Sifadis, Shore House Heiress
Sifadis looked round as the key clattered against her low, red-wood, table. Beside it, Boddy’s friend Eshe dusted her hands with an air of an important job done.
The woman, confusingly dressed in male garb, had yabbered till her throat must have been raw, enthusing of how great it was to be with someone familiar and how, for the first time since leaving Raselstad, she felt safe. She had told them about Kalamite wanting her dead, “—oh, and yea, could someone run an errand for me, please? Only these pearls must be returned.”
Though Sifadis had listened, her thoughts were on Boddy. So little time left, and what could she do if Breken Lafard passed the death sentence on him. Crud and crusts, why had her lorel-headed lover entered that tower? She couldn’t understand it. And now she was more brittle than Eshe, a keen ear kept for Gowen, dreading the news he might bring.
“Lavish red lafdi,” Jonesi said as Eshe’s monologue ground to an end. He’d already become a precious friend—she hoped this Eshe wouldn’t steal him away. “The longer your ward-holder holds away, the better for us to have our say. And the longer is our Boddy’s trial, the more precious moments for Eshe’s plan to unfurl.”
“Trial?” Sifadis clutched her hands. “It’s no trial—Breken’s chamber isn’t the Law Court. But what does it matter. He trespassed upon the runmen’s tower; now Kalamite will have him dead whatever Breken Lafard might say.”
“It’s true,” Eshe said, head furiously nodding. “But instead of dwelling on that, let’s perfect this plan to save him.”
“Ay, good friend Eshe, let’s,” Sifadis gushed in mimic of Eshe. “So, this key you have, what does it open?”
“It’s a key to the Warison Path.”
Sifadis wanted to laugh. Not only did Eshe, a stranger to Citadel Lecheni, know of a path which she, born to Shore House, hadn’t known until Eshe told her—but, hay la, Eshe had a key to it, too.
“The key is Trefan’s?” Sifadis asked. She frowned. Mayhap this Eshe had made light of what was between her and the lafard-legere’s brother. To show her such secrets, to give her this key; fy and loh, was it a wonder the man was accused. “And what is your proposal? What is its use?” She did hope Eshe would keep it brief.
‘Trefan showed me the cells inside the warison—it’s where they hold traitors. I’ll stake my life, that’s where they’ll put Boddy. Unless, that is, Breken Lafard gives him over to Kalamite.”
“Nay-nix, that such should happen.” Sifadis found the fabric of her silken kirtle to twist. “Nay, it’s best that they find him guilty of treason. At least then we can find him.”
Jonesi agreed. “It might be best, yea. But, newly arrived in this town, how can it be treason? He’s not even a Lecheni citizen.”
Sifadis looked away, mouth twisting in anguish—and regret. “There’s no doubt they’ll find him guilty, Jonesi. Lorken has . . . he has something, evidence, against him.”
That’s why Lorken had been hovering around Gowen. Och! If only she’d realised it sooner. And the thought of Boddy, guilty of treason, thrown into a warison-cell—yet there was hope in that while there was none if Breken gave him to Kalamite. But, by the gods, how many times must she say it: Boddy Rookeri had acted the lorel in straying into the runmen’s tower. What made him do it?
“So what do you propose?” she asked Eshe. “How do we use this key?”
Eshe leaned forward, hands clasped, evidently warming to the subject. Sifadis resisted a roll of her eyes.
“There are no locks on the warison cells. They’re just heavy iron doors with heavy iron bars. And although I shall have to search to find him, once found the rest will be easy. Just wrap him into a cloak and stagger across the close with him. We can pretend we’ve been carousing at the Woolpack Gardens. But the problem is to get into the Woolpack without having to act the stew. And then, hope and hap, that no stew has that room.”
“But is there no other door to the Warison Path?” Jonesi asked while Sifadis nodded, considering the plan.
“There must be, of a certainty, but . . .” Eshe spread her hands, a look of appeal to Sifadis.
“Och, what do I know. I had to be told of the path.”
“It does makes sense that there’s more than two doors,” Jonesi said. “As Eshe says, the warison is used to store food against sieges.”
“I’d say the same,” Eshe said. “But I have the key to only the one.”
“And you say the man Pertho has the bed-chamber keys?” Sifadis asked.
Eshe nodded, her swiftest reply yet.
“Once into the Gardens this should be a breeze.” Jonesi said. “But still, I shall come with you.”
“I shall come too,” Sifadis said—but both Eshe and Jonesi shook their heads at that.
“You need to be here, to wait for Gowen Hadd,” Eshe said. “He may be able to help.”
Nix! She wanted to be the one to rescue Boddy. Hadn’t Boddy rescued her? Now these two would burst through the iron door and he’d be all hugs for Eshe, his dear friend Eshe, and none for her.
Sifadis remembered how his voice had softened with affection whenever he spoke of his friend Eshe. Ay and she remembered the things he had said of her too—that she climbed rocks and delved into caves. She would not have been terrified had Mallen captured her and thrown her into that dark deep pit. ‘My brave girl’, Eshe’s father had said when he spoke of her escape from the bandits. Ay, and she, Disa, ran slap into the bandits and screamed. Ay, of course Eshe must be the one to free him – while she, Disa, sat in this chamber surrounded by her useless wealth, and sobbed.
“It’s getting into the Gardens that will be the most difficult part, and dangerous,” Eshe said. “Kalamite has eyes everywhere, and right now those eyes are looking for me. It was a risk coming into the citadel, even in this guise.”
“Ah,” Jonesi said. “So the disguise is only to trick the eyes.”
“You think I like to dress as a man?”
“Ha.” Jonesi chuckled. “I remember in Raselstad, when you weren’t working, you most often looked like a man.”
“Because I was climbing or caving,” Eshe snapped. “But now I’d like to look like a woman.”
“At least you have the body to dress as a man,” Sifadis said. “When Boddy first saw me he knew at once the deceit.”
“You think I’m happy with that?” Eshe snapped at her.
“I did not mean to offend,” Sifadis said while admitting to herself that that wasn’t entirely the truth.
“You should try being tall and—” Eshe’s hands described the width of her shoulders. “And then to have no—” her hands described her rather flat chest.
“But Trefan likes you,” Sifadis said with no false sincerity.
“Does he? I have not seen him since the debacle.”
“There is likely a reason. If I can discover—”
“Femella. Bel Hade. Excuse,” Jonesi cut in. “We are talking here of saving Boddy Felagi, not of the problems of a being a lafdi.”
Sifadis sat back as if slapped. But his chiding had sparked an idea, the perfect disguise to get Eshe and Jonesi into the Gardens. She laughed at the absurdity of it. It would amuse Boddy as well.
“Why did I not think! You two can play the husband and wife. You are visiting Citadel Lecheni to view the exotic Daabian plants that our Sivator fattens in the Tower garden. Many folk do, so it is believable. I can provide clothes for you. Lah! See, it is done and my Boddy is saved.”
“Saved by his beloved Daabian plants,” Jonesi said and laughed along with her.
Ay, but still she wished she could go with them. She dreaded what news Gowen would bring. Though what could be worse than death?
“Loh, you must come with me to my father’s chamber.” She was already on her feet.
And once Boddy was saved—if they could do it—she would tell him everything—everything. Though she feared what he’d say now his delightful helpful brave friend Eshe was here.
Boddy woke with a start to the harsh scrape of metal. The cell dimly lit by Stheino’s blush, it was night—and this was the visit he’d been expecting. He looked at his hands. Could he use them to kill?
The door grated open.
He stood with his back sealed against the stone wall. He couldn’t see the man well but he saw the plaits, the sparkles, the shimmer of silk. This wasn’t one of the holden; as predicted, this was Breken. Yet for a moment he was undecided. To kill the lafard-legere: what butchery then might they inflict on his corpse? Would Disa still be able to claim it, or would they withhold it from her? But the thought of the assault the lafard intended—he flew, hands closing around the man’s throat,. He found the larynx. He pressed hard upon it.
Natzo, Breken wasn’t alone! Hands were pulling at Boddy—yet no one was punching. Someone was shouting—yet shouting softly, like a stage whisper.
It was around about then that he realised the larynx didn’t feel right. It was too small, too soft; this wasn’t a man.
“Boddy Felagi,” a hushed voice shouted, “let go of her!”
Spew on it, man, now he was totally confused. He released the grip—and saw now the man’s plaits were dark not blond. Yeah zo, the wrong man!
Then to complete the confusion the one who’d yelled at him wasn’t a man but a woman. Was it Disa? Yet that shout had definitely sounded male. Then he saw the nose. Yeah zo, he knew that nose!
But if this was Jonesi, who was the man he’d been trying to strangle? Whoever it was, he now was slumped in the straw, choking and coughing.
“Nice greeting,” said a hoarse voice.
“It’s Eshe,” Jonesi said.
“Natzo! Spew on it, man, I’d not have done that.”
He was down on the floor, his arms around her, rocking, apologising. She struggled and tried to bat him away.
“Ghats, but I thought you were Breken.”
“Leisan,” she croaked. “From Citadel Dief. Meet my wife, Shey.”
“Wife?” So Boddy wasn’t mistaken; Jonesi was wearing a dress.
“We’re here to see the exotic plants,” Jonesi explained.
“We’re lodging at the Woolpack Gardens,” Eshe said while rubbing her throat. “The inn has a door to the Warison Path.”
“So, up on your feet, Boddy, you,” Jonesi said. “Friends Jonesi and Eshe are to your rescue.”
“Natzo!” Boddy said. “Eshe, Jonesi, I’m glad that you’ve come. But natzo, no rescue. That’s not the way to it. Though . . . can you get a message to Disa?”
“Yea,” Eshe said. “But what do you mean no? You can’t let them kill you.”
“Yeah, great, fine,” Boddy agreed. “And neither will they—cos a person can only die the once. Look, just tell Disa to claim my body. Yeah? You can get a message to her?”
“Sure,” Eshe said. “She provided the clothes.”
“And made me be the woman,” Jonesi unhappily said.
“And very sweet you look, too,” Boddy said with a tweak of his cheek. “Hey, Ghats, Friend Jonesi, I’ve just noticed!” Jonesi’s beard had always been scant yet he’d managed to grow it enough for chin-plaits—which, unfortunately gave him slight Rothi cast. “You’ve shaved off your plaits.”
“Don’t mention it,” Jonesi said with a forced nonchalant shrug. “These things I do for you, and now you say you don’t want the rescue? Boddy Felagi, explain.”
“I appreciate your efforts, but listen. What’s likely to follow when they find the cell empty? They’ll turn the citadel upside down trying to find me. And that Kalamite, the whim-wham, he’s got it in for me, he’ll never let up.”
“It’s true, Jonesi. Boddy’s right,” Eshe said “—though we were going to sneak you out through the gates as a wobbling wancolled drunkard.”
“Yeah, great, fine, good plan. But then I can never return.”
“You mean for Disa?” Eshe said.
“Yea, I’m not leaving without her. Either we’re here together or . . . or I guess we’re some place else, together.”
“And she wants that?” Eshe asked.
“Yeah, she wants it,” Jonesi answered for Boddy.
“But you’ve found her?” Boddy asked, his excitement rekindled.
Jonesi nodded. “I’ll forgive that you haven’t been listening.”
“So what is your plan?” Eshe pressed. “Only the longer we stand here talking . . . you know.”
Yeah zo, had he upset Eshe by refusing her help? She sounded aggrieved. Or was it because he’d mistakenly strangled her? But she was right, this was no time for chatting.
“If I’m already dead they can’t kill me again. Yeah? And Disa, as my wife, can claim my body.”
“Your . . . wife. And when did this happen?” Eshe asked.
Boddy grinned. “Just now, in my head. Eshe, can you write out some legal-looking document that says Sifadis and I were wed in Raselstad? Yea, yea, yea, I know, all marriages are registered in Deluca’s shrine-book. But with us then intending to leave for Rothi . . . you get what I mean? And ask Disa for a time when she was away from her henchmen so they can’t testify to the contrary.”
“Yea, sure I can do it but—”
“Trust me, Eshe. Just make sure Disa comes to see her husband before Breken’s breakers come for me. Yezzzah, it’ll work so much better this way—though zillions of thanks for trying to rescue me. Oh, and tell her that Breken intends to question her. She’s to tell him—and Gowen—that we’re married.”
“Yea, I’ll tell her, but . . . why? I mean, why the marriage?” Eshe asked.
“To void Lorken’s account. Perhaps he’d been prompted by another. Or maybe he simply misunderstood what he saw. Either way he’s told Breken he caught me raping Sifadis. But Jonesi will vouch for me, it wasn’t like that. Ghats and rats, Eshe, you know me, I never would. Natzo! So, be gone now—but, hey, Jonesi, do you still have the book?”
“Great, wicked, yeah.”
Jonesi squinted, head atilt.
“Well you never know, do you. Keep it safe, hey. And shut that wretched door behind you.”
Keefer-Papa of the Runman Order
Ale-lai, the rapturous union! Again and again, the ecstatic pulses scoured his body, drawing from him five—aiy, five—of his heart-formed offerings, while she enveloped him and he bore into her and . . . And even then she wouldn’t release him but held him firmly, their limbs entwined, flesh to flesh. Though, lah, she must have known he was now exhausted and could give her no more. Yet they communed—aiya, they communed—she with her sole surviving son. And, aiya, what inspiration his lover, his mother, his queen did give him. And was it a wonder, when his queen’s and his own protector, Svara, was in such a close and sweet alignment with expansive, well-wishing Dizpeter. Aiy, Dizpeter had well-wished him and drenched him in sweat.
He was reluctant to leave her, though, aiy, he must if he was to start this final act of completion. Three had returned who ought to be dead and there still was the spy. But he’d not realised how long he had been in his queen’s tower. Loh, how delicate Stheino’s blush, touching with pink the citadel Houses beneath him. He crossed the walkway, the wind snapping his coat, stinging his legs like a good father whipping him. Aiy-lai, exhilarating! He lingered there, the better to savour it.
Verily, Dizpeter, a bountiful day—though the day itself belonged to Stup the Destroyer.
The close was deserted but for the holden patrolling. Too early yet for the franyans to be reeling, sated upon their stew-house pleasures. But that pleased him. Keefer of the Runman Order, yet the grasslings mocked him when they ought to prostrate themselves before him. Why did they not see the treasure they had in Runman House. The begrudging upstarts, put a jewel upon them and they believe themselves someone.
He entered the House. At the base of the swoop of stairs hung the summoning bell-rope. As he passed it he tugged on it, progressing then to the inner chamber, the most hallowed fane. He threw the switches to the Mathon-lamps—unusual for him, but this evening he felt the need of light. He waited, then, for his sprats to come running. It wasn’t yet late, yet some came with sleep-encrusted eyes.
“Runmen,” —aiya, so few of them now. He addressed them as his queen, his lover, as Rubel, had told him, “I am leaving.”
He allowed them their glances, one to another: their puzzled, bemused—and one undisguised hopeful—frowns.
“Aiy, I am leaving. And when I return it shall be with more sprats. You could say I’m going fishing. And for that I shall need a boat.”
He chuckled at their puzzlement; some showed alarm: What, their Keefer out on the water?
“Our queen—” how he hated to share her with them “—our red beaded lafdi tells me I must visit around the citadels. To call upon our dependant Houses. To net the best of their sprats. She says to start at Citadel Fonshtok.” It was the most northerly. Beyond it only the Eshqua herders existed. “Thus I shall sail to there upon the Sarak Sea.”
“Papa Leef, with respect,” Ffika Runman said. “I fear for your safety. A winter spent upon the sea?”
Ale-la, he ought to have known it would be Ffika who’d find something to pick on—though he had expected the sprat-grown-to-a-cod to pick on his use of ‘Sarak Sea’. It ought more correctly be the Yemure off the headland at Citadel Fonshtok.
“Ffika Runman, your concern in noted, but allow me to know more of the sea than do you. Only in summer does the sea suffer the whirling winds from the south—and they, infrequent. Now, I shall sail as far north as Citadel Fonshtok, and thence progress across Rothi Plain. Unneeded to say, I shall be away for some time. Thus I need someone to act in my stead. You, Ffika Runman.”
Lah, how red the sprat’s face! Aiy, with his smartly tailored Stup-day coat he looked like one of those ourali-skinned torpydoes. But, deuces, allow him his short season of pleasure—thereafter the torpydo would be dead, as she, Rubel, his mother, his lover, his queen, had requested. In the meantime, who else amongst the sprats could serve as Keefer? Certainly not Honning, and the remaining others were even less able.
“Now, Ffika—you with your abundant contacts—you I entrust with whatever the needed arrangements. I shall, of course, require a boat. You will, of course, purchase it for me. And since I intend this venture alone, you will also find a seaman able to train me in all I should know. There is ample time—you have two weeks before I go.”
“But, Papa Hadd, with respect, the eclipse . . .? I’ve heard seaman say high tides are expected, such as we’ve never seen them before. All are afeared to venture out until it’s over and the tides are settled again. The common jaw has it the spit could be clean washed away. It will certainly be covered.”
“Aiy, Ffika Runman, as I am aware. But before us is the ocean firth, and until the eclipse it remains safely held in earthen arms. It is sufficient for me to venture upon while I grasp the rudiments of sailing—providing you choose for me a good steersman as teacher. Hush and peace, Ffika Runman, I do not intend to begin my mission until this eclipse is run.”
Nix, never, not, for Kalamite had another use for that boat before the eclipse was done. He chuckled to himself—aiya, and let the sprats make what they would of that. What a drip-headed jert, the lafard-legere, to accept the Sivator’s spin. Sitting proud upon his legere-chair, content now that he had the usurper. Duh! But let him believe that was the predicted event. Kalamite knew better, he knew the truth.
But first, the usurpers’ eggers and backers were still roaming the close. They must be dealt with—something he would handle himself.
~ ~ ~