“Ili, Ili, shh. Shh.” I patted his back. “Shh. Listen. We’re safe in this stinky privy...” It wasn’t so bad, really with the carefully dumped in lime and the ocean wind. “And the man you saw and thought was Joras isn’t here.”
He looked at me with his eyes round, tears streaked. He wasn’t learning the Arkan ‘keep your tears in’ very well, because of Gannara and all the foreigners we were around, who let their emotions show on their faces as easily as they showed their fingers.
“Let me pull my clothing together, and we’ll talk about it, all right?”
He sniffed and sat back enough to let me clean myself up and pull my clothing shut, though neither Ili nor Jia actually didn’t let go of me, so I had to move each of their clutches.
We stepped outside and went upstairs, Ili’s face growing more and more like a thundercloud as we climbed. The door wasn’t quite closed behind us when he burst out ‘YOU DON’T BELIEVE ME!”
I flung my hand over his mouth and he twitched but didn’t step back. I could feel how tight his lips were against my fingers, quivering. Stubborn Aan! “Please don’t shout, Ilesias.” I took my hand away. He was still loud but at least he wasn’t shrieking.
“It was Joras I saw Joras it wasn’t just some fessas workman getting off a ship it was Joras—“ I nodded my head. He was upset, and I thought I should just do the Haian thing and let him rail his fear out at me. “—you remember how he used to ‘practice’ being fessas and slapping other Mahid on the back like he was their best friend with that grin on his face he was doing that to another workman to say goodbye you know how he liked that they couldn’t react because he was supposed to ‘practice’—“
I put my fingers back over his mouth, but more gently. That last fact... for some reason, shifted my belief. I was suddenly shaking. How on the earthsphere did they track us here? “Ili... yes, yes I remember.” Jia wrapped two of his tentacles around my wrist, tugging at my hand, the slightly fuzzy, warm wraps soothing rather than startling.
“It’s all right, JiaKlem,” I said, tapping with my free hand.
He let me go, slowly, and I looked into Ili’s eyes. “Now. You need to come with me, in disguise of some kind. Gan isn’t going to be out of the University for another bead or so, so I’ll put on a hat and sun-goggles and bare hands like I’m not even Arkan, and we’ll sneak out and see. And if it is, we’ll make sure Gan doesn’t run into him, all right?”
“You and I won’t walk together, but you can run back and forth past me... I’ll borrow a closed basket and carry it. It’ll bend me over like half the workers in Sailortown.” Ili gulped and nodded, looking terrified. “We just have to make sure... like hide and seek... remember? I snuck past them. I’m not going to run up and look in his face.”
He looked solemn and still scared. “You have Jia with you and you have to make sure he doesn’t get so nervous that he pees ink down your back!”
That got a tremulous smile out of him. I gathered my disguise, and the Haian islands, the Haian world and life darkened for me. The sunlight itself was darkened. The healer’s islands weren’t reality. They were just a dream. In a short time I’d wake up in my bed and weep because I’d had such a beautiful dream and I’d woken from it, been cast out of it. Reality had slithered in on shiny, exquisitely polished boots.
“You walk a little ahead, try to play a little. You show me where you saw him and if he’s there, go right on past. Go on to the University and warn Gannara, I’ll come after. Can you do that?”
“Yeah, Min. I can. I’m smarter’ ‘n a stinky, poopy old Mahid.”
Ili wandered and if one didn’t know children you’d think he had not a care in the world, he kicked a stone in front of him and Jia crawled down his arm. Ili put his own hat on, covering his hair completely, swinging the house octopus by its cluster of tentacles from one hand.
He apparently idled his way down past Foreigner’s Repose. When he passed the open shutters of the front entrance and sitting area, he swung Jia up and over his shoulder, pointing with the creature. Jia whipped his tentacles around Ili and rode off as he trotted on, toward the Gate.
I, pretending the basket was much heavier than it was, with enough of our laundry in it to remind me to move as though it were heavy, stopped at a juice seller, easing the basket to the ground, wiping my forehead between the rim of my deep sun hat and my goggles, like half the fair-haired, fair-skinned foreigners around me. Behind those goggles I could look without seeming to.
I paid the seller with a Haian shell coin and joked with her a little in Enchian, tipping my head back to drain it dry. There. The man who had frightened Ili sat in the shade, with a late afternoon drink before him. He would have deepened his cover if he’d been able to bear a boy on his knee but he couldn’t unbend enough for that.
Ili was right. It was Joras Mahid. I gave the juice seller back her coconut husk cup and re-shouldered my ‘heavy’ basket. The juice might want to come up but I won’t let it. Walk determined. Walk like you have a delivery. Remember the basket is heavier. Sinimas and my Ancestors help me. They’ve somehow found us, or think they have. How? How?