Friday, April 30, 2010

261 - Telling Gan about Chevenga

I was sweating. I’d managed, in the intervening moons not to think of the things that fuelled my dreams and nightmares. I set Ili next to me and skinned off my shirt, letting my pendant fall back onto my chest, unbuckled my kilt and slid under the covers of the bed. Like all Yeoli beds it was softer than I was used to. A stack of feather ticks or wool-stuffed mattresses in a box frame to hold everything together with feather quilts and sheepskins on top and enormous feather pillows. I pulled the quilts up over my cold hands.

“I guess we have time for some stories now,” I said.

Gannara nodded. “We’re in a safe place. Safer than in Arko. I want to know how you know Ch’venga.  You used to go to the Mezem, I know.”

“I helped teach him his first Arkan.”

“You did? I thought his boy did.”

I had to smile. “Well, he said he didn't understand what okas and fessas and aitzas were... I was eleven and thought of him as 'My gladiator', arrogant little snot that I was. And I barged into his room at the Mezem... or tried to and found he'd locked the door.

“Really?” I’d intrigued him.

“Yeah. I could have had my Mahid break the door down. He taught me to say 'can I come in please. I never told you all of this, I guess because it was too dangerous you knowing... with Amitzas. Now, I can.”

“Yeah, we're fikked if he finds us now anyway. Those Mahid try to chase us here... anyone sees a hair of them, they're dog-meat.” I guess, but I hope Joras isn't one of them. He's been taught how to act like a normal Arkan, so these people wouldn't know him as Mahid.

I'm hoping Amitzas wouldn't even think of looking here.”

“No, he'd be expecting you to stay in the empire somewhere, and he wouldn't think you'd be able to help me at all.”

Gan giggled. I smiled back at him. “So Ch’venga was teaching you manners.”

I shrugged. “I didn't know the difference between ‘Let me in!’ And ‘May I come in please?’ I’d never had to ask for anything. I just took it.”

“Hmm. You were the Heir. The Spark of the Sun’s Ray…” He tossed the idea away with a head and hand toss, so like Chevenga. “Eh, you were the Imperator's son.” I told Gan and Ili the rest of that story and Gan laughed when he found out that Chevenga had hugged me the first time then.

“And you didn’t think he wanted you as as sex boy because he touched you?”

“No… well, I asked him and he didn’t touch me like that.”

Gan got up and got us some water from the pitcher, and I talked. I told them about sneaking down to the Mezem and the lessons Chevenga taught me. I talked about the political lessons.

I told Gan about the secret way out of the Marble Palace and they boys chasing me to the Mezem and Manas the Wolf’s suicide and the morgue and… all of it. Gan, if anyone, deserved to know. His face was calm and I worried more and more what he must be thinking of me. What was he thinking? Was I losing him earlier than I thought? My stomach clenched. It didn’t matter. He would be safer away from me, and back with his family. Safe home.
Ili went to play with his bears for a while but came back, listening wraptly when I talked about how the fat guy had introduced us and how he’d peed on me.

“I peed on you?” He bounced on me, giggling.

“Yeha.” I looked into his eyes, so like mine. He’d been going from a pudgy toddler to a lanky boy, but muscular not fat any more. His face was less like the fat guy’s now. “And Chevenga wrote me… since it was too dangerous for him and for me to visit him… he wrote me and told me that the way to have you as a little brother and not as an enemy was to show you how much I loved you. You were just a little baby and the fat guy was making us enemies and that was wrong. And you loved me.”

Without a thought, without a hesitation he flung himself on me hard, one of his knees just missing my vile organs, driving my wind out of me. “’Course I love you! You’re just a big poop sometimes!”

“Ow,” I managed to gasp. “Chevenga was the biggest poop.”

“Yeah? How?”

“He made me do stuff I didn’t want to a lot, but it all helped me. He was a better dad than the fat guy, who acted like a worse baby than you ever did, Ili.”

“What?” He didn’t let go his strangle-hold on my neck. “SHEFENKAS was a daddy?”

“Yes. IS a daddy. He has his own children and missed them and I think he ‘fathered’ me as much as he did because he missed them.” I caught my breath, putting my thumbs under Ili’s stranglehold. “He could see how much I needed him. He’s like that.”

“GOOD!” Ili was fierce in his loving me. “He showed you how to be a daddy, then!”

Even though I was only eleven, yes. He did. “So, Ili, can you let me breathe, in your love?” He put a smacking kiss on my cheek and my forehead and let me go.

Gan was looking at me with the same thoughtful look Chevenga used to give when he was figuring things out. “So he was your first really good friend, hmmm?”

“Yeha.” I had started using the fessas slang for yes all the time now, almost without noticing it. “He… he was the most important person in my life next to Bin…” My throat caught with tears and I had to swallow hard. “Binshala.”

“So why didn’t you just run, to his army before the fat guy could send you away with all of us?” Gan looked at me intensely. “I don’t remember much about when we were picked, except that I couldn’t take my eyes off the fat guy. And they took me away to make me into a scarred copy of the sem—“ It was his turn to choke up. I waited for him to catch his breath. “— Ch’venga Aicheresa.”

“He gave his position that Arko learn the vote to the bones, Gan. He’s like that.”

“Yeah. I’m still mad about that.”

I nodded. He might have to yell at me as the only available Arkan to be mad at for losing his cherished semanakraseye.

“So if he was your friend, why didn’t you run to him?”

I closed my eyes. “He… he…” I couldn’t get it out. “He’s not my friend anymore, Gannara. He hasn’t been for a long time. I… I tried… I…” I couldn’t force the words out of my mouth. Gan was looking alarmed as I fought to say what I should. I couldn’t.

“I can’t tell you. If he’s healed. He must hate me now.”

“What?” Gan made the Yeoli throwing off sign. “That doesn’t make any sense!”

I took a deep breath and clenched my eyes shut. “It was the fat guy. He showed me… how much I’m like him.” I managed to sob, through a locked shut throat. “And damned me to Hayel all at the same time. Gan. Don’t ask.”

“Min.” He took both my hands in his and I… remembering down to my bones what had happened with Chevenga… cringed. He didn’t let me go and that made it worse. “Min, listen!”

I threw my head back and forth, eyes clenched shut. “No. No! Gan, get away from me!” He finally, mercifully, let go my hands. I could barely hear Ili’s voice as he called my name. “All of you, get away from me!” I folded my arms over my head. My vile organs were stirring as if I had woken them by recalling my first true sexual experience but I was too tangled in the covers to throw a fist into them.

For a long moment I lay buried in the layers of the bed, quivering. “I… trust me, Gan. He hates me now. He must. I love him still but I am not safe to be around if the evil in me rises.”

I could feel him take a deep breath and braced for him to yell at me, but he was very quiet when he said. “Do you think I don’t recognize Mahid kyash? Come out from under that pillow and have a glass of water.”

I hadn’t even realized I was under the pillows. I fought free of the bedding, my hair all over my face. “Oh. Thanks.” I accepted the glass he offered me. “I’m sorry. I’m a little twisted up around Chevenga, amimya.

Once I was sitting up again rather than curled tight around my pain I was able to smile at him, who looked so much like Chevenga. “You think?” he said. “Take a breath. Most of that is kyash and I can see why you don’t think about it. So. Once we find my home, maybe you should go to Haiu Menshir? Get rid of that?”

“Yeha. I guess. Maybe after I go do my research in Vae Arahi.”

“Idya. You can’t do anything easily, can you?”

“Yeha. And I’ve told you almost all about Chevenga and I, and you’re still avoiding finding out what town you are from…”

He looked at me from under his lowered brows. “I… yeah… I guess. Look… maybe both of us need to go to Haiu Menshir.”

“Min,” Ili said. “Gan, the Mahid hurt both of you? 2nd Amitzas? And Boras? And Mathas?”

“Yes,” Gan and I answered together.

“They did, Ili. I hope they didn’t hurt you at all, did they?”

He shook his head no. “Kaita told me… Kaita said… be like a baby around them. They’ll leave you alone longer.”

Oh, thank Selestialis. “Good.”

“So why don’t you go to Haiu Menshir and get fixed?”

“I… I guess I will, Ili. Once we find out where Gan’s from.”

“So let’s do that!” He grabbed the map book from where it had been dropped and flipped it open. Gan went pale but came over to sit with the two of us.

“All right, Ili, you can help me.” His finger came down on the next little town. “Kolanina... Inanga… He read names for a while, with Ili reading the Enchian next to the Yeoli. “Nakalai… that’s a big city.”

“Ah, but no thoughts... no.. reactions?”

He glared at me. “What are you looking for? If something sounds familiar? They all do!” He huffed, angrily. “Menichiya...”

“'tai,” I said. “But more... kind of like when you were ordering dinner you kind of twitched once but you said nothing was wrong.”

“Well, nothing was wrong!” he snapped. “I was just ordering dinner!” He was getting angrier and angrier as he read down the coast, down toward the Enchian border.


“You stopped once.”

“Did I? I thought I just ordered.” He’d obviously forgotten his reaction in the eating hall.

“B'ru, amimya, you stopped right in the middle.”

He didn’t answer me, just rammed his finger down on the next dot and read “Erealanai. That means ‘town at the mouth of the Ereala’.”

“Does it? Have you ever seen the place?”

“I...” He was greenish and swallowing hard. “I don't know. I just know what it means, all right?!”

“All right.”

“Kifaeranina... ‘ina’ means port. Like Selina.”


“I'm just explaining why so many of them end with that!”

“I understand.” Gannara was tense as a bow-string as well as getting more irritable.

“Theraha... Ateraigina...Imichina... I'm almost done. End of the Yeoli coast is the Enchi border. I don’t think I’m from a port town.”

“You only have a few more to read.”

“We should look upriver maybe.” He looked away from the book and Ili looked up at him, reached over and put Indispensible Bear under his arm. Gan twitched as though Ili had poked him.

“Thanks, Ili.” He cuddled both of them, and took a deep breath before freeing the book out from under the toy. I put my hand on his shoulder.

“Just finish the coast. You’re almost done. Then we can look up the Ereala. It’s only a few more.”

“All right! Fine!” He sighed heavily and turned back to the map. "Mikeleya! Choramina! And one last big city, that’s all! Asi…” He froze again, his finger shaking as it pointed. “A… A… Asin…”


“’t…t…tai.” His eyes were full of tears, and he fought to stay silent but sobs forced themselves out between his teeth. It was my turn to hold hard onto him. “I… think… I think… that’s…” he took a deep breath. “That’s where I’m from.”

“A very wise man said it's good to let it out. That was Chevenga. Go ahead and cry, Gannara. I've got you.” Gannara turned his head into my neck and cried.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

260 - I'd Starve to Death in Laka

“I think I'd starve to death in Laka,” I said when I went back inside and Ili giggled. He had all his crisps eaten and was dabbing bread into my akopo-e, the non-spicy one. I leaned back away from the food. “You two have some of mine. I’ll eat later.”

Gannara looked up at me from the table “No, no, I can’t take yours from you! Now I’m cursing myself for getting you to eat kri.”

The server, a sympathetic young man came with a jug of water. “Here, kere, don’t let him,” he jerked his thumb at Gan who smiled, sheepishly. “…feed you any more of ‘ssat’.” His Enchian accent was thick.

Gan said, “Kere, sivya…” but I couldn’t get what he ordered other than a single word ‘chama’.”

“I’m not hungry, Gannara, It’s all right. No harm done.”

“I just ordered something that should help.”

“What, to re-grow my tongue?”

He didn’t pick up on my smile, but took me too seriously. “No, this is for your stomach.”

“Gannara... thank you.” I managed to grin at him. “How would I say ‘I’m the idya for eating this?’"

"Sh'idiya pesi machira," he said, "That's how you say it," just as the waitperson brought back a fragrant, steaming cup. It was a ginger tea of some kind. The server grinned at me learning that phrase but didn't say anything to us, just set the cup down.

“Thank you," I said to him before he left and sipped it. It did settle my stomach a little. “Kere… could I have this packed for later. It would be good cold.”

He grinned at me and signed chalk. “I’ll wait till all you fellows are done…” he nodded at Ili who giggled. “Then I’ll be back to pack it up.”


In our room later, Gannara sat with the map-book in his hand, shaking. He couldn’t open it. His eyes were full of tears. “What if it's not there? What if it’s gone like Shakora? What if all my family is dead?”

I sat down and folded him into my arms and Ili piled in on the other side, he only hugged him for a moment before going off to play with his bears but it helped. Gannara cried and I held him.

He cried wordlessly, shaking, fighting the pain the Mahid had put in his mind, the fears that had grown up since. “It’s all right, Gan. There will be someone there. There was only one Shakora. We’ll find the town or city, we’ll get there, we’ll find your family. It’s all right. I’ll be there. I’ll be there, my brother. I won’t abandon you. You won’t be alone.” He let the book go and clung to me, to my arms and hands. “No matter what, my brother, you won’t be alone, I promise to the last breath I have. I swear on what’s left of my soul. I swear.”

“Hey, Gan," Ili piped up. "If Min is your brother does that mean I’m your little brother?”

He shifted from tears to laughter in a moment. “Sure, Ili. I…” He froze again, this time in that horrible stillness the Mahid had forced on him.

I tightened my arms on him and he turned his head into my shoulder like a doll, barely breathing. “Weep, little brother, cry," I said. "It’s all right. It’s all right if you can’t remember your sibs. You have more sibs not less.”

He trembled once, twice and then that awful stillness broke again. “Min… Ili!” He wailed and clung to me. “I don’t remember!”

“It’s all right, Gannara. It’s all right.” He wept himself out before sitting up straight and wiping his eyes and nose.

“I’m fine, Min. I’m fine.” I didn’t let go of him.

“Yeah. I know you’re fine.” When he quit shaking I let go and buffeted him on the shoulder. “Like the Haians say… ‘you are good. When you know it, I will let you go.’" I did my best Haian accent and he smiled a watery smile at me.

“I’m good," he said shakily.

I handed the map book back to him. His hands shook but he took it, cracked it open and folded the map of Yeola-e open to show the coastal towns. Ili brought Indispensible Bear to overlook the map with him. “I can pop his mouth open to scare off the monsters, Gan,” he said. “Should I?”

Gannara ruffled his hair and petted IB. “No. That’s all right. I’m all right.” He took a deep breath, the desperate yearning in his face came up. “I’m the idiot.”

“So, why don’t you start with the ports along the Miyatara?”

He looked at me. “I thought you wanted to go upriver? And then to Vae Arahi?”

“Later. Now we need to get you home and I have a hunch.”

He shrugged and bent his head to the page. “Selina... where we are.... Should I do every little village?” He stared down at the page. “I guess I should.” His finger trailed down to the next little dot on the page. “Kimicha... Firiholila…” He stopped and swallowed.

“Why do you think I need to do ports along the Miyatara?”

“I have a feeling you might find something along the coast.” He looked at me, eyes big around, younger looking than his second threshold.

“You do?”



“The way you understood the sailors. The way you knew what they were doing… like that sailor throwing the thing off the front to check the depth. You in the rigging. You on a ship is like you’ve been doing it since younger than Ili. The Yeoli road guards in Arko saying you had a coast accent maybe? Things like that.”

“I... I... guess I wouldn't know those things if I were from inland.... would I?”

“’tai,” I said, flipping my hand up. “The server spoke differently from the shopkeeper and both of them spoke differently from you. But I don't know what that means. And different from someone from Vae Arahi.”

“Who do you know from Vae Arahi?” He shut the book and looked at me. “I thought I was the only Yeoli you really knew.”

I’d never really told him a lot about Chevenga. Before I’d told him bits and pieces but nothing enough to get him in trouble if 2nd Amitzas truth drugged him. “You know, you’re asking me this to distract from finding your home.”

“Yeha. But I really do want to know and now you can tell me all of it.”

All of it? It was my turn to draw back and get up and pace. “Gannara,” I swallowed and found myself fighting tears. I sat down in the window and looked out over Selina. From this angle mostly windows and walls and the occasional windowbox. “I… don’t… I…” I swallowed again. “I should tell you. I should tell you all of it. You deserve to hear about it. But… but… I’m scared.”

I sat down. Ili put his bears down and came over and put his hands around my neck. “’S’ok, Minis.”

I put my arms around him and buried my face in my little brother’s neck. “Thanks, Blob.”


He punched me. “IT’S ILESIAS AKAM! Not 'Blob'!” I smiled and held him close.

“Yeah, Ilesias Akam. I love you, little brother. I… need to tell our other brother Gannara all about how I learned to love you and him and how to be polite and kind and sane and I’m scared, thank you.”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

259 - Looking for Gan's Home

The port of Selina was guarded by an enormously long spit of land, with bright, sharp, new-laid, Arkan-laid stones as foaming breakwater. The dark blue of the water broke with white, white spray. The lighthouse… the Selina lighthouse was eight sided and towered pale over the brightly painted houses of the town. The stone circle – the Yeoli national symbol-- on the top, against the sky, was new.

Not surprising, since it would have been broken off when the town was taken, and replaced by the Eagle. In the rubble at the base, washed by the sea, was the shattered eagle’s head, the beak pointing up out of the foam. One of the sailors tossed a pebble as the rowing tugs eased us into the inner harbour. A new custom. I pointed it out to Ili but he didn’t say anything, eyes big in his face.

The Pages article that had described the taking of the city had described the light-house as being in flames, like a chimney, but the interior was obviously now re-built and the stone fixed and no sign of soot on the whitewashed surface.

Gannara was able to join in with the sailors singing their homecoming song. His accent, as far as my ear could detect,was only a little different, but I was pretty certain he wasn’t from Selina. Singing was something that Gan could do smoothly, with no hitches. He was pale under his tan and he was afraid, I could tell.

Our first stop would be a Haian, I resolved, to get some of what they called calming essence. The customs woman was related to the barokeresin so signed off their cargo with a chalk sign. She patted Gan on the back when he said we were trying to get him home, though she gave me a suspicious look before giving Ili and I entry tokens.

It was funny, even though Gan had settled into the ship family as though he were a long lost son, he took a deep breath when we stepped onto Yeola-e soil. As though he expanded, somehow.

We each had our burdens on our backs, we had a pack each and I had the Imperial sword in its back-slung bundle and the Imperial book in its own bundle. Ili was carrying his Indispensible Bear tucked into his pack and a cleaned repaired Kefas, with a sling firmly in place on the arm that had gotten ripped off. Ili insisted that sewing it back on wasn’t enough… KB needed ‘healing time’.

The port was superficially like the other ports we had seen, but every port was different. The spices on the wind, what people cooked with, the land behind that that same offshore wind blew across. The buildings were painted brighter than Hyerne. Gannara took in a deep breath and it was as though a pinched set to his face eased.

“So. I want to go to a Haian’s office, to buy some remedies,” I said. “Then we need to find a bookseller and buy a Yeoli mapbook.”

“A mapbook?”

“Yeah. I figure we get you to read down all the port towns until something rings a bell.”

He went pale as a sheet of paper and staggered a little, I caught him by the elbow. “Um. Yeah. I guess.”

“Haian Apothecary first.”


“Hey, Gan, how exactly would I say ‘I’m not an idiot,’ in Yeoli?”

“What, in case someone calls you that?”

“Yeah, like my friend… guy by the name of Gannara.”

He snorted and some of his colour came back. “Idiya,” he said.

I laughed back at him as we turned off the port road onto the market road. ‘Te something pah idya?”

“No. Simpler. Shipa idiya.”

“Oh, yeah. Shi – I am. Shipa – I am not.”

“Yeah, bya.” Bya meant good.

“Amimya shi fanga,” I said. I’m starving, my friend. Ili bounced up and down. “Me too!” He said. He was learning Yeoli faster than I was.


Gannara kept saying things like ‘I’m afraid my tongue is going to seize up, but I understand everything.” I kept my hand on his elbow and he didn’t throw me off. Without noticing he was just saying ‘kyuzai’, ‘kyuzai’, to people as we went. Kyuzai is ‘excuse me’.

We braved the steely eye of the matron bookseller to buy a mapbook and ended up at ‘The Cormorant’s Nest’ with a giant fake nest and cormorant on the roof. It was very obvious to anyone who couldn’t read but a little disconcerting to walk in the door under that spear-like three-foot beak and beady eye glaring balefully down the street.

The main public eating room of the Cormorant’s Nest was off to one side with a view out over the sea. Ili sat down on the bench under the window, shucked off his backpack and put his head down, using it as a pillow. “I’m tired, Min.”

“You can lie there, brother. If you nap I’ll wake you when the food comes.”

He blinked and yawned. “Yeha. Can I have crisps?”

“If they have them, I’ll order them, Ili.”


I could see where the windows had, at one time, just been open shutters. Now there was glass in the openings, tilted today to let the ocean breeze in. The waiter came and rattled off the menu in Yeoli too fast for me to catch more than a word or two.

“They don’t have any Arkan-style food, Minakas. But the chef is willing to try crisps for Ili.”

Given the kind of shen we were eating or forced to consume under the Mahid it shouldn’t be a problem. “That’s all right. Just order something, I won’t complain.”

“You like fish? It’s nine fish and one chicken. I could order you… hmmm. I don’t know the word in Arkan. Akopo-e. Has eight arms.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Akopo-e ve’kri a Laka,” he said to the waiter. “It’s Lakan style,” he said to me. “Blow your tongue off.”

I sat back and looked out at the ocean, out over the roofs of the port. “Maybe not. Something bland, Gan, please.”

“Okay. They also have akopo-e asinanaini, which means—“ He sat suddenly, staring at me, with the panicked look he used to get. The waiter looked between the two of us, confused and beginning to be alarmed. Gannara gulped and swallowed. “Nothing.” He looked up at the waiter. “’sall right.” He took a deep breath. “It’s more bland. It has wine and garlic.”

“All right. That sounds good.”

I looked at the waiter and asked slowly, in Yeoli. “Might I get kaf, Arkan style?”

“’tai, kere.” He said and left, as good as if he were hired by Feliras and was back just as fast with Gan’s ezethra, my kaf and a big glass of goat’s milk for Ili, who had fallen asleep on the bench.

“So, what happened there, Gan. Something hit you.”

“I don’t know.” He looked like something was chewing on his soul.

“It’s all right, Gan. We’ll figure it out.” I really thought he was probably an Asinanaini. Given that the guards had said his accent was of that city. And he kept stumbling over the name. But I couldn’t just tell him. I thought, for his good, he should come to that conclusion himself.

The platters came and Ili sat up himself without me having to rouse him. Mostly the aroma of the food. I wasn’t that hungry but I knew I should have some food. “Heya, Ili. Good thing we’re going Yeoli, no gloves.”

He smiled and then laughed. “It’d be pretty messy!”

The main platter had the flat-breads and the dishes of dipping and spreading sauces, the bigger bread plates, with the main food set in the middle. We were meant to eat with our fingers. Ili’s crisps were like little flat potato crisps. Very different but good. I took one and he squealed “Those are MINE!” I teased him by pretending to go after them a few times. Then he sat back with a huff. “There’s enough!” Gan giggled.

“You got it, Ili. He’s just teasing.”

“That’s RUDE.”

“You’re right. I apologize, little brother.”

Gan pointed at a red sauce. “Stay away from that one, Min. It’ll blow your tongue through the top of your head.” The brown one was salty. The green one was sweet and the dark yellow one was sharp. “Wait… wait a second. I’m sorry, there’s something we should say before eating.”

Ili swallowed his mouthful and looked concerned. “Something sacred?”

“Yeah. Sorry.” He held out his hands to us and I took one and one of Ili’s so we made a little circle of three. He thought a moment and then a set of phrases rolled off his tongue, polished as if he’d said it every day for years. I didn’t catch it, except for the Yeoli word for bread, right at the end.

“Thank you both.”

I got him to repeat it and it was a thanking the plants and animals for giving up their lives and the people who worked for the food, so that we could eat. I thought it was the closest thing I’d ever heard to a prayer in Yeoli and I realized that I should be seen to do the noon observance or people might realize I wasn’t just an ordinary fessas.

The sweet and salty sauce on the potato crisps was very good and I ate four of them in a row. I hadn’t eaten so well in a long time. On board ship my stomach was uneasy and I hadn’t eaten much in Hyerne, they spiced everything with a green spice that made me sick for some reason.

Ili liked the spicy red sauce in tiny dots on his crisps.

For the first time, I felt that my stomach unclenched, even thought we were coming closer and closer to me losing Gannara forever. I’d lost Kyriala. I’d lost Ailadas. I’d lost Chevenga as a friend years ago.

I put my Yeoli crisp down, half eaten. The sauce curdled in my mouth. I was going to lose everyone in my life. For their own safety, or because I’d promised.

“Hey, Min, you brave enough to try some of this?” Gan was daring me to taste the yellow/red dish he was savouring. “Just a tiny bit?”


He put a dab of octopus on a piece of bread and handed it to me and I popped it in my mouth. It was like the spice that the fat guy had hidden the poison in and just as then I thought the inside of my mouth was peeling off in strips. I clenched my teeth on it, closed my eyes, with tears pouring out of the corners, holding my breath, trying to breathe. I managed to swallow and grabbed for a plain bit of bread and my water glass. I could barely see Gan, so concerned. “Min, are you all right? Are you, kyash I didn’t mean to hurt you, here, have some of Ili’s milk…”

I had a blister on the inside of my lip that I could feel with my tongue. “I’m… I’m all right. Sorry, Gan. I need to go outside for a bit. You two eat. I’ll be all right.”

I wasn’t in the Marble Palace under my father’s eyes. I was free. He was dead. The Empire I knew was dead. I swallowed my bile and went back in to sit and sip my kaf while they finished eating.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

258 - Pirates?

The next Yeoli ship to enter the port was on the way back to their home port of Selina, and they are willing to accept our passage. It was a full eight-day after we got Ili back, plenty of time for us to get Kefasbear fixed and for me to arrange to have some presents sent back to Arko for Kyriala.

I picked the books, after I proved to the Hyerne booksellers that I could read… They knew that foreign men could read, but were so used to thinking ‘males are not allowed’ that I had to prove it first.  

Kyriala, this is vile. This treatment… It was more difficult to discern the letters through the lace-covered eyeslot. In Arko we think women are more delicate, less able to bear reading or study, or any kind of truly effective activity. In Hyerne they believe the same of men. Are we both wrong? Yeoli and Haian scholars… both cultures believe that men and women are equal in mind and body… and there must be studies.

I was just as glad to get away from Piri. There was a movement beginning aimed at ‘fixing’ unnecessary males. I finally figured out that what they called ‘fixing’ was castration and the speakers waving their pamphlets on the corners… I didn’t want Ili to hear that stuff.

I watch Gannara in the rigging. As in the other ship, the barokeresin--the whole group of people, mostly a family, who own the ship together—were treating him as a long-lost little brother. He still didn’t speak much Yeoli. It made him scared and nervous and I was bothering him to teach Ili and I. I was speaking to him in Yeoli now. And Ili was teaching Kefasbear the correct pronunciation.

“Heya, Ili,” I said to him, as he sat on my lap, he and Kefas reading a picture book. “You think it’s a good omen that we’re heading to Selina? The port is sort of named as if the Yeolis knew Selinae.”

He put his finger on a word to keep his place and looked up at me. “Yeah. I guess. Selinae is kind of like our mama, like in this book, right?” I looked down at the pictures and realized he was looking at a children’s version of the Book. I didn’t want to give Ili my fear and despair and conviction of sin. He did not deserve it even if he has our father’s blood. I swallowed hard.

“Yes. She is Mother of all Children, the Gentle Lady, Lover of the Innocent. Do you remember when you climbed up Her statue?” I thought it was safe enough to talk about it, on a Yeoli ship, in Arkan. He screwed up his brows, thinking.

“Did you come and get me?” He said at last. “I don’t really, but Kaita told me all about it. She said the Goddess caught us both when we fell.”

“That’s true. So the Goddess is looking out for you, little brother.”

“You too!” He protested. “She caught you too!”

Arkani a saro!” The lookout from the topmast bellowed. “Arkans on the starboard!” Ili and I scrambled up to look in that direction and Gannara swung over to the ratlines over our heads.  

Itanavae voyel Arkani.” That meant five sails. There was one pair of far-lookers onboard and the month captain had them to his eyes, while sailors speculated all around whether they were actual Arkan ships or pirate deserters from the war.

“Can’t see what colours they are flying,” Gannara called down, and slid down to the deck next to us.  

“They’re saying we can probably outrun them if we have to.”

“There’s no way we could fight them off.” And if it were me, and I was a pirate, I’d try to deceive people by flying false colours. People were scrambling up the ropes all over, standing by in case the captain gave the order to run. “Are they angling to intercept us?” I found myself hugging Ili tight to my legs with both hands on his shoulders.

“No. At least I don’t think so.” He checked an angle of some kind, his hand against the ship. “No, they’ll pass us on the laro.” That was Yeoli for left ship side. “But they’re looking for other signs, too.”

“Like what?”

He was listening. “The captain is saying they look like marines and proper Arkan ships… I mean, they’re being maintained and they’re in their uniforms. Not trailing ropes or obvious stains. Arkan ships are kept in order… Yeah. They seem to be legitimate.”

“The course they’re travelling will put them between us and the land, right?” Then I checked, “No, wrong side, sorry.”

“Yeah, the group of ships always takes the side away from land, unless it would force them way out of their way.”

“Really, that’s one of the rules?”


“If they were pirates and we couldn’t outrun them we’d be fikked,” I said. “Unless we could stay ahead of them until the sun goes down and try to give them the slip in the dark.”

“You think you could swim to shore from here?”

I eyed the gap. It was somewhere between a half a malas and a full one. “I’d have a lot of incentive. I’m not sure Ili could.”

“I could SO!” He chimed in, indignantly. I patted his shoulder.

“I’m sure you could, little brother, but I’m not sure the Bear-corps could.”


“You know… I think we should all three go back to carrying… um… our stuff in the scarves like before. We've been lucky so far...” Gannara and I had been both carrying our funds. Ili had nothing but he should, should he be separated from us again. I had the Imperial book in its waterproof covering and the back-scabbard for the sword. With them slung on my back I could probably swim that far. And if I had to drop the sword in the deep water, then better there than somewhere on land for someone to pick up.

“Yeah, but we probably won't run into any pirates anyway. Ch’venga and the Arkan and Yeoli navy did a good job of cleaning up the deserters from the war… and the Tor Enchians and Hyerne worked together to clear out those island pirate nests.”

“Look, that’s as close as they’ll get to us,” Gannara said, squinting out over the water. “If they were going to try and intercept us they’d have to get higher into the wind and run down on us.”

I didn’t understand that, but just nodded. “There’s a courier!” Ili pointed up to the dot in the sky.

“How can you tell it’s not a bird, Ili?”

“It’s a wing!” He insisted stubbornly. “Let’s go to the bow and watch, okay?”

We went up to the front and Ili and I were treated to watching a pod of dayanal leaping and blowing and spouting, next to the ship.

“Hai!” Ili yelled “Look, look at him jump! So fast!”

“They’re showing off,” Gannara said. “They know how beautiful they are. They’re like that. They’re playing with the ship. They play all the time. Heya, Ili, if you fell in, a dayan might save you. They do that, too.”

Watching the sleek gray shapes arcing and splashing and rolling in the bow wave was comforting. Gannara was already bored of watching them. “There’s a story that they are reincarnated people, who’ve lived good lives and so deserve happiness in the next one.”

“Really?” That would be a kind of Selestialis. “I’d like that. I’d like that a lot.” Not what’s waiting for me. I wish I were not doomed to Hayel.

“I could stand swimming all day, worrying about nothing. I’d rather be a seagull, though. That way you get to walk, swim and fly.”

“People can do that now,” Ili said. “Min, I wanna learn to fly.”

“Me too, little brother. Me too, but I’m not sure there is a school that would teach Arkans…”

“There is. In Arko the city,” Gannara said. “I heard about it while we were there.”

“Really? That’s good to know. I wouldn’t go to a Yeoli flying school, or a Niah one. I’m done with teachers who hate my guts.”

“So when are we going home?” Ili asked.

“Well, first we have to get Gannara home,” I said. “Then we’ll figure out what we’ll do.” Gannara got this odd look on his face and then turned back to look out at the sea. “There’s some libraries in the Yeoli capitol I’d like to visit, so it might be a while.” Once Gannara is home, I’ll be more alone. I’ll be able to eventually send Ili home to Arko. But what will I do then? If I just fling myself off a cliff I’m just heading straight for Hayel, so I don’t want to do that. But I don’t want to be all alone either. I’ll think about that, later.

Ili sighed. “Will they stop looking for us?”

“Probably not ever, Ili, but we’ll throw them off our trail before we go home again. We will, one day, I promise.”