I woke with the covers dragged off me by 2nd Amitzas in a rage. I had told Gannara not to wake me, though he usually did. I told him I wanted to sleep in and why. “Get up. Spark of the Sun’s Ray, what do you mean by lazing in your bedroll!”
The first chill had snapped me awake but after that jolt I hadn’t moved, after pushing Gannara out of the bed. I smiled beautifically up at the First Second. “2nd Amitzas, go fik yourself, and the horse you ride on. Better yet, eat shen and die.”
He froze as if he couldn’t understand what I was saying, in perfectly clear Arkan. I broadened my smile and kindly gave him enlightenment. “And you are out of uniform, you asshole. It should be white with black buckle, not black and silver. It’s Jitzmitthra and none of this will ever have happened. Necessary to maintain our cherished traditions, isn’t it you vile, perverted, evil man?”
I was vaguely aware of Gannara scrambling out of the way, my eyes locked on Ice Eyes. He trembled and then his muscles unlocked from their usual rigidity in a strange way as if melting. He stretched, creaking in his joints, shook himself. Then he lunged and grabbed me by the sleeping shirt just under my chin, hoisting me up to his face. His breath smelled of metal as if he were not human but some kind of mechanism, an automaton built for the fat guy. He smiled into my eyes as my toes reached vainly for the floor. I pushed too far… big mistake…
“You soft, spoiled, whining, cowardly musard,” he said softly, using the old insult for someone who was a useless dreamer. “You’re right. It is indeed Jitzmitthra and I don’t have to drive your sniveling, cringing, snotty little self to be the kind of Imperator you should be. I will be able to ignore you with impunity for this blessed few days and not struggle to break your stupid defiance and intransigence.” He had my sleepshirt collar twisted tight enough that I saw spots in front of my eyes before he dropped me back on the bed, turned his back and left us alone.
As he left he raised his voice to yell, “JITZMITTHRA!” I stared after his vanishing back. “Everybody go back to bed! Sleep in! Do what you want!” I wondered if saying all that was making his lips bleed.
“Oh, kahara. Minis do you have to push that hard?”
“I can’t help it, Gannara,” I said pulling my shirt off over my head. I didn’t have to bear anything, do anything. I carefully folded… or tried to fold the shirt, though I was only guessing how, and set it on my pillow, checked that the Imperial book was still where it should be. “It feels like if I stopped fighting him, he’d win and turn me into the ravening madman he thinks I need to be, to save Arko.” It was an arresting thought. He thinks he’s in a desperate place, having the responsibility of saving Arko on his shoulders and stuck with me… or what he thinks I am… to do it with. It was the closest I could get to sympathy for the man.
“I don’t understand all this Jitz stuff, it’s like you all go… sane for a while.” He was both serious about his question and grinning because it was all so different.
“Or insane. Or both. No rules, really. Oh, how is Binshala today? Is she well enough to be up?”
I didn’t want to worry about anyone today but I had to. I looked up through the cracks in the roof. “It looks like its going to be hot and sunny today, why don’t we get her outside into the nice warm sun and I can try and put to together some food for us?” In the distance I could hear echoes as someone yelled ‘It’s Jitz! It’s Jitz!” their voices turned into booming, weird calls, the hard and sibilant sounds making the words a monster’s wail.
“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” someone said from behind me. A woman. Women. Kyriala with her hair almost loose, just tied up enough to keep from dragging, gloveless, veiless… she was wearing her nightgown and… bare feet. Kaita had a blanket wrapped around her and Ilesias tied to her like a puppy. He was naked and stamped his feet. “Let go! Let go! I wanna be with Minis!”
“You do? Oh good.”
“Why don’t you and I and the short little blob over there –“ he squealed, ‘Hey! Not me! You’re the blob!”-- “go and get some food, while Kaita and Shefenkas get Binshala up and into the sunshine?”
“Oh, um, sure! We could go over to the edge of the creek and let stinker here paddle in the water.”
“Arrrrr! My name is Ilesias! Stop that!”
“It’s Jitz, so I can say what I want little bro. And if we don’t get clean we’ll all end up with Lakan mammoka stuck in the wax pouring out of our ears.” He giggled and so did Kyriala and Kaita.
“Ky,” the nurse said as if they were friends somehow. “Good ideas, both.”
“Oh,” I said. “Ky… during Jitz… it’s not Shefenkas… his name is Gannara.”
Her glance over at him was interesting, as if she were considering, and somehow relieved of a bad thought. Of course. She’d only seen me yelling at and mistreating him. We had her fooled too.
“I understand. I’m glad I’m dreaming this. It makes you a much better person in my eyes.” Oh shen, it’s a risk, but… smart girl… saying it’s a dream, turning it into a dream. Even on Jitzmitthra. “Isn’t this a funny dream, Kaita?”
The nurse looked up from untying the long rope she had around Ilesias and re-knotting it around mine for the time we would still be in the caverns. I’d be able to let him loose once we were outside. She looked up, “A dream, Ky? Oh yes, I’m not even sure I heard you correctly. I’m sure.”
The kitchen area in the caves was as rudimentary as always, and no one was there. The bags of stores stacked as neatly as possible and even Mahid couldn’t make bags of grain sit in nice neat lines. The stacks of awful bread shingles were piled up and people had already been down to grab some.
“We could soak these in something like milk or juice,” Kyriala said. “It’s like babyfood but at least it would taste a little better.”
“All right, why don’t I grab that jug of milk…” I hoisted the strap over my shoulder as she filled her basket with the bread and set a basket of redberries in as well. “And that little jar of honey…” I might not be interested in sweet but I could still eat it.
“Oh, look…” She indicated an air-cured ham hanging up.
“Excellent, I’ll cut a hundred thin slices rather than haul the whole thing.” She put a full waterskin next to the milk jar where I’d set it down. Which I thought was odd, after all we were going to be sitting next to a whole creek of clear, pure water.
I shrugged and sliced on the stump-end used as a chopping board while she put a part-wheel of cheese in her basket. “There. A jar of pickled onions and olives, some salt. Anything else? We can’t carry much more!”
“Oh, Ilesias!” She only sounded a little dismayed.
While I was slicing he’d gotten the jar of honey open and had dug it all out with his fingers and into his mouth, mostly. He sat, looking up at us, innocently, his cheeks and hands and arms shiny sticky. Then he set one hand onto the rocky, sandy floor and came up with half the cave stuck to his fingers. “I like honey. And butter.”
“No butter left that isn’t rancid,” I said. I’d sniffed it and left it. “It’s all right little brother, you bring the honey jar. Just don’t touch anything.”
Kyriala laughed. She had a good laugh. A real one, not a strangled titter like every courtier I’d ever heard.