I sat on my mule and tried to take comfort from Ili’s prattle about Kefas Bear. Kaita was up riding next to Kyriala because one of the Yeoli guards rode next to her. This last patrol were both men and both Yeolis. One almost blond with a very pretty face and very charming. I didn’t like either of them.
They kept Gannara away from us as if we were evil, as if he needed protecting from us. From me anyway… and I missed having him around as my friend, someone I could always trust to tell me when I was being an idiot. It was good for him, being with them. Gannara was getting his language back more than just obscenities. And training with them… all the Yeoli-style fighting stuff. He was trained some before, it came clear as the Mahid sewage got stripped away. I should have been glad that he was getting all this Yeoli help.
Since Kefas figured out who we were, I was just relieved that the last road sereniteers were both Yeoli. But I didn’t have to like them for keeping my friend away from me. Or for flirting so outrageously with Ky. Which was why Kaita was up there, being the chaperone and I had Ili on my saddle.
“Ahem. Minakas, attend.”
“Ay, ser?” I pushed my mule on a little faster to come up beside Ailadas. He reached down a slender volume to me from his high horse and I reached up and took it. His horse had actually put on flesh on this trip so looked not half bad by now. We weren’t pushing hard like Mahid so people didn’t get worn down by the travelling.
“You may, ahem, read Ili his letters and get him to trace them out with a stylus as you do so, ahem.”
He flicked his eyes up to where Kyriala was laughing at some joke the Yeoli had told her. “She is doing very well, young man, diverting their attention to herself, ahem.” It was clearly a warning. It wasn’t as if I had any kind of hold on her at all anymore anyway. She wasn’t my betrothed anymore, because I’d given up being the Heir in hiding and given her, her ‘troth back. I, quite rightly, hadn’t seen her blessing box since it had left my fingers. We might be friends still, as much as any Arkan woman could be friendly with an Arkan man. Right, and once she marries a decent man she will, properly, never speak to me again. And I was pretending to be fessas, until I became a fessas in truth.
Was I being that transparent? “Ay, ser,” I said, trying not to be sullen and hearing it in my voice yet. I opened the book to the first page and settled it in front of Ili and Kefas Bear, balanced on my saddlehorn. Nice mule. Good mule. I tried not to listen as that Yeoli sereniteer made her giggle, again. “Let this one see, young ser… ‘A’ is the first and great to begin. It is first in ‘Aras’, by whose will we win… ‘B’ is the second, but hardly thus less…”
It is the truth of what I have given up, lost. The Empire… is safer without me on the Crystal Throne because of who and what the fat guy made me… half Mahid, half Aan… none of it any good. The Gods have chosen the new line to grace the Crystal Throne… Chevenga’s. But the harshest loss. The one that hurts the most is one I never valued. Once she is safe home… I will never be able to speak to her again, for her safety’s sake, and mine.
I am preparing to spend the rest of my miserable life alone. Ky goes home and marries a decent man who will be a good husband to her. Ailadas I intend to see safe and secure in the city and ask him if he would be so good to raise Ili as his grandson in truth.
“I want ‘K’ to be for Kefas, Minakas! K for Kefas! K for K—“
“Kefas… all right.” I started over with K. “K is for Kefas out on the road…
Gannara. I promised. I will see him home. I promised. Then what do I do? Then where do I go? Being free of ‘the Heir in hiding’ isn’t such a wonderful idea. I am preparing to be alone. I feel lonely just thinking about it. I should make sure none of them know where I intend to go after. That’s easy because I don’t know myself.
It was enough to distract me from my inappropriate jealousy and I had this bubble of feeling sitting in my chest that made it hard to breathe. It would be most appropriate if I became the dull fessas secretary as fast as possible.
The Imperial sword, by my knee, slapped as the mule’s gait hitched, and I nearly lost Ili’s picture book. One step at a time. I needn’t rush. I had to be un-noticed and un-noticable, like Kefas Bear. A field agent. “…M is the High God, Muunas His Name…” I couldn’t let such black emotions cloud my thinking. I had to be like my nameless Mahid mother. Bear anything and endure all.
One of the maxims came floating out of my memory, the eighth. ‘… with perfect acceptance there is no suffering. Accept all.’ And then the twenty-fifth. ‘…showing reactions imply will… Show nothing.’ Suitably modified they could help me. ‘Accept all.’ If my Mahid siblings could do it, so could I.
Be Mahid but a field Mahid… hide Minis behind coldness and coldness behind Minakas. I am become an onion.
By the time we stopped for the night at Essa village, two days out of the city, I thought I had managed to bury all those feelings deep enough that I could play Minakas as if there were no other. To help that, after dinner, I want for a walk by myself in the town. Something so far away even from what my companions would want; on some level they still treated me like Minis Aan, wanting to keep me safe. I was just a fessas boy out for a walk, trying to shake off this blackness, this cloud on my spirit.
There were a lot of signs up on the walls and posts around the town but it was falling dark and I wasn’t interested in the things people had for sale or wanted. I walked from street lamp, to street lamp, from one hissing puddle of light to the next. Isn’t this what I wanted? What I thought would make me happy? Just being another faceless boy in the crowd?
Tomorrow we would pass the turn to the Winter Palace and I should remember to ask… if the enormous gatestones still stood. A stranger would ask. I wore my feet out walking around the town without wearing out my darkness and finally gave up and headed back to the inn. They might want me for Ili.