Of Patchwork Warriors Part 7

This is where Trelli gets seriously involved. The phrases and ‘book’ titles are taken from a previously unsuccessful trilogy (The Nearly Not Quite Paladins) based in the past of the same world (Someday I’ll get around to converting them on Kindle as free-books, just for reference purposes)….

CHAPTER NINETEEN

‘Your latest assessment lieutenant?’

Bleymore was not really sure if Captain Dekyria was being sympathetically serious or gently mocking; there again Bleymore had to admit to himself he might have been putting too much thought into the statement, and so resolved to answer questions in the literal.

‘The message confirms that the file encountered an intrusion from the Zerstorung, but dealt with it. The beings which came through must have been very minor creatures to be despatched so quickly. The opening would therefore have been one which was made by either some rare natural event, or by the unforeseen consequences of someone’s action. Based on our previous information, it has to be the latter. The town of Prendaelyn would still be the most likely source,’

Dekyria stopped watching the swirl of foam on his coffee.

‘Thank you Lieutenant Bleymore. Now what about this custodian and his rather odd assistant? Medician Beritt is very particular about mentioning her. She seems to have some sort of unusual ability. Any chance of that pair being targeted by someone or something which sent those creatures?’

‘If this custodian is of the sort that hunts down Jordisk he’d have gained an affinity with Ethereal tydes and the girl seems to have her linkage. It is possible they may have attracted some sort of unwarranted attention,’ he shuddered ‘I consider myself very fortunate,’ he turned attention back to the oculator and the display of patterns ‘Some might say the arrival Sergeant Erzns’ file was most fortunate. There again there might be those who would argue they were drawn to it. Medician Beritt’s work with that lighter type is quite good for a novice,’ he pulled a face ‘Even intuitive,’

With each part of his explanation Bleymore watched Dekyria’s casual expression turn more thoughtful, calculating and grave. Beritt said she had targeted the incursion through the oculartragen, which was essentially a communication device but with the simple addition to keep track of an already aligned goal. It was not supposed to have its own ability to pick up random events.

But, for the present keep that idea to the background and let Bleymore gain in confidence.

‘You’re good lieutenant. Very good,’ Dekyria gestured with his coffee ‘And, let’s not forget you did the self-same thing,’ leaning on his chair he stood up, expectant faces regarding him ‘There’s a war coming guardsmen. Expect the worse and it won’t be so bad,’

 

Trelli was starting to yearn for easier times when her Ghitanixday afternoons were little interludes when she could just be herself and sometimes lazy. She  now accepted this  had been chipped away since Migran had got her all tangled up with firstly his financial doings and now here she was in his room, sitting at this desk, looking at that nasty mirror, and him carrying like it was all quite right and proper. And why had she been such a ninny and let him talk her into this? This wasn’t excitement jiggling her tummy, no! This was being scared silly! And how had he talked her into this bit of nonsense!

‘What am I supposed to do?’ she demanded

‘Nothing Trelli,’ was his anxious reply ‘I just want you to see how wondrous The Ethereal can be,’ and his hands moved across the jewels bringing the pale misty dawn light.

‘That looks ghostly,’ she complained.

‘No, let me explain. You see. There came upon the world upon a thousand years ago a new force which enabled folk to do things which had only been dreamed off,’

‘And The World nearly got destroyed,’

‘Yes, there were mistakes, but that was due to foolishness. Look! You do want to know, don’t you?’

‘I don’t think I do,’

‘Oh don’t be so soppy! Look at these jewels! These are selected for their empathy with the Ethereal! They draw its elements from the very air and channel them through these delicate wires into the….’

‘Funny looking box with a scary mirror. Something will loom out of it,’ she shuffled nervously, then flinched when Migran tried to pat her knee, he had meant to reassure her, not one of his better qualities.

‘No,’ he tried his idea of a calm authoritative voice, it came out peevish. ‘Look, watch this,’ and despite her whimper of apprehension began to tap out a pattern upon the jewels ‘You see, each impact or combinations of impacts has a certain resonance which sends out a message to the central hub within the box, which in turn generates an empathy with the Ethereal. I’ll show you,’ he turned to smile, hopefully at her, finding her wide-eyed attention upon the screen.

‘S-something’s writing something!’

Migran swung about in his chair; he was used to images, currently random sounds and if you were very careful small boxes of packaged script as if a horizontal shaped page, but here was lettering in imperial classics.

Traces of Integrity,’ it read

‘That’s new. It’s not in a box!’ he said, mostly to himself.

‘I saw that being written like someone had an invisible pen!’ Trelli was all for accusing ‘Stop it now! ‘Fore it tells us blasphemies!!’

Other letters began to form rapidly, Trelli tried not to be transfixed; this was all supposed to be wrong, and she knew it, but still it was….

More letter followed

Be this thine own Evermore,’

Trelli chewed upon her knuckles and began to recite prayers begging The Good Lord God to forgive this his foolish and wayward child, Migran sat back gave out with a gasp of delight and clapped his hands.

Seek Truth in The Number Where There Are None,’

The screen faded as Migran squeaked in delight and did his own version of chewing on digits and then cried ‘Oh Trelli. Oh Trelli. Oh Trelli,’

‘Yes, I’m here. All three of me,’ fear being replaced sarcasm.

‘Don’t you realise?’ well obviously she wouldn’t but he was beyond sense ‘They were quotes from The Paladinic!! The most wonderful collection of works of those years before the Ages of Retributions!! That was a message of encouragement! A signal that all my years of effort have not been in vain!! Plain text! Not code!!’

Once more Trelli did not have any notion as to what he was talking about. Except that he was going on about books that sounded odd and if they sounded odd, then there was a horrid chance they also might be forbidden. And if this kept on she would end being questioned by a custodian!

She was going to voice her fears when Migran began to dither about with the lowest of the three drawers on the right side of his desk, doing that stupid tapping, this time on three dull looking brass screws, at which point the draw flew open, and he swiftly pulled out a volume old and battered through use, waving the thing in her face.

She managed to make an odd title of ‘A Perplexing Tendency to Persist’

‘This is how I started Trelli! Three years ago, when father made a speculative purchase of some woebegone lord’s library and I found this amongst volumes on the husbandry of vegetables!’

He could not understand why she was so repelled by this revelation. Obviously, she did not seem to understand the simple statement that this seemingly amusing and quirky tale was actually made of two layers. Firstly, part of an account of folk legendary within the realms of the Jordisk, but more important a coded guide on how you could build one of those oculators.

Trelli wrinkled her threatened nose, she was sure there was an oily smell coming out of the pages and wished he would put the blasted thing back in the drawer. Then something struck her.

‘How did you know it was a code? I mean if you hadn’t seen it before. Aren’t codes complicated?’

His grin was something she reckoned those gervalons went in for at their blasphemous ceremonies before they sacrificed small furry animals, not that she’d actually seen one, but there were stories.

‘Because it all becomes clear when you read it with an open mind!’

This was the limit of her forbearance. A new and sudden determination gripped her for she could feel something whispering to her. Temptation! She would fight back!  She leapt up, hands to her ears, and a new string of prayers for protection from The Evils of The Lascivious and The Perils of the Retributions, then gathering all of her determination and with finger pointing stormed.

‘Dangerous! Blasphemous! I’ll give you just one day to destroy all of this! And burn it, or I’m going tell your parents!!’

Migran shot up, still waving the book, Trelli with a mix of fear and rage swatted it out his grasp, and with teeth clenched dashed towards the volume, snatching it up, making to tear it apart. Migran in turn howled and leapt at her, the impact sending them both onto the bed, which thus avoided any concussions so allowing Trelli the chance to hit him several times with the said volume. His cries for her to stay calm being of no use, as she was given vent to strong pleas for the forces of Goodness and Purity to envelop them.

The discordant duet and rather comic struggle was abruptly brought suddenly to a halt.

As Trelli’s hands began to glow with hues shifting between red and blue.

The brief interlude of shared wide-eyed open mouthed silence was broken by the cries of dismay from Trelli.

 

CHAPTER   TWENTY

 

Merthyl’s urge for retribution was gradually replacing the shock, pain and humiliation dealt to him by a custodian and some savage she-wolf this was all very humiliating, not something he would want known. Nor did he want to be reminded of the last time something similar had happened to him.

 

Nearly two years ago. The first day Silc had been allowed access to the Council’s Manse; ‘allowed’ being also to flexible interpretations; some might have thought ‘friendly demand’ would have been a more accurate term.

Merthyl had spied the large, slow gaited fellow dressed in rather comically common dark browns and greens, thinning greasy hair and dull eyes moving with an animalistic wariness. The young noble had waited until the fellow was out of sight of guards, fussy servants, nervous acolytes and of course Council Members. Merthyl knew all the corners, alcoves, short passageways to small unpleasant rooms. He’d stepped smartly out of one such passageway, blocking Silc.

‘Ah. You must be The New Money,’ he had drawled a supercilious grin sliding across his face. ‘How fortunate for you,’

Silc had looked down at him. Apparently curious.

‘I make my way,’ came the laconic reply, the manner had at once bothered Merthyl who them pressed home, and resting on the hilt of his sword.

‘I am Lord Merthyl,’ Merthyl  had announced, intent upon imposing his air of menace ‘And I bring,’ he had had to step up slightly to reach Silc’s face to breathe out the next word ‘Fear,’

He’d just let loose the end of the word, when a large left arm had shot out, striking against his throat, forcing him back against the wall, knocking out his breath with the pain of the impact, itself accompanied by a stab of agony as a large ugly ring upon the right fist punched into his right wrist, numbing the hand. The left arm had risen drawing his face level with Silc’s. The eyes now glinted with a knowing power, as Silc’s face drew close to his, with its own smile, one of threatening confidence.

‘I daresay that little act impresses the weak, the helpless, and the stupid,’ the voice was low, each phrase a stab of authority ‘Sunshine,’ it had taken about a Five for Merthyl to realise that Silc was addressing him with that term ‘But if I was to drop you and that bunch of snivelling wobblers that follow you about in MY streets; by the end of the day you’ll all end up as gutter leavings, or on the Sanded Lands slave ships as sacrifice fodder or trainee jolly boys,’ the smile had turned into a hard thin line ‘Now. You do what you do. I’ll do what I do. But don’t you get in my way,’ the smile had returned ‘And everything will be roses,’ and faded,’ Understand?’

Merthyl still shocked and finding breath hard to come by had just nodded.

‘Good,’ Silc’d released his grip, stepping back ‘Oh an’ by the way. If you are thinking about trying to bring some revenge to soothe your hurt feelings, let me warn you this. If anything happens to me. Well, there’s this list of folk I’ve had uncomfortable dealings with. My people will hunt them all down. My people are quite a few. Very persistent, with long reaches. I would do the same for My People. It’s how we work. Loyalty and Respect.  It might take a decan. It might take a year or ten. But they will be found and when they are finally delivered to The Fifth Hell, it will seem like a welcome relief. I put you on that list first news I heard of you,’

With that he had stepped forward, pushed past Merthyl and had not looked back, only to call out ‘See you at the Council meeting,’

 

Merthyl had been telling himself since, the meeting had been ‘interesting’. It had been a case of ‘Forewarned is Forearmed,’ He had vowed he would make the oaf pay, one day.

And the loss of his creatures had scraped red raw that barely healed wound.

One modest salve and part of his own plan was his endeavours to nurture an affable relationship with The Helmsman, let Belacheli fuss and get in the way with his hysterics and Karutorm could carry on as if the man was in the Grand Duke’s army. Merthyl simply turned up from time to time, asking intelligent questions in an interested and respectful tone. It did not do to make nervous a man charged with a delicate balancing act. And so naturally the man was immersed in his own work.

‘Have you any new information Helmsman?’ Merthyl asked, in his most conversational way. The man frowned, fingers moving careful over the display.

‘Excuse me for a ten please Lord Merthyl. There is a slight change in the current, I need to address. Jurd! Address the engine by ten degrees of element!’

‘Attended Helmsman!!’

Merthyl had to admit the Helmsman conducted his staff with exceptional efficiency. His orders were plain and precise. The responses swift and respectful. Merthyl had overheard the man carefully but affably explain the consequences of errors; all resulting in painful deaths because each would allow one or another creature to escape from the Zerstorung through the Helmsman’s realm and vent its nature upon everyone therein.

‘Sorry My Lord Merthyl, some matters take priority. Yes, there is still much turbulence on the far shore,’ he gestured to the far-off scenes of activity ‘Can you see the agitations from that angle?’

‘Oh yes. Seems to be thrusting hosts illuminated by sullen flames. Are we witnessing some sort of battle?’

‘There is little widespread knowledge of the motivations and associations within the Zerstorung My Lord Merthyl. Whereas it can be acknowledged that there is communication; to know the true length and breadth of the dynamics within that place is something beyond my own scope of experience or discernment. My own assumption would be that we are witnessing some attempted rupture of the barriers withholding the Zerstorung inhabitants. Mage Belacheli would be likely to caste you more clarity on this matter,’

Merthyl appreciated the adroitness of The Helmsman’s response. He was at one recommending and distancing himself from a council member. This would do for The Lord, he would now wait. There were credible indications in The Helmsman’s words. He doubted if Belacheli would be able to be so coherent lost as he was in his miasma of fear and belief. Ideal.

 

Silc looked at the object of dark green metal, tubular length of his large hand and half its width and sighed. You had to use whatever you had to hand. Silc turned it over to the area which had twelve small gems, three rows of four. He tapped out a pattern and placed the tube to his ear, tapping his foot and complaining about the hissing in his ear and then the rhythmic buzzing. He sat back in the one comfy chair of the room, of course he would have to wait for the reply. In this case you always had to wait. There came a click, and young exasperated voice gasped out a greeting.

‘Jerreli! Yer, it’s your Uncle Grenaww ! Wot? Well get the girl out of the room now! We got business! Never mind that she’s a Sea Lord daughter!’ Silc slapped his hand about the tube and looked exasperatedly towards Brandgash, a broad-shouldered man, his most trusted of bodyguards, ‘Give him a few ships to play with and he thinks he’s blimpin’ Sanded Lands Pirate General,’ Silc asided ‘Jerreli? Look, never mind the skirt, she’ll stay warm! Now listen I got a job for you and your lot. It’s a sweet ‘un. All you gotta do is transport a snatch and grab team, and pick ‘em up when they’ve done, it’ll only take one ship…. Naw you don’t need to take three. It’ll be noticeable!…Pirates?…But you’re blimpin’ pirates as well. Wot you got to be scared about?’ he put his hand over the device to lament to Brandgash ‘He’s heard Throth The Bloody Shark has moved out of the eastern waters,’ Silc shook his head ‘Look! You’re the one who has been moaning that you’ve not had family business….Well my son! This is Family Business!! Do you understand!!…..Good!!….Now just get your lot together and I’ll tell you more all in good time my son, all in good time,’

He brought one thumb down on the tube, shaking his head.

‘Thank The Goodlordgawd, my poor sister’s not alive to see him,’ he tapped out another pattern, this time not having to wait ‘Kregz!’ he called to someone currently out of sight’ Look, find ‘Oily’ Klee and have him get back to me on the whistler, he’s been moaning about us doing something for him but I need him to make sure something is going to work properly for us first,’

The discourse ended Silc eased out of the chair looking this trusted man.

‘Going to be a very busy time Mr. Brandgash . A very busy time. But old Lady Elinid’ll finally have her day in the sun. With the Silcs looking after her of course,’

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

 

‘Migran! Explain yourself!!’

‘Trelli has left because you argued??’

Migran being with a parent each side of him, felt maybe this had not been such a good excuse after all. But when you are faced with a crisis, well you do the best you can.

‘I may have been a trifle harsh over her recent figure work,’

His mother tutted a great deal and set upon him a severe look.

‘Such a dear girl. She’s worked so hard for us these past five years. You really should not have burdened with all that paper-worked. I did say so at the time!’ she heaved a fatalistically sigh ‘I had best ask Luucresia if she can spare Mollea; the girl is useful, needs watching though. Oh really Migran!’ she reached for her most business like hat ‘Honestly we were away for but five days, just a simple half-decan holiday!’ and thus made to exit, pausing by her husband to heavy whisper ‘And you had better find out ‘nothing’ else happened,’

 

There was a short interlude, his father began to pace.

‘Now look Migran. I know how it is,’ he ahemed ‘Trelli is a not unattractive young woman, and young men, being young men. Well I do hope it was just an argument,’

‘Oh nothing else!!’ Migran cried in horror, (was that with a pinch of regret? He wondered) ‘It was the summary of the last quarterly accounts. You know how hectic things can get in the lunation prior to the visit from the Imperial Assessors of Taxes and Tithes. Speaking of which, I really must get down to the offices and check, aspects,’ with that he picked up his only hat a flat and modest affair ‘I’m sure she will be back, at some stage,’

Then feeling he had said enough left. Very quickly before his father could get over the nervous shock at the news of looming Assessors.

As he walked down the street, on a sunny, breezy mid-morning he reckoned, he had recovered that quite well; when all things were considered, of course.

As he recalled it, as he had also done, when Trelli’s hands had first started to glow. He felt he had managed to calm her down, firstly by letting her cry a lot; girls always cried. He’d then taken her to the kitchen and made her a nice herbal brew, she had said it tasted like dead rats and had cried some more, which had been fine because girls needed to let their emotions out. He then decided to leave her cry even some more while he gathered ‘stuff’ and during the night by means of gloomy alleys had shuffled her off to a safe place. Once he had ensconced her there and, despite her fearful and fearing words had told her that all would be well, he would be back with more stuff. Which he had done so. She had stopped crying. She had become frosty. He had reckoned, again, this was the sort of thing girls did. And all would be fine once she had calmed down.

Now the closer he got to the sanctuary he had some doubts, but hoped they would clear once he found Trelli all composed and ready to explore this exciting new opportunity.

 

The office was a place he could be certain one of the workers would not bother with. Located at the top of the warehouse, by a rickety set of stairs, and facing out to sea it was naturally the most draft-ridden part of the building. Reaching the door marked ‘Family Hendrechan Only’ He tapped on it, gently.

‘Trelli? Are you there?’

There were soft sounds, followed by a battle with bolts and a lock, the door eased, slightly open, a fiercely disgruntled face filling one portion of the gap. It seemed to a common means of communication between them these days.

‘Yes,’ she said, tersely, then thrust one gloved hand out, waggling it at him ‘I can hardly go about with these can I now?’

Some part of his confidence crumbled.

‘I am sorry,’

‘I wish I had a silver piece for each time you’ve said that this past day. There would be enough for me to flee away back to the Libratery orphanage and offer supplicant payment to the Devoteds; I’m sure they would get me to a special Libratery that could cure me,’

‘It’s not a curse! Please let me in. It is not good for me to be standing here,’

‘And it’s not good for me to be stuck in here!!…Oh spiffle!!’ with exasperation vented she pulled the door open.

He noticed she’d made the office reasonably habitable and draft-proofed with aid of the blankets, cushions, pillows and suchwhich they had gathered in the flight, but he had a feeling she would not appreciate conversation of domestic arrangements. She flung off the gloves and held up the hands glowing from red to blue and back again in a delicate and slow evolution; the barred teeth disturbing the arresting sight.

‘And what progress have you made!!’ she demanded ‘It’s all your stupid fault!!’

Returning to the phenomenon of the spontaneous production of coinage he in turn wished he had a gold piece for every time she’d said that, in between her tears. There would have been enough to have bought passage on a craft for the Sanded Lands, there they would appreciate this sort of circumstance for what it was; an opportunity!  Try telling Trelli that. He’d never realised she had this abrasive side to her character.

‘It’s not very easy Trelli. These matters have to be evaluated,’ his very clear and concise rehearsed speech was evaporating under that accusatory glare    ‘How long is that going to take! Am I expected to stay in this room for years and years? That won’t do, for all sorts of reasons!’ she stalked over to the window arms folded ‘For all sorts of reasons,’ her repetition accompanied by a very disgusted expression

Just for a five, he did not speak. He gazed settled upon the glow emanating from her hands. The steady progression through hues between pale crimson and summer sky blue was setting alluring patterns upon what should have been Trelli’s dowdy servants clothing. His reverie was not destined to be long; her very loud and judgemental sniff shook him back to matters practical. In consequence of the suddenness words spilled out without much thought for tact.

‘I am trying to work out the reason in which The Ethereal was attracted to you. There must be some sort of circumstance within your natures for this,’

She spun on one heel, there was the fierce look again, and oh dear, with her eyebrows narrowed into downward pointing blades and the return to the barring of teeth she did look rather fetchingly wild.

‘Don’t you go try to blame me for this Migran Hendrechan! You’re the one who was fooling about, despite what I said to you!’ tears began to brim again ‘It’s worse than being placed unfortunate! Again, I could have gone to the local Libratery in the broad daylight and no one would have thought of bringing a custodian in on me!! They understand how poor serving girls get put upon!!’

At this juncture, her shoulders began to shake, her head drooped and the tears fell.

‘And to make it worse, I bet you have gone ahead with that stupid excuse and told your parents I’ve run off!’ she looked up anger brimming back ‘You’ve truly messed up my life you have!’ Up shot one summer sky blue hand, finger tips darkening to a thunder shade she pointed to the door ‘Oh go and leave me be! And don’t come back until you’ve got something sensible to say!!’

Once more she swung about to the window.

 

He gently put down the bag containing food, with three bottles of very weak wine, and the small sack of soaps and cleaning waters. And feeling comparable to the worst of sewer rats he quietly closed the door.

This was monstrously cruel; he had pushed the very boundaries of his knowledge and had made a discovery, of some sort. In other circumstances, he would be checking his forbidden works for clues and insights, building upon the initial success. If only the Ethereal had settled within him! Why Trelli? He wished he had the time to work upon the question of Empathy, study the wise words of The Paladinic. Was it not so that Trelli’s experiences were not dissimilar to the initial trials of Shereavan the Wylde Raven of the North, and what a hero she had become!

How would Trelli may able to make use of the forces which were now moving within her?

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

 

‘Hello Flaxi. I didn’t know you liked climbing trees too,’

‘I don’t. But that wound of yours needs checking,’

‘Oooh, you going to do that up on a high branch?’

‘No. You are going to come down out of your perch,’

‘Aww, how kind! Not shouting or throwing sticks at me,’ Karlyn now fully awake stared into the sky. ‘Still about a thousand ‘fore dawn. You can’t wait?’

‘Again. No. I have a busy day. Sergeant Erzns is insistent I make contact with our officers by the time we get into that town, and frib’ knows how long that will take,’

‘Do they train you LifeGuards to climb trees? You look reasonable up here,’

‘Where I come from packs of wolves are not uncommon,’

‘Fair enough. Ssso you are going to play with your box afterwards?’

The joke had grown old after the first day; once Beritt had learnt from the Norvan just what ‘box’ meant in elidian slang; he having, a comprehensive knowledge of obscenities from the length and breadth of the Oakhostian.

‘I could decide to give you a purgative to ensure any remaining poisoning within your body are flushed out,’

Karlyn normally immune to threats felt there was something in the hardening of those round pretty features and narrowing of those big blue eyes which suggested this Hengestatian girl was just the one to do it.

 

Beritt having explained to the jovially inquisitive Fileman Creylan that she had not been converted to tildeltish ways of roosting, then herded Karlyn off to a safe distance before the elidian started to wake up the camp, Beritt sat the girl down at near the bank of the river Herene, slow on its winding its way to their destination of Prendaelyn, Karlyn sitting down crossed-legged, chin resting on hands, she was about to make some mischievous remark when Beritt flint sparked a small candle into light with, Karlyn thought, quite some efficiency.

‘Tilt your head Karlyn. I’m going to be looking up your nose,’ Karlyn’s expression scrunched up, Beritt amused lapsed into her drawl ‘Y’all may grimace missy but there is much which can be discerned from examination of the nasal cavities,’ as Karlyn was not moving Beritt stuck her left thumb under the girl’s chin, ignoring the low grumble ‘. Not that I gain any pleasure from the sights I do see,’

‘Just keep that fribbin’ flame at a distance,’

‘Yeh, yeh. Hmm. Clear. Very clear. I’ll not ask how you keep it so clean. Ears next,’ Beritt shuffled around and flicked stray hair out of her view, Karlyn doing her best to remain dignified and still; she was the one who was supposed to impose flames not receive them. She was then subjected to more ‘hmming’ and a few ‘uh-uh’s, and the discomfiture of heat near her earlobes

‘Very clean. You shovel these out regularly then?’

Karlyn adopted a poise of very heavy dignity.

‘Clean ears and a clean nose are essential in my line of work. I take it there’s no spikey little demons lurking about,’

‘I’m guessing Custodian Meradat would have surmised that earlier. No. I’ve looking invidious infects which are prone to lurk in the orifices,’

Karlyn suffered a slightly involuntary jolt, a stray hair singed.

‘Orifices!! For fribbit! You peer in my ears, you can gaze up my nose and you can gawp down my mouth! But Flaxi, you are not going anywhere else with that candle!!’

Beritt shrugged.

‘Then it will have to be the purgatives, you being obliged to sit in a field at a distance of at least one thousand paces away from decent company for some time, and I’m not thinking Custodian Meradat will suffer such a delay. Thus, he will instruct me to conduct an examination in daylight in the confines of a tent, and us both will subject to predictable and very dull ribald remarks, of which I am quite inured,’

‘Huff! Beneath that sweet and pretty face there lurks an iron heart,’

‘To be correct below and downwards of this pretty face there lurks an iron heart. Now be a good little maid, and Medician Beritt will give you a boiled sugar lump afterwards,’

Karlyn once more grumbled, but she’d not had a boiled sugar lump for lunations.

 

The ‘men’ had gone out on scouting, leaving the ‘girls’ to stay at ‘home’ to observe, one up a tree and one leaning beneath it with an oculartragen. At least that’s how Beritt saw it and was a little surprised Karlyn had not been annoyed about that slight nod to domesticity. But she had she own problems.

She could not make contact. Crocked thing!!

Beritt was still not clear just how this oculartragen worked; hurried instructions; a leather-bound book, the small print of which was not conducive to reading by night and the occasional message sliding across its screen. These were not up to the standard of instructions a medician expected. More the equivalent of ‘Oh a quarter of the leg hacked off? Just put something on it to stop the bleeding,’

And what the High Holy were they going up against? For ferrkit! The lads had been lucky to put down demons with those falconades and then the custodian had said those weren’t proper demons and small stuff. Well suppose they came up against the ‘Proper Demons’. Fine if you were one of Erzns’ hounds, they would reckon a ride through the Five Hells as a jaunt, while custodians did this as a matter of course and Karlyn was tending to swagger about her own victory. But whereas medicians carried powders to kills fleas and rats, and lotions to deal with infections Beritt didn’t reckon those were quite up to the requirements. If things got really Fifth Hell, she might find herself having to stick close to the elidian girl.

As if hearing a summons, the girl alighted from her latest tree, soft footed and having been told all ways well with her body was now back her cheery disposition.

‘Hi Flaxi’ Beritt supposed she was stuck with that reference to her hair, but if any of Erzns’ crew tried to call her that… ‘Any luck yet?’

‘What’s your nose telling you?’ she replied; maybe she’d get more sense from Karlyn than from this mule of a device

‘Nothing new. Same ol’ oil and sea. But this time I’m going to be ready for any uglies that that any hell can throw at me,’ she peered at Beritt. ‘Do you want to go and bathe in the river while the lads are away?’

‘Just what are you inferring?’ Beritt asked and then unconsciously scratched at an armpit

‘Nuffing!! I just thought since the lad are away, we could have a nice private social bathe,’ Karlyn outrage turned to a pout ‘S’what girls do together,’

The strength of the sigh would have levitated Beritt’s fringe even higher than normal, but for the brim of her hat.

‘It’s a pleasant thought. Sadly I can’t leave my duties here,’ she gave the edge of the device a swift slap ‘And particularly not while this thing!’ another slap ‘Is being cussed!’ a muttered swearing. ‘You go if you want. I’ll keep an eye roving for you,’

‘Naw,’ Karlyn slumped back on the ground scratching her untidy brush of hair ‘Wouldn’t be the same Flaxi. S’been a long time since I had girl-company,’ she picked a long strand of grass and began to chew on it while looking about. ‘When we get to that town, what you think our chances are of getting a bit of free time, and attendant,’ she rolled her tongue about her lips ‘fun!!’

Beritt snorted and stabbed a finger at one of the gems, it blinked back in a way she reckoned was outright defiant cheek.

‘LifeGuards on duty don’t get…. Fun!!…No time for it. All senses alert to dangers,’

‘So you don’t get a chance to steal off with one of those lads, and ease your fears away,’

Karlyn thought for such a small girl Flaxi could make a lot of noise in one single dismissive bark.

‘Fun with any lads? Hah! A girl should sooner amuse herself with frbbin ’tree twigs rather than any of that crew of raggedy dogs!! They put theirs where I wouldn’t put my scraithin’ boot!! Had to attend to two of them for Particular Boils not two lunations ago!! Enough to make any girl loose interest in dongers for the rest of her jolly-time days! I always was particular with the fellows’ delicates !’

Karlyn frowned, then was all accentuated outrage

‘Oh dearie Flaxi! The mouth on you!’

There was a pause, then a shared outburst of spluttering laughter. Karlyn tugged the brim of Beritt’s hat over her eyes, Beritt could not help other than to smile warmly in return.

‘That’s better Flaxi! I think you’ve been working too hard,’ her nose twitched ‘You got a faint aroma of weariness about you, like Spring damp dawn mists and daffodils at the end of their blooming,’

Beritt was about to ask….

But there was the sound of distant hooves.

‘There! They’ll be back and expecting results!! Now let me battle with this cussed machine and you go and sit up your tree and talk to bees, or something,’

‘The bees have told me all they have to say,’

Beritt looked up meaningfully.

‘You mean that, don’t you? You do talk to bees,’

‘Yer,’

And then being perverse, Karlyn remained annoyingly silent, choosing to stand up and walk about, whistling cheerfully while kicking twigs.

And the mirror’d glass seemed intent on continuing to be obstinate. Pressed for results Beritt gave way to understandable frustration and having given up on the mild slaps shook the device while swearing with so much vehemence as to draw Karlyn from the other side of the tree, placing hands on Beritt shoulders, and leaning over her.

‘Frib!’ breathed Beritt.

The blankness had suddenly given way to a storm of swirling myriads colours, devoid of shapes other than the swift flow of flooded streams in random directions. Some colliding and creating new shades; defying any sense, threatening to cause confusion upon the spectre.

‘What the scraith Flaxi!’

‘Lady Green Vixen; Captain-Sister-to-Us-All!!’ despite her plea and solid efforts to make any direction, the images continued in their chaos; now shot through with blood red, explosions of lurid orange and a growing back ground of night. The display taking place just as Meradat and the LifeGuard arrived; Karlyn promptly scrambling to the custodian.

‘You’ve gotta see this guv’!!’

Meradat now fatalistically attuned to her ways did not comment directly to Tildelte Karlyn but strode over to where Beritt was working the gems with frantic glances to the book, and resultant words of exasperation at the lack of any useful guidance. He stood, thoughtful for a while.

‘Can you dismiss that device from continuing its display Medician Beritt!’

Since this was phrased as something of a command, Beritt ignored whatever protocols she’d been told by Dekyria, and tugged loose from the left side of the oculartragen a deep azure gem, at which point all conjunctions and contacts with The Astatheia ceased, the mirror’d surface taking on a rather sullen dark grey. Meradat thus satisfied addressed his small congregation.

‘What has been witnessed here is a manifestation of The Zerstorung, as its creatures’ sense opportunity as the predator smells fear and blood!!’

Beritt thoughts were sour, it was fine for Erzns’ pack to look grimly ready for a challenge, and Karlyn to grin, they were all not conversant with Sanity. She whispered a sanctioned Lifeguard prayer for forbearance in the face of Severity. She took a smidge of comfort from Meradat’s brief nod of approval, thence to continue with, she reckoned, a certain amount of relish.

‘Now let us be clear. There are no such things as views into The Future. This is known only to The Lord God. But the capricious Stommigheid takes its own malicious delight in vexing us with lurid warnings. These are not to be dismissed, for with diligent caution and faith in The Lord God, even this untrustworthy circumstance and be brought to serve,’

‘Nice to know,’ Beritt wisely kept the words to herself. The custodian was in full flow.

‘The confusion of colours indicates much unwise activity with The Stommigheid. The lurid reds, oranges and night-shades reveal that those of violent and ill-intent are drawn to its maw and will bring woe upon that town. We must therefore be quick, ride there in teams of two, meeting at an agreed location, then hunt down the miscreant and extract them before destruction falls upon that unhappy place,’

‘Does that mean we can’t even burn down a titchy bit as a warning?’

Karlyn was to complain to Beritt for some time afterwards that it had been a reasonable question and she’d not deserved scowls and the custodian’s instruction to be silent.

 

Meradat concluded with an insistence that all kneel and follow him in prayers and solemn reflection. He was naturally expecting the usual mumbling and stumbling through the correct responses, but as he’d hoped  the medician was far more conversant and attentive in the devotions. This was a relief to him, she would have a measure of protection against the wiles of the Stommigheid. When he was satisfied he had imposed some measure of sobriety upon the task at hand he turned his attention on her.

‘Child, in your heart, you are still a good sister-in- faith,’

Beritt was not feeling particularly juvenile, but took the words in good custom, with a brief thanks and an affirmation she would place her trust in the Good Lord God. This earned a grunt of approval, and then Meradat was away to discuss with Erzns something or other, which no doubt she would learn about soon. Meanwhile she awaited orders

 

Chapter 6. Of Patchwork Warriors.

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