Eshe Parlan, Femella
Eshe watched from the shadows as Kilda dropped a bundle of soiled linen on the chiparin’s table. The chiparin’s wife immediately moved the bundle to the settee. “We eat there.”
“Halloa, Bel Lafdi, Blessed Blithe loves you—I come bearing news.,” Kilda said as if she’d not heard. “But, too, I bring a hundred sorries—some news is bad.”
Eshe’s relief at seeing the stew collapsed, her sudden elation dropped like a stone into mud. And what was the bad news? Was it of Trefan? She’d been trying not to think, not to speculate, for what good was that. Instead, she’d buried her head in the work, though it mostly was manual. Eshe forced a smile. “But it is good to see you.”
“How are you bearing?” Kilda asked, her affection genuine.
“She’s doing well without interruptions, thank you,” the chiparin’s wife Zanda said and snatched the list of pigment requirements from Kilda.
“My arms now are now used to the grinding,” Eshe said.
Zanda shrugged. “We cannot take her without her helping.”
The work wasn’t hard but it was repetitive, and Eshe’s shoulders had hurt at first. But Zanda had been patient, and encouraging, and Lauschen the chiparin had enthused at Eshe’s knowledge of rocks. “If you stay, I’ll make you my sprat. Then one day you, too, will trade in quality pigments.”
If she stayed—and what else could she do, trapped here in the chiparin’s house. For a town-house it was grand, though much smaller than the citadel houses, and not ornate. Yet it did have two floors and a roofed balcony overlooking the courtyard. How pleasant it would have been to sit there in the sun, but that was to risk being seen. The house was largely built of robeau,.a rubble core upon which the bricks were veneered – as Lauschen had proudly explained. Draught-proof in winter, cool in summer, to the chiparin’s eyes it was the grandest thing this side of the citadel warison. Which made no difference, she still was trapped here.
“So what’s the good news?” she asked.
“Tra-la!” Kilda trilled with a sweeping flourish towards the bundle.
“You’ve brought me your washing?” Eshe said, a quizzical look at the stew.
“Hey, excite,” Kilda tried to bully her spirits. “Every thing that you left at the Gardens, all is here. A hundred sorries for not bringing them sooner but, foo-fiddly, that Kalamite has kept such a watch. For these past weeks, everywhere I’ve gone, so has gone he. But he now seems satisfied that I know not where you are. And today, since I have need of supplies for my paintings . . . “ She clutched her hands to her chest, looking earnest. “The linen I’ll deliver to the washa-hinan on my way back. It’s only in case he still is watching.”
“Someone watches the house,” Zanda called from the work-room.
Eshe had yet to determine whether he was a citadel holde or some trall in Kalamite’s employ. She could never get a good view without him seeing her. He hung around the shrubbery between the gardens.
“Then as well I brought the excuse,” Kilda said and patted the bundle.
Eshe hadn’t left much at the Gardens; she didn’t have much. There was the grubby cotton shirt and trousers she’d worn when leaving Raselstad, some oddments of food – her journal. Kilda waggled it in front of her. “Hundred sorries, I read it.”
“Then you know for certain the truth of me.”
“Yea, and sorries again that I doubted. The Awis, too, he read it.”
“So that’s why the charge was dropped?” It had been awful, the weeks of waiting and no sign of Mikel Lafard, though Kilda had said. She’d been so worried for Trefan, and glad of the pigments to grind, the distraction of talking to Lauschen of ores and their finding. It was genius of Kilda to send her here, though Kilda couldn’t have known. Then one evening, while they rested after eating, Lauschen had ‘by-the-way’ mentioned that Trefan Lafard was strutting again. She had started singing after that – Rothi songs, in case the watcher was listening. Though with her voice, he’d have wished himself deaf had he heard.
“I envy you,” Kilda said. “You the—” she looked round for Zanda. Though in the next room, busying herself with Kilda’s order, she still might hear what was said. “Well, you have something more than your body. For me, my body’s my food, my clothes and my roof. Without it what am I? Dead.”
“There’s the Awis,” Eshe said, hushed as a breath.
“Blessed Blithe,” Kilda laughed. “You think the Awis would . . . nay, Bel Lafdi. Not once the children have grown – and they do grow. But listen to me, when I’ve other news for you.”
“Bad news, you said.”
Kilda looked down, her fingers fiddling with her bangles.
Eshe dreaded to hear it. She hugged the journal close, for comfort. “That bad, huh?”
Kilda waggled her head. “That horse, you never told me of your horse. If you had said, I would’ve gone sooner. The Awis told me during the investigation of you, but I’ve been tailed ever since. Then today—”
“What’s happened?” Eshe felt icy cold, she felt horribly sick.
“I-I can’t actually say.”
Now she was grinding her fist into her palm as if, like Eshe, she was grinding ore. Whatever it was, it was deeply troubling her. Eshe feared for the worst, then dreaded to think what the worst might be.
“I was going to pay for further stabling; I was going to do that for you. But he’s not there. I wanted to ask the eskuri but that would only draw attention. He’s gone,” she wailed.
“Gods!” Eshe was aghast. “My woesome Muzzle. And now I truly am stuck in this trap.” Then she felt guilty for saying that; as if the fate of the horse didn’t matter.
“Mayhap Dizpeter intends it?” Kilda suggested with a glance towards the open door and Zanda beyond. She again lowered her voice. “You know, keeping you here so you can wed . . . you know, your man.”
Eshe shook her head, the journal hugged to her. She started to rock, a comforting motion. Why had everything turned against her? Kilda was a romantic to think for a moment that Trefan would ever wed her. And now without Muzzle—Where was he? Was he dead? How could she return to Raselstad without him. If only that noleless watcher would stop watching, that would be something.
~ ~ ~
Keefer-Papa of Runman Order
“Cats,” Kalamite said to Matikkas as they sauntered together along Mongelen Way, the avenue parallel, and behind, Chiparin Lane. “Have you ever mused on them? But, nay, a drip-headed hindling like you, I don’t suppose that you have. So I’ll say it. What good is a cat? Eh? The other vertebrates all are providers. Milk, meat, skins—things we can use. Even the amphibs supply us with, um . . . well something. But what of the cat, eh, what use is that?”
“Cats?” Matikkas asked.
“Aiya! Cats!” Kalamite snapped, for a moment losing grip of his patience. “The cat’s only service is to clean the campus, and to provide fertility-skins. Now, I ask, cats, what need have we of them?”
Matikkas shook his head, his upper lip lifting. And was that a sneer? No matter; he’d soon do away with the while-a-day. But as yet, he had one more use of the fizzling.
“Is it a coincidence,” Kalamite asked, rhetorically, “that cat so often prefixes the ‘down’ words? Eh? Cataclysm. Catacomb. Catalepsy. Cataract . . . Catastrophe?”
“Look, Papa Hadd,” Matikkas said and caught Kalamite in the eye as he threw his hands wide, “I’m nought but an humble holde, that’s me. So what do I know of your fluting words—I never did read your Holy Book anyways. Though I will say, to answer your talk of cats, there’s caterpillar, catapult and cater, that you forgot.”
“Aiya! You miss the point entirely. Listen. There is a push-a-push pussy in there.” He nodded vaguely towards the back of Lauschen’s house, conveniently three along from Ffika’s sister.
“I know,” Matikkas said with a slimy grin. “I’ve been watching her.”
“Jert! And I have been watching you watching her. And you have been oiling that billy of yours in their garden.” The bisonian deserved decapitation. Were it not for the disturbance, he would cheerfully akold the man right here, right now. “Now, you can stop your watching and stop your pulling. I have another job for you. I want that push-a-push pussy drowned.”
The ancient holde grinned, spilling drool. “The spy?”
“Nix!” Kalamite groaned. “You ignoble toothless crud, after all I’ve said of cats. The push-a-push pussy—must I spell it? The stew.”
“Ow, her. But I thought you wanted the spy.”
“The deuce I do. But you think I would leave the spy to you? The cat, the pussy, the push-it-in stew. Aiy, and if you like, you can play with her first.”
“Bury what you will in her, but I want her dead. No more tittle-tattling to her lafard. Catastrophes happen. And that’s a downer for cats.”
Does that satisfy your hunger, my lover, my lafdi, my queen? He laughed, dribbling red-juice which he sucked back in.
~ ~ ~