The river was a great deal warmer than the one I’d been flung into in Yeola-e, but the shock was much harder. It felt like my whole behind and back stung and then there were the bubbles. I spread my arms out and paddled for the surface and the boat that was standing by. Shen. Shen. Shen. Shen. It was all bubbles and foam and the fikken harness that I couldn’t strip out of. A twitch, a jerk. Someone had caught one of the cables still attached to me and they hauled me out of the Arkan river like some outsized and flopping fish.
I coughed for a moment then managed, “I don’t have much roe in me. You’ll have to throw me back.” The solas who had just pulled me out mostly laughed, there hadn’t been good roe-fish in the Arkan for five hundred years. I knew the men from the elite, from training on the roof. Of course they would be on the boat if there was any danger of me going in. There weren’t enough Mahid to have them there. I hadn’t thought to arrange any of this security, so Joras must have.
I glanced up just in time to see him and his hurler launch. As I was rowed back to the bank and to the waiting horse to ride back up to the Rim, I watched as they spiraled up. One of the solas offered me a bath towel to begin drying off.
“Not to be worried about the Exalted’s performance,” he said with just this amiable look on his face. Not laughing at me, just being with me. “He’ll land in the water a time or two. Just watch.”
And even the diligent and perfect Joras missed his first two attempts and then did end up falling. “Did I grab at the cable like that?” I asked my new solas friend.
“With just the one hand, Exalted. Not waving at it like that.”
“Oh. And it’s just Minis, please. I get uncomfortable with titles now, and you and I have trained together on the roof.” His name was Linfias if I recalled. Linfias Nefas. “Linfias, is it?”
Now he did smile as he stepped out of the boat to escort me up to try again. “Yes… M… inis.”
I was so glad to find that Ky wasn’t on the Rim when I got up to the launch site again. Maybe she didn’t see me go into the river at all. I could hope. Strapping into the wing again, with wet leathers wasn’t very comfortable but until I got this, I wasn’t going to stop and change my clothes every time I went in. I took a deep breath. “Would anyone like to bet I go in with a belly hurtle this time?”
There was a heartbeat of silence before someone snorted. “I’ll take you up on that,” a solas whose name I didn’t know said. The chuckle that ran around the group was, thank the Ten, unforced. A pack leader can be silly without losing his status, Tanifas said. As long as he chooses to be silly actively. You are not helpless in the face of someone else’s laughter.
I think I ingested half of the river that afternoon. By the time we rode around to the Marble Palace laefetas, I was sodden inside and out, my lungs felt like they were hollow somehow. I wondered if I had damaged myself somehow and resolved to go to get checked out if it wasn’t better in the morning.
“Thank you for your careful escort,” I said to my guard and handed Linfias and Rohad their copper chains. I’d lost a couple of silly bets. “I’ll know better than to bet anything with you all in the future. I’ll see you all tomorrow morning in training.”
I went into the lift building and sank down onto the padded bench. My whole back was tender. Not sore exactly. Not bruised, just… sensitive. My front wasn’t as bad since I’d only landed on it twice. But I did know how to relay now. Ky got it before I did. And she doesn’t have hands and arms as strong as I do. It’s a timing thing. But she didn’t see anything but maybe the first time I’d gone in.
The lift clicked to a stop at the bottom and I levered my way back up to my feet. I felt as if I were an old man, wheezing and gurgling.
As the door was opened by the guard outside a howling parade went shrieking by. Ilesias must have gotten a long head start on those chasing him, since they were gaining so quickly. “… GIVE US THAT DISC BACK! WE ARE ALLOWED! EVEN IF THAT ONE IS THE CORONET REGAL, WE ARE ALLOWED!”
His face was both gleeful and a little nervous. “I got it, Ailadas’s gone home and I got it! You can’t play faib if you can’t catch me—eep!” He flung a look over his shoulder and scrambled away even harder on his skates.
I blinked and looked at the guard who looked at me blandly as three girls on white Mahid faib skates, one with a bloody shirt and face, went tearing past chasing Ili who had a faib disc clutched in his hands.
“Did I just see and hear what I think I saw and heard?” I asked him.
“This one most assuredly saw and heard absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, Spark of the Sun’s Ray Elect.”
I nodded and turned to go off to my rooms. “Oh, good. I was certain I’d seen exactly the same, thank you.”
“You are most welcome, Spark of the Sun’s Ray Elect.”