I knelt and watched 2nd Amitzas put Minis through Hayel again. I suppose I should say we watched him, because a lot of the time I feel like two people. There’s Gannara in the middle, a little like the tender centre of an egg, but he’s mostly cut off, surrounded by a barrier of Arkan, as if he were a city walled in bricks made of words and pain. And sometimes the wall’s on fire.
And then there’s Shefen-kas, outside the wall. He speaks, if allowed, in fessas Arkan. He is mostly silent, obedient. I’m him mostly when I’m around Mahid. It’s safer that way. It’s a way to hide my tender Gannara bits.
Minis has busted holes in the wall, though. And thrown lines over it. And tunnelled under it. The first time was when he let me sign ‘yes’ and ‘no’ without hurting me for it. Binshala’s made some of those spider-thin lines into thick strong cables. She feeds me. Partly because Minis told her to and partly because she sees how he needs me.
I threw another piece of wood on the fire and watched it flare up toward the ceiling. I’m glad they weren’t dumb enough to set the fire under some of the ceiling spikes. Those can come down. I’m not sure where I know that from.
The kid runs over and flings his little arms around me. He doesn’t know I’m a daifikas. I’m just someone who hugs him.
He’s warm and when I hug him I get... ideas in my head. Images. From somewhere. Flashes as though I might almost remember little kids like him. Siblings? Family? I don’t know. They’re coming more and more often now. It’s like Gannara’s trying to escape, trying to get out of the besieged city, following the holes and the lines and the tunnels through the wall.
I don’t like these caverns. They’re too much like the Mahid section of the Marble Palace. I guess that’s why I had the nightmare. I'll probably have more. The caves echo like the Palace and I hate being surrounded by stone. I want wind in my hair. Ilesias gets up and goes back over to sit too close to the fire and gets pulled back by Kaita. He’s ready to yowl at her but she finds a group of interesting rocks and sets him stacking them up, building cities with them; stops him hurling them into the fire.
Minis is doing his practice perfectly and I can see that Ice Eyes is just itching to find something to find fault with. He’s restrained from tying Minis down and breaking him and just making him into what he wants. But that’s what he knows how to do. That’s what he wants more than anything, to make Minis do what he should.
Table. Restraints. Mahid. The wall’s trying to catch fire again. I look away, toward the stream falling from the ceiling. That’s interesting. And the press of stone against my knees as I kneel. Mama always said... My mind hiccups to a stop. Mama always said...what? I struggle to put a picture on that bit of a thought and can’t.
Think of something else. Those Mahid with their swords. At least they are teaching Minis something real with those. Not play. ...a rocking board with me on it... Rao and Vie are on the levers making it rock. I’m... sparring--- I think... the feel of my hand... the shock against the... the... hilt... my feet are bare and the boards are sanded smooth... creaking... “Pay attention! You be in tight quarters and can’t... a woman’s bellow... The bits of pictures whirl away from me like the pages of a book in a flame, their edges curling, their centres browning, obscuring the images, the feelings.
I bow my head and listen to the clashing of the sparring session going on now. Binshala comes up to me, touches me on the shoulder. “Shefen-kas, he will need warm water and you must come carry the basin and towels.”
For when the sparring is done. No organized schedule yet. And Binshala is in too much pain to lift the basin, or even the towels. This must be the closest thing in the world to Hayel for her. She’s moving mostly by will. I risk smiling at her as I get up and she smiles back before raising her nose at me, all Aitza.
I fetch the bowl with the towels and set both near enough the fire to keep warm. ... a stack of... something in my hands... the bowl... nope. The scrap of memory is gone again. How old am I? I can't remember. Younger than Minis, older than Ilesias. That doesn't help much.
Kyriala is sitting, watching. There’s not enough light for her to embroider. She’s frustrated and bored. How I know, I don’t know. I guess she’s perfectly calm to an Arkan but little things give her away, like the way her hem trembles and twitches a little where her heel moves without her noticing. I’m kneeling down here and see such things from different angles than everybody else.
Different angles... I’m high... very very high... laughing out loud my feet wedged in tight, my arms spread... That’ll show Rao he can’t bet me to do it no hands!... Do... what? It’s like flying. Am I climbing? Am I on a cliff? A rope. I’m on a rope and it’s a huge swing and a splash into the water.
Minis is done sparring and he’s soaked in sweat. The women withdraw for a bit so I can wash him down without them seeing his – gasp—naked body. It’s just a boy’s body for kahara’s sake.
I’m remembering more and more and sifting through the mess the Mahid left behind the walls of bone in my head. Maybe the city isn’t under siege quite so much any more and I can get on with rebuilding it... Minis turns to me and winks. I duck my head and smile into the basin. He’s probably had a sarcastic thought about Ice Eyes and he’ll tell me later.
2nd Amitzas is like a huge black thing squatting over me. He looms as big as... I gulp a little and push that memory out... as big as the fat guy. But when I’m with Minis he takes out the pin of his wit and just jabs a hole in the black thing... and it's hollow... it's dangerous but there’s a little more light coming through the black.
When the women come back, they have yarn and wool with them. Minis is given that stupid book... the one they call holy that’s full of the crazy ideas designed to torture people into being good... and they light a lamp for him to sit down to read to the women. All very stiff. But they cannot read and so need to be read to.
It’s a good thing he’s really starting to see them more like people instead of pleasant furniture. My shadow-papa would kick his butt if he treated my mama or shadow-mama that way... oh. That’s true. And it’s my real memory. I tuck it away tight in the locker in my head.
Ilesias sits down in my lap, with a ball of hard cotton, the kind of thing that a rug could be made of. He’s making a complete mess of things, so to the murmur of Minis’s voice reading I put my arms around and take his hands and show him how to straighten it out... then with his hands in mine I whip together a flat knot. He giggles and tries on his own but ends up with another snarl as I sit, a little stunned.
I can remember being taught that. Big hand on mine... me sitting just like this but on a grown-up’s lap. And it wasn’t heavy yarn but soft rope.
“You keep adding more to that,” I whisper in his ear, equal to equal. “And you’ll have a rug to keep your feet warm off the stone.”
He starts singing a made-up rug song and together we add another ring to the flat knot. Kaita gives me a grateful glance before turning to her finger-stick weaving.
I know how to make things out of string and rope. And another hole in the wall between Gannara and Shefen-kas gets a little bigger, another block of agony starts dissolving away. At this rate I’ll have a whole gate through the wall here... soon.
“...and smiling on His wife with that look which clears sky and storms, the Father of men and Gods lightly kissed his Goddess’s lips; then answered thusly;
“Spare thy fears, Daughter of Silver; the destiny of the sons of Arko abides unshaken. Thine Eyes shall see the city rise, their promised fortress built from the stars of the firmament, fallen from Celestial ground. Thou shalt exalt to the starry heaven. Those whom thou lovest shall wage great wars and crush warrior nations; they shall appoint the law and found their city. Here the full span of thrice a hundred years shall pass before he who will be known as Aan to behold, shall be born and laid upon the eagles wing... To this man's line I ordain neither period nor boundary of Empire: I will give them dominion without end. Thus it is willed. There shall be cycles of men, but Arko shall endure...”
I read Muunas’s Promise to Selinae by the light of the lantern. We would have to go out during the day, or use the caves with external holes for this kind of exercise soon. I’d overheard the one Mahid tell Gannara to be careful not to spill the lamp oil --or he’d beat him—because there wasn’t much left.
Joras and Matthas would be bringing more such things... once they caught up to us.
“First Wife.” I paused, looking up at Inensa. “Might I enquire why we are burning lampoil and firewood instead of sitting in an upper cavern and using daylight?”
“Spark, there is a spring storm beginning outside which will make such caverns wet. The First of the Mahid is seeing to the re-arrangement of accommodation.”
“Ah.” I looked around at the depth of the cavern where we sat and wondered idly... out loud... “I wonder if these caverns flood?”
I turned the page and continued reading as Inensa, without another word, got up and left, no doubt to pass on the question to her husband. The answer came back with 2nd Amitzas himself. Inensa ghosted up behind Kyriala in much the same way that Ice Eyes hovered over me. She cannot like that much. He waited for a pause in my reading and said. “Spark of the Sun’s Ray, your concern is noted, and unfounded. The Spark may rest assured that these portions of the caverns remain dry.”
These portions. Wonderful. I hope the passage way out doesn’t get flooded full and lock us in here. I’d have to kill and eat him. The irreverent thought was enough to make me happier. I nodded and turned my page to continue reading.