Kalamite – Keefer-Papa
Euryale’s scintillating halo helped heighten Stheino’s blush. Aiya, a truly spectacular conjunction of the two inner moons. Kalamite watched it from Wood Tower’s soaring height, though he was more often in the tower’s depths, in anxious prayer, now that the Ram-and-Lamb weeks had given way to Cow-and-Calf.
Ffika Runman, too, was often at the tower – when not at his tasks. So Kalamite ignored him when first he appeared. But then the sprat was beside him, kneeling, and ‘hist’ing and ‘holl’ing to gain his attention.
“Papa Hadd, I have what you asked.” His whisper was urgent. “The Witan’s account of when the strangers appeared.”
Aiya, now Kalamite was torn. Impatient for the news yet . . . “Not here. The acoustics are such . . .”
“But there are only runmen to overhear.”
Kalamite spat with his tongue. “You forget, already? The intrusion! Where one might, so might another.”
He heaved himself up on his staff. He must hold his patience till they were back in his chamber in Runmen House. He led the way.
One flight up. One ring around. Another flight up. Another ring round. The tower was of two truncated cones, one upside down inside the other. The inner, the inverted, was of alabaster intricately carved to form a screen. The outer was of stone, tile and plaster, its base thrice as thick as its top. It was pierced by long slit windows evenly spaced. Kalamite sniffed as he passed those at the base, so deep-set that even in day it was like climbing through night. Ah, but at the top, at the top! Here the walls were parchment-thin and the windows invited the day’s light in. Kalamite would have no Mathon-lamps here. Yet the wall’s very thinness caused him unease. As always, as a charm, he brushed with his fingers the coloured glass here – then opened the door that gave onto the walkway.
He stood for a moment, breathing deep. Lah! How easy to forget, with its gates and its warison, that the citadel was built upon a headland. But here, aiya here, there was no mistaking it with the taste of salt and fish and weed on the air. For a long moment he gazed out at sea, watching the Shore House trawlers as they ploughed back to the estuary. Then Ffika, the blundering sprat, collided behind him. As well he had his staff to steady him.
Back at his chamber, he visibly wriggled into its warmth, driving his buttocks deeper into the divan set in the bay window. His eyes tracked from the sliver of Shore House, all that was here visible, to the Witan House beyond South Gate, before returning his attention to Ffika Runman. “Now, what did you find in the Witan Annals?”
Ffika drew in a breath. That boded not well. Kalamite pursed his lips and laid aside his keefer’s staff.
“I quote, Papa Hadd –” Aiya, quote; the sprat had learned that: how could he be punished if what he said was merely a quote. “On the third day of the forty-second week of the seventh year of his holding the chair, Zedlar Ward, late of Bell House, died.” Ffika paused to punctuate before continuing, “You might recognise that name, Papa Hadd. Zedlar. It was amongst the names mentioned in the register just prior to the break in the hand.”
Kalamite queried the name of the House. “Bell? You said Bell House?”
“Zedlar Ward, late of Bell House, ay, Papa Hadd.”
“But we have no Bell House.”
“As you say, Papa Hadd. Yet once there were twelve and now there are seven, though only four have a lineage.”
Aiya, so pigging sharp that sprat, he ought to work in a butchery. But his days were numbered; Kalamite couldn’t have a sharp sprat carving his Keefer to serve as rung on his ladder.
“The Treasury has above its door a Bull wearing bells. I wondered, Papa Hadd . . . “ Ffika offered, and waited.
Kalamite nodded. “And you believe the Treasury could have been this Zedlar Ward’s House? And, since he held the legere-chair, he must at that time have been the lafard legere. But this, um, ‘Ward’ makes him sound more like one of the holden, there to protect us.”
“That is part of the lafard legere’s duty, Papa Hadd.”
Aiya! To be told by a sprat. But now the conclusion was clear. Zedlar Ward, the lafard legere, had died at the time the Lubanthan strangers were here. Kalamite pressed his lips hard. They tasted, still, of the rubel-beads as if he still were sucking in prayer.
“This forty-second week . . . ?” he prompted.
“The third day of the forty-second week: that would be the tenth day of Witan, Papa Hadd”
“Would it, verily?” Kalamite grunted. “And our conjunction will be?”
“The eleventh day—by your projection, Papa Hadd. The three day eclipse should then begin the next day.”
“Holla, Ffika, the story is here, revealed in the Annals. Having arrived – from the south – these Lubanthan strangers promptly killed Zedlar Lafard Legere – no doubt in his sleep. But what while-a-day invited them in—rhetorical, Ffika, peace. But who was the lafard legere following this? One of these Lubanthan strangers? Aiya, imagine what turmoil resulted from this. I understand now the break in our register – new column, new hand.”
“The legere-chair went to Greystone House,” Ffika told him. “The Annals name him as Mcadam Ward.”
“Ward? But you gave that as Zedlar’s name: Zedlar Ward late of Bell House. Then how could this Mcadam Ward – his son? – be of Greystone? Yet it went to his son and not to the Luban? Aiya! But of course not to the Luban. They would have been killed for their treachery, their bodies hung from the warison. Does it say as much, this Annal of yours?”
“There is no mention, Papa Hadd.”
“Of course there is no mention. To waste quill and ink on Javanese dregs.”
“As you say, Papa Hadd.”
“Verily, I say.”
“As you say . . . The next seven pages are taken with the funeral preparations. It was a grand occasion.”
“Deuces, Ffika, the tomb! There will be an inscription upon it and its placing will prove—is there one within the Treasury?”
“With respect, Papa Hadd, I am not of Breken Lafard’s House to enter there.”
“Nix! Nay verily. And, Ffika, would I ask that of you? Aiy, to be caught nosing around . . . Yet there is Kervalet Hadd. Is he not the present begator? So does he not have keys to the Treasury? No one would question him there.”
And it would not hurt Ffika to run the risk. He was imperative for him to know what had happened. How could he predict what was to happen come the Witan weeks with their repeated conjunctions unless he knew what had appeared before? Zedlar had died. His son or his nephew or one of his line had taken the legere chair. Yet that chair had moved Houses. How could that be?
“You want me to befriend Kervalet Hadd?” Ffika asked.
“I want you to use him, however is necessary, to get inside the Treasury. There is nothing untoward, your interest is purely sub-terrain. Do they keep their treasures in some dark deep cave, eh?” And if Ffika fails? Then Matikkas can try it; he won’t blanch at the thought.
“As you say, Papa Hadd. But there is more . . . um, of interest to you.”
“To me? Only to me? Does whatever this is signify nothing to you? Out with it then. Why must I always prompt you?”
“I—as you say, Papa Hadd. Amongst the arrangements listed for the funeral there is mentioned the construction of a wooden tower. The dimensions are given. It is undoubtedly our Wood Tower.”
“Holla! Five hundred years old? I had not . . . who ordered it built? Was it this Mcadam of Greystone – or someone from our Runmen House?”
Nix! And what was this, that Ffika should look so awkward now? Aiya, in fear of his master’s reaction. But why fear for this when he had already assured his demise with his cleverness. Aiy, but the sprat didn’t yet know it.
“Peace be upon you,” Kalamite urged. “Be rid of your fears. For you do no more than convey the news.”
The runman straightened his back and resettled his wide leather belt to rest low around his paunch. His coat this day was red, in honour of Murag. But runmen were not supposed to be always immaculate. And look at the quality of that twisted hemp-and-wool thread. And how vibrant the colour. He must put a stop to this runman’s visits, always sneaking out to see his tailoring sister.
“Papa Hadd, I . . . which do I say first?” Ffika asked.
Kalamite’s patience was swiftly departing. “The tower, say who ordered the tower.”
“As you . . . I quote, Papa Hadd: Rubel ordered a wooden tower to be built, on behalf of Bell House.“
Kalamite blinked. A bony finger scraped his spine. “Rubel? Our queen?” He scarcely was able to breathe the words.
“I did say, Papa Hadd, I only quote.”
“And there is more? You said . . .” He wanted to know yet he wanted for Ffika to leave. There was something, aiy, something he wanted to do. Alone.
“Papa Hadd, I anticipated your questions. In the Annals, as far back as are kept, there is not one mention of Runmen House. Not until seven months after Zedlar Ward’s death, and then . . . but mayhap it’s nothing of note.”
Kalamite squeezed a look at Ffika. Did the sprat shiver? “What are you suggesting?”
“That our House wasn’t known as Runmen House until after the death of Zedlar Ward. I would say that it dates to the change of hand in our register. Papa Hadd.”
Aiy, verily there was logic in that. A change of hand and a change of interest, from domestic to political. But that made of the Runman Order a foundation of more recent occurrence. Could that be? And why had it followed so closely upon the death of this Zedlar Lafard-Legere? And what role had these Lubanthan strangers in that? Why did they kill him? And what might it imply for this coming conjunction?
He sank into thought, oblivious to Ffika who patiently waited. What if the Treasury rose from Bull House, not from Bell House? What if Runmen House was built upon Bell? Rubel ordered a wooden tower to be built on behalf of Bell House. That made sense only if Bell House and Runmen were the same. But Zedlar Ward was also of Bell House, and he was the lafard-legere. Aiya! He had the tale now. The legere-chair had been held here at Runmen House until those Javanese crumbs had came seeking the queen and had ruined everything.
He dismissed Ffika and followed him out of the chamber. He brusquely brushed him aside as he flew down the stairs, the threadbare skirts of his coat like wings around him. He was straight to the hallowed fane and the holha grass tubes stacked there. Lah! His hand knew the roll. He took it. Upon it was recorded: Years of the Order 430 to 442.
He took the register to the sole pool of light from the Mathon-lamp. Before he sat he already was scrolling. He found it, the entry no stranger to his fingers:
- 10th day of the Witan’s weeks:
The stew Rubel this day died in lodgings found for her by our House. Two sons and a daughter died with her. A surviving son is brought here to us. We have named him Kalamite, for he is reed-thin.
Aiy, Rubel, my mother, my lover, my queen, you gave your body to give me life that I might live ever in worship of you.
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