Friday, August 19, 2011

540 - Like Schoolboys on an Escapade

What Surya did then was something I never thought he’d do in front of Chevenga’s family, much less his friends.  It was part of the end of the ritual and I wanted to look away, a great deal, even as my... perhaps not so vile organs stirred.  “He needs to be tied to life,” Surya explained, as Chevenga twitched under his hands.  “Right now.”  He turned his attention and words back to what he was doing.  “Breathe in acceptance.  Give yourself to it, Virani-e.”

He panted and his hips rose and when he came he arched back almost on head and heels, shoulders and heels. “Rest, Virani-e,” Surya said and they loaded him onto a litter and took him off to the waiting rowing boat on Terera Lake.  We followed him down and saw him off to the asa kraiyel island in the late afternoon sunlight, the wind blowing colder and colder as the sun went down. 

There was half the town still there, to see him off to his seclusion, that had been explained in the public part of the ritual.

I didn't think Che... Virani-e, was conscious enough to do anything, but when the crowd murmur was alarmed, seeing him so still, despite the presence of his Haian, and the asa kraiaseyel, he raised his sword arm, hand open.  It was weak, but it was there and it was enough to calm people down.

Toras Meneken, solas, was at the lake, to see Chevenga... Virani-e now, I supposed, off.  He was with Kiyiri somebody, a Yeoli friend of his.  “It will probably snow again by midnight,” the Yeoli friend said.  “You can’t leave yet, Toras.  Only if you can fly.”

“I could sooner succeed in breathing underwater as fly,” he said and came to make his bow for Kallijas, on his high shoes, and the appropriate genuflection to me, who was still able to walk directly on the ground through my bootleather.  This time of year the weather was terribly unpredictable and even flying we could be grounded by bad weather.  There had been a heavy snow... a blizzard, truly, immediately after the close of the Yeoli Games.

“Minis, we should start out for home immediately, the Assembly wants us back as soon as possible,” Kallijas was saying, even as Reknarja said “We should get to know one another, perhaps?”  Kall looked at Reknarja and then at the Lakan princess who’d been listening quietly, smiling, out of her furs.  She seemed young to me, even though someone had mentioned that she was as old as my mother.  Lakans looked so young, with smooth, ageless bronze faces.

“You know,” Kallijas said.  “Perhaps we should all go up to meet Sukala tonight after dinner.  That way we would all have an interesting evening and Minis and I shall be able to leave first thing in the morning.”

Karani and Veraha were holding onto Esora-e as if he were fragile, an older man with his look had an arm around him as well.  Esora-e stood looking after Chevenga, at least where the boat with him in it had landed at the island, as if he were staring into the Gates of Selestialis.  Looking, but not allowed in.


The princess had insisted on coming, when she'd heard that we were going to meet a famous Yeoli sage, and we had her between Kallijas and me. Kallijas was on his preposterous shoes, Reknarja who swapped out his Enchian riding boots for something more practical to climb in, and I, with a silk, fur-trimmed hood and blessing every thumb-length of silk along my limbs.  “You LIVED here?  How did you not freeze bits of yourself off?”

Princess Klaimera laughed.  "I'm astonished, myself."

Kallijas didn’t even have a hat on, that raw wind, already full of snowflakes, yanking strands of his hair loose.  “I got used to it,” he said.  He was having trouble with the shoes, looked around furtively as if there could be anyone else to see, then at Reknarja and Klaimera.  “I should be pleased, ser and serina, if you kept to yourself what I am about to do.”

Rek’s lip twitched in the depths of his beard.  “Second Fire come if I tell anyone.”  Klaimera added something in Lakan and said, "I too.  Second Fire come if I tell."

He knew I wouldn’t tell anyone.  He unstrapped the chopins and stepped down onto the mountain rock, looping the straps over his arm with a sigh of relief.  “I could have broken my neck, trying to climb up to Sukala’s with them on.”  He also had a bundle over his shoulder, so it added to his burden but he’d said it was no trouble when I’d offered to carry it for him.

I saw what he meant after a bit.  There was a plank bridge suspended around the side of a mountain cliff, with a fine rope strung along the wall.  The plank was only about the width of my foot.  My mouth fell open as I watched the princess walk out along this rickety pathway as if she were standing in the middle of Presentation square.

I had to swallow hard to follow him out along it.  “You’re not walking on the ground here,” I said.  “But on air anyway.”  I heard Reknarja follow along behind but didn’t dare turn my head.

“Oh, you should have seen before the bridge was here.  There’s a ledge under here that’s half as wide."  His voice drifted back.  He was out of sight already, Klaimera following him around the cliff.  "This is the easy way up.”

Kall eased around the rock wall deft as a spider, not thinking twice about it. Klaimera danced across it.  I swallowed hard again and wrapped one of my silk scarves around the rope for another safety line and I think Reknarja used his belt.  It wasn’t nearly as wobbly as it looked though and we were past the spot in only a moment.  “No wonder we didn’t find her,” Kallijas said.  “She took the bridge down during the occupation.  This is the faster way up, though you can slide down one way.  And the goats and the pigs she keeps find it easy enough to come this way.”

“Why are we going to meet her again, exactly?” I asked.

Kallijas laughed.  “You really do want to meet her, and his Excellency and her Worship expressed wishes to come along.”

Reknarja laughed, behind me as he stepped onto the wider stone.  “I’m having many second thoughts about this little expedition.”  We four had done something we shouldn’t have.  We, like silly schoolboys, had left our security at the bottom of the path, to keep each other company.  Krero had reassured everyone that there was no other way up to Sukala’s.  Joras had smiled and leaned back against the cliff-face, Idiesas had taken up his best position between Joras and the Enchian prince’s two keepers who looked most uncomfortable, standing looking stuffed, in their chilly armour.  Arkan winter armour linings and surcoats had certainly changed since the war.  The Lakans, in their silks, crossed their arms over their chests and looked inscrutable.  The four of us smiled at each other as if we were boys off on an escapade, once we were clear of our guards.

“Hello, Sukala!”

“Kalicha!  Welcome, come have a cup of tea!”  The woman’s cracked old voice echoed from above and we stepped off the chunks of rock that could only nominally be called steps and onto an old old Lakan style rug on the lip of a plateau, that had apparently been swept clean of snow.

I didn’t recognize the woman at first, since I had last seen her as the asa kraiyel at the gate of the School of the Sword.  She’d been neat and tidy in the black and white formal robes for Chevenga’s ritual, but now... well... she was, odd.  She stood outside a crack in the rock, wearing the Yeoli marya over a green cape, a calf-length skirt... several skirts, the top one an unusual bright red, and her sleeves showed orange with bright green stripes.  She was barefoot in the snow.  Barefoot and she didn’t seem to notice.

In the light of the lamp she held, a battered old wing-cat draped over her other shoulder and had a woolly... um... pig leaning against one of her legs.  An old hound came wagging and barking up to Kallijas, his tail sweeping his butt so far back and forth he threw up snow all around.  “Taetya shan -- Shut up, dog,” Kallijas said casually, in Yeoli.

“Come on in, all of you, you tender boys!” Sukala called.  Reknarja and I threw a look at each other behind Kallijas’s back, suddenly together in a way we hadn’t been before. Klaimera sniggered, bundled up so much that she was being taken as a boy. What exactly were we getting into here?  And what HAD Kall been doing alone up here on the mountain with this weird old woman?

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