It was all dreamlike. I kept checking my little injuries, my bruises, my pulled muscles, scraped toes inside my damp boots to make sure it was real.
Gannara was helping me stay in caste and poked me whenever I did something like the autocratic brat I'd been raised as, but it hurt because it was usually stepped on toes or pokes, more subtly a pinch or jab at my elbow. I was tripping over myself all the time. Being fessas all the time… and out-city without hiding in the woods. I found myself endlessly fascinated with things like wooden walks along parts of the road… and having to get down into the muck when an Aitzas passed by. The little stalls and push-carts and dog-carts. I loved the idea of using the big dogs. Apparently they were easier to keep than donkeys because the dogs were also guards for the sellers. I saw one dog sitting beside a woman selling linens she had made and eggs from her chickens from her cart. He was a big black dog and had her money purse around his neck.
The sky was so big. I kept seeing it differently, as if I’d never seen it before, even though I’d been out of the city itself before. The rim had defined my life and then the fence of being surrounded and pressed down upon by the Mahid. I was no longer enclosed all around. People just treated me… like another boy. I kept stopping just to look. The whole world was edged more sharply, more weirdly.
Everything was strange, even the most familiar things, like the planes of Gannara’s face. The Spark of the Sun’s Ray was dead. I was caught a few times wanting to mourn what he could have been as if he were a completely separate person and in a sense he was. I was being re-born as a fessas boy.
“What is wrong with you?” Gannara finally asked me, thrusting a bulging bag into my hands for me to carry. “You’re acting almost as if you’re drunk and I know you aren’t.” I looked at him and was seized suddenly with the longing for a katzerik.
“I’m all right, Gan. I just… it’s just different. This isn’t me pretending… this is me… now… forever.”
“Don’t be silly, you’re still you.” We headed down the hill to the room. The sun broke out of the cloud and turned the river valley into a green ribbon sparkling clean after the rain.
“I suppose I’m thinking about it too much.”
“You are. Just keep going on. That’s all you need to do. We need to get moving to make sure the Mahid never find us.”
“Yeha. That’s true. I can’t moon around wondering who I am.”
The camp axe I bought at the ‘smith’s, made short work of the lock of the strongbox that afternoon. I picked up the little silk box that was the main reason I had stolen the whole thing, and held it in my palm. It was blue and gold silk with gold ribbons and it was not mine to hold any longer.
I held it out to Kyriala, who had Kaita in the room as chaperon, so we were proper enough. It didn’t matter that the gown she wore had been reduced from something a Mirror would wear to something more suitable for an impoverished young Aitza. She and Kaita had removed the gold lace and pearls and carefully packed them all away as something that could be sold later.
Kaita was the perfect chaperon, getting Ilesias to tie his own boots, apparently not listening to us talk. Much better than that awful, fishy-eyed Mahid woman.
“I… am no longer the person who was your betrothed, Serina Liren.” My fingers had closed around the box and all it symbolized, protectively, not wanting to release it, not wanting to give it up. I looked at her, blushing delicately. “I…must give this back to you as the best protector of your own virtue.” I coughed, cleared my throat and found the box in my hands suddenly fascinating, my eyes feeling very full. “If I am to be an honourable person, I cannot hold or keep this – as much as I want to.”
I forced my fingers open and held out the symbol of our betrothal toward her. I still couldn’t look at her. “If the serina would be so gracious to consider my deep and heartfelt friendship in its place…” It was the closest I could come to telling her how much I liked being with her. I was startled by how much I liked her. I wasn’t supposed to actually like a woman. But I did.
Her glove came out… was I imagining that it was a reluctant to take her betrothal back as I was to offer it? The little weight came off my hand and it was a burden I did not want gone. My fingers clasped almost convulsively on air as if I could catch it back. No, that would be selfish. She deserved the best husband, not a fugitive boy on the run.
“Thank you, Minis.”
“You’re… welcome.” I managed to gulp. “An’ s’rina, it’s Minakas now.”
I was astonished at the chains and gemstones in the box. It was the bulk of the ‘regaining the crystal Throne’ funds, rather than the working capital. I stared at it, unsure what to do with it and Ailadas suggested how we could carry it safely and hidden.
We twisted five equal lots of gems and chains into scarves for everyone to tie around their waists under their clothing, and the remaining gemstones Gannara and I put into our boots. Gemstones against the ankles wasn’t comfortable but safer than in a bag slung to a saddle; and the women were nervous about being allowed to carry money. Ailadas said it was proper enough in the aftermath of a war.
"We -- ahem -- should have... or rather I should have a pouch to carry openly. Ahem, supposedly of our funds, since I am the purported, ahem, leader of our little party," Ailadas said. I put a few links broken off here and there in a pouch...a gold one. A scattering of silver... a flawed little sapphire and a small brooch with emerald chips. He looked more nervous taking that on, than the fortune around his waist hidden under his robes.
I had to wrap the hilt of the Imperial sword with leatherstrips and rub blueing on all the gold I couldn't wrap to make it look like cheap brass. The scabbard was plain enough, with all the gold fittings torn off that I didn’t have to buy another, cheaper one.
Gannara managed to put together two camp bags and we were set to leave the next morning. Kyriala and Ailadas, with Ilesias, attended by Kaita went to the baths… and everyone was happier having been able to get clean with hot water. Gannara and I went later. Private cascade booths instead of soaking baths and it was so good to have hot water pouring on my head I didn’t mind that it was only a half-tenth time in it. I so wanted to stick my head out and order them to run another... but that was what the Spark would have done. It was like an itch. I stuck my head under the nozzle to catch the last few warm drips instead.
It was heavy fog next morning and I found that 2nd Amitzas’s training had sunk in more than I knew. I was stiff and needed to move, to exercise and swing a sword. I and Gannara were first awake and outside and I had to stretch and do some quick exercise hidden behind the outhouses. Gan did some with me, saying it helped him remember things. I wanted to do my ten tens practice because it was comforting -- even if I would never use it and it was both treasonous and illegal for anyone to do if they were not Imperial line. I wouldn’t risk it in the town, even in the fog.
The horseman’s boy brought our string of stock down and Gannara, having done more of the work with horses than I, took the lead getting them set for us. I bit my lip more than once when he had to re-do something I had messed up.
“I got a new donkey!” Ilesias was ecstatic when everyone came out and Ailadas went to the office to settle our bill. “I got a new donkey, I got a new donkey!” He danced and sing-songed and then shushed himself to not spook the animal as I offered the reins.
I smiled and blinked behind my new spectacles. Ailadas had thought them a good idea when I asked him his opinion. I looked over them more than through them, and would keep them on until we were back out on the road. Even a small magnification made the world swim and my head ache but they completely changed the shape of my face. Perhaps in Arko I would get mere glass lenses, a subterfuge I could hide in the swarming mass of the city but would be too suspicious to ask in a little town in the hinterlands.
Kyriala very properly ignored me as I held her stirrup after seeing Ailadas settled into his saddle. He was on the boney gelding and Kyriala had the placid mare. I fed my mule a sweet and his soft nose nuzzled under my ear. I think I liked him better than Nasty but hoped the Mahid were looking after him.
“Come along, Minakas, Gannara,” Ailadas called, taking the lead heading out onto the road up the hill, south.
“Fessas lord?” Gan called, already kicking his mule into motion. I swung up into my saddle and he stepped out after Ky and Kaita and Ilesias, Gannara rode next to me. My mule had a lovely soft gait and it felt like he could keep it up all day. I pulled my spectacles off to polish them clear of moisture and pushed away the dreamlike feeling of us in procession in the fog. I had promised to get everyone home safe and I had no idea if the city itself would be safe at all. But it would be the last place 2nd Amitzas would think I would go, and the last direction the Mahid would look.
I'd promised because they were all out here in the first place because of me. Once they were all home, my oaths, my responsibilities would be done. Isn't that what a friend does, Chevenga? See that his friends are free and happy? I couldn't do that for you. I could only hurt and enslave you. I hope, truly, for Arko's sake, that you've healed up from what the fat guy and I did to you.