I woke late in the day, the sun hidden by a murky layer of cloud. For the longest moment I lay, wondering that I had woken before Gannara, since he was much lighter a sleeper than I. I listened to his soft breathing and realized there was something wrong. He was holding his breath in his sleep and I rolled up on my side to look at him.
His eyes were clenched tight, his breath, when he let it out, sobbed. “Pst... Gannara. Wake up. It’s a nightmare. It’s just a nightmare.”
His eyes snapped open, still fogged with sleep, saw my eyes looking at him and whimpered, frozen with fear. “It’s me, Gannara. It’s Minis... it’s all right. It’s just a nightmare. I... can’t take you away from Mahid yet but I’ll do my best to keep you safe, little brother... sorry... I’ve been thinking of you like that... I wouldn’t hurt you, Gannara.” I couldn’t hug him, in case he felt it as confining, imprisoning, so I just touched his shoulder.
He shuddered and flung himself into me and I caught him in a full hug. “I... I’m... “
“It’s all right.” He shook all over his body, silent again, just breathing deep and fast. “I’m not him. I’ve got you.” He was clammy and pale.
“I... know, Minis... Thank kahara. Thank kahara. I... dreamt I was in the Imperial bed... and Chevenga was dead in the bed and the... the... fat guy was there... as a rotting corpse... and he laughed and... and...” he gulped and went silent... he swallowed and swallowed and I patted his back.
“It’s all right. If you need to throw up, you can.”
“I don’t need to throw up.” His colour was coming back, a little. “I have a sick imagination.”
“No, you’ve been in the company of Mahid too long.”
It felt so good just to hold onto him, as if I were strong enough to be his support some of the time. “As long as you don’t count yourself as part of that company,” he said into my neck.
“No, Gannara. You know its really, really unlikely that Chevenga is going to get killed, right?” He’s so skinny, still, but I wished... I wished I could help that. Not that the food we were getting was that rich. I wanted to do more. The only thing I could do was be here for him when he had these nightmares. He let go one hand to sign ‘yes’.
“If you ever need to talk about what the fat guy did, or what the Mahid did to you. I’ll be here to listen.” I thought of sitting in the dark, trying to listen to the Haians. “I tried to listen to the Haians who were captive in the dark cells... before Chevenga rescued them. I’m good at listening.”
He tilted his head back to look at me. “You did? They were all right?
“Well, the weird thing was that 1st Amitzas... the Imperial Pharmacist, you know...” He shuddered at that. Idiot, I told myself. Of course he knows 1st Amitzas. “He was... weird about the Haians. The fat guy ordered some awful things done to them... but Amitzas only did the least he could get away with doing. I mean it was like he was trying to do his duty but not hurt them at the same time.”
“Really?” He sat up with the feather quilt around him. “I hope so.”
“Yeah. But I shouldn’t tell you any more about him or Chevenga or things that Ice-Eyes would love to know. Just in case he gets some weird idea that you might know stuff.”
Gannara shivered and lay down again against my side, completely unafraid of me. That makes my heart unclench a lot. I flung my arm around him in the soft gray light. The stone above my head in this little alcove was veined and patterned with layers of pink and gray and black and white.
“We’ve kind of become the People under the Hill, here,” I said and he giggled into my chest.
“Complete with black monsters and bats.” He snorted louder. “Rrrrarrr.”
“You can say all of that but you’re not part of it.”
“What? I’m the young prince imprisoned in a ring of fire? Nobody’s fighting through to wake me with a kiss!” I tried to tease him and he poked me in the side.
“Shut up, Minis. When it comes to what you are and who you are, you may as well be asleep!”
I shrugged. “I suppose.”
The caverns were... well... cavernous. I’d seen some, bleary tired as I was when we came in, but 2nd Amitzas put an immediate limit on how far I could go trying to explore them. There was a huge open cavern, with a fall of water, a river flowing from the ceiling. The water didn’t plunge into a lake but into a crack in the floor, pouring out deeper underground, almost as fast as it poured in.
2nd Amitzas had a fire lit to show me, and to give me light to do my Ten Tens practice, the smoke pooling up in the ceiling, looking like a living thing. coiling out of tiny cracks in the rock until it finally filtered out to the surface. Outside it would be visible only as whisps of fog on the hillside.
The drifts of sand everywhere showed me that at one point these caverns had been full of water, but the caves we were using at least dry now. And my new training floor was swept clean of sand by the Mahid, first thing, leaving the dry rock bare. Ilesias hooted and howled and made noises just to hear the echoes coming back to him from all directions over the roar of the waterfall.
Binshala and Ailadas and Kaita and Ilesias all sat close to the fire, the only truly warm place in the whole complex. “Spark of the Sun’s Ray. This cavern is the limit of how far down you may come. These passages go on for malas and once lost one could simply die of starvation and cold without hope of being saved.”
“Of course, my guardian.” I could see Kaita take a tighter hold on Ilesias. Goddess, don’t let him get away from her in here. I put my toes on the line chalked on the rock and started.