amberdrake: (this endless mercy mile)
[personal profile] amberdrake
Drake musing about anger and politics.

     Peace, at last.
     Amberdrake dropped the tent flap behind his last client for the evening; he turned with a whisper of silk to look back into the brightly-lit public chamber, and sighed with relief. Gesten raised his blunt snout from the towel chest, where he had been working, and looked straight at him and then away, as though the hertasi were going to say something, then thought better of it.
     Not a comment or a complaint, or he wouldn’t have hesitated, so it must be a request.
     “Spit it out, Gesten,” Amberdrake said patiently. “You want something. Whatever it is, you’ve more than earned it a dozen times over. What is it?”
     “I’m tired, and I’d like to quit early and get some sleep,” Gesten admitted, “but I don’t want to leave you with all this mess to take care of alone, if you’re tired, too. I thought you felt pretty good until I heard you sigh just now.”
      Amberdrake shook his head, and pulled his hair back behind his neck. “That sigh was because it is damned nice to be doing the job I’m trained for, and not playing second-rate Healer,” he told the hertasi. “It was a sigh of contentment.”
      Amberdrake turned aside and went over to the portable folding table beside the couch, a table that currently held a selection of lotions and unguents, scented and not. He picked up the first, a half-empty bottle of camil-lotion, and put them in their proper order. He made very sure that the lid of each was properly tightened down before he put it away. Right now, there was no way of telling when he’d ever find replacements, and each drop was too precious to waste on evaporation or spillage. Cosmetics and lotions no longer appeared on the list of any herbalist’s priorities. He knew how to make his own, of course, but when would he ever have the time or materials?
      Of course, he might not ever need to find replacements. Ma’ar might very well make the question of where or how he would find them moot at any point.
      Better not to think of that. Better just to enjoy the respite and try not to think of how brief it might be.
     “No, Gesten, I’m not tired. Oddly enough, I think that exhausting myself on a regular basis up on the Hill only made me learn how to make better use of my resources,” he continued. “Either that, or I’m fitter now than I was before. It’s just such a pleasure to get back to being nothing more than a simple kestra’chern....” A pregnant silence alerted him, and he turned to see that Gesten was grinning a toothy hertasi grin. He made a face. “And you can wipe that smug smile off your snout, my little friend. No puns, and no clever sallies. Just go get some rest. I had to clean up after myself long before you came along, and I think I can remember how.”
      If anything, Gesten’s smile widened a bit more, but there was no doubt that the hertasi was as tired as he claimed. Probably more so; the past few days had not been easy ones for him, either. If anything, he had gotten less rest than Amberdrake. His scales had dulled, and he carried his tail as if the weight of it was a burden to him. That didn’t stop him from exercising his tongue, however.
      He bowed, spreading his foreclaws wide. “Yes, O greatest of the kestra’chern, O master of massage, O summit of the sensuous, O acme of the erogenous, O prelate of—”
     “That’ll do,” Amberdrake interrupted. “One of these days, Gesten, you’re going to get me annoyed.”
     “And when that happens, the moon will turn purple and there’ll be fish flying and birds under the sea.” Gesten jeered. “You almost never get angry, Drake, not even with people who deserve it. Demonsblood! The last time I saw you get angry was with that uppity Healer, the one that came all the way down from the Hill just to tell you off, and then you cooled off by the time you got back to the tent! You ought to get angry a lot more often; you’re too polite. You’ve got too much control for your own good. Dams break, you know.”
      But Amberdrake shook his head, and continued to put the jars and bottles back into their special places, each one in order. The sendel-wood lined case had cushioned slots for each, so that no matter how roughly the case was handled, the contents would never break or spill. And, after all the times of trouble in the recent past, doing a simple task was relaxing. So was simply talking to his dear hertasi rather than trading snap opinions of how to deflect this emergency or that crisis. “It’s not that I’m polite, it’s that I know too much about human nature—and I know how it can be twisted and deformed until people turn into monsters. That makes it difficult to stay angry with anyone for very long, since I generally know what their feelings and motivations are. Now that I’ve talked with Urtho about our enemy, I even know why Ma’ar is the way he is. I can manage to stay angry with Ma’ar; I just wish that knowing the reasons for his behavior would make some difference in stopping him.”
     “But you never stay angry with anyone else,” Gesten argued. “And people think you’re weak because of that. They think that they can walk all over you. And they think that because you don’t fight back, you must really think they are in the right.”
      He had to raise a surprised eyebrow at that. “Do they really?” he replied. “Interesting. Well, Gesten, that’s all to the good, don’t you think? If they believe that I’m a weakling, they’ll underestimate me. If they think I’m harboring some kind of secret guilt or shame, they’ll believe that I’m handicapped in dealing with them. I’ll be able to defeat their purposes or get around them with a minimum of effort, and they’ll have spent their strategy time gloating that they’ve already won.”
      Gesten snorted scornfully. “Maybe you think so—but what about all the folk like that damned Healer? The ones who look down their noses at you, think they’re better’n you, and say rotten things behind your back? How’re you going to stop a whispering campaign against you? How’re you going to deal with people who slander you?”
      Amberdrake shrugged. “I’ll do what I always do. Find out who they are and what they’re saying. Once I know who the dagger is likely to come from, I have options. I can duck, I can find something to use as a shield, or I can tell the right people to deal with my detractors from a position of authority without my personally getting involved.”
      Gesten growled, and it was clear that he was annoyed at Amberdrake’s calm reasoning. “Mostly, you duck. And they go on thinking you’re weak. Worse, they figure you just proved that they’re right, because you won’t come after them!”
      He thought about that carefully for a moment, then lifted the now-filled chest and returned it to its proper place against the tent wall. “That’s true,” he said at last. “But as long as what they say and do does me no real harm, why should I care? As long as I know who they are, so that I can guard against real harm in the future, there’s no point in dealing with them on any level. And it makes them happy.”
      Gesten’s mouth dropped open and his eyes widened. “I don’t believe I just heard you say that,” he said, aghast. “That poison they spread—it’s like a stinky, sticky mud, it sticks to everything it touches and makes it filthy, contaminates everyone who hears it! Worse, it makes other people want to spread the same poison! Why would you want to make them happy?”
      Amberdrake turned back to his little friend, and sat with a sad smile on his face. “Because they are bitter, unhappy people, and very little else makes them happy. They say what they do out of envy, for any number of reasons. It may be because I lead a more luxurious life than they, or at least they believe I do. It may be because there are many people who do call me friend, and those are all people of great personal worth; a few of them are people who occupy high position and deservedly so. Perhaps it is because they cannot do what I can, and for some reason, this galls them. But they have so little else that gives them pleasure, I see no reason to deprive them of the few drops of enjoyment they can extract from heaping scorn and derision on me.”
      Gesten shook his head. “Drake, you’re crazy. But I already knew that. I’m getting some sleep; this is all too much for me. Good night.”
     “Good night, Gesten,” Amberdrake said softly, rising again and beginning to pick up scattered pieces of clothing.
     I wonder if I should have told him the whole truth? he thought, as he stacked pillows neatly in the corner. Maybe he was right, maybe I should get angry, but I don’t have the energy to waste on anger anymore. There are more important things to use that energy for than to squander it on petty fools.
      If there hadn’t been a war, would he still feel the same way? No way of knowing. Maybe. He thought for a moment about the “enemies” he had among Urtho’s ranks—most of them on the Hill, Healers who felt he was debasing their noble calling; some few among the officers, people he had refused to “serve” for any amount of money.
      The motives of the latter were easy to guess, those that Amberdrake sent away were not likely to advertise the fact, but the rejection infuriated them. For most of them, it was one of the few times anyone had ever dared to tell them “no.” But the motives of the Healers were nearly as transparent. The fact that he used so much the same training and identical Gifts to bring something as trivial as “mere” pleasure to others sent them into a rage. The fact that he was well paid for doing so made them even angrier.
      He could see their point; they had spent many years honing their craft and they felt it should never be used for trivial purposes. But how was giving pleasure trivial? Why must everything in life be deadly and deathly serious? Yes, they were in the middle of a war camp, but he had discovered this gave most folk an even greater need for a moment of pleasure, a moment of forgetfulness. Look at Skan; even in the midst of war and death, he had found reasons for laughter and love.
      Maybe that was why those enemies often included the Black Gryphon on the list of those to be scorned.
     Oh, these are people who would never coat a bitter pill, for fear the patient would not know that it was good for him. Never mind that honey-coating something makes it easier—and more likely—to be swallowed. And if this had been in a time of peace, they would probably be agitating at Urtho’s gates to have Amberdrake thrown out of the city without a rag to his name.
     And they would be very angry and unhappy because if this were at time of peace—I would be a very rich kestra’chern. That is not boasting, I do not think.
      And in that time of peace, Urtho would listen to their poison, and nod, and send for Amberdrake. And Amberdrake would come, and the two would have a pleasant meal, and all would remain exactly as it had been before—except that Amberdrake would know exactly who was saying what.
     Which is exactly what happens now. Except it’s Tamsin and Skan, Gesten and Cinnabar, who tell me these things rather than Urtho. We kestra’chern are officially serving, even as they, and it is obvious that we have a place here as far as Urtho is concerned. Besides, if they tried to rid the camp of us and of the perchi, there would be a riot among the line fighters.
      But would he hate his enemies, if he had the time and energy to do so?
     I don’t think so, he decided. But I would be very hurt by what they said. I am now, though I try not to dwell on it. I may not hate people, but I do hate the things that they do. Whispering campaigns, hiding behind anonymity—those I hate. As Gesten said, they are poison, a poison that works by touch. It makes everyone it touches sick, and it takes effort and energy to become well again.
      For all his brave words to Gesten, he felt that way now, hurt and unhappy, and it took effort to shrug off the feelings.
      He immersed himself in the simpler tasks of his work, things he had not done since Gesten had come to serve him, to help push the hurt into the background. Putting towels away, draining and emptying the steam-cabinet, rearranging the furniture... these things all became a meditative exercise, expending the energy of anger and hurt into something useful. As he brought order into his tent, he could bring order into his mind.
     Although Skan claims that a neat and orderly living space is the sign of a dangerously sick mind, he thought with amusement, as he folded coverings and stacked them on one end of the couch. It’s a good thing that gryphons don’t have much in the way of possessions, because I’ve seen his lair.

–The Black Gryphon, pages 361–368.

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