Sifadis, Shore House Heiress
Again Lorken was walking indecently close. And he was beginning to stink. She, too, sweated in this southern heat, it couldn’t be helped, but his sweat seemed to seep in an already stale state. “Lorken,it is I who am the scholar. Therefore it is I, and only I, who need to apply.”
She had said it quietly and politely – too quietly, perhaps, and too politely. The wretched bisonian still was tailing her, his walloping boots catching her heels.
“Lorken!” How was she to say this? He might be a holde but he still had feelings; she didn’t want to say it too bluntly. “Yikes, Lorken, listen; you were contracted for my safety whilst I travelled. Hey, loh, I am here. So just . . . go find something other to do. Only leave the women alone. You heard what that Kachinnar Ostlier said last night. They are not stews.”
“With respect, Sifadis Lafdi Bel Hade, I was contracted to protect you not only while travelling but whenever, wherever.”
She exaggerated the look she cast about her, though it was unlikely he’d take the hint. After the crowds of the past two days, the Hub was now almost deserted, just a few Lubanthan frequenting the shrines – ancestor worship, Lorken had said with a sneer, not realising he also scorned the citadel Houses. But deserted or not, she had no desire to hold this conversation out in the open where all could hear. “So say, Lorken, where is the danger here?”
“With respect, Sifadis Lafdi Bel Hade –” at least he’d the sense to lower his voice “– I see danger ripe for you here. And, aye, I know your purpose; Gowen Hadd apprised me.”
“Fy and ay, you’re an impossible man, Lorken Holde. Any other would have eagerly skipped away when given leave to play.” And she knew well his reference to danger: it was that poet. “But if you know what I’m doing then you’ll realise your constant attendance upon me can only raise suspicions about me. So do as you’re told, and go. Now. Shoo.” Polite, still quiet, yet she laced her voice with stern vexation.
“Forgive my refusal, Bel Hade,” he came back at her. “But I serve Gowen Hadd before I serve you. You will not attend the Council alone.”
She gave him a look most severe. What danger did he imagine in her application to the Council? From the way Boddy Rookeri had said it, it was more like the Witan. It was certainly no court, even though she must first apply to the judge – who wasn’t a stew-house keeper. To annoy Lorken she hastened along, though at heart she was in no hurry. She rather would dawdle as she mused on this Boddy.
Hay la, but he’d been most helpful to her – and that was where Lorken saw the danger. Perhaps the Dragon had been commanded to it, perhaps by his count. But that supposed the count suspected her purpose, and that was unlikely. She was a scholar, no need to play it. And so Boddy’s interest in her was . . . her breath caught in her throat.
Lotus Lafdi in clear springs rising / wash the earthly from this body /
Fill in its stead your love and your spirit / make of this man a swain more worthy.
She’d not had a poet as a swain before. She’d not had a swain. Warm pleasure spread through her.
~ ~ ~
Hur, and there was that woman again, now at the judge’s office. Lorken leered at her, the ochre-skinned black-haired rig who received them. ”Sun’s blessings, stranger. And how might we help you?” Sifadis wanted to answer, by applying less Nalada; it wasn’t a salve. But she took a breath. She wanted to say, by removing her butt from Boddy’s groin. She was glad when the judge immediately called for her.
With his nodding and smiling and taking his ease in his chair Judge Madir seemed an amiable man, a quality shared with Mikel Lafard Awis. But he also had the mien of a man used to battles, and those fought with a battle-axe and broadsword rather than words. After the initial greetings Sifadis asked him of those battles – just by way of polite conversation.
“Why yes,” he cheerfully answered. “As all Lubanthan men must, I served both the Town Watch and the Dragons from my marriage to Rasel till my first child was born. It is the law. Rasel, my dear,” he thoughtfully added, “is our townstead goddess.”
“Hay la!” Sifadis laughed and delightedly clapped. “How much I am learning. My master says we must learn something new with each day. Most certainly my coming to Luban is helping me achieve it. But I am surprised to find you seated here. The judge in Rothi always attends the Council.”
“Well here in Luban we attend only as needed – which will be when your petition is heard. Please, do sit.”
Sifadis remained standing. “Is this to take long? I mean, will my petition be heard today?”
“Mm, I shouldn’t wonder. And, please, do sit; you force me to stand too. No, directly after I have taken your statement I shall try to slip it in for the hearing. But a word of advice, young woman. When attending the Council you address the nobles as Patri.” He nodded – though in approval of her sitting, or to hammer his meaning, she was unsure. Lorken stood by the door, an habitual holde.
“But, Patri, you take this information from me now and then it’s repeated over for the Council. Is this not a waste of time, yours and mine?”
“But what is time?” His hands spread in expansive gesture. “A commodity which cannot be bought and yet we spend. No, young woman, in answer to you, my role here is to provide the nobles with all relevant information so they might form their pertinent questions – in areas they deem need further inquiry, not to ask after your grandfather’s in-grown toenail. Have I now made it clear?”
Was he being humorous or sarcastic; Sifadis wasn’t sure. Regardless, she nodded and briefly smiled before saying in plaintive tone, “I want only to search for a missing ancestor – Patri.”
“And I want only to protect our records. You must appreciate, young woman, that every Council Meeting since the Accord is here recorded. So, too, for every hearing in our court. You must realise this vast store of information could prove useful to someone intent on, say, damage of either our townstead or perhaps a noble. You follow my meaning?”
She nodded and smiled; he seemed to require it of her. Beside the door, Lorken scuffed his feet. He likely was thinking the same as her: If plans had been made and approved by the Council to send a spy to Citadel Lecheni – no less a person than this judge’s own daughter – then it would be here recorded, as would any talk of attack. It would be in the more recent records, so she’d no need to search far – allowing for discussion and preparation and the spy’s travel-time, no farther back than the Goat. Thus one day spent in their student-stuffed Records Hall and she would have her evidence – if such existed.
Sifadis smiled to herself. If such existed. More likely she’d find there was no such evidence. She’d been sent on a wild goose chase – a phrase much used by the Rothi ancestors. They had favoured another phrase too: to call wolf. And that’s what Kalamite Runman was doing – at least in regards to this Lubanthan assault. But that suited her. She then could return to Lecheni before this predicted triple eclipse. She had left instructions with Hanfling Hadd to ensure no ships were out at sea, and that those in the hythes were allowed a long tie, but she would rather be there for the event.
And yet, in returning she’d relinquish her adoring swain. Aye, but, hay la, that set against the life of the judge’s daughter? For they would kill her, unless she could prove she wasn’t a spy. And Kalamite Runman had been so convinced of it. Nah, the adoring swain was a small sacrifice. But there was also her quest . . .
“Shall we begin, hm?” the judge prompted. “Your name?”
Ay and she might have thought to give a false name had she not been flustered at finding her swain rubbing groins with another when she first arrived at Rookeri Gardens. It now was too late. “That will be Sifadis. Patri.”
“Sifadis. Nothing other?” The judge’s quill hovered over the fragrant mace-paper.
“You want that I should have a second name? Nah, Patri, we Rothi have only the one.”
“Hay la! I have said. Scholar – Patri.”
“Hm.” His pen squeaked against the paper. “Married?”
“I am a scholar,” she answered indignant.
“Place of origin?”
And which citadel ought she to give? Not Citadel Lecheni, not when Ryal Holde might be here in the town.
“And Patri, is it the place of my birth that you ask?”
“Are the two not the same – since you are not married?”
“In Luban, it may happen so, but not in Rothi. We Rothi move for many reasons. I was born within the walls of Citadel Dief –“ which citadel existed should he care to check it “– but then I moved to Citadel Mefhi, to study – my wishardt-master is resident there. Patri.” She knew that citadel also existed; it was a port. Gowen Hadd travelled there twice a year on some undisclosed, mysterious business.
The judge nodded, his pen scaring the surface of the aromatic mace paper.
And now she toyed with him. “But if by ‘origin’ you mean the port from which I entered Luban, then that must be Citadel Pot.”
He looked up sharply. “You came here via Chendani Pass?”
“Ay, Patri.” Was she a lorel to say that she’d come by way of the Falls? Ay, and then her port of origin could be no other than Citadel Lecheni.
“And you were not troubled by bandits?”
“Nah, I have my master’s bondsmen with me.” She glanced back at Lorken. That was conveniently said; now she’d no need to further explain his presence.
“So had my daughter two armed men with her, yet they were slaughtered.”
“Your daughter was . . .?” She was genuinely aghast. She had thought this the father of Kalamite’s spy, but apparently not.
“No, no, no, young Sifadis, praise the Avatar. Was only her escort slaughtered. No, my daughter survived.” Yet clearly and rightly he was distraught. Though he tried to cover it, it was there in his voice.
“Hay lah ay, Patri, but still wretched news to be brought you. Your daughter is grown or a child? Was she much harmed?” And this same daughter proceeded then to Citadel Lecheni? Hay lah, what a woman; Sifadis admired her.
“My brave girl,” the judge said, his hands shaking. “Yes, she is some few years your elder. But I am recently assured she is unharmed and has continued her way.”
Sifadis realised she was shaking her head. No doubt the judge thought it in sympathy. But where was the fit with Kalamite’s story? Not even touching the edges, she could hear the rattle. This man would never send his daughter as a spy prior to an attack. Nah, this journey was all wolves and geese.
“Now, this research,” the judge said. “I need to know more of it. What exactly do you seek and how do you intend to proceed?”
Ay and this she could easily answer. This was her heart’s desire. Were she not on this mission for Gowen, this she’d much prefer to be doing. She had idly dreamt of it; she knew exactly how to proceed.
“I seek a Rothi man by name of Keril-og who, as we believe, ventured here some ten generations gone. And whether entering Luban by way of the Falls or by Chendani Pass still Raselstad is the first townstead encountered. Hap and hope, he stayed here for some time. He would need to recover his strength from his journey. And hap and hope, his passing here is recorded. And so I must read the relevant years of your records. Scour them, my master said.”
The judge nodded. “Yes, I can see this could be so. So, let’s think. Which records will you require? The Council Minutes for the years . . . ten generations you say? Such an uncertain term, as many as five to the century if accorded the mother, yet as few as three when accorded the man. Shall we say the years of the Accord One-Fifty to Two-Fifty? We will apply for a permit to cover those years. That will make it so much easier. Less need to check your tonsils and the colour of your blood. Hm?”
It was the judge’s attempts at humour. And it failed to lessen the crash. No permit to cover the recent Minutes? So the information required wasn’t to be so easily had. And what a lorel to think it! As if these Lubanthan would allow her, a Rothi, free knowledge of their recent discussions.
Ay, she could be a spy sent by Mallen Ledhere to know who was moving what valuable goods to where. But she had achieved something: she knew now where to find said information. Now all that was needed was another way to it. And being sat in the Records Hall, she was half the way there.
“Now as to your master,” the judge recalled her attention. “What is his name?”
“Hay la, such information you ask of me.” And how much did the Lubanthan know of Rothi? Had they a register of wishardt-masters? She gave a name she’d seen in the Holy Book, and hoped.
~ ~ ~
She followed the judge to the Council House. She never would have thought to wear grey silk yet seeing it now worn by Judge Madir . . . it shimmered like silver, reminding her of Breken Lafard’s metal bird. Ay, but this was in the strong Lubanthan sun. It would return to grey beneath the drab Rothi skies.
Beside her, Lorken bad-temperedly sneered. “Now will you be glad that I’m here, Lafdi Bel Hade? Just tell me where these records are and come night’s blackness I’ll find a way in.”
“You’ll do no such thing. Yikes, have you no head to be thinking? You want that I make a poodle of you on our return? They catch you, Lorken, and it’ll be blown for us both. Ay me, and I would deny you, for what good it would do. Nah, this Boddy wants to be of help, so let’s see how much he can help.”
“Huh, I know what that one is after, the way he looks at you.”
“And that is not your concern.”
“Aye, Sifadis Lafdi Bel Hade, begging forgiveness, Sifadis Lafdi Bel Hade.”
And that sounded as sincere as the call of a unicorn. She glowered at him. He didn’t see her smile as she turned away.
~ ~ ~
Six bells rang.
Yeah zo! What had happened to his intentions that morning? He was supposed to be tracking the change from Royanth to Rookeri in the Council Minutes. Yet every time that outer door opened, up his head came. He’d gotten nowhere. And it was always a student that entered. Midday and still no Sifadis.
The two Dragons assigned by Count Slemba had reported on the Sunday night that her two watchmen had accompanied Sifadis everywhere—
“They behaved as visitors new to a townstead,” Count Slemba told Boddy. “And of course they did. Do we expect them to play up with a town full of facking Dragons? It was noted they didn’t part with much coin.”
Boddy had nodded at that. “Yeah, and that’s in line with her story.”
“It’s in line with being them careful. We’ll see what the Council makes of her. I’ve told Noscere to make her work for that permit. If he turns up nothing . . . well, just keep a watch on them, eh.”
Boddy stifled a sigh. So the Council had refused her the permit after all. Was he relieved that soon she’d be gone from Raselstad? Natzo. Facking big natzo. But at least then he could stop this useless wanting. And his heart would soon settle again.
Yeah but . . . Ghats and rats, he didn’t want her to leave. He wanted—
The moons? They always seem closer on rising.
Yeah, I know, and she is everything water.
The door slammed. And slammed. The students were leaving in their pairs and their groups. After the first few slams he paid them no heed, sullenly gazing at the Minutes before him and cursing. If he’d made a note of the date, at least the year, that day he found it . . . but then he’d not expected Negghe to haul him away. He’d had to start again at the beginning: Year of the Accord, some 482 years ago.
He had reached Accord 150 when the door creaked open. Hey, that wasn’t a student. That was too gentle.
He raised his eyes while his head stayed down – and an invisible wayward polypod pummelled his innards. Great, yeah, fine, he now couldn’t breathe. And he found himself laughing, just a quiet chuckle. He clamped his jaws to force it to stop. He tracked her with his eyes, from the door to the Hall-keeper’s desk. He saw in her hand a slip of paper.
Yeah zo! He tucked his head in, not to be seen with this inane grin.
“Young Boteras Rookeri?” the Hall-keeper said.
He sucked in his cheeks and straightened his face before he looked up. Hey, man, disturbing him when he was buried into his work. The Hall-keeper stood beside him, waiting.
“If you’re not using these Minutes –” her hand was already possessive upon them “– another seeks use of them.”
Ghats! Boddy watched as the Hall-keeper removed them.
~ ~ ~