This winter has not been so bad as last, at least from the point of view of the weather. Ilesias’s birthday this year wasn’t as good as he thought last year’s. Binshala would have made him a real cake from the supplies still in the monastery cellars but he wanted his stack of whipped cream and pancakes and fruit that she’d made for him before. I could see it was going to become a tradition.
I was numb. I spent the winter numb and came up with one or two winter escape plans that were just nonsense. I found that the most peaceful time in my own head was when I did my Ten Ten’s practice, but not under 2nd Amitzas’s eyes. I would get up in the middle of the night and my Mahid guard, whoever was on duty would trail behind me as I padded down icy stone corridors to the training hall. If they ever reported to the First Second what I was doing, I never found out, but they would just take up station just inside the door and I could forget they were there.
The stone was always cold under me, but that was right. It was as cold as I was inside. But doing the practice, I would set my mind to the inside of the Temple at high sun, with the rays of light streaming over Muunas’s face and the whole altar space in front of His statue. The heat of an Arkan summer. I could fool myself into switching the feeling of ice on me to a feeling of heat, after all, they both burned.
And I would do my practice to smooth out my knotted, roiled mind, praying to my ancestors in Selestialis in the hopes they would intercede with the Great Judge for me and my rotten soul.
Why? Was a question I could no longer fling up to Selestialis. I could not think of any reason why the Gods would have fated me to carry on my father’s corruption. “… for the sins of the fathers flow through the bloodline… yea unto the tenth generation… woe to the sons. We lament, oh Muunas. We lament. We are born into sin and cry to Thee to save us from ourselves and our blood.” I whispered the verse into the dark hall.
In the monk’s cell where Gannara and I slept the floorboards under the bed came up easily and there was a crawl-space below too narrow for either of us. Once the ground was no longer frozen and with a bit of digging, Gannara and I would be able to get out of my cell without any Mahid seeing us.
Of course no one else in the group of people I wish to get out, except my little brother, would be able to take that kind of route. “I cry to thee, oh Selestialis. My tears are bitter in my mouth and are my sustenance. Ashes, ashes and misery is the world. Oh woe to the living, for all is death.” The Lament of King Dafidas sat easily in my mouth and should any Mahid hear me, I was very properly quoting scripture.
I bowed to the room when I was finished and paused. First Second was having me read through all the rituals for the Imperator, but no longer do them, citing field conditions. I think that having the other Mahid witness me doing the rituals that set me above him… annoys him.
I had seized too much control from him doing the ritual for the dead and he had not had me perform anything but my Ten Ten’s practice in front of the other Mahid, since. I'd missed the season’s change and the rite of New Candles, both in the blur of winter. These midnight sessions must stand for those. I raised my hands to my head in a swift apology, the prayer sign fleeting. “May the Light continue, oh my ancestors.” Another quote from the Book and thus safe to speak. I am in Darkness here, while the Light continues for Arko. I am so thankful that the connection between Imperator and people has truly not been broken, despite the fat guy’s best efforts. I may safely leave the responsibility in Chevenga’s hands. His hands wear the seals. Amen.
It was Oas 34, almost dawn and I was in the halls, heading back to my cell when I heard a muffled shriek. I stopped and heard another, so quiet I couldn't tell where it came from. One of these rooms… It is a woman I think… Binshala’s cell.
It wasn’t a Mahid being corrected by the First Second… not now. I yelled an alarm and, heedless of my Mahid saying ‘Spark of the Sun—‘ behind me, I thrust her door open hard enough that it crashed against the stone wall. 2nd Amitzas just straightened up from beside my nurse’s bed. “What’s wrong? Binshala? Honoured guardian is she all right?” She isn’t moving. Her eyes are… they are half open. She wasn’t moving. I actually shoved past him, he stepped back so I didn’t touch him. I fell to my knees next to the bed, onto the pillow on the floor. “Binshala! Binshala!”
I shook her and her head rolled in a way that I knew. Everything went blank inside. Her cheek, turned up to the ceiling as though she were looking at the wall, was still warm under my hand. The knot of understanding got hotter and hotter like a fire mountain bulging in my chest. A tiny spot of blood showed at the corner of her mouth.
“I regret to inform you, Spark of the Sun’s Ray, that your nurse’s disabilities have carried her off to her just reward. Rest she in Selestialis.” I was vaguely aware of the crowd in the doorway. Kyriala with her braid looped up over her wrist, her sleeping robe a white column, Inensa holding the lamp now flooding the room, her shadow.
Kyriala did not hesitate a moment but came in and sank to the floor gracefully next to me, her hands on Binshala next to mine.
It was amazing that the First Second did not burst into flames on the spot with the force of rage in my eyes. “You---“
“She died of natural causes, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.”
“Natural causes? Natural causes?” I rose up in front of him, glaring into his face. He cut me off.
“It is as I have said.”
I almost couldn’t see him, the red drifting in from the edges of my vision. Kyriala had gently straightened Binshala where she lay and stood up next to me. There was a tiny blood spot on one of her gloves and, without a word, she held the accusing hand out toward 2nd Amitzas. He ignored her as she stood, strong as a statue. She folded her hand protectively around that tiny spot and spoke up. “I accuse---“
His hand flashed out and struck her across the face, knocking her into me. “Be silent.” I had my arm around her to hold her up. Her hand, with Binshala’s silent witness to her murder soaked into the silk, covered her face. It was only her weight against me that kept me from lunging at the First Second, my breath and my heart thundering in my ears like drums.
I steadied her and myself, caught control of myself once more. “First Second Mahid," I said, my voice cutting like a razor in a way I'd never hear myself speak before. "You have the right to discipline me. Do not raise your hand against the Mirror of the Radiant Light.” I will kill him. I will jump on him and… what? Kill him with my bare hands? Tear his throat out with my teeth? He’s a better warrior than I and they’d just pull me off him.
He just turned away from us, dismissing my protest. “I will see to the woman’s burial, later today. And then you will prepare yourself to move us.”
“And who is going to do the proper rites for Binshala?” She wasn’t just ‘the woman’, she had a name, she had grandchildren, she was a person whom he had just killed; and for what reason? Slowing us down? It was not as if we were under direct pursuit. He killed her for his convenience.
“The Gods will understand,” he said.
Kyriala stiffened in my arm and straightened up against my hold. “She deserves the rites no less than the Mahid who fell in the mountains last summer, First Second Mahid!” In my rage I was astonished. How could she speak up to Ice Eyes who had just struck her?
“The Mirror is correct,” I said. Ignoring 2nd Amitzas completely, knowing that if he did not stop me now he couldn’t, I turned to Kyriala and asked “If the Mirror would be so good to take the Goddess’s side?” It was proper. It was right. I would not let 2nd Amitzas stop me. It was about honouring those who had died in my service,. Why was it always about those killed for me? Why was he trying to get me to forget that they deserved better than to be buried in forgotten graves behind me?
“Of course, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.”
She went to Binshala’s feet and I stood where I was, 2nd Amitzas turning, hesitant, awkward, between me and her and his wife, unsure of whom to command first. “Before Selestialis, I am the Spark of the Sun’s Ray, and though the Imperator is dead, I live. I hold the hope of every Aitzas and Aitza to intercede with the most High, [forgive me Muunas] I open the Gates of Selestialis with my hands. Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust...”
The rite was begun. 2nd Amitzas could no more stop us than he could shen on the floor of the Temple, without risking his own forzaking. The eyes of Mahid and Ailadas and Gannara… everyone who could see through the door could see that Kyriala and I were doing the mourning rites for Binshala and even if 2nd Amitzas closed the door, they would still hear. And every one of them knew most of the Aitzas rites, even for the women.
Kyriala, bless her, raised her voice to sing the descant to the song for the woman dead untimely. It was the only way we would be allowed to accuse.
She and I extended our hands over the body of the woman who had mothered me for years, wiped my bottom and my tears, tried to teach me, cuddled me in the depths of the night when the night terrors grew too big for me to fight. I had to cough more than once to keep my voice clear and strong, for her soul's sake.
I will weep later, in private, out of respect. Why did he do that? Why did he have to kill you? Why, why, why?