Sifadis Lafdi, Shore House
Ay, his stubborn refusal to understand and to act. Why would he not believe her words? She ought to take that as insult. It took Mathon and Eshe and, at the last, Jonesi to convince him that ay, the citadel was imperilled and that, ay, her House—nix, it now was his—would no longer exist unless he acted the Hero and took the relevant action. Crud and crusts, what a miracle that she’d found the heir, and that he had returned to here. Now he must mend the tree and claim the chair.
“How?” he asked, absent his usual flippancy.
“There’s everything here to heal the tree,” Jonesi said with a sweeping gesture at the clutter piled upon Mathon’s benches.
Boddy deigned a look. Ay-ay, she could have picked up that coffee pot and crashed it upon him for his wearied tone. “Yeah.”
“Leave him be,” Eshe said. “He needs time. He needs to make this task his own.”
Of course, friends all their lives, she’d know. Sifadis turned away before Eshe saw the scolding eye turned upon her. Och, she ought not to be like it. But it seemed she alone could see the urgency, and how dire the plight of Lecheni and her people. It wasn’t just for her and Boddy that the tree needed mending.
Peace, Disa. How long did it take you to grasp its import?
Ay, she answered her ancestress, Ffadise. But then there was time and plenty, while now there is none.
You exaggerate, Disa. There is ample for what must be done.
Och, ample indeed! Not if he sits there shaking his head and saying nay, nay, nay, I don’t believe it. But she had to admit he was now off his butt and looking around as Jonesi had prompted.
“Yeah,” he said again. Yet now he was prowling around the workshop, and pointing to this and that contraption. “Which lamps burn the brightest?” he asked Mathon and Mathon, delighted, ran to assist him. “These, yeah? What heat do they give?”
“Enough to fry a squirrel’s egg—are you wanting to die? Aye, Boddy, aye, these are hot, indeed hot.”
“Yeah, great, she needs heat. Yet heat will desiccate. Have you something we can use to deliver water? Not just at her roots but all the way up to the top of the tower?”
“Aye, indeed that I do,” Mathon answered, twizzling around, so excited. “I have pumps. Where? Ah, here. But that’s some strong pump you’re jawing about.”
“We’ll need sprinkler-heads to it.”
“Aye, the one, the one,” Mathon said, “but you would be better with three.”
“Does anyone know where there’s a close source of water?” Boddy asked, looking around at each of them. “Or must we take it from the moat?”
“There’s a well in the garden,” Sifadis answered before Eshe could. “Gowen and I use it for the Daabian plants.”
“We ought to dismantle the tower,” Boddy said without even a nod of acknowledgement to her, as if she’d not spoken.
“But, Boddy, my husband, you cannot imagine the runmen allowing it?” Was there a bite to her voice? But she couldn’t hide it. “What, Kalamite? Nay, nix, never.”
Boddy returned to where she stood by the coffee pots. Had he noticed her tone? He slipped his arm around her waist. She wanted to snuggle and nestle against him and yet she held steady and held him away. He leant in closer and spoke softly and gently into her ear. “You want us to be together when this is over? Then allow me to do it my way.”
He was still talking as he moved away, deserting her, leaving her cold and lonely. “I mean, spew on it, Disa. You’ve given me a task I wasn’t prepared for and, by the gods, it won’t be easy. But as you say, unless I do this Shore House, the citadel and numberless people will die. Now, it would be best if we could dismantle the tower—”
“Yet Disa is right,” Eshe added her worth. “There is Kalamite.”
Boddy turned on his heel to face her. “Yeah, Eshe, I know. And don’t you start on me, too. So what do you want me to do? Dismantle him first?”
“Hay la,” Sifadis said, voice noticeably trembling. “Is this talk of killing him?”
“Disa, peace.” He mimed the sealing of lips. “Unless it’s constructive—by which I mean constructing a plan. That I welcome from anyone because, right now, I’m flummoxed and down.” With a theatrical gesture he clutched his head.
Sifadis seethed with frustration. She wanted to go to him, throw her arms around him. She wanted to help him. Instead, she clenched her fists, brought tight to her mouth. He was angry at her. Gods, but how she deserved it. Ay, tricking him, deceiving him, enticing him here. She had brought him to a place he’d vowed to despise, to resolve a problem he deemed not his own. Yet it was his problem, for he was the heir. Hay la, why couldn’t they have escaped to the Daab, plant collectors as he’d playfully proposed?
He turned to Mathon. “Is there a way we can be rid of Kalamite? It need only be temporary, yeah. Some place to send him? Forgive me, I don’t yet know enough of your ways.”
“Aye, there’s the Warison Path,” Mathon said. “You always can use the Warison Path—ach, but most Houses keep their doors barred at the inside.”
Sifadis didn’t understand his intent, yet Boddy caught it. “What, you’re suggesting we snatch him and hide him away? Great, yeah, fine, that might work.”
“I have a suggestion,” Eshe said.
Ay and she would.
Mayhap you have a part to play, too, Ffadise said.
Ay? And what would that be?
Think upon it.
“Well?” Boddy prompted his close friend Eshe—of whom he had spoken with such affection. Curses upon her, and curses on him!
“I could lure him away from the citadel, clear away from the town,” Eshe said.
“Hey, great, yeah—except I won’t have you put yourself into danger. But, let’s hear your idea. Go on.”
He wouldn’t have brave, capable Eshe put herself into danger. Ay, but he’d not say that if his own wife were to offer. Sifadis turned away else she would have glared.
“Trefan is lodging out at Churen Manse,” Eshe said. “If I went to see him my guess is—no, it’s a certainty—Kalamite would follow.”
“But you say he’s after your death.”
Nay, never, nix, can’t risk her life. Send Disa instead.
Disa. Stop this at once. Ffadise said. What kind of wife are you?
“Kalamite is after all our deaths,” Eshe said. “All except for Jonesi. That man is insane. But, Boddy, what is the point of pumps and lamps when he won’t allow you into the tower? You’re right what you said: We must be rid of him first—and we must keep him away. Maybe I can persuade Trefan to bring some men to guard the tower until the Witan accepts you?”
“Ghats and rats,” Boddy groaned, “this is all moving so quickly! The Witan accepts me?”
Time you spoke, Disa. Ffadise prompted.
But what could she say? “My many-many sorries for that,” she said. “But until I found that document—”
“Yea,” Boddy snapped. “You still haven’t explained that.”
“But until it was found how could I know you were the one? And now the eclipse is less than two weeks away.”
“Jonesi, dear friend,” Boddy turned to him, “Does she make any sense to you?”
“Stop tormenting her,” Jonesi said—sweet, sweet Jonesi. “There is work to be done. I’ll go with Eshe and protect her.”
“Thanks but I need you here, to help me.”
“Rokke will help if I say,” Sifadis cut in. “And so too will Gowen and Gowen’s seleman.” They would need Gowen to let them into the garden, and to do whatever was needed with the water supply.
“I will help too.” Mathon seemed to swell with enthusiasm. “Don’t forget me. Oh my, indeed that I will, for the rightful man to sit on the chair!”
“How long do you need for him to be gone?” Eshe asked.
Boddy thought for a moment before he answered. “Four days would be good. No, make it five. Then we need a way to hold him away after that. He’s not going to be happy. His tree, his tower—it’s death to enter, remember.”
“Nay, nix, Boddy, she can’t do that,” Sifadis said and almost withered beneath his sudden stare. “But Churen Manse will not host her that many days. Nah, Eshe, you must visit my holdings as well. That ought to confound the tattagoose.”
She nodded. Ay-la, she even smiled. She had contributed to her husband’s plans, and by it helped keep him safe. Besides, five days without Eshe around his ankles. And maybe when she returns it’ll be with Trefan.
“We’ll get everything ready in here,” Boddy said, rapidly moving his thoughts along. Now he was sounding more like himself. Though there still wasn’t a sway to his hips, and he wasn’t yet joking. “We’ll test the lamps, check their brightness and heat. We’ll get together sufficient piping—is this all you have, Mathon, yea?”
Mathon grinned and shook his head. He jabbed his thumb back to say he had plenty more back there, wherever there was.
“Great, yeah. This might come together yet. Sprinklers; have you heads? Yea, I see. And the pumps—can you work out the pressure if we calculate the height? Hey, Disa, I haven’t had so much fun since I was in school. I never thought I’d miss doing calculations. Now this water supply?”
“You must talk to Gowen of that,” Sifadis said, quietly basking in contentment. He was having fun, because of her.
Boddy nodded. Then held still, now deep in thought.
“Wood Tower. It’s nothing but wood and tile, yeah?” he asked her—her, not his friends, because they wouldn’t know.
Alas and ay-la, neither did Sifadis. “I suppose.” The shrug happened though she tried not to allow it.
“Trefan thought it built of stone,” Eshe volunteered.
Sifadis held her tongue.
“Mathon?” he asked. “You’ve been in there.”
“Aye, indeed, aye, but ten years back, and in the dark. And I was creeping. The walkways are wood. Scary, those, in the wind. Oh very scary, oh my.”
“Well the outer towers are wood and tile so . . .” Boddy also shrugged.
“Boddy Felagi, my friend, have you thought it might be the tree that accounts for the name?”
“Yeah, I suppose. I was just thinking, we could burrow in from the bottom.”
“No need,” Eshe said, full of brightness. “I have the key.”
They all looked at her, even Sifadis.
“The keys to the coloured towers are kept in the guardhouse,” Eshe explained. “Trefan reckons the runmen keep them there just to taunt the holden. But Ryal Holde gave in to temptation and stole the key to the Purple Tower. When he fled, terrified out of his wits, he took the key with him. He handed it over to the Council and my father gave it to me. I no longer have the original, I gave that to Trefan. Mine is one of Mathon’s Every Keys.”
Again, she produced the small metal box from her bag and laid it on the bench by the coffee pots.
Mathon pawed over the box without actually touching the contents. “You have yet to say where you came by this, Lubanthan Eshe. Indeed, oh my, this box has been missing some, oh, some seven, eight or even more years.”
“It was a gift to me,” Eshe told him. “But Jilli, who gave it to me, said her husband had it from a Rothi trader who brought north it from a mid-western town. Her husband is Eshquan.”
“My-my, it has travelled. And doubtless it was lifted from me by a chiparin. But not Otian, I think. Ach, does it matter, does it matter, now it is back.”
“Yeah, excellent, brille,” Boddy said.
“Milig,” Sifadis added and hay la, he flashed her a smile.
“So. Now we have a way into the tower,” he said.
“At night, at night, aye you must do it at night. No runman goes in there in the night. And you must be wary, you must,” Mathon advised, “even with our Kalamite away. His runmen, see, and the holden patrolling. Aye, you’ll need be wary.”
“Hey, Boddy Felagi, the Warison Path encircles the citadel.” The way Jonesi said it, Sifadis assumed Boddy must know his intent, even if she didn’t.
“Mathon—Hadd Leef,” Boddy caught himself in a slip of etiquette. “You wouldn’t happen to have a plan of this Path and the citadel, would you, hey?”
Mathon grinned and nodded and went off to fetch it. He spread it out on the bench. “Here is Shore House with the door down below, because it is old. Here, see, in this corner, is my Mathon’s Manufactory. Equally old and equally with a door at its bottom—but I didn’t know it connects to some caves. Are there amphibs down there?”
“Apparently only Jacobs,” Eshe said, “and they don’t climb that high.”
Eshe’s knowledge upset Sifadis again. Och, a stranger who knows more than me. Ay, but she would soon be away, enwrapped in her Trefan’s strong arms.
So I admit I am jealous of her.
And who is wedded to him?
Och! He never even asked me.
Mathon pointed again to his ancient, tatty-edged drawing. “And here, you see, is the Purple Tower.”
“And there,” Eshe pointed, “is the guardhouse with the barracks above Garrison Gate.”
“Ouch!” Boddy groaned.
“Ay,” Sifadis said, “you cannot come out at Mikel’s Rams House.”
“Hey, Disa, what do you mean ‘you’? It’s we, Disa. You and me—you’re into this too.”
“I thought my work done now that I’ve brought you to here.”
“Hey, no, woman. Your ‘work’ won’t be done, Disa-dear, until we’ve both grown old and you have given me a parcel of sons—and that ought to keep us both busy, hey.” He grinned with a wicked twinkle in his eyes.
Och, Ffadise, my father was right. See how he wants to change me, broadening my hips and dragging my breasts to brush on my belly. I shall look gross if I allow him his way. Ay, and what then of the time to study? Grunting and bearing his children for him.
But without him and his children our Shore House is dead.
Hay la, what a hard price to pay.
“Thus,” Jonesi said, having strolled around the cluttered chamber, seeming to pay little attention, “with light and air and water the tree is repaired. But what of the chair?”
“Eh?” Eshe asked, for once not so bright.
“The tree must flower to prove the lafard-legere has the right to the chair,” Sifadis said, gloating.
“But, hey, the mending is the important part, yeah? To heal the tree and stop the prophecy, that’s what you said.”
“Aye,” Mathon agreed. “That’s what she said, Sifadis did. But Boteras Lafard, the tree isn’t mended until she blooms. And she will not bloom until you—you are sure, Sifadis, that he’s the one? Aye, aye, he is, he is the one—until you sit upon the chair.”
“For the tree to bloom when he sits on the chair?” Jonesi said, “I think some deceit might be needed here.”
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