This completes the Second Chapter, setting in train one strand of the major events of the book…
Karlyn was perched upon a kitchen stool working her way through a meal of stew and extra portions of vegetables. Widow Darroe managed to feat of wrinkling her nose at Meradat in a respectful fashion.
“The young woman should have the comfort of a bath and bed too, Your Honour,”
“Sadly, good woman, there is little time. The services of the Lord God are pressing. Now then, Maid Karlyn,” who looked up from her meal
“Very well. Eat. But with all dignity. Now listen well, and bear in mind I will expect an answer,”
He drew from his large and pocket rich coat a slender black leather book; the custodial axe inscribed in gilded lettering. Sitting opposite her, he skimmed it across the table to her.
“Pick that up,”
The need to shovel another spoonful of stew took precedence, but following she picked up the volume, sniffed at it and having looked admiringly at the cover put down her spoon. While she chewed in a very demonstrative manner, Karlyn thumbed through the pages, ending her survey with a very obvious swallow and a wide grin.
“Hey! I like these prayers about burning wicked folk!!”
“Encouraging,” he picked up the book and waved it at her, she followed the progress as a cat watching jewelled necklace “This is a copy of The Ministrations of the Obliteration. Written in sacred ways, passages formed with invention to confront doubts and aberrations, set in inks pure. The tainted, the foolish and the evil become most agitated reading its pages.”
Widow Darroe passed a comment which she kept wisely inaudible and excused herself. The Official Custodianal idea of sacred and pure could be mistaken by ordinary folk as the determination to wreak havoc and terror; she also reckoned most folk became agitated in the presence of a custodian.
“Recite unto me a maiden’s prayer,”
Karlyn pulled a long face, the stew was beckoning.
“Dunno much. Where I lived they never encouraged ‘em,”
Meradat glowered, not so much at her, but at a place many leagues distant and many years passed.
And returned to the stew.
“You made that one up did you not?”
“Yer. Told you. Where I lived we weren’t encouraged,”
“It was sincere enough,” he had had enough experience of the panic and haste of the other sort. He had met many types in his long and turbulent career. This young woman had some of the undefinable about her, of a possibly useful kind that is “So are you ready to work for The Lord God?”
“Yumpf,” stew again.
That was quite emphatic; just the style you’d expect from an irreverent yet direct sort. He continued, while observing, carefully.
“How long have you had this gift to scent out evil?”
“’Bout three years. Just came to me, it did. My family started to pong very bad, an’ not just because they didn’t wash. Then the whole neighbourhood did,” she pulled another face “Not that you needed a gift of smell to know things were crocked there,”
Naturally he would observe her carefully in this respect. Whereas for Meradat burning suspect locations was a perfectly reasonable course of action, this was achieved after careful observation, investigation, and interrogation. A claim to be locating them by sense of smell was not something to be accepted at face value. An evaluation would be best reached when tested at the workface of duty.
“We have little time. If this man has fled in terror, who knows what pursues him and where he has gone,”
She looked up, wrinkled her nose, tugged at her shirt.
“He’s gone west, he has. Maybe a hundred miles,”
Meradat stared at her for a long time, she did not flinch, she just stared back out of curiosity, and of course alternating with considerations of the stew.
The unblinking look in her, the absence of any furtive twitches, along with the steadiness of breathing were favourable signs. They suggested to him a possible purpose which was not malign.
For some time, he’d had his suspicions about the central west coast and its penchant to trade in anything.
She might well do.
The Translator Pastoral was woken from an untidy, uncomfortable and inadvertent doze in his chair, by a great deal of hustling and bustling primarily a duet, one deep and sonorous counterpointed by a high, rapid and possibly incomprehensible one. After a few moments he concluded Meradat and the girl were about some business of their own, after another few moments he judged it would seem they were getting ready to go on a journey. He wished he’d stayed awake and heard what had passed between them. At least he might have been able to have an influence on their manner of departure. So with the years of practice of being a translator at the beck and call of his congregation he unfolded out of his chair.
And became aware of the waves of mumblings and occasional shouts of opinions, from outside, and in consequence winced.
Of course as was common with custodians, they were inclined to make their rank known upon arriving anywhere. This had one of two effects; in the more sedate or humble communities everyone would take fright and guilt and stay indoors as much as possible, praying, literally, the said official would not choose to speak with them. In unrulier places it would not take long for a crowd to find the collective courage to find out just what was what.
Firstly, in came his servant who ventured the opinion that he probably already knew but there was a crowd outside, then appeared Meradat and the girl. He as usual was thunderous while she was narrow eyed and thin lipped; both obviously intent on confrontation with the folk outside. ClnMyla was at once for hands raised and a warning.
“Now before you pair start on your own interpretations of the Slaughter of Lowden Moor; let’s try and find a way out of this which makes sense to those poor noodles out there,”
“A custodian does not need to explain himself!” Meradat boomed.
“That is a charming trait you all share, but I do not have the luxury of being able to or an inclination to distribute terror and I’ll not be the one having to clear up a mess of injuries and taller tales. Amongst other things this town trades in information in all directions, so nor do I want an already unhealthy place attracting even shadier folk. Meradat. And it’s not as if Prince Henrich or the rest of Valeneg care to trouble themselves about what goes on in Yermetz” he fixed the fellow with his most pained expression. “Do you really think my three poor translators are up to that sort of challenge?”
In ClnMyla’s experience that response was a start, he pressed home his advantage.
“Look! Could we not have that young girl there disguised as a heretic and you’ll be taking her, looking as a Him for interrogation,”
Karlyn much refreshed by food clapped her hands and did a little jig.
“Oooh playtime! I loves playtime and dress-up. Can I have a moustache and a beard and swagger,” she stuck out her midriff and puffed out her cheeks and was about to demonstrate her vocal abilities, when Meradat pointed out, very sonorously that heretics did not swagger in a clownish fashion. Karlyn, mused and agreed. “Alright then I’ll be a noodley-hutch,” twirling her right index finger near to the side of her head.
ClnMyla and his servant exchanged unhappy and fatalistic glances.
Meradat rolled his eyes.
The crowd were stirred up by news of the fire and more importantly that the Pastoral Translator had been out and about with a custodian and they’d been seen dragging someone away. The crowd had discussed this enough and were just getting in a mood to push someone forward to do something, when the door of the abode swung inwards and there stood The Custodian, in his full imposing height and his iron badge in the shape of an axe of justice hung ominously about his neck. In his firm grip upon one shoulder a small hooded figure who twitched and seemed to cackle.
Meradat did not normally care for this sort of theatrical and but he did have sense of duty to ClnMyla and so once more was going along with one of the Pastoral Translator’s whimsical schemes. This one did have a measure of economy and plausibility.
“One side!” he boomed “An heretic hast been apprehended in your town!!”
At this point Karlyn squeaked and waved her fingers in flapping motions about her head.
“Oooh All praise the…” she stopped, suddenly stuck for a suitable heretical statement, luckily for her the febrile imagining of the crowd were rich in possibilities.
“All that burning! He’s got one of them Gervalons!” screeched a woman “Oh Good Lord God help us, there’s Gervalons here!! Come to burn us all in our beds!!”
And a flurry of cries went up demanding all manner of very painful and bloody executions at once, fuelled by Karlyn cackling and crying back that they were all going to suffer Wraths, they were.
At this stage ClnMyla and his servant wisely made their appearances; the latter to run around to the attached stables and bring out the horses, ClnMyla to interpose himself between two forces of nature, maybe three for he was not sure about the girl.
“Please! All of you. Be calm for, he, the Custodian must take this wretch,” Karlyn made a rude noise and stuck out her tongue, which caused some puzzled silences for as far as folk knew heretics did not resort to street urchin tricks, ClnMyla took advantage of the lessening of the hub-bub. “He must take them for interrogation! They are obviously not having enough wits of their own to plan anything!” Karlyn seemed attracted to this notion and began to babble the word ‘Burn’ “There are others at work here!” he concluded in some desperation; the girl was not helping!
At the appearance two suspiciously convenient saddled and bridled horses Meradat boomed once more for all to stand aside and dragged the girl to the mounts.
“You’re all gonna burn!!” she chanted and pointed randomly at folk squeaking ‘’Specially you!”
This litany ended when Meradat picked her up and slung her over the saddle of one mount, fixing her with a furious glare.
“Cease your blasphemous babbling!” he warned with more than a hint of truth in his voice, and tided her hands and legs.
“Can’t stop me!” she trilled
“Can’t stop me!!
You’re all gonna swing from the burning tree!!”
This ditty ended in a ‘mmph’ when Meradat shoved a rag into her mouth. Crowds, even small ones could be volatile things and it was difficult to gauge just when the provocation would set off a riot which even a custodian would find hard to control, particularly as they were normally instigators. His prompt action turned the tide and caused cheering, calls of approval, with the occasional ‘Good Lord God Bless You’ thrown in by those anxious not be seen to offend a custodian.
Thus did Custodian Meradat ride off into a smear of wet dawn with his apparent prisoner still managing to cause a few folk distress by an excessive rolling of eyes and some stifled but chilling sounds. ClnMyla could not help but feel she was thoroughly enjoying the whole thing.
ClnMyla turned to his servant.
“Well I hope that’s the end of our part in the bigger drama,” he whispered, then set his attention to those still hanging around and the days ahead of tidying up. No one ever wrote about the tidying up did they now?
And would be the end of it? Wherever Meradat went eventually someone from the more conservative parts of the The Ecclesiastes’ administration would arrive and demand a report on just what Custodian Meradat had been up to now