Roots of Rookeri 30

Bashano Heights

Boteras Rookeri-Sharmin
aka Boddy

Week Twenty-Five

“So, hey, you Javanese wreck, which of these ropes is mine? Which have you fiddled with?” The bandit Mallen stood between the two ropes, taut across the gulley, his hard eyes appraising.

Boddy smiled. “Whichever. Your choice. Though if it helps, I found the rope to your right discarded back at the gulley’s mouth. So I’m thinking that likely is yours. The other rope is mine, I was carrying it.” It was the finer of the two. Light, it was made of hemp. The other he guessed was jasckte-hair.

Mallen took his time to decide. He tugged and jerked at them both. He inspected, as far as he could reach, for cuts and breaks that, with his weight and the ultimate height, could prove fatal. It didn’t bother Boddy. As sure as Rementh released the souls, he’d do the same.

“I’ll take this one. Jasckte-hair, can’t get stronger,” Mallen said.

Boddy held back on the smile. But it was as he had hoped – the hemp was less hard on the hands.

“Who says the off?” Mallen asked.

Boddy shrugged. It made no difference to him. “You’re the defender, you say.”

“Me,” Mallen said.

“Fine. As long as we’re both in position first.”

Mallen’s deep frown almost crunched his sun-reddened brow. “What are you up to? You’re being too fair.”

“Natzo. I’m Lubanthan. Equality. Fairness. It’s how we are.”

Mallen snorted and laughed. “Nats, what a hindling. A fine knobless bandit you’ll make – if you survive to your first killing. And Sifadis agreed to . . . you, this life? Bay-yo, the bladder’s saying this ain’t adding.”

“Love,” Boddy said, and smiled.

“Aye, they do say it’s befuddling. Nut-numbing, I’d say. But I’m thinking, now. If she’s outcast—a wreck along with you—what of Shore House?”

“Can’t take it with us,” Boddy said with a shrug. “Her wealth is tied into boats and fish, not into gold. I guess it goes to Breken Lafard. Thence to his heir.”

Mallen laughed, and slapped Boddy playfully hard on his back. “Hey, Bay-yo, seems I win both ways, eh. So, now, should we take our positions?”

Boddy nodded, a silent thanks to Ryal for telling him the intrigues of Citadel Lecheni. Mallen had been the rightful heir to the legere-chair, but Affalind Lafdi had pushed ‘her devoted’ Breken to pass exile upon him. Yeah zo, now there was a tale for the troubadours, hey.

~ ~ ~

Mallen called.

Boddy was slow to the off.

It was intentional. And so was how slow he then shinnied the rope. He wanted to keep them neck-and-neck till two lengths off the top. It wasn’t only to see Mallen struggle in the vain hope of his winning – though, yeah-zo, there was satisfaction in that. It was more that he didn’t want to reach the top only to be stranded, perched on the pinnacle, when the malignant Mallen slithered back down and severed his rope. Natzo, not laugh-worthy. Not laugh-worthy at all.

Keeping track of his opponent was easy at first. Since they started at opposite sides of the gulley, he need only to look ahead. But as they climbed higher, towards their goals, so the ropes crossed. Boddy then had to twist to see behind him. It slowed him, though it didn’t overly bother him.

He waited till the pinnacle seemed to rise directly above him. He checked again on Mallen, across the gulley. Alas, poor Mallen, he’d reached his limit and ground to a halt. Hardly worth Boddy’s last minute spurt. Yeah, but what if Mallen was swinging it, waiting for Boddy to get complaisant then, zoom, up to the top..Boddy had to play it as it that Mallen intended it.

He kicked off. Hand-over-hand, legs pulled close, kick-off, hand-over-hand. It was almost as easy as the trip down. In no time he was sitting cross-legged atop the pinnacle.

“Heill! Yoo! Heida!” he called across the gulley.

Mallen’s grunt was barely audible. He hadn’t moved.

“Hey! Look round you neshy franyan. Witness it, yeah, your great defeat,” Boddy called.

Mallen grunted again, but at least he turned. His grip start to slip, he started to fall. He caught himself, but not before burning his hands. His choice, the jasckte-hair rope.

“Hey listen,” Boddy said, tingeing his voice with consideration. “You don’t need to complete, yeah. I mean, I can see that you’re finding it hard. Just admit that I’ve won so I can come down.”

Mallen grunted a single word. “Aye.”

Boddy grinned. Yeah zo! He’d won Disa’s freedom. He pulled a strip of plaited hide from his pocket, looped it over the rope and zoomed straight down. At the bottom he turned to watch Mallen go, gingerly, hand-over-hand. Boddy almost could feel the pain for him.

“Now,” Boddy said when both stood on the ground, “where is my wife?”

“Not here.” Mallen panted, sounding exhausted. “You think I’d keep her where my men could ravage her? You know Byhen Cliff?”

“The Tube?” That was some distance away. The sympathy Boddy had for him rapidly leaked.

“There’s a quarry beyond, and some old workings beyond that. You’ll find her there. In what you with your words might call an oubliette – not that I’ve forgotten her. Leal will take you and show you. Leal’s safe with her, know what I mean. The rest is for you to do. Just . . . don’t get her killed along with you.”

~ ~ ~

“If you’ve seen enough,” Leal said, voice sharp with sarcasm, “we’ll be moving along.”

But Boddy didn’t want to leave, both fascinated and repelled by the quarry. So much gouging away of the noble Ridge Mountains. So, the wind also gouged – witness ‘The Tube’ as Byhen Cliff was locally known: a long curving hollow, wind-eroded. But that was nature’s doing, and had taken millennia. This was man’s doing, and done for his greed. It was Murky’s Curse. And, hey, what a surprise, the men hauling their winnings were Rothi.

No doubt the stone was intended for their citadel warisons, to defend their precious citadel Houses. Yeah, such as Shore House. Ryal had enthused of Lecheni’s warison, of its towers, its height, its thickness, its hidden cells, its carvings, how it shone different colours depending on light, its grace, its . . .  great, yeah, fine. Yet to create such splendour they’d created this hideous sight.

A klaxon sounded, startling, loud like a bull with nasal congestion. Boddy spun round. Seconds later ten thunderbolts cracked, shattering his ears. The ground rocked. For a moment he wobbled before regaining his balance. The air filled with dust.

“As I said,” Leal said, “if you’ve seen enough, we should be moving along.” He led Boddy away from the quarry – and into another.

It was old and no longer used. Tufted grass softened the scar-lines, some of it reaching six inches high. But there was no variety, only two species: one vivid green, the other with an orange blush like Stheino when eclipsing Medusa.

“ Great, yeah, fine,” he said. “But where’s Disa?” He could see no place she could be kept.

Leal nodded up at the scarred quarry face. Boddy just could make out a dark shadow that could be the mouth of a cave.

“You are jesting, right?”

“Oubliette,” Leal said, and led the way. At the cave’s mouth he turned to go.

“Whoa, wait!” Boddy caught his arm.

Leal scowled. “I bring, I go.”

“Yeah, great, I understand that, and may Dizpeter bless your—oh, nats! May he bless you. But before you go, I’m perplexed. Mallen says he wants Sifadis as wife, so why does he keep her here? Not exactly the best of treatment.” He assumed she was tied up somewhere within. “And someone has to come here daily to feed her. So why?”

“What, clever Lubanthan angel?” Leal jeered. “Thought you’d have figured it. You might want her to love and cherish, but to Mallen Hadd she’s merely the key to the legere-chair. He is exiled but she is not. But I’ll warn you, Lubanthan angel, you keep a guard on her.”

“Because Mallen will try to snatch her back?”

Leal shrugged. “Mayhap. Mayhap other reasons. You won’t be thinking of returning her to Lecheni, would you?”

“That wasn’t my intent,” Boddy lied. He couldn’t imagine her relinquishing her House and her fisheries, to live in Raselstad with him. “Why your concern?”

“Only that she’s supposed to be dead. We’ve been paid for the job.”

The man had said hardly a word all the way from Mallen’s stronghold. Now he says this. What was he, a cauldron of information now come to the boil?

“And who paid you for that?” Boddy asked.

But the cauldron had gone off the boil. Leal darted away, almost running despite the terrain, slipping and skidding down the old quarry face.

Boddy pondered on what had been said, trying to click the cogs into place. According to Ryal, Lorken and Kullt were known to be spies. But working for whom? Ryal hadn’t known – or he wasn’t revealing. Could it be same person who wanted Disa dead? Someone at Citadel Lecheni, he guessed, from what Leal had said.

In which case Leal’s warning was met. He couldn’t take her there. Spew on it, man, what would he do with her once he’d fetched her out of the cave? He had plans for a life together that involved neither Raselstad nor Lecheni, but it couldn’t begin yet. It would take time to organise. The sane didn’t saunter into a savannah with nothing but a flask of water and shoes. In the meantime, he’d no choice but to take her back to Raselstad. Natzo, she wouldn’t want that. He already could hear her screeching about it. Ghats and rats! So much indecision he hardly could move.

You might effect the rescue first, Roo, his little god, said.

“Yea, yea, yea.”

Then after you might give thought to Jonesi.

“Ghats, you’re right, Roo. What he was doing with Mallen?”.

First, Sifadis. She is waiting, Roo said.

“Is she? Waiting for me?” He grinned, a tickle of pleasure wandering his body.

He entered the cave.

He had to crouch to pass through its small mouth and inside there wasn’t much room. Worse than the cramped space, it was facing the wrong direction – east, when the sun now was to the west. Beyond the first couple of steps the cave was totally lightless. One wrong step, a hole might open and swallow him down. Best, too, not to stray far; he didn’t want to get lost. Best, really, to stand where he was and call out her name.

“Sifadis!”

No answer, only an echo, faint and rolling.

He shuffle along, just a little bit further, feeling his way, hands to the wall.

“Sifadis!” he called, this time louder.

Likely the cave was a warren, like Mallen’s hold. Was it natural? Or did the quarry-men cut it?

Boddy, does it matter?

Natzo. Just find her and get back out.

He wasn’t happy at being in there, in the dark (though his eyes were slowly adjusting). He talked to himself, and disguised it as talking to Roo. His voice whispered and bounced off far distant walls and rolled back, sounding hollow. That didn’t help diminish his fears.

“Natzo, what fears? Get away from here, man. Boddy Felagi isn’t prey to fears.”

But it was spooky in here. Eerie.

“That’s it. I’m a poet, it’s eerie, not spooky.”

He suddenly stopped. He’d heard . . . A cry? Human. A voice. It was. “Yeah zo, it was!” But it sounded somehow distorted and not very close. Was it Disa? “It has to be Disa. How many women does Mallen hold captive?” But where was she?

“Disa?” he called again.

This time she answered. “Is that you Boddy?”

“Wow, that sounded like . . . faraway, man.” He called to Disa. “Listen, Disa, I’ll fetch you out. Just stay where are you.” Though first he had to find her.

“I’ll be here,” she called back. “I’m not moving.”

“Great, yeah, fine.” She sounded joyful, maybe laughing. But, again, there was a distortion. “Disa, where are you?”

“Down. They lowered me down. I’m in a pit.”

Great, yeah, fine, in a pit. Then he’d need a rope. Why hadn’t he untied his rope when he won the wager? So did he know he’d need it? He needed some light. He must have turned a corner. Again it was totally dark.

“Disa, I’ll be back.”

“Cruds! Nats! Don’t go. Wait,” she pleaded. “Talk to me, Boddy. At least for a while. Before you . . .”

“Yeah? What? You want me to tell you I love you?”

“Why, do you?” she asked.

“You nugget,” he said. “You know that I do. You think I’d come for you . . .?”

“I was coming back to you when Mallen’s men—”

“You were?” he asked. Her words, though distorted and distant, zinged through him.

“Ay, you Javanese lorel. I want to marry you.”

“You do?” She did? This wasn’t just him being swell-headed Boddy? Wow!

“But now I’m stuck down here.” She sounded so . . . vulnerable. Frightened.

Huh, he chuckled, but she’d never admit to that. He wanted to wrap his arms round her and . . . but she was stuck somewhere in a pit.

“I’m here now, I’ll get you out. But I need a rope.”

“There might be one near the pit,” she said. “They lowered me with it. I heard it drop. There are probably lamps as well. Mathon-lamps. I was blindfolded but I could see there was light.”

Joyous! Yeah zo. This wouldn’t take long. “Just stay where you are, Beym-mine.”

Of course there would be Mathon-lamps. Why hadn’t he thought of that. Mallen, or whichever of his men were sent to feed her (Leal most likely), wouldn’t want to stumble around in the dark. Besides, chances were the cave was used to store equipment, if not their booty.

He groped around on hands and knees feeling for the Mathon-lamp batteries – no small contraptions, not easily missed. Once he had light he would find the rope and, yeah zo, the pit. That is if he didn’t fall into it first while he crawling and groping.

There! His fingers touched upon the battery. Now where was the switch? Lo!

There was light.

He found himself in a passage of no great height or width – yeah, he already know that: his head and shoulders and shins had found it. But, Ghats and rats, three tunnels led from it. Which of the these led to the pit? The Mathon-lamps were no clue: all three were lit with them.

“Hey, Disa,” he asked, “you know what might be in these tunnels?”

“I think I might be in one,” she called back.

He smiled. “Yeah, got it, the one to the right.” That’s where her voice sounded strongest. “I’m on my way.”

The tunnel wormed into the mountain. Far deeper than he’d expected, and still no sign of the pit. The rock around him changed from reddish to greenish to black. This wasn’t his knowledge, Eshe would have told him what he was seeing. Such caves, familiar to her, were a mystery to him.

“Hey, Disa, am I on the right track?”

“You sound closer,” she said.

She sounded clearer. He could hear the smile in her voice. His wife – he grinned at the thought. Would she laugh when he told her how he had won her off Mallen? Natzo, probably not. And he hadn’t known of the betrothal, she had not told him of that. She must have been a child at the time. Mallen was, what. . . well he was older than Boddy by some. So, she had been intended as the lafdi legara? Natzo, that’s not what Ryal had said. The Two Boars House only held the chair because of Breken’s marriage to Affalind. So Mallen’s marriage was an alliance only – yeah, allied to the wealthiest House. But that Two Boars House had ambition. Best keep a wary eye on them. He wondered, was that who Lorken spied for? The Two Boars, the lafard-legere?

Rope! Yeah zo! And there was the pit.

He peered into it to see Disa look up, her hair like blood-red clouds around her. He noticed the pots of water and sacks of food down there with her. How long did Mallen intend to keep her? She smiled. He felt like he’d been punched in the guts. Gammer Haspra was right: Disa had captured him.

“I’ve something to ask before I throw you the rope,” he said, then waited a moment, not wanting to ask it. “Disa . . . do you love me?”

“I said I was coming back.”

“Yeah, but that’s not the answer. Do you?”

She bit her lip, stubborn about answering. He could feel his palms sticky with sweat.

“I . . .”

“Just say it, Disa. It’s not so difficult. I. Love. You.” He held the rope where she could see it. Teasing. Yeah as if he’d leave her down there to be Mallen’s prize.

“Boddy, I . . .”

”You’re having trouble saying it, huh?”

“I have . . . fear.”

“What, you’re afraid of me?” He couldn’t belief it, he laughed.

“I’m afraid when you know who I am—”

“But I know who you are, Sifadis Lafdi, Bel Hade of Shore House.”

Her eyes opened wide. That almost amused him.

“You know that? Then how can I know that you want me—me—and not Shore’s wealth?”

“Disa! That’s so much lanterloo and you know it. Didn’t I love you before I knew who you were? And your wealth, it turns me; it doesn’t attract. Now, just answer me. Do you love me?”

She didn’t say it. Instead she screamed. And Boddy flew backwards, knocked off his feet by the blast.

~ ~ ~

Roots of Rookeri 31: 5th August

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To Fly Over The Sea

In the previous episode of Feast Fables, Kerrid must make a magical day-tally, but she doesn’t know how. So Ardhea the Asaric heron will teach her. Her first lesson is to join thoughts with a gull and fly over the sea.

But what is she supposed to learn from that? Lesson One, ready now.

 

 

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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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