Outside! Outside! Oh sweet, blessed Goddess, and fessas Goddess thank you, thank you, thank you! I did sink to my knees on the plaza stones, still weeping, once our party was drawn away from blocking the tunnel, and I could slide down from my wonderful, excellent, most calm mule.
“Sera Kaita?” The young Aitzas man between Kyriala and I, turned. “Is that one, all right?”
Such a polite boy, since he didn’t have to be kind to the fessas woman I am pretending to be. I kept my words to a whisper. “This one’s happy, ser, to be able to see.”
He laughed, a little raggedly, wiping his own eyes surreptitiously on his cuffs. “All right then,” and turned away. Gannara was there a moment later to offer me an elbow up.
“Thank yeh, boy.” I said and went to take Ilesias from Min-akas. I set my charge upon his feet and he clutched my skirts as though he were a much smaller boy, his eyes stretched wide, his bear clenched under his arm.
“I like seeing,” he said. “It’s good.”
“Oh, I agree, laddie-me-buck.” He giggled when I used the lower caste slang for little boy. I could see Ailadas inquiring earnestly of the innmaster about the cost, exactly as if he were the impoverished gentleman, careful of his chains.
The plaza was brightly lit, with far more lights than necessary. I had not noticed that on the other end. The inn was big and had enormous windows and many, many lights and mirrors everywhere. Expensive but so welcome. I think I shall have a lamp on when I sleep, for a few nights yet. I didn’t think the Coronet had taken a long-term fright from the Tunnel but I wished to be sure.
I had prayed, most of the way through the Tunnel. I had repeated the whole year’s cycle of prayers to Selinae. And what I could remember for Risae, for I hoped She would smile on my experiment of pretending to be fessas. I had repeated hymns behind my closed eyes and brought up the images of where and how I had learned them. At the very end, beginning to be afraid I might run out of things to think of, to help me stay calm and quiet, I had begun going over every embroidery stitch I knew, even some of the most elaborate and least used ones in my fingers’ memory. It had been enough.
Inn servants took our horses and we went toward the white stairs of the brightly lit building. It still felt wrong, as though it should be some other time of day than what it was, as if the world had been turned on its head and put back a trifle wrong. Like a glove put on a damp hand with the seams sticking and not settling where they should.
Most of people went to the inn straight away, for they had ridden steadily for long beads, ready to keep some of the quietude they'd learned in the Tunnel. The young men chose to stay in plaza, to find wine-sellers and Maskers, or other prostitutes pretending to be Maskers. Probably looking for the loudest bards and the wildest celebrations. Perhaps a fight or two. As young men do, when feeling threatened, they must prove to themselves and all around them, that they are alive.
Like my young man here, who had now sat down in the middle of the square saying “That’s enough! I’m tired. Go way! Leave me alone! I don’ wanna be good any more!”
“You’ve been very brave, Ili,” I said. As his nurse I could speak equal to equal. “Little brightness, precious treasure---“
He over-rode my words with his own howl. “—Nonononononono! Leave me alone! I’m tirrrrreedddddd! I don’t want you! I don’t want anybbbbbboooodddy but Miiiiiiiiiiiii----“
I slapped my glove over his mouth. “—nakas… yes, he’s right here, Sparkle-eyes… he’s right here…”
I beckoned Minis and he came back, took his struggling, howling little brother out of my hands, lifting him up, putting his hand over mine so Ilesias did not expose us in his tantrum. The little boy bit him, Minis yelped and Ilesias slid down, kicked hard with one of his flailing little legs and landed on the pavement, wobbling. “I wanna go back to the MARBLE PALACE! I wanna go HOME!” He kicked Minis in the shin again, threw Bear on the ground and ran, yelling.
I tried to catch him as he wheeled past me. I caught a flash of his frantic eyes. “You’re just as mean as a Mahid! I’m Coronet and don’t have to obey!” Minis straightened up and lunged after him.
“You can’t tell me what to do even if you are SPARK OF THE SUN’S RAY!”
“Ili!” Ailadas had joined the fray. “Stop pretending! You are behaving very badly, young man!”
Ilesias dodged around a plant pot by the bottom stairs and hunkered down in the crack next to the steps. Thankfully that muffled his words somewhat. “I’m tired of being someone ELSE!” He was speaking one down to Ailadas. Thank the Gods and Goddesses that most people here would never have heard the Imperial mode of speaking. It made his words less understandable, especially at a high shriek.
“You’re not my grandfather! You’re just Minis’s tutor! You're just a stupid Aitzas! Shut up Aitzas!” Gannara and Minis hauled him out of his crevasse and Minis thrust his hand straight into the little boy’s mouth, not caring that he bit him. At that moment an inn servant, obviously used to this kind of thing upended a bucket of cold water over Ilesias in Minis’s arms, hitting both Minis and Gannara as well.
Everyone stopped. “Children often meet the King of the Elves or Gnomes in the Tunnel,” he said calmly. “They come out believing all kinds of things.”
Minis leaned forward and whispered something in Ilesias’s ear that made him stop longer than the shock of the water. I am almost afraid of what he said, but by the look on his face, he means it and Ilesias understands.
Gannara went off to fetch Indispensible Bear and we entered the inn, hearts thundering, trying not to look around nervously, trying to laugh it off as Tunnel hallucinations. I think we shall be leaving tomorrow before dawn.