Keefer-Papa of the Runman Order
“Who?” Kalamite barked at whoever had knocked at his door. Brave was that runman if he had no urgent need. Kalamite’s prime delight was to bend in prayer in the depths of Wood Tower. But whenever able, his second delight was to suck on the red rubel beads while, sinking into the deep-padded divan, he gazed at the Red and Blue Towers. They seemed so close he almost could touch them. He might occasionally rise enough to glance at those passing beneath his wide mullioned window and into the courtyard beyond, but he insisted his reverie was otherwise unbroken. So what need had brought the runman now?
“It is Ffika, Papa Hadd. With the news you require.”
Kalamite looked at the door, set deep in the alcove of carved aged-darkened porphyry. His lip disdainfully lifted – yet Ffika Runman brought him answers.
“Aiya!” he bid the sprat enter – then shuddered as the click of the latch shattered the previous stillness. The heavy wood door creaked open. He scarcely noticed the awkward antics of the runman with five rolled registers tucked under his arm and slipping. But he scowled at the runman’s flare-skirted coat of solemn Stup-black. He waited for the sprat to be into the light.
“Ffika, how long now are you with us?” Though he had wanted to snap it was softly said.
Ffika swallowed and licked his lips. He briefly glanced down before he answered, “I entered the service in my seventh year, Papa Hadd.”
“Thirty years, then—And is that door properly closed? I cannot abide the shifting shafts. So distracting.” Were he able, he would cover the atrium’s lofty skylights. Whenever the sun was bright the dance of colours confused him; it was like living inside a prism. He preferred best an overcast day. He returned to the window while Ffika, still juggling with rolls, closed the door.
“Thirty years,” he said as if musing. “And how many new coats have you ‘purchased’ for Stup?”
“Papa Hadd, the old was—” his words stopped abruptly.
“Shabby?” Kalamite completed for him. He kept his gaze on the citadel close. No need to see the runman to know how he squirmed, eyes cast away from Kalamite’s coat. It was faded, only the facings and underarms still showed Svara’s deep blue; the yellow was entirely gone. Kalamite turned.
“My concern is its length, not its age,” he said. “Are you a novice that I must say of nine ladders to climb, and the stair-rings of Wood Tower? There are more assured ways of dying than entangling your feet and breaking your neck, if that is your want. Now crop that coat at least to your calves before you climb the towers again.”
“As you say, Papa Hadd.” Ffika bowed his head.
“Now.” Kalamite patted the divan beside him as he sank into its thick padding. “Show me these rolls.”
Ffika laid out the registers beside Kalamite, and sat on the divan opposite in the deep bayed window. “You asked us to find previous occurrences of this triple eclipse occurring with Svara’s conjunction, Papa Hadd.”
“Fy, Ffika, it was not so long ago I need reminding. And I thought you the sharpest. Proceed. What have you found?”
“Papa Hadd. That the conjunction, though not itself a rare occurrence, is rare within the Witan’s manse.”
“Five?” Kalamite glanced down at the registers beside him. “Five in a thousand years? A two hundred year cycle; you deem that as rare?”
“Not five, Papa Hadd, one – and as far as I can determine that was four hundred and sixty-five years ago. The date is lacking.”
Kalamite looked again at the rolls.
“I brought these others to show you, Papa Hadd. They are, um, of interest, Papa Hadd.”
Kalamite rested his hand upon the nearest register, fingers stretching along its length. The vellum was soft, unexpected after five hundred years. Was that by virtue of the holha grass? Many wonders were attributed to it. “And am I to take this from your head? I am waiting.”
“And I for the moment am confused, Papa Hadd. Do you ask of that one register’s interest or—”
“I ask what happened four hundred and fifty-so years ago, when this not-so-common conjunction occurred.”
“As you say, Papa Hadd. When this not-so-common-to-repeat-in-the-same-duodecimanse conjunction occurred strangers came, Papa Hadd.”
Strangers? The news was discomfiting, though he would not show it. His gaze drifted from the rolled registers to Ffika, then to the window. His thoughts travelled beyond, to the gate beside Runmen House. Set in the citadel’s thick sandstone warison, this western gate was better known as Strangers Gate.
“Fy, Ffika, must I squeeze every jot from you? This citadel sits not on a common route – unless by the Shore’s intrepid sea-travellers. Thus these strangers were not merely passing. What reason is given for their visit?”
He glanced again at the registers, a deep inhalation of breath. And which one contained the entry, and where within it? Nay, verily, it was easier to let the runman furnish it.
“The entry reads, Papa Hadd – and I quote, ‘Strangers arrived this day, seeking to consult with the queen’.”
“The . . . queen?” Aiya, a chill ran through him.
“I give it exactly as it is written, Papa Hadd.”
“Not the lafdi legara?”
“The queen, Papa Hadd.”
Kalamite’s hands came up, palms-together, to be held by his mouth as if he would pray. He did pray, of a sort, but not to her. Did these strangers ask after the queen because the lafdi legara was then known as that, five hundred years ago? When did the Rothi jaw take the first changes, those archaisms the poets mined from the Holy Book claiming they ‘rolled back of the language’ and thus countered the Curse. Nix ‘n’ never! The poets merely dredged words to season their tiresome sagas. Tsk! But it mattered not. These strangers mattered, come seeking the queen.
“Whence these strangers?” he asked. “Does the register say?”
“From the south, Papa Hadd.”
“Not from the west?”
“It says from the south, Papa Hadd.”
“From the Daab?”
“With respect, Papa Hadd, the south could mean Java.”
Kalamite sniffed at the sprat’s improper use of slack-jaw.
“I mean Luban,” Ffika corrected.
“And Luban lies to our south?”
The runman’s face flushed. “Not to our south, I agree, Papa Hadd. Yet it is south of the rest of Rothi.”
Aiya, but this Ffika Runman was a sharp one. Kalamite nodded. So sharp he might cut a rung on one of the ladders. Aiy, but his wits could be useful as yet. Best to leave him, alert and enthusing, for now. But a close watch kept on him; so many ladders, so easy to fall.
“And it is common jaw, Papa Hadd, that the Luban are staunch against Varlet Verth.”
“You, Ffika, have the mind of toad, always hopping. You’re thinking now of the back-stepping Verth?”
“Papa Hadd, I deemed it an unneeded burden to present every one of the Verth-effects. Such a quick mover, the registers swell with his traffic and even the newest caught sprat—”
“Is not the analogy that of fishing? A sprat does not jump into the net.”
“Nix and nay! The analogy is of ‘small’ and ‘many’. But you feel caught?” Kalamite held the runman with his gaze, trying to divine what was within him. “Trapped, do you feel? Unwillingly here?”
“Papa Hadd, are we not thrust into this life without consent? Is that not the same for everyone? It is nature of birth. I meant no more than that.”
“Then whatever your daily hours of prayer I want you to double them. I want to see calluses grown on your knees, to see you prostrate upon the floor of Wood Tower.”
“Papa Hadd, I’m not—”
“You are not anything but a sprat. Be grateful. Now, you were telling me of Luban and Verth.”
“Only that Breken Lafard’s nephew trades into Luban.”
Aiya, how quiet the runman now. Kalamite nodded. “Breken Lafard’s nephew, aiy. He is verily the devious herisson.”
“If I might say . . .” Though the runman seemed then to reconsider his words. “That herisson is Varlet Verth incarnate.”
Aiy, no wonder the hesitation. “You may say that to me, Ffika Runman, but to no other; that’s a certain way to lose your head. But, aiy, I would rather Mallen the Wreck take the legere-chair than—but you digress. What happened with these Lubanthan strangers? Were they sent again on their way?”
“It says in the register they were given lodgings.”
“Amongst the urbs and hindlings?”
“Here in the citadel, Papa Hadd.”
“At the Woolpack?” But had the Woolpack been an hostelry then? Or had it still been part of Rams House – its garden? Only Rams and Shore had gardens now, the oldest two buildings in the citadel. Veritable rock-built boxes they were, no open courtyard before them, more forbidding even than the warison.
“It says here, Papa Hadd, that they were lodged here – I take that to mean here at Runman House.”
“Pish and rot! The runmen invited strangers here? And while they slept, they sliced them into harmless pieces?”
“With respect, Papa Hadd, I quote only what the entry says. Thereafter there is no mention of them.”
“See, I am right. They sliced the strangers into sausages. Show me this entry. I would see for myself.”
Kalamite’s lip lifted again as he watched the runman, without hesitation, select the relevant register, though the rolls all looked alike. What a miracle of perceptivity, this Ffika Runman. He then rapidly scrolled it to almost the end – chronologically the beginning – and presented it to Kalamite, the entry displayed. Nix and nay, this Ffika Runman was far too clever. But what was this? A rarity not often, nay never, seen in these registers. The letters, numbers and glyphs all were precisely formed in the smallest of hands, verging on excruciatingly tiny. It was effeminate. But then all sorts were pulled into the net and amongst them would always be poodles.
Kalamite read the entry. Ffika had accurately quoted; This day came strangers from the south seeking to consult with our queen. We gave them lodging here.
But, odd, the column stopped there despite it was yet but midway down the page. He rolled the register to display the next column but, nix and embarrassment, he fumbled with it. Could he blame it on the ancient vellum? Yet miraculous, clever, perfect Ffika had had no problem. But Ffika, he noticed, was distracted, his gaze caught by something outside in the close. He read the next column, and nodded approval. Here the hand was definitely manly, if somewhat untutored – he would not allow it of his runmen. But, as Ffika had said, there was no further remark of the strangers. He rolled the register back to its beginning. There was only one column before the entry and that in the same neat hand. He scanned through the entries.
Aiya, but these made no sense. Aiy, he recognised the glyphs – Svara and Murag, Stup and Dizpeter, Heli and the moons and the Varlet. He could easily read the numbers beside them, and the occasional name. But what were those names, were they people or places? And if people who were they? Lafarden? Aiya, and who would record of hindlings and tralls?
“What of these other rolls?” he recalled the runman’s attention. “You said they were interesting.”
Ffika picked up a roll, seeming at random, and smoothly scrolled half way through before he showed it. “Every entry, Papa Hadd, all the way through, looks as this.”
“But this is pure lanteroo.”
“We thought the same, at first. Now we believe it is data copied from countless event maps.”
“We?” Kalamite jumped at the word.
“Myself and Scheren Runman, Papa Hadd – he found these last two rolls.”
Kalamite nodded, not overly pleased. So now he had two sharp sprats. Aiya, he would have no runmen remaining if he must deal with every one the same harsh way.
“Data,” he said. “From event maps? Aiy, I can see it is possible.”
Ffika showed him another roll, this time displaying three wide columns. There were glyphs, there were numbers, but this time no words. “We believe this is where it starts, Papa Hadd.” It was in that same small tidy hand.
“Five registers, all compiled by the same runman?” Aiya, but the weariness hung hard on his jaw.
“Four and a few columns, Papa Hadd,” Ffika corrected.
Nix! Five or four, he could cry. “We have no register prior to these?”
“We examined every one, Papa Hadd.”
“We have not nine hundred years of records?” Aiya, why did the house not fall, such calamity? This was Murag’s doing, with his backtracking. Yet were such records not in Black-Stup’s domain?
“We have yet to decipher the rolls, Papa Hadd. But unless we find something astounding there, I would say we have less than five hundred years.”
“And you say Scheren believes it is copied data? Then Scheren shall decipher it; that task can be his. The ‘Hallowed Scheren’ he then shall be – should he succeed.” Aiya, that ought to be sufficient incentive, though an accident might then deprive him of it. “So tell me, now, what you found of the triple eclipse.”
“As you say, Papa Hadd. We found only two. Neither were exact in declination, and neither occurred while transiting the Witan’s duodecimanse. Shall I report further?”
Kalamite pondered, hands held again as in prayer. “Nix, nay, you need not say. The moons’ eclipses reflect primarily upon Shore House, not upon us. We can deflect whatever the ill by being rid of the woman.”
“Papa Hadd, would that be wise? A vacant House while Svara’s conjunction is looming?”
“Nix, drip-head. Did I say terminally rid? Nay, we send her away and, lah-an-loh, her troubles will follow her.”
“Yet we cannot avert the predicted three days of darkness. Three moons—”
“Aiyaiyaiyaiyaiy, did I not predict these days of darkness, yet you tell me of them? And there will not be unbroken darkness. It will come, it will go, thrice over. So now with your sharpness you can devise the excuse to send her away.”
“Breken Lafard seeks to marry her—”
“Aiy, but whomever she weds must come here to her.”
“With respect, Papa Hadd, you think that will happen? You must have heard the common jaw; they say she doesn’t know how to bow.”
“You listen to such jawings?”
“Aiy, is wed to an urb.”
“A chiparin, Papa Hadd.”
“Ffika, peace! It was not scorn, not from me. Though it must play on you that your family are not here, within the warison. You might pray regards to their lack of protection.” Verily, he would miss Ffika. Yet his talk of jawing proved the need of axe, or push, or poison. Aiya, but first to make use of the runman’s wits. “Pish and rot, Ffika, you think the Shore woman will hand her eight holdings and the river- and the sea-fisheries to the Boars just to satisfy your common jaw? Nix ‘n’ never, and I stake my life on it.”
“You say rather she’ll accept a marriage of convenience?”
“That is the grimmest expression. But, aiy, and amen to her. You have some weeks yet to deflect the moons’ calamity; no need to act previously. As to these registers, this ‘Svara Event’, I want to know more. And with you being gods’ inspired—”
“Papa Hadd, I—”
“An expression, Ffika, I do not accuse. But with you being gods’ inspired you are the one to find it for me. From the Witan.”
“From the Witan – you mean the Annals? But, Papa Hadd, we runmen—”
“—are not permitted in, and I am more distinctive than you. Aiya, I wonder at you, bright and dim in equal measure.” He placed a key on the divan beside him. “Ffika, my eclipsing moon, you will find a way in. And once there, I want to know what happened following the Luban arrival. The answer, you’ll find, will be in the Annals.”
“But, Papa Hadd, we know one thing that happened. The register records that the legere-chair went then-after to Greystone.”
Kalamite rolled his eyes in exasperation. “And you thought House Eland, alone, held it until their recent abdication? Doubtless over the years that chair has sat in each of the Houses – including the ones no longer with lineage. Witness, there is such a chair in our hallowed fane – had you not noticed? The Witan’s Annals, Ffika, I want to know everything, without tarry or lay. And, Ffika, do crop that Stup-coat. I can see you stumbling nine flights of stairs to your death.” And that would be apt, with Black-Stup being death’s overseer.
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Roots of Rookeri 6