I went to the healer daily for the next week. A Skertah alchemist from Lonireil, he had a thin face and sandy hair and fretted and coughed incessantly. Since he spoke no Serehvan, I strained my mind to follow his instructions. He expressed pus from the wound and applied noxious, stinging concoctions. I did everything he said to heal quickly. I was desperate to return to training, but the arrow wound through my hip would hinder me till almost the end of winter.
Uruverres got our assignment – we were to watch over Yamurik. He and a few other landowners, those spared elsewhere by Lonireil and brought to Onappa-ka, were to oversee the growing and shipping of poppy and poppy tears, as they’d always done. I asked for assignment in Yamurik’s household with a malicious glee.
The first day of my assignment was two days after my promotion. I left the cane behind, gritting my teeth and glaring while I walked, forcing myself to move without sign of pain. Inside, I wanted to cry out at every step; the pain spidered through my insides, a great knifing twist that resolved into tingling ice, cracking and snapping, only to repeat with the next step.
I led several members of the Hand over: Estevo, The Tash, Ahdan, Ecena, a few others. We came to the gates of Yamurik’s compound, a cluster of long barns surrounded by a tall plank fence on the west side of Onappa-ka, some distance from the town square and manor where I’d first seen him. At the barns, folk collected the seed pods while others scraped up flakes of poppy tears from where they’d dried in boxes in the sun, up until weather had turned. Some toiled over boiling pots, cooking the poppy tears to purify them. Some packaged the cooked and dried tears in sheafs of waxed paper. Still others stocked barrels, prepared them for transport. The barns were quiet; most of the laborers were in the fields, chopping and tilling the old plants under and preparing the fields for next year.
Yamurik’s guards, his personal guards, eyed us as we approached. I puffed myself up with adolescent self-importance. These men would be gone soon, replaced with the loyal.
I found Yamurik on a catwalk overlooking a cooking barn. Two servants stood beside him, fanning away the cloying fumes, while a scribe attended with papers and pens behind him and a guard stood watch. Yamurik followed me with his gaze, me and my column of Lonireilan soldiers, youths with swords and spears wearing the trappings of adulthood. We crossed the cooking floor past clouds of sour steam, then mounted the steps and walked out along the catwalk. I stuck out a finger at Yamurik’s guard. “Get gone,” I said in my improving Lonireilan. “You’re finished here.”
The man stared at me. He was big, perhaps thirty, with a beard and a blue turban, like the one I’d taken. He glanced first at my white, Lonireilan uniform, then at my star, then the brass-hilted sword at my waist – the one I’d taken from the guard of Yamurik’s that I’d skewered. He took in the line of soldiers behind me – youths, but armed youths. Tortured. Scarred. Bloodthirsty. Cruel. Mindless.
He left without a word. Yamurik shouted after him once, then looked back at me. “Dogpiss,” he muttered.
“Yamurik. These are your Lonireilan guards now.” I grinned at him. “I am Corporal il-Lonireil. We’re going to be spending a lot of time together.”
* * *
We chased off Yamurik’s old guards. I set up watches, patrols, assigned duties. Estevo would take a night watch. I trusted him. He and the Tash would command from sundown to sunup. We took over the old guard towers, watch posts, and we built a place for ourselves within Yamurik’s main office not far from the front gates. His offices were set inside a low, square building that was open in the middle to accomodate a garden. There were carved lattice windows, broad shutters that could be closed against the cold and rain, a wide porch around both the outside and the inside. There were fine firepits that heated the whole place, and Yamurik kept the interior so warm I sweated. Our post – my office – was within, just beside his. I could hear him through the thin walls when he had business guests, when he entertained potential buyers with hookah and coffee, when he argued and smacked the table and cursed.
I stood on the porch outside the offices, overlooking the garden in the center. The rain was falling, cold and steady, and although I was dry enough, my hip ached from the chill and I hunched with an old cloak wrapped around me, listening to Yamurik curse inside his office. Water sluiced through the false rivers of stone in the garden, between dying, flowerless poppies and pale shrubs, pearly in the rain. For a second, Yamurik’s shouting faded from my hearing, and I saw the pale shell I’d brought home from the coast in Ibandran for my father.
I looked up and blinked. Ecena stood glowering and dripping on the planks of the porch, her wool cape shimmering with rain and her shapeless hat squashed to her head. She was from Avandeil, like Estevo, was a little older than I, and her bright, brown eyes broadcast her disdain or biting humor wherever she went. Her olive hand, clutching a spear, had gone red from the cold. “Il-Lonireil. There’s someone at the gate.” She spoke Lonireilan, not slowing by a breath for me.
“Corporal,” I said, and then stood waiting and parsing what she’d said to me.
Her mouth screwed up beneath her hat. “Corporal il-Lonireil,” she said, overemphasizing the title. Her eyes narrowed. “There is someone at the gate, sir.”
I forced out the Lonireilan like I was piling stones. “Does the person have business with Yamurik?”
“She says she does.”
“What is the business?”
“She won’t say.” Ecena transferred her spear to her other hand and tucked the first into her dripping cape. “I wouldn’t tell you if I didn’t think we needed you there.”
I wasn’t sure I caught her meaning. “We don’t have time. They’re finishing the trial tonight. We’ve all been summoned. For the trial. Tell her to come back tomorrow.”
“She won’t leave. She won’t listen to me. Wants to see my superior.” Her brows twitched up. “So now it’s your responsibility.”