Chapter Fourty One - Zalibar’s Treatment for Depression
The next day, I could barely drag myself out of bed. Dee kept me supplied with food and company but even her relentless cheerfulness couldn’t break through the thick blanket of hopeless misery which covered me.
Fortunately, that meant I missed the victor’s ceremony, down in the Henge. The sight of Carodoc’s body, lying broken and unmoving in the sand, had stripped me of any sort of feeling of celebration, leaving me totally empty.
Of course, Rhiannas was more than happy to take my place.
He returned from the ceremony in an impossibly cheerful mood - I’d never known anything like that from him before. He told me that, from now on, I was allowed to wear the slashed sunrise House insignia – an almost unknown honour for a tyro.
His mood was almost too much for me and it took all my self-control to stop myself from exploding and letting him know what I really thought about it all. Instead, I swallowed my feelings, hiding them behind a delicate mental shield. I just lay there, secretly grinding my teeth and pretending to be totally exhausted, until he left me in peace.
That evening, when Rhiannas was out on patrol, I walked down to the mews to see Liberty. He, too, was starting to recover a bit of strength and I decided we could go back to Zalibar’s School the next day.
On my way back, I dropped in on Psion, who was down by his cave, as usual. “I am delighted to see you again, Young Mistress,” he told me. He hopped up onto a boulder and started doing his preening thing and gave Liberty a sort of mental nod, giving him permission to curl up in his favourite sunny, sheltered spot to snooze whilst we talked. Meanwhile, I collapsed onto a convenient rock.
“Though I perceive that the victory does not lie easy on you,” he added.
I managed a bit of a nod as he wrapped me up in this funny mental hug thing.
“With your permission, Young Mistress, I would extract your recollections of the race straight from your mind.”
“Do you have to?” I replied with a bit of a sigh.
“Have to? No. But it would allow me to better appreciate your abilities and hence serve you more effectively in the future.”
I stared into his golden eyes for a bit. “OK then,” I said at last with a sigh.
So I got to watch the whole thing over again… but at least he had the good taste to skip over the horrible bits with Carodoc.
“I have no need to tell you that it was an extraordinary accomplishment, do I?” he said when he was done.
I shook my head. I suppose he was right, really, but I was having a fair bit of trouble thinking about it like that.
I just sat there for a bit, kind of enjoying his mental hug thing. At last I gave another sigh. “I should be getting back,” I told him, calling Liberty over. The lean black dragon reluctantly uncurled and came over to join us. I didn’t make him lie down for me though - our bond had got even deeper with the race and I didn’t think I’d ever be doing that to him again.
Psion gave me a bit of a mental boost as I hopped up onto the larger dragon’s shoulders. Then he sent me on my way with the words, “Your mother would be proud of you beyond measure.”
I guess that was true too, really, but somehow it didn’t make me feel any better.
Of course, as I landed Liberty in a corner of the quad, everyone gathered around us, cheering and clapping. It was a struggle but I managed to give a bit of a smile as Zalibar strolled over. He congratulated me and casually told me that I’d been promoted to prime. He let the applause go on for a bit but he must have seen how uncomfortable I was because, before long, he sent everyone back to practice.
But he carried on staring at me for longer than was comfortable, his piercing blue eyes burrowing right inside me.
At last he spoke. “Tough, isn’t it?” he said quietly and I felt a crashing wave of relief that at least someone understood what I was going through. “Now go and put Liberty away. I can find plenty for you to do to take your mind off things.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, swallowing a sigh. I mean… Zalibar probably wouldn’t get too stroppy about it but it wasn’t a good idea to test his patience
“You can start by giving those three a kick up the backside,” he said, nodding over to the three lowest level Noviates who were pretending to be doing some training exercises over on the other side of the quad.
So I put Liberty away then walked over to join them. When he saw me, Doranonda basically started screaming, ‘I’m doing something wrong,’ out into the cloud world. He was looking so desperately guilty that I had to squash down a bit of a smile and when I glanced down, he was, of course, hurriedly shuffling his thumb back into its proper position.
“Don’t think for one second I didn’t notice,” I told him quietly as I joined them.
I set him to work with Bryn and started to work on some of the basic exercises with Wast-Bethan. I was impressed at the progress she’d made… her technique looked clean and she was starting to build up her muscle and cerebral power. Her defence felt particularly solid and so, to see what she could manage, I gradually built up the tempo and intensity as we ran through a cycle of the four basic exercises.
So I got to relax for a while and used her to run through a workout of my own… and it felt so good to just relax into the familiar routine for a while and forget about everything else.
That evening, the tyros had a bit of a party to celebrate my promotion to prime. Jenko even honoured us with one of his battle sagas and Cookie baked a celebratory pudding. I even managed to push away the bleak, empty feeling for a while
But then the custard jug appeared.
I mean… nobody mentioned him, of course. I suppose the others were used to that sort of thing. For them, that was just the way life was.
But, somehow, the whole thing just didn’t feel right without Carodoc fussing over the custard.
But, true to his word, Zalibar didn’t give me any chance to dwell on stuff. As well as the extra teaching I had to do as a prime, I had to take over the tyro organising job that Carodoc had always done… and, in between times, I had to try to keep up with my own training.
Which meant that, on the next Saturday, I was one of the last to hurry down to the cage. Wast-Bethan was already sitting on the wall and sending out slightly desperate, ‘sit next to me,’ type cloud world appeals in my direction.
“I’m happy to join you,” I told her on a private mental link as I used my will to boost my jump up onto the wall, “but you have to get a grip on your mind. You’re making it look like I’ve got a fan club or something!”
I felt the giggle rising inside her as Zalibar appeared and quickly slipped inside her head to squash it down for her. He definitely wouldn’t appreciate that. She gave me a little nod of thanks.
Doranonda was up in the first duel, set against a new Noviate nonda that I didn’t recognise. The two circled for a bit, exchanging tentative attacks and parries and then of course his thumb slipped out of position. I don’t know whether his opponent noticed or just got lucky because he added a bit of brain power to his next blow. Doranonda’s sword slipped hopelessly out of position, of course, and he was flat on his back before he could recover.
Zalibar whistled and then I was surprised when he nodded at me.
“Thumb, Doranonda,” I said as the boy pulled himself painfully to his feet. “I’m bored of telling you about it. You can clean out the mews on your own this afternoon.”
That caused a bit of a gasp. It was a bad enough job for the poor, delicate nonda even when there were two of them doing it.
Doranonda thought it was totally unreasonable too and an image of Zalibar flashed into his mind as he thought about appealing to a higher authority.
“Go on, I dare you,” I said, putting the message straight into his head. “My bet is that you’ll find yourself doing a peak run too!”
He looked at me for a moment and managed to work out I was right.
Wast-Bethan was up next. I’d used her solid defence a couple of times in the week to give myself a bit of a workout… and my workout was a whole lot more intense than anything her opponent could throw at her. So she just blocked everything until he got fed up and over-extended himself. With that invitation, she slipped underneath his pathetic dagger parry to stab him just below his breastplate.
Her brother, Wasty, was up not long after and that just highlighted her much more serious attitude. He was doing fine in his own duel until he got lazy with his footwork. His opponent made the most of the opportunity and tripped him and, before he had a chance to recover, Wasty had a sword at his throat.
From the dirty look that Zalibar was giving him as he picked himself up, I could tell that he was thinking about setting him against his sister next time… and I had a fair idea who’d win.
If that humiliation didn’t sort him out, nothing would!
For the last match of the session, Zalibar set me against the Armenclethyfur. I say match… but it wasn’t all that much of a contest, really. I was glad to have some way of working out all my anger and frustration. I mean… by now, I was good enough that I could avoid really hurting him as I casually bludgeoned him to the ground and then held my sword tip to his throat… but I guess I must have bruised his dignity a bit!
“You probably don’t want to piss her off,” Zalibar said casually.
I reached down and hauled a slightly stunned Armenclethyfur to his feet. “Nothing personal,” I told him. “I’ve had a lot to deal with since the race and you just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
“Felt more like the wrong place at the wrong time,” he murmured as I boosted him back up onto the wall.
I was about to follow him up but Zalibar told me to wait then sent the rest away so I hopped up to the top of the wall to join him. “You’ve nothing on this weekend,” he told me. “So, unless I find you something to do, you’ll just sit around moping.”
I guess he was probably right.
“So I want you to prepare a lecture for the other primes on the Edifice gates and flutes.”
“Yes, Sir.” I knew he was trying to do me a favour by keeping me busy but that didn’t mean I had to be all enthusiastic about it.
I was supposed to be let off tyro duties in the afternoon but I did stroll over to the mews to check up on Doranonda. I gave him a bit of a hand but he was still angry and resentful so, before I let him run away, I did Psion’s ‘pulling the memories out of his head’ thing, running through the duel with him and putting particular emphasis on his thumb position.
“And you know what that would have meant if it had happened in real combat?” I asked.
He nodded in silence. He was starting to get it at last.
“Now finish off in here,” I told him out loud. “And next time you lose a duel because of sloppy handwork, you’ll be shovelling shit for a week.”
“Yes, Miss,” he replied, still deep in thought.
I mean… it was a bit funny having a Nonda call me ‘Miss,’ but I didn’t make a big fuss about it. I just gave him a bit of a look then went back out into the quad.
Of course I kept an eye on him, using my will, to make sure he remembered to lock the mist gate properly. He wouldn’t much like what I did to him if he forgot but it’d be whole heaps more fun than if Zalibar found out that he’d left the place unlocked!
Then, with a sigh, I wandered into the kitchen to borrow a corner of the table so I could make a start on the lecture. Zalibar’s whole ‘keeping me busy’ treatment seemed to be working. The pain hadn’t gone away but it wasn’t a burning wound any more… just a dull, constant ache.
Life would go on.