Friday, January 30, 2015

58 (719) - So? What's Going On?

Minis kept his face still, the smile pasted on his face, as calm as he’d ever been in front of his father.  They stood at the top of the Marble Palace lift, surrounded by the usual milling around that happened any time a substantial chunk of the Imperial family went anywhere.  One of the chill winter rains was threatening and when that coolness blew in, it would make the Marble Palace a dank and clammy stone box despite all the heating and cleaning and sopping up water running down the walls that the servants could do.

They weren’t going by air.  The flight school was off to the right from where he stood, next to the fantasy little wagon he’d sent to Ky when he was on the run.  The pony stood idly, tail twitching. Ky was in the driver’s seat, herself.  So vast a change and so common now. Farasha sat next to her and a girl groom stood on the back step.  The pony flung his head sideways and made to snap at the team next to him and was firmly checked by Ky.

The team next to him were three times his size, the wildly patterned, black and gold striped horses that the Tor Enchian prince had sent along.  They were Duli crosses by their size, but they had feathers on their hocks like flowing silken tresses, their manes and tails equally long and flowing like a maiden’s hair and they had to be half braided so they did not catch the gilded harness, or trail in the dust; and not a speck of white on them, anywhere.

The wagon was the one he’d had made for Farasha as his wedding present to her.  The red painted hub on the wheels was at his shoulder and every spar, every surface of the wagon was carved with images of running horses, clouds, books, suns, eagles and dragons.  It was a traditional Gybir red but instead of details picked out in yellow, they were gilded with true yellow gold instead. There were glass windows in it and the driver, now too big for the tiny pony trap, was her Hyerne man. He’d cultivated a raffish and to Arkan eyes, a demonic, appearance, though still handsomely done, his clothes faintly reminiscent of flames.

“We’ll be fine, Gannara,” Farasha was saying as she kissed him goodbye.  “We’ve got the entire O. R. F. with us to train at the Winter Palace.”

“And a whole contingent from the Elite,” Minis added.  “They’re terribly chagrined that they’ll miss the singleton challenge races.”

The contenders,  now vying for the last twenty places in the Bodyguard, had followers, as if they were Mezem fighters, cliques cheering them on.  Bets were laid on who would beat whose time, who would get their charges safely through. The most, the fastest.  The Elite unit would miss the final challenge, a miniature assault on a fortified position, with Ili happily playing the part of ‘terrified victim’ in the middle.  Likely he’d be firing back at his attackers with wild enthusiasm.

"They'll be skippin back to the city by wing for the races they want to see, when they're on leave, I'll bet," Gannara said.

Minis let his comb fall to the end of its chain and took Ky’s hand, reins and all.  “You’ll have some peace and it will be cozier.  Once this session is over I’ll come out, too.”

The Haian apprentice, Nunimaer poked his head out of the wagon window.  “Akminchaer and I are all packed away so that nothing will break.”

“I love you.” He kissed her cheek again.

“I love you too. I'm only a moment's hop away by wing.”

That was true.  If it wasn't all the household removing to the Winter Palace it was a short trip, by wing.

He and Gannara stood and watched as cavalcade wound up toward the distant twinkle of the sun crystals on the tips of the Winter Palace towers, just visible over the trees.  When they were well and truly out of earshot, Gannara put his hand on Minis’s shoulder and asked quietly, in his ear. “You didn't fool them for a moment, nor me either. So? Tell me what’s wrong.”

Thursday, January 29, 2015

57 (718) - I Give Up

Dear Papin and Mamin,

You were right, I quit.  I can’t work here, the world is right and Arkans are just awful! Even if I liked Tanifas and Akminchaer is an excellent teacher, I can’t bear it anymore. I realize that the Arkan Governor, during the occupation, ordered his entire force and hangers on to stop eating meat while they were there, but I thought I could get used to the smell.  Cooking meat, everywhere, the smell of alcohol flames and unburnt alcohol. It's on everyone's breath. It's in their clothes. Its in the bedding and no amount of incense covers it.

I’m supposed to be checking the catalogue on this room of horrors.  It’s a museum room of preserved, dissected human beings.  It wouldn’t be so horrid if I didn’t know that it was done by hundreds of Imperial Pharmacists who could just buy their specimens, or have them snatched from countries that Arko was conquering! Hideous. Horrid, Ugly.

I flipped through their own catalogue and it was almost all right because of the number of Mahid who had ‘died of x condition, body donated’ listings but it’s not like the classes in Haiu Menshir, not at all.  I tried to sleep last night and had nightmares that this room was screaming.

The High Priestess and her deacons have set up a Temple altar on the ‘Female’ side of this horrid room and the High Priest and his deacons have done the same on the 'Male' side.  Right now they’re consulting with engineers to somehow run a sun-tunnel down here, back here, into the dark and bring some of what they consider holy light in here.

The First of the Mahid, Amitzas is a creepy, scary old man who I cannot forget has tortured and murdered hundreds of people, if not thousands, in his lifetime.  It doesn’t matter that he was commanded.  He did it.  It’s like all that... that... I’m sorry.  I had to go weep.  I start shaking when I’m with any of them – all the old Mahid who were alive during Kurkas’s time.

I’m coming home.  The whole city smells of beef tallow and meat-eater’s sweat. What kind of healer can I be if I can’t bring myself to get near my poor, suffering patients, much less lay hands on them.

I’ll come home and scrub bed-pans in the hospitals. I can still do that.  This city has ruined me. I’m struggling to keep my gorge down, just sitting outside that room.

I realize the enormous wealth of medical knowledge that Amitzas Mahid (after requesting permission from his grandson of course!) had just given Haiu Menshir access to!  He’s got his menageries of fantastic animals that have given us so many more remedies... and his daughter has the gardens.  All that, once devoted to harming people, now turned to saving lives... I feel as though my head is whipping around.

Oh, Papin, Mamin, I feel sick and shaking.  Akminchaer is writing the Head of the Research Departments at Haiu Roru and then going to check the Imperatrix.  Ninumaen is sitting with Arkan Medics for these so called Bodyguard Challenges so that no one hurt themselves flinging themselves through that horribly dangerous maze, being FIRED UPON by their fellow man, with true darts, though none are envenomed! These people are mad. Mad in a way that makes me too ill to move.

I'm sitting in a stone corridor outside something worse than any plague morgue, shaking, weeping, trying not to just fling my pen down and run away.
I’m sending this letter off and then I’ll find my teacher and resign my apprenticeship.  I’ll find a ship of some kind travelling, even risking the winter storms. I want to come home.

Your loving and horrified to his guts son,


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

56 (717) You Deluded Old Mahid!

---- Trigger Warning: Grotesqueries ----

“I’ve just made up a new batch of your heart remedies, Amitzas.” Akminchaer leaned back from where he’d been examining his patient, and one of the apprentices set them down on the desk in the old Mahid’s office. Amitzas himself sat in the leather reading chair, head tipped back, eyes closed.  “Now I shall repeat that you not stint yourself, out of some kind of Mahid idea that you don’t deserve looking after.”  He turned to the two younger healers, Ninumaen and Fionaer, who had just arrived to assist his Imperial practice.  “You will find that Mahid have a similar tendency to self sacrifice and self harm, to a similar degree as most warriors.”

“I shall have to temper your instruction, Akminchaer.” Amitzas said, without opening his eyes.  “Now that the need for torturous self control has been removed, most Mahid are rather easier patients.”

Akminchaer sniffed.  “We are finished for today. Ninumaen, have you unpacked the model?”

“Not yet, beloved teacher.  It is still in its crate.”

“Model?” Amitzas inquired, opening his eyes.  “Is it something that I would find instructive?”

“You might, indeed.” Akminchaer said proudly.  “It is a life-sized, knitted, model of a uterus at full term.  I ordered it from the University because I would rather have Kyriala learning from something normal rather than the textbooks on the possible problems in childbearing. She seems determined to instruct herself thoroughly.”

“Oh.” Amitzas looked a trifle chagrined.  “You didn’t need to do that.  I have such models.  Over a hundred of different stages of pregnancy.  I reviewed them when my granddaughter by marriage announced.  My apologies.”

“You have models? Over a hundred? Of women? Of pregnancies?”

“I suppose I should have shown them to you before.”

“Why on the Earthsphere didn't you?”

“If I might beg assistance?”, Amitzas asked and Fionaer helped him to his feet.  He composed himself and lifted a red key from its hook next to the door.  “This way.” He plucked a single flower from a vase along the way before leading them deeper into the Mahid wing and unlocked a plain grey door.  The room beyond was dark and he brought the alcohol lamp in with him, barely illuminating what looked like banks and banks of narrow cabinets twice as tall as a man and a bit wider. He set the lamp down on a table obviously placed for it, and began turning a crank right by the door.

The enormous mirrored chandelier swung down to just in front of him and he lit the wick in front.  The flame ran all the way around the loop, lighting the wicks in turn until, squinting against the sudden glare, Amitzas cranked it up to its place against the polished grey stone ceiling where the actinic light made the hall clearly visible but somehow funereal. A faint whiff of formaldehyde swirled out of the room.

The cabinets revealed were wood and each one had a carving upon it. A hand. A foot. A head. Further away the carvings became harder to see. To the right, a bronze statue of a naked man held a scalpel.  To the left, a naked woman holding a sryinge.  In the middle of the room a large cabinet stood alone, uncarved, ungilded.

The three Haians looked around as Amitzas went down the left hand side of the hall.  “Ah, here. I did close them up.  Female, breeding.” He grasped the handle and the cabinet opened slowly, obviously very heavy, sliding straight out on two tracks.

Fionaer made a distressed noise and clamped both hands over his mouth.  “It is like an anatomy class,” Amitzas said.  “Human dissection 101.”

The three racks inside held large jars with their preserved contents floating in a milky greenish fluid.  The top rack was only big enough for each uterus it displayed while the ones lower down were bigger, to display more open dissections.  The lids of each had a neatly written tag and a swath of hair and leather attached.

“These are Arkan pregnancies.” Amitzas said, looking fondly at the one before him, that included the hip bones and portion of spine and legs to show how the uterus sat.  The swatches of hair were all blond; the leather patches, all pale. The organ itself was opened showing the child floating within in isolated splendor.  “There are a goodly number of them preserved and re-constructed without the use of the fluid. And showing the growth of the fetus at every part of the process.  Fascinating."

He turned and indicated all along the line. “Enchian, in that cabinet, Lakan in the next. Srian in the one beyond... all in their places. Female dissections on this side. Male genitalia at this point on the other.”  He looked at his friend.  “The Imperial Pharmacists have had centuries to collect and preserve these, as a kind of ‘hobby’ one might say."

Tears stood in Akminchaer's eyes.  Amitzas's voice softened. "It was an extension of their function. There are many Mahid here. The bodies were often donated, after death. They are long past any pain.”

Akminchaer went from looking ill to looking relieved. “This is... astonishing!" He turned in place, taking in row after row of neatly labelled racks.  “The medical knowledge here... The University should know about this!”

“I suppose so.”  Amitzas went to the cabinet in the centre of the room and with the same key that opened the door, opened the cabinet.  The doors folded open to show a gilded interior, glittering in the lights, around a woman’s body, standing, one skinless hand apparently holding the flap of  her chest open at the top, the other holding the bottom of the other side. Her organs were there, carefully preserved in their places inside her torso, except for one. There was an cradle set before the body, holding her empty, spread-open uterus. Her silvery golden hair not only reached her feet but was coiled around the bottom of the cabinet, stark against her dry, preserved flesh.

Amitzas gently placed the flower he’d brought into a vase at the base of the display.  “This Sera should have gone into the Wall of the Lost, as commanded by the Imperator at the time.  The Pharmacist judged that she would be just as nameless here, as there. She was as much a victim of the Boy Plague as her poor, dead, Heir, who is buried with all honour in the Imperator’s Tombs. The Imperial Pharmacist before me always brought a flower for her when he opened her resting place, for all that he told me I should dispense with the ridiculous practice.  I believe she was related to the Mahid.”

A sniffle. “Akminchaer...” he turned and pulled a handkerchief from his sleeve.  “Don’t weep.  It’s all right.  These are now merely models, to instruct, to help the living...”

“Oh, be quiet, you deluded old Mahid!” Akminchaer almost snatched the handkerchief.  The two apprentices were fled out of the room.  “This isn't just anatomy!  This is built on a complete lack of ethics as well as your donated volunteers.  I might be a Haian but I've been a healer long enough to know the nightmare this was and I understand why you didn't remember to show me this... museum to pain.

"It's a museum to service as well. We need to get some priests in here and some prayers said for these people, to respect their sacrifice.  Just as you keep putting a flower there... for her.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

55 (716) Being a Father. Kahara.

Gannara leaned back against the wheelhub, arms folded and watched his mother-by-marriage sooth her daughter’s discomfort.

“Lovey,” she said. “You’re going to feel upset all the time.  We know." Farasha didn’t sniffle.  She’d cried herself out a bead ago. 

“This is horrid, mama. I don’t like it.”

“It will pass.  Let us coddle you and the baby.”

“Mama I feel lazy if I need to lie down all the time.”  She wasn’t showing yet.  Neither was Kyriala and her mother wrapped her arms around her daughter.

“You’re not lazy.  Why don’t we send this young lout of yours off to fetch something special from the market for you, to tempt your appetite?”

“I don’t want anything. I can get anything I want at home, I just have to open my mouth and the Marble Palace servants are all there with platters and cups and sometimes it’s all too much.”

Gannara caught his mother-in-law’s eye and tilted his head away.  She nodded.  “Why don’t I head back—“ There was a roar from the square audible even down in this neighbourhood.  “—the city is having a great deal of fun with these competitions – I’ll be able to go in by way of the Dog Yard Gate.”

“Go on,” she said, shortly.  “I might stay here with mama tonight.”

“Love you, my beautiful wife.”

“I love you too.  Go away.”

He managed to hide his smile as Farasha turned her attention to the cup of tea in her hands.

The Dog Gate was at the end of the Marble Palace wall that looked like a giant had dropped an enormous chain of marble links past the trees, with every nook and cranny that looked as though it would be perfect for climbing made to look like broken-open geodes with razor sharp shards of coloured glass as the crystals lining them.   

The colours, chips of razor glass,  flowed out of the hollows and came together, all their wild colours, to become the picture of a waterfall apparently pouring over the top of the wall. The artist had matched the lake's colours, making the wall that crossed the lake very hard to see. Not that Gannara was going that far, into the public forest.

The wall cutting across this end of the lake wasn’t reachable from the road leading into the wood. The Temple had various tiny retreats hidden away along the rim, the okas playing fields lay just past the trees and a good part of it was left to go nearly wild.  City Arkans regarded it as their precious treasure, second only to the river and the lake itself.

Gannara stepped onto the path from the Boardwalk to the Dog Gate, the noise from Presentation Square so seamless it could have been one monstrous creature. The teams of four had given way to team of three, then pairs.  Tomorrow it would be singles.

He stopped under the enormous chestnut tree before the open space before the walls, set his back to it and sat down for a moment, his guards discretely taking up watchful positions at a little distance.  Nobody associated with the Imperator went walking through the city alone and it still bothered him and Farasha somewhat.

He pulled up a handful of grass and began chewing on one long strand. This stolen moment settled him down.  There were a lot of demands on his time, both as his shadow-parent’s factor, for dealing with Arkans, and as Minis’s alesinas.

Maybe now that we’re expecting children and that Mahid has been caught, it would be a good idea for the women to go out to the Winter Palace for a while.  The air is better outside the Rim. And they won’t be getting annoyed with us every time we twitch.  Minis needs to get dragged into the Bath for an afternoon with nobody around but me.  We can get our ‘hormonally driven anxieties’, as Akminchaer calls them, settled.

The challengers are turning out to be a fun group. The ones who would not draw names from a helm to run in fours, because of having to work with either women, or men, they’re well gone. There’s four that have sweating fits at First Amitzas’s creepy crawlies, though they are still in the running.

There’s a dozen who I don’t like, just because of their ‘I am so superior attitude’, but that could just be me.  The Srian, Trurishta, stands out like a mountain surrounded by sunlight bright heads, and she’s constantly making jokes about smacking her forehead on door lintels.  But she wears that lion skin like it’s her own second skin and has eeled through some amazingly tight spaces in the maze. She’s the best archer I’ve ever seen and her dart-work is catching up fast.

There’s only two hundred fourteen left now.  I’m glad that the Yeolis trying are still in the running.  All those who became Arkan citizens. Silly of me to feel so much pride in my birth country.

Ah. Tanifas must be out. I think I’ll go talk to him about the idea of being a father.  That’s part of the problem.  I’m going to be a dad and a shadow dad in a few months and the pit of my stomach is full of woolly pigs and eels it feels like.  Minis is starting to have nightmares about him being a dad, full of ‘being like the fat guy’ dreams.

By the sound over the glittering wall Tanifas had the whole pack out in the yard, as the stable-hands brought the “Most Glorious Left Hand Side” stalls out for their exercise.  It was a learning experience for the puppies and the yearlings both.

He got up and dusted off the back of his kilt, nodded at his guard and they crossed the open grass to the gate.  Being a father.  Kahara.