We stayed in the inn for most of Jitzmitthra. I spent a lot of that time learning how to be fessas full time. It was very, very different than a few beads in my own rooms, or even a full evening with Antras. I hoped Antras was all right, in the Marble Palace. I felt a little guilty that I hadn’t thought of him but perhaps I could forgive myself for that.
I sat at the open window in the room we had at the inn with new books I’d purchased all the way back in the first village we ‘emerged’. The village was called North River. I uncapped my pen and made a note in my blank book. The book cart had been next to the tinsmith’s in the market and I had tried out my haggling skills when Gannara said I needed to learn. I was supposed to buy camp kitchen things and I did. Gannara had been watching me start and had gone back to talk to the horse man about some things we’d forgotten.
When I was done with the kitchen stuff, and he’d told me I was supposed to not pay more than eight copper links for the stuff on my list and I did that… almost. Then I went to the bookseller’s afterwards.
I’d found a nice very strange little poetry book purporting to be written by a Mahid, “Ravens in a Mourning Sky,” an abridged copy of ‘Great Men’ and… one of the better knuckle suckers from 1st Amitza’s library that I had never gotten to finish, “Sweet Breath on my Fingers.” It was wonderful. I looked at the copy of ‘Great Men’ and thought. It’s Jitzmitthra, maybe this once I can read the fun things first.
I picked up the knuckle-sucker and heard a noise from Gannara, who was re-organizing our packs since the next way-stop was so tiny there wasn’t even an inn, but a shelter where a party could rest under roof. Very much like the little cabin I’d started my life outside the city in. “Minakas!”
He sounded annoyed. “What? What’s wrong?”
“You bought two frying pans? Why on earth two frying pans?”
“Well the tinsmith didn’t have the tin kaf pot so I thought we could use it to boil water in.”
He stood up with the offending frying pan in his hand, looking at me as though I were an idiot. Perhaps I was, in this case, but it was good that he’d found out before we had to use it. “Did you make any other substitutions I should know about?” He asked.
I straightened up. “I thought I did really well getting all that! I got us the neat bundle of plates, those ones that are so nice and everything else on the list… except maybe one thing… other than the kaf pot.”
“And that is?”
“Instead of a dipper… he really didn’t have anything bigger than the wooden spoons except the slotted kind so…”
“You bought two slotted spoons instead of a dipper.”
“I thought you could kind of… off-set them so the slots were closed off…”
He snorted. “It doesn’t work that way, Min.”
“I did my best!” I protested.
“I’m certain sure you did.” He tucked the offending items back into the pack on top and came over to sit in the window seat with me. “After Jitz and before we leave we’ll see if we can fix that, or we might be without kaf till the next town big enough to have a tinsmith.”
“I’m sorry I don’t know all this stuff, Gan. I… it makes me crazy. I keep thinking I’m following through. Like the slotted spoon thing. I try thinking it through, practically, and it just doesn’t work!”
“Min… you’re about as practical as anyone raised in the Marble Palace could be.”
“That’s a good way of putting it. As practical as marble polish in the woods… here, let me shine up that rock for you!”
“It’s not that bad. But you have to let the rest of us do more. You aren’t ‘in command’ anymore… because of this stuff.”
“If I didn’t have you all I’d ‘uv made a mistake the first day and already be back with 2nd Amitzas being corrected for trying to escape.” The fessas cadences were starting to settle onto my tongue more automatically now.
Gannara shuddered. “Don’t even think of them, not any more. You’ve given up on their crazy plans for your life, haven’t you? You don’t need to keep thinking about them, or doing the weird shen stuff they had you doing, right?”
I pulled my knees up to my chin, wrapped my arms around them. “I… suppose but I don’t know what precisely the ‘weird shen’ stuff is. I mean… what part of what they taught me is useful for a fessas as opposed to the idiot who’s supposed to be the great general and war-leader and have a fanatic following? Aside from knowing that the fanatic teachers were nuts and that was pretty obvious.”
“Don’t worry about it so much, Min, we’re all here to help you.”
He grinned and pushed my shoulder with his fist. “We’ll make sure you don’t buy more slotted spoons instead of a dipper,” he said. I pushed back and he grabbed the pillow I’d stuffed against the wall and hit me with it.
“Hey! Hey! No fair! I’m unarmed!” I laughed and swatted at him.
“So… take it away from me y’idjit!”
I lunged over my little pile of books and we wrestled for a bit and then I helped him put the rest of the packs in order so we’d be ready to leave… my wrong purchases laid on top so they didn’t get forgotten.
“So I wrestled you into submission, Gan, you want to practice reading? We can use the knuckle-sucker instead of the textbooks.”
“Sure. I know how to read… just not in Arkan.”
“Really? I should learn how to read Yeoli.”
“Sure. I can show you.”
We were further away from the First Blind Tunnel than I had thought since there was a closer one of the set, but it was closed because of a ceiling fall and the Kadussas were busy digging it out. We had to go to the more major of the entrances and that was further south yet. Over the centuries, the Tunnels had been connected if they were close enough when according to legend they had once all been separate. That put us another eight day back riding around the shoulder of the mountain.
The valley we rode down was naturally angled away from the prevailing weather but the wind walls that caught the prevailing wind and channeled it as best they could into the Tunnel started quite a distance away, thin, high walls of panels of poured stone set into channels. Over the years artists had pressed designs into the stone or done glassworks.
One set of windwalls -- done over a hundred years ago by the artist Erinias Suras -- was so full of glass brick and chunks of glass pieces they looked like very thick, colourful windows set into pour stone.
Ilesias and Gan and Kyriala loved them because they showed mythical beasts and jungles with animals hidden in them that you couldn’t see until the sun shifted and the light shining through them changed the mosaic. I’d never thought to see them. I liked them too. That was one nice thing about being fessas. I didn’t have to be as restrained and reserved and proper.
My favourite was the last one by the plaza entrance where Tunnel parties mustered, showing a huge green dragon rearing up over our heads. Buried in his form were tiny blue and yellow lizards. The green came from the light shining through both colours. The artist called that one ‘Why Things Aren’t What They Seem.”
It didn’t matter what time of day or night it was, since it wouldn’t matter for the Tunnel travelers. “Ahem.” Ailadas coughed, in his ‘this is a lecture pay attention’ tone. “My young librarian, I promised that you would see this sight. The plaza will be lit with the torch bowls all around it and the queue will go on, day and night.” The glass dragon had a stone bowl set below it that was more like an alcohol lamp with five wicks inside a glass chimney. All around the plaza, that was full of people waiting their turn to be sent under the mountain, Kadussas workers filled bowls, trimmed wicks, and polished glass, beginning the process of lighting them all.
The beast-fair was off to one side where people sold off their draft or riding animals if they would not go into the dark. Some people simply decided not to find out, choosing to sell here and buy from people in similar situation at the other end, taking the cheaper route through since the toll for animals was more than for people. There was an express chair lane at the next Tunnel entrance. Express chairs only, very expensive.
At every entrance an enormous fan turned. Each one more than twice as tall as a man, filling that whole side of the Tunnel, taking the wind channeled down the valley and forcing the air underground.