Boteras Rookeri-Sharmin aka Boddy
Boddy heard, first, Disa calling him, then Jonesi.
“Boddy!” another voice called, a man’s.
There was a clatter of pikes. Great, yeah, fine: they were his men, though belatedly arming.
He craned his neck back to look up through the tower, to where he could hear the voices. But at such a height, and through the screen, with the lights blazing upon him, he could see nothing beyond the alabaster column.
Was this a trick to tempt him out? Had Kalamite captured Disa and Jonesi? Was it Kalamite’s, that other voice?
What to do? Stay hidden and foil whatever the demonic man’s plan?
Yeah, fine, but if by his staying hidden Disa were killed . . . Natzo! He could feel his toes scrunching, his knees bending in. He could not risk the tattagoose hurting her.
He pushed open the door of the inner tower. It made not a noise.
“Who’s there?” he called up.
He had his men stationed, one to every ring around the tower. He called to them, “Hold off till we can see them.”
“Hay la! Boddy, it’s me,” Disa called. “I have Jonesi, and Ffika, with me.”
Boddy suppressed the groan. Ffika, again! “What are you doing here? If Kalamite catches you . . .”
“He won’t,” answered Jonesi, their voices echoing up and down the multi-ringed tower; footsteps too as Disa and Jonesi, and the runman, hastened down the many flights.
“They’re alone,” called down the nasky positioned on the seventh ring, the highest Boddy had the men to cover. “No others with them.”
“Horenza!” Disa called. “Listen! Ffika brings us terrible news. And please start climbing, to meet us half way.”
But still Boddy hesitated, not trusting.
“Hey, Boddy Felagi, this isn’t a trick,” called Jonesi. “Just get your butt up to here, we have to be quick.”
Boddy still wasn’t sure. Yet he started the climb, calling out to his men as he loped up the spiralling steps. “You’re not to move from station. You guard the equipment; instructions the same.”
Then Ffika squealed, putting the Black Fear of Remen into Boddy. But it was only that the runman had finally noticed the lights. Ghats, man, did Ffika panic. What his keefer would do when he saw . . . Oh my, the heavens! And the Event Maps had shown it, precisely predicted! And oh la la and whatever have you!
Boddy closed his ears to it and covered the remaining steps at a run. He met Disa, Jonesi and Ffika on the fourth ring. He eyed Ffika suspiciously in his crisp black coat. By then the runman had quietened his jabbering, though he kept looking woefully at the inner white tower.
“So I’m here,” Boddy said. “So what?”
“Eshe,” said Jonesi while Disa was gathering her breath.
“My keefer has taken her,” Ffika blubbed, all twisting hands and looking behind him and back up the tower. He wouldn’t be still. And Boddy still wasn’t sure whether to trust him.
“Yeah?” Boddy asked him. “How ‘taken her’? And how do you know?”
Ffika looked up with exaggerated exasperation. Then he hands went out and Boddy just knew this was going to be a long explanation.
“Keep it crisp,” he snapped, no time for this.
Ffika nodded. “With respects, Boteras Rookeri. He—Kalamite—tasked me with gaining for him a boat. A ship, to be sea-going. He tasked me with gaining for him instruction on sailing the beast.” His hands came up again as Disa drew breath to object. “Forgive me, Bel Hade, I am no sailor to know the terms. He said after this eclipse he would go fishing for sprats.”
“Och, he will not!” Disa exploded. “I have the fishing rights.”
“With respects, Bel Hade, by ‘sprats’ he means new stock for our House. New runmen. He is to go north.”
“Well, aiy-lah to that.” Boddy said.
“Aye and nay,” Ffika said. “I saw him during the darkening. Aye, I followed him—I often follow him. I, um, well you don’t need to know. But I suspect him of, hmm, certain things. So he left Runman House, and I assumed he was to come here to our queen—he has been so long away. But he veered. And I followed. Thus I did see him bundle his cloak over your Eshe and club her with his staff—bashed on her head. She slumped in his arms. Then he made like two wancolled franyans leaving the Woolpack Gardens—this all happened just outside that pleasure den. So I followed. He dragged her; she wasn’t entirely unconscious, but she stumbled and lurched. He took her down to Tuthe Wharf, where his has his small barque. It is a barque? I think it’s a barque. Forgive me, Bel Hade, I don’t know the terms.”
“Fine, yeah,” Boddy said, hushing him. “You’re not a sailor. And we thank you for the message. But now let’s go. Up, up, up, up.”
He called back to his men, the naskies who were guarding the installation. “You’re to remain on guard even though I’m not here. Change on rota as before. Kalamite may not be your problem now but there are other runmen.”
“Not many,” Ffika said quietly. “We’ve had many death these past months. I believe I am supposed to be next. He did warn me.”
Boddy wasn’t paying heed to the runman, his thoughts racing ahead as he gained the walkway. First, how to rescue Eshe? Disa offered a lugger. She said she’d need only one other to sail it with her. Jonesi said best it was him.
“You know how?” Boddy asked, perhaps too curtly.
“Spew on it, man. How much about you don’t I know? Next we need weapons.”
“I can also provide,” Disa said. “It just means calling at Hanfling’s office.”
“But why has he taken her?” Boddy wanted to know. Then answered himself. “Natzo, I know the answer.” But then as he thought more, natzo, he didn’t know it at all. All Eshe had said was the tattagoose wanted her dead. “Ffika, what has this Kalamite against our Eshe? What has she done? Why does he want her dead?”
“He’s been watching her. Her friend, the stew, he killed her, too. But by the Warts of Rubel, I know no reasons. If it were you, aye, I could understand. You come here attacking our queen.”
“Your ‘queen’ is dying because of your tower. I’m only trying to help her survive,” Boddy retorted. “And that doesn’t answer for Eshe.”
“He has it into his head,” Ffika said. “Mayhap he needs no other reason.”
“Great, yeah, fine. Insanity brought on by those beads.”
“Most likely,” agreed Jonesi.
~ ~ ~
It wasn’t until they were leaving the citadel that Boddy noticed the odd-coloured sky. The second day’s eclipse was then drawing away leaving the sky a rusty mist colour.
“Hey, is this the aftermath of the eclipse, or something to do with the sea?”
“The former, likely,” Disa said. “All my years I’ve lived with the sea, yet I have never seen this before.”
“Heida! Holla!” a man called as they came clear of south gate.
“Hey!” exclaimed Jonesi. “Look who it is.”
Ghats! Never mind the caller, just look at that horse. What a beaut, a glossy black stallion in immaculate condition. The rider dismounted. Something of him said here was the ledhere. Shimmering silks of deep reds and blues, tift to the tips of his bleached-linen sideburns—and that same bearing as Count Slemba.
”Trefan Lafard?” Boddy asked.
In answer the dismounted rider bowed low. ”Boteras Rookeri I am guessing. Or ought I to say Boteras Lafard-Legere?”
“Ay,” Disa answered for Boddy and that annoyed him. “We are waiting only for the tree to bloom.”
Boddy looked from Disa to Trefan. Spew on it, man, how would this Trefan Lafard-Ledhere know of the flowering tree? Apparently he didn’t. He frowned.
“At your service, Hadd Leef,” Trefan said.
“If you’re offering service, you could start by helping in there,” Boddy said with a backward nod to the tower. He couldn’t stop his fingers from curling, though not into fists, it was agitation. He wanted to go rescue Eshe, but he also needed to protect his work and the tree. Would Trefan help? Natzo. He shook his head.
“Alas, Hadd Leef, but while my brother still has the chair I am not able. Yet, fortuitous we meet. I was to send in a messenger to bring you out. We ought to talk.”
“Another time if you don’t mind,” Boddy said leaving Jonesi to explain.
“Kalamite has stolen Eshe. We think he intends to kill her.”
“Nix!” Trefan’s face paled, lighter yet than his flaxen hair. He shook his head, and kept on shaking. “What do you intend? You’re going to . . . to what?”
“First grab a skiff,” Boddy said, his feet itching to move.
“A lugger,” Disa corrected.
“He’s taken her off across the firth,” said Jonesi.
“In a barque,” Boddy said.
“Ay, barque or carrack. Whichever,” Disa said, “he has taken her to sea. My guess is he’s heading to the spit, but we can’t be sure.”
Boddy glowered at her. Did she think him her child that she must always speak for him.
And still she went on. “Mayhap he has taken her over the firth to the Daab. Or even upriver to the Rotashta Rocks. We’re hoping to track him by his sail. No others will be out; I’ve forbidden it. But while we speak here . . .”
“Yeah zo,” Boddy grabbed his chance. “So let’s move!”
And still they stood there and talked.
“Where are you heading, which wharf?” Trefan asked. “I’ll stable Pitcher and join you.”
“Black Reach,” Disa said. “Hanfling’s sheds. But be quick.”
Quick? Quick! Mere quick wasn’t quickly enough. That maniac tattagoose had Eshe. Boddy wish he had wings.
“For Eshe,” Trefan said, “you think I would tarry?”
All the way down to Black Reach Boddy held quiet, repeating those words in his head: For Eshe, you think I would tarry? And it wasn’t only the words. Ghats and rats, he’d heard Trefan’s tone and, hey! Eshe had finally found herself a man who truly did love her. And he was so pigging glad for her, though he wanted to cry for her too. She finds love and has to refuse it. Natzo! He’d not allow it. She could deliver her report back to Raselstad. But even if he had to fetch her back again himself, that woman was then to return to Rothi and Trefan—assuming of course that they’d rescued her.
At Black Reach he saw how many ships now were his. Natzo! They were Disa’s. What did he know of shipping and fishing and tides and sailing. Besides, he wanted no part of it. The ships—barques, carracks, smacks, lighters, galleys and wherries or whatever they were (he knew only of cockles and jasckte-boats)—crowded around a full ten wharfs. And he had expected only one wharf! More: each of these wharfs had jetties hutting off them, hovering above the rhythmic waves, the water jetting through the tight-gapped slats.
Disa cursed, she’d never seen the tide this high. Yet, as Boddy could see by the line of dark wood fronting the warehouses, the tide had been higher; it now was retreating. He dared not think what the warehouses held, lining the firth no little way back from the wharfs. Though, since Disa had said of expecting the tides, she had probably ordered everything taken up to the citadel. He wouldn’t know, busy repairing the tree.
She still was swearing of the water as she banged on her shipping master’s door. His office was a cubby set into a shed.
“This is not the worst of it yet,” she said, glancing at Boddy from over her shoulder. “The highest tides hit on the third day after the No and Full Moons. Only this time we get three No Moons together. Hay-lah-ay!”
Hanfling the shipping master didn’t answer.
There still was no answer.
She swore, the crudest expletive he’d yet heard from her. But time was passing; he wanted to run, to swim, to fly had he wings, anything, anyhow, to be after Kalamite and rescue Eshe.
And now Trefan had joined them.
“Och, where is he?” Disa groaned, all but trotting round on the spot. “Where’s that turd of a Hanfling?”
“Stand aside,” Boddy said. “We’ll break the door. You go find us a boat.”
“Lugger,” she said, partly absently. “Ay, that is probably best. You’ll find gaffs and javelins; I’m not sure what else.”
“Great, but what’s a javelin?” Boddy asked. “Spears I can throw, is it similar?”
“Pronged,” Disa said over her shoulder. She hastened away to find them the lugger.
Boddy inspected the lock. It needed prising. “Anyone think to bring a crowbar?”
Trefan produced a dagger.
“It’ll blunt it.”
Jonesi and Boddy stood back to allow him room. There was a loud crack.
“I’ve broken the lock,” Trefan said. He sounded amused.
Boddy looked. Ghats and shats! Yeah, he’d broken the lock. He’d broken the door, the pigging lot. The door fell in. They trampled over it.
“Where?” Trefan asked.
“Yonder.” Jonesi pointed—uselessly done behind the others. “Far corner,” he added.
The shipping master’s office reeked. Boddy couldn’t put a name to its pungency.
“Aspadilly,” Trefan told him.
“It yields a tarry substance. Waterproof. It’s been used to protect the floor.”
“Hey, you learn something.”
“You learn not to trespass,” said a voice from the door.
The intruders turned.
“You must be Hanfling, yea?” Boddy said.
Trefan motioned him quiet. “I’ll deal with it.”
He moved away from Boddy. Boddy wasted no time. He equipped himself with gaff and javelin, grumbling that no way would these throw straight to target. Yet the fishermen used them to hunt the amphibs—the toads and otters, torpy-does and tapers. There must be a knack in their throwing.
“Hanfling, Guy Leef,” Trefan said with a respectful inclination of head.
Boddy glanced at Jonesi. “All this bowing and scraping, will I ever get used to?” Trefan was a lafard, and what’s the other? “And I thought I had it comprehended.”
Hanfling Guy looked at the torn doorjambs, and the door, one edge splintered and now paving the floor.
Trefan smiled. “It was locked. We needed entrance–Sifadis Lafdi’s instructions.”
“The Bel Hade told you to do that, Lafard Leef?”
“With respects, Guy Leef, she said for us to fetch the gaffs, and you were not here.”
“And the Lafarden Hadden couldn’t have waited?” Hanfling–not tall but wide and solid—barred the broken door with his staff. “Where is she then, my Lafdi?”
Trefan pointed seaward. “Seeking a lugger. Look, Hanfling Guy, she’ll be here in a moment; she’ll set you right. But we’re in a hurry, a most important life hangs upon this. Now allow us to equip and move out.”
“Yours,” Boddy seethed, “if you don’t get out of the way.”
Hanfling didn’t hear him, scuffling with Trefan who’d also lost patience. The shipping master moved aside, a blade to his ribs. Trefan pushed past him and—whack! Hanfling’s staff cracked across his head.
Boddy flew, weapons dropped, fists forming. Hanfling crumpled to the aspadillian-coated floor. Boddy blew on his knuckles, and offered Trefan his hand.
“Old stoat,” Trefan said. “They’re the worst, won’t let go.” He winced as he tentatively felt round his head.
“I think the red lafdi not be happy when she sees what you do,” said Jonesi. He was passing the procured weapons, hand over hand.
“Is there a bow—for distance?” Boddy asked. “And arrows?”
“Hey, Boddy Felagi, a bad day but lucky.” Jonesi handed Boddy a long bow.
He’d have preferred a Dragon’s curved bow but if that’s all there was . . . He accepted. “And a sword?”
There were two. Jonesi took the other. Neither was a match for Trefan’s, hung from a gem-caked baldric. Or was that merely a decorative scabbard?
Meanwhile Trefan had dragged the shipping master into his office.
“Put him up high—on his desk,” Boddy said. “If he doesn’t recover before the next tide . . .”
Trefan eyed the height of the table-legs. “Will the desk keep him clear?”
Boddy shrugged. “It might give him a chance.”
Trefan nodded. “And, Boddy Lafard . . .”
Boddy looked round.
“Some slug you have there.”
Boddy grinned. “You weren’t slow yourself.”
“But Jonesi is right,” Trefan said. “Your lafdi won’t be pleased with us.”
“She’s not my lafdi, she’s my beym. That’s a Lubanthan word; it means wife.”
“Beym is a noble’s wife,” said Jonesi. “And you never thought you’d have one of those in your life.”
“Yea, true.” Boddy grinned. “But where is she?”
“She’s here,” Disa answered, appearing suddenly from off a jetty. She saw the damage. She peered inside. She saw Hanfling.
“He tried to stop us, Bel Hade,” Trefan explained. “I was most polite to him.”
“Hay la,” she said and tutted. “But do you see the tide’s reach? He cannot stay here. They tell me at the last peak the waves were kissing above the spit; this next is bound to be higher. Best move him onto one of the ships. If he hasn’t recovered in time, he’ll be safer there. I’ve no doubt that’s where he was to begin with. And then come with me.”
She talked the entire time they were moving the shipping master, talked while she was equipping herself with gaff and javelin, two of each. Boddy wondered if she could use them.
“Hanfling countermanded my instructions,” she said. “But he did right. He told my captains each ship must be manned, if only by one. I can’t have the ships cracking each other if the water’s choppy, tied as they are on long tethers. It’s fortuitous, elsewise we may not have found ourselves a man and . . .” She stopped to look at her three companions. “I don’t see you as seamen. But I’m told the ship-swain Garwy is aboard Golden Dawn. I have sent for him to meet us at wharf nine. That’s seaward.” She nodded in that general direction, now the men had made safe the unconscious Hanfling.
“By the way, he was seen,” she said and it took Boddy a moment to realise that the ‘he’ was Kalamite. “Hanfling sold him Sunshine Rose especially for her bright yellow sail. Hmm, I suppose that will be in his report at Witan’s end.”
“What, you’re saying, that Hanfling foresaw the need to track the runman?” Boddy couldn’t believe that.
“And I would know? You have effectively silenced him. I only know what Captain Hoeden told me. He saw the yellow sail put out just as the dark of the eclipse was beginning to lift.”
“Heading which way?” Boddy asked, impatient to be after the murk. And how far was it to wharf nine? He could have run three times around this firth by now. They were all going so slow.
“He appeared to be bound for the spit,” Disa said.
“Then do we need the lugger?” They could walk it—run it!
“You want that we swim? Hoeden says he looked unsure of himself handling the Rose. And now with the tide ebbing . . . Ay, if he knows not what he’s doing he could end up across at the Daab. And watch where you are treading.”
Boddy looked down at the littered planked walkway. “Yuk. What are they?”
“Jacobs. The smallest. Nereids.”
“Only in death.”
As yet they still were living. Several of them tangled together, rather erotic, iridescent lights scintillating along their writhing bodies. They were beautiful in an odd kind of way. Their boneless flesh was transparent, their digestive tracts, nervous ganglions, capillaries and arteries (their blood was green) all could be seen. They appeared to have several hearts. As Boddy watched, those hearts one by one by one stopped beating.
Disa drew him away.
“Move! Gods preserve you! I said they are poisonous in death.”
“There are more across there,” Jonesi said.
Now he’d seen the first, Boddy saw more. The wharfs were splattered with them, in places in heaps.
“Ay, they have been carried in with the tide. They must be deceived by the moons. They’re locked in their mating.”
“They’ll lay their eggs here and die?”
“And in dying they’re poisonous?”
“Ay. I said.”
“So if the tide doesn’t get you . . .?”
And the spit would be thick with them. Which meant if Kalamite didn’t kill Eshe . . .
“Ghats and rats! Let’s get to that lugger and fast.”
~ ~ ~