Wednesday, September 30, 2009

126 - As they tore my rooms apart

I caught a tiny flash of motion in the last crack as the door closed and I turned and scrambled up the ladder. If I was lucky whoever that was... most likely a Mahid... hadn’t seen the last of the door close.

My breath was caught tight in my throat and I opened my mouth as I climbed, the book bag scraping the back of the shaft. My gloves caught and slipped and I nearly ended up on the bottom of the slide all over again.

The top rung hung in my sight as I slipped and rapped my chin on the edge of the stone rung biting the inside of my lip. The bitter taste of blood was familiar and steadied me down, let me climb more steadily rather than flailing.

I paused two breaths, long enough to wrench off the gloves and wig and stuff them into the hollow in the secret passage behind the ladder, wrenching at the servant's belt frantically. I was nearly weeping with frustration before I ripped it loose enough to step out of, leaving me with my plain practice cottons, before I clambered up the last stretch of ladder. Hurry hurry hurry. Distant tapping echoed behind me as someone tried to find if there were a secret door. Have they seen anything? Is the stone thick enough to hide a hollow ring?

My hand landed on the inner latch and I made myself stop. I made myself hold my panting, wild breath. I was the Spark of the Sun’s Ray... I belonged here. Not an assassin trying to break in. I lived here.

I pulled the latch and the door dropped down smoothly. I popped up next to the fountain and jerked my feet out of the way of the snapping-shut door. I ended up sitting next to my fountain, my chin on my raised knees, arms wrapped around them. Outside I could hear the alarm raised and I rose to standing, pulled off my book bag and cottons.

There was only a little time. The shouts were echoing an difficult to track. I ran over to my closet and dropped everything and unwrapped my loin-wrappings and dropped them on top of them.

“Spark? Spark of the Sun’s Ray!” I scrubbed the cloth in my hands over my face, smearing off the cosmetics. They were all over my face like a ring-tail’s eyes. I clamped the cloth over my face and cracked open the door.

It was 14th Joras Mahid, only a little older than I. “What?” I said as nastily as I could, “I didn’t want to be disturbed... what IS this?” I re-buried my face in the cloth and pushed past him toward the Lesser Baths. He followed after me.

“Spark of the Sun’s Ray... have you heard anything? Seen anything unusual?”

“I’ve been in bed with a headache... what’s going on?” I dropped the cloth in the laundry and sank my whole body into the hot pool before he could answer me.

“... something seen outside the Heir’s quarters.”

“What was that? You think someone tried to sneak into my rooms and kill me?”

I shook the water out of my ears and sat down on the bench in the pool, put my elbows on the edge. “Hmmm?”

“We are required to check for an intruder, Spark of the Sun’s Ray. There was a motion, a sighting of a person under the Spark's library balcony.”

“Go ahead. Search my rooms for a mystery assassin. Please. And let me know when you find him.”

“Of a certainty, Spark of the Sun’s Ray. My commander insists that the Spark vacate the possibly dangerous area.” He spun on his heel and joined the group beating through my quarters for the un-known intruder.

“Meras. Of course. I shall place myself under his protective hand.” I hauled myself out of the tub, dragged a robe over my wet body and went out to sit with Meras standing beside me as they tore my rooms apart.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

125 - Sneaking back in

I made my way back to Presentation Square and settled on a bench near the Crystal obelisk that hid the alcove, and my way in. I heard the Imperator’s Chime announcing He’d just sat to dinner and the sun was just below the rim, leaving the city in a warm twilight. It made my pretense of reading more obviously a pretense so I stashed my book in the bag with the others.
The evening guards... not all of them visible... begin coming out to their posts. During the night they patrolled a bigger perimeter. The guards at the edges of the roof were the most visible. A pair of Sereniteers on the plaza patrol strolled by, their tall black and white staffs clicking on the pavement. They let their eyes pass over me, as I dug into my bag pretending I needed to find something in the bottom of it.
It was difficult... the falling darkness that would let me sneak back in, was making my waiting harder as the crowds went away. I was more and more obvious, alone in the square, so I walked back down to the boardwalk. I knew I had a very narrow window to get back in before Binshala dared ‘disturb’ my rest.
I walked along the lakes’s edge... not as far as the Gryphon statue but about half-way. There was a new woven sculpture there, suspended over the water, waving in the breeze and I wasn’t sure what it was called. I couldn’t stay to look at it but just turned around and headed back.
The tree I paused under was the same one where the Mezem guard had left me the night I’d snuck out and I almost expected him to be there behind me, swinging away back down to the arena. I shook myself. That was silly. The buttresses under my library balcony were in full dark by now.
The book bag I pushed around to my back and watched the guards on the Marble Palace roof. They were more visible because they were still in the light as the sun set. I timed my dart right between them. Perfectly, I thought.
I made it to the shadow under the wall and put my hands to the wall, just as I heard a shout from the roof... oh, shen, someone must have seen me... or something.
Oh shen, oh shen. I scrambled to thrust my hands in the right hole and missed the right one. Oh shen. Oh shen! The shout came again. They couldn’t see me but the alarm spread. I hit the right spot and the stone slid... slow... slow... Come on... come on..!
I knew they couldn’t see me but I could hear the sound of men coming down the Steel Gate steps. I’d not hear the Mahid at all. Oh... I squeezed in behind the stone door and stamped hard on the trigger... Close, close close... oh Gods...

124 - As if sent on an errand

I stood, looking out at the view of Presentation square that my own balcony afforded. I pounded on the balcony rail with my fist. I have to do something.

Every way that I turned I was forced to be careful so hard that I could do nothing. “Barbarians drawn into clever trap!”, screamed a front-page headline in the crumpled Pages I held clenched in my fist.
I couldn’t get any information… I had a person willing to send me more honest reports and there was no way to get information, or payment, or encouragement or anything. I needed someone who would go back and forth to Antras or Erelas for me… without knowing it was me.

“Binshala! Binshala!” I stormed into my bedroom, hurling my Pages onto the floor. “Tell everyone I’m feeling sick! I want to be alone! I want no one to bother me until after Dinner! No one… no one!”
She rushed in and nodded, hands clasped together… “Braid my hair! Right now!” Her fingers were deft and quick and I vibrated in place as though I couldn’t stand it one more moment. I hadn’t behaved like this in a long time and everyone looked at each other as if I’d gone crazy. They looked at me as if I’d become Father. That was good enough for now. I needed to be alone. Even if it made me sick, being more like Him. That would probably get back to Him and make me safer.

I climbed up into my bed without thanking her. It was hard biting my tongue on something I had worked hard to ingrain. “Have the curtains drawn! I don’t want ANYONE in here disturbing me, until I come out tonight!”

“Yes, of course, Spark of the Sun’s Ray. The exalted shall not be disturbed until after Dinner.”

“Good!” I flung myself on my back and threw my arms around my chest, thumping my head on my pillow and watched the servants pull my curtains tight. “I don’t want to be bothered by ANYONE! Not my dekinas, not my dance master, not my music teacher, not my tutor, not the Mahid medic or Father’s new Haian… no---“ my voice cracked mid word. ‘—body!”

“No one would dare, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.” Her voice came into the dim cave my bed had become, from outside. The distant clatter and rustle as slaves and servants left, making my rooms achingly empty and I welcomed it.

I didn’t move for a while. Then I peeked out of my curtains, wincing a little because my eyes had gotten used to the dim light. It was stuffy and close in my bed and I took a deep breath. My rooms were as deserted as I wanted, sunlight gleaming across my white and gray floors and indigo carpets.
It only took a moment for me to slide down my bed steps and over to my desk, unlock my strong box and count out a dozen copper money chains, and a few silver. They went into a pouch and I re-locked everything. Then into my closet. It was easier to slip into Minakas than last time. I only put the faintest lip colour on, leaning close to the mirror on the closet door to draw a bit of eyeliner. This time I didn’t want to look like a sex boy but a fessas scholar… hmm.

My eye in the mirror, with my finger pulling the lower lid down so I could rim the lid with a light brown, opened and closed its pupil as I stared at myself, darkening it and brightening it. Bright blue. Bright as Aan eyes. I’d have to keep my eyes half lidded. Perhaps when I was older a pair of spectacles would distort or hide my eyes. I looked at the slightly darker lines… more like grains of darker blue in a lighter background. I teared up and my eyes reddened a bit… that would help make them look less like Minis’s eyes and more like Minakas’s.

I grabbed up my pouch, adjusted the wig one last time, checked my belt so the insignia showed and trotted down to the kitchen level and out through one of the servant’s delivery doors as if I’d been sent out on an errand to the city.

It felt as though I were cracking through a shell. The dark tunnel that lead from the kitchens past the sentries and the check points. Nobody stopped anyone leaving. The careful checks were for those coming in, and I didn’t intend to come in past any of the check-points.

First I went down to the market and bought a purple apple and found myself suddenly hungry. No one tasted this for me. Just a plain apple bought from a vendor, to an anonymous boy. I spent too much time digging through a used bookseller’s cart and realized that I needed to haggle with him, from listening with the seller and his customers. I bought four books for less than he asked.  I probably didn't haggle hard enough since he seemed happy enough with what I paid him.

I was just happy to try haggling a little. I’ve done this all my life. I’m fessas, fessas, fessas. This is normal. I wrestled a bit with the bag and found I had to loop it over my shoulder to carry it comfortably. I’d never had to carry anything before.

I went down to the border of the fessas and solas quarters to a dark little bar I’d never seen before. It was called Miksas’s and I sat down across from it on a park bench. The staff… I watched them come and go, preparing to open for the evening and realized I didn’t want any of them. Or their customers really. I needed someone willing to come and go out of the city.

No. This wasn’t the place to look. But something had me sit for a while longer, pretending to read one of my books. I was just as frustrated here as in the Palace. What could I do? I looked up at the passing crowds… boys with baskets, parcels, or bundles almost as big as they were trotting along, every one an apprentice, every one working hard.

Men renovating the front of a building… fessas… a group of solas, just off training… joking together as they gathered to sip juice from a vendor near the bar. A beggar… fessas. His hair was the right length. A young man pretending not to be a beggar.

I wouldn’t have seen him, tucked into an alcove next to Miksas’s. He had a table made up of salvaged bricks and boards it looked like, with a cheap cloth thrown over to disguise it. I went over to the juice seller and bought a twist-paper cup of juice. Everything tasted better out here.

Maybe I could run away into Minakas. I closed my eyes. It would be trying to run away from my fate… the fate that the Gods had handed me. I couldn’t do that. I had to keep trying. I opened my eyes and they settled on the young man again. He was a solas. His build was that of a man who should be on active duty, but thinner than he should be.

He was trimming quills, obviously not able to afford a real pen. His inkwell was the only thing good about his set-up. His clothing was mended, and mended and mended, looked worn. But the clothes were painfully clean and he – or someone – had tried their best to iron creases into fabric worn so soft they couldn’t hold.

He had paper. It was raw, salvaged paper, re-pulped and re-made by hand. He stood up a time or two… called out ‘Letter writing! Reading for you! Letter writing for a small fee!” I might not have understood everyday life in the city but he was in the wrong place. Here, everyone knew how to read and write. He needed to be in the okas quarter, where his skill would be valued, even if okas had less money.

He was thin. While I sat and pretended to read, I saw an older girl come by and bring him a bite to eat, while he sat. Probably his sister. She teased him a little and he smiled at her, sweetly.

I shouldn’t approach him. He seemed too nice for me to ruin his life. But… could I help him? Could he help me? His sister had brought him his mid-afternoon sup. I didn’t have much time… dinner was coming too fast, when the sun went down under the rim so early. I had perhaps another two beads before anyone dared check on me.

In the daylight no one considered me as anyone but someone in the street. In the day, I was safe. But it had to be dim enough that I could sneak back into the Palace without anyone being the wiser.
I bit the inside of my lip, considering my solas would-be letter writer. He was old enough to have been deployed. Why was he not in a rejin? I thought I should speak to him.

I settled down on the little seat across from him. He was hiding how skinny he was. His clothes hung on him. “Heya.”

“Hello,” he said. “Have you a letter to write?” His words were very careful, equal to equal, though he was superior caste to me. I was a potential customer.

“No. no… this’un can write letters my ownself… but,” I had to think carefully to speak one up. I paused and rubbed my gloves over the edge of his table. “This’un was going to ask that’un, though...” I dropped a whole copper chain in his basket. “This’un should pay that’un for ‘s time, since this’un’s asking you questions…”

He looked as though he didn’t want to be excited by a copper chain, but I hadn’t seen him pull in that much in the last bead. “Very well, ser.”

“That’s good. Might this’un ask... might this ‘un...” I couldn’t figure out how to ask without insulting him.

He snorted laughter. “You’re trying to ask politely why a solas isn’t out fighting like he should be? Lad, for a copper, I can tell you the story.” I nodded, dropping another chain into his basket. Then I realized he’d not been hinting for another, but would have been willing to tell me for the first. I blushed and saw him smile as he realized my mistake.

“Would you like to take that copper back, ser?” I shook my head no.

“Thank you, ser. I was dishonourably discharged from my rejin, ser.” His eyes didn’t flinch but reddened all around. He drew in a deep breath and though his voice shook he faced it. “My centurion claimed me coward. Not in the face of the enemy. He didn’t want my life... he wanted my affianced.”

“But... but that’s... vile!” I couldn’t help but blurt out. “That’s not right!” I clapped my hand over my mouth. Had my accent wobbled in that outburst? I didn’t think it had.

“Thank you for that thought, ser.”

“Yeh don’ seem a coward tah this un, ser.” He smiled and again I was struck with how much I liked his smile... it was open and reminded me of the good people I’d been finding all around me. I reminded myself that I didn’t know he was good. He was a grown man and would be safe on the roads if I equipped him. If I could hire him. If he proved honest. “Ser. I have a patron who needs a courier to go out-city. Would you be willing to take the work?”

“Out city? Courier?” He folded his hands in his lap and looked down. “I will accept any legitimate work.” His eyes flashed up to lock on mine. “Nothing illicit, ser. My name might be in ruins, ser, but I may know my own soul. I will do nothing against the law.”

I could feel myself blushing. He thought I was like the fellow who had propositioned me out of an alleyway. “No, no. It is nothing against the law.” Against what my Father might want if he thought of it, but it certainly wasn’t illegal for me to hire my own couriers. “It might even be somewhat dangerous but this ‘un’s patron pays appropriate for it.”

His eyes widened, then narrowed. “Out city and dangerous.” He set his quills down in a careful row. He didn’t look at me, but rather down at the row of pale feathers. “Ser. I will also do nothing dishonourable.”

“This’un’s patron requires delivery of a series of packets from a writer out city and return courier to that same writer.”

“I’m nervous of this job, ser. You are young to hire for your patron, are you not?” He could use the work. It was obvious that he could not work in the rejins and was desperate but still had to find out if it was honourable. Perhaps he is the muddy gem I hoped to find.

“Yeha,” I said. “But yeh’d be picking stuff up from a man from the Fire Fountains. And he’ll haf a post office box fer yeh to drop information at after. Pick up yer pay there, put the packets in... take the packets and then haf tah find th’ writer again.”

I sat quietly then, thinking I shouldn’t push him any further. I thought I’d found someone who had enough desperation but I couldn’t be immediately sure. But if he failed… he wouldn’t bring Minis down.

He took a deep breath. “An honourable, legal job offer, ser? I accept.”

“Good. This ‘un’ll give an advance on pay then. If that that ‘un doesn’t come to th’ meetin’ point then reports’ll be made tah th’ Sereniteers but if that ‘un does there’ll be… travel pap’rs an’ travel cash. What that ‘un needs.” I dropped a single silver chain into his basket, palmed so no one could see what it was.
(fessas) I reminded myself. “This ‘un needs a name then… and that ‘un don’t need mine then… not yet. And that ‘un’d need tah come tah the Fire Fountain tomorrow tah meet a fella by the name of Antras." No last names. Antras would be on this evening… I’d tell him what I’d done then. "At fourth bead.”
 I saw his eyes flicker to the bowl on his table and I restrained myself from putting more chains in. I felt like I could trust him but if I started throwing money around he wouldn’t. “Nah problem, ser.” I said to him. “’kin that ‘un ride or skate?”
 His eyes widened for a second. Then shutters dropped over his eyes. “Ride, ser. I skated as a boy but not well.” He took a deep breath. “My name is Tzanas Kinas, solas.”
“Nice tah meet ‘cha, Tzanas. Tomorrer, Fire Fountains. Fourth bead after noon tah accept the first packet.”
He nodded at me. “Good day to you then ser.”
“Pleasure doin’ business, ser.” He stood up to bow me on my way. Now all I had to do was sneak back into the Marble Palace the moment it was dark enough.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A different Novel - Kyrus


The snow burned under his bare fingers as he dug them into the letters in the headstone, kneeling in front of it. He dug his nails under the thick rime of ice on the rough black stone. A blast of wind nearly knocked him forward into it, pushing down the back of his neck. The ice cracked away and the two words cut into it came clear and black out of the snow.

Kyrus Talain.

My father. Who died when I was four. Was killed when I was four. The Milari killed him, actually their War Master who I’ve come to this country to meet. I supposed some people might blame him for that. Ilax Vania by name. I doubt very much that I will ever stop hating the man.

He was the only one ever to defeat Kyrus Talain on the battlefield. By all accounts he was a man like my father, honorable. I am supposed to hate him. I do respect him. It might be possible to persuade him to teach me.

Me. My father never knew I existed, thankfully for him. My existence would have brought him great shame, proof that he was not as chaste as his reputation. Me. Whore’s son.

Who was he really? He didn’t know. But he spread his numb hands across his father’s name carved into the gravestone and swore that he would find out if he were worthy to be called ‘son’, worthy to earn a surname.

His fingers were turning blue and he could barely feel his knees by the time he got up. It wasn’t bad weather according to the Milari. Just another winter day with blowing snow, and a misty blue sky above the peaks. Every time one of those wispy clouds blew across the sun the wind whipped new snow to mix with the ice-scree already there. What a country. I wonder that my father fought so well in the thin, cold air.

His heart pounded in his chest like a galloping horse. He pushed his icy fingers up under the scarf covering his face to breathe on them, trying to warm them quickly. It was the one time of year that the Milari kept their faces decently covered, going unveiled every other season of the year, but it had nothing to do with modesty, or righteousness, only with cold.

Viltaria below was a misty gray cluster of roofs, as alike as a cluster of mushrooms, the wildly bright walls all hidden, buried under snow.

He pulled his snowshoes on and slogged down past the avalanche baffles protecting the city below. It was time to see if he could convince the Milari Warmaster… to teach him the sword. Time to find out if his father gifted him with his skill as well as his looks. Kyrus carried proof of his parentage in his face and build, though his eyes were more green than blue, from his mother.

He was dark as any noble Lainzar, like chocolate next to the cream-pale Milari. Was their skin so pale because of the cold? He scrubbed mittened hands under the scarf across his cheeks, made them burn and wondered if his father had been this cold all his time here. He floundered down through the snow, down the mountain into the city.

The Milari high city was a cluster around a town square, the houses oddly similar in size, the streets were all narrow, dug out snow canyons with doors in them. From the moment he’d set foot across the new border he’d seen the difference, even on the plains, though the Milari plains houses had more windows than their mountain ones. These were all single dwellings even though they were often connected one to another with protected walkways between the roofs; tunnels if the snow got deep enough. It was hard to see where one started and another ended. He’d kept looking for hovels, or mansions, and had seen neither. No one in this country seemed to build manors -- It was all related to their odd ideas that all men were equal. It made finding anyone more difficult, he’d found, at least for a Lainzar used to easily seeing anyone’s status in their clothing or home.

Once he reached the snow-packed streets he had to ask four separate people for directions to the Surdeniliarch’s office. The first sent him to the odd building that looked like a cluster of peaks where their Unity sat, and found only a single small room with a clerk open, who told him that the Unity was not sitting now and that he should try the Surdeniliarch’s house, toward the west side of the city.

A house? Like all the rest? No palaces or loggias. Did they not even honor one of their princes? Why would they not even honor their War Master, the man who had literally saved them? The man who had taken the role of Head of State when the war broke out and then just gave it up again afterward. Kyrus had been trying to understand that the whole way into the country. Dark, he’d been struggling to understand the Milari since he’d learned to read.

The clerk told him how to get there but the directions were complicated and he tried to ask a third person on the street but was spat upon before the man turned his back. It was a reaction he’d had a lot of but still didn’t have to like. The war had been ten years ago.

It hadn’t been his war. The Immutable of Lainzar would never have asked someone of his lowly birth to fight for his country, at least in any way other than as an Ass of Lainz, the untrained foot soldiers. It had made him laugh when he found out that the Lainz word for draft beast was the Milar word for backside. Not for nothing were the lower class soldiers called the Asses. The death rate among them was ferocious and any chance of advancement through merit nonexistent. But then he would never end up buried on a strange mountainside.

He shrugged the disrespectful thought away. He wanted to be a trained warrior more than anything else in this world. It was the way out of a shameful life, and held some hope of honor. He wiped the blot of spittle off his sleeve with a mitt-full of snow.

The fourth person gave him better directions even though none of the houses were numbered or named. If there were something as sensible as a street name to look for it would be easier than ‘turn left at the next crossroads, angle right, count three houses and dodge down this alley...’ Mentally he threw up his hands. It worked for them.

A house near the tree line, on the edge of town, had someone working outside. A load of bucked up logs had been dumped in the side yard, only half were split. The man swinging the axe should be able to tell him where he could find the War Master.

Dark hair, pale skin, like all Milari. Lean and muscular like most Milari - they made a point of training almost everyone for war, even the women, barbarians that they were. A slight hitch as he swung the axe - an old wound? He was wearing only a wool sweater despite the cutting wind. Well, he was working so he must have been warm enough. Kyrus waited politely until he turned, pulled off his hat though he left the scarf modestly in place and asked in his best Milar. “Excuse me, --” These people had no word for ‘sir’; he’d had to use the Lainzar. “—Naser, but could you tell me where to find the Surdeniliarch?” He had to be careful not to let his low birth paint the words in his mouth, but speak as though his father had taught him. He reminded himself again not to let any gutter speech slide into his mouth no matter whom he was addressing.

“You’re looking for the Surdeniliarch?” The man just repeated his question. Perhaps he was mentally defective. Kyrus nodded.

“You’ve found him then.”

This is the man so feared? This is the man who practically single-handedly stopped my country from conquering his? This man is the war-leader the known world talks about? I thought he’d be taller. But then he looks at me as if he could see into my soul. Yes. If you were dishonest you’d hate that gaze. Obviously not a mental defective.

Kyrus reached up and slowly pulled his scarf down to bare his face. For my argument, he has to see my naked face. He saw my father’s. The man’s gray eyes widened in shock and the axe sagged in his hands, then he shook his head like a horse throwing off a fly. Why is he so startled? Do I look so much like my father? He visibly seized control of himself. Surely that can’t be because of me?

Then he thought, ‘oh’, ‘oh, no’ dropped his pack and touched heels of his hands to forehead, fingertips to mouth and crossed his hands on his breast. He hadn’t meant to be disrespectful. It was the minimum due anyone higher in station and to forget to offer it to someone as exalted, as this man, would have gotten him Exposed at home. Oh sweet Dark, I’ve offended their version of a King. He repeated the salaam and was about to offer it on his knees when he stopped. The Surdeniliarch had closed his eyes and had a pained look on his face, one hand raised to stop him.

“Resplendence? Have I offended you? My abject --”

“-- Stop,” the War Master said, opening his eyes. “I am no Resplendence. I am only myself. I have this problem with Lainzarians. I understand you need to finish that salaam but don’t call me anything like ‘Resplendence’. Call me by name if you can.”

The icy fear that had leapt up into his throat faded somewhat. Of course. Milari aren’t like that.

“Of course, Il --” he just couldn’t do it. He had to have something more respectful than a plain name on his tongue addressing this man. “Naser. My name is Kyrus.” He’d had a long time to rehearse this in his head so it wasn’t too shaky. The Milari Surdeniliarch was known for admiring plain speech, so he forced it out, even in the face of that gray stare. “You were forced to kill my father Kyrus Talain.”

“Your father.”

“Yes, Naser. He never knew of me.” The War Master set the axe down as he listened, still gazing steadily at him. “And Naser, since my father never had the chance to know me, to teach me, I’ve come to you to ask if you would teach me to be a warrior.”

He blinked, surprised. “I’ve never taught anyone.” Then he looked up at the sky. “I want to talk about this, but I have to get this bit of wood split up. There’s another axe against my neighbor’s door. Do you know how?"

“Yes, Naser.” Oltarios, his old patron, – who’d taught him polite Milari among other things --- had taught him that particular skill as well.

“Good. You can help me here and we’ll get in to talk faster with both of us splitting -- before it starts snowing.”

It was bright sun now, about an hour off setting. How could he tell it was going to snow? Kyrus shrugged and nodded. It is Milar in the winter, it is always snowing.

He set his pack down by the door and fetched the axe, a single-bit, light, long in the haft. He preferred that over a heavy head and a shorter handle. He was careful to set his scarf back across his face before he started. It was so raw to have a naked face, so wrong.

As he brought the axe over to the woodpile a number of old fears chased through his head, just as they had when he’d first conceived of this idea, that the Surdeniliarch had to teach him.

Maybe he’ll just kill me as too much of a problem. Or maybe he’s expecting me to try and kill him? A wood axe is just as effective a weapon as a battleaxe. I mean I want to bury this in his body for my father’s sake. If he’s expecting me to try he could say it was an honorable fight because I was armed and attacked him. It was all too convoluted and in the short walk back from the neighbor’s he’d worked himself into a wild confusion that he had to struggle to suppress. Maybe he just wants to get the wood done faster, like he said.

And that was what happened as far as Kyrus could see. If there was any strain in the man, he certainly wasn’t showing it, not by so much as tension in his hands on his own axe. And for an odd, surreal half an hour, Kyrus worked beside the War Master, torn between his hatred and struggling to impress the man with his diligence. It helped that he could throw his confusion into the stubborn oak they were splitting, feeling only satisfaction when a tough chunk sprang into two or even three pieces.

Between the two of them they were done long before the light went. As he worked he could feel the Milar looking, could feel him watching, like a pressure on his skin. As he worked he was able to smother most of his resentment and think of him without the weight of hatred.

The Milari War Master was, as Oltarios would have said, easy on the eyes. He was fit. He could see that in how he moved, even with the bulky clothing, and the fact that he could split wood faster than Kyrus could. He found himself speeding up, to try and match him, breaking a light sweat even in the cold.

He reconsidered how he could pay for lessons if he could convince Ilaxindal; more that just chores. To be honest he’d thought that he would need to offer his body as partial payment before, but now it seemed a better idea. It wouldn’t be a bad way at all, considering. He isn’t like some of the clients I took on to fund my trip here. I quite like the way he looks, if he just hadn’t done what he did...I’ve never hated a client before, but he’s not disgusting. And he has a better reputation than those terrified, hidden old men who could never admit their urges for fear of being Exposed.

He smiled a bit at the hypocrisy in his own land where no man was supposed to crave sex with other men, on pain of death, but where a thriving business of male whores flourished in the Basin; right under everyone’s nose but steadfastly invisible.

Then, finally, the Surdeniliarch set his axe down under the eave and gathered up an armload. “Come inside; once the wood box is full, we’ll talk. I’m not saying yes.”

They replenished the stack under the eaves and he opened the outside door of the wood box. The inside door stayed securely latched against the cold and they filled it before dusting the wood chips off their clothes. Kyrus followed him around to the front door.

Like all Milari houses there was a hall that could be closed against the winter, walls draped with coats and cloaks on their hooks, boots lined up, leaning against each other like drunks in an alehouse, the smell of wet wool. He saw a row of children’s cloaks and mittens as he hung up coat and hat on one of the guest hooks, set his pack below. He hesitated and unwound the scarf, desperately wanting his indoor veil, that was in the bottom of his pack right now. It had been very hard to go naked-faced in Milar but it made for less confrontation. To them, the face covering screamed ‘enemy’. He rubbed his hand over his eyes and turned away from his things. I will not let this bother me.

Beyond the inner door the house was warm and in the room behind the fireplace he heard children giggling. To the right, behind the door, was a cooking area, to the left a table against a window shuttered and completely buried in snow. In the center of the room, a big fireplace with closed metal doors. A ladder-like stair next to it led up to a loft.

The War Master motioned him to sit at the table and pulled open the fireplace doors to place another chunk of wood inside; poured hot water into a pot of the vile leaves they called tea, all in silence. Is he playing for time?

“Your people invaded our country.”

“Yes, Naser.”

Without answering immediately he set out the honey pot on his side of the table and to Kyrus’s gratification, a small bowl of butter and a set of four small bowls of chutneys. He’s treating me like an adult, not just assuming I’m young enough to want the sweets. “I had to kill your father because he was such a champion for your cause; an enemy of my people.”

“My father always did his duty, Naser.”

“You can stop calling me that. My name is Ilax. Why should I teach you? I truly don’t owe you anything.”

“I can see your point, Nas -- Ilax, but I thought you knew my father, and didn’t just kill him. My mother said he was your captive for at least three and a half months before that.”

He nodded as he got up. “And was decently ransomed.” He poured tea into bowls. Kyrus put a spoon full of butter in his bowl and wrapped his hands around the vessel, not wanting to drink it, but holding it anyway, for the warmth, thinking ‘I’ve got to convince him’.

“Naser -- Ilax, I know that I’m old to start training. I may not have the talent for it. I hoped my father might have gifted me with more than just his look.”

“I know you’re your father’s son because you take butter in your tea.” Ilax laughed sharply, suddenly. “You do look like him.”

“Thank you, Naser.”

“How did he not know of you?” The look was direct and clear as a hunting bird’s, and as opaque, giving nothing away.

Kyrus grimaced to himself but tried to keep it off his face. A cat leaped onto the table between, thankfully blocking his gaze. That would make it easier. He took a deep breath. No waffling, now.

“My mother was a whore, Naser.” The cat lay down in time for him to see the Surdeniliarch’s eyebrows fly up. “I mean no shame to my honored father and I realize that I am not untainted, but I do try to rise above it.”

“Untainted? Of course. How could that ‘taint’ you?” He shook his head at the boy's confused expression and waved a silencing hand. “Never mind, your father and I had such confusions all the time. Just put it down to Milari strangeness.”

“Of course, Naser -- Ilax.”

“Why should I teach you?”

“Naser...” He paused, wondering how blunt to be. The Milari were always shocking in what they would just say straight out. “People said you loved him.” He could feel himself blushing, wished again for his veil. Those odd, dark gray eyes seemed to flinch and the Ilax looked away. His hand, that had been stroking the cat, stilled.

“I hoped to ask for his sake, and for his sake I hoped I might prove worthy of being his son. I might not even be suited to a warrior.”

He shook his head. “You’re suited. But I can’t just give you an answer straight I’m afraid. ‘I’ll think about it’ is the best I can do.”

“I understand, Naser.” I’m not giving up if he says no. I’ll keep coming back until he says yes. “Naser, I don’t mean to trouble you, but would you out of the goodness of your heart tell me of my father?”

There was a long silence. Kyrus knew not to rush this, sat and waited. There was a giggle and shuffling around behind the chimney corner. Ilax stirred and called “Haraklez, can you go to Mina’s for tonight with the girls?”

“We get to sleep overnight?”

“Yes, would you ask for me? Something’s come up.”

A heavy sigh and a peeking eye around the corner, gray like her father’s. “Of course, Pa.”

He sat and waited during the tumult of three children… Haraklez was the oldest, about his age… getting ready to go out over night. Politician’s children, they did not pester to be introduced. The outside door slammed and they were gone.

“My neighbor and I have an arrangement, since my inamour died,” Ilaxsaid as he came back to the table. I translate that as ‘wife’ though they used the same word for male or female marriage partner. “Your father.” He continued, closing his eyes and sipping tea. “Your father was in every way the embodiment of honorable. He was the best person I ever met and one of the best warriors. He was my so-called prisoner for half a year and I could not understand why you people would not ransom him at first, even though I had to set the amount high. It was what he was worth, to you and yet your general… Adwild d’Molfe, you may recall… tried to throw him away.”

“Yes, Naser. Anyone with a brain… no, half a brain would understand how valuable my father was.”

The War Master coughed and smiled, somewhat painfully. “Ahem. Yes. Then someone who valued your father replaced him. Though I understand that general d’Molfe is actually lobbying your Resplendence for the post of Head of your Armies of Light.”

Well, there aren’t very many generals left, competent or otherwise because of you, Kyrus thought. “That is actually so far above my station, Naser, that I do not choose to have an opinion.”

Ilax burst out laughing. “You sound exactly like your father.”

Kyrus looked away, both embarrassed and pleased. “My father. You were talking about him.”

“Yes. Ah. He was an excellent man. And you don’t need to prove your parentage, it’s written all over your face and body… even, as I said, in the way you speak.”

“Thank you, Naser.”

“Now, I need to go up-mountain to meditate on all of this, and I am going to trust you here in my home. You’ve found that we don’t have a lot of inns or alehouses.”

“Yes, Naser.” Travelling Milari have so much family that they tend to stay with kin, and they’re insular enough that only the biggest cities have inns for foreigners at all.

“You may eat – my kitchen is open to you.”

“Thank you, Naser.” He offered the minor salaam, fingertips to forehead. “I pledge no harm to you or your house. Further, as long as I am a guest, I offer you my arm in defense.” Ilax’s eyebrows shot upward at the last.

“You needn’t –“ he started.

“Yes, Naser. You don’t know me. I give my word to you that you may go with an easy heart.”

He nodded thoughtfully. “Of course, Kyrus.” He showed the boy all he needed, shrugged into a heavy, wool-outside coat and was gone up the mountain.


The funeral procession for His in Resplendence, Tyriu Paghemar stretched along the entire length of the Avenue of Prayers, coiling through the whole city, stretching outside the gate onto the causeway and out over the chasm, with every noble Lainzar house determined to show their grief over the death of the Immutable’s last Heir. The other side of the Avenue was empty, lined along the whole way with the Rasheem, the Bodyguard, to keep the cobbles clear under a sun that bit deep into uncovered skin.

In the formal silence the roar of the river in the canyon echoed up to the highest balcony, almost drowning out the bass vibration of the pumps that moved water from a thousand feet below below. Even the dry Basin and the streets were silent, honoring the dead. No sound from the closed market, the street birds in their cages covered to ensure their silence. Strung along under the causeway like a huge string of beads, even the Exposure cages had been emptied and silenced, swaying slightly in the constant wind.

The body at the head of the waiting procession, gilded and standing in the chariot of honor, swayed slightly, giving it an odd semblance of life. Two charioteers stood on the stone, waiting his Resplendence’s signal, one leading four white horses that would be sacrificed to the Light at the White Mound, the second leading the black team that drew the chariot. For the last time, Tyriu would leave the Sunrise Loggia and make his way all the way through the city that would have been his, had he lived longer than his Great Grandfather.

Above, in the Sunrise Loggia’s only public balcony, weighed down by years as much as the heavy red gold and white robes, the Immutable sat, leaning forward on his staff of office. Every wrinkled, bony finger winked with two rings, one above and one below the arthritic central knuckle. Gold painted his long nails and gold powder dusted his sunken eyelids. It gave him a blind, golden stare when he closed his eyes, as they were now, his breath gusting to belly out the fine woven white veil over his nose, mouth and chin.

He looks like a snapping turtle in a golden shell, Nadian Basserus thought, not letting his slight smile climb over the top edge of his own face covering. He didn’t want the old man to get the idea that he was anything but grief-stricken at Tyriu’s -- his own distant cousin -- untimely demise. It was ironic that the Lainzar nobles below were displaying all their finest horses and battle banners in honor of his Resplendence’s life, given that Tyriu had only been five years old.

“The river has risen.” It was a dry croak from the old man, talking emptiness.

“Of course your Resplendence. The rains are coming.” As if you needed me to tell you that, he thought, leaning forward slightly to hear the almost whispered word. You’ve seen more seasons turn than I and my father and my grandfather combined.

The shriveled golden figure nodded absently, his eyes locked on the funeral chariot below.

What the Dark is he thinking? He can’t have cared for the little brute. Nadian turned away to cough, smothering his urge to laugh at the fuss. He’ll name another Heir and everything will go back to normal. The thing that bothered him was that the Immutable was starting to become more unpredictable. Why, he’d even held a hero’s funeral for his granddaughter, what’s her name, Tyriu’s mother, when she’d died in childbirth a few months ago. I wouldn’t have stooped to killing a mere female except he was starting to look at her, at women of his line, as Heirs, rather than where he should look. Me.

The horses were getting restless in the heat and down in the city there was a minor commotion, quickly suppressed as a lesser family’s Moas tried to start a fight, or perhaps eat someone. Only the great nobles had both Horses of honor and Moas as draft animals, and the number of trainers necessary to keep them apart in such processions.

Nadian, like all the immediate court, was dressed as usual, head to foot in black to properly reflect the Immutable as his shadows, the only concession to mourning allowed was the gold lace along the bottom edge of the veil, scratching on a bit of dry skin on his bottom lip. If only the old fart would open his eyes and give the word for the stupid procession to start, winding down the empty side of the Avenue, out to the private burial mounds where every Immutable or his family had been laid to rest under a blindingly white dome.

It was a pity the boy had died. Nadian hadn’t meant the ‘cline, the spell of diminishment, to work quite that way. He had actually been aiming at the old man, hoping to be the boy’s Regent. After all, wasn’t that what all villains aspired to? Not that he considered himself a villain, just the next best Immutable, even if the old man didn’t see it yet. He wondered again what had gone wrong with the ‘cline. He’d been fortunate to find out that he had the rare talent to be a Dee-mander or a Dee-cliner, one of the great mages of legend, but the Lainz hadn’t had a full fledged Dee, in over a generation and Nadian had resented the lack of teacher almost as much as he resented not having been Heir. He shrugged to himself, long reconciled to the lack of teacher. He’d just have to go back to his studies. It had startled him that the 'cline had made his own nose bleed, even as it killed the boy.

He raised his eyes to that distant speck of white in the desert. The old man’s burial space was a gap in the white shimmer, with all the relatives that had been buried in an ever-expanding spiral around where he would rest. He’s old. Why doesn’t he just give up and die and let someone young and competent take the High Seat? Like me.

“Basserus.” The Immutable’s voice was a harsh croak.

“Yes, your Resplendence.”

“I must let him go, mustn’t I.”

Yes, you greedy old man. Name me Heir and I can afford to quit killing everyone around you. I’ll be able to wait till you die of old age. “Give him to the Gods, your Resplendence. Let the Darkness give him peace.” He leaned over to pour a golden cup full of water, lifting that damnable lace off his lip to taste a sip before offering it to the Immutable. Over his Resplendence’s back, Nadian could see his major rival for the Immutable’s favor, his own younger brother, Billiph.

His posture gave nothing way, except to his brother who knew him. He stood plank stiff watching Nadian whisper in the old man’s ear. The Immutable’s eyes, trained for almost a century of reading his court, even with their faces covered, shifted to one side, taking in the by-play before coming back to settle on the young man offering him water.

Far from being rheumed with age, they gleamed bright, bright blue in his dark face, sharp and clear as the eyes of a predator. “Basserus, your grief does you credit.” There was no trace of irony in his voice but Nadian could see it in his look. He drained the cup and handed it back, his touch dry as a serpent’s belly.

The young noble couldn’t let that opportunity to gently fence with the old man slip away. The Immutable liked to think people would dare stand up to him. He let a faint touch of irony color his answer. “You see everything, your Resplendence.”

“No. I’m not so far gone in my own legend that I believe in my own infallibility. I just know you.” He turned away, his grip tightening on the staff, even though it caused him pain. There was no sign of weakness when he raised it so that the cruel sunlight winked off the mirrored top, signaling the end of his great grandson’s stay on earth.

The lead charioteer stepped forward with his magnificent, doomed charges. With a groan the funeral procession creaked into slow motion, down the spiraling road to the gate and the white man-made hills beyond. Nadian, straightening up from the Emperor, watching the door to the Throne itself open before him, missed the single tear in the old man’s eye that evaporated unobserved in the thirsty air as he watched the body of his great grandson into the distance.

Kyrus snapped awake, his mind fighting its way out of the haze that had settled on it at this altitude, aware that there was a girl sitting, quietly watching him.

“Wha’s sinking, frilly?” he said muzzily. “Basin firin’? Howja Loggia crack?” It was in the street tongue that he’d grown up with. He pushed himself up from the padded couch, before his thoughts caught up with him, appalled at himself. He’d just asked her what emergency was going on and how she broke into the house. As well as implying she was a child whore.

“Excuse me, Nassera,” the polished accents immediately back in his mouth as he came to himself. He pulled the aurochs robe close around him as he sat up, feeling the cool room sucking away the lovely warmth. “I meant nothing by it.”

It was the Surdeniliarch’s oldest child, Haraklez, who sat looking at him. “I can’t be rightly offended if I don’t understand the insult,” she said in fluent aristocratic Lainz. “I speak the language but I didn’t understand what you just said.”

“Ah, well…” he blinked and closed his mouth. “Aren’t you supposed to be over at the neighbors?”

“Yes, but I thought I’d see how you were doing, since pa left you to go up on the mountain. He won’t be back until late. He never is. But you avoided answering. I won’t be embarrassed, honestly.”

She had her father’s eyes, though her skin was quite dark for a Milar. Her hair was a loose brown wave down to her shoulders. It had been a quite a scandal apparently when Ilax had married a half Lainz woman who had had his eldest child.

He was very, very aware suddenly of how he must look with his own hair loose all over his bare face. His hand flew up to cover his mouth before he made himself drop it. “Um. It’s street talk. You wouldn’t have been taught that by any good teacher.”

She smiled. “I should. Learn it I mean. After all it’s not just the nobles who can talk.”

He shrugged and began folding the blanket so as not to look at her. “Nassera Vania I certainly do not mean to intrude on your life, nor expose you to such crudity.” He hadn’t meant to fall asleep on the bench but had sat down after he’d cleaned up after himself in the cooking area.

Haraklez actually giggled. She got up and swept him a bow and a salaam that wouldn’t have been out of place in the High court. “So formal. I don’t give up easily.” Her eyes were twinkling and he had a sudden vision of how fascinating they would be over a proper veil.

He bowed back stiffly, determined not to be mocked, shocked at himself for his imaginings. “I’m sure your esteemed father would have words with me should he find you here unchaperoned.” He offered the minor salaam. “I’ve sworn no harm to any in your father’s house and would not harm you by ruining your reputation. Please, return to where your father asked you to be.” He didn’t see that anything he was saying was funny at all. Why the Dark was she laughing like that? At him? His mouth tightened. I’m not that funny, Milar.

“It would be my pleasure, Naser.” She tossed her head, slightly spoiling the effect of her grand manner. “If you need anything, we’re at Mina’s next door, the neighbor you borrowed the axe from? Her place. Just knock.”

He confined himself to a curt nod, his face hot with embarrassment he knew she could see. She smiled again. “My pa will be pleased that you did all those chores, you know. We could see you outside.”

Kyrus was trying to figure out how to answer this when she let herself out to the coat hall. “Ah, goodnight, Nassera.”

Her reply was muffled as the outer door closed behind her. “Good night, Naser.”

When the girl had safely gone, Kyrus sat down again rather more abruptly than he’d intended. He desperately wanted to lie his head back against the wall, but knew that if he did that he’d be asleep again in moments. She’d ruffled him, with her smiles, her bare face, and her unconcern about being alone with a young man. Who does she think she is? Laughing at me. His indignation snuffed out. The daughter of the Surdeniliarch talking to a Basin rat. She wouldn’t care. I’m as significant to her as the house cat. Or a mouse in the wall. Something for the serfs to squash with a broom not worry about whether I’d compromise her. His daughter. Surdeniliarch. His mind circled around again, dismissing the disquieting girl and focusing on her father.

He was so close. He’d actually gotten his story out, to the Surdeniliarch without stammering too much, lapsing into street talk, or trying to gut the man with his bare hands. The War Master was too easy to like. It was very hard to keep hating him now that he’d actually sat and looked into his eyes.

Left alone in the house, he’d been uncomfortable at first but had found bread and the slowly bubbling stew on the back of the hob. Once he’d eaten and dipped water to wash the bowl it had been easier. A full belly always made the world a more pleasant place.

Then since he’d thought he should do his case with the Surdeniliarch the most good, he’d gone looking for some work. The most he’d been able to find, without being too prying, had been outside. The snow was high enough that he’d had to work hard to carve the path to the door a bit wider. That chore had been accomplished by the light of the lantern at the door that he’d refilled and lit with supplies from the coat hall cupboard. It was so dark, so soon and he wondered at the Surdeniliarch being up on the snowy mountain alone in the dark. But no one seemed terribly concerned about that.

He hadn’t taken a bodyguard with him. He was an acclaimed warrior, certainly, but he was as important a head of state as the Konsiliarch, the head of their weird Administration, who handled the day to day running of their Unity. Theoretically they had bodyguards, the Fysilios. He hated trying to translate their terms; the best word wasn’t really bodyguard, but Brother or Colleague. He’d known that they didn’t hover around the War Master… that wasn’t the right term either. It sort of translated as Negotiator of Peace or War. The Surdeniliarch was really supposed to maintain peace.

The Unity even penalized him if the country went to war by cutting his pay down to the minimum since, according to their weird world view, that their Negotiator wasn’t doing his job properly. Kyrus had never understood that and had asked Oltarios a dozen times what that meant when he’d read it.

At least the Milar were lucky that this Surdeniliarch was a kick-your-sorry-ass Warrior, unlike some in their history. When His Immutable had invaded the War Master hadn’t hesitated but taken up their sword immediately. It was part of what had saved the country.

His head tipped back. Why was he trying to stay awake? The girl had said her father wouldn’t be back until late. Surely he didn’t expect to find his unwanted guest awake and waiting, would he? He got up and put another of the logs he’d split that afternoon on the fire, making sure the iron doors of the stove were secure before sitting down again. He’d try to stay awake a bit longer. Perhaps he’d trying parsing some of their more obscure verbs in his head. A noble accent and a good language, boy, that’ll get you far. Don’t you forget that now.

No, Oltarios. I won’t forget.

He was asleep before he could get through the first declension.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

123 - To speak to the page

My secretary had placed my correspondence on my desk. There were a half dozen approvals I needed to read and sign from the Press people setting up the first Sun Rising Literary Award. Nothing from either Inthilin or Ancherao. I wrote out four letters for charitable donations that I had started supporting after I had made the one brother kill the other. It was a small penance but the Gods would see it.
The last letter was plain and my secretary would have had it sniffed with all the others for paper poisons. The fluffies were all trained to react to most common poisons… The only three people they were trained not to bark at because of the smell of poisons were Father, me and First Amitzas. The seal was a Press seal and I popped it open and unfolded it.
To: The Spark of the Sun’s Ray, Marble Palace, Arko the city
From: Sinimas Menden, Disputed Territory
In recollection of the evening the Spark graciously extended the hospitality of the Marble Palace, this lowly one dared to write. The evening remains as a shining gem of remembrance in this most abject one, often taken out and examined for every nuance of every precious word.
This one is in awe, still, of the generosity of the Spark and the erudite discourse of the evening’s discussion.
At this juncture the Spark must surely see from the post address, that this lowly one will unfortunately be out of the city and so unable to accept any further invitations—“ a nice way to point out where you actually are, Menden, without being obvious – “to my tremendous regret.” He was hiding sarcasm well. No one but I would know that was sarcasm at all. “The Spark might be interested in finding out, that this lowly one has a number of Pages articles forthcoming.”
“Antras?” I called. But it was Durinibas who looked in. I took a deep breath. Antras and Erelas I trusted and they had told me that Durinibas was a good man, someone else I could trust. I would have to trust him if I trusted them. “Durinibas. If I could ask you a favour?”
He coughed. “This one is, of course, at the Spark’s will.” He looked nervous.
“Do you bring the mails to my secretary?”
“Oh, yes, Divine Spark. Either Antras or this diminished one.”
“If you or Antras should happen to see any letter from a Ser Menden, I should like you to place it in this drawer in my desk directly. Would that be too much trouble?”
He blinked. “Oh. No, not at all, Spark. No trouble.”
“Good, thank you.” My problem was that I had no way of getting a message to Sinimas securely. The only thing I could think of was to find someone myself, but I couldn’t. If I, as the Spark of the Sun’s Ray ordered someone to courier… it would be very very obvious. And I wasn’t old enough to go out into the city by myself… or perhaps I wasn’t. Hmm. I’d have to think about that. Until I could find someone to be my secure courier out of the city I’d have to wait.
I clenched my hands hard on the edge of my desk. I didn’t want to destroy anything in my frustration. That was too much like Father’s lack of control. I held my breath hard, until I dizzied myself and managed to keep my emotions in check.
The Pages front page screamed Fires out of Control! And had a story about a wild fire burning in the mountains north west of the city. Hidden away on the fourth page was the first story on the Yeoli war, of this fighting season. Chevenga had gotten his forces into the field before anyone would have thought it possible.
The snow had not even entirely melted but apparently he had gotten supply from somewhere and was using the brand new roads that we… rather Arko… had built to move troops. Of course I had to figure this out from the fulsome praise for the current General. And the correspondent was Sinimas Menden. Poor fellow.
“General leads brilliant strategic retreat!” Of course it meant he was running like a rabbit. “Yeoli advances should not be taken as ill omens” Naturally. Many such more brilliant strategic retreats would have the Yeoli/coalition meeting up with their own forces in the south mountains and right at their old border with the Empire.
Yeolis, by tradition, did not invade, even if invaded, but had a complicated land-for-lives kind of compensation system that led them to assume a certain seizing of the invading countries land in return for having been attacked and harmed. What their compensation would be for almost total conquering of their country would be, I had no idea. I know what I would say. And Chevenga would know that Father would never give up trying to get him back. Get him back, or destroy him and everything he held dear.
I closed the Pages and spread my hand over it. The writers and editors dared not give it any more attention than they had. They had to make as if wildfires, droughts and unsolved murders were more important. I heaved myself up from my desk and dropped my clothing, unwound the banding under my small clothes and stood under the cascade, letting the water pound down on my head.
It was in motion. I was not. Every step of the way all around me, my Father’s teeth ringed me around. I had to do something. Everything I did was so achingly slow. Chevenga’s alliance was moving fast. The storm was coming and all I could do was stand there in the thunder, lighting and rain like an ass and take it.
My penis stirred and I seized it hard to keep it from rising. There was too much hair now to keep pulling them. I’d tried shaving even every day but the stubble itched enough to make any public presentation or ritual a Hayel torment of struggling not to scratch. Perhaps I deserved it. I had a fuzz of hair there, spreading from my vilest organs to the nest of where they grew. I let go as if they burned me as it stirred again in my grasp and I plunged into the cold pool that I had made much colder.
It was cold enough to make me gasp in shock and my vile organs shrink . This went on and on and on. This was Hayel. I couldn’t catch my breath. I ducked my whole body under feeling the chill go all the way in, striking toward my heart.
Father has me on his lap. His big meaty hands are wrapped around me clutching me tight to his body. I can feel his penis up against my spine. He’s hard. He and I are naked. There are people streaming past us as though we’re a rock in a stream. They are all colours, all nations. They are the river pouring into the city behind us. We’re sitting on the Rim and the people pour into the city. They are the river that powers us.
Father reaches out with both hands and I can’t move. He rips pieces off the people and slaps them on me and over me, adding their flesh to me and to himself. He lards us with fat and meat and bone and blood, smoothing fat onto the both of us until my face is the only part still mine in a fat boulder sitting over the Marble Palace.
We are melting together in the sun, the fat flowing down the walls, flowing away and Father grabs more and more to not lose bulk. All I can see is the people’s faces… then I see that most of them are Arkans.
They’re weeping and bleeding and screaming… all silently to not offend us as we rip more and more off them until Father begins seizing whole babies and children to make part of us, then whole adults, women and children, their hair floating away from us like clouds floating over the city, over the whole empire, carrying their silent tears to fall on other Arkans.
I woke up completely tangled in my quilts and blankets soaked with sweat and panting. In silence. In silence. I don’t ever want to be silenced. I want to be able to say… somehow… what I see. I think of Sinimas Menden and his gagged words. I manage to wiggle my way out of my disarranged bed, pulling my limbs out of soaked wet bedding.
If I cannot say anything with my mouth I will learn to say things to the page. As dangerous as that is… I have places where only I go. I will keep my words there. And I will learn to do it well. I will learn to speak to the page so that someday I will be able to open my mouth and speak out loud what I once could only express in silence.