[Imagine spending a day dithering about whether you are doing the right thing or not. Yep! Just me and few hundred thousand bloggers. Taking comfort from that thought I put out before you, the world the opening chapters Of Patchwork Warriors for your examination, evaluation and hopefully entertainment. So feel to set free your inner critic, editor and pundit. This is something of a co-operative venture, and you may well be playing a part in turning something ‘sorta good’ into a ‘quite good’. As an anarchic writer and a retired civil servant I have no worry about constructive criticism, requests for clarification and WTF! enquiries, so feel free folks; this is WP, we’re all good here]
Title: Of Patchwork Warrior (Being Volume I of the Precipice Dominions)
The truth of the tales was naturally lost to the World Physical; The Lord God’s Jewel and thus in common with many things became legends, foundations for sayings or arguments for one point or another.
And those so charged with stability of the Day would argue, with some justification that stability had been hard fought for. They would say the age of these legends had been one of dangerous foolhardiness. In those times too many had thought they controlled forces which some had claimed had no business being in the World Physical; The Lord God’s Jewel. The forces collectively and frivolously called The Ethereal. Those, championing stability would maintain the earlier era had been a time of too much superficiality about the handling of crises and portents. There had been too much tolerance. Even in the light of evidence a’ plenty from far distant times. But too many would not learn the lessons or even bothered to listen in what became known as The Age of Conceits.
The result had led to, it was preached to The Age of Retributions; the times when the very existence of Humanity had once more been in doubt. Not just because of the dreadful angers of Nature’s weathers, but from creatures. Creatures of many shapes and diverse cunnings, some native to that blighted Ethereal, others once Humanity contorted by its influence. But it was preached, that by faith diligent, courage forbearance and casting off these blighted forces survival had been earned; with no help from any legendary figures, it was said.
Thus, the aftermath of The Age of Retributions was The Present proclaimed The Age of Remorse. People were now taught ever to be mindful of the path which had nearly led to destruction. They were warned there would be no thinking of legendary figures with fond regard, there would be no wallowing in nostalgia for a time of folly. There would be no talk of the vague, treacherous and unnatural blight, The Ethereal, now known as The Stommigheid. Taken from an ancient northern coastal tongue it translates into Foolishness, a suitable description The Authorities thought The word held enough of the ominous into its pronunciation with its mean again to remind people that the legends had been based on actions of irresponsible and careless folk.
This was thus how matters should have been in this Age of Remorse.
Save for the constants. The First being that ordinary folk will always be inclined to be fond of tales of yore, this being reinforced by the whispered disregard for the Authorities, which as always did not set a consistently good example. The Second constant, there will always be those who ask difficult questions and seek out means for answers. And the unpleasant Third constant, which is there are always those who will use any means to gain power or advantage; some out of ignorance, others being gamblers, some calculators and always those of twisted perspectives.
Which brought about the unfortunate comedy that those responsible for the maintenance of the Empire had to make exceptions to rules by using whatever means they could, believing in the adage I Know Best.
And, of course amongst all this convolution were those who romanced with The Past. Those who yearned for a brighter future having believed they had learnt lessons from past mistakes.
In short, these rules, laws and conventions only worked for those who had no knowledge of, nor wished to be involved with The Ethereal or Stommigheid in the first place.
Acerbically inclined commentators would shake their heads and draw the conclusion that in truth nothing in all of Humanity’s long and turbulent history had really changed.
This might be so. But no comfort to those who simply measured and observed feared the barriers between the realms finally become so fragile? There could finally be the often-predicted rupture allowing the true agents of annihilation to have their sport. Had Humanity finally run out of Last Chances?
In turn this occupied the few who studied the phenomena of folk who did not intend to become caught up in events anyway.
The kind whose natures gave them no say in the matter.
“Yeh, well that’s one way of looking at it I suppose. I had the benefit of being there, right at the centre of it all, as it happened. This Age of Conceits and the Remorse one, because they were both mixed up anyway. So, things appear a little bit different to me. But there again time goes on and folk record and suppose events in way and means which they find more comfortable, so I shouldn’t really judge them. After all they’ve been the ones who survived all that and still kept the old Oakhostian running. Good for them.
Now I won’t be giving you my name, nor will I pop up in the tale with quips, quotes or observations, my time on the stage is over and very happy to say so. My role here is to give you a sort of outline, an opinion on how histories can be made.
These Ages. Well our portion was a bit frantic and loud, if you like. And some made a lot of us out to be heroes and important. Then others claim we were grand villains and maybe they have some sort of point, on account of us not having the good sense to get out of the way, nor keep our mouths shut. You might read something about us and those journals our antics were recorded in. Have to tell you, it wasn’t all fun and frolics like those books told it. Why they were written that way I couldn’t tell you, me being classified as dead at the time.
You should know though, histories don’t always work out with Heroes or Grand Villains being the same from start to finish. There’s always constant conflict while lots of little folk run about the place trying to keep up with the Big Folk, or trying not to get stepped on.
Sometimes it all starts off with accidents and maybe small folk getting caught up, then trying to do the best they can. Maybe there are some who knows what going on, but since they are way down the chain of authority they are only doing the routine work, to begin with. Then you get The Chancers, the ones who are hoping for the quick way up the mountain of Success, mix them with those looking only to make coin anywhere anyhow and of course the obligatory idiots who think they have stumbled on the secrets or forbidden knowledge and you have a poisonous problem.
All of this can fester along on its own odd little way before it comes to the attention of those who reckon themselves powerful and in authority, which means you have a bit of a crisis and they have to play catch up.
This tale starts in a sort similar style. Ordinary folk becoming not so ordinary up against a bunch of Chancers, while in the background those with responsibility began to make their moves hoping to keep out those with authority but also the ability to make a complete mess out if. A slow start, on the Heroic scale if you know what I mean. Some of it might even be funny.
Naturally, nothing goes according to anyone’s plans.
Translator Pastoral Padragh ClnMyla stepped carefully but with a swiftness born of keeping the Good Lord God’s Wisdom alive in many a mucky urban setting. Although truth be known the shabby town of Yermetz presented quite a challenge in that particular ranking. There were schemes to make the place an official city, albeit a small one with the civic and legal benefits such a status brought. It was unlikely any these benefits would filter down the very poor. They would do whatever they had to in order to survive. And thus, as usual neither end of the social ladder paid much attention to the spirit of the words of the Holy Books. So, you did the best you could, you and your three hapless translators.
This particular street had seen better days, once a place where folk who had done well for themselves had resided. Then, as was the way fortunes declined, so did the folk. The makers of new ones had other preferences and the street was now one of decaying buildings, whose rooms had become a collection of individual ragged homes, forlorn fragile businesses, failed ambitions and of course a location where folk who did not wish to be known went about their ways furtively.
The house on the corner was in a particularly sorry way. The windows of all three upper floors, a series of broken glassed, rotting window framed dead eyes, empty of any lights. Only from the ground floor did the faint flickerings of candles indicate some measure of habitation. Translator Pastoral ClnMyla glanced up to the sagging roof, wondering if one hard knock at the door might cause a structural collapse. But the brief worry was dispelled as the door opened and a thick set form stepped out onto the muddied walkway.
“It’s a great relief to see you Mentor,” the man’s voice rough by harsh urban life was low all the same, one firm scarred hand moving about the translator’s shoulder to usher him inside while the other quietly closed the door.
“Harrdel man, you should be investing in more candle light hereabouts. This gloom is not good for the soul, mind nor body,” ClnMyla set one knowing eye on the man “Particularly with your employer’s vocation. Now I suppose, it would be hoping too much to assume he has seen the folly of his way is awaiting me to remit him of his transgressions and beg me to teach him how to enter into a devout and sensible life,”
Harrdel shook his head, a grimace visible beneath his long rich moustache, one end of which he tugged nervously.
“Wish it was Mentor, but he’s really done it this time. Just like you warned. He did give way to curiosity and looked too deep for too long,”
“Oh Merciful Divinity! He’s not gone and hung himself now has he? Or is he rolled up in a ball in some corner drooling away?”
Harrdel shook his head again and threw his hands up in helplessness, gestured and the Translator Pastoral followed him down the damp hallway.
“I daresays Mentor you would be able to do something about either, but I reckon this is worse. He’s took flight, and not out the door neither. I was across the hallway trying to work out what sort of meal I could make out of the scraps we’ve got. Firstly, I heard a lot of crashing about, and was about to get set to go and see what was what when there came, well, just like a big hand slapping on wood; not the sort of sound he’s capable of. That was when the few of the plates I’ve not had to sell fell off of the shelf. That did it, I dashed over. Had to unlock the door. And this was the shocker. There was no one there. Chair knocked over, his papers all about the place, as if he had finally decided to prise the wooden bars off of his window and leap out. Save that they’re still in place,” Harrdel stopped at one door “Well, see for yourself,”
One lamp and three resolute candles revealed a long bench upon and about which was a vista of debris; wood, metal, glass, and a scattering of minor gems of various hues. Cast aside from the scene was the instrument of destruction, a large, crude hammer. The translator whistled in low surprise.
“Bleymore did this? It looks more like the sort of thing one of my brothers-in-faith from The Custodian’s Office would have been inclined to indulge in,”
“It was him,” Harrdel said and handed over a piece of paper, writing in a hasty and scribbled way, ClnMyla squinted in the gloom, tutted set down the lamp and paper on a clear part of the table.
“The dwellers from the impossible lands of The Zerstorung are making ready to take advantage of the folly of the incautious. But they have seen me, so there is no waiting, flight is all important, alarms must be raised. Burn down the building, lest they try and make this a pathway. Make common cause with everyone and anyone. The dwellers in The Fourth Realm and their Lords cannot be stopped, only fought,”
The translator pulled a face and tapped the note against his teeth.
“The poor fellow must have reckoned he’d seen something dire and if you heard no sound of running then he must have fled using one of those fearful devices his sort are always fooling about with. Though The Good Lord God knows what, or for that matter where?”
He had been hopeful Harrdel might have had a suggestion, but instead there was another shrug.
He’d had Harrdel keeping a close watch on this Bleymore ever since the servant had visited ClnMyla on a similar drizzle invested night, to give voice to his troubles and concerns over his employer’s activities. Harrdel’s past had been not uncommonly criminal, typical of this town’s poor but he had of recent times being trying to make recompense and thus an honest life; a certain determined widow being the cause.
Initially the newcomer’s activities involving the Stommigheid had appeared to be relatively passive. Just a simple observer, inquisitive; of course even these acts were not officially tolerated; hence the typical reclusive and furtive habits. Just why Bleymore trusted Harrdel to be around was a bit of a mystery, ClnMyla put it down to the ‘Ways of Folk’.
The Translator Pastoral had initially seen no need to intrude. Learn more about the fellow first.
And now hindsight was having its usual judgemental time. Just what the had the poor soul seen, or worse done.
Now was that his imagination that scuttling which seemed a bit too heavy for rats? Or maybe just a very large rat??
“We’d best get out of here. It looks like your tenure of employment would be over, but don’t you go fretting. The way things seem I’m going to be needing my own set of strong shoulders at the Pastoral Residence, so you can be off to that dependable Widow Darroe and tell her you have a most upright job and a good home for her, and we’ll get poor old translator Goodbee to marry you up; be giving him something placid to do,”
Harrdel didn’t have much chance to voice an immediate opinion, it was ClnMyla’s turn to usher him.
Out and straight away.
This house would be best not occupied. You couldn’t truly be sure if anything had crept through and was now making a nest in the place. Thus, there was no way out of it, this was now Custodians’ business and he was the one to be breaking the news.
“Oh, you’re in for a stern lecture my lad,” the Translator Pastoral said to himself.
Two nights later Translator Pastoral ClnMyla was soothing the nerves of the town’s three indentured translators; men who had probably started out life meaning well but had in one way or another made too many accommodations while trying to make living in a place like Yermetz bearable. Being summoned to the Translator Pastoral’s abode was worrisome enough, having the additional information that it was at the behest of a Custodian had resulted in a communal air not dissimilar to three very scared rabbits, each making excuses or credible reasons for things. they had done. Some of these he’d had no previous knowledge of, but resolved to keep as note as the details might prove useful as leverage in later times.
“Now my brothers-in-faith. You must not be vexing yourselves so. Yes, the presence of a Custodian of the Word of The Lord God can be a measure troubling even to the most innocent of souls, but he is here on far more important business than a few,” slight cough “Relatively minor transgression in the moral fibre of the local clergy,”
His assurances were not given time to even fall on figurative ground when the door was flying open and there stood a tall, solid man whose heavy featured scowl was made all the more impressive by his mane of steel grey hair and matching eyes. ClnMyla sighed, he was used to the man, but for weak folk with troubled consciences…
“Ah brothers-in-faith. Allow me to introduced Custodian-“
“Meradat,” the man intoned casting disapproval in all directions “You are the first line in defence of the Lord God’s Word, but because my presence here is necessary, you are found wanting,”
The three men’s countenances at once changed from variations on the state of trepidation to a shared misery beyond measure which stifled their abilities to even stutter excuses. As ClnMyla expected Meradat was perversely and grimly satisfied by this woeful sight.
“Hmmph! The sin of incompetency in The Ecclesiastes is a dangerous as any. It says much that I have to find useful information from the Translator Pastoral’s humble and contrite servant!”
ClnMyla knew for a fact Meradat always asked servants first. They replied out of respect, faith, terror or the urge to find redress after a wrong upon themselves. In Harrdel’s case that would be a bit of the first, some of the second and certainly the fourth; not the third though.
But before the custodian could further indulge his hobby of making translators miserable Harrdel appeared in the hallway, not caring to stand on any ceremony.
“Just got news honoured mentors! That house is on fire!!”
Ignoring the nonplussed three translators, the custodian glowered in general, ClnMyla grabbed at his nearby cape, told Harrdel to be giving the three brothers-in-faith something warm for the night and suggested to Meradat he should firstly step aside and then follow on account of not knowing the way.
This did not last, soon Meradat was striding ahead instinctively drawn towards trouble.
“Brother ClnMyla I detect yet again a failure in that soft approach of yours, otherwise you would not have resorted to contacting me by this,” the custodian pulled from his pocket the hexagonal thumb-nail thick hand sized metal object with one dark green gem at its centre “Thing!” he enunciated the word with his customary distain, not happy with the Custodian’s Office compromise in using such devices for urgent contact over distance. “Indulgences in the dealings with human frailties will be your downfall!”
“There you go exaggerating again! Is this not but the first time in two years, three lunations and six days that I’ve called you up on the chunky… Thing!, Is it not so? How would it be if I was to be troubling you dogged fellows every time something difficult turned up?”
Meradat grunted, the Translator Pastoral was a master at sounding reasonable and it was a sad fact that custodians were spread very thin these days. Far too many involved in or watching the myriad intrigues within the Oakhostian Empire; far too much attention to internal politics and not enough upon true sins and blasphemies resulting from vain or malicious dalliances with The Stommigheid. Small wonder his reports were never answered or he was conveniently despatched to the more obscure concerns of the empire.
Taking in Meradat’s silence ClnMyla did not labour the point, anyway he was observing the spectacle of furtive figures who upon seeing the custodian’s forbidding outline vanishing in a scampering of feet.
“By the way Meradat, did you take the trouble to officially announce your presence?”
“I have no time to waste on miserable town officials with their ditherings and fawnings!”
“So what did you tell the town watch at the gates?”
“They did not care to challenge me,”
“No, they being used to harmless local farmers and traders. Or influential Local Interests. Your customary arrival must have been quite a shock to their sensibilities,”
But then it was time to break into a trot because the custodian was picking up his pace as the smell of burning tar and wood stung the throat. As they drew closer the initial far off glow turned into the livid hues of orange and yellow bloom of fire at work. They cleared a corner and there the building ClnMyla had visited was host to a roaring column of flame; its brood of sparks dancing up defying the drizzle, the windows once empty sockets now were portals from which fire in perverse parody of waterfalls flowed upwards.
“Would you look at that! And it starting in such a damp house too,”
“Yes,” the custodian replied teasing the word out “It was what I was planning on having done,”
“That’s all well and good for a Custodian. You come in like an invading army, then leave the poor Translator Pastoral to deal with all the outrages. Which only start, I might add, after you’re safely out of hearing,”
He shook his head at the chaotic but not very energetic attempts by a few folks with buckets.
“There would be more cries of outrage if anything had seeped out of that abode of stupidity,” the custodian retorted, naturally by way of a rebuke
Meradat paused, studying the sight “Damp you say? Then what brought cleansing flame upon this blighted place?”
“That would be me! Doing’ good works!!”
Both men executed swift turns, and promptly lost some dignity by bumping into each other, but once composed observed in these now flickering shadows a lean figure standing at their full, slightly less than ordinary height, eyes sparkling in the blaze, a bright wide smile across their narrow face.
“Oh,” they sighed “An’t burning wickedness a glorious deed and no mistake,”
There was no doubt about it, despite the ragged collection of jack, shirts trousers and boots, by the tenor of the voice, the softness of features and the long dark eye lashes this was a woman, possibly a young one; leaning against the wall arms folded.
ClnMyla was first to the conversation, he did not want Meradat causing this possibly unusual person to go all skittish and run.
“Pardon me for appearing slow. But would you be after claiming the responsibility for this conflagration?”
This caused the person to rise from their slouch and frown, arms unfolding and straying down to their sides.
“Just said that didn’t I?” they leant forward light from the blaze revealing a long face teeth slightly barred “I set fire to that nasty place. Just like I’ve done before!!
Closer inspection revealed soot stains upon her face, hands and clothing and a stronger cloying aroma of smoke than you would expect from a simple background conflagration. ClynMyla felt there may be something to her claim.
“So you’d be making a career of this then?”
“Yer!” she waved a hand at them “Like you holies, it’s my vo-err-voc—“
“Vocation,” intoned Meradat, she nodded in response “And by your accent am I correct to assume that you have journeyed northwards all the way from the Blaggatinian peninsula, burning down places along the way?”
“S’right. Right up from Elinid,” she spat, quite profusely, narrowly missing clerical shoes “Rot-it-to the Fifth-Hell,” a pause to scratch their scalp “I’ll go back there one day an’ burn the whole damn place down!”
Meradat was normally a man given to action, either physical or verbal on the basis that assault took the foe off of their guard, however this person presented a collection questions which he felt, just this time, might be better dealt by his colleague. ClnMyla was of course all for talking.
“Well, Miss, I take it, it is Miss,” the arrival nodded, sniffed and followed it up by a wiping of nose on sleeve, which he took as a perverse sort of defiance at being identified as a girl. “Just what would be bringing you on such a task?”
The girl raised her head, a thin smile about her face.
“I can smell nasty business I can,” a quick shrug “Not the robbing and cheating sorts, but that dirty creepin’ whychie stuff, the stormihiggle,”
“Stommigheid,” Meradat corrected and being only able to restrain himself from interrogation or accusation for very short interludes, loomed in asking “And just how do you burn things?”
ClnMyla winced, one odd answer here and the girl could be on the wrong end of an official Stommigheidate accusation. She swung out a small sack, previously hanging from the back of her belt.
“I got all I needs in here. All the natural stuff that will burn anywhere and anyhow. I can set fire to a riverbank if I fancies!”
After a hasty glance to Meradat, ClnMyla put on his most disarming smile.
“This scenting of things?” and he let the question deliberately hang there, letting her have her say.
“I just do. It’s a gift and I makes the best use of it. Soon as I got the chance to get out of the sproggle hole Elinid and into the open where I could think and smell straight, it all became very clear, an’ since then,” she shrugged, then looked back to the fire, losing herself in the sight, one hand idly tugging at her shirt.
ClnMyla moved between her and the flames, his smile determinedly fixed in a kindly manner, time to calm her down and learn more about the wheres and the whys.
“Well this is good news to our stretched and tired hearts. Another to the fight. My new cook, she’s fine at her calling and a most devout lady, will be only too glad to prepare you a decent meal and a hot brew. Would you care to accept the invitation?”
At the mention of food there was a low gurgling noise from the girl’s midriff and a swift lick of her lips, although her expression was guarded.
“No funny-bunny business?” she asked, eye narrowing “No having me take off all my clothes to check for sinful marks? No creeping up to me at night with your trousers off an’ nightshirt up?”
ClnMyla was fair certain Meradat’s nasal inhalation and exhalation of outrage had caused two attendant drafts. These being a precursor to a combination of tirade and apology against the ways of lax, unworthy and thrice-wretched members of The Ecclesiastes and how he had dealt with those he had apprehended.
“Ah, now you’ve started him off,” explained ClnMyla “He’ll be going on about his colourful notions on how to cleanse our wayward brothers-in-faith and what’s wrong with the ruling councils. This will likely be the background to the short journey to my abode and that decent meal I assured you of. For certain of the Good Lord God you’re looking as if you need one,”
The girl considered her feet.
“Yer, I’ll chance it,”
“Grand! I’m Translator Pastoral ClnMyla, that fellow with the endless vocal chords is Custodian Meradat, and you’d be calling yourself?”
“Karlyn, Karlyn Nahtinee,”
Before ClnMyla could comment on that, the blazing roof fell in, Meradat announced that there was no more to do done here and Karlyn Nahtinee was shepherded away.
The translator pastoral was interested to recognise in his associate concern as opposed to the usual custodianal displeasure. Firstly, on returning Meradat had merely dismissed the three translators with a curt statement that they had work to do amongst their communities, so they were obliged to leave the light supper and scuttle out into the night. Secondly, he had been quite willing for Widow Darroe to see the girl into the kitchen and had not even bothered to ask ClnMyla if the arrangement between Widow Darroe and Servant Harrdel was a ‘correct one’. Instead he had ushered the translator pastoral into the man’s own reading room, where he at least allowed ClnMyla to sit down before he started.
“Let us ignore your previous mistakes in this matter,” Meradat did not wait for any agreement “And look at the issues to hand. We have a man who in his vanity has peered into places far beyond his capacity to handle, thus panicked and fled. Then, appears a strange young woman claiming an ability to trace such practices. The initial evidence suggests her close affinity to fire,” ClnMyla had to agree with that! “This affinity itself raises issues which will need to be addressed as will her other claim to burn places at her whim,” at this juncture he stopped appearing to have argued himself into a corner; thus, he paced, hands firmly clasped behind his back. Not being one to dwell too long on an incident the custodian stopped at the window and starred out into the damp and dirty night.
“So, if she is as she claims, although the risks are great and the weaponry to be handled very carefully there is no doubt that The Lord God has delivered unto me the means to do battle,”
Problems and issues assailed ClnMyla. Still out of breath he only half-rose
“Now Meradat my long-time associate in perils! You’ll not be thinking of taking that possibly unhinged young girl on one of your steely and messy jaunts? Sweet Mercy of The Good Lord God! For all we know she might be a little runaway dreamer who latches onto any event and claims it for her own doings. I’ll even wager she believes she can hold conversations with flowers and the more pleasant of insects,” ClnMyla felt inclined to add a warning to the next part “And how can you be certain she’s not been sent to discredit you? You’re not the most popular of fellows amongst your ranks, upsetting your superiors and equals with your assertions of corruption, nepotism and laziness. You’ve seen off five assassination attempts to my knowledge. So, they try discrediting. What could be worse than a middle-aged experienced custodian being made a fool of by a waif of a girl. It’s happened before, mind you from what I be hearing those were for more natural reasons,”
The face drew taught and flint sharp, winter grey eyes became hooded.
“I am aware of all their potential tricks. And I have already started to observe the girl,”
observe the girl….
ClnMyla knew that as far as Meradat was concerned there was the end of this part of the argument. The man fought his war on more than one front. And ClnMyla had to admit Meradat really did have a certain perception for these Stommigheid matters. Meanwhile the custodian was continuing.
“Let’s return to whatever that fool saw. Did his dabbling offer a pathway to those from The Zerstorung who would destroy this world and replace it will a Hell? This is one in a line of recent indications I have encountered” he settled into very grave expression. “Ideal for some clutch of degenerates daring to move beyond their own debauched covens. And yet although the Stommigheid is a bane, it is capricious in its unpredictable tydes and tempests, thus the girl could well have been swept here for a purpose. I must speak with her now. You may rest,”
‘Meradat can be fearfully accurate in his summations… the man has been walking very strange paths for many years, experiencing the most peculiar of information and experiences. I don’t know! I’ll have enough to do with the authorities and gangs being a nervy as frogs about a fire; and neither being responsible, while suspecting each other. I think this role is getting to be more than one man’s work; pastoral indeed! Mind you he has a point; it will do no harm to be resting my eyes for just a fifty or so….
Meradat watched the man drift into a doze. For all his imperfect inclinations to Compassion and Tolerance ClnMyla was as best as could be hoped for in a declining Ecclesiastes. You could never predict the allies and soldiers The Lord God would send in ongoing struggle by The Fourth Realm to once more attempt to absorb the World Physical into its maw.
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, briefly scratching her short brown hair.
And a full mouth.
“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; but the girl seemed most casual.
“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 trying to weave, worms or scuttle their ways out of the Justice The Lord God. This young woman did not seem the least bit troubled by his office, which was as interesting as it was refreshing. “So, are you ready to work for The Lord God?”
“Yumpf,” stew again.
That was quite emphatic; just the style you’d expect from the rare irreverent yet direct sort. He continued, while observing, carefully. It was interesting that although she consumed her meal with all the speed and indelicacy of a beast of prey, she did so with a grace.
While maintaining a casual composure, as if being interviewed by a custodian was a mere commonplace. He pressed on.
“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, ‘e has. Maybe a hundred miles,”
Meradat stared at her for a long time, she did not flinch, she just stared back, of course alternating with considerations of the stew.
The continuing composure. The unblinking look, 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 in the form of a duet, one voice deep and sonorous counterpointed by high, rapid clipped interruptions 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 alert so as to judge what had passed between them. At least he might have been able to have an influence on their manner of departure. With the years of practice of being a translator at the beck and call of his congregation he unfolded out of his chair, the sliver of pale light at the top of the curtains suggesting a damp early spring dawn was arriving.
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 Meradat being particularly dependable in this practice. 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 gather collective courage stoked by ill-humour through the excitement of not sleeping. Enough of the volatile to mix to brew a brittle 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 mob. 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 but I would be the one left 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 his princedom 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 door of the abode swung inwards and there in the lamplight 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 theatricality 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 “A 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. His, a large roan was naturally waiting patiently.
“You’re all gonna burn!!” she chanted and pointed randomly at folk squeaking ‘’Specially you!”
And from some place in her jack brought out wood the size of a toothpick but for the small blue bulbous end, against which she scratched her thumb, then flicked the now flaring object towards the crowd. Naturally there was panic, there were howls, and there were ructions. There was the girl’s high-pitched giggle. ClnMyla made a brief but very strong request for divine intercession, thoughts of which were distracted by the sight of Meradat’s expression which instead of the expected rage was one of serious assessment.
Meradat’s air of apartment detachment did not stop him picking her up and slinging her over the saddle of a fatalistic mount.
“Cease your blasphemous babbling!” he warned as he tied her hands and legs. ClnMyla had known him previously put more venom and threat into such words. On this occasion and by his standards Meradat sounded almost conversational, while the girl undeterred by the chaos and treatment appeared to be indulging in her role.
“Can’t stop me!” she trilled very off-key
“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. This done he set up upon his own mount and grasped the reins of the other, it was time to leave. To the crowd his seeming prompt action had turned the tide and so 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. But Meradat did not care to rely on the emotional goodwill of even such a small number.
Thus did Custodian Meradat ride off into the paling end of a damp night 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.
But at least she’d verified one of her claims.
She had something of an affinity with fire.
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 that be the end of it? Was there ever an end where the Stommigheid was involved? Would this be an event similar to those not unusual in Yermetz; the slamming of a door in a decayed building; part of the wall would fall, a crack would appear it the rest causing a rotten timber to give way, resulting in part of the floor falling in, making a wall sag, and so on until finally the whole rickety mess came crashing down?
And someone told me that if ‘you are going to do something like this then add….’
The right of R L Jacob (as R J Llewellyn)to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988.
I said ‘no kidding?’
And he said, ‘Of course, it makes you look, that for once in your writing career you’re being serious about the whole thing. Personally I doubt that, but one feels one has done one’s best,’
I’m not sending him a Christmas Card this year.