Roots of Rookeri 29

Bashano Heights

Boteras Rookeri-Sharmin
aka Boddy

Week Twenty-Five

Ghats and shats! And now he’d lost Jonesi as well. Was this a bad day or . . . Natzo, this couldn’t be happening. His fault, of course his fault, he shouldn’t have left Jonesi alone. But there was that cove up ahead, not far along, and Jonesi had thought they could use it for cover. The last chance, hey, to snap a nap before they stormed Mallen’s stronghold. Stormed: Boddy snorted at that. They’d be more like a wisp of a wind. So Boddy had left Jonesi tucked safe out of sight while he scouted ahead for anyone hidden. He was a Dragon, an angel, he was good at this. But when he went back to give Jonesi the ‘clear’, he was gone. No sign of a scuffle. Not even tracks leading off, only his own. It seemed Jonesi had simply vanished. But that wasn’t possible. Not even trees to climb here.

He sat on the nearest outcrop of rock, head in his hands, and sighed. And again. He sighed several times, each one heavier.

That will not regain what is lost, his little god said.

Spew on it, Roo. Just . . . go away.

It hadn’t even been his idea to stop for the night. Those debauching bisonians had his Disa and he raged at what they’d be doing to her. He wasn’t going to stop. Yet Jonesi had the right of it, only a sap-headed nugget would try to push on – in the dark, in the mountains, in land that Mallen patrolled. His frustration ate through him like a swarm of herissons. He wanted to pulp the rocks – yeah, and place Mallen’s face there. Natzo, not his face, let’s make it further down the franyan’s body.

“Yeah. And may the gods bless Ryal for providing the slack-jaw.” Boddy nodded grimly. Far much effective for venting anger than Lubanthan.

Great, yeah, fine. So now he’d vented why was he still as tightly wound as a silk-moth’s cocoon. He spat, as if that would help. But he needed to clear his head. He needed to devise a workable plan. He couldn’t just walk into Mallen’s stronghold. And anyway, it was impregnable. Five decks of Dragons he had taken to clear it of bandits. And, yeah, they’d won in the end, if to survive was to win, if to not be totally wiped-out-defeated. But they’d left that hold still stinking with bandits. So now he thought to storm it alone?

Yeah zo, he was a geck, a lorel, a piddling whim. And again he thanked Ryal for the jaw.

He set a camp at the cove. Then remembered who had the food. Spew on it, man! How was he to defeat the mighty Mallen on an empty belly? Could the sitzu get any worse?

Yeah.

Like Heli rising, it suddenly hit him.

Mallen’s target wasn’t Disa. It was him, Boddy. And now he was walking into a trap. Why hadn’t he seen it? Why hadn’t Jonesi seen it, Jonesi was usually so sharp?

There’d been no way for Mallen to know that Disa would run slap into his men at the cliff top. She’d already passed Chendani Pass, she had her two guards, she was going back to Lecheni. Mallen couldn’t have known she’d double back. Ghats and Gods, even Boddy hadn’t known that. But his scouts would have seen Jonesi and Boddy pass. Yeah zo, they’d not been particularly quiet, and once beyond the track to Chendani Pass they’d not even been watchful. They wouldn’t have seen Mallen and his ragged band following behind. Besides, Boddy had been thinking of Eshe, his eyes sharp for signs of her passing.

Mallen would have seen them veer off the track and into the forest. He’d had have put a scout on their tail while he and his men more slowly and quietly followed. Had Mallen intended to follow them down the cliff-side path? Gods! A fight on those rocks . . . nausea weakened his bones and hit his belly just at the thought. But more likely Mallen hadn’t known their intent. More likely he’d hoped to attack while still in the confusion of trunks. But then Jonesi and Boddy had vanished. And holla! Here came Disa.

With his arms wrapped tight around himself Boddy rocked. Of all the blinding nuggets! He had led the bandits to her. As good as delivered her into their hands. Two decks of them, that’s what he’d counted from the muddle of prints on the track when they’d found them. And now there was only one of him to effect her rescue.

Hey, Boddy Felagi, don’t scourge yourself. You couldn’t have known.

Yea, yea. Yet she’s their captive because of me. Oh, Roo, I beg, I beg, don’t let anything happen to her.

I hear you, Boddy Felagi, but I am your god, not hers.

Then I’ll pray to the Avatar. Ghats and Gods, I’d pray to the Cursed One if I thought he would help.

~ ~ ~

The stronghold squatted like a short-bodied basilisk half-hid in its hole. But it wouldn’t be a long snaking tongue that shot out to strike Boddy, it would be a volley of poison-tipped arrows. Its hole was the sack-end of a long, twisted gulley. The weathered crenellated warison, all grey-greens and yellows, wasn’t entirely of Mallen’s making. It had accreted over the centuries as successive bandits occupied it. And it belied what lay behind it. A warren. And though they couldn’t be seen, cleverly disguised as natural cracks, Boddy knew there were at least a hundred narrow slit openings. And behind each he could guarantee they’d be an archer. The gate, the one seeming vulnerable point, was of oak.

On the previous encounter, backed by his five decks of Dragons, Boddy had briefly pondered the source of its timber. But not today. Today Boddy was looking way above the gate. To the crenellated top of the warison. And he was having trouble believing his eyes.

Jonesi stood there.

He stood beside Mallen. Yeah zo, that dumb-ed and confounded him. And Mallen’s arm was around Jonesi’s shoulders, like they were the best of friends. Spew on it, man, that fuddled and muddled him further. He wanted to bury his head in his arms as if then it would all go away. Was it a dream? It couldn’t be real. And there was Mallen jeering at him. That, at least, was expected.

“Holla, Jay-yo! Just look what stands at our gate”—Boddy heard his teeth crack as he ground them together—“it’s our old friend, Boddy Felagi.”

Boddy’s fingers itched to throttle the bandit. He took a deep breath, to calm him and to power his shout. It would be fatal to sound at all weak.

“Ho, Mallen—” But he wasn’t allowed to say more.

“I hear he’s an angel now,” Mallen cut in. “Though today I see no sprats behind him.”

“You have it wrong,” Boddy shouted back while he had the chance. “I’m no longer a Dragon. I’ve left. Deserted. Yeah, man, you hear me right. I’m a free-rolling bandit, now, like you.”

Mallen laughed and slapped Jonesi’s slender shoulders. “Hey, Jay-yo, you reckon he’s asking to join us?”

It was an act. It must be an act. Natzo, Jonesi wouldn’t willingly be an compliance. Boddy didn’t know what Jonesi was doing up there but as long as Medusa rose red Jonesi never sneaked off to join Mallen.

“You still have me wrong,” Boddy shouted up to him.

He wondered how many archers he had hidden. The thought of those vemon-dipped arrows trained upon him might be shiversome, yet he needed them there for his plan to work.

“I’m only here to ask for what’s mine,” Boddy said. “You’ve stolen from me and I want it back.”

Mallen laughed. Not mocking, not malicious. Good humoured, amused. But he and Boddy had history, and Boddy knew it was done to confuse him. And so was his question to Jonesi.

“Do you want to return to this guy, be his servitor?”.

Jonesi scoffed, a fizzling raspberry blown as his answer. He flicked away the annoying fly-Boddy.

Boddy would figure that out later. Disa was priority.

“I don’t mean the old man,” he called back, matching disdain. “Dispensable, yeah, though he does have my food. Gods, man, I meant the woman.”

For the briefest moment Mallen was quiet. So, he didn’t know of Boddy’s connection. That, he could use to his advantage. He quickly factored it in.

“Hey, Jay-yo, you hear what the angel says? Doesn’t want you but he does want his food.” He chuckled. This time it was maliciously. “So let’s give it to him, heh.”

Beans and nuts and dried fruits rained from the crenelles atop the warison.

Great, yeah, fine. Did Mallen think him a lorel to scramble around for it, as if he wasn’t already a perfect target? Besides, Jonesi had been carrying a deal more than that.

“You can keep the food. I want the woman,” Boddy shouted.

“A persistent ruffler, aren’t you, Angel. Or should I say, Javanese wreck. And what woman would that be?” Mallen’s acting was woeful; he’d never succeed at auditions.

“Ask your new buddy,” Boddy said. “My wife.”

Again that moment’s silence before Mallen answered. Boddy was tempted to count: How long before Mallen decided to swallow?

“I’d say you’ve a story there,” Mallen said, not quite so jeering.

Bait taken, but Boddy held off the smile. “I might tell it. Once she’s again in my hold.”

“Aye and how’d you intend that? Come up here and take her? Or will you pay the ransom?”

Yeah zo, that grin was threatening to break. Mallen was playing right into his plan, providing the very opening he wanted.

“I’ve told you, yeah, I’m a bandit, just starting. I haven’t yet gold to pay any ransom. But I was thinking, yeah –”Ghats, it was hard to hold off that grin “– I might win her from you. The stake in a wager?”

Mallen laughed. But he’d taken the bait. And as long as his men were watching through their shadowy slots, he’d now be hooked and glued to it. A Rothi, a bandit, he’d know every trick to the gambling game. While Boddy was Lubanthan, and everyone knew the Lubanthan didn’t gamble. But, zups, that was a Rothi misconception. The Lubanthan wagered, sure they did—just not for money or items deemed wealth.

“What’s the wager?” Mallen asked, his mirth now gone.

“Do we have a deal? If I outplay you I get the woman?”

“And what if you lose?”

Boddy held out his arms. “Name it. You know my skills.”

“You’d join us, do my bidding? Aye and you’d know of the Lubanthan defences – those around Regionalstad.”

“Where they keep the gold? Ghats, yeah zo.” Boddy couldn’t believe it: the bandit was swallowing the bait deep in. “Like-and-like, if I win you’ll give me the woman.

“I’ll tell you where to find her,” Mallen amended the terms. “And I’ll promise that no one will interfere with your taking. But I’ll warn you, that woman is mine, you’ve no chance of winning.”

“Natzo, you lorel, you’ve already lost her. Didn’t you hear what I said? She’s my wife.”

Boddy knew he was pushing the bandit’s beliefs but, Ghats, they could have been wed if he’d played it right.

“Swivel, wrecked angel,” Mallen jeered at him, an obscene gesture accompanying. “You’re jawing through your arse. I’m to believe Sifadis Lafdi would consent to you?”

“Go ask her. Tell her Boteras Rookeri is here to fetch her, and see what she says.”

He could see Mallen saying something to Jonesi and Jonesi nodding. He prayed, deeply prayed, that Jonesi would support him. But he still couldn’t figure what Jonesi was doing up there. Mallen’s men must have captured him. And how many bluffs were being played here?

“Hey, you, I’m changing the terms,” Mallen said, all humour gone from Mallen now. “You’re dead if you lose.”

So Jonesi had backed him. Or was he working a double bluff? What if Jonesi wanted him dead? Natzo. Why, that made no sense. But nor did Jonesi standing there with Mallen. This was turning tragically confusing.

“Well?” Mallen prompted. “What game do you choose?”

“You haven’t asked yet if I’ll take the new terms.”

“Aye, aye, aye, Stup and Dizpeter, let’s get this over. Do you accept them?”

Boddy nodded. “Great, yeah, fine. I lose, I die. I win, I get my wife.”

“So what’s the game?” Mallen asked. “Or am I to choose it?”

“It’s what you’d call a game of skill.”

“Go on, say more.”

You haven’t agreed yet the revised terms. If I win I get my wife back. If you win . . . you get to keep the used goods.”

There was another moment of silence. Then Mallen shouted, his anger well-roused, “Listen, you pesky wrecked angel, that lafdi you’ve ruined was sworn to me before I was exiled.”

Zups! Boddy hadn’t known that. He hadn’t once thought that Disa could already be promised—to him or to any other. Though, the two richest Houses: he ought to have seen it.

“Now let’s get this skill-thing moving. I agree as I said. You win, I’ll tell you where, and vouch that none will interfere. But you lose and you’re dead. And I think I’ll take your testicles first. Seems appropriate. Perhaps she can watch.”

“You’ll need to come out of your hold. I swear I’ve no weapons.” Boddy held up his hands. “Besides, your archers have their marks on me. They still can mark me when we get to those rocks. You see which ones, the pinnacles either side of the gulley?”

“What do you plan to do with them? Knock them down? Lift them?” Mallen again jeered.
.
“There’s a rope tied around each. The game is simple. We use the rope to reach the top. First up, wins.”

The pinnacles topped the sheer cliffs either side. The ropes were secured at the bottom to rocks on opposite sides of the gulley. But would Mallen renege when he saw them up close? Natzo. He wouldn’t lose face in front of his men. Boddy was counting on it, that’s why he needed the archers, to witness.

Silence returned, but for the rough caw of the mountain birds. Boddy guessed Mallen was making his way through the warren and down to the big oaken gate. While waiting, he pondered the birds. How did they survive in this barren place. Further west, yeah, they raided the dead in the Black Towers, but here . . . If amphibs came into this dry terrain, it wasn’t to breed. And there could be little of flies and beetles and worms. Besides, their flesh would be tainted. How strange that the Avatar had brought the birds with him.

The oaken door opened. No creak, no clang. From its cavernous hole, Mallen strolled out. Boddy could see no weapons about him.

The man wasn’t tall—‘least not as tall as he seemed when mounted. He was probably no taller than Boddy. He was heftier though. Not muscle, it looked more like fat. Too much gorging on food. He swaggered his way down the gulley. Boddy followed three paces behind, to the side. Neither spoke.

~ ~ ~

Roots of Rookeri 30: 29th July

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Miss Perceive

A Story in Three Acts

{1}

“Stop!” he called.

“What?” she asked though she carried on walking..

“Stop. Please. Right there.”

“Do what?” she asked.

“That’s it, love. Great.”

“Excuse me?”

“I just had to take a photo of you,” he said. “Nothing personal, just you set off the scene.”

Her face said she wasn’t exactly impressed. “What am I, a tree?”

“It’s your hair,” he said, autumn-red. “It’s for a project, for college.”

“You’re an art student?” she said, making it sound like something not worth the aspiring.

“That’s right,” he said. “What about you?”

“Telesales.”

“Yea?” He retaliated, “And what do you sell, double glazing?”

She looked at him through narrowed eyes. Was that in distaste of him? But no, he realised, she was squinting against the sun. “Do I look like the sort of person who’d sell double glazing?”

“No,” he said. “You look the sort who’d say no if I asked her out for a drink.”

“Would that be as payment for the photo?” she asked, and cocked her head.

Would it be as payment? He ran the question. Had she been a professional model he’d have had to pay her. He nodded. She mistook it.

“Yea, okay then,” she said.

He gulped. She was agreeing? He’d only said it on chance.

“When?” he asked.

“You’re doing the asking,” she said. “You say.”

“Tonight?” he said, hopeful.

“Yea. If it’s early. Now I have to get back to work.” She checked her watch.

“What time?” he asked.

“Nearly one-thirty,” she said. “The boss will kill me if I’m late again.”

“I meant what time tonight.”

“You say,” she said, and then said, “You’d better make it eight.”

“Eight. At the Cock and Bull?”

“Sure,” she said. “I must go.”

She went, leaving him to wonder her name, this girl with the autumn-red hair.

{2}

He was early. She was late.

He wondered, would she stand him up. But it wasn’t a real date. She’d only agreed to meet him as payment. Still, no harm in pretending.

He sat at the bar, eyes fixed on the mirror at the back. From there he had a clear view of the door. Every time it opened his heart did a flip. His hands seemed clammy. His mouth felt dry. Time for another swig. If she was much later in coming he’d already be drunk. He hadn’t much tolerance for lager.

Then she was there, coming through the door, looking about her, trying to find him.

He stood, and the stool he’d been sitting on toppled over. Well, at least it attracted her.

“It’s great to see you,” he said, still jiggling the stool to set it straight. “I was beginning to think . . .”

“The car wouldn’t start,” she said. “I ended up getting a taxi.”

“That’s good,” he said and she gave him a withering look.

“I mean, it means you can drink,” he said. “What are you having?”

“Lemonade and vodka. Hold the ice, just a slice.”

The way she said it made him think she was a professional drinker. It would be no good him trying to get her drunk, hoping to have his evil way with her. She’d probably drink him under the table and walk away laughing. He ordered her drink and for himself another lager.

“Neil,” he said while the barman was occupied with the order.

“Why?” she asked.

He shook his head. “No, that’s my name.”

“Oh. Nicola,” she said.

“Nicky?” he asked.

“Nicola,” she repeated like a slap in the face.

“Oh. Well, hello Nicola.”

“Hello, Neil. Nice meeting you.”

Damn! Why hadn’t he thought to add that.

The barman brought the drinks. Neil paid. She downed hers in a couple of gulps.

“Thanks,” she said, and started walking away.

“Excuse me,” Neil called after her. “Nicola?”

She turned. She waited. He frowned.

“I thought we were having a drink,” he said.

“I thought we just had,” she said. “Thanks for the payment. I hope your project gets you a credit.”

“But . . . “ he grappled for words.

“Can’t stop,” she said. “I’ve a date, don’t want to be late.”

“Oh.” What else could he say? He felt a bit queasy. He shouldn’t have had that second lager. Though it could be the disappointment as well. “Have a nice evening,” he said.

“You too,” she said, and was gone.

{3}

His hand wrapped around the camera shoved into pocket. She was gone, for ever out of his life. But he still had the photo – captured as pixels, no misperceptions – of the girl with the autumn-red hair.

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The Scheming Deceitful Devious Bird

All Kerrid wants is to find the pole which threads the realms (which Ardhea, the Asaric heron has promised to show her). But in the previous episode of Feast Fables, tricked by the heron, Kerrid promised to provide the Linershunn with a device that will free them from the Eld.

But what device? How is she to make it? And where is the pole? Kerrid has been patient with the bird, but now she wants answers. Next episode, The Heron People, ready now.

 

 

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Roots of Rookeri 28

The Falls

Sifadis, Shore House Heiress

Week Twenty-Five

Crud and crusts! Just listen to that, the roar and thunder. The Falls were but a spat away. The mist from the water already was spreading, casting chills. The trail was veering towards it; away from the Ridge. But they shouldn’t be here yet, it was too soon. It was Lorken’s doing, Lorken bullying her, the trall.

“You forget who I am!” she had snapped at him a while back down the trail.

“With respects, ‘tis you who forgets: you forget whose hold is up yonder.” He had jerked his head towards Chendani Pass and Bashano Heights above it.

With a grunt of disdain she allowed her eyes to track the trail behind them. Where was he? Why wasn’t he following? May and hap she’d been too hasty in leaving; she hadn’t allowed him time to digest. Yet she couldn’t stay longer: there were her fisheries, her boats, the eclipse, the tides. And she had left him clues.

You ought to have told him openly, said a bodiless voice.

Sifadis swung round, eyes seeking the Endizi Peaks at the end of the Ridge. Was that the source? The Endizeres were supposedly crowded with spirits awaiting new life. Yet . . . see how far. Then . . . was it Ffadise? Yet Ffadise ought to be by her tomb in Citadel Lecheni, at Shore House.

I am no where, I am every where.

It was Ffadise! Fy, alai! she answered, none too sweetly. Quiet when I needed you in Luban, you were. Now you are here? But, the question rhetorical, the ancestor’s spirit didn’t answer.

Kullt was now leading them close to the Falls. The trail narrowed here to a single a footpath that wove between the bulky boulders, boulders that that pushed out of ground, like trees, smothered in vivid green growths. The descent began, the path steeply ramped. The thud of her feet jarred through to her knees. She hoped soon they would reach the bottom. And yet . . . too soon, too soon.

The roar of the water drowned all other sounds—except for the voice of Ffadise. Return without him, we lose everything.

Sifadis didn’t want to hear it. She flicked her head like a horse with a gad-fly. But she wasn’t a horse, it did nothing for her; the voice remained, everywhere about her. Were I you, I would return to him.

Hush and hold peace! she answered. If I could . . . But you see these holden being my guards? And now she was angry. She didn’t need Ffadise to prompt her.

Och, imagine his turmoil when he discovered the theft. Would he report it? Would it be counted as treason? It would in Rothi. But no balgerof in Luban – yet she had read in the Minutes that, ay, they did punish, sometimes severely. But it was worse than a matter of theft: she had hurt him, taking the very thing that he wanted. Ay, but with reason. How else could she force him to follow?

You could have told him.

Hold peace, I sais. You know nothing of the Lubanthan. He would not have come, I know it.

“Sifadis!” Lorken’s abrupt cry startled her out of her muse. The iron-bladed pike that thudded into the ground a step in front of her feet alarmed her more. She screamed.

It was the shock, only the shock; she wasn’t a child to be so scared. Yet her eyes wouldn’t leave the goblin as it writhed in pain around the pike. It was small, just a kobold, she had seen bigger.

“Best you move fast,” Lorken shouted at her. “Be away before it dies. Go! I’ll follow.”

Kullt waited for her, hand out and encouraging. Did they believe her to be so terrified? Or did they think her ignorant, that she didn’t know they were most deadly as they died. Had they forgotten her fisheries? Shore House harvested the sea. Still, she eyed it as she edged around it, holding firm onto the pony which snickered in fear. The kobold’s skin, mottled, brown and grey, was dry and cracked from its season away from the water. It would not do for curing. The marine amphibs were always best for that, especially the toads. Loh, how soon her thoughts turned again to Shore House.

It’s not only Shore House that needs the heir, Ffadise said.

And I repeat, I cannot go back. Her ancestress was nagging her worse than a mother. I’ve two tralls guarding me, and Raselstad’s Watch will likely arrest me as soon as I pass through their gate.

The path delivered them to the Falls’ wide basin. Sifadis turned and turned. Despite her agitation at arriving too soon, the green all around was a delight to the eye, especially now all else was rapidly browning. But that green was everywhere: it clothed the rocks; it fringed the pools – the puddles, pits, ponds and the lakes; it grew as grass and fern and moss; it grew, too, as an occasional sky-scraping tree.

“Sifadis Lafdi Bel Hade,” Lorken called back her attention. “We cannot stay here. You saw that goblin, there will be more. They return to the water in winter.”

Sifadis swung round. The way he said it, as if she were a lorel needing instruction – she curled her lip at him. Och, the audacity! Had she his weapons she would decapitate him. Yet she obeyed and walked on.

They followed the path until, again, it tracked across high and dry ground. Heli still was far from setting but her brilliance was hidden by the Falls. And though Euryale was waxing, as yet she was but a blue sparkle. With no direct light, the entire area was shadowed and chill. Yet here her guards—why call them other—called a halt and set about setting their camp.

Sifadis watched them for a few minutes. They were taking no notice of her. She pulled her travel-pack from the pony’s pannier.

“While there is water and light, I am going to bathe.” She didn’t wait for her guards’ response but headed off down a path she’d then spied. Behind her, the holden spluttered and she heard a scuffle but she’d not grant them as much as a glance.

“Sifadis Lafdi Bel Hade!” It was Lorken of course; predictable. Did he never tire of canting that mouthful? It was not for respect, respect had vanished those first few days at Raselstad and had yet to return. Perhaps he thought by according her such titles she then would be blind to his increasingly frequent liberties. Well rots to him! Once he was back at Citadel Lecheni, he’d soon remember his place.

“The goblins are no threat this time of day,” she called back to him. “As languid as the spirits of Endizerel Range.”

“Until you put your foot upon one!” Kullt answered.

“Then I shall watch where I tread. Women—lafdin—have need of bathing. Not that you’d know such a thing. Now give me privacy else Breken Lafard will hear it.” And with that she strutted off, her travel-pack slung over her shoulder.

~ ~ ~

To claim she wasn’t afraid would be to lie. Even above the noise of the Falls she could hear the amphibs close by her feet. Lumbering slow fattened things with split skins, intent now only upon the winter’s slumber. She must not disturb them. But the Falls and their entrancement, that was the danger: so easy in looking up to neglect to look down. But how could she not look when, even in this fading light, the Falls were magnificent. Loud, though. Ay, she could only hear what was close. She’d never know if Lorken was following. She cast a look back.

He couldn’t possibly believe she intended to bathe, not even in the shallowest pools. But had he seen what she had seen in her ‘turning and turning’, appreciating the green. But no, were that so he wouldn’t have allowed her the ploy. For there, cutting through the mosses and grasses that hung like a curtain upon an east-facing cliff, was the pale ghostly track of a natural ladder. It must be easy to climb. Others had used it, why else the lack of greenery. Lorken would never dare to follow her there; he’d not dare to weave between the pools. And once onto the rocks she’d leave no print. Unable to find her, he’d think her devoured.

But the closer she came to the cliff, the less certain she was. She had never done even a similar thing in her life. And she still had to find a way to it. Between her and the cliff were pools by the millions, and now Heli was gone, Euryale still barely a twinkle, and Medusa and Stheino yet to rise, all was lost in almost-blackness. Yet, say, what else could she do? Ffadise was right. Return alone to Lecheni and, regardless of legend, she must wed Breken’s choice. Return there with Boddy and, loh, everything answered – though mayhap some fighting. Perhaps she should warn him.

But would Boddy come with her? Would he agree it? She had heard his talk of the Curses of Verth; he’d not want a drop of her wealth.

He will go with you once you tell him the truth.

Ay, the truth of the stealing? Sifadis jeered. Ffadise didn’t understand what she’d done. The one thing Boddy had wanted, she had stolen.

But once you tell him the truth of his line, and what awaits him . . . Ffadise pressed on.

He wanted to wed me. How forlorn that thought. And yet he had. He had, it wasn’t her imagining.

Ay, Ffadise said.

But Ffadise . . . She sighed, so tragic in her imaginings. Cruds, Ffadise, you know what I have said of marriage.

That you fear it, Ffadise said, sounding smug.

That’s not true . . . though I suppose . . .  Man-ufactured, the word repeated, as she had said of Affalind Lafdi-Legara

You love him, Ffadise said. Not a question.

Och! Do not speak of it. Hush, hold peace, go away. Besides, I feared more he would—

Disregard you? Thinking you wanted him only as heir.

No more, Ffadise, I said no more. Why must you torment me?

But then if he knows who you are . . . Ffadise said, teasing as a mother who shakes a rattle above her baby.

But Sifadis shook her head. He will not want my wealth—he detests it. I fear he will run, refuse me more.

She had, for a moment, to dry her eyes. Now there was the truth: that he would refuse her because of her wealth.

And now she could no longer see her feet, so dark here, as black as a winter’s night. What if . . .? But nah, the amphibs seek the water and sleep. Ay, but was she not walking on a waterlogged sponge? Ay, but she wore boots that reached to her knees. Ay, and they were defence against a twelve-foot kobbran? And she was wet to the skin where the mist from the Falls had soaked through even her jasckte-wool coat. And that coat, already heavy, was now weighting her down. Och, and now she must stop yet again to fasten her brecks

Then, loh, the cliff-face – sensed not seen despite it was but an arm’s reach away. But was she near to where she had seen that rock-formed stairway? Again she glanced back. Lorken must have missed her by now. Why did Stheino delay her rising? Where was Medusa? She needed their light.

~ ~ ~

Boteras Rookeri-Sharmin
aka Boddy

“Hey!” Boddy almost lost balance. He wobbled backwards and fell into the cave. A small cave, it was more of a cleft, a water-eroded split in the rocks.

Jonesi nudged him, pointed downwards, and made motions with his fingers of someone – or was it a thing? – climbing towards them.

Great, yeah, fine. But who’d be nugget enough to climb these rocks in the dark? Yea, yea, yea, so he and Jonesi would but they had reason – though Boddy still wasn’t sure of it. It had been Jonesi’s idea.

“Hey!” he had yelped as Jonesi pushed him off the path and into the fifty-foot grasses that fringed the forest. And, “Hey!” again when Jonesi steered him into the forest. Then, “Hey, are these proper trees, native-born, or are they—”

“Moss-trees,” Jonesi said.

Despite his objections at being directed into who knew what danger, Boddy had laughed. “Natzo, Jonesi, that’s full lily-loo. You’re telling me that the moss grows this tall?” His eyes followed them up. Those trees touched the sky. “Natzo!”

“You think I josh?” Jonesi said. “I tell you, these trees grow from the moss — from Sisny Moss. And, Boddy Felagi, to answer your query, we’re cutting this way to snatch a day off the quarry. By dawn we’ll easily be ahead of them.”

“If at dawn we’re alive, I’ll be sleeping.”

“I’m thinking young Boteras Felagi is all swagger and talk,” Jonesi retorted. “Fly like a hawk, he could catch her. Yet he tarries and walks.”

Great, yeah, fine, it was true. Had Disa been a scholar as claimed he’d have eagerly enfolded her, followed her to Rothi, lived with her there. But she wasn’t a scholar—or rather, she was not only that. And it wasn’t that she was an heiress that bothered him, for she wasn’t: his claim took precedence. Natzo, none of that. It was her wealth.

He preferred not to dwell on it, yet his head kept repeating what Ryal had told him: “Every ship in the Luant haven, every boat moored at the hythes, and every weir along the Tuthe, that as well as the usual holdings. No one eats fish but by her catching, no one wears toad-skin but at her harvesting, no one loses a tooth without her providing the ourali.” That was wealth. That was the Curse. That was Mucky Mercury. And he wanted none of it. Yet here he was, following after her.

That, too, was Jonesi’s doing. Jonesi, like some resolute surge, sweeping him along as if he’d fallen into the Luant. He’d been like that since the morning after Boddy’s talk with Ryal.

He had had a sleepless night. He’d tried to blame it on the spirits of Remen’s Black Tower. But it wasn’t them, it was his own restless thoughts, going over what Ryal had told him, arguing back and forth with his personal god. He would not chase after her; she was a liar and a thief. But Ghats and rats and shats and splats . . . Besides, though it would be fastest to ride, he couldn’t take Mason Lace. What would he do with the horse once he’d caught up with the liar, the thief, the heiress, the . . . woman? The piebald was on loan from Count Slemba; he would have to return it.

And what if she refused him? Great, yeah, fine, a chinking heiress. Who did he think he was? But she wasn’t the heiress, the heir was him. Yeah, and it might be another ten years before that sank in.

Plodding along the lane to the Hub, shoulders sore from his crumpled sleep, he’d thought of a plan. Citadel Lecheni, yeah, that’s where Eshe had gone. So if Disa refused him he could seek out his friend. “Hey, Eshe, I heard of the bandits; thought you’d appreciate an escort home.” It would save him his face. Then, having thought about Eshe, he found himself fretting for her. Yeah zo, that was one decision he could definitely make: No matter what happened with Disa, he would escort Eshe home. In which case he’d best take Mason Lace.

“Ouch!” he yelped as Jonesi slapped his tender back. “And where have you been these past two nights?” He’d not done his usual midnight creep into Boddy’s room. “Hey, have you been sleeping in Royan’s shrine?”

“Good morning, Jonesi, peace on you, Jonesi, nice day, Jonesi, see the sun shines. But no, none of that. ‘Have you been sleeping in my shrine?’ No, young Boteras Felagi, I shared with the holy man.”

“You did . . .! You sneaked his food too? You shouldn’t do that; that’s a holy cell and holy food, it’s given to the holy man.”

“What is holy?” Jonesi said and turned around so he walked backwards facing Boddy.

“You ought to watch where your feet go,” Boddy said.

“No, Boteras Felagi, I watch where your feet go. I have everything packed for us, everything ready. I have told Uncle Kachinnar.”

“Wha . . .? But . . .” He’d only then made his plans. “Have you been speaking with Gammer Haspra?”

Jonesi spread innocent hands.

“Then Ryal, you must have spoken to Ryal?”

Again the spread hands.

“Then . . .?”

“Royan’s heart, long time tiny and curled, now unfurls and blossoms as big as the world. You think your friend Jonesi can’t see?”

“But . . .” Spew on it, man, he was defeated. “So what have you told Uncle Kachinnar?”

“That we go to the Ridge and spend some nights enrapt of Medusa. Your uncle too has seen your heart, swollen and crying that you must part.”

“Great, yeah, fine. But, Jonesi, when I fail to return? He’ll think . . . my mother . . . he still has his moments.” He could not do that to his uncle. Although now he thought, he realised Gammer Haspra would tell him the truth.

“Peace, Boddy Felagi. You think me heart-departed. So the holy man will tell him – before he leaves. He’ll tell Negghe too.”

Boddy had looked away. Yeah zo, what could he do? But he didn’t like Jonesi’s haste in hurrying him out of the town. Yet he would be glad to have Jonesi along. Friend, surrogate father, companion, now guide – and it seemed there wasn’t a place that Jonesi didn’t know.

Jonesi knew where he was heading, he knew a track through the ‘moss-trees’, the leathery meat-plate leaves squelching beneath the soft soles of Boddy’s boots – a shame ‘I-have-everything-arranged’ Jonesi hadn’t given him time to change into something more suited. Boddy, too, knew where they heading – yeah zo, impossible not to with that noise – to where his mother had—Natzo, he still wasn’t able to say it. Distraught at his father’s death, she had walked away – wandered, some kindly said, out of her mind – leaving him, a child, alone and wanting. And Jonesi had brought him here, to this cliff – where now, deep in that darkness, someone was climbing.

The series of ledges that formed the cliff glistened like blood in the light of the two rising moons. The climb down was supposed to be easy, but Jonesi hadn’t reckoned on this other climber. Boddy assumed it was a person, though a full-grown kobbran could possibly do it. He shuddered at that thought.

The sounds of the climber were suddenly loud, now within hand’s reach of the cave. Boddy watched, breath held – as if that made a difference with the roar of the Falls. As the climber drew level, Medusa and Stheino shone full upon a short plait of hair.

Recognition was instant. Boddy gasped and started towards her. But Jonesi’s arms were quickly around him, restraining. He opened his mouth, intending to call. But Jonesi slammed a hand over his mouth. “You want her startled?”

There was no mistaking her. He looked at Jonesi. Jonesi signed to wait. And still he watched her, her arms straining to find the next hold. She wore the drab scholar’s coat although in the moons’ light it looked black. Natzo, it was black! It was black with wet; he could see that now by its drag. Ghats, the weight of that, how could she climb with it. He watched, pangs of longing torturing him, as she climbed past him and out of his reach.

He started to follow but again Jonesi restrained him, waggling his head to say no. He mimed alarm, arms flailing, her falling. He mimed to wait until she was safely into the forest at the top. Then they would follow. To wait was an agony.

But what was she doing climbing these rocks? And where were her henchmen? Had something happened to them? Had they fallen into the water, drowned and been eaten by goblins? Or . . . was that why Disa was drenched? Had she fallen into the lethal Luant? He could feel his eyes prickle with tears.

Peace, Boddy Felagi, you saw that she lives.

You know, they said with her . . . they said the goblins hadn’t yet . . . that she was alive when she . . .

Boteras Felagi, you know why she did it. To release her spirit, to be again with your father.

There’s pain, Roo, deep pain. And not even her bracelet to give to Gammer.

And now, spew on it, man, he couldn’t see and there was Jonesi pushing at him. He sniffed, and to the winds if Jonesi could hear him, he’d rather just stay there, fold into a ball and blubber. He never cried when it happened. He owed his mother some tears. Yet he dried his eyes and edged out of the cave and started the climb after Disa.

I want to hold her, Roo, to press her close. What do they say of it, to cleft? I want to cleave all my life to her.

Wow, that is poetic, Boddy Felagi.

Yeah, great, fine; he was a poet, wasn’t he.

They were three ledges from the top when they heard the scream.

~ ~ ~

Those three ledges were nothing, gone from beneath him as he scrambled fast to the top. How loud was that scream that he should hear it, and above the Falls. So what was the terror? What beast had attacked her? Gods, not a kobbran! Or what if a grampus had strayed from the Moss? What else could it be; he could think of nothing. In Rothi they had pack-hounds yet they’d not been known to venture south. Could she have been caught in a swarm of vermin? The Luant was dangerous at this season with amphibs of all types returning.

He surged over the top – and froze.

Yeah zo, this wasn’t what he expected. Men.

He didn’t count them, confused with the tree-trunks and the moons’ red light (cast here in patches). He saw no horses. He saw swords, and throwing-axes. He saw the glint of metal on boots. He saw blond hair. He saw sparkles of tift and trappings. He dropped flat to the leaf-littered floor, pulling Jonesi down with him. He had weapons: a cut-short pike strapped to his back while climbing, brought as defence against amphibs, and two throwing-knives. He might want to attack, and he desperately did, but against an unknown number and in this terrain, that would be wasting his time. And how could he rescue Disa if he were dead. Though he didn’t like it, he knew he must wait.

They had already gagged her. A stream of words he’d like to throw at them was dammed in his throat. And now they were tying her though she thrashed and writhed like a stuck goblin. Yeah-zo! Go at it, Disa, kick them. That’s right, the crotch will do it. Then a giant of a man one-handed lifted her and tucked her under his arm. He strode away with her, his company, following, spread wide through the trees.

Boddy let out his breath and signed to Jonesi. They’d follow. The roar and pound of the Falls would hide the soft squelch of their feet.

Deeper into the forest and again all was dark. Jonesi took the lead. Boddy trustingly followed. Jonesi brought them through the grass fringing and onto the path. In the bright light of the moons it was clear no one was here.

“Yeah, what now?”

“Hey, is Boddy Felagi, the Dragon’s own angel, not thinking? Two in this hand, two in that hand, are the two not linking?”

Boddy nodded, great, fine, yeah, he’d caught his meaning.

“There’s no other place for them to spill out of the trees but onto this path. And since bandits aren’t known for their walking, they must have mounts somewhere waiting. And mounts leave tracks. Yeah zo, why didn’t I bring my own Mason Lace? It was because of you,” he accused.

Jonesi held his hands up. Yea, yea, he was innocent, Boddy knew it; the accusation was born of frustration.

“This far east it’ll be Mallen,” Boddy said and though Mallen was big that giant wasn’t him. “She’ll be safe with him—scared and bundled, but safe.” Did he say that only to convince himself? Yet it was said without conviction. “A lafdi, wealthy, she’ll fetch a good ransom.”

Then—Natzo! In a spin of rage he threw himself round, jaws grinding.

“Natz and Ghats, Jonesi! If he takes her for a penniless scholar . . .” He gulped, feeling cold at the thought it. Natzo! Ghats and rats and shats and splats, his dainty fragile Disa, taken and spread. “They’re dead.”

He didn’t wait, he didn’t consider, he was off at a run.

~ ~ ~

Roots of Rookeri 29:

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The Heron, The Sky-Spirit And The White Swan

In the previous episode of Feast Fables, Kerrid discovered the Asaric heron has some devious plan that requires her to be at Li’en Ershi.

But what is that plan? And what part has Kerrid to play? The next episode, Truth Speaks This Night, ready now.

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Roots of Rookeri 27

Citadel Lecheni
Eshe Parlan, Femella

Week Twenty-Four

Eshe watched from the shadows as Kilda dropped a bundle of soiled linen on the chiparin’s table. The chiparin’s wife immediately moved the bundle to the settee. “We eat there.”

“Halloa, Bel Lafdi, Blessed Blithe loves you—I come bearing news.,” Kilda said as if she’d not heard. “But, too, I bring a hundred sorries—some news is bad.”

Eshe’s relief at seeing the stew collapsed, her sudden elation dropped like a stone into mud. And what was the bad news? Was it of Trefan? She’d been trying not to think, not to speculate, for what good was that. Instead, she’d buried her head in the work, though it mostly was manual. Eshe forced a smile. “But it is good to see you.”

“How are you bearing?” Kilda asked, her affection genuine.

“She’s doing well without interruptions, thank you,” the chiparin’s wife Zanda said and snatched the list of pigment requirements from Kilda.

“My arms now are now used to the grinding,” Eshe said.

Zanda shrugged. “We cannot take her without her helping.”

The work wasn’t hard but it was repetitive, and Eshe’s shoulders had hurt at first. But Zanda had been patient, and encouraging, and Lauschen the chiparin had enthused at Eshe’s knowledge of rocks. “If you stay, I’ll make you my sprat. Then one day you, too, will trade in quality pigments.”

If she stayed—and what else could she do, trapped here in the chiparin’s house. For a town-house it was grand, though much smaller than the citadel houses, and not ornate. Yet it did have two floors and a roofed balcony overlooking the courtyard. How pleasant it would have been to sit there in the sun, but that was to risk being seen. The house was largely built of robeau,.a rubble core upon which the bricks were veneered – as Lauschen had proudly explained. Draught-proof in winter, cool in summer, to the chiparin’s eyes it was the grandest thing this side of the citadel warison. Which made no difference, she still was trapped here.

“So what’s the good news?” she asked.

“Tra-la!” Kilda trilled with a sweeping flourish towards the bundle.

“You’ve brought me your washing?” Eshe said, a quizzical look at the stew.

“Hey, excite,” Kilda tried to bully her spirits. “Every thing that you left at the Gardens, all is here. A hundred sorries for not bringing them sooner but, foo-fiddly, that Kalamite has kept such a watch. For these past weeks, everywhere I’ve gone, so has gone he. But he now seems satisfied that I know not where you are. And today, since I have need of supplies for my paintings . . . “ She clutched her hands to her chest, looking earnest. “The linen I’ll deliver to the washa-hinan on my way back. It’s only in case he still is watching.”

“Someone watches the house,” Zanda called from the work-room.

Eshe had yet to determine whether he was a citadel holde or some trall in Kalamite’s employ. She could never get a good view without him seeing her. He hung around the shrubbery between the gardens.

“Then as well I brought the excuse,” Kilda said and patted the bundle.

Eshe hadn’t left much at the Gardens; she didn’t have much. There was the grubby cotton shirt and trousers she’d worn when leaving Raselstad, some oddments of food – her journal. Kilda waggled it in front of her. “Hundred sorries, I read it.”

“Then you know for certain the truth of me.”

“Yea, and sorries again that I doubted. The Awis, too, he read it.”

“So that’s why the charge was dropped?” It had been awful, the weeks of waiting and no sign of Mikel Lafard, though Kilda had said. She’d been so worried for Trefan, and glad of the pigments to grind, the distraction of talking to Lauschen of ores and their finding. It was genius of Kilda to send her here, though Kilda couldn’t have known. Then one evening, while they rested after eating, Lauschen had ‘by-the-way’ mentioned that Trefan Lafard was strutting again. She had started singing after that – Rothi songs, in case the watcher was listening. Though with her voice, he’d have wished himself deaf had he heard.

“I envy you,” Kilda said. “You the—” she looked round for Zanda. Though in the next room, busying herself with Kilda’s order, she still might hear what was said. “Well, you have something more than your body. For me, my body’s my food, my clothes and my roof. Without it what am I? Dead.”

“There’s the Awis,” Eshe said, hushed as a breath.

“Blessed Blithe,” Kilda laughed. “You think the Awis would . . . nay, Bel Lafdi. Not once the children have grown – and they do grow. But listen to me, when I’ve other news for you.”

“Bad news, you said.”

Kilda looked down, her fingers fiddling with her bangles.

Eshe dreaded to hear it. She hugged the journal close, for comfort. “That bad, huh?”

Kilda waggled her head. “That horse, you never told me of your horse. If you had said, I would’ve gone sooner. The Awis told me during the investigation of you, but I’ve been tailed ever since. Then today—”

“What’s happened?” Eshe felt icy cold, she felt horribly sick.

“I-I can’t actually say.”

Now she was grinding her fist into her palm as if, like Eshe, she was grinding ore. Whatever it was, it was deeply troubling her. Eshe feared for the worst, then dreaded to think what the worst might be.

“I was going to pay for further stabling; I was going to do that for you. But he’s not there. I wanted to ask the eskuri but that would only draw attention. He’s gone,” she wailed.

“Gods!” Eshe was aghast. “My woesome Muzzle. And now I truly am stuck in this trap.” Then she felt guilty for saying that; as if the fate of the horse didn’t matter.

“Mayhap Dizpeter intends it?” Kilda suggested with a glance towards the open door and Zanda beyond. She again lowered her voice. “You know, keeping you here so you can wed . . . you know, your man.”

Eshe shook her head, the journal hugged to her. She started to rock, a comforting motion. Why had everything turned against her? Kilda was a romantic to think for a moment that Trefan would ever wed her. And now without Muzzle—Where was he? Was he dead? How could she return to Raselstad without him. If only that noleless watcher would stop watching, that would be something.

~ ~ ~

Kalamite
Keefer-Papa of Runman Order

“Cats,” Kalamite said to Matikkas as they sauntered together along Mongelen Way, the avenue parallel, and behind, Chiparin Lane. “Have you ever mused on them? But, nay, a drip-headed hindling like you, I don’t suppose that you have. So I’ll say it. What good is a cat? Eh? The other vertebrates all are providers. Milk, meat, skins—things we can use. Even the amphibs supply us with, um . . . well something. But what of the cat, eh, what use is that?”

“Cats?” Matikkas asked.

“Aiya! Cats!” Kalamite snapped, for a moment losing grip of his patience. “The cat’s only service is to clean the campus, and to provide fertility-skins. Now, I ask, cats, what need have we of them?”

Matikkas shook his head, his upper lip lifting. And was that a sneer? No matter; he’d soon do away with the while-a-day. But as yet, he had one more use of the fizzling.

“Is it a coincidence,” Kalamite asked, rhetorically, “that cat so often prefixes the ‘down’ words? Eh? Cataclysm. Catacomb. Catalepsy. Cataract . . . Catastrophe?”

“Look, Papa Hadd,” Matikkas said and caught Kalamite in the eye as he threw his hands wide, “I’m nought but an humble holde, that’s me. So what do I know of your fluting words—I never did read your Holy Book anyways. Though I will say, to answer your talk of cats, there’s caterpillar, catapult and cater, that you forgot.”

“Aiya! You miss the point entirely. Listen. There is a push-a-push pussy in there.” He nodded vaguely towards the back of Lauschen’s house, conveniently three along from Ffika’s sister.

“I know,” Matikkas said with a slimy grin. “I’ve been watching her.”

“Jert! And I have been watching you watching her. And you have been oiling that billy of yours in their garden.” The bisonian deserved decapitation. Were it not for the disturbance, he would cheerfully akold the man right here, right now. “Now, you can stop your watching and stop your pulling. I have another job for you. I want that push-a-push pussy drowned.”

The ancient holde grinned, spilling drool. “The spy?”

“Nix!” Kalamite groaned. “You ignoble toothless crud, after all I’ve said of cats. The push-a-push pussy—must I spell it? The stew.”

“Ow, her. But I thought you wanted the spy.”

“The deuce I do. But you think I would leave the spy to you? The cat, the pussy, the push-it-in stew. Aiy, and if you like, you can play with her first.”

“Bury my—”

“Bury what you will in her, but I want her dead. No more tittle-tattling to her lafard. Catastrophes happen. And that’s a downer for cats.”

Does that satisfy your hunger, my lover, my lafdi, my queen? He laughed, dribbling red-juice which he sucked back in.

~ ~ ~

Roots of Rookeri 28: 15th July

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At Li’en Ershi

In the previous episode of Feast Fables, finally Kerrid is pulled from the pit. Now she must encounter the Linershunn of Li’en Ershi – and maybe find out what the heron’s about.

Next episode, Knowledge. Knowledge Wields Power, ready now.

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