Sifadis Lafdi, Shore House
Jonesi and Eshe were so long in returning. But, as they said as they burst through the door, this half-day of dark had delayed them. It was beginning, this complex pattern of eclipses, unnatural. Their unaccustomed mounts had been spooked by it. So too with Disa. Though forewarned, and fully expecting the eclipse-days to be night-time dark, yet she was as frightened as any of the beasts. She had paced, disturbing the globes above her head, unable to settle, no Boddy to calm her, her thoughts going frantic. But, hay la, her friends were here now.
But . . . where was Trefan and his armsmen? Were they already into position, sited to hold Runman Kalamite away?
Eshe shook her head, apologetic. “He has offered to be Boddy’s ledhere. But as yet, no, he can’t do. Breken will have him arrested should he set foot through the gate.”
Ay, Disa had known, but still she had hoped. “Yet, does he not send men? He has armsmen, he has so many.”
“Disa . . .” Jonesi tried to put his arm around her as if she were a child needing his quietening touch. But with a petulant screech she moved away. “Disa, to send in his men . . . Kalamite-primed, Breken would see it as an attack. And then too late to explain once Dryastil has called out his holden.”
Ecstatic at their return, now Sifadis turned her back on them to look out, instead, of the window, her own reflection staring back. There, despite it was day, the world was dark. Loh, the first eclipse. She was restless, like her blood had developed an itch.
She thought of the sea. Breken Lafard had done his duty and warned one and all, even those out at the farthest hamlets, that despite this unnatural dark that would occur three days in succession there was nothing to fear. Ay, but Breken had said nothing of the rising sea. He had warned them not to look at the sky: Not to look where Heli ought to be for the fleetest glimpse as she removed her veil would blind them. But of the sea he’d said nothing.
Disregarding his warning, her eyes roved the sky—and came to rest on the towers opposite. Boddy was in there, standing guard lest Kalamite on his return ripped out all their installations. Both she and Gowen had lent their eskuri and naskies to be with him, the naskies on rota for there were dirty jobs in the Houses (the chamber pots particularly) that only the naskies could do. But what skills had eskuri and naskies against Kalamite? At least they were armed.
“Have you told Boddy yet of the War Games?” Eshe asked.
Och, now came the accusations. As if she would keep it hidden. Ay, so he was against killing but, truly, few died in the War Games. Were it otherwise, they’d soon run dry of men for the folkheren.
“He knows.” She didn’t expand, that it was Mathon who told him, and Gowen also. She didn’t say how Boddy had glowered at her because she hadn’t told him. But as she’d answered him, he’d have known of it sooner if he’d been listening. But that wasn’t his only contention.
“Disa, Bel Hade,” Gowen had said, trying to pacify her, “your husband has much to face. If sometimes he snaps . . . ay la, huh?”
Her husband didn’t like that she had made friendly advances to one of the runmen, to Ffika. She had even entered Runman House with him.
“He invited, and I was curious. And why not, while the tattagoose is away? He asked after Eshe. I think he’s sweet on her.”
“Yeah? Well I’d rather you stay away from him.”
“Why?” She had dug in her heels. “Not all runmen are like their keefer.”
Ffika had told her of the Runman Order and had started to say of Wood Tower. But then of a sudden he’d clammed. Och, not another word from him. It was later she realised. But of course, he was forbidden this talk of Wood Tower and what was within it. But say as she would, nothing mollified Boddy when it came to the runmen. Accursed warlocks, honouring Mercury, calling him Verth.
“Boddy,” she had said, with difficulty holding her temper—which of late seemed always wild, “there was a saying in the Old World, about not covering everything in the same pitch.”
“Great, yeah, fine”—his usual answer— “and what does that mean?”
“That not everything is either black or white, good or evil.”
“And that is blasphemy. Either it’s living and growing else it’s withering and dying; the Magnificent Maker else the Destroyer. There’s nothing between. And do you want to talk of that all night or come to bed?”
Gods beyond us! He exasperated her. And now Eshe was picking, trying to find a cause to criticise her. So mayhap Jonesi could talk sense to Boddy. Jonesi could see the colours that existed between the black and the white.
“So, has he mended the tree?” Eshe asked her.
“Mended, ay. Ay, she is healing.” She clutched at the subject to be away from the other. “He now has the lights in place—and that took some clambering. But you know Boddy, he’s happy with that. Och, twelve floors high that screen he climbed. Hay la! My heart, it took flight just to watch him.”
“Wow!” Eshe gasped (Sifadis liked that). “Is the tree truly that tall?”
“Boddy says it would have been taller without they built the tower around it. He’s angry at it.” But then, what wasn’t he angry at? “He says it’s that tower which has destroyed her. But I think at first it hadn’t a roof.”
“Maybe it was done to support her?” Jonesi offered. “That tall . . .”
“Ay, I said the same thing. The winds we have here—sometimes hurricanes. An uprooted tree of such a size . . . gods’ mercy upon us, the terrible damage it would have wrecked on our Houses and warison.”
Ay, and he had answered, “Is that what your Ffika said?” She had glared at him until he’d apologised.
“According to Ffika the tower was built four, nearly five hundred years ago,” she told Eshe—Eshe, because Jonesi seemed not to be listening.
Eshe frowned. “Around the time of the First Accord? It has taken a while to die.”
“Which is why Boddy thought it could have no roof at the first,” Sifadis said. “And more lately the water has been taken away.”
Jonesi looked up with sudden interest. “How so?”
“Gowen knew something had happened. He remembers the runmen laying holha-grass stems so that he could water his Daabian plants. Then inside, he and Boddy discovered a rubble-filled well. In it were squeezed the tree’s misshapen roots.”
“If it’s a semol, it’s a desert tree,” Eshe said.
Sifadis didn’t understand her point, and anyway, she was wrong. “The semol is a savannah plant. And now when Kalamite sees . . . Ay-lah! We can expect a mighty explosion. Ffika says we have flooded where Kalamite prays.”
“The tower serves as a shrine?” Eshe asked with a lift of surprise.
“Ay. I pressed Ffika to say more but he’s forbidden.”
“So do they worship the tree?”
“From the pieces I gleaned from Ffika, ay.”
Her accused flirtation had not been wasted—each serves in their way. Ay and Boddy had after apologised. Gods! How many times had he apologised, and each required that he took her to bed. A wonder the tree was mended at all. Though in that she’d not criticise.
“Ay,” she said. “It seems the runmen here regard the tree as their goddess. So now we know what we’re tampering with. Yet the runmen have tried to destroy her.” Sifadis couldn’t understand why.
“Tried to destroy . . .?” Jonesi again emerged from whatever his thoughts. “Nay. Kept from the sun, was unwittingly done.”
“It may be so,” Sifadis agreed. “You must talk to Boddy. But I was saying of what has been done to heal her. Boddy says the lights are that strong they double as heat. He says it’s best not to break down the tower till next summer because of the winter-cold. Oh, and he has asked Mathon if such lights might be used to heat our chambers—he complains of the smell of burning jasckte-dung. But that’s for . . . well, it’s not for now. Mathon has found him a powerful pump to deliver water up to the sprinklers and they’ve released the spring at her roots. But, ay-and-loh, where now will Kalamite pray? It’s all under water. I tell you, he’ll explode when he sees. But as to the rest, as you said, Jonesi, deception was needed.”
“To make the tree bloom so soon?” Eshe asked
“Ay, we must have the blossoms to show to the Witan to prove that Boddy is the heir. And that was not to happen soon. Hay la, you ought to have seen her, peppered with some kind of fungal growth. Red, small—like wedding beads, Boddy said. The runmen suck them. Though mostly it’s Kalamite.”
Eshe’s face lit up at the answer. “So that’s what colours his lips and hair.”
“Ay. I think he is not generous with his sprats. You notice, they’re never red-stained.”
“A fungal growth,” Jonesi mused aloud. “It will be a door-releaser such as we squeeze from the poppy.”
“But that’s used for pain,” Eshe said.
“Yea, but it’s also used to open the door to another world.” Jonesi laughed of a sudden. “But it does explain Kalamite’s obsession. Poor soul, dashed between the two worlds clashing. And how long has he been imbibing these beads? Deprived of them now, he’ll be like an unweaned baby, writhing.”
“Ay, well, and he is deprived of them now,” Sifadis said with satisfaction. “We removed every last one. And now she’s recovering, she will be host to no more.”
“At least we’ll know when the tattagoose has returned,” Eshe remarked and laughed. “We’ll hear his shrieks.”
“Hay lah! But, as Jonesi knew it, we had to cheat with the blooms. Boddy isn’t happy at that.”
“So how has my clever Boddy Felagi made so soon the tree to bloom?” Jonesi asked.
“Before I left Luban he gave me a Daabian plant,” Sifadis said. “From Rookeri Gardens.”
“The robinti?” Jonesi’s voice had gone uncharacteristically flat.
Now Sifadis felt sad for accepting it. “It had meaning to you?”
Jonesi nodded. “But to a good cause. Has Boddy grafted it for a fit?”
“He has tried as well as able. But it was hard to find living wood on that tree. He had to scoop out a deep pocket and fill it with Daabian soil. He planted the robinti there. We all pray that it takes. It still was flowering last night when I saw it.”
“Then best he’s quick with his claim at the Witan,” Eshe said, “before the plant starts to wilt.”
But Sifadis shook her head. “Boddy says not. He says if the robinti doesn’t flourish then he is not the true heir. And if that were so, it would be true. He says One Spirit unites all in this world, that it is in everything and it knows more than we do. So if the robinti survives and thrives then it will be like that One Spirit is declaring him king.”
“King?” echoed Jonesi and Eshe together.
“Ay. We talked much of this. Our Holy Book says of legere, ‘that which is fixed’. But Boddy doesn’t like it.” And on this one thing they did agree.
“That’s why we Lubanthan prefer the term elect,” Eshe said, somewhat snooty.
“Ay,” Sifadis answered her. “And king means the same thing. In fact, it means more than the simple elect. According to the Holy Book, the king is the elected son of the tribe.”
“But Boddy is Lubanthan,” Eshe objected.
“Natzo, Eshe,” Sifadis said, using her husband’s catchword. “Boddy is the son of the Keril-og, and Keril-og was as Rothi as me.”
“We all bear kinship,” Jonesi said. “Whether Rothi or Lubanthan, our ancestors sailed on the same Avatar’s ship.
Eshe shook her head as if disbelieving. When she spoke, she spoke in awe. “That Boddy has done so much, so soon, and against anything anyone would expect of him. That man must so thoroughly love you, Disa.”
Ay, that he must, Sifadis admitted as her face flushed bright. Yet all they could do was to fight with each other.
She turned again to look at the towers. Boddy was somewhere within them. She would miss the sight of the towers come the summer when they were dismantled. With their bright flowered tiles they were always beautiful—though, she reminded herself, they did steal her light. Mathon was then to design some stays to support the tree in the occasional hurricane and frequent gales. Ay, buttresses, that amused her, for according to the Holy Book, in Middle English ‘buttress’ was boteras which was the source of Boddy’s name.
Kalamite, Keefer Papa of the Runman Order
Aiya, those Bisonian holden, to close the gates against him! He’d been so close he could smell his lover. Now he was angry. Another night spent huddled and cold when his bed was not a polypod’s hop away from him. But now he was in, his eyes fixed upon her tower, now he was tempted. He so desperately wanted to forget Breken Lafard and his intent to report to him. He wanted only to go to her, his lover, his mother, his queen.
Aiya, he had missed her these past six days. Six! because of that cunning eclipse. And he longed to shed his reeking clothes—they stank worse than ever of hogs’ piss and horses. He wanted to bury himself in her deepest most welcoming crevice and suck on her nipples and—aiy-lay—to blissfully fill and be filled and to merge again, body and spirit, with her. He ached, yearned—nay,more, it was pain (he hurt)—to be with her again. But alas and dismay, first he must deal with Breken Lafard.
He shivered. It was not only the cold, of which he was used. It was that sky: all yesterday, even before the eclipse—and still the sky was no longer blue. It was a shimmering dirty rusty colour. He did not understand it. What did it portend?
He had seen the tide as it crested, and that boded well. Always erratic—the seamen, alone, understood it—the Luant’s water last night had been high. High. And that would suit him excellently well. His blessed lover, his mother, his queen had promised to deliver the Eshe-spy to him. He had panicked while following her, lest she escaped him. He’d not taken the trouble to learn to sail only to take Sunshine Rose north on a sprat-catching trip. Nix, never! Nay, that Eshe-woman was to be his. His licked his lips at the thought. So many deaths he had delegated; seldom did his fingers enjoy a dabble in blood. Moreover, so many escaped him of late.
He had wanted the Shore woman, grown painfully hard at the thought of how he would hurt her—ach, how deeply he could have enjoyed it. But she was not to be his. He wanted Boddy, the Twin or the other, but that wasn’t to be either. And neither was Breken Lafard’s treacherous, traitorous brother Trefan. Nix, his lover, his mother, his queen, had spoken: the Lafard-legere was to have them. Only the Javan hini was to be his.
Curses! Now how could he walk with that throb of anticipation. Oh, he would hurt her. He would rip her. He would . . . he would eat her. Aiy, he would enjoy the feast of her. He shivered again.
The close was deserted, no servants hurrying hither and thither, no lafdin visiting, all hiding behind their closed doors, watching through their thick paned windows. The abundantly-hung Mathon-lamps cast a yellow light around the citadel close, adding to the air an unreality as the second day’s eclipse approached. It made the overnight frost to sparkle an unlikely lemon.
But that frost reminded him of the icy nights of crouching in barns and stables and sties and root-stores. Yet it had been worth it. Aiy, he now had evidence, ample evidence. He had evidence against the Boddy-Twin, against the Shore woman’s Javan hindling, and against the legere’s little brother. That one never again would mock him.
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