Boteras Rookeri-Sharmin aka Boddy
The citadel guards pushed and shoved Boddy into the Legere-Chair Chamber at Two Boars House, then slung him, face down, on the grubby Jasckte-wool carpet. Unable to raise his head up, all Boddy saw were feet processing past him. He guessed the pair possessed by the possessor of the gold repoussé banded ebony staff were those of Breken Lafard-Legere. The staff was accompanied by a glittering sword-filled scabbard.
I beg your forgiveness, Hadd Leef, Boddy said in his head, trying to keep in good spirits. But I’m unable to lower my head to you on account of the floor. It is a stubborn head-barring barrier. He wanted to laugh—loud and bitter.
More feet passed by him—then halted. He assumed they were bowing. They exited, stage left and stage right.
Someone coughed. That would be the air in here, dusty and dry. Ghats, they should try being down here. Hey, Roo, what would happen if I tried to escape? He was surprised they hadn’t bound him hand and foot.
“Find a chair for the man,” a kindly voice commanded. He sounded tired, as if wearied of too often playing this part.
Yeah, right. A tiresome business this sentencing death. I wonder how they inflict the death penalty here.
You ought not to have thought of that, Boddy Rookeri, said his little god Roo.
Yeah, right, but I don’t need your telling. You hear that gurgling? That’s my guts, now turned to liquid. I guess the court can hear it, too. But, yeah zo, my little god Roo, you know I’m not really feeling so flippant.
Strong hands heaved him up to his feet and pushed him back down, this time onto a chair. He bowed his head in appreciation.
So this now before him was Breken Lafard, the Rothi equivalent of Uncle Sturan. Ghats, but he didn’t look old enough to be Mallen’s father. Perhaps he’d been young when he wed. He wore a deep indigo coat, silk by the shimmer. By cut alone it could have been Sturan’s—though Sturan would have preferred death to this drenching in gold. The gold was everywhere on it. Gold embroidery gnarled the coat’s high stand-collar and purled down its long buttoned front. It covered the shoulders. It was strewn down the sleeves to coalesce on its cuffs. But apparently the gold alone didn’t satisfy; diamonds, rubies and sapphires winked like the sun dappling a forest floor. Boddy hadn’t realised there were this many sparkling stones in the world. A red silk sash crossed Breken’s chest—to serve as baldric. The dependant sword was fancily dressed in golden filigree. And yet more rubies were studded upon it.
To Boddy, this gaudy show of excessive finery was an obscenity. And it didn’t stop at his coat and sword. Hanging in heavy ropes round Breken’s neck was a fortune in pearls. Probably his marriage necklace. Spew on it, man, did he leave any oysters in the Sarak Sea?
Boddy’s eyes tracked down to the lafard-legere’s booted feet. Spotted-toad-skin leather—and even these hosted gems set in filigreed gold. Though, hey, his brecks were plain unadorned ruby-red silk! Boddy approved the colour. There was also a suggestion of a cloak around him, seen as a flash of white fur. Minever, the Rothi called it. It was had from their specially-bred cats. The only thing missing was a hat. But with so many stones glittering amongst his plaits it would be a shame to hide them. Those stones—again rubies and sapphires, but paler—continued into his beard.
Yeah zo, even the holden were flashily dressed, tift and trapped to the hilt. Great, yeah, fine. But what do they know of worth, these clink-a-chinks touched and tainted by Mercury’s curse? They assess it by carats when it should be assessed by what’s in a man’s heart.
Ghats! Boddy sat back as if rapped. ‘Avoid the runmen,’ Ryal had said, ‘—particularly that Kalamite, and he’s easy to recognise.’ Yeah, right, he should have realised who the malodorous maniac was. He realised it now as the red-stained man stepped forward. Ghats, but he stank. But at least he wasn’t dripping in all that glittering shit.
“You caught this man in Wood Tower, you say,” Breken Lafard said. “But why bring him to me? I have never known you runmen refer your executions to me.”
Execution, there was that ‘death’ word again. Boddy shuddered. And Ryal had said nothing of that—of wood towers and runmen and executions. Boddy tried to swallow but his throat was suddenly dry. So did this mean he’d not trespassed upon Disa’s ward-holder, but upon another? Or was Gowen Sivator a runman too? Yet Disa hadn’t said, and Boddy was sure that she would have if that were the case. As he remembered, she didn’t much rate the runmen. If they all smelled like this one, he wasn’t surprised. But whichever, whatever, it didn’t take a genius to see he was deeply enmired.
“With respect, Hadd Leef—” The malodorous Kalamite seemed less manic now. He even seemed sensible and serene “—On the second Dizpeter’s Day of the Maiden, your brother and Mikel Lafard-Awis visited me at Runman House, to ask after the events we runmen predicted. They scoffed—they laughed at me. And they issued to me a . . . an ultimatum which could only have come from you. That if the predicted event failed to occur then you would evict our Runman Order from your citadel. Although this man I captured must die—he has trespassed where none but the Order may enter—yet first I would have you bear witness to my prediction’s veracity.”
Boddy would have arched his brow in query—but Breken Lafard already had.
“But, as I remember,” Breken said, “your prediction was not that a man would enter your towers, uninvited.” His comment drew chuckles from others present. He paused, reaping the acclaim like any skilled player. Boddy found himself nodding. “Your prediction,” Breken resumed, “was that strangers from Luban would launch an attack on our citadel, and thereby attempt to kill me.”
Boddy frowned, his eyes taking in the red-stained runman, and the trapped and tift lafard-legere. OOOOO-Ghats! Now it was making some sense. Disa sent to Luban to spy?—Or were only Lorken and Kullt spies, Disa sent only as their cover? Thus Disa was innocent? Yeah, that was more likely. Disa wouldn’t spy. So her two henchmen weren’t looking for Ryal, but for evidence of an imminent attack? Ha! It was all he could do to restrain the laughter. An attack? From Luban? That was risible. But it wasn’t, for here he sat before their legere-elect, charged with that very attack.
“Hadd Leef Legere, ask the prisoner whence he hails—if you would,” Kalamite crowed. Was the man now hopping from foot to foot? It looked to Boddy that he was.
Instead of Breken Lafard himself asking Boddy his origins, he passed the requested interrogation to a young man, as gaudy with gold, who stood two steps beside and behind him.
The young man addressed Boddy in a practiced sneer, “‘You—foisty hindling—whence come you to Rothi?”
If this had been a rehearsal Boddy would have told him to pull it back, it was a tad over-acted. However, he answered as required of him – he even included a respectful dip of his head. Hey, this was his life hanging here by a thread; if need be he’d even kiss arse. “Hadd Leef, as accused, I do hail from Luban – from Raselstad, as I’m sure you soon will be told.” He glanced at Lorken. Lorken scowled.
Breken noticed. “You two have met?”
Boddy offered a hard-stretched smile.
Breken Lafard now called upon Gowen. Boddy assumed it was Gowen Sivator, Disa’s ward-holder, the man he had hoped to impress and soften with his talk of Daabian plants. Ho-hum, how things do change. The man was old, desiccated bones packed into dry skin. His clothes—of sumptuous silk—were sombre, and carried less gold than Breken Lafard’s. Rothi society being rigidly hierarchic, Boddy assumed it was impolite to wear more.
“I have yet to hear Sifadis Lafdi’s report,” Gowen said.
What! Boddy’s mouth fell. Spew on it, man. He was glad he was sitting. So Disa was a spy after all. Oh, Roo, how I’ve been taken in!
Hush, wait! Roo replied, for Gowen still was talking.
“According to Lorken and Kullt’s report, they found no evidence of Kalamite’s predicted attack. Apparently the explosives the Raseltops’ elect-legere ordered from Mathon Lafard are intended only to aid his trade in stones. He has several quarries in the Byhen Cliff region of the Ridge.”
Natzo! Ghats and rats! Boddy groaned, he didn’t want to hear more. That raw gouging he’d seen, Uncle Sturan was doing that to the Ridge? His own uncle was tearing apart the mountains? For what? For trade? He wanted to howl like those packs of hounds that reputedly attacked unwary travellers. Oh how his eyes were being opened this day.
“However.” Gowen Sivator wasn’t yet finished, and Boddy didn’t like the tone of that word. “Kalamite’s intruder does represent a threat, and not only to my ward, Sifadis Lafdi. Lorken Holde suspected this man’s intent while in Raselstad. He was seen to follow my ward. Then, when they reached the Falls, he abducted her. Kullt and Lorken were barely in time to save her from rape.”
“Natzo, that’s a lie!”
“Quiet!” barked the young man who sat beside Breken Lafard. “Another outburst and regardless of whom you are, and what your intents, you will be decapitated without further recourse.—May I prompt Gowen Hadd to continue, Hadd Leef?”
Breken Lafard nodded consent. Gowen continued. Boddy crumpled, now feeling decidedly sick.
“I cannot imagine what he was doing in Wood Tower,” Gowen Sivator said. “Besides, it is none of our concern. But I can tell you this. This man is the nephew of the Raseltops elect-legere. Moreover, there is ill-feeling between him and his uncle. It is common-jaw in their town.”
Boddy seethed, wanting to speak. They really were stacking the shit against him. How could he possibly escape it.
“Has this some purpose, Gowen? And . . .” Breken Lafard peered into the depths of the dark cavernous court. “Where is Mikel today—Why is that man always absent? Would you say, Gowen, we have need of the awis today?”
“I believe the awis has family matters to attend, Hadd Leef,” Gowen said. “A nurse and a tutor are required for his children.”
“What children? He has no wife—he has never a wife.”
“Born out of the warison, Hadd Leef—the stew recently dead.”
“Oh,” Breken Lafard up-jutted his chin in an odd reversed nod. “Well, aye, the children must be properly attended. Continue, Gowen—but do keep it brief. This is a rather unexpected hearing.”
Gowen continued, as instructed. “Lorken is of the opinion that the captured intruder intended to insinuate himself here as Sifadis Lafdi’s . . . um, husband. Then to usurp your chair.”
Boddy gulped. Lorken’s report might have been inching uncomfortably close but—hey, man, natzo, never—he’d no intention of usurping anyone’s chair, round, square or otherwise. All he wanted was Disa for wife, and a bed.
Breken stared hard at Boddy for an overlong moment before again prompting Gowen. “And why is Lorken of that opinion?”
Boddy could hear the words in his head, even before Gowen Sivator said them.
“First, let me tell you his name. Though he is more commonly known as Boddy, his full name is Boteras Rookeri Sharmin. In Rothi jaw that is Boteras of Rookeri House, now adopted into the elect-legere’s House of Sharmin.”
“This has relevance?” Breken asked.
“Rookeri House was originally known as Royanth, from its founder, Royan. It was changed to Rookeri when the heiress Jalinti married a certain Keril, from East Rothi. This Keril was also known as Keril-og of Shore House. Aye, that Shore House, here in Citadel Lecheni. And as my ward not so long ago told me, this, um, Keril-og was heir to the legere-chair when Shore House held it. But his brother took it, and subsequently gave it to House Eland. Far away, and forgotten by his kin, Keril-og had a son, Semesh—in Raselstad. This Boteras is his sole surviving male heir.”
Boddy wasn’t the only one stunned. There wasn’t a whisper throughout the long chamber. Boddy replayed in his head what he knew. Yeah, fine, great, he knew he was heir to Shore House, but not this of the legere-chair. But Disa had known it—known it and kept it from him.
“Is there proof of this?” Breken Lafard asked.
Natzo! It all was lies. There was no proof. Without proof he’d not be a threat. Please, Roo, don’t let there be proof. It might yet save his head.
“There is this,” Gowen said and handed to Breken a wad of folded and part-mashed mace-paper – the pages torn from the Council Minutes.
“Garawen, burn it,” Breken said and handed the thick square of paper to the young man beside him. “Now there is no evidence.”
Boddy felt the relief sweep through his body. Though there was the pack that Jonesi carried, now almost empty of food yet still heavy. That pack now could hang him.
“In respects of his ability to launch an attack,” Gowen spoke into the ensuing silence. “Despite no evidence of preparations, it would be wise to note this man’s high standing in the Dragons—though he has not a command of his own—”
“With respect, Hadd Leef,” Kalamite, impatient, interrupted. “You will now admit, events have proven my prediction and you will not evict my Runman Order.”
Breken Lafard looked from Gowen to Kalamite and, with evident reluctance, he nodded.
“Despite the evidence of Gowen Hadd’s spies,” Kalamite said with a haut-nosed sneer at Gowen, “I also point a finger at the Shore woman. Not used and abused by this Boteras person, as Lorken accuses, but, rather, in league with him. I say she’s a traitor. She also should die.”
“Natzo!” Boddy surged to his feet, struggling to shrug off the armsmen who grabbed him and forced him back down. Breken Lafard scowled at him, but as yet said nothing of decapitation. He was a buffing nugget to have shouted. How, if headless, could he save Disa?
“Hadd Leef,” said Gowen. “I object to this accusation. There is no evidence for it but for this runman’s say.” By his tone, Boddy guessed Gowen’s concern for Disa was as deep as his own.
“I will have her to question tomorrow,” Breken said.
“With respect, Hadd Leef,” Gowen begged, “allow her first to report to me.”
Breken gave a sharp nod. “Now take this one away. Tomorrow at dawn he must die.”
Before Boddy could move, the holden caught his arms, yanked them behind him, pulled them up tight. Boddy yelped. They pushed him-hauled him out of the chamber.
Behind him, he heard Kalamite say, “Hadd Leef, it is not a fit offering for Heli. Better to use his death to appease the moons—you are aware of their imminent eclipse? Delay his execution till the evening, on the morrow. Stheino then will be full in blush.”
“So be it, as Stheino rises,” Breken agreed. “Make a note of it, Garawen.”
Hear that, Roo? Great, hey, yeah? Tomorrow evening, the Feast of Sharma. How apt is that.
“Nay, Hadd Leef,” said Kalamite, not yet satisfied. “As she hangs full above Wood Tower.”
“Aye,” Breken wearily agreed. “Let it be.”
“And Eshe Parlan?” Kalamite asked. “Will you now have her killed?”
Boddy spun himself out of the holden’s grasp. He looked in horror at the red-stained runman. But the holden, their hold recovered, pushed him sharply through the door which promptly slammed and removed any more words.
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