Monday, February 8, 2010

206 - Most, ahem, plausible

“Psst. Minis!” The rain is cold and I can hardly hear Gannara hissing into my ear. “The girls are already ahead of us! I’ll help you with the box!”

We slithered down the water and mud hillside toward the river bank, I thought I heard a shout and I check, trying to stop us. That throws off our balance and Gannara and I fall the box smashing open as we fall, the gemstones and chains and Kyriala’s blessing flung all around us into the muck.

I raise myself on my elbows and find myself staring at the First Second’s shiny black boots. Even in the rain? I look up slowly and find him standing over me, smiling. They have Ailadas in their black-gloved hands and are beating him. They have the girls and throw them down… and my little brother is screaming and Gannara and now me. “You think you can escape me, boy? No. Never. And you are no longer my Spark of the Sun’s Ray. You’ve failed me, trying to get away. You’ve failed your Divine Father. You are going to be the next training toy for your little brother who is the new Spark, for me. And you are going to be very sorry you ever defied me, you sinful worm.”

2nd Amitzas rips my shirt off and my trousers and four Mahid hold me by my arms and legs face down and he kneels behind me—“  

Mercifully I snapped awake, holding my breath. My heart was thundering in my chest, my breath – when I let it out – came fast. Gannara was stretched out on his stomach half sprawling out of the bed, twitching a bit as he dreamed of something, hopefully a better dream than I had just had.

I gathered him in and he turned and clung to me, his breath soft on my shoulder. Outside nightjars screeched and twittered close and then far away. Night midges whined and a distant wolf-pack howled. There were no human sounds coming from our camp, no one snoring or speaking in their sleep. They probably didn’t fart in their sleep. They were Mahid. Silence was one way to not be found. In our travels I had been surprised to find out how far the sound of even a small village travelled.

I’d had variations on this nightmare every night since I’d thought of the idea. All the different ways it could go wrong. All the different ways we could get caught. All the different, inventive tortures 2nd Amitzas would be permitted to exercise on our bodies… My sleep hadn’t been good.

I can’t do this. It’s all too much. I’m just a boy. I’m facing a black monster, a man who—if he even suspected me of treason against the fat guy’s memory would cheerfully, gleefully take me apart. He would then have to train up Ilesias. Or… if he failed as well, by the old law, 2nd Amitzas was third in line to try and take the throne.

He was not an ambitious man or held by his iron loyalty, or he would just have declared us both failed and cut our throats. But then he would have had to acquire loyal followers… and face down Chevenga…

Chevenga, I’m afraid. Raikas… you faced down the fat guy and he never frightened you. You never failed that way. I admit it. I’m a coward I think. I’ve been training to be a warrior only two years and I’m facing Mahid elite if it comes to fighting. I have to not fight or they’ll just kill me, kill us all. I have to out-think them. But there are so many things that could go wrong. I'm afraid.

The number of times I’ve dreamed of looking up at the solid rank of Mahid standing along the riverbank, cutting us all off from freedom… I’m afraid. I have to think straight. I can’t let my fear stop me. Stop us. I need to piss. I worked my way gently out of Gannara’s arms and he murmured and I soothed him…”Just latrine, Gan. You sleep.”

I stepped out of my tent and the Mahid… 2nd Donaras tonight… nodded at me in the bright moonlight. It was clear and bright and just past full, waning. It would be far better, though harder, for us to have a dark-moon storm. I looked up at it and wondered if the Goddess would deign to close Her Eye on our flight.

Donaras swung to escort me to the latrine and back, settling again at his post outside when I was done. I was imprisoned, not protected. A faint wisp of cloud closed the Goddess’s Eye as I went back inside. Sinimas help me, help us. Ask your father, my little brother’s namesake for his help. I’m afraid. I don’t want to end on a muddy riverbank with my guts raped out.


“Gannara…” He and I sat close, I with a book open on my lap. “When we get the storm we need… the first thing I have to do is kill my Mahid guard.”

“Oh. Yeah. Can you? I mean, they’re all warriors, and good ones.” As if I’m not frightened enough. He can’t know that I’m afraid. I have to be confident for him and for the others. I have to pretend confidence for myself.

“I figure I’ll be able to surprise him, he won’t be expecting it.”

“What if he yells?”

“That’s why I figured I was going to cut his throat.”

“I’d get him in the back.”

“Yeah. If I hit just right he won’t have breath to yell before he’s dead. I can. I was thinking of getting him into the tent to tell him the lamp needs to be re-lit or something.”

“Maybe I should do that,” Gannara said. “Get him inside and looking at me, you put the knife in his back." He looked pensive. “I’d just have to not look at you. Pretend you’re not there. I wouldn’t yell or anything, startled. I’d just be glad. Nothing new to him if I look scared having to talk to him.”

I smiled as if something in the book had caught me as funny. “That’s a good idea. Yeah. That will make it easier.” Working together. I’m not alone in this. With help we will all get away.

And even if I hate him, whichever Mahid he is, and want him dead, I will do the rites for him once I may, once I am safely away from them all. It is my duty. I cannot hate a dog for having been made vicious. My father made these Mahid as much as he made me. They are my family, even if I am not supposed to remember that. I am supposed to be sprung straight from the fat guy’s loins, untainted from contact with the female.

“Then we can stash him in my bed, and get out like stink.”

“Oh, kahara, yeah.” I am so glad you're willing to help, little Yeoli brother. I'm amazed at how calm you seem.


And then -- after all the downpours soaking us getting to our camping place and after -- the weather grew fair. I was chewing my nails to the quick, praying to my Ancestors to petition the Ten for rain. A night storm. Something loud enough to have three quarters of the Mahid trying to keep their horses calm, or hunkered down in their tents. Something heavy enough to wash away all traces of where we left the camp so that we would just appear to vanish in the night. In the rain, all tracking clues would vanish, giving 2nd Amitzas no way to discern which way to track us, as Ailadas pointed out to me in one of our planning sessions disguised as lessons.

“Ahem. It might also be wise to leave a misleading note for your guardian Mahid, Minis. Something setting him off on a four-legged turkey chase. Ahem, away from where we do intend to go. And perhaps something defying him in some sort of Imperial way… He would believe that. Ahem. Ahem.”

I was afraid that 2nd Amitzas would move us again, soon, and this nice deep, fairly smooth river would be replaced by a knee-high trickle or a lake, not a means of escape. It was hot enough during the days now that the air grew thick with my tension. When? Selestialis, when? How long before he decides another of my servants… my friends… are expendable? It’s not a matter of can I do it, but I… we have to. Only Ilesias and I are safe from the Mahid. They consider everyone else unessential and disposable.


The clouds had been building all day, piling up against what looked like a line in the sky, growing thicker and darker and blacker as the sun went down into them. The new moon is only a silver crescent, the Goddess’s Eye barely open. A very dark night. “It seems we may have a storm tonight, Spark of the Sun’s Ray,” Ailadas said innocently at dinner. “Of course it might merely blow over.”

My stomach clenched tight as he confirmed my hope and my fear. I wasn’t hungry before from tension, now I wasn’t hungry from fear. Not that I liked roasted marmot anyway. The Mahid dressing it out must have nicked a gland because there was a horrible skunky taint to the meat.

I had a sip of water to try and moisten my mouth, turned my head so Gannara could pat my lip dry with a napkin. I caught a glint of excitement and fear in his eyes, narrowed mine in a half-heartbeat smile.

Kyriala shuddered delicately and reached for her own water glass. “Oh, I do hope it doesn’t bring any tents down like last time. The Mahid women were nearly smothered under the wet.”

“The Mirror need not fear,” 2nd Amitzas said drily, as if to a mentally defective child. “We have reinforced the tents against another such incident, however," He addressed the table more generally. "Everyone will ensure they needn’t go out into the rain for any reason once the storm hits.” Using the latrines, he meant. “Lamps only.” He doesn’t want to deal with a knocked over candle and a flaming tent. Hmmm, I wonder if we should set a few on fire behind us? No, any kind of distraction like one or more flaming tents would cut down our time to sneak away. Someone would immediately run to check on me. I want to sneak out quietly, not with the equivalent of a krumperhorn and gong ensemble playing behind us.

The wind outside the dining tent was already flapping and tugging at fabric, making it either billow or suck in like a gigantic animal breathing. “It sounds like it will be a bad storm if this wind is any indication,” I said ostensibly to Ailadas. He winked at me surreptitiously and nodded. I ripped shreds of meat apart and shoved them around my Imperial plate.

“Spark of the Sun’s Ray.” The First Second said. “Food is not to be wasted. The wise commander keeps up his strength.”

“Yes, honoured guardian. Thank you for your instruction.”

I wrote the note that evening, in case the storm did break. Ailadas, shuffling his books nervously, obviously already missing them since he couldn’t carry any with us into the river, suggested I be childish and petulant in the letter to ‘let slip’ where I wanted to send 2nd Amitzas more plausibly. That part was easy.

“Most Honourable Fikwit, you think you’re so smart, teaching me to take my own throne back! I’m smarter than you and if you think I’m going to stay this close to the city itself while you dick around trying to teach me, I’m not going to put up with it any longer. I’m perfectly capable of taking my own throne back from the wool-haired barbarian horde without your fikken guiding hand. Have fun trying to catch up to me, you horrible, limited man, and…” I paused not sure how stupid a ‘mistake’ I should make. Ailadas read it over my shoulder and I was certain that his very proper coughing fit, hid his nervous laughter.

“Ahem. Perhaps a mention--ahem--of a regional feature will be seen as—ahem-- a signpost of intention, like slate cliffs, or white ones, or a river... something, ahem, like that.”

“Thank you, Ailadas. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Oh, ahem, you most certainly would, ahem, carry on, Minis.”

“Yes, but not happily.” I bent my head and set pen to the sheet of paper. “—should you catch up to me,” I narrated as I wrote, for his benefit. “—you will have a chance to bury me under the slate cliffs and I will have a chance to drink a Drieshenaur Red over your grave.”

“Excellent. That region is, ahem, certainly far enough away and, ahem, on this side of the mountains… both nicely, ahem, plausible.”


  1. "It sounds like it will be a bad storm if this wind it any indication"

    If the wind *is* any indication, is perhaps what you meant?