“Hey!” Boddy called after the bent and gnarled man but the man didn’t wait. Boddy guessed he was one of Gowen Sivator’s servants – he’d come from the tower. Boddy started after him—until he saw movement within the tower’s dark gate. He hastened to there instead. But whoever it was had disappeared.
Boddy pondered for perhaps a second—before the open door became just too inviting. He pulled it wider and poked his head in. There weren’t any windows, that he could see, yet inside wasn’t as dark as the deep shadowed gate. The circular chamber was empty, except for a ladder hiked up to a hole in the bare raftered ceiling.
“Hey!” he shouted up through the hole. “Yoo! Hoi!”
Though he listened intently, there came no reply.
He lifted his foot, the toe of his boot on the bottom rung. But, natzo! It was too impolite. Besides, if his supposition proved correct and this was the home of Gowen Sivator, his uninvited intrusion wouldn’t make for the best first impression – and he needed to do everything possible to win his approval. Boddy had no illusions: he didn’t suppose for a moment that Disa’s ward-holder would immediately favour him. He removed his foot. He retreated – knocking his arm on the sudden doorway. In turning, he caught a glimpse of the garden.
It was guarded behind a black iron grille but that did little to hinder the view, or to spoil his appreciation. He could feel the smile growing as his eyes roved over the fire-juice tree, and the several fat po-plants, and—yeah, Disa had said all of this. He took the time to study them, their growth, their flowering. He named them, counted them, his head the while nodding. His smile slowly spread to a grin. Hey-zo! Now they’d have something besides Disa to talk of. He could—he would—compliment Gowen Sivator on providing the sharp sandy soil, a must for fattening Daabian plants – and hey, just at their fatness. They looked lovingly tended, the best he’d seen since his father’s demise. Yeah, great, he shook that thought away. He further planned their conversation.
He might tentatively touch on the contrast between these Daabian plants and those the Avatar had brought. He could remark—in a complimentary manner—on how the juxtaposition of Daabian plants and the flower-painted tiled tower accentuates this. Then to ensure he wasn’t miss-taken as Murky-Cursed, he might add how the Avatar’s flowers complemented the tower and enhanced its ethereal nature. Yeah zo, he’d soon have Gowen Sivator’s approval.
He looked again at the gaping door set into the dark depths of the gate. He might venture there now, now that he had an excuse for intruding. ‘Ghats, man,’ he’d say, all innocence and wide-eyed, ‘but I only came for permission to see more of the garden, to touch, to smell, to enjoy the exotic plants of my child-days.’ And if Gowen Sivator didn’t believe him, then he could call upon Disa to vouch the truth of him. Yeah zo, who could refuse him – especially when he added a smile! Hey, he was Boddy Felagi, disarmingly charming.
The door banged in the breeze. He steadied it while he again peered into the circular chamber. It seemed darker in there than when he first looked. He could only just make out the ladder. He allowed the door to close and headed there. He’d only one foot on the ladder when he found himself climbing.
Boddy Felagi, you oughtn’t to be here, warned his little god Roo.
Yea, yea, he knew that. But I have my excuses ready.
The ladder gave onto a second circular chamber, again without windows. Yet here he could see the source of light. It streamed through slits in the walls and spilled its tiny shards across the empty floor. Boddy guessed the slits were gaps between tiles—which meant the tiles weren’t laid upon anything as solid as plastered wattle. Instead, the tiles must have been laid upon wood. Boddy approved it. It was a mark in favour of Gowen Sivator, to have built his hall of wood not of stone.
He climbed the next ladder. Hey-zo, what else could he do? It was too inviting; he couldn’t resist.
Boddy Felagi, I’m warning you, you ought not to be here, Roo repeated. You come too soon.
“Yeah, yeah, I hear what you’re saying,” he said, not bothering this time to hide his voice. “But sweet Disa is waiting and, hey, how good it’ll be when I go to her to say, ‘Loh, your ward-holder agrees we should wed’?”
Yet at the next ladder, with his foot on the rung, Boddy paused. Roo was a god and gods didn’t give warning without good reason. Boddy had his excuse rehearsed, repeated and knocked into good form. It hovered now upon his lips awaiting the chance to be said. But what if Gowen Sivator lived here as a recluse? What if he whopped and whipped any intruder? Boddy looked up to the next floor. He looked down to the previous. Up or down, which way to go?
Ghats, rats and shats, you’d never get anywhere if, you didn’t occasionally take a chance.
Again, he raised his foot to the rung—and the door at the bottom banged with an eerie dry hollow sound. Boddy paused, ears keened to listen. It could be the ancient servant returning. He hoped so. If he explained his presence to the servant, the servant could then introduce him to Gowen Sivator. No need yet to mention Disa. And, Ghats and rats, he must remember to use her full name. The thought of her—yezzzah, he couldn’t wait to see her, to hold her, to kiss her. By every grim god, what was he doing wasting his time in climbing towers?
There was no sound of a servant returning.
“Roo, my trusted guide and companion, I’m beginning to think something here is amiss. That bang seems, perhaps, some kind of warning? Would you agree?” Though he spoke aloud, it was softly said.
I have already warned you, Roo said.
“Great, yeah, right, I ought to go. Jonesi will be waiting for me. He’ll be getting worried. And, maybe, yeah, he’s already found her for me.” Boddy grinned. Just the thought of her. He clattered hurriedly back down the ladders.
At the bottom, the first chamber, the lobby was entirely dark. He felt for the door, found it and pushed it. It would not give. Perhaps he should pull it—though he was sure he remembered it opened outward. It wouldn’t open inwards either. Perhaps there was also a catch. He fumbled and found it. But lifting it made not a jot of difference. In frustration, he dived headlong and bashed with his shoulder.
“Hey, Roo, the door is stuck. You reckon someone has locked it? Ghats! Natzo! Don’t tell me I’m trapped here.”
I did warn you, said Roo.
“You knew about this?”
I knew you’re not to be in here yet.
“Now you tell me.”
I did say. You ignored me. Roo’s voice seldom carried emotion but he now sounded hurt.
“Soz, Roo. I mean, I really am sorry.”
There was only one thing to do—to keep climbing the ladders, if need be all the way up to the top, and hope—hope—he’d encounter someone who’d help him out. If not, ho-hum, he’d just have to cross to the central tower and there beg Gowen Sivator’s help. Hey-zo, another excuse for them to meet!
He climbed the ladders. He counted the floors. Fourth floor, fifth floor, they were monotonous in their sameness, each one empty but for the next ladder. They were a waste of space, these floors could have been used for storage, and for the servants’ sleeping quarters. Servants, he caught himself mid-ponder. Servants, how easily he’d slipped into Disa’s talk—her jaw. Would he slip as easily into her way of life? But how could he live so deep into Murky’s pollution? Were there rites to cleanse him of it? None that he knew of. They ought to have spoken of that instead of laughing and loving.
He smiled at the memory of her saying of the Lubanthan, that they were nuggets for growing fruit in their orchards. Yeah, and what else would you grow in an orchard? “Read the Holy Book,” she’d told him. “You’ll find the answer. It’s cabbage.” Yeah, ‘cos. And she’d said the Lubanthan were nuggets? Duh!
She’d asked if he was an author, and he’d said yea—well he wrote plays didn’t he? So she asked him what he ‘made grow’. He shook his head, remembering how her question had thrown him. She had laughed and said to look in the Holy Book. Her and her Holy Book. An author, so she said, is an originator, literally ‘one who makes to grow’. She’d said it with such a wicked glint to her eyes.
“Great, yeah, funny. But that’s your Rothi Holy Book. We’ve already established you use a late copy. Our Good Book says no such nonsense.” But then he’d had to apologise when, later, he’d looked up the word in the Good Book and there found the same quote.
Memories, they haunted him all the way up the ladders. By the time he reach the ninth floor his loins fair-ached for her. But that was fine, they’d soon be married and then . . . he sighed. Then he must live with her wealth. He didn’t yet know how he’d manage that. Could he undermine it from within? Nah, he’d use it to build hundreds and hundreds of mega-huge flower-houses. He hadn’t been jesting when he’d said of holding hands in the Daab. That was his plan.
Now on the top floor of the tower, he could feel the sway of it, battered as it was by the wind. And ahead, a door invited him on.
He braced himself. If the tower was swaying, what then of the fragile walkway. He wished he’d studied it longer while still on the ground.
He took a tentative step on the slatted-wood of the bridge. There were railings to either side of him. He appraised the wood-grass structure with a knowledgeable eye. Short of total collapse it ought to be safe. It was only the joints creaking and groaning as the wood-grass moved in the breeze.
Natzo! He soon discovered it wasn’t a breeze, it was a ratting hurricane. He shivered. How cold would it be up here in the winter? He was glad she had Shore House to live in, down there, out of the wind; glad, too, that they weren’t to live with Gowen, her ward-holder. But Disa, too, had said of the cold. Snow, she’d said, and he’d thought that something found only on mountains. Winter, that’s the season they’d go to the Daab.
Though the cold was biting he’d no other problem with being up here. He made the most of it, scanning around him. He was fascinated to watch the sea. There were boats, he could see, beyond the spit. He corrected himself, remembering what Disa had said. If they go to sea, they’re ships not boats. She had listed the types. He’d kissed her to stop the long list from multiplying. He would eventually get his head round it all – once he had tired of them going to bed. Judge Madir’s words returned to him—and his reply. “Yeah, but what’s a marriage without a rumple? What better expression of the Magnificent Maker? Without it the Destroyer would reign.” Boddy laughed. He’d make it his personal mission to keep the Destroyer at bay.
The wind buffeted the walkway, and him along with it. He looked again at the railings. But with their fancy infilling lattice even a toddler could walk safely along here. But, Ghats, it was cold. The wind whipped straight through his shirt. He understood now why everyone here wore buttoned-up coats. He could have spent days in gazing from here yet, to be out of the cold he willingly hurried his step.
He opened the door to the tall central tower, his speech amended and ready to give. Someone, some time, was bound to greet him. The place couldn’t be totally deserted. Could it?
He was greeted by a fancily carved alabaster screen. That for the moment flummoxed him. But logic pulled him out of the mental mire. This tight space was only the entrance. One wouldn’t expect the door to open immediately onto the halls—zups, he meant the chambers. A cursory look confirmed it. To the right the screen paralleled the curve of the outer wall, itself as much a flower-fest as the tiled exterior. To the left—
There stood a man in shabby coat, his red-stained hair hanging in ropes, a disgrace for any Rothi, even Boddy knew that. But maybe this was common for servants. The other man he’d seen was equally dishevelled.
“Ah!” Boddy launched into his speech. “Yeah, you must be Gowen Sivator’s servitor. I’m seeking permission, if you would take me to your master.” Natz, that wasn’t the right word. “I mean, if you’d take me to your keefer.”
The man drew in a deep breath as he drew himself up. “It is death for a stranger to enter here.”
“Yeah, right, fine, I know I’m intruding but—hey, man, I only want permission. Fine, I’ll leave. Hey, now look! There’s no need to get so upset about it. I’ve said I’m leaving.”
He would have left, too, of his own accord had that shabby old gaffer not followed behind him and stopped him from opening the door. He pushed at Boddy, jabbing him sharp in his back—as if he would tarry with that stench of the man behind him. But he’d have liked to have seen more of the paintings on the tiled wall. He wanted, too, to peep through the screen. He wondered what was hidden within. But the Stench Man behind him kept him moving.
Roo, I believe I’m in trouble, here, Boddy said, discreetly keeping it sotto voce.
I would say you are, Boddy Felagi. You were not supposed to enter here yet.
You know something you’re not telling me, yeah? Boddy asked him.
I am a god, the god said.
But you’re my god, Roo. You’re supposed to share what you know.
So I do, he answered. When you ask me directly.
Well answer me this—How do I get out of this?
For now, Roo said, I’d advise you to go along with the man. His beam is not what we’d call stable.
Yeah zo, Roo, you’re now mastered the Understatement.
A man couldn’t be in his right mind and look and smell as ripe as him. As to complying, what choice had he but to go along with Stench Man – unless he cared to turn and fight him. But that wouldn’t make a good first impression.
The man pushed Boddy around the tower till they came to the next door along to a walkway. “Open it, jert,” the man growled at him, and prodded again to ensure swift compliance.
Across the walkway, down nine flights of ladders, at his every slightest delay another sharp prod in his back. “Aiya,” the man kept saying, “hurry it, hurry it. Drip-head. Jert.” The Magnificent Maker and the Maintainer must have loved this man, for Boddy was a sliver of a spit away from punching him and yet the gods protected him. Boddy’s fists, though tight, stayed close to his sides. Perhaps the Destroyer didn’t want to take him. Not even His hallowed halls could smell so foul.
At the bottom, Boddy waited in the dark chamber while Stench Man fumbled for the key. Boddy couldn’t wait to be out. Fresh air! He’d gulp it down then go find Jonesi. By now Jonesi ought to have found Shore House. The man pushed open the door. Glorious, the drench of sweet air!
But what was this? Four guards, the citadel holden—their pikes all pointing at Boddy.
~ ~ ~