This little cove was completely private. It took a good long walk along the shore and more, to reach it. There were several milas of beaches held private to the University, with the patients and the long-term healers needing them. Then another walk before the cliffs started to rise and the beaches got more pebbly.
The road became a path and one could go right down to the water and for a few malas more along the edge of the sea, away from Haiu Roru and the harbor and the walled off sailortown. The cliffs here marched straight into the sea. If you swam out along them, far enough out from the cliff to not get caught in the currents that could drag people down, there were sandy little pockets of beach like a string of beads, each one isolated from the last by the natural mountain walls.
I didn’t tell Gannara this is where I was going when I said I was going to the beach. He’d explode if he knew. He would have exploded if he knew how I’d found it. I’d been caught in one of those currents, swimming too close to the cliff wall, that the sea hissed and boiled and slammed itself against.
A memory of being tumbled under the water as though I was being dragged over a waterfall not knowing left from right, up from down. Lungs straining eyes full of churning bubbles flying every direction around me, an impact in my gut that made my last air burst out, adding to the foam. Driving in one direction, I clung to the idea ‘keep your mouth closed!’ and was flung into the air to slam into the water again, breathing, gasping air and enough water to make me cough.
Dayanal. Gannara had been right. One had pushed me in the stomach, up to the top of the water. They did save people in trouble. They were all around me and I seized a top-fin desperately. They’d towed me in to where I could swim by myself again, snorting and blowing, making that giggling, laughing noise, one then another as they jumped and tail-walked and splashed backwards, all the while keeping up with the one that had had mercy on me.
I’d called thank you thank you thank you when I could put my feet down again but they were gone again, their flying jumps like arcs of wave. They’d brought me in to this beach and I’d found there was no way to climb up the cliffs, nor a way to walk around the bottom of the cliffs since they thrust out into the water, the sand and pebbles falling away from under my feet when I’d walked out to try. To get out, at last, I’d swum straight out very far before turning back to get around the rock wall.
But once I knew it was there, I came back without a dayan pushing me or pulling me in to shore. I’d come because I could be completely by myself. Something I wasn’t used to. It was so private. I sat on the sand, completely naked. For once I didn’t have to worry that anyone could see me.
In the Marble Palace, though I’d been alone in spirit, I had never been without the termite-pile all around me, the distant buzz of servants and slaves talking, the myriad sounds that all the living creatures in a building so vast, make. It would only get quieter in the night and even then the cats and the mice, the rats and the rat-catchers, were active. And I’d had my companions or Binshala. I made the prayer sign for her memory as I sat on the hot sand.
Then there had been the confinement of the Mahid and I’d come to understand with Zinchaer’s help, that they had never been mine. I had always been captive to them, with tiny exceptions when I had fought 2nd Amitzas.
And then Gannara… whom I loved. I could say that. Like a brother. But we were so close that we were seldom apart… now he was staying at the University for an eight-day or so, on his healer’s recommendation and I found that though I missed him like fire, at the same time it felt like a relief to be completely by myself. Which was confusing but Zinchaer told me that would happen.
The gulls wheeled over me and I sat in the shade of a boulder that had fallen from far above long ago. At least I hoped it was long ago. It not only shaded me from the sun but from the occasionally falling shen from the birds.
As the waves lapped back and forth, long-legged little birds ran back and forth as if dancing, or sparring with the water and long green mounds of washed up sea-weed lined the water mark, full of tiny crabs and various shells that might or might not sprout spiny legs and climb down and stroll away.
In a place like this, it was much easier to believe that I was not condemned to Hayel. How could the Gods create such a place on a fallen earth and a Hayel at all? I was starting to wonder about the passages that I had memorized for so long. There were passages that Ailadas had read, ostensibly to Binshala and Kyriala that were nothing like what I knew backwards and forwards. I should probably begin reading the Book from the beginning, with all the sub-books in order just to see how badly my perception was skewed. “Gods…” I whispered. “Here I can believe you exist but I’m sorry… I’m starting to wonder if you do.”
No lightning descended from the sun to strike me down.
“Gods… Mother Selinae, your eye is not in the sky that I can see… but… this is what Selestialis is… isn’t it?”
What I could see all around me was the Spirit of Life that Zinchaer and other Haians talked about. The Gods that 2nd Amitzas had hammered into my head, and Tobias before him, were too small and mean for the beauty and grandeur I saw all around me. The two images did not fit together.
I remembered how I felt when I hide in the Goddess’s robes in the High Temple and it was very similar. I couldn’t make myself think of Muunas. My mind still shied away from Him like he was the Sun. He’d burn me to a crisp without noticing my existence.
I got up and, with my foot, marked out in the sand, the floor of the Temple. Then, carefully, thoughtfully, I did the Ten Tens, thinking of each God or Goddess as I did, rather than mindlessly as I had for so long.
It was like a vast dance, I saw at last. As if the Imperator were offering himself up as a dance partner for the Gods. I’m sure my dance master would spit his kaf out his nose if anyone had ever suggested it.
To finish, I lay on the sand with my arms outstretched, the sun beating down upon my head and back. I didn’t know what to think, so rather than think, I felt. This is Selestialis on earth and I shall be grateful for every moment. In a moment I would put my salt-stained cottons back on and swim out to where I could safely round the rock and head back to being with other people, but here I could be or try to be with the Gods.
I raised my head and could see the birds dancing in the sky, the way I and Ili and Gan were learning to do, the light sparkling on the water. The white sparkles were brighter than any gemstones separating blue from blue. For me, this was where I could talk to the Gods if They existed, or if… if They cared about what happened to men. This place was more Temple than any building, however gilded, however adorned.
I got up and brushed the sand off my skin, wrapped my loins and pulled the cloth on over sticky, sun-warmed skin and plunged into the sea to re-enter the Haian life, the healing life.
2nd Amitzas sat, cross-legged in the bunker under the Summer Palace slave barns. They were part of the final instruction the Imperator had given him. The last of the inner ways in the Marble Palace. The final bunkers. One here, one south of Fispur in a cliff with sea access. Mahid places. Given that the Marble Palace security had been so compromised immediately prior to the invasion and the sack, it had not been seen as expedious that the Spark be hidden in any of those places.
The youngest of the Mahid, 15th Iakobas, had been sent to scout the bunker, having been considered the most expendable. He had returned safely with his report that the bunker was undisturbed. So the entire Mahid contingent rested comfortably a day’s march away from the city itself.
“You did extremely well to truth-drug the tutor. He does not know where the Spark of the Sun’s Ray is, though he theorizes that they will likely return the slave to Yeola-e.”
“And he did not truly wake?”
“I administered Erasure, to maintain our anonymity, First of the Mahid.” Joras actually slipped enough into his lesser caste role as to smile. “It was un-necessary to even kill the cat, First. He has no idea that we truth drugged him, though he attributed his bodily upset and queasiness the next morning to signs of aging and sent a runner to the University to claim a sick day.”
“Good.” 2nd Amitzas thought for a long moment. “You have a new assignment, Joras. The barbarian who styled himself Imperator is known to be so twisted in mind that he is currently upon Haiu Menshir.”
“Yes, First of the Mahid.”
“You are commanded. Travel to Haiu Menshir to scout to see how intensive his security is. If they no longer value him to any great degree, assassinate him. You have my leave to ‘exercise your creativity and ability.”
“Yes, First of the Mahid. Thank you, First of the Mahid.”
“We shall be continuing the search for the Spark, from here for a considerable time, Joras. From your report he seems drawn back to the city. Eventually we will intercept him.”
“The First of the Mahid is gracious in his explanation.”