Tuesday, September 28, 2010

349 - A Mercy, a Mercy

I’m climbing the steps of the Presentation platform. Ilesias is there.  I kneel on the platform and wrap my arms around him.  He will not see me executed, he will die first, I know it. Oh, a mercy, a mercy... 1st Amitzas is there and he has his kit spread out. My brother will be unconscious before Ilesias Mahid cuts his head off.

The crowd is making an ugly noise full of their fear of me and my innocent little brother.  They think we are corrupt as our father.  They... the Assembly of Arko... insisted on enacting the law despite anything Chevenga could do.

The Imperator... isn’t Chevenga... this is after the vodai... I don’t recognize the Aitzas who is now the Son of the Sun...He has the look of a Kallen... I see Ilesias’s eyes close, in my arms, as the drug takes him away... Rest in Selestialis little brother... I make my fingers let go as they lift his limp little body away from me.  Now I will pray.  Now I will beg the Gods to take him straight to Selestialis.  I cannot watch from where I am kneeling, my hands at my temples.  My eyes are squeezed shut but I cannot close my ears and I hear...

I was sitting bolt upright in the bed in the Marble Palace suit, blinking, with the sound of the head’sman’s axe cutting through my little brother’s neck still thudding in my ears, in my bones. When is it? What day is it? Is it early morning or... my head is full of confusion. It’s in the middle of the night and I can’t breathe. 

My bare feet on the rug looked unreal as I climbed out of bed.  I splashed water from the basin on my face.  When am I?  I threw my robe over my cotton nightclothes, caught up the Imperial sword and went out, heading for the Great Hall.  The sentry at the end of the hall nodded at me as I headed toward the Lesser Baths. “Good morning, ker.  You know you don’t need to be armed in the Marble Palace?”

“Thenk yah, ker.  I’ve a sword-exercise... ker, ah can’t sleep.”  She nodded. At least the Yeoli sentries understood that explanation and didn’t wonder why a fessas would want to train with a sword at all.

“Good meditating, ker.”  She stepped back and let me go. The stone under my bare feet felt wonderful. There was a bead clock in a niche over the stairs.  It was so late it was early.  I shouldn’t be doing this but it was one of the only ways I could settle my head enough to try and sleep a bit more.

I would be training with Kallijas on the roof later this morning and I was starting to wonder if I should bother.  I was trying to act as if 14.8 no longer existed, the way Gannara said.  Gan... he was with his family so I hadn’t disturbed him with my waking.  I would be meeting with his family for dinner tomorrow... yes, tomorrow.

I would be able to go out again to meet them, with a guard in tow, of course.  For dinner.  The way my guts felt right now the thought of food was nauseating.  I tried to breath through it, stopped at the entrance to the Great Hall.  I didn’t think Chevenga would mind that I was still doing the Ten Tens in the middle of the night.  It wasn’t as if I was a pretender to the Crystal Throne anyway, so my intentions were not treason.

The Hall was full of dark, and echoing cool.  There was enough light from the moon and stars coming through the roof window for me to go to lay the Imperial sword in the correct place and pad back to my starting mark.  My toes knew it.  All the way up to and past my heart.

I was able to begin calming my mind by the time I got to Imbas’s part.  I filled my mind with how it must have looked when Chevenga did it... In the darkened hall my mind filled with light.  If I could cling to that I could calm myself enough to swim and then sleep after.


The thump of a knock had me sitting bolt upright again, just as I had earlier.  “Enter, please.” The servant came in and set a breakfast tray down.  Since I would be training with Kallijas it was earlier than the formal First Meal.  I gulped a cup of kaf down and sniffed my cottons... they would do.

The chef had made foamed eggs and porridge and I couldn’t gulp it down. I knew enough that I had to eat something or I would not be able to train but if I gulped or gorged I’d end up vomiting.  2nd Amitzas had trained that into me.  

Every lesson was terrifying because I was afraid I'd fail and failing such a teacher made my heart sink.  I was both exhilarated to have Kallijas willing to teach me, but I was also afraid.  I knew that I would not be good enough.  The old whip strokes across my back felt tight and hot.

It was before rim-dawn when I and the sword emerged onto the Marble Palace roof, with the evening damp cold underfoot, the mist fading fast.  My heart was in my throat and I realized I was a trifle late anyway, since the solas on the roof were just lining up.  Oh ancestors.

Kallijas came trotting over from the group.  “Minakas.  Good you’re just in time.”  I was? “First things today... I need to find out more about  your conditioning and what you know.  Just keep up with me, hmm?  I’ll call it.”

Just keep up with him?  He’s going to do the exercises with me rather than standing over me? We did all the exercises that I knew, and a good half dozen that I had never seen before.  He ran me up and over the Eagles’s tower and I had to smile to myself remembering the last time I’d climbed it.  At least this time I wasn’t drunk.

Spots were swimming in front of my eyes when he called me to kneel.  “You’re about to pass out, lad.”

Honesty. “Yes, ser.”

To be so honest, kneeling in front of Kallijas whose likeness was reflected in so many icons of Aras himself, his eyes chips of gemstone they were so bright... was hard for me to do.  His spirit shone in every inch of him and I so did not want to disappoint him with my performance, since he’d agree to teach me.

He just nodded.  “I will take that into account.”  Really? I was surprised that he hadn’t just run me to passing out.  Then he really surprised me. “Hold out your hands.”  He reached over to a basket he had beside him, flipped it open, reached inside and drew out a fluffy ball of white and dropped it in my hands.

I caught the kitten and it flipped over and clung to my sweaty gloves with all four paws, biting and pawing as if it could kill my fingers, play-growling. I gaped at it and then at Kallijas.  “Play with that kitten for a half-tenth.” I sat frozen and he smiled.  “Truly.  Play with that kitten for a half-tenth,” he repeated.

The kitten was too young to actually be able to bite or claw me through my gloves so I used my covered fingers to tickle the belly and twiddle all four of its feet.  It was the oddest exercise I’d ever had to do.  My teacher is smiling and telling me to play with kittens. Am I dreaming? This makes no sense.

He held out his hand for the kitten after what felt far too short a time.  “Now.  Tell me three things you’ve learned about fighting, from playing with this young cat.”

I blinked. “Ser? This cat... um...”

“Quick!  Three things... don’t think too much!” He petted the kitten and set it in the now open basket where it immediately leapt out ran behind me and began attacking my toes.

“Ow! Tenacity! Um... fluid... ow... fluidity... and um... no boxes!”

“Good, up!  Don’t step on the kitten.  Put your sword down there and we’ll start empty handed.”

Sparring? Oh Sin. Kallijas smiled when he sparred.  2nd Amitzas had smiled too but this was different.  It was pure joy.  It was light and even as he was teaching me some of the strangest moves I’d ever seen it was as though... it was the strangest thing.  It was as if he loved what he did and... loved me – even... even as I took the place of an enemy.

We went faster and stronger, and even as I thought I had nothing left in me and was cursing myself for being too sloppy, too slow... I... was having fun.  Terrified fun but still fun. And... he... didn’t seem disappointed in what I could do.

He took me to the point where I thought I was going to fall over but never past that first point where I almost fell over... and kept me there for far, far longer than I thought possible.  “Don’t step on the kitten,” was his most frequent teaching and the silly ball of fluff insisted on playing with our feet while we sparred.

“Cease!  Good,” Kallijas said and I straightened out of stance as he did.  He wasn’t sweating at all and I was soaked.  At that point the fluffball decided she wanted to get more height and climbed up my back and under my braid.  I did my best not to flinch.  Good?  I’d sparred and worked out as nimbly as a spavined destrier.  “I’d like you to keep your training partner there, for a while, hmmm?”

He nodded at the kitten on my shoulder.  Was the man mad? I’d spent most of my time trying not to step on the forzak thing while one of the greatest warriors in the world pounded on me... His eyes twinkled as I nodded.  “Yes, Teacher.”

“I have a little more to do, if you care to watch.”  As if I would go away when he’d let me watch.

I sank down on the slate tile and listened to the chorus of training calls coming from across the roof where the elite were still working out and Kallijas did this wild, flowing dance, with his sword in his hand, singing to himself in Yeoli... but a Yeoli I didn’t recognize.  It was eerily beautiful and I could see... it was the wildest thing but it was as though he was being the Mountain and Stars.

He was winded when he stopped and looked up.  “Noon,” was all he said and sank to his knees.  I was recovered enough to roll up from sitting to kneeling and put my hands to my temples and sing the Noon prayer with him and the others kneeling all across the roof and all across the city.  The silence afterwards was no longer polluted by the screams of children.

“You should see the old Yeoli lady who taught me," he said when we all rose.  He was grinning and seemed cleansed even more if that were possible.  “I am not fit to hold her stick while she does that, but I just need forty or fifty more years to be as good, perhaps.”

“An old Yeoli lady?”

“I was with a woman by the name of Sukala Iri for a while in Yeoli.  Shall we get cleaned up and eat something?”

“Yes, ser... ah... Kallijas.”  His lips quirked but he didn’t say anything.


  1. I have seen the foamed eggs mentioned before but now I am curious how are they made?

  2. They're like a meringue but not necessarily sweet.

    Sometimes softly beaten eggs are turned into a yokeless omelet, with a Béarnaise sauce.