Boteras Rookeri-Sharmin aka Boddy
They were wed. Despite he was dead, they were wed. Now in both Rothi and Lubanthan law she never could wed another. He had destroyed Shore House. Without him, now, there could be no future heir. The richest House in Citadel Lecheni with one piece of paper had been cast into shadow. It would die along with her. Yeah zo! He’d not intended it thus.
Consciousness had returned with a familiar smell. Beeswax. At first he’d thought himself a child again lying abed in Rookeri House. But here—a draught crept round the sheet that covered him—it was cold. And here—odd echoes that resolved into feet resounding on a hard floor—and wavering voices. Soft. Loud. Near. Far. In a lingo not Lubanthan. Here—a stench, repugnant, assailing his nose. With shame, he realised it wafted from him. What’s more, his chin and cheeks fiercely itched, and it felt like a rug was laid over his head. He remembered then that he’d been dead.
He lay unmoving while his respiratory cycle returned to normal. He gave a silent thanks to Jonesi. It had been Jonesi who’d instructed him in this ‘utter-suppression’ technique though he’d never thought he’d use it. It was just part of the training.
Memories returned—of the towers, of the runman, his stench and red-stains—of the fiasco they called a trial. He remembered the evidence given to support the charge. He was heir to Shore House. Great, yeah, fine, that he’d already known. But as that heir he was also heir to the legere-chair. He didn’t understand how it could be. Yet Disa had known it; and she’d known when she’d stolen those pages. Why did she do that? And why did she keep it from him?
Would you have followed her had you known it?
Hey, Roo, you’re still here?
Would you? his little god Roo persisted.
Would I have followed her, to inherit a low, parasolled chair? Hey, Roo, this is Boddy; what do I want with a chair? And now everyone believes that I’m dead, so what does a dead man what with a chair?
His respiration now was normal. Warm blood again coursed through his veins; he could feel it. Of his strength, natzo, he wasn’t so sure—how long had he lain as one dead? As for this house, he didn’t know his way through it. Yet it was time both his strength and his sense of direction were tested. Time to make a dramatic entrance.
Eshe Parlan, Femella
Eshe saw him first, standing in the shadows of the deep recessed door. She smiled. He nodded. She nudged Jonesi to look. Then both looked to where Sifadis rhythmically rocked on her low divan, her back to the door, a pillow clutched to her. Although she hadn’t spoken since her return with the body, at least she was no longer crying.
Jonesi moved, to sit beside the widow. With a gentle hand on her shoulder he stopped her rocking. “Disa? Are you listening?”
“Mm,” Sifadis replied without paying attention.
Eshe cradled her hand as if it were broken, perhaps as a surrogate. And now that Sifadis no longer rocked, Eshe found herself rocking instead. She had to stop it. She’d not yet mourned Kilda’s death. And what of those poor orphaned children. And then there was Trefan, she was trying to forget. And with this rocking she wanted to cry.
“Disa,” Jonesi said, “there was something we didn’t tell you of the plan to free Boddy.”
Sifadis shook her head as if she refused to hear him. She moved her hand to push him away. But she had to be told, she had to be warned. Gods, imagine the shock to see a dead man standing there.
“Disa,” Eshe tried. “You know, Boddy did more than write plays for the chorus.”
“Ay,” Sifadis said. “He was a poet.”
Gods, but Sifadis’ voice was low and hoarse and twanged with nasal congestion. Eshe had to strain to hear her.
“A poet, yea,” Eshe agreed. “And a singer and a dancer and also an actor. Jonesi trained him to many feats.”
“Ay, “ Sifadis said. “I remember, he said.”
“I trained him to play dead,” Jonesi said.
Sifadis didn’t even look up. “Then he had practiced for this,” she said.
Eshe held back a sigh. This was proving impossible. The shock and the sorrow together, the widow was in no condition to listen to them.
Eshe tried again, picking up on what Sifadis had said. “In a way he had practiced, yea—”
“He’s not dead,” Jonesi cut across her.
But it was no good, Sifadis didn’t want to hear. They’d done what they could to ease the moment. The only thing now was for the widow to see for herself—and just hope the shock didn’t send her gaga. Eshe beckoned to Boddy.
The light from the window wasn’t bright, yet it bounced off the many glass globes strung from the ceiling and seemed to cast around Boddy a golden halo as he stepped from the shadows. Eshe caught herself before she giggled (that would be terrible in front of Sifadis), but she couldn’t help remembering what her father had called him. The comet. In that light, he did look it.
And still Sifadis couldn’t see him; doubled over with her head buried into her arms.
“What is it, Rokke?” Sifadis snapped without raising her head.
“It’s not Rokke,” Boddy said. “And I need to apologise, yeah.”
Sifadis slowly sat up and slowly turned round. Her face, previously tear-blotched, paled even beyond her usual ivory. And those delicate hands Eshe so envied came up to her startling red mouth. “Cruds and crusts, I hallucinate.”
“Natzo,” Boddy said. “No hallucination, Disa, it’s me. Hey, tell me, when did a ghost ever stink as I do and need to shave?”
It was true; Eshe could smell him even from that distance.
“I played dead,” Boddy said.
“I trained him to it, Disa,” Jonesi repeated.
For a moment Sifadis’ mouth hung open. Then she turned on Jonesi and Eshe. “You knew! You knew yet you never told me. You let me believe—arrgh!”
And now she was crying again and thrashing about with her arms. Boddy tried to hold her, to still her, but she was like a grief-crazed nugget.
“We had to do it,” Eshe told her. “You had to believe it, to fully believe it else it wouldn’t have worked.”
“Ay, I believed!”
Gods’ bods, would this woman run the gamut of all emotions in one single day. She now was raging at Jonesi and her and at Boddy. Boddy couldn’t get near her for all her flailing.
Eshe spread helpless hands. “Best to leave her to shout it all out.”
And she did shout—like murder was being committed. She then collapsed again into a huddle upon the divan.
Boddy tried to sit beside her.
“Nay-nix! Nay, not there, you stink. Hay la! Rokke!” she yelled, shrill and loud.
Wow! That was some fast recovery of voice. Eshe wisely kept the comment to herself.
“You can go with Rokke and—“ she whirled her hands, assumingly meaning he should wash and do whatever men do to get clean. “You may apologise for this awful fright when you’re—” she again whirled her hands. .
“Talk to her, yeah,” Boddy said as he followed Rokke out of the chamber. Rokke, with promises of hot water and clean clothes, seemed unperturbed by it all.
“And, Rokke,” Sifadis called after them, “you may tell those who serve me they have not seen this walking corpse. You understand?” She shook her head, and kept shaking it until the door had closed behind them.
“I, too, can act,” she said, head tossed the once before she lowered it again to her hands. “Jonesi, Eshe, ay, I am angry at the deceit but, crud and crusts, I’m also befuddled—befuddled by . . . by everything. My head will not think.”
“But you are glad that he lives?” Eshe asked, and the little heiress had best say yes.
“Eshe, you need ask? But what now? He cannot remain hidden for ever. Yet he is publicly dead. How do we effect a resurrection?”
“Yea, well, I’m not sure he thought about that,” Jonesi said. “And our only thought was to save his life.”
Eshe glanced at him. Not a rhyme, not even a bad one. Seems Sifadis wasn’t the only one fuddled.
“I thought we were to smuggle him out,” she said. Well wasn’t that the plan? To save him from the executioner’s axe, to dress him up and to smuggle him out. They could return to Raselstad, all of them together. Her father still awaited her report. Ryal must be champing by now.
“You’re both aware he’s the heir to the legere-chair?” Sifadis asked, head no longer shielded, a look from one to the other.
“Wh-what?” Eshe dragged her thoughts back from Raselstad. “You mean, as in lafard-legere?
“He knows he’s the heir to the House,” Jonesi said.
“Ay, does he?” Sifadis said, It was clearly news to her. Yet everything said was news to Eshe.
“Whoa,” Eshe said. “Would someone please tell me what you’re talking about?”
“It’s a long story,” Sifadis said. “It began two, nearly three centuries ago when my ancestor Lillis had two sons who both loved the same woman—the heiress of House Eland. They played a game, the winner to have the lafdi. The eldest son, Keril-og, lost. Perhaps to heal his hurting heart, he went adventuring—into Luban. Boddy is his only heir.”
“Yea? Wow,” Eshe said. “But how does that make him heir to the legere-chair?”
“Lillis, at that time, was the lafard-legere. When he died the chair went to House Eland, instead of to Keril-og. And now Breken has it by marrying Affalind.”
“And our Disa has never liked Affalind Lafdi Legara,” said a man’s voice from outside the door.
Sifadis leapt to her feet, her hands up in panic.
Jonesi rose too. “I’ll convey that message to Rokke, Hade Leef, as I pass through the . . . “ he gestured to some nebulous place, not knowing the Rothi names for the chambers.
Eshe assumed he meant to hold Boddy back while this, whoever it was, was here in Shore House.
“Gowen Hadd,” Sifadis gave him a name, her face again glum.
Eshe expected this Gowen to query the what, the who and the why of Jonesi as they passed in the door’s deep recess. Yet from where Eshe sat he seemed to ignore him as dregs or a hini.
“Gowen Hadd,” Sifadis said, words stumbling in her haste to explain, “how fortuitous you should call upon me while Leisan Lafard is with me.”
Eshe had to admire the bel hade’s quick thinking, and she claiming dullness after the shocks of the day.
“He comes from Citadel Dief,” Sifadis said. “To view our Daabian plants.”
“I take it, the custom in Citadel Dief is for the lafarden to lack manners,” Gowen observed, a pointed look directed at Eshe.
Oops, gods’ bods, her blunder! There she was thinking herself a woman while Disa, faster thinking than herself, had just pointed out that she was still dressed as a man.
“Not at all, Hadd Leef, and I beg forgiveness,” Eshe did her best to recover. “To be not too explicit in front of Sifadis Bel Hade, last night I somewhat over-imbibed of the Gardens’ brews and, um, tried to re-enact my wedding night’s um, whazzamy, and thus somewhat damaged my back.”
Curses! Though she’d tried to keep her voice in the lower registers it kept creeping back up. She growled in an effort to bring it back down.
“I had previously arranged to call on Shore House so, though painfully crippled, here I am. But, alas, my appreciative wife remains at the Gardens sleeping it off. And you are?”
“This is my ward-holder, Gowen Sivator Hadd,” Sifadis introduced him though she looked in a panic. Yet she was doing well in holding it down.
“Ah!” Eshe enthused though she knew she was over-acting. “Is that Gowen the tender of Daabian plants? But you are the reason we’re here.”
“Is that so?” Gowen said. “Yet something tells me your every word is total lanteroo. Who are you?”
“I have said,” Eshe said, allowing to show a tinge of resentment.
“Aye,” Gowen countered, “and I am Dizpeter. I’m not a while-a-day to be so deceived. My ward was saying as I walked in—and where is Rokke? Some sprat greeted me—she was saying of her claim to the legere-chair. She would not tell that to a visitor not before met. And as to your tale—wed somewhat young, were you? Aye, well hindlings might be and so might a lafdi, but generally not lafarden. Either you are lying of that, or lying of your sex. Let’s go to the latrine together, shall we?”
“Gowen!” Sifadis let loose with genuine outrage.
“An where is the corpse of your beloved, Disa?” Gowen asked. “I came to pay my respects.”
“I can see where he was. The sheet is still there. And, alas, so is the smell.”
“Disa. I am your ward-holder—”
“Were my ward-holder,” Sifadis answered him. “Were, but are no longer. I am wed.”
“Not legal, my dear—not without my consent. Now I ask you again, what is happening here?”
The woeful pip, Eshe did feel for Sifadis. What a day it had been for her, an uninterrupted series of tangles. Was it a wonder if Sifadis couldn’t take any more. She crumpled again onto the divan, and sobbed.
“Whoever you are,” Gowen said to Eshe, “and I have my suspicions, you may politely leave the chamber. My ward and I would speak—of private matters.”
Eshe needed no second-telling. Yet Sifadis reached out to stay her.
Eshe shook her head. “Nay-nix, Disa. Gowen Hadd is right.”
Sifadis, Shore House Heiress
Sifadis watched as Eshe left the room. Och, such poise that woman had even while calamities exploded around her. And what did she think of the weeping widow? One moment sobbing, the next moment screeching, unable to hold her feelings in, letting them all spew out. She was probably laughing and scornfully tutting. But Gowen wouldn’t allow her the reverie.
“Now. I shall ask you again. What is happening here?”
“Nay-nix, Gowen, I shall ask you. Why did you send Lorken and Kullt to spy upon me? And who in these Houses paid Mallen to kill me?”
Ha! That stilled his mouth. And his step. He was now by the window. He perched his butt on the sill while he looked at her. But, fy and loh, that was unfair. Now, with the light behind him, his face was in shadow.
“Mallen tried to kill you?”
“Did I not say? So did Lorken not tell you? It was not Boddy who stole me away; it was Mallen and his men. Now you tell me, who wants me killed? His uncle? How long has Breken known of Shore’s claim to his chair? Since the day I told you? But Gowen, I do not want that legere-chair. I wanted only the heir to this House so I need not wed as Breken said. And now that heir is Boddy, but Boddy’s unfit to sit on that chair. And before you dare question me, you will answer me these. Remember who is Bel Hade and who is only Sivator here.”
Gowen bowed—mockingly low. Sifadis picked up the pillow she’d been hugging and hurled it at him. He tutted. “First, Disa, I had said nothing of your claim until yesterday’s hearing.”
“Hearing? Och, how is it a hearing when nobody listens?”
“Disa—Bel Hade—peace. You asked a question, now allow me to answer. Why would I deem it worthy of mention when, not for a moment, did I believe you would find this love-forlorn, heartbroken ancestor of yours? But now, as you say, the man is here. And, Disa, he does represent a threat to that chair. And so, of course, I must advise Breken Lafard of it. As to who wants you dead, nay, I know nothing of it. It was not Breken Lafard, of that I assure you. Now, if you are done with your questions?”
“Nay, I am not. Why were Lorken and Kullt sent to spy on me? And for whom do they work? For you? Are you a spy-master, hidden here in my midst?”
Gowen expelled a wearied sigh, and left his perch to sit on the divan still warm from Eshe. “I cannot answer you that.”
“Then you shall have no answers from me.”
“Disa, please, be reasonable. Aye, I will say as much as this. They were not spying on you.”
“Then you sent them along because you lacked any trust in me.”
“I sent them to protect you—”
“Your story.” Angry, she tossed her cloud of blood-red hair.
“And that might answer who wants you killed. Did I not say at the time not to trust that Kalamite? It is common jaw that he killed Mikel Lafard’s stew—what was her name?”
“Kilda . . .” Crud and crusts, but she oughtn’t to have known the name. And now it lingered like breath in her mouth.
Gowen nodded, pointedly.
“As you say, it’s common jaw,” she quickly recovered. “Ember spilled her story last night.”
“Aye, well . . .” Perhaps he believed her. “And it was likely Kalamite who also contracted Mallen.”
“Ay? Why? Besides, Mallen was supposed to kill the holden too.”
“I’d say that’s proof enough. Who named Lorken in particular to go along with you? Not me.”
“Kalamite,” she admitted. But she wasn’t yet finished with her ward-holder. “But I am right of you, Gowen Hadd; you are a spy-master—which makes me uncomfortable with you, that my every breath will be sold. Is Breken Lafard generous with payments?”
“You ask questions I cannot answer,” Gowen refused her.
“Yet you do answer.” Ay, he answered enough.
And now she was disappointed in him. Shore House’s secrets sold for gold. Breken Lafard would know her every contact in every citadel along the coast. He would know who boarded her ships to travel to where. And who returned. Ay, she had often wondered why Breken Lafard had appointed a lowly sivator as her ward-holder. She hung her head. She could not allow for this to continue. She could not have the lafard-legere knowing her business, especially now when her business included Boddy. Yet how was she to secure this spy-master’s loyalty? She must offer him more than his present employer. Ay and she had just the temptation—something found when her father died, something held in reserve all these years.
“Gowen, why have you never wed?”
“And what has that to do with this?” he asked in sudden anger.
“Is it because Greystone House has no holdings? Is that why you must be a spy-master? How else to pay the war games’ taxes, huh?”
See now how he stood, how he prowled. She had been right; she had touched upon something.
“So you sell information to pay the taxes? A pity your son cannot inherit.”
He kept walking, circling her chamber, and neither admitted nor denied. For all her wealth she never had tasted the sweetness of power. Hay la, what a day this was turning to be. To begin by threatening the lafard-legere; now to have this spy-master running.
“How old is he now?” she asked. “Which is his birthday and which is his mother’s, in the last Fishes’ week or during the Cat’s? What position now has she—in Citadel Mefhi?” She fixed him with a stare.
She had found record of his regular, twice a year, passage to Mefhi when she started ploughing through her father’s books, hoping overnight to learn the business, though thankfully he had already taught her much. Gowen Sivator, her ward-holder, had been flustered by her interest, trying to take the books away from her: she ought to come to them slowly, he’d said, once her heart was healed. And she had thought he was embezzling or in some other way defrauding her. But later she remembered the servants’ tattling about the scandal in Greystone House, that the dulsind had been sent suddenly packing. She’d not been hounded in disgrace. Then she must have been pregnant.
Did he believe silence was his best protection? The lorel, she was not about to expose him. Och, how many lafarden had out-of-walls children?
“It must ache deep in your heart that you have a House yet it remains an empty grey shell. There is no inheritance for him, though I could amend that. For a consideration.”
He stopped his circular prowl—conveniently behind her. She would not turn; she allowed him that privacy.
“Shore House has holdings more than it needs,” she said. “I have the majority when we sit in the Witan—once I am out of your hold. I can afford what Breken cannot. With a holding of your own, you would have something to leave for him. What is his name? How old is he now? Younger than me, I do know.”
“Reihen,” Gowen broke his silence. Och, but he sounded so weary. “He was fifteen this last Cats.”
“I doubt any would question were I give to my father’s closest friend, my companion these past years, my ward-holder, the hamlet of Churenth. It has fisheries attached, but I need not tell you for you know. It yields two thousand combs of honey per year. It would make a fine gift for Reihen’s sixteenth birthday—to be held in trust, of course.”
“And what does the bel hade require in return?” Gowen asked.
“Oh, this need not break your arrangement with Breken Lafard, if that troubles you. I ask nothing beyond your cooperation and, as regards to Shore House, your silence.”
~ ~ ~