Thursday, May 31, 2012

35 - My Blood is Yours


Nadian smiled and raised the glass of nectar, slipping the straw neatly under his veil, holding the cloth down firmly in the relentless wind. He brushed an errant bee away from the edge of his glass, hissed quietly as she stung him. He grabbed the insect as she did and crushed her, shook the pain and the mess off his fingers with one motion, hiding the tiny corpse with one of his sandals. He turned, surveying the whole court, the knots of political friendships ebbing and flowing as one was insulted here, one did the insulting there.

Smiles and soft words were the coin here and everyone swarming the Emperor. His bee crown, with the jewelled drones quivering on wires close above his brow, shimmered as the worker bees from the Emperor Hive above their heads landed on him and tested the jewelled flowers for nectar.

The court was gathered together in the Hive room, in the highest loggia, immediately under the Sun Crystal, the carved stone support rising out of the copper dome on top of the column of city. As the highest room and with the walls open, folded away, it was perfectly placed for the highest fall should someone misstep. If you stumble in this dance, either physically or politically, Nadian thought it is a fast descent. Either way is suicide and the fall just as fatal.

The hall was placed perfectly to look up river, ‘waiting for the rains’. The river had burst its bed, flooding the canyon floor from wall to wall, from the melt water in the mountains. Above, the Emperor hive roared, the bees restless. The line of cloud pouring down from the heights had been held back longer than usual by the Light but, as every year, the Dark had finally prevailed and brought the water. It would likely be today because everyone’s silks flapped and cracked like flags in the wind, the air full of the smell of rain.

The Emperor’s zardukar sat, off to one side, not at his hand.  She was isolate, fully veiled with all three formals. It made her stand out, a strange distance around her chair.  Diryish had been allowing her to wear merely the face veil instead of the full honour covering, apparently to show all the young men of his court that he was still a potent enough man to keep such a woman happy. 

Now she was covered from head to foot, even though the full veil was so translucent as to be almost invisible. It was still a barrier. She sat, with head bowed, bearing the Emperor’s occasional disapproving glare.  What did she do to make him angry?  It can’t be proven or she wouldn’t still be sitting there, displayed.  She’d be gone.

“I call the Emir-al Shaidan Raghnall before me,” the old man said in a quiet, deadly voice.  The voice of an owner, deadly with the weight of controlling shares. Interesting. The zardukar’s head myrmidon. There had been no rumours of any kind of failure on his part.  But it looked and sounded as if he was about to make the long fall.

The young man, crisp and perfect in his blue-blacks, the screaming warbird picked out in gold on his chest, stood at perfect attention, though the court murmured around him in speculation.

“You, young man, have disappointed me.  I am upset with you and upset with your actions.  You have disgraced yourself and your family, you have disgraced your charge.”  Diryish leaned forward, the rage rolling off him enough to make people recoil another full step away from the Emir-al, toward the mist-veils and the deadly drop. 

Raghnall didn’t move but Nadian was close enough to see a drop of sweat roll down the side of his face from his sarband, down into his veil.  Will he order you to fling yourself off the lip to pay for whatever you have done?  I’d like to see that you pompous young upstart with your oh-so-honourable, upright, perfect self in ruins. Did you, mister perfect, just glance over at the zardukar sitting fully veiled?  Did she just twitch when Diryish called you up?  Oh ho, you both are less than perfect?

“The bees have told me.  The bees reported on you, boy.  You are lucky that the bees still like you, because I don’t really.  Not now.  Give me your collar.”  The young man bowed his head as if someone had smacked him in the neck and his hands shook when he raised the chain of command over his head, the golden insects on it shimmering, and went to both knees, his office upheld on his hands. The Vizier scuttled over, bug that he was, and snatched it so that His Radiance needn’t. 

“You are urgently needed on the Milar border.” Diryish leaned back into the citrine throne. “Since the war the border post there has been sadly neglected.” His eyes flashed over to linger on the veiled girl.  Nadian hid his smirk as the dashing young man had his hopes dashed.  She didn’t look up.

The Milar border was almost as bad a punishment as the high jump. The barbarians' country lay at the end of the earth and the lemurs were just as likely to gut any Lainz as look at them.  The action, the chances for promotion, were all in the other direction, south toward Trovi and beyond, not to the north where the stubborn lemur men had stopped human advancement.  Monkeys, all of them.  Bakons to be gutted or domesticated.

“We trust –“ Diryish’s voice dropped so far that Nadian had to strain to hear.  “That you are as ready to move as any loyal trouper of Lainz and be on your way with all speed.”

“I obey, Radiance!” Raghnall snapped, saluting.  “My blood is yours!”

“Yes, yes, get up and get out of my sight.  Your Amir is here to see you out.”  An older rasheem stepped up to take the once Emir-al by the elbow.  “Your orders are in his head.  Go.”  The old man’s eyes flashed over to the woman again.  All she did was tremble, but that was all that was necessary.  The whole court knew that the bees had found out they were thinking of betraying His Radiance.  The bees were everywhere.  The bees knew.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

34 - A Fart in a Sandstorm


“What do you mean, they tried to kill him!” Ilax was beside himself. “That’s too ugly even for the aftermath of a war!”

The other man, huddled so tight in the wool coat that he looked like a mound of fleeces, hands wrapped tight around a hot cup of buttered tea, shook his head. “Ilax, you couldn’t help it. The boys were only going to beat him I think and it got out of hand.”

“You’re joking! Oh, I am so sorry, inam. I will keep him safe! I swear.” Ilax leaned over and kissed his lover on the lips, set warm hands on either side of his face, warming chilled cheeks with his palms.

“I know, deovar. I know.”

**

The problem with the old ‘Cliner’s papers was that you could never be sure if what you were staring at was a character, a spot of mold or a decaying chunk of the ‘Cliner himself. 

Nadian set the glass over his latest find and considered.  He’d been shedding too much blood lately for little effect.   

Attacking the old Queen Bee just shattered his weapons and rebounded in wild and strange ways.  He’d had to debug himself a few times.  I am destined for greater things than being labouriously worked on by hacker monks of the Dark in one of those awful care hives.  I am going to be the Most Radiant One, if I have to kill every single one of Diryish’s line, male or female.

**

Kyrus came into the house, stamping his feet. Everyone all around was talking about how the weather had broken and how you could feel the winter was over for good now. All that he could tell was that everything was wetter now and that the snow clung to everything like it had an evil will.

He managed to get everything hung up without scattering the wet too much around the mud room and padded into the main room in his sock feet.


Ilaxindal sat by the hearth, teacup to one side, obviously waiting for him. Kyrus stopped, startled. What happened? What did I do? “Ummm. Naser?”

“Come on and get warm. We need to talk, lad.” It was something important, anyway. Kyrus settled down on the edge of the hearth opposite the fire, hands tucked between his knees. It was, at least, a warm place to be dressed down.

“Did I do something wrong, Naser?” He thought back over the past few days since the weather had settled. He was doing the extra classes, feeling even more clumsy than usual in them, fumble-fingered and stumble-footed, though everyone seemed to expect it. Can they see the rage in me? The ‘I’ll show you’? Probably.

“You did not bother to tell me that someone went far, far beyond harmless ragging of you and actually tried to kill you.” Ilax leaned forward. "It’s not acceptable.”

Kyrus blinked. “They didn’t manage.” His eyes flickered toward the bedrooms.

Ilax waved a hand. “I wouldn’t talk to you with the other children here. Don’t worry about that. It isn’t whether they managed or not. It’s that they tried.”

“I didn’t think reporting it would do anything.”

“Kyrus.” Ilax ran a hand over his face. “I’m aware of the Milari prejudices. But you are a guest in my house, a friend by now I hope, and I am one of your Zon. Did you think that I wouldn’t care if you got killed or injured? Have you been doing for yourself alone that long that you wouldn't think I would at least care?”

“Most of my life, ummm... Ilax. Ma was busy until some gold-veiler got her arrested. After she got out of the house of re-education she wasn’t the same. I looked after her.” He sighed. “Part of why it took me so long to earn my way here. I needed to buy her a place in a care hive. She’s safe there now.” I have to watch my tongue I’m starting to sound basin-rude there.

The surdeniliarch nodded thoughtfully. “I want you to tell me about what happened.”

“Um... Ilax—“ Kyrus interrupted himself, not sure how to ask. “—how did you find out?”

“I’d be a blind warmaster if I couldn’t.”

“That’s not an answer, Naser.”

“Ilax,” he corrected the boy. Now it was his turn to be quiet for a moment. The fire in its iron box crackled and the cat jumped up on Ilax’s lap to his absent petting. His uncanny eyes were locked on Kyus’s face. “I can’t tell you,” he said.

Kyrus shoved his bottom lip out stubbornly. “I have no idea who they were. I didn’t recognize anybody.” He sort of thought one of them might have been Verpiccaus,  smarting from having been bested in class before the attack.  I cannot be certain. “They belted me on the head and did a human chain from the safety line and tossed me off the end. My hood kept me from being knocked out, the coat kept me from being hurt that bad... just bruises. I’ve had worse from fights at home... and...”

He blundered to a stop. How much did he want to tell Ilax about his mysterious rescuer? How real was his memory of that? He wasn’t even sure there had been a rescuer. “And?” Ilax prompted him.

“I pulled up a stick out of the snow that gave me some support and crawled uphill.” He set his teeth on the mysterious or possibly imagined rescuer.

“I see.” Those eyes made Kyrus want to blurt out the truth but he held his lips shut. “How did you find your way back to the safety line?”


“I…” Kyrus mumbled. “I heard a Lainz whistle and someone who knows the deep dessert came with a line and dragged me to it. But they didn’t stay for me to thank them.”

Ilax didn’t ask for a repeat, just nodded and offered a bit more information in return for Kyrus opening up a little. “That was fortunate. A warrior I know. He told me he had to haul you out of the mess and you’re right. He’s shy. But has people’s safety at heart. I’ll pass on your thanks; and his censure. He said you should report such things. It would be right.  Being honourable does not mean being stupid.”

“Oh. Of course. Tell him… tell him thank you then… I offer the minor salaam for the advice and the major salaam for my life.”

“I will. And I’m going to have questions asked. Attempted murder is more serious in Milar it seems than in Lainz.”

“It depends on your status, Nas—Ilax.”

“What? In Lainz someone could have left your body in the desert and no one would have done anything?”

“No, no, Ilax. They would have just flung my body into the canyon and no one would have done anything.”

The man closed his eyes, muttering something else, pinching the bridge of his nose with one hand. Probably, “… and they think they’re civilized…” Kyrus thought to himself.

“I’m just not used to anyone giving a fart in a sandstorm about me, Ilax.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

33 - The Wetware Does Not Lie


Dear son,

I am all in pieces.  I have been dreaming.  Dreaming in the day and in the night.  I’m not sure which is day or night or if I am awake and imagining I am sleeping and dreaming or asleep and truly dreaming.  I cling onto Yasna's hands but they are there and then not there and then there again.

I see a dragon around you my son. Metal and glass and steel and gold, gold glitters in the depths of its head and it is wreathed in its toxic breath.  It doesn’t breathe fire, my son, but red sand.  Oh, be careful.  Be careful of that sand.  It turns up to down and makes your skin burn, turns your eyes to running muck in your head.  Be careful my son, that dragon you ride in a snowstorm means to kill you.

I hear it laughing and trying to send you to be with your father’s spirit.  I don’t know if this is today.  Or tomorrow.  Or never.  It could be yesterday.  I could have already happened.  It could be real. I see... my son I see things sliding over other things and they are both real.

Kyrus beware the bald war-bird.  I hear it scream ‘Dukir’ ‘Dukir’ and it seeks you through the snow, chasing you through the tsingy of the Milar mountains, to pull you up out of the dirt with its beak and fling you up to the sun.  The bees.  The bees.

Yasna.  Help me write a warning to my son.  There is a corpse-eater beetle in human size, ripping apart the bodies of our kin, flinging their skins and their bones into the canyon after he has sucked the life out of them.  He drinks the blood of our children.  He thrusts long talons into a heart here and a heart there, licking blood off and looking for more. He hides his bony palps behind a hive-lord’s black lace.  Our denay does not lie.  Our blood tells.  It tells the truth.

And the bees.  They buzz in my ears and drone warnings and warnings and tell me these visions.  They buzz and preen and the bees want you my son.  The queen is dying.  The queen is dying.  Royal larvae. 

I lie to the bees for you.  I lie to the bees to protect you.  I say you are dead, I say you are a girl, I say you never existed.

I lie to protect myself.  They will never find me.  I am not zardukar. I was but I am a kluge now.  I am a random number.  I am not a number.  I am Dag.

My name.  I am Dagdohva. Yasna has found the most recent bug.  It is an enormous corpse beetle.  Its will, its programming have injured me. I am full of bugginess.  I am Dag.

Oh my son, be careful.  There is only warning from the bees and they drone and drone and drone in my head.  I love you.

I lie to the bees for you.  I crack their programming.  I crack myself.  There are bad operating instructions fubar, cheap, badly done in the wetware.

Wet.  During the rains but you are in Milar.  It is always the wet and I cough my lungs out my mouth, purging visions.  I see the boy you described, the brown-haired boy climbing and falling in the tsingy and getting his back slashed to ribbons.

I see that girl, the naked girl with the naked face.  She wears a veil sometimes.  She is good for you my son.  Listen to her.  

The surdeniliarch takes his white wand and pierces your heart but doesn’t kill you.  He has a secret joy.  He is a secret.  I see a gravestone but the spirit in it is wrong.  A death that is not a death.  A dead man wears your face. A hole in the mountain.  A falling mountain.  I see a white ferret dancing on your head.

I love you my son who is not dead but a girl but a runaway, lost, never born, dead.  I love my Kyrus.  Dream in a solid line my son.  The wetware does not lie.

Your loving mother,
Dagdohva

32 - Frobbing for Money


When Kyrus emerged from the kids’ room, scrubbed clean and dry, Ilax waited for him at the kitchen table.  In front of him was a white ceramic tray with a pile of glass and metal pieces on one side and three small heaps of salt.  “The weather is very wild for this late in the spring,” Ilax said.  “It’s actually warmer air pouring in.”

“So things should start melting soon?”  Kyrus settled onto the bench across the table.  Nothing untoward happened.  Nothing at all. 

 “It should.  Once we get the strong south wind it will blow all the cold and much of the water away.”

Kyrus nodded, looking down at the mixed fragments on the table.  There were bits of wire, tiny pieces of glass, longer, thinner strands of what looked like actual gold wire.  There was a cluster of glass beads in various colours.  On a plate next to the bits were three piles of coloured sand; a blue-green copper sand, a white salt sand, and the dark pink of toxic sand.  “What’s this?”

“It’s a mandery testing kit,” Ilax said quietly.  “I understand you are reticent about all types of mandery, but I will not be your teacher if you do not attempt this.”

Kyrus froze in the act of pushing himself back away from the table.  “You won’t?”

“No.  Mandery is part of being a warrior.  Even in Lainz I’m certain it is a secret of your war teachers.  Actually, mandery is also part of being a zardukar.  I’m sorry to tell you lad, but I think your mother’s trouble might be her mandery gone wrong.”

“Oh.”  I’m not going to tell him or anyone else about the knives flying around the room when she got sick. People got taken up to the Sunrise Loggia and the Emperor... His Radiance himself would take an interest in you.  Whole families would be moved away if someone where found to have mandery.  It wasn’t necessarily bad... just dangerous.  The Old Queen Bee had sometimes stung people to death, saying that the unlicensed manders were a threat to Him.

Mandery itself was dangerous.  People went crazy sometimes.  Sometimes strange and awful things would happen, especially with the untrained, the unlicensed, those cracked while trying to frob. I don’t want to think that my ma was frobbing anything. 

“Sit down, Kyrus, please.  I am not going to try and let you do any kind of iteration without supervision and I am no owner, nor a suit to put you in a cube.”

Kyrus sank down on the bench again, eyeing the bits and pieces and then looking at Ilax.  “This is really part of war training?”

The Surdeniliarch nodded solemnly. “I swear on my ancestors denay.”  They sat as Kyrus thought about it. 

“All right.”  The boy laid both hands on either side of the tray with the kit in it.  “What do I do?”

Ilax sat back formally and folded his hands.  “First of all, I swear I will not attempt to influence your test.  The first thing I need you to do is focus on the metallic pieces and the glass.”

Kyrus took a deep breath and stared at what looked like random trash.

“Next, I want you to think of how you could manipulate the toxic salts.  You cannot touch them without danger.  You need to move the salts from one side of the tray to the other.  In order.  Blue. White. Red.  You may close your eyes.”

Ilax watched as Kyrus closed his eyes.  For a moment nothing happened.  Salt grains tumbled from the piles but not many and the motion stopped with a spray of blue, white and red spread across the white tray.

Kyrus opened his eyes and sighed.  “There, see?  I could have just been breathing hard to move the salt like that.”

“That’s all right.  I’d like you to try again.  This time think of the machine bits you have, the metals, the glass.  You see each tiny scrap of glass has a metal rim.  Try again, please.”

The boy looked mulish and stuck out his lower lip, but then folded his arms and closed his eyes again.  This time the metal pieces stirred.

A wire rose out of the pile and stood.  A second and a third piece joined the first.  Six wires.  A gold metal spool spun in place and an openwork spiral clicked into place on the legs, then the gold wire spiralled down to form a narrow, elegant needle body.

Sweat stood out on Kyrus’s upper lip.  Why is it so hard to think of... what I want?  It's like doing more and more pushups or running up that enDarkened valley one more time... Elegant solution.  If it is kluged it will be ugly.  It may work... What may work?  I have this picture in my head.

 The glass bits shimmered out of the pile, clinking and settling into place, a blue-green glass bead rose to become the head, the gold flecks in that head shining like thousands of small eyes.  Metal bits climbed the body to brace the wings and the metal and glass dragonfly buzzed its wings once, twice.

The head turned one way, then the other and the wings tilted to fan the salt across the tray in a tiny whirr. 

Blue.
White.
Red.

Kyrus was breathing hard and the red pile of salt was less a pile and more a drift across the tray, though still separate from the other colours.  Every grain was with its own kind, a sea of white porcelain surrounding each.

Three long breaths and the metal dragonfly fell into its component pieces where it stood.  It hadn’t been able to fly. It could only stand and move wings and head.

Ilax called “Kyrus!” Then he reached forward and touched Kyrus between the eyes.  The boy started and his eyes flew open to see the loose bits on the tray before him.

“Oh.  It didn’t work.  Good.  I don’t want to be a mander.  It makes people sick.  It gets people killed.”  He sounded much younger than his years.  He didn’t seem to see that the mounds of salt had all been moved.  His skin was wet and his hands shook as he laid them on the table once more.  “May I have some buttered tea please?”

“Of course, Kyrus,” Ilax had the tea-pot to hand and set the butter and the chutneys out.  “You need to drink this as well.”  He set a glass of thick creamy fluid next to the tea-cup.  “It will make you feel better.  You did very well for a first exercise.  Most don’t manage as much as you have.”

“Really?”

“Really.”  Ilax held his hand over the red sand and it seemed to scramble of its own will into the glass vial he held at the edge of the tray as Kyrus watched, wide eyed.

“Do you think I might be able to do that one day?”

“I’m certain of it.  Just from what I’ve seen today.  I’m a middling ceemander.  Your father was a ceemander as well, a high Cee I'm thinking.”

“Oh.” Kyrus sipped his tea, shaking inside and out.  It was almost too much to bear.  A near death experience and then this.  Light and Dark... I may be a mander like my father, but that means ma cracked.  She must have been frobbing for money.

Do I blame my dead father for that?  Or her?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

31 - In the Shake of a War Bird's Tail


Kyrus didn’t leave go of the rope until he was at the correct row and ducked into the tunnel of snow to the door.  He was used to the weather enough now that he was almost hot by the time he hung his scarf up on his hook and pulled the liners out of his boots.

The inside of his coat was soaked. He had a sore spot on the back of his head. It’s not... it wasn’t my war.  My father... he was an honourable warrior but... they wanted to kill me.  Murder.  Like they were Lainz.  I’ve been here long enough now that I’m startled.  It’s the first time I’ve encountered Milari thugs.

He sat down and checked to find out if he had any strains or sprains but his heavy coat and leggings had saved him both from the beating and his own fighting back.   The worst he felt physically was the wet, the parts that were chaffing.  I’m... He took a deep breath.  I’m a black staff, not a white staff.  I’ve gotten into knife and rock fights.  Set up toxic sand traps for other gangs.  I’ve never been part of trying to beat someone to death and leave them out for the sun and the wind.  These oh so generous, perfect Milari have a nasty streak in them.

“Kyrus?”  It was Haraklez peeking in from the main room.   

“Is that you back?”

“Yes.  I’m a little late, sorry.”

“Weather's bad. No problem.  My papa would like to talk to you, if you have a moment.”

“Sure.”  He got to his feet, creaking.  “Let me just get some dry clothes on.  The snow out there is brutal.” I’m not going to scream like a bakon gutted.  They tried to kill me.  They didn’t succeed.  I think Verp was one of them and isn’t his nose going to be smashed flat by that particular change in vector?  I’ll walk into school tomorrow acting like nothing at all happened.  Dark deny them.

“You can use the kid’s room to change.  They’re out at a friends place.” She leaned in and put a bundle of dry clothes for him on the end of the bench.

“Certainly.  I’ll be out in the shake of a war bird’s tail.”

_____________

I'm posting short tonight because I've been driving all day.  The Mitsubishi... on the hook has a dead battery and is slightly loose on the trailer.

I'm driving my husband home... I may not post tomorrow. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

30 - Our Regards to Your Father


Kyrus nodded to Brakayus as he went into the back, rolling up his sleeves as he went. In one way it was a good thing he didn’t know what it was to be a noble because most nobles he knew of were averse to work, especially work seen as menial. 

If there was one thing he knew how to do it was work. The old man had taught him many things but the most important thing was how valuable any kind of honest work was. And how rare a willing pair of hands was. Someone working sullen could make any job a misery.

By being in among the first to clean up, Kyrus could actually choose to either wash or dry and since he found washing somewhat soothing – especially since he didn’t have to carry the wash water -- he settled at the basins dug out of the wall.

The first time, he’d found the chore immensely easier than he’d expected since they had more of the hot water pipes, opened at the simple turn of a hand wheel, and a basin that could be emptied of dirty water by opening a drain below. Since most of Lainz life seemed to be hauling either rocks or water he was enchanted with how easy this was.

It also let him listen. He could keep his mouth shut and even the gossip about people he didn’t know improved his Milari, and he quite liked the singing, though he didn’t try to join in. His voice had broken a while ago and hadn’t yet settled into one range though he thought he might be a baritone when he did.

With half a dozen people bustling around the steamy kitchen, the scent of soap overtaking the smell of cooking, the big job was finished in a short enough time that they could all sit for a moment and try the new sweet Brak had come up with, just for his helpers, despite the worsening weather. After all, no one would have to let go any of the lines to get into a tunnel and home.

Afterwards, he shrugged into his coat, wrapping his scarf tight around his face, his tongue still working at the sticky maple sweetness on one of his teeth. The storm outside was worse than predicted and Kyrus clamped both hands around the color-coded line by the door. The wind howled in, fighting against him as he pulled it shut behind him, the evening already totally black, pummeling snow like a fist in the face.

The howling dark grabbed him as his boots dug into it and he put his head down, struggling to keep his breath from being dragged out of him. When he lost his footing he didn’t realize at first that he’d been tripped. He couldn’t see, couldn’t catch his breath and then a fist sank into his stomach, once, twice. As he struggled, something, perhaps an elbow hit him in the face and he saw stars.

“Hey, blood drinker!” It was an attenuated whisper against the scream of the wind. “We thought we’d give you a good Milari welcome!”

He tried to fight back, but anything he’d learned in the streets of Lainz was all but useless in the deep snow and blinding blizzard and he’d only been at the school here for a few weeks. He couldn’t even stop them prying his hands off the line.

He felt the blow to his head that was supposed to knock him unconscious, muffled by heavy mittens. It was hard enough to knock him to his knees. Someone grabbed him by the back of his coat and dragged him, hurling him away from the safety of the lines, out onto the hillside, far more than arm’s length away from shelter.

“Give our regards to your father, Ass. Maybe in your heaven he needs one to ride on!” A broken, torn gust of laughter and they left him.

They’d formed a chain, he realized, and once they’d hauled him away from safety, they’d walked their fellow in, hand to hand, back to the security of the line, leaving him alone to die on the mountain.

He spat to clear the snow out of his mouth; icy crystal rammed into it hard enough that the clinging weight had forced its way past both the scarf and veil, leaving icy tracks trailing down his neck.

It was completely dark. White actually. The snow blew sideways in a continuous roar that made every direction the same. His heart leapt to a gallop and he began to hyperventilate, before he clamped down hard on his reactions.

I can’t blindly run off a cliff. There are several out this way as I recall. I can’t panic. Assholes. If I’m an Ass they are the Holes. His rage cleared away his rising panic and self-disgust. He’d take time for all that later, when he was safe.

He lay spread out on the snow and pulled his limbs in, slowly, staying low, trying to follow the track his attackers had left dragging him out here. The snow and wind had already mostly filled it in, or scoured it away. He wasn’t sure of the hill. He couldn’t even tell the slope he was on it was so wild. Dark take them. They aren’t going to kill me like they killed him. It was as though the wind battered on him, trying to fight him, to beat him to the ground. I refuse to give up and die.

His questing hands ran painfully into something in the snow and he felt it, trying to figure out if it were a wall, but it was only a stick. His hands closed on it convulsively and he pulled it free, finding that it came loose much more easily than it should have, but it gave him something to lean on, something to cling to, as he struggled back toward where he thought the safety line was.

The snow blew from all directions hammering him as if it wanted him on his knees, as if it had a living will to kill him, as malevolent as the Milar who had dragged him out here. 

He couldn’t feel his hands and his feet were blocks of ice. He was disoriented and turned slowly in place, trying to figure out where safety lay. I’m cold. It was getting hard to think.
There! He thought he caught a glimpse of light off to the left and staggered a step or two in that direction before tripping again and sprawling anew. In the moment or two that he lay, trying to get his breath back, the snow on him was already as deep as his thumb joint. He struggled back up, stamping his feet.

I could be staggering in circles and I’d die never knowing it. An ululating whistle out of the darkness made him stop and listen.

It was the whistle a Deep desert nomad sent out into the sandstorm, unmistakable and something only a Lainz soldier would now. It must be Brak. He’s the only other Lainz in this town. But… Brakayus had been a city boy, just like Kyrus. Where had he learned the Deep signals? Kyrus shook off the idea and whistled back; a city whistle, not as carrying, but better than a shout in this wind.

The snowstorm was very like a sandstorm but whereas one flayed your bones with sand, scrubbing life away with your skin, the snow used cold as well as ice to separate you from your life. Both used knife-edge flaying crystals until every inch of skin, covered or not, stung.

A figure loomed out of the dark and almost fell over Kyrus. The man was tall, taller than most Milari and grabbed Kyrus around the shoulders as if to shake him loose. A voice shouted in his ear, in Lainz. “Follow me, boy!”

A line trailed behind Kyrus’s savior, as light as a spider thread but even as it was wrenched around by the storm it didn’t break. The man grabbed his coat and pulled him along it. A dozen steps and Kyrus’s hand locked around the safety line at the right tunnel. He staggered in, out of the direct force of the wind and leaned against the snow wall, still dragging the stick that had helped him out of the snow in the first place.

He turned to thank his rescuer and found that he stood absolutely alone. There was no sign of anyone else. No rescue line. No footprints in the snow. Nothing.

“Hello?” He squinted out into the wild blizzard but could see nothing but a moving whiteness. He even stepped out along the safety line, just one step, trying to find who had saved him and was forced to retreat.

He yanked his mitten off, thrust ice-cold fingers up to his mouth, whistling into the gale and thought he heard a faint echo, out on the mountain, but wasn’t sure. It was so faint he convinced himself that it was only the roar of the storm.

_____________

I'm in Tulsa at the moment helping pack up the whole house for the move...  Monday morning the truck arrives and Monday afternoon we're out.  

Monday is a Canadian holiday so I'll not be posting.  Have a good weekend! 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

29 - Brakayus' Ceekit


Honey’s was a whiff of home to Kyrus, especially after the Zon’s oderous little office. It was one of the eight ceekits, in Viltaria and the only one set up like a Lainz hostel.  The d├ęcor was an odd mix of Milar and Lainz, because the kitchen master was one of the few expatriate Lainz who’d stayed after the last war.

It was also the one place in Milar that Kyrus wasn’t the only one wearing a face veil. It was odd that after the war all things Lainz were fashionable among some of the Milari.   

Even though it was peculiar to see pale foreheads and brows over an intermediate scholar’s or warrior’s veil, it was still more comfortable than bare face. Brakayus, the Lainz ceekit runner had been wounded on the mountain below the city.   

He’d been treated by a Milar Fixer and because of it had kept both his hands. If he’d been seen by a Lainz physicus he would have lost both of them. After the war was over he’d stayed.

He’d married a Milar girl and settled into the ceekit as though he’d been born there. Since the Eighth Sub Quarter was not serving this night, the people it would normally feed were coming either to Seventh or First and the hall was crammed full of people who normally didn’t care to play at being Lainz.  There were a lot of bare faces tonight though Brak had rental face veils under the counter. No one ever wanted the single loaner because it was perceived as being never washed enough.

Not that people at home actually ate with veils on, unless it was the special meal of Hard Rolls that could be neatly slipped under the cloth without leaving sauce behind on the fabric.

Kyrus tucked hiself into the stone niche that offered privacy for eating messier things, like the moa stew on offer tonight -- they’d chalked up that it would be from the new meat flocks.

It was amazing how easily the gigantic birds had adapted from the Lainz deserts to Trovian salt marshes and Milari mountains out of tsingy and were easy feeders as goats. In fact it was becoming an ongoing feud between the goat herders and moa herders because the moa couldn’t be taken into the same fields without going up the rocks after the goats themselves, preferring meat over grazing.

By the service counter where people lined up, a Raven named Moa had his perch where he whistled and insulted people in a mix of Milari and Lainz.

The other regular animal staff were a couple of half-wild Milar cats each about twenty five or thirty pounds who Brakayus had persuaded to move in and kept the First considerably more clear of vermin than the terriers in the other kitchens.

It was a good attempt at a Lainz room, even though it was dug into the mountain, much the same way the School was.  Long, communal tables filled the central space, but the rock would never be mistaken for Lainz itself. It was too dark, for one, even with lamps and Mander’s lights.

Those lights, glowing soft gold made him uncomfortable. He couldn’t get used to all the magic everywhere since at home the common belief was that the Light and the Dark had removed that talent from the Empire.  The odd lights were at least hidden behind translucent stone shades.

He took his veil off, tucking it into the appropriate pocket before addressing the moa. It still took time for him to wrestle with the tined spoons the Milari used instead of just rolling everything into a neat, handy roll of bread.

Werfas sat down with a clatter and a thunk as his bowl hit the table. Kyrus was used to this by now and didn’t flinch. The Milar boy was always giving people the impression he was clumsy. He took off his own veil and dug into the stew with gusto.

“Tonight we’re not plague sufferers.” He said with his mouth full, nodding around at the lack of gap around their booth.

Kyrus snorted. “It’s the lack of space to eat, not any growing tolerance of me.”

Werfas shrugged. “I ordered us both a beer rather than watch you drink buttered tea again.”

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“I know, but I promised my da I’d not drink by myself.” He said this so deadpan, so straightly, that for a long second 
Kyrus took him seriously.

“Wha… Idiot.” The laughter they shared was the half smothered, self-conscious laugh of young men everywhere, from the Freshet to the Barrens.

Neither boy noticed a half dozen young men at a near table were too casually watching them, or pretending not to watch them.

When the beer arrived, Haraklez did as well, sliding in to sit beside Werfas. Her veil was almost translucent and Kyrus found himself watching the half-shadow of her upper lip, even as he scrambled to put his own veil on, though he hadn’t finished eating.

“What do you need, lady?” He struggled to keep the annoyance out of his voice. I want to finish eating my dinner, frilly, he thought resentfully. They hadn’t spoken much, even though he was living at her da’s house.  Mostly ‘good morning’ ‘good evening’ and ‘please pass the salt’.

“I don’t need anything, I came to say hello to a couple of my classmates. Don’t stop eating for my sake. Brakayus’s cooking is too good, especially this time of year.” She pulled her veil off and Kyrus realized she’d brought cup and bowl with her.

“Are you doing this to annoy me?” he said quietly.

She put her tine down and looked at him. “No, Kyrus. You know that we eat together, men and women, and I thought you needed all the friends you could get while you were here. And no. My father didn’t put me up to this. I can occasionally think for myself. Anything else?”

Kyrus could feel himself flushing, even though it didn’t show. He found himself looking over her head at a whorl in the rock, down at the white ceramic bowls, at his half-empty glass, anywhere but at her. Moa yelled “Praise the Dark!” from his perch before tossing his water-cup over.

“Ah, no. My apologies, H-Haraklez.” He barely stumbled on her name, managing to pick up his glass and draining the rest of it. He pulled his veil off again and refused to look up from his bowl, though he could almost feel Werfas trying not to laugh.

“Good. You know, when I started, the Zon tapped me for extra classes for a while too,” she said.

He looked up, startled. “Really?” He’d thought that she was so good that she’d never need extra help.

“Really. If you have the extra classes it can get a bit weird if you’re in them long enough. I was in for six months.”

“Weird? Oh.” Kyrus shoved a couple of beans around the bottom of his bowl, looking down again. As if I needed any more strangeness. He didn’t really mind that she’d shoved in. She was right. He needed as many friends as possible here – as many as were willing to be his friends.

“As if our ways aren’t bizarre enough to our own personal Bee Eater,” Werfas broke in.

“Yeah, Mutton face,” she retorted and they traded a few more insults back and forth with the comfortable familiarity of old friends while Kyrus finished his bowl, glad to be on the edge of it.

For the first time in years he let himself relaxed somewhat, feeling comfortable enough with the two at his table, as long as he didn’t think of one of them as female at all. He finished his beer and put his veil back on, feeling the comforting press of the cloth over his lips. Moa stretched and flapped before shrieking and then letting loose a string of Lainz curses that had Kyrus glancing quickly over at Haraklez to see if she were offended. She wasn’t paying attention.

Brakayus himself came out of the kitchen and hit the iron bar that served as his bell. “Everyone tapped to do dishes had best come now. We’re closing early, snow’s getting bad. Everyone use the storm lines when you leave.”

Kyrus stood up. “I’m on dishes tonight. I’ll see you later, Haraklez.”

“And I’ll whip your butt tomorrow in class,” Werfas grinned.

The youths at the next table didn’t stir, but sat, waiting, while most everyone else filed out to get their coats and make their way home along the snow-lines strung from house to house to tunnel. If the weather got very bad you never wanted to lose your grip on those, especially at night. Ilaxindal had explained that people had frozen to death an arm’s length away from safety.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

28 - As Safe as Lies Can Make You


Mariush came into the bedchamber surrounded by attendants, shedding her veils into their hands gratefully, pulling the pins out of her hair. Diryish, sitting out on the honeycomb balcony, watched quietly through the screen as her formal armour was removed. When her hair was loose and being brushed, he cleared his throat quietly and everyone jumped, stopped where they were.

He rose, careful of his joints, very well aware that it translated as a severe dignity rather than pain. One never showed pain. He walked to the edge of the stone curtain, raised his hand to lean on it. They salaamed, Mariush sliding off her padded bench to do so, ever graceful. They are like a field of young flowers bowing for the wind’s touch.

“You may all be dismissed,” he said quietly. “Thank you for your diligent service... except you Mariush. You stay, if you please.”

It was like a minor dust devil, the rustle and bustle of people gathering themselves and things and taking themselves off. Mariush seated on her bench, kept her blue eyes on him. “Come out to the balcony with me, my dear,” He said as the last of her attendants salaamed their way out.

“Radiance.” She glided past him, her silks rustling. Outside the balcony was full of the hum of bees. The walls were honeycombed with their wax, the whole balcony carefully tended so that chairs and tables could be placed without their occupants slipping on honey or being dripped upon. 

Diryish sat down again and held out his hand for the half-dozen bees to settle upon it, tongues testing his skin for sweet and finding only salt and meat. They buzzed up and over to the lush flowers growing along the forward edge, suspended over the city and then, below that, thousands of feet to canyon floor.

“It’s just Diryish when no one else can hear. Have you had tea yet?”

“No, my Zukardaro.

She is hiding it well. It is such a shame she feels she must hide it from me. She is almost at the point where it would be difficult to hide her morning sickness. At my age I will be a father again. And I must not let on to her that I know who the father really is. For my child’s sake. I am very pleased at her choice of lover though. A good warrior, a nice young man who already loves her. We will see if he is faithful to her through her trials. It will be a good test of him.

There is an assassin. Dukir has not managed to find out who the murderous drone is, yet, so I must pretend to all the world that my new life, my new child, is not mine, to keep that tiny spark of life protected.

“Emir-al Shiadan is the father of the babe you carry?” He made his voice soft as if he were angry, as if he were disappointed.

She gasped slightly and went to her knees before him. 

“Diryish... he told me he would confess... I... I’m sorry. I’m so sorry...”

He cut her off and, taking her hand, urged her up onto the bench beside him, laid a finger over her lips. “Shh.” He sighed heavily, and looked up and into the yellow-gold cavern of the balcony, the hive, humming. “Raghnall told me, yes.  The bees have also told me you were carrying.” Not entirely a lie. Bees sit differently on a pregnant woman.

“It is not fair that you are so young and I so old. A young woman has more needs than an old man can fulfil.” I remember my grandfather sounding that fatuous. Was he lying to me the same way? Well, so long as she believes me, I will bear sounding the pompous, generous old fart. “I forgive you, my dear. I would be sorry to lose one of my best officers if I am forced to discover him.  The two of you must be very discrete.”

She was no longer trying to talk, merely looking at her lap, twisting the silks in her fingers. I am so glad her Mother confirmed to me what I thought. This way I have a chance to protect her and the babe both. She nodded slightly, the round circles of tears starting to fall onto the sky-coloured cloth in her hands and then she found her voice. “I will, Zardukaro...”

“I think not. Not any longer, Mariush. I shall be sleeping alone from now on.” I already miss her warmth. “But you are still mine and I will not send you back to your Mother in disgrace. As far as the court will know, I have grown tired of you so close to me. It is best that no one get the idea that the child you carry is mine. I wish I could. I would lie, my dear and take that child as mine, if I could offer it the protection of my will and my arm, but I am too old.”

“Diryish. You could protect me. I could protect the child...”

“From our nest of Emperor would-bees? From one of my feather-spitter Generals? Say... Arbunazh holding Trovia for us? He’s a sand-snake with his nestlings all around me so I must be careful I not step on any of them. My councillor Nadian or Billiph, his brother? Both are powerful men and would be happy to ‘help’, should I fail. Neither of them is what I would call good hive leaders. They sting too many people around them.” He laid a hand on her peach-smooth cheek. “Or Zurchan, my loyal vizier? He’d poison me in a heartbeat if he were a hair smarter than my protections. But I watch him carefully. As you will need to, now, if you are not already.”

Her cheek was wet with tears and he dried some of them away with his thumb. The easy tears of the young, when everything is either total joy or total despair. It takes age to realize that life is easier than that and that there is time for things to happen. The young always feel so... immediate, seizing all life’s emotions now and in quantity, almost not caring if it is good or bad so long as there is more of it, somehow fearful that if things grow less intense they will not recognize their own lives, their own selves.

All around them the hive hummed and the bees singing out their bounty, bee’s wings wafting warm air over the two people sitting in their midst. A dozen or two delicate sister bees flew down and searched the woman’s hair, so like some of the desert flowers, shining gold and hot under the furnace of sun, and the man’s smooth brown head, with no hair at all.

I am sure you can, my dear, and should I die in the next year, you will have to. For even though I set you aside and clandestinely shame you... there will always be those who believe the child you carry is mine.” Myself included. “And you are now a queen-cell in the hive. Tended, cared-for, supported... and if another queen rises before you are ready... stung to death in your golden prison.” He brushed a bee gently away from her face and it buzzed up. All of the delicate sisters buzzing on them flew up and for a moment they were crowned with bees. Then they were bare again.

He drew her closer and kissed her. She sobbed then, but held her words. Good for you, my dear, don’t be so foolish to blurt out the truth, just to assuage my sorrow. Hold hard to that secret, even if it hurts me. Even if you think you are hurting me. I love you for it. 

“I am too old a man to love you properly, Mariush. But I am still Emperor and we will see you as safe as lies can make you; you and the child both.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

27 - Keep Your Mouth Shut


The vizier admitted Emir-al Raghnall to His Radiance’s private office and closed the door softly behind him.  Diryish raised his eyes to the young man, standing with his uniform perfect, his hands clenched together at the small of his back, eyes locked on some point on the wall above and behind the desk.  “Emir-al, as you were.  You requested an audience?  Is there a problem with my beloved and beautiful zardukar?

“No problem, Your Radiance.”  His ‘as you were’ was about as casual as a war-bird slash.  Ah, me.  Virtuous young men.  Or almost virtuous.  Once, a hundred years ago, I would have slaughtered him where he stood for stealing Mariush’s attention from me.  As if her love were somehow lessened or diminished.

“But it is about my zardukar,” he said, gently.  “You are her Emir-al of Myrmidons and you would not be speaking to me if it did not concern her."  He steepled his fingers in front of his veil.  "You served with distinction when we took the salt marshes, and before that graduated from Homing Point.  Your ability running your myrmidons is exemplary and you took personal injury last year, saving Mariush from that freak accident.”   

The war-bird should never have been able to break its beak hinges, much less tear its hood.  It leapt the barriers and slaughtered its way through the crowd. Diryish paused.  That was one of the ‘not so freak’ accidents that had threatened him and his family. Dukir's people were investigating.

“I am honoured that His Radiance knows my record so well.”  The young man actually dropped his eyes to look directly at Diryish.  He looked saddened and a bit defiant.

I should just put you out of your misery, boy, but I will see what metal you are made of.  Whether your salt is good or just toxic.

The Emperor said nothing, laid his hands on the desk and waited quietly, his expression half hidden behind his veil.  The bees in the Great Hive murmured from outside and a flight of leaf-cutters, bright turquoise sparks, soared in and deposited their burdens in individual glasses ranged along the edge of Diryish’s desk before swirling around Shiadan’s head and out the window.

“I have a...” he swallowed, suddenly in a sweat, all along his sarband and obvious as the motion of his veil changed, clinging to the skin underneath.  “... a confession to make.”

“Go on.”

“I... Her Resplendences’ zardukar... I... she... I...” He seized hold of himself.  “I must report to you, Sire, that I have failed in my duty.”

“Failed in your duty?  Is Mariush injured?” 

He went down on one knee and made the greater salaam, left his head bent.  “I can no longer protect her from myself, Oh Radiance.”

Diryish’s mouth twitched.  He raised one hand to his veil. Oh, Home Star.  Light and Dark above, was I ever that... dramatic?  He let his air out in a sigh rather than a snort.  I was.  Perhaps everyone is.  “You are being obscure, Emir-al.  I prefer forthrightness in my myrmidons.  How is she in danger from you?”  Then he had pity on the lad, cutting through all the prevarications he might come up with.  “Have you made love to her?”

His head jerked up in shock.  “Yes.” He closed his eyes.  “Radiance... she wishes to give you a Siwion.”

“Before I die, yes.”  The arrogance of youth, thinking I need help that way.  He actually chuckled.

“She... asked me, Radiance... I... have been attracted to her for months and I said... I... agreed... but only if I confessed to you.”

“So complicated.  Did either of you ever think I might be offended by the implication I couldn’t engender my own Siwion?”  He waved him silent.  “It’s not a matter of sex any longer, Shiadan Raghnall.  It’s a matter of Empire.  I understand what you are doing.  I understand your impulse and I appreciate the honour you show her and you show me.”

“If she is pregnant...”  How many times do the children think it takes?  Sometimes it can take more than a year for sex to lead to progeny!  Especially in Lainz. You think you cuckold me with my own child.  “I am going to be in the position of protecting her, and the child from the worst pack of rapacious hive lords that Lainz has ever had the misfortune to aquire.  I believe we were better off when mandery and clinery flourished in the Empire.  It gave these idiots something meaningful to do!”

Diryish got up, carefully, physically slow but his words flowed much faster.  “This year.  This year we finally have a source of paper for a public press.  This year.  This year we acquired the materials necessary for the flood of ink required for that!”

Shiadan shook his head, confused, what had this to do with his revelation? His confession?

The Emperor sighed, wheeled around.  “Shiadan.  Be discrete.  There will be rumours spread about Mariush’s ‘infidelity’ and I will find a suitably awful post to send you off to, as if I suspected you.  Until then... until your love affair will be useful to me, be discrete.”

There was silence in the office except for another flight of bees.  This time they circled the Emir-al not just the once but several times, landing on his sarband and his clothing.  He didn’t flinch as one stung his hand.  “Radiance... I’m sorry; and I am not sorry.  Mariush is more beautiful than I dreamed and I... I’m sorry I don’t understand what a... a... press has to do with us.”

Diryish smiled.  “It is complex.  I have so many things that depend on my life, my plans... my health, and now you two youngsters present me... or will present me... with the most vulnerable sort of Heir.  I have an unknown assassin lurking in the sand, Raghnall.”

That brought him to his feet.  “An assassin?” His hand clutched for the sword that wasn’t in its usual spot on his belt as if he would immediately rush out to slaughter any danger to his Mariush.

“Good.  You, young man, are going to have to be one of the firmest lines of defense Mariush has.  I will defend her as best I can and when I cannot defend her any longer, you had better be there.  You.  You will defend each other and the child after I am gone."

Shiadan nodded firmly, a warrior's move.  If anything it tightened his resolve.  "Right now... know that there will be rumours, lies and untruths designed to keep her and you and the child all safe.  Emir-al.  Have your love affair with her.  Keep it quiet and keep your mouth shut no matter what anyone says.”

“I obey, Radiance!”

He was expecting me to punish him.  Light and Dark may I be more generous than that.  May I have learned better over my life.  “Emir-al.  I also forgive you.  Keep your mouth shut about that too.  Dismiss.”