I was warm. That was so nice. I could hear two girls giggling over something as I swam up out of sleep – Kyriala and Kaita, Gannara’s snort. I realized that Ilesias was making fart noises to make them all laugh more.
Ailadas’s snore in my ear was wet and pretty disgusting but it just made me smile. Slurping noises from my little brother. They were having cold soup from the night before. I felt light inside as if some oppressive weight had lifted. Even if we were still in danger, still not quite into our disguises firmly enough, too close to 2nd Amitzas, we had done a huge thing to get away.
That thought got my eyes open. I was able to roll over without pulling all the covers off my tutor, who grumbled in his sleep and then his snore picked up regularity again. I was sore all over my body as if I’d been beaten by the First Second.
It was daylight outside but still raining, the window shutters still pulled tight against the wet. They’d lit the lamp and I realized that Gannara had warmed the cups over it. Smart. But then I already knew that.
Flashes of memory of last night seemed unreal. Had I truly yelled at Ailadas that if he died on me, I would be ‘pissed’? Had he dryly answered he would do his best to not so annoy me? It seemed completely dreamlike, but my hair in its tight club was still wet.
As I sat up and carefully scooted away from Ailadas to let him sleep, wincing as I did, they all looked up, Ilesias crowed, “MIN!”
“Shh. You’ll wake Ailadas. Shh. Good morning. One of the best mornings I’ve seen in a long time! Ah, this un’s apologies s’rinas, young sor. This ‘un ‘d best get moving.”
“Oh stop it, Minis with us you have a few more minutes to be yourself before you become the fessas boy!” Gannara snapped. “Let me take your hair down for you.”
“Sure, after I… um…” He indicated a blanket tacked up in the back corner, hiding a chamber pot from view. Once I was relieved I came out and raised my hands to my hair again, and stopped with a hiss. “You’ve convinced me.” The pulled shoulder made it painful. “Do you have a knife, Gannara? One of the Mahid’s old ones?”
“Yeah, why?” My hair was damp enough that it made me shiver as it was let out in strands down my back, wet enough to chill me through my sheet.
“I need you to cut my hair.”
“What?” He spoke loud enough that Ailadas snorted, coughed and sat up, blinking owlish without his spectacles. “Cut your hair?”
“Kinda harda be fessas, y’ijit, w’ hair down past mah butt!”
“I’m not an idjit, yah moron. I just don’t want to cut your hair… and not with a knife.”
“A – ahem – pleasant morning to you boys,” Ailadas said. “Minis is quite correct but it would be better if we had a pair—“
“Of scissors --?” All three of us looked over to find Kyriala holding up a pair of scissors, in her sheet-covered hand.
“My word… ahem. Very forward thinking, serina. Very smart.”
“’zacly, s’rina, thenk yah. I can’t be seen as an Aitzas, Gannara, please just cut it fessas length… ”
He gulped. “I don’t know how to cut hair! I’ll make a mess of it!” He turned and offered the scissors to Ailadas who was just settling his spectacles on his nose. “I think Ailadas could do it better.”
“Aw…” I couldn’t cut my hair myself! It was part of my disguise!
“I.. ah… ahem...” Ailadas looked uncomfortable. “I’ve never cut anyone’s hair in my life! I surely don’t know how and my hand would shake.” He held out an illustrative fist and it did, indeed shake. I looked between the two of them.
“I need this!”
Kyraila snorted. “Fine. I will do it.” She gathered up the sheet around herself as if it were silken gown and… where had she found her gloves this early? They were water stained but proper. She took the scissors back from Gannara. “I’ve trimmed off the ragged ends of my little sister’s hair.” She smiled. “I used to cut my doll’s hair all the time, to my mother’s despair that I wished to de-elevate them so often. Every time I got angry.”
I smiled at her. “Now you get to so reduce me, serina. Please do.”
“Oh!” She blushed, her milk-white skin flushing beautifully up from the edges of the sheet, down her one exposed arm to her glove. “That’s not what I mean! Perhaps someone else should do this!” I saw Kaita over her shoulder, hiding a smile behind her own gloved hand.
“I’ll do it myself if no one else will! This length on me is so dangerous! For me and everyone else! Aaarrrgh! The Mahid monsters will be looking specifically for it!”
I hauled my hair forward and reached for the scissors in her hand and she stepped back and all three said, “I’ll do it!”
“Ahem, Spark… Min…akas… ahem. I think it falls upon you to choose which of us.”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I hadn’t expected this little chore to be quite this difficult. And before breakfast, too. I was going to be ready for even the cold dregs of the kaf from the night before. I could feel everyone looking at me, except for Ilesias who was over pretending that his sodden, stuffed bear was a horse and making ‘clip-clop’ noises over on the bed.
“I think, Kyriala, if you please. With your experience, perhaps it will not look ragged.”
She had Gannara brush it absolutely flat and began, very carefully cutting, wincing at each cut as if she were hurting me, digging around in my guts doing surgery with a rusty garden trowel. I did my best to ignore it. I was never going to be Minis Aan again. With every clip of the scissors I left who I was behind forever.
“Ser Koren,” I said in Minakas’s accent. “I’ve bin studying on ‘t accent. As I suggested to yah, I’ll be a bookish scholar, ser… 2nd Amitzas won’t be lookin’ fer that.” We were no longer in emergency and Ailadas and Kyriala both cringed at my words, as though I’d shat with my mouth.
Gannara nodded. “That was great! You sound just like a south Empire fessas. You still look like yourself though that’s changing quick.” He nodded toward Kyriala. I could feel her shrinking from what she was doing, even through the scissors.
“If Joras can do it, so kin I.”
“Yeah, but Joras… never mind.” He looked uncomfortable.
“Nothing.” But there was something. I thought I knew.
“Yer gonna say Joras is nuts an’ I’m not?”
“Um, yeah. Yeah, that’s what I was going to say. You’re not. Um… that’s what I meant, you’re not nuts.”
“Yeha, thanks my friend.” I had to smile. “’Tis our safety, tis.” I said, pulling Minakas’s expression up over mine. “I lost me cosmetics, sor in t’storm. Part of me shoppin’ list. Sor.” I blinked at Gannara. “Howzzat, Gan?” He grinned like it was a great joke. Jitzmitthra for the rest of my life. “I’ll have ta getcha some‘at to cover that scar, afore you go out.”
Gannara hadn’t thought of it the way his hand flashed up to cover the cheek that bore that extremely distinctive scar. “Um, yeah.”
“Wait, the ends are ragged,” Kyriala said clipping under my left ear. Then she said it again and clipped on the right. When she tried to even up a third time on my left side I pulled my head away.
“This un’s sorry, s’rina. This un can’t manage okas accent.” She pulled away again, flustered.
“Sorry. I just…”
“Yer most gracious s’rina. Thank yeh.” I nodded at the swath of hair she was just picking up from the floor, smoothing into one long hank. “You’d best burn that, when ye can, s’rina.” She nodded and coiled it up to get rid of later, I was sure. I turned to Ailadas. “We’ve not had to give names yet, ser. We need names.”
Kyriala began gushing “Oh, dear Uncle!!! I so love travelling!” She turned to show off her so elegant attire of a sheet and her gloves. I ducked my head and tried to put a simpering servility on my face. Gannara and Ilesias and Kaita all started giggling, while Ailadas coughed pointedly. I laughed out loud for the first time since we attempted the daring escape and even more of the weight on me lifted. The only darkness now, would be what I carried myself.
“I—ahem--suppose we should invent assumed names,” Ailadas said thoughtfully as he creakily got up. I rushed to offer him my arm as if I were his servant and he nodded. “Keep that up and no one will, ahem, think you are anything but fessas.” I helped him hobble over to the curtain and we all pretended not to hear. Oh, shen. It will be my job to empty the chamberpot. Eww.
“I should keep my own name, Gannara…” he strained, trying to remember his patronymic. “Yeha, Gannara,” I said. “It’ll come back. Don’t sweat it. That’s why we’re escorting you to the city itself. To get you to the office where they can help you find your family. Or your family find you, since we ‘manumitted’ you… Oh, we need to make new copies of those papers. I can do that this afternoon.”
“Yeah. If I get called ‘Gannara’ its like an assumed name because they never knew it.”
“They don’t know you by it. We can do this… We can pull it off! We’ll hide right under their noses and ride openly.”
“Ahem. Your confidence is inspiring… ah… my young librarian. How long have you been apprenticed? Only a few months, truly.”
“I suppose you’re my Uncle Aimondas, and I’m your neice Ky… linia,” Kyriala said.
“We must have a surname as well, ahem, dear niece. One not known in these parts. Hiren, perhaps? A solid Kurkanian, and impoverished but true Aitzas name.”
“I believe I shall also become fessas until we reach the city,” Kaita spoke up suddenly. “The dogs will be looking for an all Aitzas group with one slave. Two fessas, a former slave and three Aitzas will throw them off.”
We were all staring at her. “Kaita… you shouldn’t…”
She pursed her mouth stubbornly. “Ky you did a good job on his head. My turn. And if I don’t speak much until I can make my mouth match my head…. Sors…” We all flinched, myself included. It sounded so wrong coming from her mouth. I suddenly understood why the others had reacted so. She sat down and took her hair down, decisively. “Fer m’charge’s safety I’d pretend to be a slave.” She said quietly. “Cut my hair.”
“A mark of honour, Kaita,” I said, but couldn’t watch her hair being shorn. I shook out the cottons I’d packed. They’d been soaked and dried so looked very much less expensive than they had been, somewhat stained and dyed from the pack, a faint gray.
“Let us make our shopping list and while everyone gets set to emerge for some food I’ll see about horses.” My boots were still damp inside but that was the least of my next problems.
I hadn’t stolen the key for the treasury box. I didn’t think any kick I’d been taught would open it. It was, after all, a strong box. Ailadas repeated his new alias to himself.
“Aimondas Hiren. Aimondas Hiren. Kylinia Hiren. I must practice my old tongue you, ahem, know. It is a creature of long, ahem, habit.” He slipped on his wrinkled, water-damaged scholar’s robe and Gannara and I rushed to help him with his hair. Gannara got there first.
“Kylinia Hiren,” I said, then pretended to cringe, “S’rina, sorry, sorry. Not tah being above m’self, S’rina.”
She tried to look down her nose at me, but then flung her gloves over her face. “Auuhhh! I can’t get used to it!”
“You’ll do it. Augh! I can’t break this box open and it has our funds in it!”
“I have a dress with silver chains on it. I’m going to rip it apart and we can spend that,” Ky said. “Do let us go eat something.”
“Exc’llnt idear, s’rina,” Kaita said softly. “The boy… he’ll be screamin’ hungry soon.” Her fessas accent needed work.
“Wonderful! You’re solving our problems, Ky… um… s’rina.”
She smiled. “Let me rip some of the silver off that dress and we can get dressed since you men are already arrayed for public view.”