-First, “I am Mahid; my will is the will of the Imperator.”
-Second, “I am Mahid; my duty is ultimate loyalty.”
-Third, “I am Mahid; the Imperator’s thoughts shall be my only thoughts.”
-Fourth, “I am Mahid; our strength is our numbers. One finger may be broken, a clenched fist is harder to break.”
-Fifth, “I am Mahid. Solitude breeds oddness. Seek other Mahid.”
-Sixth, “I am Mahid. If thoughts intrude, the Maxims are our salvation. Think only the Maxims if there is nothing else to think.”
-Seventh, “I am Mahid; I lay myself on the altar of the Divine Imperator.”
-Eighth, “I am Mahid; with perfect acceptance there is no suffering.”
-Ninth, “I am Mahid. I will kill any thought alien to the Imperator’s thought.”
I could feel my chest going up and down gently. I was talking to Chevenga and two attractive women in the Puckered Fig wasn’t I? I thought… I remembered being embarrassed and laughing and there were some ideas about Kyriala… why hadn’t she been there in my dream? My chest was, indeed, rising and falling and I felt fine. I felt good. That dream about slaughtering Mahid… I could do it, perhaps. Could I betray and murder forty two men? And perhaps the women too? I… don’t think so.
If it was the only way to get everyone safely away from Mahid influence and control, I would consider it. If.
The sun on my face shifted as though I was under light shade instead of in the middle of the meadow. The sound of water trickled over rocks nearby. A plunking ‘splash’ and Ilesias’s giggle.
I was… lying on my back, yes. My knees were bent. I had a sore spot on my upper thigh… a bruise from yesterday where 2nd Amitzas had smashed through my guard and hit me there with his sword. My stomach muscles were sore as well. I hadn’t been aware it was a dream. It still felt like I was in a dream.
I normally knew when I dreamed… and was that a nightmare? Or a wish-fulfilment? I wasn’t certain.
The sound of Binshala laughing, even though she had had to be carried out into the warm sun, rather than walking out by herself. She’d begun throwing a cloth over her gloved hands, obviously ashamed of them, ashamed of their painful immobility. I couldn’t tell if the joints were deformed by the arthritis. “You are terrible, old man,” she said. “I first heard that joke when I was learning how to thread needles.”
“Truly? Ahem—I shall have to update my materials then if I am to impress a lady.” Ailadas had a smile in his voice. Both of them did. It did my heart good to hear it. Maybe that was why I didn’t stir, just lay, breathing evenly, eyes closed, listening.
Ilesias was squealing and both Kaita and Kyriala were laughing. I had to peek. I cracked my eyes open a little and looked, still pretending sleep, looking through my eyelashes. Binshala and Ailadas, behind me, were still chatting amiably as if they were the best of friends, Ailadas, the old fox, flirting with my nurse.
My eyes took in the scene in front of me and I had to smile a little too. Just at the bottom of my vision, Kaita and Kyriala sat, with their bare feet on warm stones at the water’s edge. I lay up a bit higher from the water on a grassy bank. Wading in the water, Ilesias had only his shift on, his hair growing long now, toddler’s hair, wet enough to lie down rather than standing up in a puff all around his head.
The stream here wasn’t deep enough for anyone to swim, at least until my little brother decided to move enough rocks to try and build a dam. It was a lot of little rocks but Ilesias had gotten distracted and stood waving a stick with a fringe of green clawfish clinging to it. One on the end would drop off – splish-- into the water and he’d dig down with the stick under the rock and it would catch on again with one or both of its claws. Of course he’d lose others when he put the stick in the water.
“HERE FISHY FISHY FISHY! He bellowed at the water while Ky and Kai giggled at him. Unbeknownst to him he had a clawfish latched onto the back of his wet tunic, curling and uncurling its segmented tail.
“I’m glad he’s starting to listen,” Kaita said to Kyriala, who nodded.
“I’m glad he wants Minis and me to like him. I don’t know what we’d do if he didn’t.”
He wants to like her? And me? Of course. I imagine for a moment what I would have been like if 17th Kurkas had lived and loved me.
“If the Mahid would let him, he’d follow Minis around all the time,” Kyriala said thoughtfully. “Children do tend to be very perceptive when it comes to people’s character.”
Kaita laughed. “Is that why he tends to hide in your hair and Koren’s? He was all for bringing Binshala every worm he caught yesterday… or pieces of all the worms he dug up.”-- “HERE FISHY FISHY FISHY!”—“I know someone else who would be following the Spark around if allowed to,” she said, a tone in her voice I’d never heard from a servant before. Like one of my friends teasing me.
And why was Kyriala blushing? She said something but all I could hear was “HERE FISH! COME HERE FISH! HERE FISHY FISHY!
“That would be entirely improper,” was the next thing Kyriala said that I could hear, clearly the end of what she'd said. She was smiling. Her eyes flickered over to look at me where I lay pretending to sleep. “I wish…”
What she wished I really wanted to hear but right at that moment one of Ilesias’s clawfish lost its grip on his stick as he swung it, and he couldn’t have planned it more perfectly. It flipped in the air and landed straight in Kyriala’s lap. She leaped up with a shriek and I rolled up to my feet and was two steps toward her, hand outstretched before she caught her breath; the clawfish flipping into the water at her feet. “Oh! Spark! I’m sorry I didn’t mean to wake you, I—“
“—are you all right?” Her words and mine clashed and crumbled together into a broken mumble of sound all around our feet and we ended up blushing at each other. Ilesias had stopped, looking at us and his clawfish plunked gently into the water one after the other.
“Um. My dreams weren’t good, um… Mir.. Kyriala…” my mouth almost fumbled, giving her the honorific when these days it should just be her name, but at long last I managed to say something to her without my voice breaking high. “It’s all right that I was woken, you don’t want to know…”
“Oh. In that case…Minis… I’m glad to have woken you.” The ends of her hair were in the stream by now and trailing gently toward the half-stacked pile of rocks.
“Um. Do you want to help Ilesias build his dam?” Wonderful idea, ask the girl to heave rocks. I smacked myself internally for such a stu—
“I’d love to.” She pulled her hair up out of the stream with both hands and whipped it into a knot at the nape of her neck. This can’t be happening. This is just so beautiful. Here she was, wet hair knotted, gloves off, every layer of her shifts soaked to the knees and bare feet. I thought she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, even though I’d seen her mostly in the full court regalia. “You should close your mouth, Minis,” she said, grinning at me. “You’ll catch dragonflies.”
For some reason Gannara, sitting next to Binshala in case she needed anything, giggled and I shot him a look. Binshala and Ailadas were both smiling. I’d look like an idiot if I frowned so I ducked my head instead. “It might get deep enough to do a cool bath in the middle,” I said instead of answering her.
And now it was Ailadas who laughed out loud, leaned over and said something to Binshala. She smiled but mercifully didn’t laugh. I’d have to ask Gannara what was so funny later.
“I’ll set out a snack for us, then,” Kaita said, rising. “When you’re tired of messing about in the water it will be ready. Oh. Good for you two, whoever brought the wine-skin.” Wine skin? Oh dear. I haven’t drunk wine in a year. I will be a very easy drunk. No. I will have one for enjoyment and company. Just one. That way I won’t get drunk and embarrass myself.