Now I know.
Inensa held Tesha, next to Ilesias, Amitza, Jorasa, and Elsha. “We are not ‘racing’ for a place here,” Ilesias said quietly. “We, and the teams from the Sunborne Elite are going to set the standard.”
“Yes, First,” Jorasa said. Without looking, the girls checked that they had their ‘non-lethal’ kits, fingers skittering over their belts. Ilesias surreptitiously tightened a strap on his greave.
“We are also aware that you have a bet with Captain Firnean,” Inensa said, dryly, joggling her daughter slightly. “We have required both Sofonisba and young Joras not to be too disruptive as ‘protectees’.”
Ilesias smiled slightly. “I am certain that we shall do well, either way.”
Inensa was dressed in a court gown, not one of Riala’s design. All the teams of four who would be attempting to get their protectees through the obstacle course, would begin with women encumbered with children, and court dress.
The crowd set up to watch were like a murmuration of birds, all around. Inensa found herself looking over at the other team, waiting to begin.
Idiesas had two of his females, from the Elite, plus Borasa and Eforasa. Their charge stood, whispering into Joras’s ear.
Neither of the teams knew what the start call would be.
Neither of the teams knew what the start call would be.
“Tesha, my smart girl,” she whispered into her child’s ear. “When I fall down, I want you to hang onto me and pretend to cry, all right?”
The girl was giggling already. “You told me, mama! You did t—“
Minis stood up on the Balcony. He knew as well. “Are the teams ready?” He called.
The crowd hushed waiting for the Imperator to call start, but as the Marble Palace clock’s first note of the bead rang out, both Inensa and Sofonisba collapsed, children clinging to them.
“Kyash! That was Ilesias, swearing in Yeoli, “She’s down, hush child. Hush Tesha!”
Elsha snatched up Tesha and ran into the maze, up the first set of stairs.
Amitza, Jorasa grabbed her by the formal train, bundled her into it like a bag of sand and ran. “Go, go!”
Ilesias leapt before them, called ‘trap’! They turned. Inensa couldn’t see anything, bundled up as she was. She tried to lie as limp and heavy as possible. “Up that ramp! Here, Amitza…”
She felt her head end passed to Ilesias. “Scout that route---“
The crowd roared exhorting their favourite team, names lost in the noise and she was set down as they whipped out their darts. The ambushers would be using flung bags of coloured flour and undrugged darts as would the contestants.
“Got them! Aigh!”
“Amitza’s down. There was one back,” Ilesias said. “Through that window. Then out there and over that balcony.”
Inensa felt herself flung over Ilesias’s shoulder and grunted. “Sorry.” He didn’t slow down.
She could hear Tesha squealing her pretend anguish up ahead. “Mama Mama Mama!”
Elsha would get her to be quiet.
Ilesias clambered up the wall over the balcony, ran with her over the ‘roof’, passed her to Elsha through another ‘window’ and they emerged down a stairway to ground level.
“Trap…” Elsha gritted and they jumped, even burdened with her limp body and the child. Tesha laughed and then was silent again.
“Stairs… another ambush likely. Go around!” The motion sideways was abrupt.
“Ramp… through those poles…” Jorasa took her feet as they wound her limp body up and down and around and through.
The gown would never be the same Inensa thought almost hysterically, wanting desperately to laugh. “Ow!” Her feet fell suddenly. “I’m killed,” That was Jorasa.
She felt herself caught up against Ilesias’s chest. “Run! Run!”
The crowd noise was as loud as for the faib races. Her face was pressed into his armoured chest. His sweat all around, her hair pulling, as they ran for the safe zone at the end. Thunder of feet, Idiesas and his team making for the same safe zone, she could hear the men’s straining breaths.
A boom as Ilesias’s foot hit the safe zone. Then a second as Idiesas carried Sofonisba across the line.
Cheering, applause and finally she was set upon her feet, staggering a little as the enfolding cloth was unwound and her hair pulled back so she could see once more and move on her own. She looked around. She and Ilesias stood next to Elsha, holding Tesha, who was adding to the crowd noise squealing with laughter and ‘Do it AGAIN!’ Beyond, Idiesas was just setting Sofonisba down. Joras said “I could have run MYSELF FASTER!”
She could see Amitza near the beginning, pop up from where she had ‘fallen’, waving that she was all right. "It is astonishingly difficult to stay limp and be carried, while conscious," she said. The two Elite solas girls began working their way over to the safe zone, one soaked head to food.
On either side of the Presentation Balcony a large sign where each team's formal time was just being marked. Both had gotten their charges through the course. “I’d have gotten here first, except out first turn put us into a water trap,” Idiesas said genially. "They've run a trickle from the fountains underneath." His legs were dripping, though Sofonisba wasn’t wet except for trailing hair and sleeves. “Your bet, First Ilesias.”
“Thank you, Captain Firnean, you are most gracious!”
“Gentlemen, those times are excellent.” Inensa said and nodded to one of the umpire/clerks double checking. “You were only hundredths apart, saving us.”
“Dowager Imperatrix, that was appropriately evil that you both collapsed at the start.” Idiesas smiled at her.
“My father pointed out that is the likely beginning of any such scenario,” she said demurely. Jorasa trotted up the ramp, followed by Amitza, to renewed cheering from the crowd. Faibalitzitzkai that they were, they waved. “Let’s see all those challengers do as well or better than that.”