I have been waiting and searching these alleyways. This is the second night in a row and the third morning. Gannara got me to lie down but I could not sleep.
Little brother. I started out hating you. I was afraid of you. Not your fault. Chevenga taught me I could try to love you. I’m getting a little mad, I think. I held onto the pendant on my neck as if it could bring him to me again. Through all the running the last two years and Mahid and swimming escape in the river and he vanishes by walking off a ship when I took my attention off him.
My prayers are falling on deaf Ears. Gods. Gods, help him, keep him safe. I must be sleeping I’m dreaming of him dead in a hundred different, gruesome ways.
Gannara told me I had to start cutting back on the bribes because a normal fessas wouldn’t have much more than I had already given. I had one more full copper chain and a quarter. He said that would be reasonable. He said pretend it’s my last copper. The guardpost was, as always, full of these women with their short tunics, showing their limbs naked down to the ends of their fingernails, the loose folds of cloth showing pieces of their torsos. At the moment I could care less if I saw another breast or another nipple.
I stared into the Mirmida’s face, distanced from me by the watery glints of the light veil, and wanted to punch the smug superiority off it. Is this what Kyriala feels, in Arko? I shook the odd thought out of my head.
Before I’d gone into the Guard Post to begin harassing the Mirmida, I’d pulled the full chain in half and her face didn’t show anything when I put it down but her hand didn’t move to cover it. Her fingers still tapped slowly. I added the quarter piece and her hand twitched and settled.
“Sweetie, don’t get hysterical now. Investigations take time. We’ll find him safe and sound for you… don’t get your kilt in a knot, baby.”
If they do not find him soon I am tempted to reveal myself, make Ili more valuable to find and find alive to sell to Chevenga’s sister. I couldn’t see, the pressure in my head was so intense. “Is this not enough, Mirmida?” I said it very softly. The world was wheeling around me in a strange way and it was a good thing I was wearing the lighter veil that could not hide the sword on my back. I was starting to imagine taking her smug, corrupt, dismissive head off.
“What? I’m not… I’ve said nothing about enough… poppet, why don’t you go back to your inn…”
I pulled out my knife, a tiny little eating knife with a short, finger-long blade and she started to grin at me. Was I going to threaten her with this little knife? Not what I intended. I put my arms through the slots in the fabric till my hands and arms were exposed, slashed the blade roughly along my own arm, dropped the knife, slapped my hand with the last quarter chain on the bleeding skin.
A little blood spreads everywhere. You think you have cleaned every drop and you’ll find other little smears here and there. A little cut can bleed most impressively. I slapped the last, bloody quarter chain onto her desk in front of her. “Consider me a crazy sweetheart, Mirmida. This is what I have. You want more blood or sweat out of me…” My voice was rising. I took a deep breath and stepped back, pulling my hands back through. I felt no pain, not even a sting. She might have a drop or two more of blood on her floor to explain, to clean, to upset other people coming into the guardpost. “That’s what I have.”
“Calm down!” she snapped at me, on her feet. Gannara had said something, some of the guards hadn’t quite known what to do. I couldn’t hear properly from the ringing in my ears.
“Yes. Mirmida. I am calm. Find my little brother.” A flood of Hyerne as she spoke to someone else. Gannara had me by the elbow again and there was a bench for me to sit down on. Bribery worked… but only to a point. In the Empire, bribery worked. The slower she worked, the slower they looked, the more likely it was that they’d be giving me back Ilesias’s mutilated little body to bury.
“Kahara, Minakas,” Gannara hissed in my ear. “Have you gone crazy?”
“A little, Gan,” I whispered back. “I haven’t been able to sleep. I’m about to fall on my face.”
One of the clerks came over with a cup of watered wine for me, and a damp cloth, both of which she handed to me, looking at my bloody hand coming out of the slits in the veil. “Not to worry, lad. You don’t need to do such things.” She folded my little knife in a kerchief and gave it back to me as well.
She seemed a trifle less bluff and a trifle less inclined to pat me on the head and tell me to go play with my toys. They were all acting as if it weren’t important. I drained the water and handed it back to her, wiped my still oozing arm and then my hands.
“Clerk.” I said slowly, still looking down. “How am I hysteric if I am concerned that my trouble is not being treated with sufficient attention? It is my brother, not a lost pet, not a stolen trinket. Blood is significant enough to make my point I hope?” I handed her the bloody cloth and folded my hands in my lap, clenching my fists. Gannara couldn’t throw his arm around me because of the shennen tents we were wearing but he could clasp my shoulder hard enough for me to take strength from.
She just shook her head and went back to her filing work. They didn’t think men were intelligent enough to do paper work.
The guardwoman the Mirmida had barked at had left at a jog and I stood up. “I shall be at the café down the street, should there be word, Mirmida.” She nodded abruptly. I needed to get out. I needed to breathe and I couldn’t in the guardpost.
I stood in the sun outside for a moment waiting for my eyes to adjust, sweat springing out all over my body as though a fever had broken. The light in this city was white, somehow more silverwhite than at home and it was hard to see.
In the glare I blinked my eyes clear and heard, in the distance “Min! Min! Min!” I froze. Ilesias? Ilesias? “Minakas!” He stopped in the street, looking confused, as Guardswoman Urapaliha came up behind him, grounded her staff. He seized the shaft of her spear as she put it down, looking up at her, red in the face, and confused.
“YOU SAID MINAKAS WAS HERE!” He bellowed at her and she quirked a smile. The veils.
I lunged toward him, fell over the edge of the shennen veil and laid my length in the dust, yelling and Gannara fell over me, yelling too, tangling the two of us as if were caught in a net on the pavement.
“Ilesias!!!!! Ili! Ili!”
“Min? Min? Is that you in that big bag? Gannara?” He landed on us and I had all my wind knocked out of me.
“Ili!” I managed to gasp. I was so glad to have his knees driving the air out of my lungs. I was actually weeping. He was pounding on me with his little fists, yelling and crying at me in Arkan.
“You were a poop if you weren’t such a poop I wouldn’t have gotten lost and been scared and got Kefas hurt and—“
“—if you ever scare me like that you… you… little, wait, wait… If I hadn’t been a poop?! I should tan your backside till you can’t sit down you little sneak!”
“--Ilesias you can’t just go running off—“ That was Gannara who was trying to hug him along with me and get us untangled all at the same time. It was the guardswoman who hauled us all upright and helped us get untangled without trying to pull Ili off my neck.
He put a hand on either side of my face and pulled the forzak fabric tight. “That IS you in there Min, right?”
“Ili. I’m going to beat your backside till it’s pink and swollen like a baboon’s!”
“I love you, Min.”
I put my cheek on the top of his head, pulling him close, hearing the blasted veil rip and not caring, feeling my heart unclench for the first time in days. I took a deep breath. Thank you Gods, thank you Gods. I will tithe to Thee oh Gods, a thank offering, next Height of Sun. “Let’s let the Mirmida close off her report, and then back to the inn, all right?”