Sifadis Lafdi, Shore House Heiress
Week Thirty One
Crud and crusts, was there no end to it? Arrested! All of them. As soon as they came through Garrison Gate. But at least they weren’t being held in the warison cells. For now, they were under guard in Breken’s audience chamber— along with Dryastil Hadd. But why was Dryastil there, keefer of the citadel guards, the holden?
“And with what are we charged?” asked Trefan.
“You’re none of you charged, not with nothing. Not yet.” And loh, what a surprise, the holde was Lorken. “Nay, you’re held on suspicion.”
“Insufficient grounds,” said Trefan. “We oughtn’t to be here at all.”
Sifadis understood his outrage. Hay la, what a day. What a night! But at least they all were alive.
“Can’t we at least get out of these clothes?” Eshe asked. “We’re wet and cold and and filthy, too?”
The other guard, Hiwi, grinned. “Aye, you can shuck them—any time that you like. And I’ll be watching.”
Dryastil, until then silent, finally spoke, sounding despondent. “Breken is dead. They believe one or more of us is responsible.”
Trefan’s face paled. Though Sifadis knew there had never been friendship between the two keefren yet, fy and loh, to be told so bluntly of his brother’s death. Ay, and she could hear his breathing where he worked to control his grief and anger. First the arrest and now this: the sheer outrage of it.
“They can suspect all they like,” Eshe said, brave and stubborn, “but their pointing fingers will not hold. We’ve not even been here this past day, in the citadel.”
“Ay,” Sifadis added her protest. “And I suppose this is Affalind Legara’s doing, to accuse us?”
“That is hardly likely, Sifadis Bel Hade,” Lorken said. “Our lafdi-legara is dead as well.”
“D-dead?” Her mouth fell open as in shock she slumped to the floor. Boddy immediately sat beside her, his arms around her, pulling her to him. “But . . . dead? How?” Ay, it was not so unusual that someone at sometime might kill a lafard-legere (though, she admitted, a War Games challenge was the more usual), but his wife as well? “Nix! Nay-no. This isn’t done by foul play. Some ailment or other has killed them.”
“They weren’t alone in their death,” Dryastil said. He seemed to know the full story. “Another was found dead beside them. An old broken holde, from Dormir House. I assume they think he’s still in my service.”
“Great, yeah, fine, that I can understand,” Boddy said. “I also can see how they’d think it was me. And considering the past, even Trefan, maybe. But the others? Disa, Eshe, Jonesi, the boy? Natzo, they shouldn’t be here.”
“Well, Boddy-Boy,” Lorken sneered, “when you’re the lafard-legere you can say who ought and oughtn’t to be held on suspicion. Till then my orders are to hold you all here.”
“Whose orders?” Boddy asked. “—If the Breken is dead.”
“Who?” Hiwi chirped. “What’s it to you, ‘who’?”
“Treat the Lubanthan lafard with contempt if you must,” Dryastil said, anger now rising. “But do not forget who is your keefer. Now, I demand to know, on whose orders.”
“If you must know,” Lorken answered him, still with a sneer. “It’s by the word of Iffig Lafard-Legere—Hadd Leef. Though I would dispute that you’re still my keefer.”
Sifadis glanced round at Trefan’s soft groan. So, too, did Lorken.
“Aye, and what’s up with you, Trefan Ledhere? Jealous are we, that your cousin takes which cannot be yours?”
“This is—” Eshe floundered for suitable words. Instead she asked of Mikel Awis? “Where is he?”
Och, why must that Eshe always know what to do? Here was Sifadis the Rothi, her home being Lecheni for these past twenty-three years, yet again and again this Lubanthan woman had the answers. Sifadis was beginning to definitely not like her.
“Oh fret not, Javanese spy,” Lorken sneered at Eshe in reply. “Garawen Sivator Hadd has sent for him.”
“Garawen? But Gowen—” Sifadis spluttered.
“Alas, Sifadis Lafdi Bel Hade, Gowen Hadd has . . . what’s the word? . . . withdrawn his services. Ay, that’s what it is. He isn’t long for this citadel now.” Lorken replaced his previous sneer with a gut-turning gloat. “Aye, his income now is lost. Lost to me.”
Sifadis glared at him. The monster! She imagined flames roaring from her nostrils, aimed at him. If only . . .
“Peace,” Boddy tried to assuage her, holding her close as whispered to her ear. “We’re innocent, and this will sort out.”
Another suspect was pushed into the chamber—Ffika Runman. The holde Kullt jabbed hard at his back. Ffika spun, stumbled and fell. Sifadis went to go to him but Boddy restrained her.
“Well, well, an interesting to-do,” Mikel Awis observed, arriving almost upon the runman’s heels. He looked round at the suspects. “But a runman? A runman? Runman, tell me, exactly what are you doing here?”
Why did Mikel seem so amused? Hadn’t he liked Breken Lafard-Legere?
Ffika wiped away the blood from his lip. “With respects, Hadd Leef, I came only to explain of Kalamite Hadd.”
“And this is to do with the current event?” Mikel asked.
“Aye. If you mean the death of our lafard-legere, aye, it does. I know who’s the one. It was Kalamite Hadd. He sent the old holde Matikkas to kill a bank-bear in the legere’s bedchamber.”
Sifadis pulled back, shocked. Then, slowly it occurred to her it was not so surprising. Though she couldn’t imagine the reason for it. Yet, did Kalamite need such a reason for his murderous actions?
Mikel’s eyes fixed on Lorken. “Has any such beast been found in the chamber?”
Lorken shrugged, and admitted aye, rather quietly.
“Well, well, and there we have the murder weapon,” Mikel said with some satisfaction. He turned back to Ffika. “But why should we believe you? You could be fingering your keefer to be rid of him. Might I guess at who is to be the next keefer? You, by any chance, Ffika?”
Sifadis knew the answer and it didn’t look good for Ffika. No wonder he didn’t answer.
“It is true, that Matikkas was in Kalamite’s employ,” Trefan said. “He was used as a spy.”
“He was following me,” Eshe said. “He kept watch on the house where I was hiding.”
“And Kalamite Hadd had Matikkas kill that stew, too,” Sifadis said, trying not to know too much about it, though both Eshe and Ffika had told her. “What was her name? Kilda?”
Mikel looked at Sifadis for what seemed a long time before he nodded. “So, we are all of the opinion that Kalamite Hadd sent the deceased Matikkas to kill the deceased Breken with a . . .” He chuckled. “A bank-bear? A nattily handy weapon, that.”
“It was Kalamite.” Sifadis had no doubt of it.
The others agreed: Boddy, Trefan, Jonesi, Eshe. But Garwy said nothing.
Mikel peered at him.
“Excusing me, Hadd Leef.” The terrified boy, he was trembling. He oughtn’t to be here. “I just happened to be with them. I know nothing of this.”
“It’s true,” Sifadis said. “I took him with us to help sail the Pink Lafdi. Kalamite had snatched Femella Eshe and . . . aiy lah, we don’t know what he intended with her.”
“With respects, Bel Hade, Hadd Leef,” Ffika said. “It would not have been pleasant. I believe his intent was to torture before the slaughter.”
“Nix! Don’t,” Sifadis said with a shiver.
“We don’t need to hear—Eshe doesn’t need to.” Trefan wrapped a protective arm round her.
Mikel looked again at the suspects gathered. “And you, Trefan, should not be here.”
“I was taken at the gate,” Trefan said.
“Ay,” Sifadis added on his behalf. “Taken while distracted in a lingering kiss.” Eshe must be feeling guilty of that.
“I was taking my leave,” Trefan said.
“You two still together, huh?” Again Mikel chuckled, briefly. Then shook his head as, with a heavy sigh, he turned to Boddy. “And you, Boteras Rookeri, you have been nothing but trouble from before you were here.”
“Because of Kalamite,” Ffika and Sifadis both said together.
Boddy stood. “With respects, Mikel Hadd, if I might . . .” He bowed respectfully low. “If you will come with me to Wood Tower. There is something I would like you to see.”
“Wood Tower, huh?” Mikel’s right eyebrow slightly rose. “But that is the runmen’s domain. We’re not allowed to venture there.”
“Weren’t,” Boddy corrected. “We are now. Anyone who pleases.”
“But, Boddy, nix!” Sifadis cried out to him. “Not without the prophecy. And he doesn’t know about that.”
“Ghats, forgot the awis wouldn’t know of it. Hadd Leef,” Boddy turned to Mikel Awis, “if you would allow my friend Jonesi—”
“Your choreographer, huh?” Mikel offered yet another chuckle.
But how incongruous the word sounded here, in Citadel Lecheni. And the way Mikel said it . . . Sifadis tittered, Eshe giggled. It was the stress, of the night, of the day.
“Yeah,” Boddy said. “My trainer—and my friend, and my as-good-as-a-father. Will you allow him to go to Shore House? Send with him a guard if you must. Make it ten. I need my ancestor’s journal. If he will bring it to us in Wood Tower . . .”
“Your runman-friend here is going to open it, huh?” It wasn’t quite said in mock.
“No, Hadd Leef. I have said, it now is open to all. The Purple Tower door stands wide. Come, and see for yourself.”
Would Mikel agree? Sifadis held her breath, waiting. It would help tenfold for another lafard to offer support, especially now Breken’s cousin Iffig, son of Kervalet Begator, had named himself as Lafard-Legere.
Mikel slowly nodded while a battle played over his face—to restrain his mouth that, clearly, wanted to grin. “Wood Tower, huh? This should be most interesting. All my life I’ve wanted to see into that place. So, what’s in there then, huh? Is it a shrine? But why do they leave the keys on display for any old dumpling to steal? I’ve never understood that, asking for trouble; and I’m the awis, it’s for me to keep peace. But you others, you’re still under guard until my return. Just him and me – and I agree this Jonesi-fellow can go fetch whatever.”
Boddy’s palms were sweating, his mouth gone dry. Yeah, great, but what if the robinti had failed? Though why would it fail; he’d only been away for one day. Yet, Ghats and rats, what if it had? Natzo, if it had then he wasn’t the true heir to the legere-chair. So this Iffig Lafard could have it with pleasure; what did he care? The important thing was that the tree was healing. Though he’d have to persuade Iffig to disassemble the towers. But at least Kalamite would be no longer a problem, not if his involvement in Breken’s death was proven.
Boddy crossed the next floor in the tower, Mikel following. “Hey, I see no one is grieving for Breken. Why’s that?”
Mikel didn’t answer. Boddy glanced round. The lafard-awis was all a’tremor. Was he that afraid of the towers? Ghats, yeah, he supposed that he was: death to enter.
“Was Breken not liked?” Boddy tried again.
Mikel snorted—was that a laugh? “Has your wife not told you? Nah, newly-weds, you’ve had other things to attend.”
“Great, yeah, like fighting off Kalamite to rescue a friend. So what is it then? What did he do, the deceased legere?”
They were crossing the next floor before Mikel finally answered, though he’d several times started but then had held back. “It could not be proven,” he said, “and that’s the trouble. But we all suspected he killed his brother.”
“Hey?” Again Boddy glanced round at him. “But Trefan’s—”
“Nay, not Trefan. The older one, Rinomi. He died in his bed yet he’d not been ailing. Breken had carelessly said, ‘Folks die.’. Sure.” Mikel chuckled. “And guess what was found near? A bank-bear. A nattily handy weapon, that.”
“Are you saying . . .?”
Mikel laughed outright now, as if his fear of the tower was now overcome. “Serves him,” he said—several times over. “Aye, this serves him. He wasn’t the heir; the heir was Mallen.”
“But . . .” Boddy tried to figure it. “Ghats! You’re saying this Rinomi was Mallen’s father? Not Breken? But I thought Breken his father.”
“Nay. Breken killed his father, we all were sure of it but . . . no proof. What could we do? The trouble was Affalind, too. Mathon offered the legere-chair along with his daughter, and both brothers wanted her—or wanted the chair. Rinomi was the oldest; she and the chair should have been his. But she wanted Breken. Then they exiled Mallen—to seal his mouth, we said. But to gain the chair by dishonourable means . . . Aye, we bent our heads and our knees but, nix and nay, he didn’t have our hearts. And so you will see no lafard grieving these next few days—unless it is for Affalind Lafdi-Legara.”
The remaining ladders they climbed in silence.
Ghats, how many trips had Boddy made here, each in the dark of the night, most times carrying contraptions of Mathon’s devising. Yet, hey, it didn’t occur to him once, while they were working, that the runmen made no comment of what they were doing—only Ffika, and he at the last. Yet, Ghats and rats, this didn’t tally. The runmen visited Wood Tower for their prayers yet . . . so, great, yeah, fine, they didn’t enter the inner tower. Maybe that was it. But, spew, man, had they no curiosity? Not so much as peep through the grille? Yet why else their silence?
Boddy waited at the tower’s top while Mikel Awis regained his breath. Even in this sparkly broken light Boddy could see the man’s unnatural colour. Ghats, that was too heavy supping of wine, that was. His Uncle Kachinnar suffered the same. Ouch, he shouldn’t have thought of Kachinnar. Too busy of late to miss his kin, but of a sudden it all rushed in. He brushed it aside. There were things to be done.
“Ready,” Mikel said. “And what exactly are you going to show me?”
“Hopefully,” Boddy said. “A flower.”
“Peace,” Boddy said with a grin. “There’s reason to it. That’s why Jonesi’s fetching the journal.”
He opened the door to the walkway. Mikel pulled back, shaking his head. “H-how high? Exactly?” He peered out of the door, head forward but body held back.
“Exactly? I couldn’t say,” Boddy said, oblivious to people’s fear of heights. “We reckon it about a hundred feet. Higher where the walkway joins Wood Tower. You can see, yeah, the walkway climbs up? But it’s no real climb; you won’t notice it steep.”
“And I am to cross . . . that?”
“Yeah, it’s the only way in. But no sweat, man, we’ve all done it before. Most of us many times over.”
“Yeah, sure. Dragten, Uwelen, Ibu; Disa’s eskuri, Drukne; Gowen’s naskies and Stelze, his eskuri. And Mathon, of course, and Jonesi and Disa and me.”
“When?” Mikel asked, clearly amazed at it. “I mean, when has this been?”
Boddy gave a cheeky grin. “While Kalamite was away in the hamlets.”
Mikel spluttered. “Are you deranged?”
“Natzo, though I have heard some say it. Shall we proceed, then, yeah?” He gestured towards the wooden walkway.
Beyond the door, the towers lay shadowed in a much-muted light, now the moons were approaching their final eclipse. With that event close, the wind was rising. Howling and screeching, saturated with a strong saline taste. Mikel hesitated, not stepping out.
“You want me to hold your hand, yeah?” Boddy offered. “But you won’t fall. There are these fences to either side, yeah.”
“Hush! Don’t talk of fa—don’t talk of it.”
“Natzo! Your really have fear?” Had he known he wouldn’t have teased. “But, look, I really do need you to see this flower and as yet there’s no other way in. I don’t mind holding your hand. If it helps. I won’t tell anyone.”
“Nixt!” Mikel spat. “Go. After you.”
“Sure, yeah, fine. Not a problem.”
Boddy strode out across the woven, jointed, glued and nailed walkway. He stopped midway for Mikel to catch up. Enjoying the feel of the wind, he took some deep breaths. The wind was cold. Yet the way it snapped his trousers, and ruffled his shirt and his cloak, it would help his clothes to dry-out.Then the door to Wood Tower burst suddenly open.
He’d barely time to see who it was before the crazed creature was upon him. Ghats and shats, this was no place for a fight. And what of the already-scared Mikel lagging behind him? He hoped he’d have the sense to return to the tower.
He tried to throw off his assailant but stick-like fingers had locked round his throat. He dropped to the walkway, bringing the madman down along with him. Legs up and under, he kicked. Kalamite wheeled up and over, and crashed with a crunch on the walkway behind him. Yikes! Was that the snapping of bones? And where was Mikel? Was he out of the way?
Boddy upped and turned in one smooth motion, intending to further disable the runman while he was down. But incredibly the runman was back on his feet. Head down, he came at Boddy like a goat at the rut. Boddy stepped aside but Kalamite followed. His head drove into Boddy’s belly slamming him against the walkway’s latticed wood-guard. There was a creaking, snapping and giving of wood. Boddy tried to ease sideways, away from that now weakened stretch—not easy with Kalamite still fixed to him. The wretch was biting him—Natzo, that’s no way to fight!—his nut-like fists driving into Boddy’s guts and ribs.
Again, Boddy managed to kick off his attacker. Kalamite, part-regaining his feet, stumbled backwards, fell and rolled. Now he’d the chance, Boddy checked on Mikel. Natzo! The man hadn’t moved. The terrified awis clutched at the fencing.
And again Kalamite was back into the fray.
Clearly he had no plan of attack. He wasn’t a fighter, just a crazed man venting his anger. Boddy could easily have killed him with a well-aimed blow. But he would rather disable and quieten him, to put an end to their scuffle—for to him, scuffle was all that it was.
Kalamite brought up his knee. Hey, now that wasn’t playing it fair. Boddy jumped back before the impact. But, natzo! Kalamite wouldn’t desist. Now they were dancing as if a couple at the feast of Deluca. But at least now he had Kalamite’s back towards Purple Tower, if he pushed he could be rid of him. He pushed and Kalamite backed. Push, and back, push and back—until Kalamite dug in his heels. He whirled his body, gathering momentum to push Boddy sideways and over. Natzo, forget it, man. Boddy countered—but with more force than was needed. Kalamite flew through the air and crashed into the barrier. But he still had hold of Boddy’s wrists and Boddy slammed onto the walkway behind him, shoulders suddenly jerked and strained.
Ghats! Rats, shats and slats! He saw why the pull. Natzo! The barrier was broken. And there was Kalamite, more beyond the walkway than upon it—and slipping—and pulling Boddy with him. Ghats! He had to free his wrists from the runman. But then, the runman would . . . Natzo, this wasn’t what Boddy wanted. He called to Mikel but Mikel’s terrified whimper said he’d be no help.
Boddy slid at savage speed, headlong towards the breach in the fencing, as the runman’s head dropped from sight. Yikes! Boddy spread his legs. It was a long shot, but if the runman didn’t release him and he was pulled over, it might just be possible his feet would catch on what remained of the fence and save him. That’s if the rest of the fence didn’t break.
He didn’t look down. Besides, he knew what the runman was doing, his movements relayed through the lock on his wrists. He was swaying, using his legs to frantically search for something to hold. But, one hundred feet clear above the ground, suspended between the Purple and Wood Towers—and they with at least sixty feet gaping between them—there was nothing for the runman’s feet to grasp. He knew it; sobbing, blubbering, begging his mother, his lover, his queen to please help.
Boddy tried to haul the runman back up. But sprawled on the walkway, his arms contorted as the weight of the runman continued to pull him, it wasn’t easy. And was it possible? If he couldn’t soon get the man back onto the walkway, he’d have to release him. He didn’t want to, but he didn’t want to be carried down with him. If only Jonesi would get here . . . Jonesi would help him out of this fix. He’d a feeling that fence would give way soon. And what if his feet didn’t catch on that gap, his legs not spread sufficiently wide? Ghats man, though the runman was no heavyweight, yet the situation was not easy. He managed to bring the scrawny hands up as high as the walkway.
“Now,” Boddy said, “grip that grubby wood instead of me, and I’ll hitch you the rest of the way.”
But would he? Would he Nikon’s Pits of Desire! Natzo! He hung there, swaying, jabbering and sobbing.
Boddy tried another way. He brought his hands together. If he could prise with one hand the fingers off the other . . . And that’s when the runman fell.
~ ~ ~
Final Episode, Roots of Rookeri 51