“So come on, give us. How’d yer facking do it then?” Tulle asked.
“Spew on it, man, do what?” Yeah, sure, Boddy knew what he was asking but he didn’t like Tulle’s language – he didn’t like his habitual line of talk and despite they were kin, he didn’t much like him.
“Yer know,” Tulle said. “Whatchya do with yer body – like yerf no facking bones.”
“You’re jesticating, Tulle. Anatomy-ratomy, I have bones. Without bones for the muscles to hold I wouldn’t be shovelling this mud.”
But in shovelling mud he was moving his muscles in all the wrong ways – wrenching and straining them. Muscles made supple and strong through Jonesi’s routine of holding and breathing and barely-moving now were sore with this murky chore. It was the dig-turn-and-pile that did it. By the third day his back and shoulders had been screaming. Yet he’d clamped his jaw and said nothing of it. Then today . . . wowzah! Today his body had eased into it like . . . like he was born to it. And, hey, there were gains as well as the pain. All day in the sun, he was turning an attractive honey-toned brown. But that was the way of it, right. Never the Maker without the Destroyer, never the good without the bad. Boddy frowned. Poetic, right, but applied to the dig, it was the wrong way round
“So come on, show me.” Tulle wasn’t intelligent but he was persistent.
“Ghats, man!” Boddy sighed. “So will you then stop wittering? Can we then get on with this digging?”
Call him a sap, and he’d agree, but he’d seen what those goblins could do and he’d rather not be this close to the canal. The frill-headed kobbran was the worst. Zuut! It struck and injected the venom; fast-acting, destroying the cells of its victim body. Then a crunch down with its jaws and a twist and a tear, ripping off chunks while the lamb or the calf or, worst, the pippin, shrieked in piteous pain. Patri Amiral of Bendelth Gord had been so attacked when he was a boy but Uncle Sturan had saved him.
A fully mature kobbran with its stretched-out fish-like body and its four short legs stuck out at its sides could clamber over anything up to three foot high. That’s why, by the Accord, all canal walls had to offer a barrier of at least four foot – though these days, thanks to the iron grilles at the Nah and the Luant, goblin attacks were rare.
Yeah but those grilles didn’t stop the goblin-eggs being washed through. They’d then hatch within the canals. Next thing known, the sneaky slinking venomous vermin were hitching up on the bank and coming round by the land. They weren’t the only amphibs to do that. It’s just the others, the harpies and rats and polypods, weren’t venomous, merely pests that destroyed the crops by swarming. Yeah zo, that time the ‘pods had been all round Boddy’s horse. Then zuum, they were gone on their hundreds of feet. And not a seed left on a stalk of grass – no stalks of grass left.
And that was why the canal walls had to be kept in proper repair – and high. But did his uncle have to award him this job? Trouble was, the most damage was done around the gates in the walls. Yet those gates were essensch – because the gords Sharmin, Tiszkin, Parlan and Bendelth kept livestock, and livestock had to be grazed on the outlands in summer. The Law gave them a choice which wasn’t a choice: To drive the beasts out via the Hub – and cause an unsociable congestion – or to apply for a permit for an aiselle bridge. Pushing out the aiselle-planks to span the triple canals was the easier option. But it meant cutting gates in the walls to allow the bridges. Boddy hadn’t given the matter much thought before, but now he was close to it . . .
But he needed to quieten his cousin so they could get on with the work. He drove his spade into the soft mud piled by the wall. “You want to know how I move the body? So watch.”
It was a simple move. Arms held out, away from his body, it started way down by his feet with a gyration of ankles. His knees and hips followed as the wave rippled through him, his body as sinuous as those accursed goblins.
Tulle, taller than Boddy by a little, and wider by lots, tried to copy. He held out his arms and . . . Zups! His legs entangled, he was over. How did it happen, the noleless dolt.
“Come on, Tulle, you can do better than that. That was crap. I’ve seen you dancing at the feasts. Try rapping a drum in your head. Move to music!”
Boddy showed him again. Tulle tried again. Give him a long nose and a hunched back and he’d have passed as a fair-folk’s puppet.
“Yerf facking Ghat’s rubber for bones, Boddy, that’s what yerf facking got.”
But Boddy’s attention had been pulled away from the gord, to beyond the oak tree, pride of Sharmin, to beyond the deep foul-water ditch that edged East Lane. “Hey, is that a rum sight, or is that . . .!”
Tulle turned to see.
Coming towards them out Raselstad-centre was a lad on a horse with two men chasing. Boddy could hear them squealing, “Hey slow down! Slow down! Just wait! Give us a chance.” He could see by the piebald markings that it was either his horse or Eshe’s. The beasts were identical as if they were twins though his haled from Regionalstad and hers from Tiszkin Gord. Different dams with different sires.
Was it Eshe? It wasn’t unusual to see her in men’s clothing – she did unfeminine things like caving and climbing. But her face, if it was her, was hidden beneath a wide-brimmed straw hat. But Ghats, now he was curious to know what was happening. He was straight to the gate.
Tulle jumped in front of him. “Oh no yer don’t. I’ve me orders; yer not to leave and yer not to shirk.”
Yeah right. So Tulle would stop him? The East Gate was a construct some ten feet high, two solid posts and a bar across, all iron. Thick wires steadied it in the hurricanes that occasionally ripped in from the Daab. The oak tree’s branches tangled into that wire. Boddy was up that oak and already along a branch before Tulle could blink.
“Yer facking come down!” he shouted. Then his voice dropped to wonder. “Hey, yer not even holding that facking branch.”
“Hey, beams, man, beams.”
A short shinny up the wire and he was balancing atop the gate. Beneath him the gate-guards hollered for him to come down though they were probably enjoying the diversion. Their prime duty was to guard against amphibs, not only the goblins but the polypods, harpies and rats. Boddy laughed, turning around, repositioning his feet on the narrow crossbar.
Yeah zo. He could see the puffing panting men now and his curiosity was bursting. What the Ghats was Eshe doing with Hibernal and Pinta, the most noleless saps of Eirethe Gord?
He sat on the bar, a leg to each side, and hailed rider and runners. “Ho! Hey so, lily-loo!”
The rider looked up. As he’d guessed, it was Eshe.
“Hey, that’s what I call a cheat’s way of getting out of a drink. And me with twelve pence to a cent now I’m working.”
Eshe slowed her horse to a gentle walk. Her escort caught up. “That explains why I haven’t seen you. You can treat me later.”
“This evening’s later. When I’m finished here, yea?”
“Boddy.” She glanced at her escort, the previous smile now fading. “I can’t.”
It was then he too proper notice of her clothing. This wasn’t merely men’s attire, it was rough and shabby. It was dirty. It was nothing a Luban ever would wear. And beneath that hat her hair, always wayward, now was a tangle of tares. Boddy toppled around the bar and dropped. With a bounce and a skip he was beside her. “Hey, what’s happening?”
“Promotion,” she said lightly. But he had seen the glance she cast at the men. “I have Jilli’s job.”
“You’re going away? Where, tell me where.”
“You know better than that. I can’t say.”
Boddy worked with words, and his body, but still was able to add a few numbers. He glanced at her guard.
“And you’ve Piddle and Diddle as protection?” He knew them from the Watch, though Hibernal now was a father so no longer served. “You’re telling me the count supplied these?”
“Patri Noscere,” Eshe said. “But on Slemba’s order.”
No, this wasn’t his concern. Yet he didn’t like it; Count Slemba wouldn’t have allocated these noleless gobles. No, more like Patri Noscere had picked the two he lest would miss.
“Eshe, I’m not jesticating here. You just turn round, please. Tell the judge you want a proper guard given.”
“Hay!” Hibernal shouted, his sun-burnt face flashing to scarlet beneath his black curls. “I don’t like what you’re implying, facking prancing pansy. We’re as good as any guard – gooder than you.”
“My father wouldn’t . . .” Eshe started quietly to say.
“He knows that nugget assigned these?” Boddy hissed back at her, trying to keep what he was saying away from the men.
“Yes. Of course.”
Natzo. Impossible. She was lying. But what could he do. “Eshe, please, say you’re not going by way of Chendani Pass.”
“No place near,” she said.
He nodded, accepting her denial with some relief. “But, well, stay sharp, hey?”
“Thanks.” Her smile wavered. “As if I’m not already anxious, my first time at this.”
“I can come with you.” He’d be happy to be away from Tulle. The nugget was shouting now. He had laid out the aiselle bridge ready to fetch him back in.
“You can’t,” Eshe said.
“Speechless, Eshe. Not happy.”
“Look, you, are you going to bruise her or not?” Hibernal said. “Only we want to be away before nightfall.”
He had to let her go but, Ghats and gods, he wasn’t happy. He stood on the bridge and watched. Hibernal and Pinta still ran alongside her. Patri Noscere could have at least provided them with mounts.
She was heading off east.
That suddenly struck a harsh cord.
There were no townsteads out to the east. There was only Rothi to the east, and Rothi was gained through Chendani Pass. She had lied!
And what nasty self-styled duke of a bandit had his stronghold in the mountains around that pass? Who but Mallen. The Dragons had lost three men to him these past two years, men Boddy had served with. So, that’s why the unattractive clothing, so as not to attract the bandit’s attention. He tried to tell himself she’d be fine.
~ ~ ~
Boddy spent the next two days in the Records Hall, as a distraction from thinking of Eshe. Though he also was there to pursue an idea he’d had for Bendel’s feast. Everyone celebrated their birthday that day, no matter when in the year they’d been born. So if he could find a notable event from the past that had occurred on that day he could make it the focus of the feast-play. Now was that an inspired notion or was it inspired.
A stack of the Council Minutes, all neatly bound, sat on the desk in front of him, though the task wasn’t as daunting as it looked. He needed only to look at the records dated to the coming month. Cow and Calf, the Rothi called it. The Luban, less fanciful, numbered it Five. Even so, after the first hundred years of scanning through records he’d been ready to quit. It seemed the Fifth wasn’t a month for notable events. But, hey, the idea was sound and, Ghats, it was better than gord-work. He returned to the Hall keeper the first stack of Minutes and issued to himself another. It felt good that he’d searched so many records, yet bad that so far he’d found nothing to inspire him.
He had searched through, perhaps, two-thirds of this next stack of Minutes, page after page of Council business, most focused on the gords, when . . . Ghats and rats! Flabbered, he stared at the page. Roo, you knew about this?
The little god didn’t answer.
He had seen several references to Rookeri Gord as he flipped through the years. Not that Rookeri Gord had been the subject of Council rulings in every Fifth of every year but there had been a fair few. Then as the stack decreased as the years fell away so the name appeared less frequently. It was like watching the decline in reverse. Then for some thirty years Rookeri wasn’t mentioned at all – least not in month Five. And then . . . this. A petition to build a flower-house.
It wasn’t for the flower-house now standing, or not all of it. It hadn’t the length, though, by the dimensions given, it was as wide. Over the years, the Rookeri nobles, Boddy’s ancestors, had built onto the original to make it the long narrow flower-house of his child-days, where he remembered helping his mother to pot up the plants and where his father had employed Jonesi to provide the muscle for when he and Uncle Kachinnar were away to the Daab, seeking new plants. But though it was interesting to know when his ancestors had first begun fattening the exotic plants, that wasn’t why his eyes were now starting. Natzo, not at all.
‘Item 785: Royanth Gord petitions the building of . . .’
Yeah zo! Royanth. You see that, Roo? Royanth!
But the little god still didn’t answer.
What was he to make of it? Something was very odd here, and oddest was that he’d not seen it before. The gords took their names from their founders, the gord-gods. Rashel Gord for Rasel-god, Eirethe Gord for Eire-god, Rementh Gord for Remen-god – and Royanth Gord for Royan-god. Then how had it come to be known as Rookeri? And why had he not seen it, every day in passing the shrine. Ghats! But they must be laughing at him, all those who knew of it. Six years the chorus master, poet and playwright and he’d not even noticed something this clear. He cringed at the thought of the raucous chortles from Negghe, his deputy master. Could he bury his head in his arms forever?
But it wasn’t important. Not important important. It was just . . . yeah zo, so embarrassing. And there was an explanation for it, there must be. Yeah and he’d wager his blood that the Council knew of it. Were they chortling up their sleeves, too? But whatever the reason, his head couldn’t encompass it. Zo, it would be there in the Minutes. Somewhere.
He backtracked, scanning now every page, through the months, through the years to find out when the change had happened. It must be in there somewhere. But no, no mention, no mention, no mention. There was no Rookeri nor any Royanth for pages and pages of Minutes. How many months . . . the years. One stack diminished, one stack grew.
The clattering door startled him out of his search. It wasn’t a student, they used the internal stairs. His worries for Eshe returned with a wallop. Was it bad news? But it was only Negghe. Gold-kissed hair, a golden body, a sultry sway to his walk; clearly the son of Patri Kerchen though he no longer lived on the gord.
“Hey!” Boddy beckoned him over.
Negghe rested a parcel of butt on the kneel pad beside Boddy. “Trouble,” he said leaning in close. “Lucire and Jonesi.”
Well that was a relief, no dreaded news. “Ho-hum,” he said. “Surprised? So tell me, what is it?”
Negghe sighed. “She’s still refusing direction from Jonesi. Says that she’s limber and she hasn’t a need of his holding routine. Yet, I was putting the dancers through the paces and . . . Boy-Boddy, I’m telling you, she’s like an off-key echo.”
“That’s Ghats’ folk for you. You want I should come sort out the lady?”
“Fine, then help me put these away.”
Negghe glanced through the top pages and softly whistled. “In the year of the Accord, two hundred and sixty-five . . . When was the Accord?”
“Gods!” Boddy groaned in dismay at his friend’s lack of schooling despite he’d attended. “Tell me, Negghe-Egghe, what year is it now?”
“Four-eighty-two, why? Ah, is that when it dates from, is it, the Accord? And what’s this, something for a play? Wowzah, impressed by your diligence, man.”
“Yeah right. But I haven’t been through all five hundred years.”
“Still, rather you, Boy-Boddy.”
Good as his word, Negghe helped Boddy return the records to the Hall keeper. Boddy’s thoughts now on the less-than-limber Lucire, the Hall door had clattered behind him before he realised – Ghats and rats! He hadn’t noted the year when he’d seen that mention of Royanth. That meant starting over again.
~ ~ ~