What Odds?

The Eld versus a Heron and a Sky-Spirit

In the previous episode of Feast Fables, Ardhea alerted Kerrid to the imminent arrival of Eld Freilsen, with men, and with weapons.

Now the battle is about to begin. Next episode, Long Range Weapons of Defence, ready now.

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Roots of Rookeri 33

Citadel Lecheni
Eshe Parlan, Femella

Week Twenty-Eight

Eshe didn’t understand the process: why the water so quickly turned to slime, but the water in the bucket needed changing again. She groaned and slapped on her hat.

She didn’t like these new lodgings. She missed Lauschen and his wife. She missed their talk of rocks and ores, their locations and their associations. She even missed the hard graft of grinding. No doubt her mysterious benefactor had saved her from sharing Kilda’s fate, but this ‘female friend’ to whom he’d delivered her was a tailor. And what did she know of tailoring?

“I am trusting you,” the tailor had said – which was somewhat belied by the fact that after two and a half weeks she still hadn’t revealed her name. “The key to tailoring is in the pressing. And here I am instructing you to it.”

She wouldn’t trust Eshe with her name, but the secrets of her tailor’s were readily given.

The tailor showed her the bucket for water. Made from the cartilage of a marine amphib, it weighed very little, even when full – which was as well for it was Eshe’s job now to continually refresh it from the well outside in the yard. And that yard, giving onto the wide Western Way, did nothing to instil in her a sense of safety.

The tailor then slapped a long fabric roll into Eshe’s hand. Made of fine-weave hemp, it was packed with sand. Too quick for Eshe to take them in, the tailor showed her an array of other stuffed shapes that she called ‘hams’. Eshe assumed they were named for the said joint of meat which they closely resembled.

“The garment is laid over the ham. So.” The tailor showed her. “See how the seam now sits high. Open it—so—with your thumb. All along. But you cover only a little each time with the pressing cloth—and it should not be wet, but wrung out and damp. So.” It was that pressing cloth that caused the slime, requiring a constant supply of fresh water. “Then select the required flat iron.” Easy enough for the tailor to say, but there were five different sizes and widths, each kept hot on an ‘iron stove’.

Tailoring, as Eshe soon discovered, was ruinous of a woman’s hair. Eshe’s was naturally a nest of curls – and that was task enough to untangle on a windy day. Now it was a frizzy mess. The tailor gave her a hat to cover it, and to hide the fact she’d no man’s plait. But she couldn’t wear it while pressing. It was far too hot. And so it was always ‘on’ and ‘off’ as she went to fetch water and returned to more pressing.

The tailor also provided Eshe with men’s clothing. Nothing elegant. Coarse jasckte-wool brecks that scratched her legs and itched like crazy when, in the humidity of hot irons and damp cloths, she started to sweat. And a drab maroon shirt that was more of a smock, the cotton imported from Luban. Eshe had then to bind her breasts despite they weren’t bigger than poached eggs.

It struck Eshe as odd that in the two and half weeks she had been with the tailor she had yet to see the benevolent man who had warned her and brought her to here. But then, when visitors called, Eshe was shooed out to the back room.

She’d not seen Trefan, either. Her feelings were divided on that. If Trefan didn’t know where she was then neither did Kalamite. Yet she longed for the comfort of Trefan’s arms.. On those occasions she ended up fretting. He had forgotten her, he didn’t care, he had only been toying with her. At such times she felt alone and deserted. It was then that she’d ask why she still was there in Lecheni-town. Was it really because one deranged man wanted her dead? (He couldn’t be sane.) But it seemed so long now that she’d even forgotten why he’d pursued her. Wasn’t it something to do with a conspiracy with Trefan? Yet according to Kilda, Trefan had been released.

Kilda: Kilda was dead—killed for having helped her. When her thoughts arrived at that there always followed the same conclusion. There was something happening here, something more than she’d been told, something she’d somehow become tangled in

And another bucket of water slopped by her feet. She ought to be quick and take it in, to hide again in the black thatched house. Yet instead she turned back. A second look towards the gate. Something, out there on the road, had snagged at her eye.

She told herself, no, it couldn’t be, as soon as she’d asked it but . . . was that Jonesi? But what would Jonesi be doing here in Lecheni? Yet that black hair—not unknown in Rothi yet certainly rare. And with the white wings at the temple, it was distinctive. So too was that short scrawny body. Eshe left the bucket and ran to the gate.

But, so confused her emotions, she was slow to call out though she waved with both hands high in the air. “Hi!” she shouted. Boddy was with him. “Boddy! Yoo! Boddy! Jonesi!”

A hand clamped over her mouth. Vicious fingers dug into her flesh. The tailor though short was deceptively strong. She pulled Eshe back from the gate and pushed her, fingers prodding into her back, back into the house.

“Cruds and termites, woman, you jert! Hide you, he says, and I risk my throat, whilst you—nix ‘n’ nay!” She threw up her hands in exasperation. She turned round several times. “Why not stand in the Way and declare you are here? Nicky’s Curses couldn’t be worse. I tell my friend, now, to take you away.”

Eshe accepted the tailor was right to reprimand her. But Boddy, what was Boddy doing here in Lecheni? Had he come to find her? Was her father now worried? No matter what the tailor had said, she must go seek him. After all, why this disguise if she remains hidden? But she’d be quieter this time. No waving her arms and shouting. And no one will recognise her, not dressed as a man. But she would wait. That’s it, wait till the next time she went to fetch water. Then sneak away.

.

Boteras Rookeri-Sharmin
aka Boddy

Jonesi looked up at the warison. “Citadel Lecheni, meet Boddy Felagi,” he introduced them with appropriate flourishes. “Boddy Felagi, meet Citadel Lecheni.”

‘Great, yeah, fine, I’m impressed. And I’ve seen the scars in our Ridge where they hacked out the stones. And this is to be my new home?” He couldn’t help the sourness. He sighed. Heavily. He hoped Disa would be worth it.

“Oh Boddy Felagi whines, forgetting how strange to Rothi eyes his Raselstad’s Hub with its skirt of shrines.”

Boddy stretched his mouth to a smile. But his lips were elastic and they soon again pursed. Yet Jonesi was trying. Yeah zo, but wasn’t he trying too. Yet to live in a citadel stinking with Murky’s Curse? Natzo. And anyway, as if this Breken Lafard-Legere would consent to the wedding. He may as well turn and go home.

And where is your home, Boteras Felagi, if not here, Heir of Shore House?

Spew on it, Roo. I was happy enough before I knew it.

You were not! You barely balanced.

So I must come to here? Else what? I’ll fall off the beam?

Boddy heaved a second sigh. “Yeah, right, Jonesi. So now comes the job of finding her House.”

“Hey-zo? Wasn’t Ryal Holde bold-er ’nuff to tell you?”

Boddy winced. “Curses, Jonesi, you’ve left your best rhymes in Luban. And though Ryal listed the Houses, he didn’t tell me how to find hers.”

“Mayhap the red lafdi’s secluded bower is in that sparkling white tower.” They’d seen the tower from a distance, above the warison. But close to, now, and that same warison hid it.

“In one of the five white towers,” Boddy corrected him. “But I‘d say the tower is more likely her ward-holder’s hall – this Gowen Sivator she spoke of. She said of him tending Daabian plants in the Tower’s garden.”

They entered through the west gate. Barely through it and Boddy stood, transfixed.

“Yeah zo! Accursed or not, that tower has elegance. Delicate too, despite its construction. Yet looking around me . . .” Boddy turned, and turned, his opinion developing on his face. “. . . that tower is out of place here. It’s like someone has planted it in an ill-suited garden. Yeah zo, it would sit more at ease in Raselstad.”

His eyes followed the line of the tiled curtain wall. He assumed the structure ran the full circle. Above the wall, his eyes found the central tower and tracked up it. And up it, and up it. The tower rose to some incredible height. Buttressed, he supposed, by those—were they wooden?—arched struts. But, wowzah, how precious and magical those towers would look at dawn in the sun’s golden rays . How mysterious, too, when bathed in Medusa’s red light. Truly, he didn’t want to move on. He just wanted to stand there, no eyes for the other buildings in the citadel close. Though fancily painted they were dull in comparison.

Jonesi nudged him. “Gawking won’t find you the lafdi, Boddy Felagi.”

“Hmm.” With a sigh of reluctance he tore away his eyes. “Pictures of hinds, that’s House Eland. Trees, that’s Greystone House. So, great, yeah, fine, Jonesi. We need only to find a House painted with shores.”

“Yea,” Jonesi said. “And when before did you see a shore?”

“Luant estuary: that looks to me like a sea.”

“Ho-oh, Boddy; he likens the estuary to the sea. But he’s not seen the sea to know if it’s like the estuary.”

“Yeah, fine. Point taken,” Boddy conceded, defeated by the abundance of seas. “So we’ll look for the picture that doesn’t fit the others.”

“To quote a playwright of my unmistaken acquaintance: ‘Yeah, great, fine.’ So tell me,” Jonesi asked, “what are these others? Only, Boddy Felagi, you keep much to yourself. All these days walking when you could have been talking.”

“Yea, yea, yea, moan, moan, moan, moan. Leave it for another day, hey. What, you think I’m been missing Uncle Elect?” But all the same Boddy listed the Houses as Ryal had given them. “Shore House, yeah, you know that one. Rams House, Two Boars and House Eland. Runman House and, behind us there, Greystone—and don’t ask why the trees, just Ryal said it was so. Um, how many is that? Six? So there’s another six yet. Ah, yeah. There’s Dormir House, Witan House, the Law Court—not really a house—the Treasury which apparently once was a house—how many is that?”

“There should be two more.”

“Yeah zo, what have I missed? Ah, the Guard House – which is also the barracks. I suppose we’ll know that, it’ll be painted with weapon. And . . . rats, what’s the other one?. Well, anyway, let’s split the task. You circle one way, I’ll circle the other, and, hey, we’ll meet the far side of this massive white feast.”

But before either had taken more than two steps, Boddy stopped. “Jonesi . . . have you noticed how quiet it is here? I feel like we’re trespassing.”

.

Kalamite
Keefer-Papa of the Runman Order

Aiya, was a man never to be allowed his prayers? I beg your forgiveness, he beseeched his mother, his lover, his queen, for my ill-temper.

“What?” he snapped at Honning.

“Begging forgiveness, Papa Hadd, but that babbling old holde, Matikkas, he seeks an audience. He says it is urgent, to hurry, to please come.”

“He said no more than this?”

“Nix, Papa Hadd. No other words.”

“Aiya, aiya.” Kalamite huffed in irritation. “So tell him to meet me by the Red Tower’s gate. Run, if it’s urgent, sprat—run.”

It would be less private at the gate than in his subterranean cubby but, unless Gowen Hadd was displaying his ghastly plants to some gawking visitor, they ought to be unoverheard and undisturbed. He had a feeling—nix! more than a feeling—that he knew why Matikkas sought him. This was the last of the Maiden’s days, thence began the Witan’s. That left eleven days more for Murag’s agent to appear and declare. Aiya, he would lay good gold on him having come early, enticed—winkled out, so to speak—by Lecheni’s continued hold of the spy.

Satisfied that his machination was playing out as planned, Kalamite wound his way around the tower. Twelve flights up, aiya! He wasn’t so young. These were three too many when in a hurry. Before he’d reached the top he already was gasping. Then out onto the walkway. So high above the shielding warison, the wind blew strong. But Kalamite had traversed the arching walkways every day since a toddling child. He was used to its sway. Still, he held the skirts of his coat close about him. Then down and down the nine narrow ladders.

Aiya, how fast Honning’s feet, that he could tread the same route, and farther— to the runman’s Purple Chamber—and fetch the reporting Matikkas, and be back here at the Red Tower, waiting for him. And Honning was no lean man; he was flab-bound.

Kalamite nodded for him to leave them. He drew Matikkas deeper into the shadowed arch.

“Papa Hadd.” The ancient holde lowered his head.

Humh, belated respect from him. “Spill,” Kalamite prompted.

“Your man has arrived.”

“Are you certain?” But, aiy, he had already known it.

“I heard him talking to his companion. He said of Raselstad. And then of the citadel: ‘Soon this will be my home.’ I heard him make mention of Ryal, too. You were right, they are conspiring together. And – mayhap this makes some sense to you – he said of Wood Tower being some red lafdi’s bower.”

Kalamite all but swooned, his hand held to his red-stained lips. “Tell me, quickly, what is his colour?”

Aiya, how the old holde tarried, scratching his head as if to disturb the answer there. “He was dark, Papa Hadd. Dark as a Javan.”

“Nixnixnix! That’s not what I meant—unless there was something unusual in that.”

“Aye, well,” Matikkas said, unperturbed, “he weren’t as dark as some Javans seen.”

“His clothing, drip-head, what of his clothing?”

“For clothing?” Aiya, must Matikkas take so long with his answer. “Your man wears only a shirt and brecks—he must be freezing for that shirt looks to be silk.”

“The colour, your lorellish drip-headed jert, the colour?”

“Peace, Papa Hadd. Getting agitated is bad for the bladder—or I’m told. His shirt, you ask? That was red—a distinct colour red. I tell you what, it were the exact same colour as the Shore House woman—her hair, red as her hair. Did you know that woman returned here last night?”

“I thank you for the information, Matikkas, though, aiy, I do know.” He would deal with her later – he still was waiting for inspiration. She oughtn’t to be here. A certain person would shortly be short of his gonads. “Now hush a moment,” he told Matikkas, “while I think.”

There was no doubt of it, the red-shirted stranger was the expected one, the intrusive Raseltop, as foretold by the Events Map. And he, unless stopped, would join with Rubel.

Nix! Not with my lover, my mother, my queen!

He could feel the bristles along his back rising. His lip curled into a savage snarl. Was he shapeshifting into a hound? Aiy, he had heard of such a phenomenon. Happily he’d assume that form, a hound, a guard upon his lover. For this red-shirted stranger, this Raseltop, this Murag’s agent, wasn’t to have his beloved Rubel, his queen, his lover, she who, incarnate in human form, had given birth to him. Aiy, sweet red Rubel, who day and night gave him suck upon her red nippled beads. Communion, ecstatic, erotic – and his alone to savour.

This other, this intruder, this red Raseltop, steeped in Murag’s blood, must die. For no other would ever touch his lover.

“Aiy,” he told Matikkas. “It is him. Nix, don’t rush away. I have just the way to be rid of him.”

~ ~ ~

Roots of Rookeri 34: 26th August

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Utterly Useless Facts #1

(A New Feature brought to you by Iris Einstein)

Crimmie teases me mercilessly on this, but I can’t help it. I just have this thing of collecting utterly useless facts—such as the weight of an elephant’s testicles (1 kg – though I’m not sure if that’s for the pair, or just for the one); and (a far more interesting fact, this) the last foot of an elephant’s penis is prehensile. What, you thought sexual fun was the exclusive preserve of we humans?

But to more serious facts.

Utterly Useless Fact #1:

Light travels 18,000,000,000 times faster than rain.

Which means you see the water-filled drops 18 millions times sooner than you feel their icy-cold splatter. You might like to think of that next time you’re caught out in the rain without an umbrella.

Have a nice day.

 

by kind permission of
Crimson Prose

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More Than The Driftwood . . .

In the previous episode of Feast Fables, Kadpetan taunted Kerrid with tales of the Eld. Yet Map returned with her posts and, busy, she gave no more thought to it.

Now the extreme tides of autumn are about to bring more than the usual harvest of driftwood. Next episode: The Wooden Man Dances, ready now.

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Roots of Rookeri 32

Chendani Pass
Sifadis, Shore House Heiress

Week Twenty-Six

Sifadis seethed. The audacity of the sogged-out wreck. As if it weren’t sufficient offence to abduct her, gagged, blinded and bound, and tuck away in that hole as if she were a basket of grain to be stored! But then to believe she ever would wed him. Och! That Mallen was a . . . he was a . . . She shuddered: a noble, the word wouldn’t bruise her lips. But Boddy had found her.

You have me to thank. That was my doing, Ffadise, her ancestress, said.

Is that so? Sifadis said, no attempt to blunt her edge.

Believe as you will. Sifadis almost could hear the ghost’s eyebrow rising. Yet he came for you.

She would have laughed but . . . Ay, he came for me. And then wrangled over whether I loved him. Without that delay I’d have been out that pit long before the explosion threw him.

Crud and crusts, the dust and rocks, everywhere. And the stench! Like . . . ay, like the stench from the pits where the citadel Houses dumped their rubbish. Nah, worse. And she had called and called but he didn’t answer. Had he knocked his head? Had the rocks fallen on him?

Was he dead?

Ay, she’d been frantic. Stup and Dizpeter, was she to die down there?

“Boddy,” she’d called, “Boddy, don’t leave me, don’t die. I love you.”

Och, had she said that? Ay, she had. Easy to say once he was dead and she was lost, alone in the pit, the provided food dust-coated around her and everything, everything, now a disaster. She had cried—of course she had cried. How was she ever to get out of there? Left to wait upon Mallen’s perversity.

Something, a sound, had made her look up.

“You knobless Javanese hound!” she shouted. Giving her such a fright like that.

“Hey, Javanese I’ll admit to. And hound I might be. But knobless, Disa? I am certainly not – as you will find out as soon as we’re wed. Now, have you injuries? No? Then here, catch the rope.”

The way he’d hugged her once out of the pit felt hautingly good. Ay, Ulfan or what! But then out of the cave and out of the quarry, with him fussing of the heedless destruction around them, and then away from the Ridge and back onto the track, she now had a bellyful of worms. Had she agreed to this?

Ay, she admitted, was her who’d proposed it. But she didn’t want to think of it: the shouting and contentions and, ay, the War Games that must ultimately follow. She pushed those thoughts away, not wanting to spoil the moment. He held her hand and, cruds and crusts, that felt good. His warmth spread through her – though, ay, he now was fussing of Jonesi. But how could she grudge him that.

She, too, was concerned for Jonesi though she barely knew him. But he wouldn’t have joined Mallen’s band, he would not. It seemed most unlikely. But Boddy would brood. He now was mulling on how to rescue his friend. Why wouldn’t he listen to her? He had tangled with the bandit once, and survived it. To do it again, he would get himself killed for certain. And then what of her, left alone for Mallen to take.

Euryale rose, two days past full, silvering the grass and the hills and the land around them. She helped Boddy set camp by the turn to the Pass. He insisted a fire: he said because of the amphibs. But, as she argued, a fire would be a beacon to Mallen.

“Yeah, fine, I know,” he said. “So I’ll keep watch. Hey, don’t worry now, I’m used to it. Angels don’t sleep.”

She sighed, fretful, wistful. “If only we didn’t have to return to Lecheni.” Ay lah, the troubled times that waited them there. They could be walking direct to their deaths. She ought at least to warn him of the eclipse.

“We could go back to Raselstad,” he teased. “I could work for my uncle – knuckle down as he says and be a gord-hand. And I’m sure you wouldn’t mind scrubbing the laundry.”

“As long as we are together,” she said, though she couldn’t imagine such a life, to be a low hina, not even a napmaid.

“Yeah right,” Boddy said, “and between scrubbing the sheets you could study the Good Book – the original version.”

“I know that you tease, Boddy. But, truly, I do not want to go back to Lecheni.”

“Then what’s your suggestion? We run away?”

She laughed half-hearted. “Like the lovers in the troubadours’ songs.”

“Yeah, great, fine. So I’m often accused of being a dreamer. Hey!” he said as the thought hit him. “We could go to the Daab. You’ve the boats to take us. And we could hunt plants together. Hand in hand. Now wouldn’t that be perfect?”

She grinned. She would like that. “And we could give them to Gowen on our return.” But that only reminded her of the problems. “Boddy, our return will not be easy. You know Gowen Hadd is my ward-holder and he must approve you,. So, too, must Breken Lafard-Legere. He must give consent on behalf of the citadel Houses. If I were not the heiress . . . but you are a stranger, come into our heart. You understand?”

Why do you not tell him the rest?

He has no need yet to know it, Sifadis refused her.

He has the right. Tell him it all, including of the legere-chair.

Sifadis gave a short shake of her head. Stop pressing

Och, if only Breken Lafard would meekly step aside. But nah, as soon as he knows who Boddy is . . . would he even consent to their wedding? Boddy’s idea of Daab was, again, appealing.

“I regret not seeing those tram-roads you said of,” she said hoping to turn aside their talk.

“Well who knows, hey, we might yet return. As two foot-sore peddlers with ourali for sale.”

She swung round, full face to him. “How do you know of ourali trade?” It couldn’t have been Mallen told him. Shore House had only ventured into that trade shortly before her father’s death. It was that had killed him, stung and immobilised while in the water.

“Zups,” Boddy laughed. “Is it a secret? Ryal told me.”

“So he is in Raselstad.”

“Yeah,” Boddy said. “In hiding, waiting on Eshe’s return. Her report will hopefully make him a citizen. He said he’d seen Lorken and Kullt snooping around and feared they were looking for him.“

“Nah, they were assigned to guard me, nothing more.”

“He says they’re spies,” Boddy said as nonchalant as saying the weather.

She stared at him.

“Apparently, all the holden know it,” he said.

Spies? Och, but she’d not known it. And, ay, that would answer why Lorken had discovered so much about Raselstad. Ay and why he wanted to attend the Council meeting with her. But spies in whose pay? Fy la, in Breken Lafard’s, it must be. He had taken Kalamite’s warning seriously, then, and not trusted to her ability. If that, then she was deeply offended and on her return he would answer her on it. But there could be another reason. He could have known what she sought, and known what her success would mean for him. She still couldn’t even silently say it. She certainly couldn’t say it aloud. It would mean his overthrow. Probably his death. Killed by an Angel.

“Here,” Boddy said and tugged on her hand to pull her in closer.

She could feel tears welling, tears of anger at Breken. Ay and would he give consent for her to wed Boddy? He must. So much depended upon it.

Boddy, unaware of her thoughts, wrapped his strong arms around her. For a brief moment she resisted, suddenly away of the stink of her jasckte-wool coat, soaked through and then dried on her. But he seemed not to notice, pulling her down to lie on the tight-tufted grasses, pressing their bodies intimately close. And he gazed upon her while she for eternity gazed into his eyes. And what wonderful things she saw there. She might have sighed. Then his lips were on hers and kissing.

Fy la! No one had warned her of this. Was it normal? Her body was suddenly alive and wanting his touch in every possible place of her. She didn’t want for their lips ever to part. She was climbing upon him, greedy for more.

~ ~ ~

Boteras Rookeri-Sharmin

Yezzzah! Just think of it, wed. Some wedding night that’s gonna be—and she so eager. Hey, man, maybe there’s something to be said for wealth after all. Means neither must relinquish the other to pursue separate jobs. Oh, the Maker-Creator! To lie curled together all day and all night. She can forget about books and study for at least the next year.

Ghats and rats, were she a Lubanthan woman he wouldn’t now hesitate to unbutton her coat and loosen her brecks. But a Rothi. An heiress. He couldn’t do that. And, hey, man why should he? Another two weeks they’d be in Lecheni and married. He allowed the arousal to suffuse his body. There was pleasure in not pursuing it further, just the acknowledgement, the anticipation.

He drew away, coming up for air. How long can a kiss last. She laughed. He rolled her over. And that’s when consciousness left him.

~ ~ ~

Was that Jonesi’s voice, fading in and out of his hearing? Where was he? Natzo! Mallen had taken him. And Disa? He had to move, had to find her. He tried to sit but the world spun around him, and Stup and Dizpeter, his head hurt.

“Foodeloo, foodelai, Boteras Felagi is wakening.”

Boddy groaned. “Jonesi, that is your worst rhyme. And why does my head feel like it’s cracked?”

“Boddy’s head is cracked cos it had a hard whack.”

Boddy winced – at the rhyme and his head — as he again tried to sit. This wasn’t good, he now felt sick. But at least he could look around him – if he moved only his shoulders. He saw the fire, neglected while he and Disa had—

“Where is she, where’s Disa?” Rising panic clutching sharp in his guts. “What’s happened, Jonesi? Please, don’t tell me Mallen has taken her? Ghats! And I suppose you, the traitor, have come to gloat.”

“Hey, Boddy Felagi, the thanks I get for chasing the hounds you were facing.”

“Stop riddling, man and tell me what’s happened? Where’s Disa? With Mallen?”

“Not a tittle or whittle of it,” Jonesi said, compassion licking his voice. He sat himself cross-legged beside Boddy. “Stolen from you by Lorken and Kullt, she is. She screamed—oh, Boddy, Boddy, she kicked, scratched and bit them. She didn’t go easy. But I alone . . . Boddy Felagi, I’m sorry. I couldn’t leave your body, not at this season, with the amphibs returning.”

What could Boddy say. He hung his head. He wanted to say, great, yeah, fine, that he understood how it was. But if Jonesi hadn’t deserted to go flirt with Mallen . . .

“If you hadn’t been clinching . . . ” Jonesi said. “I didn’t want to, you know, halt proceedings. Things were looking, boom-boom-a-bang hot. Guess Lorken was lurking and saw it too and thought maybe you were . . . you know. She’s Rothi, Boddy, an heiress, their lafdi.”

“So you stood back while they bashed my head?” He gingerly felt for the cause of pain and found it. A lump the size of a scrample ball.

“I was too far away,” Jonesi said. “Boddy Felagi, I couldn’t stop them.”

“And now they’ve got Disa,” Boddy said, voice gone flat.

“Better they have her, than Mallen, hey?”

Boddy considered that. Then, though it hurt, he slowly nodded his head. “They’re taking her back to Lecheni, yeah?”

“That’s what they said.”

“Great, yeah, fine.” He brightened, he even clapped his hands. “So they’ll protect her virtue until we are wed.”

“Is that a laugh, Boddy Felagi? A laugh for the twice-abducted red-Rothi lafdi?”

“I guess,” Boddy said, and fought not to shrug. It would hurt. “Yeah, Jonesi, I’m trying to make light of it. So now that’s sorted, you can tell me what the Creator-Stayer-Maker you were doing with Mallen.”

Jonesi sucked in a squeaky breath through his lips and teeth. Was that squirm? Boddy wasn’t sure he wanted to hear this.

“Ah that, yeah. My plans there went astray-wobbly. Thought if I joined him I might be able to stir up a stroke. Instead, I discovered a reason for you not to be sitting here longer—that’s if you can walk, if you’re now feeling stronger.”

“Stronger, longer? That’s smoother, Jonesi, not so obviously strained.” Boddy stood, head held erect lest he upset the steel balls let loose inside it. And still the world was revolving around him. He grabbed onto Jonesi. Jonesi steadied him. “Yeah, man, I’m steady. Now get this rhyme: I’m strong, so will you now tell me what’s wrong.”

“Mallen was paid to kill your lafdi.”

“Yeah, Jonesi, I know.” Was that it? He was disappointed. “His henchman Leal told me of it.”

“Did he tell you, too, they were paid to kill Lorken as well?”

“Oh, spew on it, man! Lorken has Disa. We need to get moving, and fast.”

~ ~ ~

Roots of Rookeri 33

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Kadpetan’s Sad Story

In the previous episode of Feast Fables, Kerrid deflected Kadpetan’s threat to expose her. But he now holds a grudge and won’t be easily quietened.

Next episode, The Eld’s Dead Woman, ready now.

 

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Roots of Rookeri 31

Citadel Lecheni

Kalamite
Keefer-Papa of the Runman Order

Week Twenty-Six

Kalamite cursed whoever it was who’d allowed the walkway-door to slam. Aiya, did they think the wood of the door would last forever. And now the sprat was thudding down the stairs. Down and round, down and round, an ever-loudening drum. He looked at the brimming bucket of beads by feet: it had been a good harvest. And he still had time and plenty to tie his brecks, to step into his boots, to shrug his arms through his coat and shuffle his shoulders to settle it.

Again clothed, he edged around the inner tower till he came to the door, invisibly set into the alabaster screen. Its carving was a veritable marvel, the work of a master craftsman. Yet he’d no doubt the Lubanthan would scorn it. They’d claim it the work of Verth at his worst. With a betraying sniff, he set the bucket by the door. And stepped out, quietly. The door closed with a soft click behind him, to become again invisible.

Still careful to keep his movements unseen and unheard, he circled the white stone tower till he came to the next flight of spiraling steps. Down he went, into the darkness. The air here still smelled musty from the spring that once had welled here. Kalamite’s predecessor-three-back had blocked it. Diverted, the register said, its water used to irrigate the garden. And how that Shore woman and her warden, Gowen Hadd, delighted in tending the plants growing there – ugly things: fat and spiny.

Kalamite laid himself down on the floor, dry now despite the smell. In the darkness he outspread his arms. Again he sniffed; let the sprat find him like this.

The sprat’s feet continued to drum, louder and closer as down and around the tower he came. Kalamite grew impatient for him. His leg started to twitch. Then he was there behind him. Kalamite remained as if oblivious to him – until the sprat alerted him with a forced cough.

Kalamite lifted his head, enough to see a purple coat and purple brecks – and purple boots! Aiya, the sprat goes too far with his fancy chiparin connections.

“Aiy, Ffika, what?” Kalamite asked from his prone position. “ You can see I am at my devotions.”

“With respect, Papa Hadd. A visitor waits for you.”

“You disturbed me for that?” he snarled. Yet he pushed first to a sit and then stood. “Who is it, this visitor?”

“It is Mikel-Awis Hadd,” Ffika said. “And with him, Papa Hadd, the ledhere.”

‘Dryastil Hadd?”

“Trefan Lafard, ledhere of the folkhere, Papa Hadd,” Ffika expanded.

Deuces! What did they want with him? Had Matikkas bungled killing the stew? Had he been found with her and pointed a finger back to him? He would deny it of course. The man was aged, his mind was lapsing. Why would the Keefer of the Runman Order be entangled with stews? He’d turn it so the Lafard-Awis would laugh at the old man’s fancies.

He sighed. “Aiy, whatever it is, I suppose I must grant them my attention.” But he still held back.

So too did Ffika, for it wasn’t for a sprat to precede his master up the spiralling stairs.

“Aiya!” Kalamite nicked him with his staff. “Don’t just stand there, sprat! Retreat. Return up the tower whence you came with your purple boots noisily drumming.” Himself was content to follow the runman – he’d not then be seen casting wistful glances through the pierced screen, his fingers with adoration trailing it.

~ ~ ~

The visitors waited in the Purple Chamber, a small room intended to accommodate one runman only. There was a window but that too was small, and high. There was no furniture; there was nothing to sit on but for the floor. That floor was plastered and painted purple. It was cold. The walls, too, were plastered and painted purple – a shade or two lighter where the pigment had faded. The room held nothing to distract the eye – no pictures, figurines or adornments – for the runmen used the Purple Chamber for meditation only. Woe for two lafarden directed there by Honning Runman; it was not the most comfortable of places to wait.

Kalamite approved Honning’s choice. Such thoughtfulness. And should it be needed, the plaster in there would absorb their voices. Elsewhere in Runman House – apart from Kalamite’s cellar-cubby – was sound-reflecting marble.

“Lafarden Hadden,” Kalamite greeted them, bowing low. “What pleasure that you should visit me here.”

Mikel-Awis eyed the cell. “Is this how you live, here at Runman House?”

“Our needs, per-circumstance, must be few. We are not lafarden to have holdings such as you.”

“Yet you receive gifts from the—”

“Gullible,” Trefan, ledhere of the folkhere, cut in.

“With respect, Hadd Leef,” Kalamite said, head slightly bowing, though how he begrudged it, “we help many who are in distress. Discovering their illness, devising their healing – unsealing wombs that are cursed. In return we must eat. We do not waste on the sumptuous.”

He didn’t mention, as he could have, that other citadels granted gifts to their runmen, taken from the taxes in return for their setting the best days for the War Games. Yet in Citadel Lecheni, where was situate Runman House, Prime of the Order, no gift was granted them. It left an unpleasant taste.

“But with respect, Hadden Leef, you did not come here to remark of our poverty.”

“Indeed not,” Trefan said. “It is rather to remark of your in-ability. Four weeks to your projected calamity, when a force from Luban is supposed to attack us. Yet I see none. A force such as you say needs time to traverse the passes. They ought by now to be moving.”

Kalamite forced a smile. “And you know they are not, Hadd Leef?”

Trefan’s reply was swift, his words almost gabbled. “A chiparin called upon us yesterday seeking Otian but Otian is gone. He had recently returned from Luban. He says in the east the Dragons are moving out to the west. Thus there is no calamity to come.”

Kalamite sniffed. Aiya, the rot-talking lorels, what did they know. “But, Trefan Hadd, I do assure you, there is Lubanthan-hatched calamity to come.”

“Pish! Beyond your predicted prolonged eclipse there will be nothing, all wane and gone,” Mikel-Awis said, a vicious edge to his tongue – unusual for him, usually so mellow. (Maybe he’d heard of his stew.) “And take note, Kalamite Runt, for a motion will be raised in the Witan, the day after the eclipse, to close Runman House and to evict you from Citadel Lecheni. You and your runmen are nothing but the resort of fearful women.”

Such anger from the lafarden, did he deserve it? Aiya, he’d show the noble franyans. If his prediction should prove to be empty, he now was alerted to ensure another calamity would happened. Aiy, and for that he’d need Matikkas. The rutting Bisonian had just been granted a stay of execution.

~ ~ ~

Eshe Parlan, Femella

Lauschen had assured Eshe that the watcher was gone. Yet as she emerged from the alley onto the next lane she felt sure that someone was following. What to do? She couldn’t simply retrace her steps to Lauschen’s house. If she did have a tail she’d blunder straight into him. Though at least then she’d get a look at the watcher. But was this the same man?

Anyway, it was pointless her now returning. Whoever it was had already seen her. She’d thought the same of her hiding. All those weeks, when it was obvious by the constant watch that whoever had ordered it knew where she was.

She carried on walking, her destination the hostelry where she’d stabled Muzzle. She wanted to know what the eskuri had done with him. Kilda could have got it wrong. The eskuri could have been moved Muzzle into long-term stabling, across the river where there was grazing. She had asked Lauschen about it, if this was a practice. But Lauschen had his own grazing rights for his donkey and had never paid for stabling. It would have been safer to send Kilda to the stables to ask of the eskuri. But ten days on and still she waited from Kilda to visit. Now, despite the tail, she must stay with her plan. The one thing she changed was her route. If someone was following, she’d be a lorel to go down the alleys where no one could see her. Less chance of an attack if she kept to the open lanes.

Yet there came a point where she had a choice of a wide detour down to the river – with its wharves and warehouses, its seamen and wharf-hands, none of whom she’d trust to be alone with – or to cut down an alley.

She’d not taken above five steps when a voice came from behind her, a man’s. “Don’t stop, don’t look round. Just continue on the same till I say.”

Something of his voice was reassuring, though that could have been intentionally deceptive. Regardless, she obeyed, strangely without qualms or a clenching belly.

“Now wait there—but don’t turn around.”

Again she obeyed.

“With respect, Bel Hade, Eshe Femella of Parlan,” the man said, “I am a friend.” He was close enough now that she felt his breath on the back of her neck. “Do not be distressed. I’m here to warn you of impending danger.”

She snorted a laugh, though that from fear. But really, ‘do not be distressed’ when he was warning of impending danger?

“Who are you?” she asked, tempted almost beyond bearing to turn to see.

“With respects, Bel Hade, but if I wished you to know would I say not to turn?”

“Then tell me, what is this danger?”

“Your friend, the stew? Last night she met her demise. I have reason to suppose you are next.”

Kilda? Dead? No! “How?”

She might not have trembled before, but now she did. Yet she reckoned by keeping him talking, and with her listening, she’d not have time to notice the shock, to register the grief, to know the guilt. For there was guilt. Kilda was dead because of her, and already she was feeling sick with it. She was beginning to sweat. And what of Kilda’s children? Would Mikel-Awis claim them? But it didn’t matter; she had gold, she’d give it to the woman who fostered them. But, no, the wretched pippins, as if gold could replace a mother. Eshe sniffed, trying to stem the tears that now were welling.

“With respects, Bel Hade,” her tail said. “It is better not to know the details. She’s dead, that is all you need to know.”

“So what are you suggesting I do? Leave town? Find another place to hide?”

“To leave would be best. But not to go by the west. The one with your horse watches there. And unless you’ve a boat, you will find the south barred to you.”

“North?” There was no other way out, to the east was the sea.

“That has its problems. There you must cross Tuthe Bridge, else thread through the citadel.”

“Then . . . what?” She’d have to find another place to hide.

“With respects, Bel Hade. I have a friend in North Town – his house overlooks Western Way. The one who would kill you knows nothing of him. I would advise you to move to there. I advise you also to dress as a man. I can find you the clothes.”

“How do I know I can trust you, when you won’t even allow me a glimpse of your face?”

His answer was long in coming, as if first he must find it. “Do you gamble, Bel Hade? Play games of chance,?”

“It is forbidden in Luban.”

“Yet you can calculate probabilities? Stay where you are, and your death is a certainty. Accept my offer, and it becomes a mere possibility. Which odds do you prefer, Bel Hade?”

“But I have only your word for it.”

“With respect, Bel Hade. He knows where you are.”

“I have only your word,” she repeated.

“You would risk it, Bel Hade? I think you would not. Return to Lauschen. Prepare to leave. My friend will call for you in the hours of darkness.”

“But how will I know him?”

“Know her, Bel Hade. She is short, her body well-padded; you will know her.”

What else could she do? She heaved a long sigh. When would it end? And how? Was she ever to escape this town? And what of her father: he must be missing her by now, beginning to worry. And Trefan? Perhaps once lodged with this woman Trefan would call upon her.

~ ~ ~

Roots of Rookeri 32

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