I could not image an okas healer that my grandfather would actually recommend to me. That was as strange as if we’d all woken up with wings growing out of our backs. And to tell me to see him in the kennels… that just confused me. But I couldn’t discern any kind of joke or jest, at least that he would admit to.
“I have already spoken to the man and he is prepared to speak to you, Grandson, at your convenience.” Grandfather was Mahid stone and stern by this point because I had tried, over the last few days, to ask in a number of ways to figure out what the joke was. “Since my Haian friends introduced me to him and since they speak quite highly of him, I suggest you follow up on this suggestion. It will assist your progression towards a calm and sensible reign after your majority.” And that was the end of it. I went over to the wing of the Palace that held both the kennels and the stables and rather than go up to the stables, headed across and down to the kennels.
The Marble Palace kennels were a creamy shade of marble with a brownish-gold stone for floors and up walls to waist high where a coppery band separated one colour from the other. I’d not been in the kennels much, since my experience was mostly with sleeve dogs and other dogs allowed the run of the main halls. The kennels were for coursing hounds, lion and tiger hunting dogs, the palace rat-catchers during the day and the Mahid manhunter dogs that they had used to break their children of emotional attachment.
I had not much cared to see dogs lunging at cage doors threatening to kill me, or lying too still, suffering from whatever training had been inflicted on them. It was not something that had ever caught my fancy as a child, even less than the stables.
It was also a place to keep odd tribute or gifts from out Empire, things like the gigantic pony-sized Great Hounds from far north and east of Brahvniki. At least for the few years that they lived.
As one of the servants opened the door for me I heard the kennels down the wide stairs, but it wasn’t random yipping howling or barking. It was an odd almost unified howl, as if the whole section of the building were singing.
I stopped at the bottom of the stairs and listened. I could hear puppy yips under the adult dogs and there were basso rumblings and high, sliding yowls. I had to start laughing it was so much like the Temple choir practicing.
“Hello?” My voice cut the dog’s noise off and it devolved into the quiet, random sounds a large pack of dogs makes, when kept inside. It was actually cold today in the city, with rain. The odd weather had blown in overnight on the shoulders of a strong wind out of the hills north of the city.
“Heya,” I was answered. The voice was smooth, soothing.
“I’m looking for, um, Tanifas Kainkuras?”
“S’me. I’s in te open space down this end. Follow te corridor down, would yah?”
Curious, I followed the instructions, walking past the floor cages, their stone-barred doors revealing single dogs isolated for one reason or another, or a mother dog with new pups. The cages gave way to a hall at the end, full of dogs… there was no other word for it… hanging around.
I was reminded of a pack of dyer messengers lounging at ease, waiting for the call to deliver the next package. There were stone benches along the two walls, a stack of clean feeding bowls marking one out as a feeding bench. A trough with a stream running through it kept the water fresh and there were actually two pools set into the floor, the first one shallow so even the littlest dogs could splash in it. That spilled over into a deeper pool that was apparently for the larger ones. On the other side of outside door, a sheet of glass that showed the rain beating against it, another bench had a series of nozzles and water-works. For dog grooming perhaps?
There was patient’s chair in the middle of the room as if it had been lifted straight off Haiu Menshir, and a table off to one side. Both were empty of dogs. This is his office?
The man in the middle of the room, surrounded by lounging, wandering dogs, had two tiny puppies on his lap that he was drying with toweling. He had a hard-brocaded bench to sit on and scattered around the floor were various mats and cushions for the animals. It smelled of stewed meat? Yellowfruit? But not of dirty dog. I could not imagine a dirty animal in this space.
The man drying puppies was okas short, stocky and broad. His skin was tanned as dark as any Arkan I’d ever seen and he had his hair clipped as short as if the hair-laws still applied. His smile was very white against his skin. His pale gray eyes stood out vivid under his blond/gray fringe.
“Come in, have a seat. You must be Minis Aan.” His eyes were steady on me in a way I found both uncomfortable and reassuring all at the same time. Even though they were gray instead of green, like Surya’s they somehow reminded me of him. “These twa got out when a servant came in from the garden,” he continued calmly. “… they decided that rolling in te mud t’was a grand game.” His okas accent was barely there, overlaid with Haian overtones which accounted, in part, I thought, for why I found it soothing. He spoke equal to equal. On the one hand it had me unsettled, hearing an okas accent so bold. On the other hand it was oddly reassuring. Like hearing a slave refusing to suck up to me. Grandfather had said Tanifas would see me if I could bear an absence of caste, in his office.
This is his office.
I looked at the padded chair standing to one side and for some reason didn’t want to settle into it yet. I used my chin to gesture.
“Do you mind if I sit on the floor?”
He blinked and smiled. “Nay. Ye’ll get licked though.”
“I think I can bear that.”
Aside from one or two dogs that had come to greet me initially, and sniff me all over, the pack had mostly ignored me. Now I had a dozen animals come to examine me as I settled onto a conveniently empty dog cushion. Four parti-coloured rat catchers, a palace fluffy with a shaved backside and a bandage, two pale gold deer hounds, three blocky-headed Mahid blacks, and a brace of lion-dogs, one brindle, one white with brown patches.
It took a moment to tell them I did not wish to have my ears and face either sniffed or licked but that I allowed a brief inspection of my hair and back and arms and legs, and not to bang their heads straight into my crotch.
“Ya like dogs then,” he said as he set his now-dry puppies upon the floor where they staggered over to a bitch lying snoozing on her side and tucked themselves under her forelegs.
“I suppose. I really like cats more.”
“Ah. Didjer Gran’pa tell yeh ‘bout me?”
“A Haian… Diriminelan mentioned he’d met you on Haiu Menshir… He said to say his greetings to you.”
“Diri! Good! Good to know. I din’t even know he was in te city! I’ll look him up!”
“He told me that you’d studied under Zinchaer. And Shilenen as well, but I just met him a few days ago. Zinchaer I knew… he was my healer on Haiu Menshir.”
Tanifas just nodded and rose to his feet. “Come on. We’re gonna take te dogs for a run.”
“What? It’s pouring rain!”
The dogs had leaped to their feet when Tanifas had said the word ‘run’ but didn’t begin either jumping or barking or running about. “So? Yeh won’t melt.” He snapped his fingers and they ran over to one bench and up on it, sitting, waiting, panting. I don’t really want to. I don’t want to get wet. But he’s very like a teacher. Even as I protested I found myself on my feet. He smiled at me and I supposed I could be nice and help him, even as part of me wondered why.
“Come on. You put the leashes on the double ten at that end. They’re all on hooks under where they’re sittin’. Jump lad. If you’re looking after half a hundred dogs you can’t dawdle.” So much like a training session.