked me so nicely. Her voice was like honey in my battered ears. She dropped her kerchief and bent to pick it up just as I did.
“Don’t let him hurt you. He’s… awful,” she whispered in my ear. I froze and she straightened. She really thought that? She really thought that. She really thought that! I put my hand into my back and straightened slowly. It must have looked enough like my back spasming that he did not call attention to it.
Ilesias squirmed on Kaita’s lap and fussed at the food. She gave him some pickled eggs to find in the stew, fishing with his own silverware, without regard to the use of the various pieces. I managed to sit while 2nd Amitzas monotoned through the prayer, slide a half empty spoon between swollen lips without spilling. There was flatbread. The easiest thing that Binshala had learned to do.
The Mahid cook never seemed to get the trick of it, sending out little shingles of toasted flour and water, scraped clear of scorch marks. Of course, it was food so it was eaten.
I was dizzy again by the time the dishes were cleared and 2nd Amitzas pulled out the Holy Book. He read from the Muunas to his Wife chapters, but not the ones talking about how beautiful the God thought the Goddess was, but from chapters 8 through 72 where the God extorts his Wife to make sure the women obey, and to ensure that they control wilful children. Of course he was going to read verses 57 “Should one spare the rod than the son is spoiled for a boy does not attend without being beaten. Strike your son hard enough that he may hear, to know, to understand, and thus save his soul from eternal Hayel. 58: Strike with hand or rod. Strike for his pathetic soul’s sake. Cleanse the child of the evil, disobedience, and disorderliness inherent in the spawn of one’s loins, from the day of his conception.” He closed the book with a thump and looked at me.
I bowed my head so he could see no murderous intent in my good eye. “Amen.”
“Amen,” the Mirror and Kaita chorused and I had to hold in my smile when Ilesias began banging his spoon on the table singing ‘Amen! Amen!” until Kaita shushed him, telling him the sweet was coming.
The end of the meal was finally in sight, like the finish of a hundred malas race. Swirls of syrup frozen into shape on snow. We still had syrup. This was good. A muffled cough from inside the tent but I didn’t look up in time to see who it was. A shiver went down my spine. I was suddenly glad that Binshala was unable to attend because of her joints.
The one dance we were required to do, we had to wait for because there was no place outside and the tables and chairs had to be broken down and cleared away to one side. The Mahid harpist was precise and mechanical as a machine.
It was, thankfully a stately turn, almost a minuet, where Kyriala and I turned and touched hand to outside elbows, bowed, turned in place, bowed low again. I seized one moment to whisper to her. “You meant that?”
She smiled vapidly as if I hadn’t said a thing but the next bow she whispered back. “He’s vile. I hate him.”
She hates 2nd Amitzas. Not hard to do but such a risk to say it to me. Out loud I said. “You dance divinely, Serina.”
“Why, thank you, Spark.” With her fan held stiffly in her one hand she managed to cover her mouth with one of the moves. “You’re brave to fight him, but I hate it when he hurts y---“ she had to snap the fan shut for the next move.
My hair slide down as I bowed again to her curtsy. “Thank you. Don’t get involved. I couldn’t…”
I imagined her getting in 2nd Amitzas’s way and my chest tightened. No. If anyone was going to fight him, it would have to be me. Anyone else he could seriously hurt. She had one more chance to whisper to me in the forms of this dance. “Be careful.”
We turned away from each other to our starting marks and sank into our final, careful, distant bows to each other. I nodded at her, just a fraction, caught a glimpse of a smile behind her gold veil.
She’s risking a lot to whisper me support. And me with my face looking like chopped venison and my voice finally settling but still occasionally squealing like a boy’s. When, how, who? Girls. She confuses me.