Section I: Episode 24
January 16, 2015
"Now," said the River, "we remember."
Then the High Cantor struck mighty Ar Nindar, and the entire amphitheater filled with bellsong. The column of light emanating from the Fateful Well convulsed, altered in its course, and rivulets cracked off and twisted around the bell, making it ring louder and louder, until no one assembled there could hold fast to their thoughts any longer. Galavar's mind emptied…
* * *
Testasian gasped softly and stopped in her tracks. Slowly, she lifted her right hand to the side of her head, where a faint headache pulled at her balance. Ahead of her the dirt road warbled and danced, and she was so dizzy she nearly tripped onto it. But that was only the half of it. She had been somewhere else a moment ago.
Ilib was there beside her, already stopped. Nothing could escape his keen awareness. A tremulous smile crossed his lips, and he tilted his head at her.
"What is this?"
It took Testasian a moment to find her voice, and when she did the words sounded strange.
"I'm feeling a little dizzy. Or, I was." The hand came down, forgotten at her side. "It's gone now."
"That was most sudden."
"There is no need. Any time that head of yours gets up to something it's not supposed to, I get nervous. Sometimes…"
But Testasian had lost interest in his words. She was looking around, and the sight of it amazed her. Rolling knolls of grass stretched out all around them, and a simple dirt road lay ahead. Beyond them and all around were great towers, their foundations obscured below the closely drawn horizon.
"You're not listening." Ilib was accustomed to being listened to.
"I was just looking around. It's beautiful."
Ilib darted his head skeptically around.
"Are you feeling sick?"
She raised her hand again to dispel the notion, but when she saw it she stopped dead, confused. Her hand was a dark brown, like lacquer. She lifted the left one and it was the same. An unaccountable excitement filled her, and she looked down at her body, her inquiry returned by a pair of breasts.
Ilib squinted at her.
There was a bench beside the road, made of simple boards of appen on a delicately wrought iron frame. By the time they had walked the few paces to it, Testasian's mind had cleared. The dizziness was gone. Everything felt fine.
"I don't know what came over me," she said.
"Perhaps the soup."
But he didn't know. He was fishing for an insight from her…and he wouldn't like it if she told him she knew. Ilib didn't like being anticipated. And if she agreed with him about the soup, he would discern her lie, and he wouldn't like that either. Nor did he like things to be out of his control, and Testasian would have been the first to say that for a moment she had gone completely mad. There was no accounting for it. So she settled on her best guess.
"I guess I got caught up in a daydream. I don't really know. But I'm fine now."
Ilib stared at her a bit longer, then let his gaze stroll across their surroundings more thoughtfully.
"It's a nice day. The Governor won't miss us if we're a little late."
These knolls of grass, they had a pedigree to them, all tended and carefully mowed…a small, leashed homage to the wildland, deep in the city. Testasian spotted a pair of dreums flittering through the air, playing together. On the ground across the trail, was a bushy noei rummaging around in the grass.
One of Ilib's deep-seated teachings was to be aware of everything, to always know one's surroundings, but as they sat together and Testasian focused on the splendid afternoon, more and more came into her view that had not been there before. The tiny shadows coming from everything. The delicate sounds in the far-off distance. The warmth of the late spring air, carried on a gentle breeze, with a faint tinge of smog. A wet air, fitting for a humid day, though there weren't any clouds to be seen.
A young mate walked by in the direction Testasian and Ilib had been going. A father presumably, with a young child riding on his shoulders.
"Do you think the Governor will agree to nominate you?"
Ilib's head turned down slightly, without looking at her.
"I don't think he will." Then he smiled. "But perhaps the Governor's better judgment will prevail."
"I think you've made a good case."
"Regardless, there's a reason I'm bringing you along today…as more than just my student and assistant. I want you to be seen. Your best form is required. So, if you're not feeling well—"
"I feel perfectly well, Toldeyo. Whatever happened is past, unless I'm about to die from an aneurism or a stroke, in which case my career is moot."
"It isn't wise to be flippant."
She tensed up, then sighed and relaxed.
"We can go to the doctor if you prefer."
"And what do you prefer?"
What she preferred was not to be dismissed again and again, but Ilib had the maddening quality not only of being her mentor and therefore her master, but also of being uncommonly wise. Whenever she stood up to him on principle, it was usually followed by the swift humiliation of being wrong. But, today, and increasingly nowadays, she didn't feel like acquiescing completely.
"I still prefer to see the Governor."
"Then we will go to him."
He rose and offered his hand to help her up from the bench. It was a hard master's gentle gesture. She accepted it, and they resumed their walk.
"I know you resent my short leash," he said, unbidden. "I know you aren't made to be a follower. I have always known. Soon, you will become your own master…but, I think I still have a few more lessons in me."
"It isn't any resentment toward you, Toldeyo—"
"Of course not. I wouldn't have such a petty student. It is simply your nature—and you must learn to tame it, from time to time. In civil society we must all wear a leash of sorts. And when the day comes when there is nobody else above you as an individual, you will have to hold your own leash, and wield it smartly."
Ahead of them, over the ridge, a quintet of people appeared on the dirt way. At first she didn't give it any notice, but in another couple of steps, Ilib stiffened, and all trace of their conversation was forgotten. He kept walking, though, so Testasian did too.
"Who are they?"
"The Coastalar Gang. I recognize the one in red and orange, though the name escapes. I think he bears a small grudge against me."
"Oh, I killed his master and humiliated him in front of his family."
She looked over at Ilib.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!