I choked down breakfast, still shaking from Obedience, my clothing too harsh on my body. Kyriala was also perfectly turned out, but she was paler than normal, her lips held tight as though to clench on every word.
2nd Amitzas called for us to dance after breakfast, less because it was training and more to emphasize his control of us. Thank the Ancestors Gannara is no longer screaming. I’m afraid that three beads worth of Obedience will be too much. He spoke freely. Sinimas, he spoke to Ice Eyes as if he had never been tortured into silence. Oh, Selestialis, guard his heart, guard his body, give him strength.
I whispered to Kyriala on our first pass. “I saw she was special to you, Serina.”
She paled, then flushed. “Spark of the Sun's Ray, thank you, for what you did.” And we had to spin apart to dance our separate forms before spinning back to touch the backs of our hands together.
I leaned close. “You're welcome. I need to talk to you, soon... sometime when murdering dogs can't hear.”
She flinched and nodded. “Oh, I’m sorry, Serina,” I said more loudly. “I apologize for stepping on your toe.”
Her eyes were red-rimmed all around. Both of us were still recovering from Obedience and I tried to send her warmth through the only part of me that could touch her, the back of my hand. “What do you need to speak to me for?”
“They'll crush us. They want me to be a monster.” We backed four steps and I bowed and she curtsied to me, graceful as a crane. Step up and cross wrists, touch the crossed wrists of the partner. “You don’t deserve to be wed to a monster.”
“I... you're not a monster, Spark of the Sun's Ray.” We had to turn in place, connected by our crossed wrists in a full circle. “Monsters don't give rites to servants.”
“Not yet. We’re getting away the first moment we can, -- Serina,” The Mahid woman chaperon coughed. I was too close in the dance. “-- Enchanting dance. You are very light on your feet.”
She somehow managed to blush at my compliment. Both of us pretending that absolutely nothing had happened. As if 2nd Amitzas hadn’t just killed my mother in spirit, hadn’t just tried rip my heart out. I could smell the last of the stink of Obedience sweating out of me, oozing out onto my freshly washed skin. I swallowed to keep my gorge, turning it into a ‘flustered boys’ gulp.
“Why, thank you, You Whose Compliment is the Blessing of The Soul,” she simpered, turning her raging eyes toward where 2nd Amitzas stood, her gaze half veiled. “The weather is very pleasant this morning.”
“Delightful, You Whose Beauty Reflects the Eternal Light.” One more promenade with arms extended. Then close for the final whirl, the two of us supposed to be imitating the spin of the Celestial bodies around one another. “Not tonight. We’re moving today. When we camp next.”
The music, a particularly mechanical rendition by the Mahid harpist, finished and we bowed to each other, the perfectly matched dancers for a Celestialinin. She was led away by Inensa, who took hold of her wrist. “First Wife,” I said. “I am sure the Mirror does not need to be led by the wrist like a recalcitrant child.”
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray,” 2nd Amitzas said behind me. “She is commanded to. Does the Spark of the Sun’s Ray truly wish to continue correction?”
I turned around and bowed all the way to my waist, lowering my head to him. “No, honoured guardian. No, no, certainly. I am mistaken, I was mistaken.”
“Good. Begin your Ascension ritual practice.”
“Yes, my honoured guardian.”
I did everything he commanded while all around me I could hear the Mahid packing up what they could and I did my practice alternating between worrying about Gannara and fantasizing about torturing 2nd Amitzas to death with one of his own knives.
Gannara was recovered enough to be loaded onto a mule like a piece of folding furniture. He could sit the mule but had his eyes clenched shut. Someone had let him clean himself up and I hissed to him once we were on the trail to the west. “Are you all right?”
He answered me without moving his lips, through clenched teeth so his face didn’t change. “yes.”
“I’ve s’oken to the Mirror,” I said, following suit in case the First Second looked. Very few labials. “We’re getting out as soon as we can.” A sentence that can be said almost entirely without moving the face. 2nd Amitzas, in front of us, slowed his horse a fraction, turning his head toward us. I raised my voice, commanding him. “Slave I will require my tutor at the first rest halt.” He nodded, apparently again driven silent. I caught the fleeting satisfaction on Ice Eye’s face as he turned to look forward once again.
It was spring enough and we were low enough that the rains had begun in earnest. “Ah, Ahem. Spark of the Sun’s Ray? We have no lesson plan for today, ahem.”
“A history lesson is what I desire, my tutor.” I didn’t need to look around at the Mahid all around us. The First Second's attention was already glazing over as he overheard the word ‘history’.
“Perhaps the reconnaissance missions of Turfias the Fox? Or the Scouts of the Most High? Third Joras wrote something about his scouts in the Imperial Book but there is more information, surely.”
“Ahem. Of course. Ahem. Ahem.” He was coughing like an old steaming kettle puffing up to a full boil as he thought and I was happy that I’d taken his mind off what’s happened.
His eyes were red and I wondered, in a distant, painful way, if he'd been falling in love with Binshala… as old as they were. People over the age of twenty-five still fall in love, don’t they?
“… the recounting general absolutely stressed the importance, for anyone else who might find himself in a like position, of thinking of every contingency... considering every possibility....”
Ailadas was doing a magnificent job of answering my unasked question. “Ahem, I quote: “The plan must be comprehensive and detailed... while not too complex to be practicable or easily changed with changing circumstances.”
That’s what stopped me in the first place. That’s what got Binshala killed. That I was too slow to figure it all out. “In fact the warrior must have more than one plan in his head... at least two contingencies must be available to him.” Yes and I’m stuck on stealing Kyriala’s blessing box and enough horses to get us away from the Mahid fast enough. “In such a situation, where he is alone against, or at least outnumbered by, many enemies... there is little to no margin for error...”
I nodded as we rode.
“It is crucial that all accomplices in the action are very clear on what the plan calls for them to do...” Yes. Yes. It’s all true but it has stopped me. It’s thinking about this that has stopped me in my tracks. What am I to do? Six people. Twelve horses. Horse fodder, tack, grain, the treasury box with Kyriala’s box…
I sat on the edge of the river with Gannara at my feet while the camp was being set up behind us. Tents again. Full tents. At least they had not gotten soaked while we were riding.
Rain drops made silvery circles and arcs and new circles on the quiet, deep river. I hurled broken bits of twig into the water and watched them whirl away from me, swept by the invisible current.
How do I get six people out of Mahid clutches? I could almost hear Binshala telling me quietly. “You’re trying too hard, Spark of the Sun’s Ray. Let it go like those twigs and you’ll be all right.” There is rain on my face, and on Gannara's too. Warm rain.
I wrapped myself around Gannara that morning, after we’d stopped, hearing the pattering of the rain on the tent roof.
“Are you all right?” I asked him.
“I’m good.” He was more limp in my arms than I liked and I gathered him close as if I could tauten up his will and his body in one. “I’ve got you. I was amazed that you told the First Second so much truth. You looked like Chevenga facing my father down.”
He twitched in my grip. “Really?”
“Yeah, really. You’re just as brave as him, and he came back from being totally destroyed to sitting on the Crystal Throne. You’re just as brave as he is.” He was quiet, shivering occasionally, not saying anything. I’d just have to keep telling him.
I’m dreaming and I know I’m dreaming. I’ve tried over and over and over to get to the horse-lines and once Nasty even opened his big horse mouth and called 2nd Amitzas to come and catch me.
My horse looks at me and neighs laughter. “Too complicated, Minis. Go for the simple answer.”
I stand on the bank of the river and watch my father chase Chevenga all over the meadow and the river bank. “You’re mine! You can’t escape me!” is what the fat guy is yelling and Chevenga is dancing. Dancing and jumping and dancing from hillock to hillock and then he leaps up and dives… a beautiful dive… into the river, leaving the fat guy to sweat and swear and wave his hands ineffectually.
I am in the water, floating further and further away from Kurkas, who wades into the water, cursing it and screaming that he is afraid of it and waving his arms and then… he is 2nd Amitzas, up to his chin, not daring to go one step further for fear he will drown.
I can swim. I splash water in his face as he reaches for me. “I’ll torture you into submission! I’ll kill all of your friends!” Ilesias floats by, sitting on one of the horse pannier boxes, giggling and waving his hands. They are water tight. 2nd Amitzas grabs for him but cannot reach him. We are all in the river, clinging to things or swimming… Gannara swims by, arms flashing like Chevenga’s.
2nd Amitzas lunges straight for me, misses and goes under completely, bubbles of air popping to the surface full of the sound of him drowning trying to reach me… I am so happy watching him drown…. And Chevenga says in my ear, “… just lean back, Minis. Let the water hold you up. Trust. And you cannot sink.”
I wake up in the middle of the night, laughing. Of course. Of course.