A voice out of a vertical crack, echoing out of a cavern in the tsingy. “Love, wake up... wake up... Yes, what I said was true... it’s all right. No matter what, we’ll make it work. Ancestors fuck you, wake up and... oh. Sorry.”
A murmur in the icy silence of the rock spires. “Sorry. I’m sorry love. Yes. It’s true.”
A banging on the door of the war-school in Viltaria. “What... what... the Lainz attacking again? Wait... I don’t have my slippers on. Ancestors! Curse you, quit all that banging... oh. Surdeniliarch. Well. A problem?” The shuffle of slippers on smoothed stone. “Come in then. I’ll make tea.”
Ilax shut the inner door behind himself and followed the older woman into the school. She led the way to a training room off the main hall. “We should have quiet enough here. My inamorata are all snoring and we won’t bother them this far from the apartment.”
“I’m sorry to bother you Elemfias,” he said, running his hands through his hair, pushing the snow and wet out of it, looking sheepish.
The war-master caught her own hair up at the nape of her neck and threw a tie around it, waved at Ilax before putting the kettle on to boil, dropping chama leaves in. “That should wake us both up.”
Ilax sank down on the cushion, silent. One of her greying eyebrows went up. “It’s serious if you aren’t twitting me about how bitter my hot drinks are.”
He twitched a smile. “You probably heard about the Lainz kid wandering around town?” Viltaria wasn’t that big a city and the boy hadn’t tried to hide what he was doing or who he was looking for.
“Yes. And he’s given you a problem that has you in a knot and you need my help for it, obviously.”
She hitched up her sleeves as she sat down and picked up a sword hilt in her off hand, looked down the blade before setting it down again. He nodded and she let him gather his words. The kettle ticked and clicked as it heated. Her black and tan dog, Lem trotted in and lay down by the brazier. She picked up a heavier handle, examined the hammer head, shook her head before laying it down again. “My arm has changed, and I’m not adjusting for the muscle shift yet.” She picked up the handle again, re-examined the head before nodding with satisfaction.
Ilax finally shrugged. “I have a new student for you.”
She blinked and paused, in the act of reaching for an atlstick.
“The Lainz boy? You want him to learn war mandery?”
“I’m going to teach him myself, once he has the basic lessons down. I thought... if you could take him on and teach him basics... I’ll teach your advanced classes, with him later.”
“So how long has it been since you taught?” She grinned at him.
He shrugged. “I need to brush up on basics too. And how long have you been after me to teach your advanced students?”
“So you’re offering me that to teach the Lainz boy?”
He grinned and picked up the atlstick from under her hand, ran a finger down the dart and from a sitting position flicked it across the room to slam into the outline of a war moa target. “I’d be a poor Surdeniliarch if I came to every negotiation empty handed.” The dart sublimated leaving the empty puncture in the target.
“That’s one reason we pay you so much to do those negotiations anyway. The kid has it in him to be a warmander?”
The kettle steamed in the quiet before Ilax answered, and Elemfias leaned over to pour the chama. “El, he’s Kyrus Talain’s boy.”
Her eyes flicked up to lock on his face and she set the kettle down, perhaps a bit too firmly. “You’re certain.”
“Yes.” Ilax didn’t go into details and she sat for a long moment looking at her knotted together fingers.
“That...” she drew a deep breath. “That could be trouble. Especially if he is anywhere near as strong as his father.”
“I don’t know that yet. I couldn’t get a reading on him.”
She nodded and picked up her cup. “You feel responsible. And you have a history of falling in love with Lainz.”
“He could have been my son, if...”
“If.” She pushed the other cup over to him. “It’s past. War’s over. Drink that, you’ve been neglecting your mandery for negotiations.”
“Yes, Zon,” he said and picked up the cup.
“Zon my ass,” she said. “You are as much as I am... Zon.” She held up her cup to him and he clicked the lip of his against hers.
“El...” his voice trailed away.
“I loved him too,” she said quietly. “Not like a bed partner, but I did love him too.” Ilax squeezed his eyes shut. “You’ve got to let him go, Ilax. It was ten years ago.”
He shook his head. “You don’t understand, El. He’s with me every day.”
“Of course. You never did give up anyone easily. So now you’ll teach his son. I may be too rough on him.”
“I trust you to be true to your art,” Ilax said quietly. “He’ll be staying with me.”
“I’ll expect the two of you tomorrow then. And the Unity has some business so you’re going to be busy again.”
“Aren’t we always? Thank you, El, and wish Stey and Oash a good night as well? I hope I didn’t wake them.”
“You’re welcome, I will. Ilax...” She hesitated, then shook her head, obviously giving up an old argument. “Good night.”