Keefer Kalamite, Runman Order
He looked down at the blade in his trembling hand. The dishonour, the discredit, to be taken for a drip-head, a lorel, a while-a-day. Too late he had realised, he ought to have known. When was that gaggle of stews ever loose in the close at that time of day, and all together? It had been a distraction. He ought to drive that blade into his own weak heart. But no, he had another use for it. He would have that judge’s daughter dead, and if Breken Lafard was unwilling to play . . .
“Execute her, the weaselling spy,” he had demanded.
But, Deuce and Dizpeter, the lafard-legere had refused to comply. “Not until Sifadis is safely returned.”
But the Shore woman would never return. It was for the sake of the citadel. She and her doom-laden moons must be kept far away, and who knows a farther place than the place of death. He had arranged it, a meeting with Stup on the road from Luban.
Aiya! To be caught in his own woven web! Yet he had found a way to break it, the very device provided by the Lubanthan rig in her dalliance with Breken Lafard’s younger brother.
With good reason did the law prohibit the folkhere keefer from holding the legere-chair, though he often was of that same House. Imagine, with the folkhere at his command, how easy for him to replace the legitimate legere. Surprising, then, to find no law forbade him from putting someone other upon that chair, someone he might better control – say, a brother or nephew of his lover.
No doubt Breken Lafard wasn’t alone in his blindness to this anomaly. Yet it took his cousin Iffig Hadd to see it, his vision no doubt stirred by the fact he was heir to that legere chair – should Affalind Lafdi Legara fail to produce, and as yet she was proving barren. Of course, Iffig Hadd may have been helped to his lone realisation by the whispers of a certain knowledgeable runman.
Kalamite had bided his time, no need to hurry. The longer he left it, the more support, for by then the suspicions would have taken root, would have grown and flourished. Only then would he provide the axe by publically declaring what had already been said in intimate corners – that Trefan Lafard-Ledhere was conspiring with the Lubanthan spy to overthrow his brother. Aiya, he would have that judge’s daughter yet.
But nix! Those stews with their brabble and giggles and gyrating hips had taken his gaze from the door in the wall of the Woolpack Gardens. It had been Kilda that did it, she with her sashaying, her breasts inside her shift swaying. Aiya! My mother, my lover, my queen, I deserve you to leave me. I confess to you my infidelity. And if that stew took that paint off her face how old then would she be? Aiy, the shame of the thought, for had his own mother not been a stew like her too, and no longer fresh faced; he had been the youngest of four. No pert breasts on her, no gently swelling belly, no firm arms and thighs to help ply her trade. Lah, his mother would have been much like this Kilda. You could forgive me? He sighed.
“Shoo!” he had flicked out his hands to wave Kilda away.
“I was only wanting to offer a bath.” And she and her stews had laughed.
“Aiy, well offer it to the holden who visits tomorrow to fetch out the spy you are hiding.”
She had frowned, like she had no notion of what he was saying. Aiya, as if, indeed!
“Aiy, I had it from Mikel Lafard,” he had ground it into her so there’d be no misunderstanding. “He intends to have her into his cells by the morning.”
And the haughty stew, wagging her head at him, had wiggled her tongue.
Distracted, shame on him. Distracted by that flavourless stew while the Javanese spy slipped away. But she’d not stay hidden for long. He, too, had his spies, and right now they were scouring the town.
~ ~ ~
Sifadis, Shore House Heiress
Loh! Sifadis was glad; as yet no Boddy this day. For these past two months he had been her excuse. Hay-la, she even was thinking now like the Lubanthan. Months!
“Yikes,” she told Lorken when he wore on about stealing the relevant Minutes, “have you no patience? When Boddy uses these particular Minutes, then I shall peep over his shoulder at them. But I have to wait; this is dependent on him.” And anyway, whose mission was this, hers or Lorken’s?
Ay and fy, she knew her pacifying speech was an excuse and a lie. She had seen which Minutes Boddy used, and they were the more ancient; he was unlikely ever to use the most recent. And besides, she had no need of them. Sturan Elect and his Council had no intention of attacking Citadel Lecheni. They had no reason. Wolves and geese, that’s what this was.
As to the explosives ordered from Mathon Lafard, Lorken had answered that with his snooping around. Sturan Elect was quarrying deep in the Ridge and exporting the stone to Rothi. He was even using Rothi labour – exiled wrecks and the like. The Council knew nothing of it, of that she was certain. According to Lorken, though she knew not whence his information, the Council had closed and forbidden that quarry long years ago. She ought to report it – at least to tell Boddy. But to what effect; what could he do. At the most, report it to the Council. Aiy, and that would only stir trouble with his uncle. Despite he kept things close when it came to the doings of Sharmin House, yet she knew of his vexations there.
Thus these weeks she had pursued her own research, hardly believing she would find what she wanted. Until this, today. And how beautifully timed, for if she left now she would reach Lecheni before the eclipse.
She had told Judge Madir the truth about Keril-og. Had he ventured west into Luban, then the chances were high on him staying some days at Raselstad. And mayhap something had happened to leave some record of it. But thumbing through the Council Minutes for the years of the Accord 150 through 250, nah, it had seemed increasingly unlikely. Yet she had enjoyed the reading; she had learned much.
The most common record was a petition to build. It seemed Delucha Gord had recently failed and now someone was using the outer acres, where the canals abutted Nah River, to build boats, and he wanted to erect sheds and a house for himself but the Council was concerned that his activity might encourage the goblins to break through the canals once again. She followed the development through for three years. Ay, but of course she had interest in this. Shore House held fisheries, too. Another enterprising citizen had set up a smoke-house on the same gord. Och, how small the quotas of river-fish, nothing compared with her sea-fish hauls.
And so her research had taken so long when it ought to have been quickly done. Thrice she could have scanned these Minutes. But she kept finding things she wanted to follow. Such as the decline of Villith Gord.
The Council had noted the unpaid quotas. Yet the gord-holder was a noble and sat on that Council. The Council was as severe with him as with the lesser tenants who had the cotton and silk mills and the tannery and dye house on Rementh Gord, and the Duck and Goose Farm on Rashel. Both those gords had long since failed.
And then there were sets of accounts. Ay, she spent days just reading through these, comparing the expenditure with that of Shore House, comparing the yields.
And who had kept her company most days? Boddy, her poet, her swain. He had sat within breathing distance – or rather he’d knelt. And, la, those kneel-pads were mighty uncomfortable but she had grown used to them now. And he would look up from his scratchings and catch her eye and . . . hay la, that smile. And her breath would halt and reverse and all manner of odd things would happen inside her and . . . Nah, she’d been in no hurry to be done with her study, and away.
Yet she was aware that for every day she delayed the judge’s daughter – Boddy’s friend Eshe – would be in increasing danger; And to hoots with the eclipse, the daughter’s fate had weighed heavy upon her.
And now, today, when Boddy was away, she had turned the page and – loh! Loh, loh, loh, loh, loh! There it was! Hitting harder than ever his smile, this took her breath away.
She thumbed through the pages following. There, at three years along . . . Ay, but this was no scant trace, this was an indelible mark. Transfixed, she stared at the page.
Here was her release from having to wed. Like a ship’s lading-slip, it would allow her to study the Holy Book for the whole of her life, unhindered. For only Keril-og’s line had the right to Shore House, not Rorah or Ffadise – which meant she was not the heiress with a need to wed. And it mattered not that Keril-og’s descendants had been born here in Luban, still the oldest living male would be accounted the heir.
She laughed, quietly to herself – then licked her lips, greedy for more consequences. See, the tree was not dead, so the sea need not rise. Hay la, as if by finding the heir the eclipse-inundation wouldn’t happen. She wasn’t so noleless as to think it.
But, hay la, there were more consequences. Her breathing ragged, her head whirring and swimming, the full import was crashing upon her like waves on the shore. Ay, flooding her, drowning her, her very own, personal, inundation. Keril-og had been more than the rightful heir to Shore House. He had been the heir to the legere-chair. This, too, his descendant could claim. Ay, Kalamite’s prediction might be right. And which tree, which heir, which chair?
She held her head lest it exploded. She had watched the men at Rookeri Gardens playing billiards, and now that game was playing inside her head. Repercussions, ramifications: words she knew from the Holy Book but despite her wealth in holdings had meant little to her. Until now. Now her head was in confusion, with too many thoughts all vying attention.
What would Gowen say to this? Och, he would have forbidden her the search had he known the answer. Yet that answer could be a blessing to all – answering the Tree Legend, no destruction. Citadel, it had said, not only Shore House. And Gowen had thought it no more than a dream-tale?
Her thoughts were treasonous, and she knew it. And though there was only Lorken and Kullt who could betray her, still she feared to whisper the words in her head. Ay but it was true: Breken Lafard wasn’t the rightful lafard-legere. He had no right to sit on the circular chair. He claimed that entitlement through wedding Affalind. Ay, and Affalind’s only claim was from her father and he had relinquished it not ten years past to name her his heir. But neither had Mathon Lafard the right. He only had it, via ten generations, from Keril-og’s brother Rorah who had married the heiress of House Eland and took that entitlement with him. And Mathon Lafard had known it. She had crept into the Witan and delved deep in the Annals, looking for when he retired. A most interesting speech he had given, revealing nothing unless the truth already was known. Ay, that chair belonged to Shore House. It belonged to Keril-og’s heir, his oldest surviving male descendant. And against expectations she had found him.
A son was born to Femella Jalinti and Patri Keril. They named him Semesh. Now, three years after his petition for citizenship, Patri Keril petitioned again – to alter for ever the name of their gord.
She could not leave that page for others to see – Lorken, maybe, with his talk of breaking and stealing. Hay la, if he were to find it! Besides, she needed something to bait the hook. With eyes flitting anxiously lest anyone saw, she worked the page loose from its binding. She folded the aged mace-paper and tucked it into her coat pocket while making like she was fanning herself – believable with everyone in that Hall sweltering. She patted the pocket. Two months she had cursed the wear of that coat; now she was glad of the cover.
Ay and now look at her, nonchalantly turning back the pages, until she came again to Keril’s petition for citizenship. There was recorded his name in full and his place of origin: Keril-og of Lecheni Citadel, East Rothi. She took that page as well.
And now she must leave. Now before he could see what she did. He would hate her for it. Ay, she smiled at the thought. He would never allow her to escape with the pages – at least she hoped not.
“I thank you,” she said after the Hall-keeper had relieved her of the stacked Council Minutes. “And you may tell Boddy Rookeri when he comes in again that these Minutes now are for him.”
The Hall-keeper glanced past her. “You may tell young Boteras yourself. He comes here now.”
She turned and ay, there he was, now pushing through the door, all head-tapping and swaying to whatever his music. She would miss him – but if she laid the track right . . .
“Heida, Boddy,” she greeted him with a smile and face flushing. “So! Turn around and come back to the Gardens with me.”
He shadowed his gold-speckled eyes with a frown.
“Ay, I must leave your townstead in the morning. A farewell drink, I thought we could share?’ And watch me scatter the crumbs. For, by the word of her fishermen, they made the best ground-bait.And her plan was dependent on hooking this one.
~ ~ ~