Monday, March 1, 2010

220 - The Arko Road is Blocked

I carried Ilesias inside, soaking wet, and the first thing someone did was hand me a full glass of wine, and a child’s glass of sweet wine. He was completely wrung out, wet as he was, chewing on the ends of my gloves, tear streaked. I tried to put my love for him into my arms, even as I had been totally serious about killing him if he didn’t shut up. He looked at me and back over my shoulder at Kaita, then back at me, took the glass of wine and drank it.

I took the wine from the servant, who was also blind, I saw. “Thank you,” I said.

“The first glass of fortified wine is on the house for all those who have made the passage, ser.” The servant continued and led the way up the big staircase. “We find it calms the sighted who have made met the Dark, ser, and all that was in it, especially children, ser… and come through it.”

“I…” nearly said ‘I see’. “I understand.” I sipped the wine myself and recognized the fortification… my training for tasting poisons manifested itself and I found myself recognizing things like the roasted quality of burnt wine they fortified the wine with. It did settle things down. Ilesias drank his down without complaint.

“The inn has hot baths, ser. Soaking baths,” the servant said to Ailadas, behind me. His sigh was audible.

“It is gratiously thanked for its information. I am assuming it is for all castes?”

“The exalted ser is correct.”


Ilesias was sleepy from the wine, drooping by the time we pulled his clothes off and tucked him into bed with his bear.

“’d you have killed me, Minis?” He whispered in my ear as I tucked him in. Rather than answer him I hugged him again.

“Everything’s all right now, Ili. You can sleep and Kaita will be here and your Indispensible Bear. And you can have a bath tomorrow. I love you.”

“Love you too, Min.”

I was shaking. I had said I would kill him if he didn’t hold his tongue, and I had meant it. Ancestors forgive me. I’d have to explain to him again, when we were away from people. Gan and Kaita and I took our things into the room and she shooed us out to go have a bath. She said she would sit with Ilesias and have her bath later.

The inn, like the Tunnel, wasn’t quite firmly attached to the day/night world and they would be open, we’d been told.

Ailadas and Kyriala had gone off immediately to the men’s and women’s sides. It had once been a great bath for a number of bathers, but they had installed a whole series of pebbled glass walls to separate the women from the men, and all the castes, down to okas, radiating from the center, so Gan, a manumitted slave had to make do with the tiny sliver allotted to the male okas. I was allowed into the slightly larger fessas section.

Even under the Mahid I would have been offended, having to deal with so mean and limited a space, but now it was You mean I get all the hot water I want without it being timed? No one is going to chivvy me out for the next customer? Lovely. I am in Selestialis. I will smile wholeheartedly at the attendants and thank everyone profusely.

Most people used a set of their nightclothes and gloves to bathe in and slathered soap on themselves with a liberal hand. Washing off the Dark. Everyone went into the cascade to rinse off the soap. I watched the bubbles whirl down the drain and thought of Def and wondered if he were still alive.

I sank back on a seat in the hot bath, leaned my head back against the stone head rest and felt something crack open inside me. The Tunnel itself marked the true separation between the Mahid and I; the true demarcation we had slipped their clutches. With Ilesias’s outburst put off to either Tunnel dreams or just plain misunderstood, as in ‘oh another childish outburst coming out of the dark, yes, yes, just quiet him down, get him calm…’, we might take a day to adjust like any other group.

We were at South Tunnel Mouth, the other was North. Both were called 'Mouth' since neither end wished the ignominy of the logical name if only one end were a mouth. The South city was bigger than the North one, and spread further down the valley before the road jinked up over a little pass and then crossed the mountain there, winding slowly down its flank back and forth.

One could see the road for it was lit all along its route, should people choose not to stay at the Tunnel Inn, and the hawkers and wine and beer and body sellers were all along it, until it hit the market square where more practical things were sold. It was like a bulbous-headed eel lying along the mountain, picked out in light. I was just as glad we would be traversing it during the day. It would be easier to feel I was in the real world and not just in a dream.

All around me others sat in the steaming water, and since I had my eyes closed I could imagine the dark being teased out of us, oozing off our skin and bathing clothes, floating on the surface of the baths until the attendant’s skimmer net scooped it off the water.


“Well, my friends - ahem –“ Ailadas said later that night after everyone was back from their baths, everyone with a cup of a hot peach drink, that was a specialty of the inn, in our hands. Ili was snoring softly on the one bed taking up all the space that would go to Kyriala and Kaita as well, his little limbs sprawled wide. The rest of us were on the other that should go to Ailadas alone but which he would insist on sharing, I was sure.

“The innkeep, when he took my assumed name into his book, and accepted his payment, he informed me that we might well be delayed. The earthshake that closed the one Tunnel has also, apparently shaken the Arko road off the side of the mountain, and there are parts beyond that, blocked by rock. Road crews have been working on re-opening it post haste, but traffic will not be allowed upon it for some eight-days yet.

"He assures me that if I wish to take up my appointment, -ahem- I happened to mention it with some pride, -ahem- as would any scholar in my position… in a timely fashion, he suggested we take First Sinimas’s Road to the coast.”

“That takes us west as well as south and is round-about,” I said. “Not that I am in a hurry but… what does everyone else think?”

Gan piped up. “We could take a ship from the coast if you liked.”

“Ahem, true. But there is another small road that cuts off toward Arko before it hits the coast and goes through, ahem, a dozen tiny villages.”

“Less camping in the woods,” Kyriala said. “I like that idea.”

“Camping might be preferable to vermin in beds,” Kaita sniffed, and Ailadas nodded.

“It would be nice to have the option, should the inn prove less than pleasant.”

Gan looked up from where he leaned against our stacked bedrolls and luggage. “The inns on the big roads are spaced sort of for faster groups… carts and express chairs and fast-travelling Aitzas two-seaters.”

I sat back and sipped my drink and listened. It was very strange. I was becoming the ordinary fessas boy even with my closest.
When we cleared the last of the buildings and headed out along the road with the edges lined with lovingly tilled fields with dark green spikes of cypress trees thrusting up here and there I hummed under my breath.

Gan looked sideways at me. “What?” I said. “Do you only know the dirty words to ‘Sound of Home’?”

"Um… no… I think I might know the Yeoli ones to that tune… We call it ‘Lae M'seyele.”

“You think you can sing it?” That would be good for him too. Mahid aren’t much for other people’s singing, and don’t try to kill it specifically, thinking that to control the speaking voice is enough.
“I might.”

“So I’ll do the tune just without words and you sing the ones you remember, how’s that?”

We turned off onto the south west road heading for the coast, with Gan’s bright voice singing in his own tongue, while I held the melody. Looking back at us, Kyriala smiled and began singing the Arkan ladies descant to the tune. Gan stumbled but picked it up again until Ilesias started trying to sing too and the next leg of our journey began with all of us dissolving into laughter.


  1. *sharp breath* Oh. So that's what he said. I hope they both find a way around the reality of it. Poor Minakis. I want him to be Minis again one day!

  2. Yeah it was harsh. He thought it was necessary... poor Ili... he's doing so well for a four year old...

  3. >>He thought it was necessary... <<

    It was: better to lose one than all, and that slip put them all in deadly danger. Much haste is needed.

    >>Mahid aren’t much for other people’s singing, and don’t try to kill it specifically, thinking that to control the speaking voice is enough.<<

    Further proof they're sharp but not bright; much memory is stored through song and music.

  4. Yeah. I've read accounts of concentration camp guards now knowing how to respond when people sang instead of speaking. Mostly retreated in confusion.

    The SS didn't much control the singing voice either, except to get their own to sing approved rallying songs and songs designed specifically for a purpose.

    Recall in 'Casablanca'... La Marseille being sung to drive the Nazis out of the club.

  5. sorry, that now, above should have been a 'not'