Ilesias handed his papers in to Gian, with a proud smile on his face. This time he was early and had actually written more than the minimum. Didi, one of the girls that had come into Gian's class just after Minis had done his Ten Tens, and was hanging out with him and Nuninibas, had talked to him while they were out in the dog yard running around on the field with Tanifas's main pack. She'd been interested in the history part and he'd had so much fun explaining it to her that the papers had been easy to write, afterwards.
Gian leafed through the pages, eyebrows rising. “Very well done, Ili. Whatever has brought about this sea-change I approve of!”
“Teacher, I don't like sitting still and writing stuff down or reading stuff. I like acting it out... Nuni and I acted most of that out for Didi the other day.”
“Interesting. Yes, I've noticed that you are happier moving. So we shall have to do a great deal more theatre in class to improve your academics.”
“I'd like that a lot, but I'm not sure Ailadas will like it.”
“Leave that to me,” Gian stood up. “Gentlemen and Ladies, you are dismissed for the day.”
Ili had been the last student to hand in his work and there was enough of a rush for the door that the Companion's Chamberlain had to clear his throat and call everyone to order. “Is learning so onerous that one must flee?” Five other boys and girls were still clustered around Gian's desk, asking him questions.
“No, ser,” Ili said. “I really want to get a lot of time outside though.”
“Spark of the Sun's Ray, you have an example to set!” He called after them as they ran down to the Heir's rooms.
“He's right,” Ili said. “I've been being a bad example.”
“How is that?” Didi asked, looking confused.
“I've been neglecting my family,” Ili said, grabbing up the sugar cone from the kaf tray and stuffing it into his pocket. She still looked confused as Nuni laughed at the way the sugar bulge sat in Ili's riding trousers.
“Come on,” Ili trotted downstairs, Didi hanging back a bit when it was obvious he was going down to the Mahid section of the Marble Palace. Nuni said he was used to it but the two of them poked each other and hissed behind Ili's back because it was still a spooky part.
But Ili went straight past his grandfather's door and both light and dark venomous menageries, and even past his pseudo-mother's door. All of them were closed and locked anyway. "They're all over at the Temple trying to figure out who 'The Unique' is and stop him trying to assassinate Minis and Ky," Ili said absently.
“Excuse me, Amitza...” he hailed one of the Mahid girls who was skating toward the training hall with her arms full equipment. She braked and wheeled to face them. “Spark,” she said.
“Is Elsha training? Who do I talk to about the kids?”
“That's one of the new ones, Sula I think... they're up in the Imperatrix's solar.”
That meant they had to traipse all the way around, to go up, and over to the women's halls, since Ili had promised Antras not to startle people by going through the servant's corridors as short cuts.
“Why are we going to see the Mahid children?” Nuninibas asked. “They're just babies.”
“Minis taught me that good big brothers do stuff with little brothers... an' Ky says that it's good for little sisters too... so I have a little sister... and a sort of little brother who're big enough to play with.”
“But that's what girls are supposed to do!” Nuni stared at both Ili and Didi who were staring at him. “Arkan girls!” he said.
“My brother the Imperator was a good parent! My pseudo mama sniffs at all the stuff he did, saying that some girl should have looked after me, he should have hired a nurse but we were on the run and couldn't.”
“Your brother the Imperator is weird.”
Didi sniffed at him and moved over to walk next to Ili, who just said, “He's Imperator so whatever he does is right, as long as nobody gets up a petition to say he's wrong!”
Nuni grumbled but followed along.
The solar had glass doors and spilled light all down the hallway so their eyes had some time to adjust.
There were servants to help so if the youngest babies cried, the Mahid watching wouldn't be overwhelmed. There were only five babies anyway, besides Tesha and Joras, who were the oldest.
“Hi, Sula!” Ili came in and slid to his stomach between Tesha and Joras who were apparently squaring up to squabble over possession of a carved wooden block.
“Hello, Spark of the Sun's Ray!”
“Just Ili, please,” he said. “We're family sort of, kind of.”
“As you say, Spark.”
“Hey, I played with these blocks!” The wooden blocks were scattered around enough to build a small city, each block small enough for little hands, each block elaborately carved and fit together perfectly. Every fourth block had a locking pin that could be pushed out to secure a wall or an archway.
“What are you building?”
“A house! - A WALL!” the toddlers glared at each other, both clinging to a single block, identical to a hundred scattered around them.
“I see,” Ili wanted to laugh. “You don't need that block to build a house with a wall.” Nuni and Didi both went around the other side of the scattered pile and began looking through them at all the different varieties. There were ceramic ones like brick and marble, and hardwood ones of all kinds. Each colour had a different theme, animals or plants or fish. There were even tile shapes to build roofs with, all painted red as if they were terracotta, but the finish on some were worn on the edges.
“Those worn ones were Minis's,” Ili said, glancing over. “Look, Joras... if you lock your wall to Tesha's house like this, then we could build a tower as tall as I am...”
“I don't wanna!” Nuni sighed loudly from the other side of the blocks.
“All right. But if you behave like that you won't be able to go riding with me when we're done.” Sula twitched at this but didn't say anything.
“Riding?” That caught Joras's attention. “On a pony? Myself?”
“Not yet. The riding master will teach you. Just with me on my horse and if you're really good I'll take him over the ankle-jumps.”
“Let's go NOW!”
Tesha had set her brick carefully on her half-finished house and was listening. “I get to ride too!” she asserted.
“Yes, of course.” He took their hands and got up. “I have sugar for treats for horses, and the riding ring is all set up. Did you know that there's such a thing as a magic house donkey? Yeah, once upon a time...”