As Resistance creeps nearer and nearer to its release, I thought it would be a good time to introduce some members of the Tiallatai resistance, the Dark God’s Children, who fought against the Shadow and its followers. Here, to begin, is Akel and his wife Ela, and the story of how they joined the resistance…
Spring, 1013, Taila (eleven years before Tarnamell’s rising)
Ela met him at the door, pushing past him to press her back against its polished wood. She looked like he felt, her face hollow and her eyes blank with grief, but she put out her hands, holding him away.
“Let me go,” Akel said, and was amazed at how steady his voice sounded.
“Where?” Ela gasped. Her voice was husky, thick with unshed tears.
“I’m going to join the Savattin army,” Akel said and saw her recoil. He couldn’t bring himself to care, not about her pain, or the consequences, or anything except the cold, numb need for vengeance. “And once I’m there, and they’re off guard, I’ll find my way to the highest ranked general I can reach and I’ll cut his throat.” A dim thought occurred to him, reminding him that there were no simple endings in this life, no clean deaths. “They’ll kill me, of course, but they may come here afterwards. You should go to your brother and then get out of the country. I hear the Alagard Desert is welcoming refugees.”
“No,” she said, her lips barely moving.
“It’s for the best,” Akel said gently and grasped her elbows to move her out of the way.
“No,” she said again, and suddenly there was fire in her eyes again. She jammed her thin shoulders against the door, refusing to be moved. “I won’t lose you too.”
She was too thin, wrecked by grief, her hair and face uncovered in the privacy of their home, but he had never seen anyone so strong. “Ela, please.”
She squared her shoulders and looked up, suddenly resolute. “I won’t allow you to kill yourself.”
“Well, I must do something,” he explained, trying to be reasonable. “I won’t fail this test.”
She was as irreligious as he was, or had been, until the Savattin came rising to tear their world apart. Ela had attended temple because it was proper, eschewed her veil in all but the most conservative company, and laughed with him when priests and peasants claimed to have come face-to-face with the Dual God. Her faith had changed, in the last year, turning bitter, and he had heard her whisper to the Dark God at nights, praying for mercy or revenge, or some measure of both. Still, it surprised him when she said,
“This isn’t your test, Akel. Even the Dark God wouldn’t send this.”
“I have to—”
She knotted her hands in his long sleeves, her knuckles pressing into his forearms, and took a shuddering breath. “No. This isn’t your path to God. There is something else—something I… I have a better idea. One which will hurt them more.”
Akel looked at her, his fierce, brilliant wife, and then took a slow step back. “I’m listening.”
And Ela explained, in a rush of furious whispers.
Two days later, Akel went out into the city of Taila. The capital had changed much in the last year. It was no longer the elegant city he had loved, full of poets and philosophers. The philosophers were dead, fled to other lands, or vanished with nothing but rumours to explain where they gone: there was a resistance, men murmured softly in the teashops, the Dark God’s children fighting against the cruelty of the Savattin.
As for the poets, they too had vanished as if no one had ever sung of god and sunlight on the steps of the temples. Even Namik Shan had gone, Akel had heard, fleeing with his children in the night, the nightingale’s own poet silenced by oppression.
Akel wished he had done the same while it was still possible, but here he was, and it was still his city. He would fight for it. What else did he have to lose?
The streets seemed oddly empty. It was not just the scars of fighting left in the plastered walls, or the boarded up fronts of the temples, painted with the clenched scarlet fist of the Savattin’s symbol. No, Akel realised with a slow sick fury, it was the women.
Or rather the lack of them. No women walked the streets of Taila, not even in the sweeping, overwhelming scarf and veil the Savattin had decreed. Ela had laughed herself giddy the first time she saw a woman wearing it, proceeding slowly down the street like a mobile tent. Now a woman could not leave her house without it.
Or at all, it seemed today. How much worse had it got since Akel last ventured into the city? What new madness was this? Did this filthy barbarians have no sense at all? How could they think it was reasonable to confine half the world behind walls? True enough, men and women followed different roads to God, but they were roads all the same, and meant to be followed.
Akel hesitated on the corner, and put God out of his mind. He had to learn to think like one of them, to ignore his own instincts to follow their savagery instead.
God help him.
The recruiting station was in the old city square, and there was a queue. Akel couldn’t imagine why, not until he looked at the boys lined up (for boys they were, for the most part), and realised that they looked hungry.
Rage washed over him again, and he fought it down, fixing a sneer on his face, endeavouring to look bored by the whole process. He was a Yalman, after all, descendent of generations of ministers and generals. They would expect him to consider himself better than this riff-raff. In another time, he probably would have sneered at them, but all he could see now was what these Savattin bastards had brought his people to.
Once he was inside, things suddenly moved more swiftly. His name, his history, his experience—they all still meant something. He lied, fluently and intently, creating a version of his own life that was skewed to suit his purpose. He was no longer a loyal minister of the shah, a man of culture and learning, but one dissatisfied with the inefficacy of the last government, scornful of the shah’s incompetence (that one was no effort, though the man had not deserved to have his head mounted on his own gates, useless as he was), eager to reform the lax morals of the city. It was a risk, presenting himself half as sympathiser and half as opportune cynic, but he gambled on the fact that they likely had few good administrators.
When he did come face to face with the bastard who had led the siege on Taila, he nearly forgot Ela’s plan and stabbed the general anyway.
But no. He wanted to bring them all down for good, not just rid the world of one ignorant killer.
He left the recruiting station with a commission, suddenly an officer in an army he hated, and walked home with his gut knotted around shame and triumph.
When he got home, Ela was entertaining a guest in the garden. She was the picture of a proper Taila hostess, robed in silks, her hair covered and the finest of gossamer veils floating over her lower face, but her eyes were bright with the need for vengeance.
Her guest was the kind of man Akel would normally have passed on the street without noticing him—a simple, rustic looking fellow, with a faded headscarf and scuffed boots.
“My dear,” Ela said, rising to greet him with the faintest touch of her fingers to his covered arm, “may I present the priest Iskandir of Rulat.”
She sank back into her seat, leaning forward to pour him a cup of tea.
Akel bowed his head to the stranger. “God smile upon you, sir.”
“God’s greeting to you, Akel Yalman.” The stranger had a rough accent—Rulati, so thick he must have come down from the plateau for the first time this year. “Your wife tells me you are willing to face God’s test.”
“Yes.” Akel sat, accepting his tea and studying the stranger—Iskandir. The man had green eyes, he noticed, in two different shades. It was a rare, but not unheard of, quirk of inheritance, believed to be a sign of God’s favour. Akel had once had a classmate with god’s eyes, and he didn’t recall that Erbek had ever come to much. He wondered if it explained why this man had joined the priesthood. A sense of destiny was a dangerous thing.
“You have been accepted into their army?”
“You see before you Captain Yalman, who must march out in two days.”
Iskandir let out a slow, almost wistful, sigh. “Well done. Listen, I have great need for a man hidden in the Savattin army, but it will be no swift task.”
“And who are you, to have such a need?”
Iskandir smiled, his mouth twisting up bitterly. “Haven’t you heard? The Dark God’s Children move through Tiallat still. I lead them.”
Akel drew in a slow breath. If this man was telling the truth, he must be the most wanted man in Tiallat, the leader of the resistance. Yet he sat in Akel’s garden, in a Savattin city, as calmly as if they really were just here for a tea party.
“What can I do?” he asked. “Tell me how to bring them down.”
“For now, nothing. Earn their trust. Listen. Watch. Remember. Once you are established in their eyes, design a code which only your wife can understand—tea orders for companies of soldiers, reminders of family birthdays to conceal dates, whatever works. She will pass the information to us.”
Akel looked at his wife. Ela nodded slightly, and he did not argue, not least because she looked alive again, for the first time in months.
Iskandir was looking at him, compassion in his eyes. “It may take years to stop them. The Fist of God—it is far more than human, something ancient and terrible beyond all of our comprehension. It may be that you never see the end of it.”
Akel nodded. He had been ready to die. This was, in a way, harder, but he understood the price. “I serve my country. I have always served my country.”
“Your family are known for it,” Iskandir said and turned to Ela. “This will be a hard test for you too. Are you ready?”
“Yes,” she said simply.
“If he is to succeed in his deception, you must embrace it too. You must become the perfect Savattin wife, beyond all reproach.”
She swallowed hard and Akel wanted to retch, imagining her wrapped in that prison of cloth, mouthing Savattin words, feigning subservience and concealing all her light and laughter behind high walls.
“I can do it,” she said, and Akel did not doubt her.
Nor it seemed, did Iskandir. With a sigh, he rose. “Thank you, both of you. Akel, go and be a captain. Ela, await my contact. May the Dark God watch over you both.”
“Not the Bright Lord?” Ela asked, with a faltering hint at a smile.
“It is not his season,” Iskandir said, before he bowed to them both and was gone.
©Amy Rae Durreson 2015