Eshe Parlan, Femella
The tailor held up the coat of rich azure blue rich. “For Iffig Hadd of Two Boars House,” she said with well deserved pride. “It has only to be bejewelled and embroidered.”
She wrapped it while Eshe tried hard to hide her interest. Would the gods smile upon her; would they offer this opening for her to sneak through? “Is it to go to Dachen the Jeweller, along Chiparin Way?”
“You know him?” the tailor asked without turning.
“Of him only.” Kilda had sold some jewellery there while Eshe waited outside. “He doesn’t know me.”
The tailor turned to regard Eshe – not unkindly despite she deserved it after waving and shouting to Boddy and Jonesi like that. “You want to deliver the package for me?” she asked.
“If you’ve no more work for me today.” Eshe marvelled how she held back her grin. “I do need to stretch my legs, I’m not used to being so cooped.”
“Neither used to be wanted, I dare say.” The tailor seemed briefly to ponder the wisdom. “Aye, I’ll trust you, this once. But first you will write a note to say where you are going and that you asked to go, and if anything happens to you it will not be my fault. You agree?”
Eshe nodded and managed to voice her agreement without her grin spilling out.
But her escape was not so swiftly done. The tailor fussed that she couldn’t be seen running errands for her in that drab smock-shirt.
“Here, put this on.” It was cream cotton. How many hundreds of bolts had Otian imported of this cream. It seemed the most common colour worn in Lecheni. The shirt was embroidered across the back and front yokes in beige and brown and yellow threads—mimicking gold, she supposed.
“Here, this too.” The tailor threw a coat at Eshe which she deftly caught. “It’s getting cold out, and it will help cover your bits.”
The coat fitted where it ought and helped disguise that she was a woman. It was of no fancy silk but of hemp-and-jasckte-wool mix, dyed burnt-almond brown. Hey, listen to her, she was getting to know the fabrics now. But where a lafard’s coat would be thick with gems, this had only coloured-wood beads and coloured thread embroidery.
And still the tailor wasn’t finished with her. Eshe fretted lest the citadel gates be closed before she ever left this place. “I’ll put you some plaits. That’ll be safer than wearing that hat—if it should come off . . .”
The plaits were heavy with beads.
“That hair is a touch dark for Rothi, we should have thought and bleached it, but you’ll do for now. Now, hold still. Being married can give protection, even for a man. And don’t you lose it; it was my father’s.” The tailor fastened a ‘five strands’ marriage necklace around Eshe’s neck.
“Jasper,” Eshe remarked.
“Oh, so you know stones?”
“I know some.” Eshe wouldn’t admit to further than that; it would likely generate a whole host of questions.
“Well don’t you go chatting to that jeweller. In, deliver, instruct and out.”
“What metal are these spacers?” Eshe asked admiring the necklace. A chunky cubic box was suspended from the lowest strand, made of the same yellowish metal.
“That’ll be brass” the tailor said, “—and don’t turn up your nose. I’ve no need to know who you are to know you’re no runaway trall, so don’t be uppity with me.”
“I wasn’t being uppity, I just wanted to know. Whatever you think me it’s the truth that, except for the gold I have given you, in all of my life I never have touched it—nor yet had the desire.”
“But you know the stones,” the tailor said displaying suspicion.
“Mayhap I was a jeweller?” Eshe said now regretting she’d remarked of the jasper.
“Dah! Be gone with you—and take the parcel. Tell Dachen it’s the azure for Iffig Hadd. And keep your eyes skinned.”
“I’ll weave down the alleyways,” Eshe said.
“Aye, well don’t go dropping that parcel—and you remember, you refer to me only as ‘the Guy’. You got that?”
Yea, Eshe understood. She might not have spent years engrossed with the Good Book as Boddy had, but she did know the meaning of ‘Guy’. A guide. It was the Rothi equivalent of a Guild Master. So, that was who the tailor was and why she took such pride in her work.
~ ~ ~
Eshe waited until she was safely over Western Way, and out of sight of Strangers Gate, to where she wouldn’t draw attention to herself when she ran. The sooner to Chiparin Way and Dachen the Jeweller, the sooner the coat was delivered, the sooner she could detour back via the citadel. She was itching to know what had brought Boddy here—and she needed to warn him of Kalamite. She didn’t know how to find him, but he was in there somewhere. She’d seen him enter.
“For Iffig Hadd, Dachen Hadd,” she said as she handed over the parcel. She lowered her voice. Not so difficult, it only turned squeaky when she was excited. “It’s the azure silk for the winter.”
The jeweller regarded Eshe, his mouth tightly pursed. “You’re new.”
“The Guy is my father-in-law’s cousin,” Eshe improvised. “I had learned all I could where we were so we came here, to Lecheni.”
The jeweller nodded. “And does the Guy want you back straight away?”
“That would depend, Dachen Hadd.” What exactly did the jeweller have in mind? But it was better to seem amenable. She could always slam a verbal gate in his face if what he wanted was unacceptable.
She needn’t have worried. Dachen gestured to a parcel, three times the size of the one Eshe had brought. “That’s to go to House Eland for embroidery.”
Truly, the gods were favouring her this day. She nodded, not trusting her voice.
Dachen held up a string of citrines and topaz. They looked a good grade. “These could go to your wife. Is she pretty?”
Eshe agreed, “She’d look a mite prettier tift in those.”
“So you will run my errand? Only my boy was fighting last night and he sports a broken ankle.”
“Aye, I will take it for you,” Eshe said, now barely containing the grin. Whichever of the gods was responsible for this, she thanked them—though she doubted it was her personal god, not this far from home. She took the parcel – it was not only big, it was heavy too.
“Tell them at House Eland: Here are two coats for Rokke Seleman Hadd, and one for Garawen Hadd. They will know which is which.”
“By the colour?” Eshe spoke as if musing aloud. “Or that one is silk and two are of wool?”
“By both, now off you go,” Dachen the Jeweller shooed her.
But Eshe stood where she was, with out-held hand. She had large hands for a woman, and now with the constant heat and water they were suitably reddened. But her mute pressing wasn’t required. The jeweller slipped the string of stones into her coat’s hidden seam-pocket. His hand lingered there. Eshe stepped away. His quickly removed his hand.
“The sooner begun, the sooner done, that’s what my wife likes to say.” She made a note to herself to take the stones out of the pocket before returning the coat to the tailor.
At Strangers Gate the holden hardly looked at her—What have we here?—I have a parcel for House Eland, embroidery—and she was through.
Was something special happening here? The citadel close seemed busier than usual. She thought of seeking out the stews at the Gardens, they knew everything. Yea, and they also knew her. No, safe just to deliver the parcel.
House Eland. Eshe looked around her. Which House was that? It took her a moment to get her bearings. She was on the opposite side of the towers from the Woolpack Gardens. Yea, she needs go left, that’s where it was – to the left would be Two Bears House. But before that, this side of the Processional Way, was . . . she couldn’t remember the name of the House, if ever she’d known it. And before that—yea, that’s where House Eland sat. She should be able to see it now if she looked off to her left. Yea, that was it. She remembered asking Trefan if it had been styled after Two Boars House. But Trefan had told her no, that House Eland was the older. She headed for there.
She was about to enter the courtyard, paved in a chequer pattern in jade and jasper, when a sedan-chair drew up beside the neighbouring house. It was impolite to gawp, but for all those weeks she’d been here, first at the Gardens, and later in the town, she hadn’t once seen a sedan-chair—though Jilli had mentioned them to her.
Her heart flipped when she saw who emerged from the chair. She wanted to hurry off to him and heartily greet him. But she had learnt by now to be more discreet. First she must deliver the parcel to House Eland—though to the pits if they thought her in a hurry. She was in a hurry, her master was waiting, ho-ho. Then bold as a proper messenger, she approached the house next to House Eland.
The painted panels showed various forms of Jacobs, the most common of the marine amphibs. And one small panel brimmed with focine sporting on the shore. How true to reality had the artist made them? They looked almost human, as they were rumoured to be. Then beside the deep arch, which all but hid the door, was a unicorn. That must have been from the artist’s imagination for only the horns were ever found.
She took a deep breath. She didn’t know whose house this was or why Jonesi was there. But where Jonesi was, there ought to be Boddy.
She knocked at the door—to be suddenly faced by a man with brassy-orange hair spangled with what at first seemed to be diamonds but were probably only pale citrines. He was tall and thin and wrinkled enough around his eyes that his hair ought to have been grey. But she knew the Rothi often resorted to bleaches and dyes.
“Um,” she said and cursed herself for not rehearsing. “I thought I saw my friend enter here.”
The man snorted (was he saying ‘unlikely’?) “Describe—or has friend a name?”
It would be easiest to give his name. But what if Jonesi was here in guise. She decided best to describe.
“Yey-high.” She held her hand on a line with her jaw. “And black hair with two thingies.” She pulled at imaginary plaits from either side of her chin. “No moustache. Slender build, but wiry.”
“And you are?”
She really ought to have thought this out. What name could she give? “‘Tell him it’s, um, the awis’s daughter.”
The doorman – most likely the seleman – eyed her with suspicion.
“Born outside the warison,” she said.
With a nod of understanding he invited her in. “You may wait in the core chamber.”
Wow! The entrance hall was—well, not at all like that of Two Boars House though the floor and spiralling stairs were also of marble. But despite the prevalence of white it was overall dark. It was the black-blue and dark green swirls that broke the white expanse of floor, and the same dark coloured glazing of the tall narrow windows at every tread of the stairs. Mirrors caught and tried to reflect back the meagre light – and those mirrors totally covered the walls. Yet over them was a carved tracery of gilded wood that formed a veritable eye-feast. Mysterious archways opened all around, but whatever was beyond was hidden by heavy wool tapestries.
She heard movement above. She watched the stairway. She was expecting to see Jonesi. She wasn’t expecting this dainty young woman, her hair like a blood-red cloud around her, clothes—wow! Eshe had grown used to Trefan, and to the stews, but this . . . She looked like some toffee confection that Boddy might dress for one of his plays. Eshe remembered to close her mouth. Whoever this woman, she’d not be intimidated, she who had lain in the arms of the lafard-legere’s own brother—not that Eshe was impressed by Rothi hierarchy.
“You are Boddy’s friend Eshe, Judge Madir’s daughter?”
“I am indeed, yea, Bel Hade,” Eshe answered.
“Och, I am no bel hade, not to you. For you are heiress, too. Am I right?”
“Yea, I am if ever I escape this place. But how do you know that? How much has Jonesi told you?” Eshe felt suddenly uncomfortable.
The woman shrugged. “Jonesi tells some, Boddy tells some. Even your father told me some. But why are you here? Why now, why today? And why are you wearing men’s clothing?”
“As a disguise,” Eshe said. “Against Kalamite Runman.” She felt it safe to confide.
“Och, him again!”
“Aye, him,” Eshe agreed. “Yet even he I would risk just to find Boddy; I must warn him.”
“Warn him of Kalamite’s obsession? Alas, Eshe-friend, you are too late.”
Eshe frowned, a cold hand clutching at her innards. What did this delicate doll of a woman mean, too late? Where was Boddy? What had happened to him? Surely not much. It wasn’t that many hours since she’d seen him with Jonesi. He was still alive, he must be. Mustn’t he?
~ ~ ~
Boteras Rookeri aka Boddy
“You can thank Kalamite that you’re still intact,” the guard said and slammed the door of the Legere-Chair chamber behind him.
“Aye, he had that stew killed, so common jaw has it,” said another guard, younger. “And because of that, Mikel Lafard was busy.”
Boddy didn’t want to follow their banter, worried and sick to his guts for Eshe and Disa, but while they were taunting him with it, in front of him, beside him, behind him, he couldn’t help but listen.
“Mikel Lafard has no liking of rapists,” the first guard said.
“Aye, well,” said the guard behind him. “No one has, really.”
“Aye, but Mikel Lafard’s the hardest on them,” said the first guard, in front.
“Takes away his business,” another guard chuckled.
Hear that, Roo? At least I’m to die with my bits still hanging. But he had to ask, “What do you mean, it takes his business away?”
“Mikel Lafard, the awis. He runs the stew-house, doesn’t he,” the oldest guard said. “Don’t you know anything?”
“That’s where that Eshe Spy-woman was staying,” said the one behind him.
Natzo! Eshe was staying at a stew-house? The things that woman will do for her father—as if the run-in with bandits weren’t enough for her.
“Aye, but then she had to flee, didn’t she,” the guard to his right said. “Accused of conspiring with the folkhere ledhere—and that against his own brother.”
“She’ll be for it now,” said the guard behind him, “—now they’ve made out that you’re guilty.”
Natzo, Roo, now what have I done? Eshe condemned to death because of me? Ghats and rats, my clodding boots climbing those stairs. He wished he knew where she was, and that she was safe.
“Our Breken Lafard won’t be lenient with her,” said the first guard, the oldest.
“Nah, our Breken Lafard don’t much like women.”
The guard beside him chuckled. “Nah, he much prefers men—young ‘uns that’s pretty.”
“Like this one’s pretty.” The guard behind him prodded his pike into Boddy’s rump. Boddy refused to flinch though he felt the blood trickle.”Betcha yer get a visit tonight.”
Yeah? Well if that tift-up larded lafard came any place near him he’d soon be a dead tift-up lafard—akolded, since the guards had taken his knives.
“That Ryal was pretty too,” said the guard beside him, conversationally.
“Is it true what they’re saying, eh, pretty boy Boteras,” the oldest guard asked from in front of him, “that Ryal’s hiding away in your hamlet?”
“Raselstad isn’t a hamlet,” Boddy said.
While the guards had been taunting, Boddy had been looking about him, trying to work out where they were taking him. They had stopped at a door hidden deep in a dark alcove and waited for someone—not one of the holden—to arrive with a key to unlock it. Beyond was dark – until one of the guards lit a Mathon-torch.
They were in a passage. Boddy guessed it ran within the warison. Hadn’t Ryal said of chambers hidden in there? The yellow of the Mathon-torch was soon replaced by shivers of sunlight, white as it pierced through the outer wall. He climbed steps up, perhaps as high as the height of a chamber. He climbed back down. And down and down. Here again it was dark, and he thought he could hear someone, or something, breathing. But there were so many booted feet thumping around him, he couldn’t be sure. Then a clang of metal and a noise like someone loudly snoring advised him of an iron door opening.
The guards shoved him in roughly. He stumbled. He fell. The floor was hard and cold, the stone scantily strewn with straw. Behind him the door clanked shut. He heard a harsh grate as metal scraped metal. Thereafter, all was quiet.
“So, Roo, this is the end, hey. In here for a day and then . . . But, Ghats, Roo, I do hope that gold-dipped son of a pack-saddle doesn’t try anything, you know, like they were saying. But they can only kill me once, hey, Roo. Hey, Roo, what say you?”
You ought not to have entered that tower. It was too soon.
“Yeah, Roo, so you’ve said. And if that’s all you can say then you’d best go away.”
You don’t want my help?
Boddy said nothing. He sat on the floor, head buried into his hands. But, hey man, at least there was light—though frost leaked in with it. By every dastardly Rothi god, it was cold.
Young Boddy Felagi, don’t bury your head. It’s not part of the story, we don’t want you dead.
Boddy lifted his head. “I’ve news for you, Roo, this isn’t a story. And no good making out like you’re Jonesi, making rotten rhymes.” He again hung his head, now between his knees. He wrapped his arms over.
But we have a plan to keep you alive—
“Alive for what? To face my death?”
Alive, to get you out.
Boddy laughed. He was in a . . . what? He spread his arms to measure the cell (and why not, he’d nothing else urgent to do) . . . a six by six solid stone box with a solid clanking iron door. And tomorrow, when Stheino hung over the citadel . . . he couldn’t say it—he couldn’t even think it. It seemed impossible. Tomorrow, he’d be dead. And by what means? He still didn’t know. Would it be decapitation? Or a rope round his neck. Hey man, his final accolade! Or would it be by means ultra-gross. Strung to four horses and torn apart? Forced to swallow molten metal? He choked at that thought, suddenly violently nauseous. “Stop it!” he shouted at himself. “ Stop filling my head with your gruesome thoughts.”
His fingers curled around his father’s bracelet. His thoughts turned to Disa. Yeah and how she would weep for him—for as long as it took Breken to find her a husband. He ought not to have followed her. He could now be putting the chorus through their last rehearsal for the Feast of Sharma’s play. Great, yeah, right, and he’d have craved ever after to be with her. Yeah, but at least he wouldn’t be dead.
And what if they found her guilty too?
“Then we’ll be together in death.”
And if not?
“Then she can claim my body and bury it in her garden and I’ll talk with her for ever after.”
He lifted his head and breathed in the air, a smile beginning to spread.
Now Boddy Felagi is listening and thinking.
“Now Boddy Felagi is being the playwright.”
And, of course, Boddy Felagi is a consummate actor.
~ ~ ~
Next episode: 23rd September