It was so dangerous in the caverns, since Ilesias would not listen about not wandering off, that Kaita tied a rope around him and tethered him to her waist. Even though he had enough play to run around her as she sat, he threw a howling tantrum that I heard, even in the new cave 2nd Amitzas had my things moved to. The first cave, with its openings, was too wet and cold during a storm and it was raining often enough to have water in the meadow below hock deep on the horses.
“Ilesias, you cannot run, here,” I told him. He stuck out his lower lip, crossed his arms and sat down, pouting. As if that would change anybody’s mind. He looked just like the fat guy. I shook my head at him. “It is too dangerous. You’ll fall in a hole and maybe get stuck or lost or drowned and have your eyeballs eaten by bugs.”
He tried to keep a straight face as I went on in detail about all the gruesome things that could happen to him. “I would not! Not fall into any holes and no bugs on me! No bugs in my eyes! Or my ears! Not coming out my nose either! You’re gross!”
“Yes, I’m gross little brother. And I’m going to get more gross if you don’t mind your nurse!”
“Whining my name will not make me want to let you go. Why don’t you practise some of the knots the slave showed you?”
“Now you are sounding much younger than you really are. We’re living in the hardest of circumstances, Ilesias. I miss things too. But we’re safe here, as long as we follow the rules of our guardians.”
His pout had eased while he argued with me and I felt like a hypocrite because I was fighting my guardian’s rules every step of the way. I felt like one of the nasty horses being broken to war-saddle. I’d have to share that image with Gannara later. Me with my heels dug in like hooves, bucking.
“Ilesias, will you promise me solemly, on your hope of Selestialis, that you will obey Kaita, please?”
“Then you have to be a prisoner... and you cannot reach that knot no matter how hard you try.” It was a Mahid prisoner knot anyway, not easy to undo even if he did manage to reach it. He swelled up like a frog about to croak. I caught Kaita and Kyriala exchanging glances and then almost as one put their gloves over their ears.
With the echoes it was amazing the amount of sound he could produce. I was suddenly very glad we were so far below ground. In a villa, even a reputedly haunted and cursed villa, it would have been very hard to disguise his outraged yells as the shrieks and moans of the forzak in Hayel.
I stuffed my own fingers in my ears and fled.
The cave that was finally mine had been transformed. It had a rug upon the sand and one thrown over a ledge of rock for me to sit upon. The book boxes had been set so that the bedroll could be placed upon them like a true bed. A line had been tied between two ceiling teeth just out of sight of ‘my bed’ and all the satins and silks had come out and been hung as if it were a true closet. The madness all around me continued. Binshala needed Gannara to do something for her and I was by myself for once.
The folding table and chairs were in the great cavern where I used them as a school room until it was time to set table for the evening meal. 2nd Amitzas had finally allowed enough field conditions rules to let all the other meals be informal. And as much as he tried to fill every single second of my day with lessons of one kind or another sometimes he slipped up. This gap between the noon meal and Ailadas’s first lesson of today had been created by the simple expedient of eating fast. It wasn’t as if anything tasted good anyway.
From my cave there was a broken shaft that was almost like stairs and I could climb up to a broader, flatter way. Thank Selestialis there was no way to look straight down or I would think I was in an oubliette. The flat path looped around to part of the caverns where someone had smoothed walls and built with stone blocks. There had been inner doors at the end once, but only the stone hinges were still there.
The Mahid were working on replacing them but they had no dressed wood and none of them had any kind of carpentry training. No one had thought they would need to build so there was not one hammer packed, nor could one cut a peg with their razor sharp killing knives, so they struggled with it.
I walked past them as they stood, looking at bits of wood salvaged from the keep ruin and vines, no doubt puzzling how to make the loose bits obey. I could see it was daylight outside and suddenly needed to see the sun like I need to drink water. The little lamps only lit enough for our feet and not much else.
2nd Amitzas had not even thought I might wish to go out. I would have to take advantage of my rare solitude and would not bother asking permission just so he could deny me. “I shall be outside, Mahid.”
6th Nuninibas looked as if he were trying to think. “I will be just outside,” I said. “Not far and not for long. My lesson with my tutor begins in two tenths.”
Roughly. And none of them had a timer, only 2nd Amitzas had his. How could I be lonely and wish desperately to be alone all at the same time? The crack between the outer doors hadn’t changed or been widened. 2nd Amitzas must have had it scouted here that there were no people around.
Before I stepped outside I looked up just in case. There was nothing that looked like a soaring bird. I wanted to learn how to do that but I would have to have old, old prayers answered.
It was a sunny day for once and I picked a black rock to sit on because it would be warmer. My eyes, so short a time dark accustomed, were already stinging and sore from the sun. I shaded my face with my hand and looked down toward the meadow.
When I was young, so young my memories were as mushy as my food, I had falling dreams. But I would never hit the bottom. I would fall and fall and fall. It was almost soothing in a way. I would fall into a deeper kind of sleep and the dream would fade with me still falling.
Then when I was older I would dream of flying. In my dreams I had to cling to one of my pillows just so and it would float up into the sky away from Arko, looking at the funny shapes the tops of the Presentation fountains made and stealing the lighting rod off the top of Feliras’s Glory. Sometimes in those dreams the angels from Ten Angels would be freed of their stone prison and come up and fly all around me. I always felt protected then.
But flying now? No, it would be forever out of my reach. If I were ever caught I would imagine my dying dream would be of falling, the mind doing odd things as it was cut off from the rest of the meat. It would probably feel like a long time falling off the head’sman’s block. That would be more merciful than using the chamber, and quicker. More like what Chevenga would do.
“You know...” I said to no one. “I can’t pray. I shouldn’t. So if I talk to the air... and the grass... and the mountain, no one could possibly be offended... in fact, Sinimas... my first friend... the stone from your statue came from a seam in these mountains. Perhaps I should talk to you.”
“Sin, I really would like to not be me anymore. Minis Aan. The name started out as a joke and the fat guy, smother he forevermore, wrote it into the book that way. And I was born backwards, feet first, a Spark born to be snuffed out instead of becoming the Sun one day. I suppose it was a sign that I was born in Jitz, huh? I watched the fire of my family get stamped out by the fat guy.
“Maybe... I can just get born under a different name? Like... well. I found out I can be Minakas Akam, fessas. I’ll bet he has a long life ahead of him... maybe... being a Pages apprentice? A scholar? I’d get to read ever day, all day if I were a scholar, and no one would stop me to make me change one set of clean clothing for another just to eat a different meal.
“Minakas wouldn’t ever have to try and take back the whole Empire from a good man, a blessed man. He wouldn’t ever have had to destroy his best friend in the whole world. And I did it because Father threatened me with disinheriting me. I should have said no anyway. The whole forzak Empire isn’t worth that.
“2nd Amitzas thinks the whole Empire would rather have me, just because of that name... Aan. He doesn’t see that ‘Aan’ doesn’t mean good it means ‘evil, perverse, wasteful, petty, murderous....’ He’s got the delusion that it still means what your father... the Great Aan... and other sainted, hard-working, loving Imperators made it mean.
“Sin... I have to get away from 2nd Amitzas. I have to get away from myself, my own name. That name is going to be the death of me if I stay here. I’m like a prisoner of war and I have to escape my gaelors. Oh... shen... I can’t leave my little brother here either. If I run, he will be the target for the fat guy’s insane ambitions from beyond the grave. And I can’t leave Gannara behind, he’s my little brother too. And if I take my brothers and we get away, Ilesias will want his nurse. Oh hayel, I can’t leave anyone not Mahid in Mahid hands. But... I don’t even know how to get myself away from them.
“Sinimas, I have to get away in such a way they can’t find us, or follow us.” My forehead was down on my raised knees, the sun warm on the back of my neck, but inside I was cold and afraid. “I have to get six people and myself away from 2nd Amitzas in such a way that the human lightning snake won’t chase us and kill us all horribly.”
I looked up and blinked my watering eyes in the bright sun. “I’d best get inside before Ailadas sends out the alarm that I’m missing. But I’m glad I don’t have to think of a good plan for getting away overnight.” I took a deep breath and the dark green fringes all around the light green and sodden meadow came clear. “I can take my time, as long as I can bear it. And I’ll be able to fight 2nd Amitzas longer if I have a reason to hold onto myself. I can come up with a half a hundred plans and pick the best... and I’ll have help. Thanks for listening, Sin.”