007 - There is steel in you
“Have you talked to anyone else about it? Family, friends?”
“No one. I couldn’t bring myself.”
“You need others as well as me. Your family, your spouses, your friends, do they know about your foreknowledge?”
“My mother, one of my wives and one of my husbands do.”
“What would they feel and think, if they knew what you now do, about it?”
Death-obligation. Lay down the sword. I tried to imagine Niku hearing these things, then Kallijas, and I was in a worse maelstrom than before. “Take a deep breath and let me rephrase that,” Surya said. “How would they feel if they knew that there was a way for you to survive?”
“They’d... well, they’d be ecstatic.”
“So tell them. I can see something of them in your aura, they are all very brave and strong people—have to be, to be with you, eh?—and they’d close ranks hard with you if they knew. They are warriors, yes?”
“My mother’s asa kraiya, but she cut her hair and took up the sword again against Arko when she found out what they did to me.”
“Would you trust them with your life, on the field?” I signed chalk. “Then why not with this? The sooner you tell them, the sooner they can start helping you. Eventually they’re going to demand to know what’s going on anyway, if they haven’t already.” He had that right. “You’ve relinquished your will to me, and I am going to give you orders today. This is one of them—tell your wife and your husband who know. Tonight. And your mother, she’s in Yeola-e?” I signed chalk, noticing I was doing it firmly like a good soldier to his commanding officer. “Write her. Tonight.”
“A-e kras.” Like many a warrior given an assignment, I didn’t know how I would do it.
“So,” he said. “Are you convinced of the truth in what I said last time?”
“I... well, I know I dare not argue with you on it.”
“That’s a start. Are you convinced you must go asa kraiya?”
Asa kraiya: beyond the sword. Lay it down, give up warriorhood. Asakraiyaseyel are fairly secretive about it; my mother had never told me what it was like, and nor had I asked. My letter to her started to write itself.
“Well, if it’s that or die, yes. Yeola-e will lose me as a warrior either way. Given the choice, I imagine they would take the way that left me alive.”
“Of course they would. But this isn’t for them, it is for you. Can you see yourself doing it?”
“No. I can barely believe I’m even saying these words to you.”
“You are very, very tightly tied to the steel in you,” he said. “You think of that idea, the steel in you, as a metaphorical construct. And it is true, there is no material steel inside your body. But there is steel in you, the sword in you—an energy-form, a thing made of the same stuff that makes up your aura—”
“So you can see it?”
“Plain and clear.”
“Really? Where is it in me, exactly?”
“I could make you feel it, except that you’re not ready for that.”
“How do you know I’m not? Why don’t you give it a try?”
He smiled, and just when I thought he might commend me for my courage, said, “You are thinking, ‘How scary could that be?’ It isn’t courage prompting you this time, kraiyaseye—it’s denial. You tell me, how scary can it be to lie on a healer’s table?”
I sipped my tea, and signed chalk without a word.
“Don’t worry, you’ll feel it soon enough. You are very much a person of touch, who perceives reality through his bodily sensations, and I will speak to you that way, all through.”
There, to me, is the mark of a great healer. Alchaen did it all the time too. He will tell you something hugely significant about yourself which you have never thought of, and no one else has ever told you, but which you immediately recognize as such obvious truth you are astonished you did not know it. Of course I am a person of touch, who perceives reality through my bodily sensations; I have been all my life, with everything from the butterfly-kisses of lovers’ eye-lashes on my cheek to steel rammed through my body.
“As I was saying, you are very much tied to the sword in you, much more so than most. So going asa kraiya for you will require a lot of preparation.”
“Not more preparation than I have time for, with however much time you gave me last session, I hope?”
“I gave you nothing; you claimed that time. All I did was show you how. The thing is, you don’t need to actually do it, to perform the asa kraiya ceremony, to save yourself in effect—just to definitely decide, to form the intent solidly enough. Though don’t start thinking that just by deciding here” —he touched his temple— “that it’s done, that you can change it just like that. You have had experiences in the past, perhaps, where you decided something in your mind, but when it came time, things went exactly the opposite?”
I felt a little sick as I signed chalk, thinking of the sack of Arko.
“Don’t flog yourself,” he said, patting my shoulder. “The stroke of the past is in the past, it makes no difference now. However important it is that you do right, don’t hold yourself to too high a standard for a human being to attain.”
I took another deep breath. Alchaen had said that so many times.
“So. We will prepare you for asa kraiya, kraiyaseye.”
“You’ve done it before, for others?”
“No. Not for anyone else. Most people who go asa kraiya don’t need a healer. For one thing, they’re usually not on quite so tight a schedule. They can afford to wait ten years until they’re ready. You’re... unusual.”
No argument there. “Then how...” I wasn’t sure how to ask this, without risking offending him.
“How do I know how to do it? Go ahead, ask me such questions, they are fair. I did it for myself.”
“You are asa kraiya?” That explained his strong hands, his ease in lifting me, his short hair. It was hard to imagine Surya in armour, those magical fingers holding a sword or a spear.
“Yes. ’50 — the second-last battle against Arko, Porfirias.” It was even harder to imagine that he’d fought under my command.
He was being kind to the Arkans, calling it a battle. They’d been twenty thousand to my hundred thousand, put in our way just to slow us down, allowing more time for the final force to be gathered in Finpollendias, the plain just above the City, as its last defense. All twenty thousand must have known they were just the rocks placed in front of the carriage, their lives being thrown away.
“I’ll tell you the story,” said Surya. “Put your feet up, take a break.