Saturday, January 30, 2010

Author's Note

My apologies for the late, short post today. Monday will be Post 200 and will mark a turning point for Minis.


Friday, January 29, 2010

199 - Another letter confessed to flames

My dearest Ela,

As before, I cannot say where we are. However it is in a place much safer than our last camping place. Where we were before we were in danger from all kinds of things but it was by the grace of Muunas that we did not succumb to various and sundry.

The frustrating child I once taught has vanished in this harsh school; the Spark continues diligent in his studies, sometimes to excess. Should all my scholars push themselves to the point where I am forced to insist they cease their study for the day.

Our current domicile is far more comfortable than our last though it was acquired with unfortunate... hmm... perhaps I shall be careful of your delicate sensibilities, my dear sister, even if I do never manage to send this letter. In fact I will most likely confess it to Irefas’s Fires the moment it is finished.

If that is the case... let me say it was Mahid perfidy that arranged our living place. It opened up a crack in the unity of the Mahid and their commander, the First Second. He is as ritually oriented as the former Imperator... rest He where the Gods command... and neglected to perform correct funeral rites for two of his own fallen.

The boy is not only acquiring conscience my dear Ela, he is cultivating one that he apparently had in spirit before it was overlaid with years of contrary teaching. He is becoming convinced that he should, perhaps, vanish into obscurity once well away from his Mahid, just when he is proving himself more than capable of actually being a good Imperator. How unfortunate is that? My student is the most unfortunate of fortunates.

We have managed a number of plans for attempted escape. One for the place abandoned last... moons ago now. We have arranged for another attempt but in this valley the weather has not proven good to us.

We have had stores laid up, actually stolen from the former inhabitants of our stopping camp, with others bought, but the summer has been a maelstrom of wind and rainstorms and our prospective escape route washed out by a tremendous mud-slide that took out more of the mountainside than I thought possible.

Having read of the phenomenon I had no inkling of the actual power of earth and water.

We are now frozen into our place, with the snow early and deep. My student is now attempting to make plans for escape in a completely different direction, and attempting to incorporate travel over deep snow. I do not hold much hope for such schemes and fear he must settle himself to endure the increasing demands on him from the First Second.

Ela, that man gets worse as Minis gets better. As he becomes more like the man he wishes to be, 2nd Amitzas attempts to hammer him into the man he believes can take back the Empire. We are at the moment attempting to turn his attention away from the Coronet, pretending he is ‘slow’, so that the First Second is not tempted to begin training the toddler into a suitable support for his brother."
The image he must have of the two sons of Kurkas Aan is so gruesome, so awful I do not understand how he can sleep at night, cloaking his sweet dreams with Mahid duty.

Ela, they killed two innocent men to steal this monastery for us to live the winter in, in comfort. Muunas help me, I find myself not praying enough for them, while the wind howls outside. I have my books and my student... two even, for the Yeoli slave is attentive and learns more in one afternoon than some Mahid in ten years of teaching. And I am not aching. I have some company in the form of Binshala Ilberas, Aitza. A most sensible woman.

I hope to one day be able to write you true letters, Ela, not these ineffectual vanishing words that go up only to the Gods, much good they may do Them. But we are held hard in the two handed grip of a monster and the fear of having a man who fancies himself the apprentice of the Summoner on my old bone’s trail is enough to keep me sitting still within his grip.

We are all held in fear. It will take a miracle to deliver us out from under the weight of possible torment. In that, the First Second is very good at what he does. He informed me without the slightest trace of irony that, quote “Torture is one’s means of maintaining a stock-pile of obedience.” Unquote. Rather than make myself half mad with such speculations, Ela I will finish and burn this letter and go to be with the Yeoli boy and Binshala and the Mirror who is very soothing company while I read.

We will sit in what was once the rectory for the Steel-Armed Brothers and I will remind myself of their sacrifice.

Your loving brother,

- Twenty-first, “I am Mahid. The command of my senior is the will of the Imperator.”
- Twenty-second, “I am Mahid. The Imperator requires no impure substance enter my body.”
- Twenty-third, “I am Mahid. My God(dess) knows if I violate the will of the Imperator.”
- Twenty-fourth, “I am Mahid. I do not speak idly or to inferiors other than necessary orders.”
- Twenty-fifth, “I am Mahid. Showing reactions imply will other than the Imperator's. Show nothing.”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

198 - Onward Muunas' Solas

Mahid Maxims: Eleven through Twenty
- Eleventh, “I am Mahid. The Imperator’s will is above the law. It is beyond law. It is the only law.”
- Twelfth, “I am Mahid. Pain brings attention to any incorrectness. Making things correct makes the pain go away.”
- Thirteenth, “I am Mahid. Be still. Being empty allows the Imperator to see Himself reflected in the pool of us.”
- Fourteenth, “I am Mahid. As I think I become. I will think correct thoughts and become correct.
- Fifteenth, “I am Mahid. The recalcitrant subject is always brought to the Imperator's will.
- Sixteenth, “I am Mahid. I have no impure feelings.”
- Seventeenth, “I am Mahid. I do nothing slow nor restrict the fulfillment of orders. I will maintain myself so that I may serve.”
- Eighteenth, “I am Mahid. The Imperator requires I keep my body in perfect condition by hard exercise.
- Nineteenth, “I am Mahid. I correct all flaws.”
- Twentieth, “I am Mahid. The women do not speak until spoken to. A Mahid hears all.”
It wasn’t as though the Maxims were very complicated. They’d never been designed to be complicated. As long as I could reel off the list, the First Second had no complaints, since I would never need to know them backwards and forwards and sideways to replace all my thinking, the way he and all the others were supposed to.
We were now on the shores of another alpine lake, blue/green clear and very cold, the sun just far enough over the mountains all around to make it sparkle.
An Aras monastery had been built by it and it had been abandoned. Not abandoned, truly, but the sword-monks had likely gone to the war against the Yeolis as a sacrament.
The place had been very carefully closed, as if anticipating the imminent return of the monks, so many moons ago. Again, it was a very remote location, with no village nearby. I surveyed the neat, covered garden plots, the row of tiny brick cells for the senior monks and the barracks hall. It had had perhaps eighteen common monks and a half dozen seniors living here. They had not taken their animals with them when they went.
I swung down as two Mahid unhooked Binshala’s litter from my horse and Joras’s, and took her straight off to a cot in a monk’s cell. Kaita and Ilesias followed and people began to disappear into the monastery buildings.
Ailadas muttered, ostensibly to himself. “Ahem – This is strange. Very strange,” as he dismounted. I looked around. He was right. He had just been lecturing me on the various monastic orders in the Empire and which Imperator had established their charters. Any Aras monastery would not have been left completely abandoned.
A fish-eagle screamed and dove in the sky, beleaguered by two smaller birds but there was no other sound other than the clatter and noise of our group.
“Ailadas, slave, attend me.” I ordered as imperiously as I knew how. The First Second hesitated as the two followed me, then as if against his better judgement, followed. I pursued my suspicions to where their graveyard would be, on the south side of the complex.
There were two fresh graves dug there. I walked around them and turned to face 2nd Amitzas. “They died so we could take their monastery without giving us away,” I said. It wasn’t a question. “Any Steel Armed monastery would leave a senior monk with a junior behind to tend the beasts.”
He didn’t bother to deny it. “The scouts judged this a good place for the Spark and carried out their orders.”
“To kill the last two brothers of this order.”
“Just so, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.” I looked at the heavy clumps of dirt turned to the sun, shaken with emotions that I couldn’t put a name to. Then I looked back up at the Mahid, who gazed on the graves of two men he’d had killed, with complete indifference.
“Where is their chapel?” I demanded through set teeth. You have to accept responsibility, Minis. If the Imperator forgets that, the compact is broken. I wasn’t sure that Chevenga had ever said that to me, or if I had read it from the Imperial Book itself but it was right.
“The Spark will rest.” 2nd Amitzas’s cold gaze fixed on me, hard.
“I will. After the proper rites are done. For these two men. And for two men lost in the mountains.” If I was going to do the Service for the Dead, as I should, as would be right, I must include First Nuninibas and Fifth Eforas. I remembered Chevenga crying out, caring, concerned for the okas dying on the platform in front of him. If he could care for an Arkan okas I could, at the very least, care about my own. Even if I was in exile, even if I was only fifteen, even if I was never going to be the Hinge of the Selestial Realms.
I should care. I was tired and wanted to just fall over after riding all night. Binshala was safe and could rest. It was part of what any Spark of the Sun’s Ray who had any decency in him would do. Sinimas Aan would have done it. A decent Imperator would do it. I was full up with obeying when it was wrong.
“The Spark of the Sun’s Ray needn’t concern himself with these two solas, nor the Mahid lost in his service. They rest in Selestialis already.”
“My honoured Father wrote, ‘Raise him as I should have been raised.’ Though I am young I am of an age when I may understand and know my responsibilities to every Arkan who dies in my service.” I turned on my heel and went back to the central court. The Chapel should be on the north side, the door facing south, facing the court where the monks would have trained.
2nd Amitzas and Ailadas did not follow me but Gannara did. “You stay outside, slave. Or the God might strike you down.” Father had thought that was nonsense, but had not tested it. I had to give it some credence that he was wrong. The Chapel was small, with no seats, the Steel-Armed One at the heart, under the Sun-slit. The early morning sun was low enough that the only light slanted obliquely in the door behind me and the red glass east window, making the eyes of the God seem to follow anyone coming in, in the dimness.
For the rites for solas, any sword would do but for some reason I felt the need to use their own. “Father of Steel,” I said, looking up into the blue eyes of the statue of the God, stern under the red and gilt helmet rim. It didn’t matter that I believed myself forzak. “I come before You for two solas brothers, slaughtered without recourse to call on You to defend themselves.” I didn’t need to know how they’d died. I knew the First Second. His Mahid would have just darted the two men in the back. Or lied and slid the heart-knives in before the brothers would have even known they were in any danger.
“For Yours, the Spark of the Ineffable Light begs the use of Thy arm.” I lifted the sword held across the God’s gauntlets and walked out again. 2nd Amitzas had followed as far as the square. “The rite for the elder brother, to God, we bring.”
I saluted the North and the apex of the sky and went through the motions of combat, since I did not wish to do the honourable sparring with Ice Eyes. The ten formal motions were very close to the Ten Tens for Aras, but with differences.
Then I did it again for each of the dead I was honouring and ended up in the centre of the ground, their sparring court, kneeling over the sword laid in front of me. “Our brothers in arms we send to the Fields of Honour to shine under your Glorious eyes, the Luminous.” I picked up the sword and held it over my head as I knelt, then stood.
There was no sun crystal to hold in my hands for the two Mahid who had died but there was my person. I raised my one hand over my head to the apex of the sky as if I held the sun. “Muunas Triumphant, gather the fallen into just and merciful Hands. Nuninibas and Eforas Mahid are fallen in the field for the Glory of the Most High. Gather them, we beg, into Selestialis, their souls shining in service to the Ineffable light.” I let my voice go, the rising chant the Mahid hold as their own “Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. Forever!” I chanted their chant, my chant, the ten rising notes to the sky. I bowed my head for the silence afterward and spoke the last words to the dead.
“All flesh is dust. Let the dust go. Rise to your reward.” I pulled in all the air I could and sang the hymn for a single celebrant, ‘Selestial Realm’. I didn’t care if my voice broke and it did not. I seemed to be settling into a baritone like the fat guy.
2nd Amitzas didn’t try to stop me except with the weight of his stare, the black column of him like the Summoner to Death on the edge of the monk’s most sacred space. Gannara sat at the chapel door, watching and Ailadas behind Ice Eyes. It was certainly witness enough.
I wished for the chorus who should have sung ‘Onward Muunas’ Solas.’ I sat down in silence, head bowed over the sword, my other hand empty and open to the sky.
That was when I realized. The song to complete the Aitzas rites rose from the direction of the cells. I stood up and Ice Eyes turned and we both gazed at 2nd Donaras, 3rd and 4th Amitzas and 5th Boras all standing before the brother’s cells, their eyes locked upon me, their voices raised together for their dead.
2nd Amitzas’s eyes tracked from them to me and back to them. If anything his face was more impassive, more stony than usual. I joined my voice to the Mahid singing, to sing the dead home.
I had not begun this to fight him for control of the Mahid. But even Mahid need funeral rites.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

First Minis Aan on his Skates by Blue Winged Coyote

Here is a link to her artwork starting with this image.

]] art log 4976 06 23

]] art log 4976 06 23 22:05 Heinz: Wo zind sie?
]] art log 4976 06 23 22:05 Wendy: Sie haben sich bei, was einmal war Santa Croce, in Italia, versteckt.
]] art log 4976 06 23 22:05 Jurgen: Nicht bei Graz, in Osterreich?
]] art log 4976 06 23 22:06 Arthur: No, after the mountain pass they’re north not east. After Italy and all that travelling, they’re somewhere near where Geneva was.
]] art log 4976 06 23 22:06 Jose: Estan de viaje de el caballo.
]] art log 4976 06 23 22:06 Arthur: Yes, Jose it's not like they can take an airframe.

197 - Losing More

The second day in Two Kills, my heart pounded in my chest like a horse galloping and it felt as though I had to stretch the skin of my chest to get enough air. I had Gannara loosen my breastplate buckles so I didn’t feel like I was fighting the metal as well as the thin air.
After that my head felt better, but 1st Nuninibas one of the senior Mahid, riding immediately in front of me suddenly sagged, slid sideways in his saddle. His horse shied toward the cliff-face and he fell on the edge of the trail, unconscious.
I swung down from Nasty, throwing a “Halt!” yell back over shoulder. Nasty obediently stopped as his rein hit the ground and I hesitated and backed up. He was Mahid. If he were injured or ill it would be one less Mahid to escape from. Then I flung myself forward. “Man down! Man down!” In that instant Nuninibas became my man and my charge not an enemy captor.
Nuninibas's foot was tangled where he’d fallen and the horse bucked and crow-hopped, kicking back, driving me back from where I could have reached him. “Whoa! Whoa!”
Eforas, one of our medics, riding ahead had gotten down and lunged for the trailing rein. "Eforas!” I yelled, helplessly, and watched the disaster unfold. The horse with its packs, reared up to try and get away from Eforas and this thing flopping against its belly and overbalanced, dragging both men with it. Eforas let go, his boots on the edge of the chasm, he threw his weight backward but one heel slipped.
I might have caught hold of him. I might have caught him if I had moved faster as the horse went over. I might have but I did not. One of his heels slipped. The horse fell back, its hooves sliding on the narrow ledge, caught on Nuninibas's limp form and fell over the cliff edge. It screamed as it fell, and Eforas cried out, he’d tried to stop, to catch himself but was too late. He let go in time. He should have been able to recover from that but one of his bootheels slipped.
They fell like a spinning fleshy snowflake, grabbing or clawing at the air as if they could catch hold of it and save themselves. Nuninibas fell limply. And all three smashed into the trees so far below, with breaking smashing noises. Eforas’s trailing, living cry cut off as he smashed onto the impaling branches, green and white and red marking his trail until the unbroken branches bounced back, covering his smear with green. The horse’s screams silenced as it slammed into the rock.
2nd Amitzas had made it back to me by now and stood, looking down at the distant wreckage. If you didn’t know what to look for, you would never know it was the bodies of two men and a horse.
“What happened?” He snapped out, gazing down into the rift.
“Nuninibas collapsed.” I said. “I don’t know what happened to him. He just fell out of his saddle and the horse spooked.” I fought off spots in front of my eyes. The bloodfire had made breathing just that much harder. “Eforas tried to settle the horse, to save Nuninibas who was tangled in the harness. He didn’t let go fast enough.” Why did Nuninibas collapse? Why did he fall out of his saddle? What happened? And... why didn't I grab Eforas? He... should I just hate him and be glad he died? Should I? They are my enemies and my brothers. Prison-guards and family all at the same time.
“Nuninibas was probably overcome by the height. Rest they in Selestialis.” That was all he said and turned back to his own horse. I don’t care if I hate their guts, I thought. They deserve funeral rites. And 14th Joras dead at Hayel’s gorge. They deserve rites. They died obedient and doing their duty. You don’t just slough off people as if they were an inconvenient blood spot on your sleeve. Even if they are Mahid. They deserve better.
I added their names to the tally in my head. 2nd Amitzas was completely forgetting that as Heir, even in hiding, I was technically the Highest priest in the Temple. I was supposed to be doing the rites. He was using the Holy Book to beat me into shape, forgetting that I would one day be the only legitimate interpreter of that Holy Book for him. How could he forget? Or was he just thinking that I would ignore his sins for the next six years?
He could not know that I did not think of myself as the hinge of Selestialis but as the lowest forzak. For a man certain of his place in the world and certain of mine he had some significant blind spots. He was certainly thinking I would forgive anything he did to me physically because it would all be covered under my father’s command, ‘... raise him as I should have been raised...”
Binshala did feel better when we got down out of the pass, though we had to stay camped another day in a swampy area off the beaten track for her recovery.
I began to pray to my forefathers for her when I did my Ten Tens practice, feeling that perhaps the ritual motions would help. That was ridiculous I knew, since the Gods don’t have ears for the damned. If They did, how could They stand the screams from hayel? So the forzak must somehow become invisible and inaudible to the Ten. It was part of my separation from Them. One of the Solstice prayers begs that we never be distanced from the Gods because that is the only true hayel. It is probably more true than these childish images of physical torment we paint, since hearts and souls suffer so much more profoundly than bodies.
The swamp was a misery. The midges thick enough to clog one’s nostrils so you had to blow and blow masses of snot and bugs because you didn’t want to open your mouth. I certainly didn’t. I figured that 2nd Amitzas was tight orificed enough to not have to worry about it.
Binshala said, on the second day that she would leave this camp if she had to be slung belly down over a horse and carried that way, so I assisted in the rigging of a horse litter. Nasty was lead horse because he’d obey me well enough to not kick the flinders out of the litter. I wished that Ailadas could have been the rear rider because the rearmost horse was vicious enough to keep trying to bite Binshala or the litter and the Mahid rider kept having to kick it behind the cheek to distract it. My nurse curled up as close to Nasty as she could and endured.
Having Ailadas on his own horse enabled him to ride next to me, and drill me on my reading, while we rode in the moonlight. The road was wide enough for three abreast and maintained well enough, even in this wilderness. The old Arkan roads had been built smooth and solid, centuries ago and no one tried to keep them smooth enough for express wheels out here.
I tightened up as 2nd Amitzas reined his horse next to mine but did not stop reciting. “... the accounting methods of the early Reniirean Period were originally laid down by Joras Tranias, Aitzas.”
“Correct, Spark.” It was dark enough that I could barely see Ailadas’s movement as he looked across me to the First Second. “Honoured Guardian of the Spark of the Sun’s Ray,” he said without the faintest trace of irony.
“Honoured tutor of the Spark of the Sun’s Ray. He progresses well?”
“Indeed, Honoured Guardian.”
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray. Do you know your own Mahid’s Maxims?”
“I am aware of them, Honoured Guardian.”
“You must know them better. Tutor. See that he learns the Maxims. I shall quiz him, shortly.”
“Of a certainty, Honoured Guardian.”
We were silent as 2nd Amitzas spurred his horse forward once more, showing his impatience only in how he rode.
“The Honoured Guardian would be more at peace with the world and himself,” I said. “If I were merely a Mahid come late to Mahid training.”
“Indeed,” Ailadas answered me. Behind me I was certain I heard Binshala smother a laugh.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Letter to My Daughter

This character, Selilsela, just rose up out of nowhere and insisted I post her letter.

Graphic Warning:
I read now. I write now. I can. I am blessed. I look and look and look at you. Blue eyes, mine daughter. By law I write now and you too.
Seliama Kuriren, aitza. That is you. Not a Masker. Not a child alone like so many in the city after when women like me leave babies like you in the street. Like they are garbage. Not you. I love you. You do not know any bad thing. You are a good girl.
I write. I write because I can not say out loud. Mother Masker says ‘speak it and it hurts less’. I can’t but one day you should know your father. So I write.
Sellie, your father... he is a Yeoli. He is living in the house where I grew up. He is living in House Kuriren. He killed your grandfather. I can not write. I will write later.
The Yeoli. His name. Isichenga Shae-Kalanin. He came and killed my father and my brothers. Your Grandfather said ‘They’ve won and are our aitzas now. If they command I, by Selestialis, will obey.’ He knelt and the Yeoli asked ‘Do you own this place?’
Father said ‘Yes.’
He said ‘Sign this paper or I will kill you and your family.’
Father signed. And the Yeoli killed him anyway. He hit him more than once with his sword. Father never cried out.
Mother and I. Mama... they made mama lie down right in the hall to try and save Filas but they raped her and killed him anyway. They lied. Then they killed her because she was older than they wanted.
He didn’t lie he just said ‘come here.’ Always. ‘Come here. You can’t run. There is no where to run.’ He drank because he hated me. He raped me. Hating me. Hating my... purity. He said. ‘I have to get drunk to bear touching you.’
Then leave me alone I wanted to scream. Working in the house. Washing him. Washing his clothes. Cooking when I didn’t know how. Work and work and lie down and lie down. Bleed and heal and bleed again. I wanted to die. I prayed. Then I started throwing up.
I did not know it was you. My child. Blessing child. Blessing girl. Old woman down the street told me what was wrong. I didn’t go back. He might not let me keep you. He might beat me to make me miscarry you.
I took my basket from the market and walked to the House of Masks on Red Leaves. I had a place to go. No mama no papa to be sad. No brothers to be angry. Aunties. Cousins girls and boys. All lying down and bleeding.
So I came here, baby. I walked to the line at the door and said ‘I want in.’
And they say ‘You want to?’
And I say ‘Yes.’
And they say ‘We didn’t force you? Seduce you? Coerce you?’ I asked Mother, later, how to spell ‘seduce’ and ‘coerce’.
And I say ‘I was Selilsela Kuriren, aitza. I’m free and want to come in.’
‘Witnessed’ they say and let me in. Mother says I am not a whore no matter what the Yeoli made me do. I find the lost babies in waste bins and in the streets. I try to find them alive. Arkan/Lakan babies Arkan/Enchian babies Arkan/somebody else’s babies. And I birth them. All the girls who were raped and raped until pregnant.
I write so you know why you are growing up in the Masker-run Child House and why you still have a mama when the other children don’t. I love you my daughter. Babies are all good babies. It is wrong that some cannot love their child but Mother says... Mother says... they can not set the act and the father separate from the baby. The baby, rising out of that man’s loins and that act of rape.
That is not right. A baby is born, as any other, with all the sin people have. They do not need to have more put on them.
Seliama, my Sellie, with your curly hair. I name you after my mother. All of us Kuriren women begin our names with Seli and we are still Kuriren even if everyone else is dead. You are my life now and I need to stay alive for I am yours. You are only a baby so when you are more old I will show you this.
Your father’s leader. The Imperator now. He says I can read. He says I can write. He says I can own property. Even if I am a Masker midwife now. I am writing to keep it straight, for you and for the Advocate. I will go and I will ask the law if a woman can take back her father’s property. If it is taken in conquest. Will the law give me our home back?
Sellie. I will try this for you and for me, even though I am afraid.

Monday, January 25, 2010

196 - Saddle Sores, chilblains and Mountain Sickness

I thought about Ailadas’s advice and went to find out a number of things. The treasury for my eventual re-taking of the Empire was in 2nd Amitzas’s care and I had not seen it since we had last moved. It was a pair of box panniers that would fit on one horse.

I wandered ‘aimlessly’, making mental notes. The horses were being brought into the caverns at night since the door had been forced all the way open, and they were kept in a side corridor. I wondered at the people who had built this warren of rooms as part of the cavern complex and if they had used it when the ruin up on the hill fell.

When I went out to the horses, Ilesias insisted on coming with me and I took him, telling Kaita that perhaps she should have a few minutes of Jitz herself. “Can I ride your horse, Minis? Can I? Can I? Can I?”

“You can and you may.”

Rather than have the Mahid tack my horse, I inquired where the tack was and we went to get it ourselves. My plans were getting more and more complex... How to get tack for the horses out of the caves?

I was starting to think longingly of my slaughtering Mahid dream. That would be so much simpler, if I could do it.

Ilesias carried the bridle out for me and I took the pad and saddle. I was able to sling it on my back with one hand and still catch up the reins trailing behind my little brother before they got stepped on. “Whoa, horse!” He giggled but stopped and we re-arranged his grip so nothing trailed or tangled.

“Ilesias, here’s a horse catching trick the Mahid don’t know. I read about it in one of my books and it works.” There weren’t many sweets at all but Kaita and Binshala had accidentally found a way to make honey drops, by almost burning a sauce. The treacly sauce had hardened when it cooled and when broken was a good candy.

I had some of the bits in my hand and all of a sudden, the nasty, hobbled animals who would run from you unless caught or tied, were suddenly hopping up to be petted, pretending to be cute little house-donkeys, waggling their ears and slobbering and pushing their noses out, begging for the sweetness I held. Just like teaching a donkey to roller skate. Start with food.

They got their chips of honey and I sent them off with a slap on their shoulders, except for mine who got another piece of candy. He moaned in a way that made Ilesias giggle and as he stood, eyes half closed I stroked up over his cheeks and scratched under his mane where he was always itchy apparently. He pushed his forehead against my chest and leaned. “Heya, Nasty. How are you, you horrible brute, hmmm?”

The horse probably had an elegant name, having come from Mahid stocks, on a piece of paper somewhere in the bowels of the Marble Palace -- or knowing Mahid, just a number. But I and Ilesias called him Nasty Brute, even though he wasn’t so bad once the punitive bits were no longer scarring his mouth.

Ilesias’s legs were still not long enough for him to have stirrups yet but he was as comfortable up in the saddle as if he were a burr stuck on. I still lead Nasty, though. I had terrible images of the horse spooking and my little brother falling, so I was a boring big brother and wouldn’t let him loose, no matter what he yelled.


It was a good thing that Binshala was up and moving on her own again. 2nd Amitzas chose now to move us again, just as I had worked out my first plan to get away from the Mahid, throwing all of my ideas straight into the garderobe hole.

We moved even before Jitzmitthra was over, so as to get through Two Kills Pass without much worry of encountering anyone else. 2nd Amitzas ordered that if we were to meet anyone in the pass they would be provided with a swift accident in the mountains; it was tricky enough that we had to cross in daylight and we were at risk of being seen.

Nasty was sure-footed for a horse but I wished we had mules instead on the narrowest parts. Even now, in summer, the highest mountains around us were snow-capped and I wondered at 2nd Amitzas’s choice of moving us further north again, higher again. I was so sick of being cold.

Why is it that bards and novels never mention saddle-sores? Or why do they make rocks falling away into the abyss, from your horse’s hooves brave and romantic rather than just gut-wrenching? I imagine that tale tellers really don’t want to mention gut upsets, mountain sickness, chilblains and squatting over shallow holes dug in the ground. Or the smell of armour if you are wearing it every day. That I almost didn’t notice any more.

It took three days of hard riding to get through Two Kills, with camps high in the pass itself. Binshala’s lips were blue and she shook even with furs wrapped around herself. 2nd Amitzas was coldly furious when I told him she needed to rest more often. I insisted she use one of my feather quilts when we stopped.

I'd sat down next to her on the trail. Gannara had used some of the wood we had packed, to start a small fire and there was heated broth. I put a cup of it into her hands and she huddled around it. Ailadas was on her other side. “You look after yourself, nurse.”

She smiled at me. “Of course, Spark of the Sun’s Ray. One needs one’s nurse for his comfort alone, hmmm? That is the only reason the Spark is so solicitous?” Her voice was wheezing and came hard but she still smiled.

“Oh yes. Of course.” I looked at her fine, delicate features, pale, thin eyebrows, blue veins standing under pale skin, pulsing fast. There were dark circles under her eyes and she could barely hold the cup. She looked insubstantial, sitting swaddled in the quilt, worn. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “You shouldn’t have been forced into the wilderness.”

“Nonsense!” She hissed back at me, as suddenly fierce. “This one is honoured and has been honoured. Discomfort is merely something to be ignored to be with this one’s charge!”

I shook my head at her, pretending to recoil. “Oh, of course! Of course, my nurse!” I grinned at her and she smiled back. I just wished her body were as strong as her spirit. A woman. She kept amazing me. And Ailadas just sat, offering her his quiet support. She leaned against him surreptitiously.

She’ll feel better once we are off the heights. Gannara snuffed the tiny fire and buried it a handful of scree or two from the ledge, more pebbles than dirt, and came to sit on my other side. The four of us sat, the edge above thousand man-heights drop approximately my own height away from my toes.

The wind howled below, through an all but impassable thicket of green pines, deadfall and rocks fallen from our height or higher. The stone showed hundreds of years of flash-water levels marching up the stone walls below, overlaid on the flexed and twisted ropes of rock veins. The wind puffing up from below brought a welcome warmth and scent of pine. I wonder if this is what flyers see? Birds flying below one’s toes?

The horses stood, heads down mostly, either nervous or resting or both. I prayed to my ancestors that none of them stumble and take someone else with them. The call came from the head. “Mount. We will reach the turn-around before dark.”

We’d better. I think I’m finding out why the vast bulk of the traffic uses the tunnel. Though it’s not likely we meet an eighteen rigged beer wagon up here and have to back up for them.

Friday, January 22, 2010

195 - The hypothetical fearless leader

"Good morning, Koren. Shall we go out to sit by the stream, my tutor?" It was a merciful time after Ailadas’s drunken speech. I had decided that I could not be so cruel as to make him think through a hang-over.
"Good morning, ahem, Spark of the Sun's Ray. That would be pleasant." He rose and we went outside into the hot sunshine, settling by the charred spot where our evening fire had been.
I paddled my feet in the water, looking out over the meadow and the clumped horses along the fringe of trees. "Binshala's on her feet again." I nodded at the women across the meadow, sitting in the sun just outside the cavern entrance. "I'm hoping she'll be all right to ride... soon."
"I too, my Spark... ahem... has the First Second informed you of any, ahem, possible intended movements in the near future?"
"It's just Minis during Jitz, Ailadas. No. He's not saying much. He hates these days so much he's mostly sulking down in the dark, I think."
"It is said that Jitzmitthra... is to all people what they deserve it to be. Ahem. Minis, then, as I am Ailadas, not Koren, as you first, ahem, addressed me."
"That was just for the Mahid, in case someone heard. They still need me to be an arrogant piglet and I don't want to disabuse them of that notion."
"Then, most properly, ahem, it is not 'Minis during Jitz' but 'Minis in private during Jitz.' Ahem."
"Ah, yeah. But there is so little privacy... I mean I wanted you to address me by name in private before but there's almost no possibility of it." I ripped up some of the grass I was sitting on and hurled the wisps into the water.
"Well, we are in private now, ahem... Minis."
"Great. And we don't need... what was the quote? These elegant lubrications of the Gods? or something like that." I smiled at him.
"Ohhhhh... I cannot even think about elegant lubrications of the Gods right now, my dear Minis. The fresh slice of Hayel behind my eyes has faded, blessedly, but the matter within the skull remains delicate with the memory."
"Well, I'm glad you're feeling better. You know, I would love just ride away from my own Mahid… To grab horses in the middle of the night and ride away as fast as possible... but that would just be stupid and lead to capture and punishment all around."
"Oh, ahem, a"--he coughed harshly--"ahem, indeed it would be unwise. One must plan such a thing, if one were hypothetically considering it."Ailadas drew out his kerchief, as if in anticipation of more coughing. "You asked me for such a hypothetical scheme, not long ago, and I have been cogitating on it. A most important aspect that the schemer must have in mind: the long-term view. Beyond immediate escape, what is the objective? Where will he go? What will he do, to provide sustenance for himself and whoever else might happen to accompany him? And ultimately, what is his destination... or should I say... destiny?"
"It's not just our hypothetical... um... hero but everyone with him. The girls... oh Hayel... I... um... we... um our hero can't just leave, he has to steal some things from the treasury. A blessing box for one. So that a girl not be left without once she is home. And funds..."
"You, ahem, miss my point entirely, ahem, Minis."
"You mean what am I to do with my life after? I was thinking of becoming fessas. I have a little experience with that. And... I'd love to be a scholar. A writer perhaps. Or if I cannot sell my essays... as a copyist? I would apply to almost any library in the world... It would be a good life. But until then... I feel responsible for a number of people's safety. I want to see people get home safe, wherever home is."
“Hmm. Ahem. A scholar... it is a kindly life, in truth.--"
"-- They normally don't get dragged off into the wilderness!" I broke in, grinning.
Ailadas laughed. "No. Normally, we don't. But... these are not normal times. Home... well, hypothetically speaking about this hypothetical group of hypothetical individuals, I imagine home would be where it was before, and where their, ahem, hypothetical loved ones are. Those who hypothetically survive."
I had to laugh. "Hypothetically speaking, yes. Except for the hypothetical Yeoli slave... and the hypothetical hero. I think a short stint on Haiu Menshir would be good, perhaps necessary for the once slave in question. And a place where Mahid would find it very hard to look for our hero."
"The hypothetical Yeoli slave is the one whose prospects are easiest. He need but return home to his parents, or even to Arko, since Arko is now Yeola-e. The hypothetical hero... such a difficult thing, being a hero. Haiu Menshir... well, if they welcome people of every race, I would think now it is people of every race but the hypothetical race of the hero."
"Yes. But it seems that... as unlikely as it might be... the first point of aim for our fleeing group, would be the city itself."
"A--hem! In, ahem, hypothetically, deed. I think the Mahid would, hypothetically, think that the unlikeliest destination. Or... the likeliest... it is hard to be so hypothetical and predict these things. Still... the larger the city, in a very true sense, the easier, hypothetically, it is to hide one or more hypothetical persons."
"Best to be unpredictable. But that is assuming the group manages to make good its escape in the first place. That is the first step, is it not?"
"Ah yes, let us return to that hypothesis, ahem, indeed," he said. "So our hypothetical escape involves the, ahem, acquisition of several items of value... all of them being?" Ailadas shot a nervous glance all around, checking for errant Mahid who might be too near, as if there could be such a thing as an errant Mahid.
"Well, just steal the treasury itself, fourteen horses and the people in question." I was being flippant but that was what was actually needed. "Scatter the rest of the horses to slow pursuit. Not a problem for a hero. Unfortunately heros are in short supply."
"Well... ahem HEM. Of course in such a situation it would be an excellent idea to scatter the horses. But with respect to stealing people; that is only if they are unwilling. Otherwise they may steal themselves, as it were, or even be persuaded to steal some of the hypothetical non-person items of value, in a collective, ahem, and therefore more efficient, ahem, theft, as it were."
"Hmm. The big problem is that in this hypothesis it requires all of the participants to be aware of the plan... and to be able to do everything necessary to escape."
One of the younger Mahid emerged from the cavern mouth, scanned the meadow and once spotting Ailadas and I sitting by the stream, disappeared back inside. "Would 2nd Amitzas really try to make me work on Jitzmitthra?"
"No matter, ahem, Minis... with me, speaking of hypothetic strategic or tactical matters, you are working, if he should wonder. It does indeed hypothetically require the knowledge of all participants. How else can it be?"
"I think our hypothetical fearless leader would be worried about leaving anyone non-Mahid in Mahid hands. And he does not know how to deal with a horse-litter if one of the party cannot ride... or sit pillion."
"I wonder if we must simply give this hypothetical problem up as impossible, at least the way we currently contemplate the circumstances and the requirements."
"Hmm. I suppose. The situation for the bulk of the group is not unbearable is it?"
"They have all hypothetically borne it thus far."
"And thus may continue." I dug a hole in the turf with my heel, waggling my foot back and forth.
"What I would hypothetically suggest to said hypothetical fearless leader is that he further study the matters of horse-litters, items to be removed, the knowledge of all participants and other thorny matters in this, in case he should ponder this hypothetical scenario in the future."
"Sufficient reconnaissance is the key. Our fearless leader must keep that in the forefront of his mind."
"As fearless leaders must always do."
I had to laugh.
"Of course if this group were escaping from... say a meadow such as this... they would be easily tracked to the nearest major road. But after that the Mahid would have more trouble tracking the group."
"The hypothetical Mahid must then go down one way or the other; or split to cover both. But this does not address the start. Some time ago in our conversation I undertook to have you contemplate it in an orderly way, by starting with a list of what must be removed from the hypothetical camp."
"Oh. Yes."
"Seven people--"
"The people will, again, remove themselves."
"Yes. And will be able to help remove other things. For instance... the slave might be best set to gather horse gear. The so-called leader to aim for the treasury."
"Some part of the treasury. Horse gear. Horses. The venerable scholar and the esteemed nurse would certainly, hypothetically be capable of preparing for a wild flight into the wilderness. The baby's nurse seems competent to prepare both herself and the child. The serina... must surely be capable of riding pillion since she already has. Oh... someone should seize supplies for the party to survive on...hmmm."
"It seems the fearless leader has assigned the roles before fully itemizing the list," he said. "I recall mention of a, ahem, hypothetical blessing box?"
"That is being kept... as far as the fearless leader knows... locked with the treasury, or in the keeping of the First Wife."
"As far as the fearless leader knows? Then he must, hypothetically, find out." I started blushing even contemplating asking Kyriala where it was... but... if there were any time I could ask her, it would be during Jitzmitthra. If I wanted to be forgiven. "Perhaps at the same time the fearless leader hypothetically broaches the topic of, em, absconding, with the female associated with said blessing in said box. One can imagine she might raise the topic herself at that time."
"Oh, yes. So she... the female in question... should be um, consulted. Um... soon." Oh I really didn’t want to talk to Kyriala about that. But… she’d be able to find out where the blasted box was, easier than I could.
"That would all depend on the hypothetical timing of the hypothetical, ahem, disappearance."
"Or the fearless leader should take advantage of the days of free speech so that everyone might consider the hypothetical consequences... and add their ideas to the fanciful notion."
"In, ahem"--he swallowed--"deed." He paused but I could tell he had more to say and so waited. "Of course words, once spoken during Jitzmitthra, cannot be unspoken once Jitzmitthra is over, and in that sense, the timing of the hypothetical consultation with respect to the festival does not matter."
"Ah. That's true. And this... what you and I have spoken of, is a tactical fantasy, a strategic problem with no basis in reality."
"No, ahem, basis in reality whatsoever! Perish the thought."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Bookseller

Here's a story written for Ysabetwordsmith, a winner in my comment contest.


“Vanya! Vanya!” It was Ma calling, coming from the direction of the market horse-yards. “Once the market closes you can pick up the harness from Dorantas. He’s working on them right now, his apprentice tells me.”

I leaned out of the open side of the wagon. “I hear you Ma!” The Orkest Book Faire was full of people this year, everyone from a creepy fessas fellow with his scholar’s list, to women who only last year would have sworn on the Arkan holy book that they couldn’t read. I turned my steeliest eye on the street urchin hovering over one of our book boxes out the front of our open caravan. “And you, boy. You’ve been back to hover over that bin three times now. You aren’t snitching any.” The kid scooted.

Da thought Ma’s idea of a charity book box wouldn’t work, even with the beginning glut of cheap books on the market. She thought if a book were too damaged to sell we could give them away and Da said they were still too valuable. Ma grew up in the Zak ghetto in Rand learning to be an Illuminator --Baba still lived there -- so she has a special feel for books and caught the love of books early. It hurts her when there’s kids standing at our stall with book hunger writ all over their faces and them not with two chains to rub together.

Da’s family were papermakers in Fispur and they know how to cling to every link that passes through their gloves. So they were pretty shocked when Da met and fell in love with Ma on a bookship, him selling paper and her onboard fixing books and scrolls up pretty. And both of them deciding to go into a caravanning bookstall together. And marrying.

Ma has the dark perfectly straight hair of the Rand, and is petite and pale as a Zak, while Da is a lanky fessas who my Baba calls ‘the brass pole’, with a lot of waggling eyebrows at Ma. The bookish are a mixed lot, all of us doing all kinds of things with words. Me, I hadn’t settled into what I wanted to do with myself, not officially. I was just stuck on my parent’s route from town to town, from faire to faire, the same old round year after year.

I’d gotten all of Da’s height and then some, and his skinniness. My hair was like Ma’s but wavier and I’d had partners tell me they love my almond-shaped, bright blue eyes. Not that I’m vain. Or had that many bed partners... I’m only nineteen. But being good enough looking just made it easier to do what I really loved to do, which was story tell. I could sing a bit but I wasn’t a true bard. I’d been scrawling my stories and plays down and sending them off to the Pages in the city... through that whole business with the sack, even though the editor hadn’t bought anything from me to print yet. He would one day, I held that firm in my heart.

I had to say I mostly approved of the Yeolis even though they sacked Arko. Some books got burned, but the big libraries and a bunch of little ones were all saved... sometimes with the sackers helping the sackees put out the fires. And all these changes in the laws meant there would be hundreds, maybe thousands of people learning to read or wanting to. I wanted to travel into the middle of the Empire, to the city itself, to see those big libraries. We were so close to losing them.

Of course enough of the bibliotakises got looted that a flood of books had hit the market and why Ma and Da both were combing through the faire while I was stuck at the cart, selling our stock. If I got the harness back fast, right before dinner, I’d be able to go out and perform at Mussels, Mussels again without my parents knowing. A few more good nights and I might have enough chains to get tested for story bard’s papers and head out to do some wandering instead of our endless up and down the coast round.

There’d been a fight the other night and I got out with my byluk safe but I’d lost half my take spilling out when I grabbed up my hat. I swiped a hand gently over the little cut on my head. I’d lied and told Da I’d stood up too fast and hit my head on the edge of the caravan’s open door. I dust a book and carefully re-shelve it behind me, turn around and start up my calling-on again.

“Incabulus! Wonderfully printed and carefully bound Incabulus! Not just mere books my friends. But legendary books, books commissioned and written in the wild hinterlands of civilized lands!” At least I could turn my talent for storytelling to draw a crowd. “Books dreamed by the Dragon-lords, horded like gold in the frozen city that is their nest. Incabulus sweated out of the fever dreams of the southern cities at the command of the satraps and their sinister viziers!” I’d need to sell our common stock to make room for the rarities that my parents were no doubt finding in the rest of the faire.


“Fanias.” Da was at his most stern, using the Arkan form of my name. Not natural for him because he was an easy going man, for an Arkan. “Your mother and I have been talking.” Ma sat back and watched him, smiling a little. She let him get all stern and patriarchal so he felt that he was doing his job as a husband and a father.

Like tonight. I sighed. “Da, is this going to be one of your ‘it’s time you found a nice girl to marry and a nice boy on the side and settle down’ talks?” Ma laughed and put her rice bowl down. “He got you Arapatas.” She turned to me. “Vanya... we were thinking that if you wanted to branch out... with another biblio-cart... you’re a good seller. We could front you the funds to start and you could take over Great-Uncle Joras’s route in Kikadas province.”

“Or we could find you a place on a bookship. Now that the war is over and things are settling down, your Aunt Ru has found that she can rent books to people from the Rock to Tebrias and she needs a book doctor. She’s talking about buying one of those one-person print-mechanisms for the Word Barge.

“I... Ma... Da... these are all wonderful ideas but... you know I don’t want to be tied to a single book-route. Joras has done that same route for thirty-five years, reading for the same people and writing obituaries to be posted on the village Temple wall. And Aunt Ru... she could go anywhere and she’s shuttling back and forth from the Rock to Tebrias and around to Marsae and to the Rock on the North side. Same kind of route as Great-Uncle Joras, except on water. There’s nothing new there to see. Nothing different. No new books or stories unless there’s a war somewhere and the books get stolen and sold instead of burnt.”

“And you want to wander like a bard and tell stories.” Da made it sound so stupid. “You don’t have the voice to sing, son.”

“But I can play the parts of the stories... you’ve seen the crowd I can draw. It’s not just telling stories, sitting on one patch of ground all the years of my life, either! It’s collecting stories everywhere, Da. And I can play the stories as if I were a whole troupe all by myself. That’s better than what they require for journeyman’s papers at the Society of Tale Spinners and Weavers. I can already read and write better than their journeymen and all I’d need is your permission to journey.”

I poked around in the bottom of my supper bowl. I’d never gone hungry like so many people had through the years of war. The book cart had been a safe place. When things got dangerous our horses, Noun, Pronoun, Verb and Adverb, could be hitched and would pull us to a safer town. Da had a long-knife... not a sword, he couldn’t afford a sword or the training for it... but a knife he could handle really well was always in the hidden pocket by the driver’s seat. And the old crossbow from grandfather up there too in case someone thought a bookseller with spectacles was an easy target. Ma was as good a shot as Da too.

Da had taught me knife – and told me not to tall Ma because she’d be upset while Ma had taught me crossbow – and told me not to tell Da because he’d be upset. We hadn’t had trouble that needed me to tell either of them anything all the years of my life that I could remember.

Da pushed his spectacles up his nose. “And you haven’t found anyone who takes your fancy? No girl? No boy? Someone nice and bookish with a family library?” He didn’t sound too hopeful.

The weather had turned gray toward the end of the day and the first drops of rain had closed the book-faire early. Da had come back with a covered basket where he’d bought dinner from a cookshop so we wouldn’t have to fight with the rain to cook. The three of us sat, cosy as paper weevils, in our closed-up caravan lined with bookshelves.

I sat cross-legged on my bench on the short side, the back door bolted tight behind me, the table pulled out to block me in, with Ma on the long side and Da up front, our dinner spread out and steaming.

Da had bought a beef rice for Ma and potatoes for him and me, cooked in butter and cream layered with bacon slices and sprinkled with onions. There was half a bottle of wine for us and a bowl of eggs and courgettes. And fresh, hot bread. But I wasn’t hungry any more. I fiddled with my eating pick.

“Not that we’re trying to stop you, son,” Ma said. “We’re trying to help you get a good start. We want to see you fly.”

“Not literally?” I said. “Now there’s an idea. I’d love to learn to fly on one of those aNiah things. How about a flying bookseller?”

“Don’t be flip with your mother. That’s a silly idea. You could never carry enough stock.” Of course he wanted my feet firmly on the ground.

I’m good enough and there’s a Hall in this town.”

Ma fiddled with the ends of her hair. “It’s... just such a wild life, Vanya. Never the same thing twice... and dangerous...”

Da snorted. “Zasha, it’s less dangerous than him sneaking out and performing at some of those bars where he thinks we won’t know.”

Ma looked over at Da and nodded. “You’re right, love. He’ll be safer if he’s not sneaking around. The Empire roads are safe enough if he’s careful.”

I was staring at the two of them, probably goggle-eyed. I’d been sneaking around thinking they’d object or... something, try and stop me. “You... knew?”

“Of course I knew, we knew,” Da said. “And next time you duck out of a fight like that, duck faster so you don’t have to lie to me about how you got the cut in your scalp.”

I was flushed hot. He knew? He’d seen?

“And you did a fantastic job of telling the story of Manas and Shefenkas in the played all those parts well, son.” And Ma just nods? She was there too? In that awful dive? Where the stage is more often for boys to strip off their clothes and gloves for old men rather than for me? I threw my hands over my face.

“Ah, ah, son. You need to put a good face on it. If you are going to be a performer... you need to hold your chin up,” she said.

My voice was muffled behind my hands. “Yes, Ma.” Then I took my hands down. Da was going on like he always did when planning our next move. Ma and Da threw words back and forth between them like trading a melodic theme long practiced.

“So we’ll see if you can get your license tomorrow, all legal as a member in good standing of the Tale Spinner’s Hall, while your mother does the selling. If you test as well as I think...I can talk to Don about getting you a horse... a half-decent horse –“

Ma broke in. “--A small horse or pony... nothing flashy. Something flashy or fast will just get him in trouble or killed.” Da nodded and kept on. “—and some gear. You have itchy feet son, I understand. You even think our wandering isn’t enough. You need to see more than our regular route.” He looked a little tired with the idea of me going off on my own but I was a grown man, or was according to Ma’s people if not his. “We’ll want you to catch up with us now and again along our route, just to let us know what’s happening. You’ll know where we are.”

“And write us often... Tell us what you’re seeing, what stories you’re collecting. You might try along the north coast -- There’s those itinerant people the other side of Marsae... the Teachers... they’re caravaneers too. There’s a lot of people to teach and a lot of people who are desperate for words. Arkan women, okas... You could make a good living, son, enough to stock your own book caravan and take up Joras’s route if you wanted to settle down,” Ma said thoughtfully. “And if you should happen to find a nice girl...”


“We’ll let you get the wanderlust out, son,” Da took up the parental melody again. We’re not going to nail your rear to a book-binder’s desk in a cellar somewhere, though you’ve been acting as if we would.” My face was blushing hot, thinking how silly could I be. “You can always settle down later,” Da said. I grinned like an idiot at him and at Ma. Here I’d been trying to figure out how to go do what I wanted by myself and they weren’t trying to stop me, but were helping instead. They were acting like they expected it. I guess I’m pretty obvious. I picked up my eating pick again, suddenly starving.

“I’ll be careful, Ma, and Da. I truly will.”