For the first time since we had gotten away I desperately wanted a Mahid or two at my back so I could throttle this officious guard-Captain. I couldn’t see her clearly through the lace over the slit in the veil. The last fellows who rented it must have been smokers with bad teeth because somehow it reeked of stale katzerik smoke and bad breath. I couldn’t breathe as the woman took her time rolling a leaf full of some white powder like sugar and stuffing it into her cheek to go on top of the well masticated wad she had already there.
I wanted to throttle her as she deliberately took up her pen, her jaw moving slowly back and forth before saying “Anything else about the boy that is distinctive?” She was rubbing her fingertips together in a way I didn’t understand and I jumped as Gannara poked me through his veil and mine.
“Pay her something,” he hissed quietly, in Arkan.
I drew in a deep breath and bent down, saying “Oh, Mirmida,” I said through gritted teeth, addressing her carefully. “You seem to have dropped these chains upon the floor. May I return them to you?” If you don’t start moving to find my little brother quicker I’m going to do my best to ram these chains down your throat.
Thank the Gods that galvanized her. She snapped her book shut and rapped out a stream of Hyerne. Three of her gigantic over-muscled women trotted in and received their orders. “Come along, dearie. You’ll be calmer if you come with us to search. We’ll find him. We’ll find him and everything will be all right. Stay calm.”
I wasn’t hysterical as they kept trying to tell me, I wanted them to move faster. Every moment they delayed Ili was further and further away from me. We went out into a heat that hit me in the top of the head like a club. Even though it was illegal for me to carry the Imperial sword I had it slung on my back like a pack, hidden under the veil. I felt better that I had it with me.
We went down the hill back toward the port to where the last person had seen him. He’d disrupted a troop of entertainers, the woman troop-leader shrilly demanded some kind of compensation, at least until I managed to explain that the little boy who had spooked the horse and the dog and knocked the dancer off balance was my lost little brother.
The male dancer, in his translucent veil, that I suddenly envied for its lightness, stood behind Gannara and I while the Royal Guard questioned the troop leader and the others. “You might ask at the whore-house over there, lad,” he whispered in Enchian. “One of the whores tried to lure him… and grabbed him. He ripped loose, and darted through Ruru’s dog-and-pony show. Smart boy.”
My stomach clenched sour and my gut and heart felt like they were shriveling. “But he got away.”
Gannara bent down and picked something up out of the gutter. “Guard Nenasaddis, Guard Orinsimika, this was part of a toy he carried.” He showed me before handing it to the guardswoman. It was the half-empty stuffed arm of a toy bear. She gave it a cursory examination and then handed the dusty thing to me. This must be what it was like cleaning up after a battle, taking up the severed limb of a fallen comrade.
I was dizzy, lightheaded as my bare fingers clutched the plush piece of toy, trailing threads. “Guardswoman,” I said. She didn’t hear me so I repeated myself louder. This time I knew she was ignoring me. “Guardswoman!” She missed the flash of chain I showed in my hand, waving at me absently while she spoke to the troopmistress, who was still complaining. She waved me off as if I were Ili’s age trying to get an adult’s attention. Couldn’t I even buy notice?
I want to burn this stinking town to the ground and if Ili is lost or dies because of their inattention and greed I don’t know what I’ll do. The trail lead out of the park, with the Guardswomen asking the house-men along the street leading from the park.
They passed right past an alleyway and lost his trail right there. I assumed he went into the alleyway and tried to turn in, lifting the hem of my shennen veil out of the stinking puddles.
I ran and ran and ran with Kefas under my arm, and along the street and saw an alleyway… I turned into it and came to the end and there was a fence and I climbed up on the trash barrels and Kef and I rolled over the fence into the next garden and then I climbed the tree there and along a branch and onto a play-fort in another garden and along a fence.
I was crying but wiped my face and my nose with my sleeve and I got down and ran some more. I turned into another alley and found an alley-crack that I could fit through if I turned sideways. No grownup was going to follow me here and grab me and drag me off to get my head cut off. Or maybe make me a slave like Kaita said because she said I was pretty.
We weren’t in Arko anymore. And Min was more worried about how pretty I was. He said so. He said I was ‘zotic’ in a place like Hyerne or Yeoli. He said.
I needed to hide. And hide really, really well.
The crack alleyway let me out into another street but I didn’t run into it. I stopped and listened. It was like I had 2nd Amitzas chasing me. I listened. There wasn’t anything. No sound. Like Mahid chasing Min. I peeked out and waited until everyone was busy. Then I scooted across under a farm market full of melons and into another little alcove between two buildings. There was a place that I and Kefas barely fit. It wasn’t an alleyway just a space between two buildings with the cart across the front.
The space went back till it was dark and cold and mucky. I pushed my back into the crack, cuddling my injured Kefas against my tummy. Nobody was going to find us here