Minis sat up, slowly. It was rim sunset. He sat in a puddle of warm water and, terrified of Risae, hadn’t even noticed okas pouring it on him during the day. His arms and legs and head felt light, as if they would all float away if he should move too quickly.
His skin was brown as a labourer while his hair was almost white. He sat and stared at his hands and his feet as if they weren’t his own. “Minis. Come down.” It was Akminchaer standing at Muunas’s feet, just at the edge of the God’s carven hair.
“I need to check you,” he said. “You might be being sustained by the Temple, but this cannot go on.”
“I’m all right, Akminchaer,” Minis said as he stepped down from the statue of the God. Lain smiled at him and trundled away with his water cart and donkey. That man was very brave to keep coming right up on to the God’s statue. Did that house-donkey just wink at me? No. That’s silly. He held out his wrists for the Haian and the choir began singing “O’r The Crystal Battlements.”
“Let me put drops in your eyes and you need to eat. You are getting thinner as I watch, as though you are burning away under the sun. The energy for what you are doing must come from somewhere!”
Matthas loomed up behind the shorter Haian. “He is correct,” he said in the Temple’s voice. Then he turned and walked away to stand before Imbas. He passed Minis’s family as they came into the Temple, Kyriala holding one of the babies herself, Gan holding the other. Farasha was laughing at something Gan said and Kyriala’s eyes were straight on him; intent. Are you all right?
He nodded at her and happily took the baby she carried. “Inensa.” He said, her misty blue eyes were wide and her mouth fell open in a baby gurgle, waving a hand up at his face.
Gan laughed. “Are you sure? It could be Dau.”
Minis looked up at them, heart swelling with happiness. Even though he felt tired enough as though he’d been lifting stone all day, it felt right. This had needed doing.
The pews were half full, people coming and going. “I’m not really hungry,” Minis said, but his stomach growled even as he spoke and he had to smile.
The Zak woman was sitting before Mikas’s statue, and her son stood looking up into Dimae’s fiercely serene face. “Minis,” Radas came up with the food taster holding a tray of spoons, each one holding a single mouthful. He nodded at Minis, who nodded back.
“Thank you Barabbas.” He picked up the first spoon, still disinclined to eat. But the moment he tasted the pepper spiced whipped cream over chicken he was suddenly ravenous. “Yes, Fenjitzas?”
The man sat down on the step with Minis. “Whatever you are doing seems to be working. Though there isn’t much to see other than you lying on Muunas’s hand.”
“It’s…” Minis paused. “Very strange. I’m seeing all sorts of strange things.” He shrugged and accepted another spoon, avoided the waving fist of the baby and put it in his mouth. “I needed to do this, and I didn’t know that I did.”
Radas nodded. “I don’t know if you can continue, Minis. You’re looking almost transparent and your Haian is concerned.”
Minis looked down at the babies on his and Gan’s laps and smiled. “I promise that I will not evaporate into the Temple… at least not now.”
The crowd in the pews sported black kerchiefs on their sleeves, at their gloves’ wrists or in their pockets, showing they approved him stopping this variant of Ordeal. Here and there a gold kerchief gleamed.
“I have to continue,” he said, and gave up the babies to their nurses. He rose and kissed Gan, and Farasha, and Kyriala right there in the Temple. “I don’t know how I’m going to manage. But I must continue.”
He stepped out of their loving hands, gloved and ungloved, and climbed back up to lay himself in Muunas’s hand once more.
It was dry as if the stone had absorbed the fluid and as he lay down in the dim light before the Temple lights were lit, he gazed up at the serene faces of Muunas and Selinae, over him, their hair seeming to move in the upper reaches near the ceiling. “Help us, oh Gods,” he whispered, and smiled, seeing Doof and a pair of white and gold eagles circle above. Already the mouse who had decided he was gong to defend Minis skittered from Selinae’s hand and dropped to the stone coils of marble and then down to curl his tail around Minis’s ear.
He could hear the babies burbling to each other below, the scritch of the sacred animals’s claws on stone as they came to be his blanket. Gan’s voice whispering a Yeoli saying he’d learned to sing from Sukala. Farasha drumming on her favourite dembek, Kyriala’s firm, clear soprano as she joined the choir, singing.
How shall I have the strength to find the solution for us? “I approach You with gratitude,” he said. “Not with fear.”