Boddy felt like lead as he climbed the stairs. How could intangible thoughts, lighter than air, add such weight to his feet. And the splash in Sharmin’s cold water lavi hadn’t helped. Spew on it, man, he told himself, forget her. She was Rothi, high born. The mere notion was whimsy.
But . . . high born. Then why wasn’t she married? And she wasn’t married else she’d not be a scholar, not in Rothi. Something here didn’t tally. Rothi society revolved round their Houses and the alliances between them. Boddy didn’t understand it all, something of tributes and levies and other taxations, foul Murky’s stuff. But he did know a high born Rothi would be eagerly snapped. Her father would not be as understanding as Eshe’s.
Pah, Ghats, rats and shats! He spat in disgust. She was Rothi, man, forget it. Yet he couldn’t push away the sight and the thought and the smell of her.
She could be widowed, that would explain it. As in Luban, a Rothi widow wasn’t allowed to remarry. Harsh, yeah, but the land couldn’t support more population and married women bulged with their babies. Unfair too when the Rothi man, chasing alliance, married time and again. So, yeah, she could be a widow.
But widowed, she’d still be a world away from his reach.
Yeah, and wasn’t she anyway? He kicked at the clothes he’d just discarded.
Boddy Felagi cries for the moon.
He ignored his little god Roo, growled and picked up the trousers and shirt to add them to a pile that was rapidly growing.
And if Boddy Felagi, don’t soon do some washing, Boddy Felagi will have nothing to wear.
Again, Boddy growled. “I’ll take them tomorrow to Ceilia.” She was Sharmin’s gord laundress. Yeah, but for now what to wear? He ran his eyes over the few clothes left, hanging upon wall-hooks. He groaned. “Yeah zo, Roo, but a scholar?”
With a harsh expiration he tutted and stepped into clean trousers – blood-red like his discarded shirt. Like her hair.
“And anyway, what’s so peck about a Rothi scholar, hey? Can you tell me that, Roo, huh?”
Rothi abounded in scholars, all burying their noses in their Holy Book, foraging for words ancient and honourable to disguise their trafficking with the Forbidden. Verth they called him and added “the Varlet”. But Verth meant worth. What a paltry disguise. And what a drab clique, these Rothi historians, wanting to know only of the Old World, tolerating the Runman Cult with its unearthed old gods. Ghats and rats, he’d not toady to her! There was no truth in Rothi. Nothing but old gods and fabricated gods and poetic words to hide their gold-gods.
Woe, Boddy Felagi, I say you are blind.
“Yea, yea, I know what you’re saying. Of all the Rothi, the scholars alone forsake wealth. And she is a scholar.” He shuffled his shoulders to settle the shirt of deep topaz silk. “Yeah zo, Roo, just make her go away.”
~ ~ ~
The Hub was a shoulder-press, loud with the fair-folk calling, “Come try your skill / Come take a ride / Come taste these sweet treats / Come along, come along and see this.” The children excited, were squealing; their mothers anxious, berating. Somewhere music was playing: a lively fiddle, a pipe and deep horn. Boddy’s shoulders started swaying, in one hand an invisible double-knobbed stick, in the other an invisible tabor, as in his head he rapped to the beat.
And that is asking for loss, Roo said.
Boddy dropped the drum and slapped the hand that was feeling around the back of his trousers. So many people squeezed together; how many coins and purses taken. And who’d take the blame?
Beams again, Boddy Felagi. Beams.
Yeah yeah, and I’m as much prejudging as those prejudging.
He turned from the Hub at Royan’s shrine, breathing with pleasure the fresher air there. He would return in the evening tomorrow to try out the skill-games. Tomorrow evening would be quieter. Tomorrow evening there’d be no scrample supporters. He hoped the defeated wouldn’t be Raselstad. Yeah zo, this close to the final. And wouldn’t that be something. The chorus would have to go to Regionalstad to supply entertainment. Yezzzah, now that would be glory.
Away from the Hub was quieter but the brizze flies were shredding the air. Dive, zoom, buzz – Boddy swiped at them. Rookeri Gardens’ tavern was heaving. He could hear the waves of chatter and shrieks of laughter long before he reached there. He could hear his chorus-musicians too. Hey, was that a reason to be proud or was that a reason. He went straight to the small theatre, his thoughts on the play for Parla’s feast-day.
Parla, the Founder most concerned with commerce, on whose feast-day those of twenty years old were granted their permits to travel and to trade. And that brought his thoughts back to the Rothi scholar, and to Eshe. There’d been no news of her yet.
“Ah! Finally, he appears.” He didn’t need Lucire to pounce on him while still he stood in the theatre doorway. Too warm this evening in a room without windows, they’d left the door wide. “Boteras, you tell your pet stick to keep his hands off me. And I will not have him telling me what to do. He’s a–a raw leather-flapper.” She threw her hands wide, spelling disgust with face and fingers.
Boddy closed his eyes while he counted though a count to ten thousand still wouldn’t suffice.
Her uncle, your uncle, the Council . . . Boddy Felagi, you vent that anger, you lose your chorus.
Yeah, he knew it. “Lucire, what would you say if I said your father was a stick and a flapper?”
She frowned, not understanding. Fine, so he’d elucidate.
“For most of my life ‘that man’ has served as my father. But you didn’t know that so I’ll forgive you. But I won’t have him called a stick, a wick, or a bat. Now, lady, you want to dance, you’ll accept his direction. For it’s him who trains the dancers.”
“But he made me hold that useless grass ball,” she said, complexion deepened to an unnatural bright ochre.
“Oh did he? Then, great. That’s to develop your strength.”
“But . . . it’s weightless.”
“That is the point.”
She was apparently undecided whether to squeal or to gape so he left her standing. Yeah zo, how glad that the tavern kept Jonesi busy tonight. He would not have the man hearing this.
He spotted Negghe. He sat on the edge of the stage, teasing a soft melody from his twelve-stringed zither. Boddy made his way there. Amongst those around him was Janta, ready to pick up the tune on his oboe. Boddy allowed the music to wash over him, soothing. For a short while there he’d felt brusque and stiff; too much annoyance. But he soon was happy again. A shame he had to stop them.
“Dance rehearsals. Sorry,” he called, and the others finally noticed him.
“Hey!’ Valent shouted from across the room, though she always was loud, “The Felagi is back.” She flashed a sneer at Lucire.
Frize caught Lucire’s eye and tilted her head, chin cocked – which said even more. Boddy groaned; had Lucire endeared herself to no one here?
At the clap of his hands the auditorium cleared and the dancers formed to a loose line.
“‘Great,” Boddy said, “But for now I want only the women.” That brought hoots and whistles. “Dola, Avista, Asanche, what say some music? And, Negghe, what’s been rehearsed?”
“Ah, it’s nothing new, it’s . . .”
Boddy knew how it was; made a motion meant only for Negghe. “From last year’s Parla, yea?”
At a sign from Negghe the percussion began with Dola and Avista on timbrel and tabor tapping the rhythm. Asanche soon came in with his long reed-shalm and Janta on his oboe.
It wasn’t a full band as some choruses had but internally it hit the right chords. Boddy responded, his body in rhythmic undulation while in his head he sang last year’s hymn. Then he sang it out loud. His gaze travelled the length of the line: Valent, Svana, Milith, Shaklar, Frize and Lucire. Yeah zo, they were good – but for the one. Except for that one, their bodies followed the same motions as his, slowly adjusting to what they’d rehearsed.
Yezzzah! Just look at them now with their shoulders shuffling, reaching forward, pulling back, spines curving, hips gyring, through to their thighs, their knees, their feet . . . He watched from behind. six women all different in age, height and build. from Frize the oldest with a child of twelve, to Lucire the youngest who shouldn’t be there, from Milith almost as tall as Boddy, to Svana the shortest . . . And in five of the six the music flowed. Then there was Lucire.
“Hey, ladies, show me, yeah . . . Move those bodies like you’re seducing . . . Grrrind it out, yeah . . . Slow . . . Slinky . . . Work it out sloow . . . ooohsssooossslow . . . sossliiinky . . . Make it muurky, ladies, muuurky . . . . Make it down-in-the-glove hot and diiiiirty . . . You’re the sweeetest wine, the sssooftest silk . . . You’re the gleaaaam of subveeerting gooold . . . You’re Parla . . . Destroyer . . . incarnate . . . You’re the inssidious sseduction of Mercury’s market . . . Sshow me, ladies, sshow me thisss, yeah.”
“Hey, Felagi,” Valent said, her body weaving, “don’t say my butt isn’t moving enough.”
Boddy laughed. “Now that’s what I call panting for Parla, yezzzah . . . close to indecent, Valent honey, it’s time you were wed.”
His gaze drifted back to Lucire. He moved his body in close behind her, his hands clasping her scarlet clad hips. “Lean,” he said quietly into her ear.
Yeah zo, so slow to catch the drift, this one. He moved his shoulders persuasive against her. But, Ghats and rats and filthy shats, she was as stiff as a stick, and no music in her. And if she thought he enjoyed it, she was much mistaken; she applied that Nalada like lard on toast.
“Hey, loosen, lady. Move with my body . . . Feel it, move with it . . . Open your head and your heart to the flow . . . Honey, now, you are the music, be the music.”’ He spoke quietly close into her ear, as seductive as any lover – but that only to save her the embarrassment of this extra coaching.And still she was hopeless.
“I am limber,” she said.
“Natzo, Lucire, you’re so . . . you’re rigid. What is it? Fear? But no man’s going to ravish you here; it’s a dance, Lucire. Honey-muffin, just open your head . . . Yeah yeah yeah . . . Hear that music?. . . Yeah yeah yeah . . . Feel it, flow . . . Yeah yeah yeah.”
Na na na, though he moved her hips with his hands, moving her body by moving against her, yet she would not relax. And whatever she followed it wasn’t the music. Nor was it him. She was way out of time with the others. He wrapped his arm full around her, encircling her ribs. His other hand he spread low on her belly. He pressed her so close against him they surely must blend – and realised then that Negghe was looking at him.
Looking at Boddy, looking across to the door, with an expression that said Boddy had best look too. What was it? Was it Uncle Sturan stood in the doorway?
Boddy released his hold of Lucire as he turned and . . .
Ghats and shats and—and who was it stood in the doorway? Who? Only her with the bloody-red hair. Ghats, rats and murky shats!
~ ~ ~
Roots of Rookeri 17