Boddy blamed his expired inspiration on the additional gord-work his uncle had set him. But Negghe tushed and poo’d and lily-loo’d him.
“No, Boy-Boddy, I wouldn’t say it was that. Has hard work that effect upon me, has it? Wowz-what? No, since turning my hand to butchery my head’s fair whizzing. Joint a beef-boy, zing! Inspiration’s in. Joint a pork-boy, zout. Personally, I think it’s compensation, but don’t tell the father that. He’d use it against me, he would. He still wants me back. “
“But, think Egghe. It’s that makes it work for you.”
‘Er?’ Negghe held out his hands.
But, Ghats, must Boddy explain everything to him. Couldn’t Negghe see, their situations were opposite: Negghe was free of gord-obligations while Boddy was weighted with them. Rather than zinging, Sharmin Gord had stolen the inspiration from him. Without it he forsook the idea of the Bendel’s feast-play and did as he’d never done before. Reworked an old script. Zo, it had been written some four hundred years earlier; the lingo was stilted and finicky-correct, and no one now living would recognise it once he’d changed it and added his own little bits – unless of course the holy men were right and memory passed along with the soul. Then . . . ho-hum, hey. With the play written – or rewritten – he left Negghe to oversee the rehearsals. Had he no choice or had he no choice? He had no choice; Uncle Sturan was piling the work upon him. More muck to heap up to make into more walls. Then there was the foul-water ditch to be dredged.
But now, another day done, and though he was itchy with the dust and the sweat he soon sluiced that off in Sharmin’s lavi-block. Then, Ghats-rubber legged, he hauled himself up the backstairs to his room. Truth, now he’d grown used to the work he no longer needed to sink down on the rattan-divan and snap a nap until the dinner-gong. Instead, this evening, having changed into clean clothes, he was straight back out – though not to go far.
How could expect his head to settle to writing when inside it were thoughts shooting off in every direction. If he could nip a few of them . . . though there was nothing he could do about Eshe and his frantic imaginings of dire happenings short of saddling his horse, Mason Lace, and flying off after her. But he might be able to settle that constant mull over what he’d discovered in the Council Minutes, about how Royanth had became Rookeri.
Yeah zo, easiest would be to return to the Records Hall but with Uncle Sturan always at him, how could he. Equal hours, Judge Madir had said but Uncle Sturan’s ears had turned deaf to those words.
He could ask Jonesi what he knew of Rookeri. But though Boddy wasn’t sure whence Jonesi came, he knew he was no Raselstad man. He half-remembered talk of a townstead destroyed by amphibs and illness, with everyone dead but for a boy. That boy had been Jonesi. For years he had wandered the land until, grown, he’d happed upon Boddy’s father Estas who had taken him in. Besides, what good was Jonesi; he seldom talked of the past.
Yet there was someone he could ask who might know. And she was right here in Sharmin House.
Not since his first few years here, when he’d needed extra lessons at the Beym School, had Boddy entered the house, not even to shelter in the hurricane burrows beneath it. Though it was a newer build than the other gord-houses, it still had a two-storeyed hall at its heart. and four halls in the wings, all communal. Above these were the apartments. Patri Sturan’s, at the front, occupied the entire south wing. Boddy’s, a cramped cold room, was set at the back, to the north, and overlooked Remen’s Black Tower.
The House entrance was, as intended, imposing. A south-facing portico with columns of wood-grass masquerading as proper tree trunks. But Boddy ignored it and slipped in through the screens, still open to the west to catch the evening light. He wove through the colonnades set there, divisions to separate and intimidate visitors, and crossed the central hall with a jivey walk though as he boy he used to race across it – for which, several times, he’d been rapped. He then would thump down the steps to the north wing. That’s where the library and study hall was. He did it only to annoy Beym Iresanta. She, the beym, was supposed to teach him, that’s why it was called the Beym School. But she, Beym Iresanta, had refused him. It wasn’t personal; she just didn’t like teaching the boys, and neither would she teach in the evenings. Fine; did he mind. No, for instead Gammer Haspra had been his beym-teacher. He liked Gammer Haspra. She was his mother’s mother.
But he didn’t find her in the north hall as he’d expected. Natzo! That meant she was in the woman’s hall. Did he cringe at the thought or did he . . . all those women together, gossiping while they peered close at their sewing, discussing the virtues of this or that person as potential spouse for this or that gens. And who did they suggest for him, he wondered. He scoffed at the thought. Some hope.
He took a deep breath at the top of the stairs – only three down, but three into hell – and he set in his head a breezy tune. Hey, Boddy the Hero wouldn’t be broken by the evil warlock, Sturan Sharmin Elect. He fair flowed down the stairs.
Gammer Haspra saw him at once. She laughed a welcome, her arms thrown up, her red bead bracelets clacking like a break of billiard balls. “Boddy-boy, what do you here? And is that the smartest you look when you come see your grandma?”
Hey, what was her grouse. His gentian-blue trousers were clean and were they pressed? They were pressed. And the garnet silk shirt, though loose and hanging, had relinquished its claim upon Uncle Kachinnar’s beer-stains. And he had a kissable baby-smooth cheek to offer her. He’d even tied back his hair in a tail. But if she wanted him to wear fitted coat like a stuffed patri . . . natzo.
She chuckled. “I tease, Boddy-boy. You look fine – so fine, why you not married by now?”
So they had been trying to arrange it for him. But at least, with not being a woman, they had no power over him.
“So is that why you come?” She glanced round at the other women, her face open and hopeful. There was much nodding in return.
Yeah zo, not even his heroes suffered this. “Gammer, sorry, no. I seek a word with my old teacher.”
“Former, my boy, not old. And what is that word?”
“Alone.” His eyes did a quick rove round the hall.
“Yiyiyiyiyi, you have me move my heavy form?”
Not so heavy, those bracelets weighed more. He grimaced an apology, with affectionate pressure applied.
“Femellas, matrones,” she said to her coven, even as she pushed herself up with her stick. “Excuse.”
At the stairs he wanted to help her but she lashed at his hands, though playfully done. He hovered nearby lest she fell. He was impatient to be away from the women and it took forever for her to shuffle her body. She was a mite faster in reaching the study. Her muscles were warming, she said, and her bones unsticking. Her shawl slipped from her head. Boddy picked it up, looked and tutted. Rothi work, the fringing heavy with jewels.
“I am old, I’m allowed. It was my mother’s,” she defended.
He handed it to her after she’d settled upon a divan, choosing the highest seat there. With the hall serving as schoolroom some of those divans were exceedingly low. Boddy took one of middling height, thickly padded and colourfully covered with a woodprint of flowers: Gammer Haspra’s work.
“Now, the word?” She cocked her head, her breathing still laboured.
Yeah but now his question seemed weak and not worth her effort, now that he’d disturbed her evening and harried her into the study-cum-school-room-cum-library.
Ask her, Boddy Felagi. She’ll be tickled you’ve thought to ask her.
“Gammer, how much do you know about Rookeri Gord? I mean its history.”
“You had me move just to ask that? You, who Sturan complains has taken up residence in the Records Hall.”
“Had, Gammer. He’s put a stop to it.”
“Pah!” She waved her hands dismissively. “A thing of the moment. Listen, Boy-Boddy, those walls must be built. You’d have our pippins stung by those goblins, disregarding the law?”
“Yeah, Gammer, I know that but—”
“You’d rather be in the Records Hall, writing your plays. Can’t you write here?” She looked round at the room.
Slender posts held woven-grass panels. Slatted windows opened to east and west. The north wall was blank. Against the grass-panelled walls racks of books alternated with shelves of school-need equipment. The divans and a few tables were set in the centre. There were no kneel-pads. So how could he be comfortable writing in here.
“Tell me, Gammer, you think they’d give me peace? What with Uncle Sturan and Beym Iresanta tutting because, anyway, I can’t do anything right. And the women with their curiosity and constant questions. And the children plaguing, ‘What are you doing, what are you writing, what’s that for?’”
Gammer Haspra understood; she nodded. “So what’s this of Rookeri history? And why ask me?”
“You’re the oldest folk that I know.”
She chuckled and tossed back of her head. “They said I wouldn’t live – because my mother was Rothi. You know that? My father brought her over the Ridge – that’s Patri Amiral’s grandpa. Oh the big ado about that. Ha, years they babbled. She was a different species, they said, weren’t right the two mixing. Yet, two brothers and four sisters and all lived. At least for a while.”
She ran her fingers over the bracelets. Those of two sisters, three nieces and a grandchild were there, but that of a daughter was missing. All these years on, it still upset Boddy to think about that.
“So what’s this about Rookeri history? Don’t expect me to know much. You know I lived to the far side of the Hub until wed into here.”
“It’s not of recent doings,” he said. “Way-way back, Rookeri Gord was called Royanth. I was hoping you might know something about it, heard a story.”
“Did it?” She sat up, her blue eyes watering and now wide open. She tugged at the head-shawl with its illicit sparkles. “Well there.”
“You didn’t know either?”
She shook her head.
“So it’s ho-hum,” he said.
“Though now you say, Boddy-boy, Royanth would be the proper name for it. Royan, Royanth, not Rookeri.”
“That’s why I’m curious. Why the change.”
“Best keep it to winter. More time then to muse on these things. And is that my Sturan calling for you?”
It was. But he didn’t come laden with his usual complaints. “You have a visitor. That unrepentant Negghe-boy.”
Boddy shook his head, the weary sigh only part-acted .“See what happens, Gammer, when I’m not there. It’ll be more trouble with Jonesi and that Lucire.”
“Then best you go sort it.” She waved him away.
“I hope your feet are clean,” Uncle Sturan called after him as he passed through the south hall.
~ ~ ~
Eshe Parlan, Femella
Boddy had unsettled Eshe with his warnings. So much so she had thought of returning to Raselstad and to demand of Patri Noscere for another escort. But the politics of Eirethe Gord were tangled and she had no desire to deepen the feuds. Besides, despite their lack of formal schooling, Hibernal and Pinta seemed efficient enough. At least they knew how to choose a camp-site, safe for the night.
Not that the amphibs were much trouble away from the canals and rivers. Those that spread over the grasslands – the rats and harpies, herissons and polypods, the wyverns and basilisks – might have fearsome teeth but none were poisonous (until they died). Folk even kept the wyvern in a cage as a pet. Besides, at this season they’d be clustering around the rivers and swamps where they laid their eggs. The swamps . . . she shivered, for they had to pass close by Sisny Moss on the way to the Falls and the amphibs there were known to breed thickly there. Particularly the great lumbering grampus. She had seen drawings of it and hoped never to see it in the flesh. And Boddy had fussed about Chendani Pass!
Now thinking of the Moss, sleep escaped her. The night was bright, both Euryale and Medusa coming to full, and her escort were loudly snoring – both, though one was supposed to stay alert and on guard. But at least while they slept there was no banter.
This now was the tenth night and so far she had heard but three topics.
They complained of Patri Noscere. “Who does he think he is? He’s not the real patri; that’s Count Slemba. Even Flower-face Edire is preferable to Noscere. At least he’s Slemba’s brother and sits on the council.” They’d been sent on a foodeloo errand; two months away from women. “Begging your pardon, Femella Eshe, but you don’t count.”
Then there were their comments on women. Pinta stripped to his baggy work-dirtied trousers and paraded his torso saying, “Who can resist?” Admittedly he did have a well-muscled form but, gods, any attractiveness stopped at the neck. Thereafter was an undecided stubbly beard, below blubbery lips, below shaggy brows. And his nose more resembled his favourite animal. The pig. There were other resemblances too, in the way that he ate. Hibernal, married and a father, was less vocal – or less bragging – on the subject of women.
Hibernal had defective hearing. He would lean-in close and asked, of either Eshe or Pinta, to repeat it again. Yet he could hear well enough when the talk was of their third favourite subject. Pigs. Pig wrestling, pig riding . . . Eshe had no desire to know more of what they did with their pigs. Working in the Court Office she heard enough of such things.
She mentally kicked herself for not having brought a book for the journey. But what with everything else . . . And reading wasn’t one of her chosen past-times. Except . . . well, she exchanged letters with one of her father’s long-serving friends who shared her interest in rocks and fossils – his name, aptly, was Geo – and last year he had sent her a book on the Rotashta Rocks. They were to pass those rocks on the way to Lecheni. That book would have been useful. And it would have kept her head busy instead of listening to Twizzle and Twirdle as she now had named them. But she did have a journal it was her duty to keep. And yes, she did make mention of the guards and their sleeping.
Her senses suddenly sharpened. An unexpected whinny – Muzzle, her horse; the guards had none. Jilli had told her of the hounds, in packs, that fell upon travellers. But that was north of the Ridge, not here in Luban. But then, were they properly in Luban? Not really. Close now to Umenkat Forest, this was no-man’s land. And who knew what might lurk in that forest, though the word was that it sheltered nothing worse than insects. Muzzle whinnied again. Under the shrillness Eshe thought she heard something deeper. Like a deep-throated cackle. It was a turkey or partridge or pheasant, she tried to reason, being no expert on birds. It was calling early because of the moons.
But she couldn’t so easily dismiss the gravelly crunch outside her tent.
Her hand fell to her side, where a stiletto was holstered (her father’s gift). She held her other hand over her mouth lest in mounting tension she screamed. She didn’t count herself brave. When there came no other sounds she told herself to relax; it had only been Pinta off for a pee.
But Pinta would have made more noise. He never was quiet.
Then the commotion erupted.
Run! said her little god when already she was curling into a ball, hoping thus not be noticed.
Eh? she queried.
If the god told her . . . She at least had the sense to grab her travel-bag, and to arm herself with the stiletto. Then, head down, she was out of the tent and away, hoping her direction was right. She didn’t want to look. There was blood spurting and spraying and a melee of men where Hibernal and Pinta ought to have been.
She blanked all thought of what was happening. She didn’t want to know, she could do nothing to help. Her sole thought now was to get her life out of there. Muzzle, faithful and patient and now fast acting, was right where she needed him.
~ ~ ~