Chapter Two of “Mad Earl Faz”

19 02 2014

There is a mysterious font change on the third line….

            Obdurate rubbed his dark fingers along the granite sill of the arrow slot. Outside, the city’s new device for transportation, the ambulatory, rumbled and it’s sound swelled and mixed with the conversations behind him.

He thought of a poem he and his love read last night: Today I live in one moment of a heaven, and I am damned to a hell thereby.

A rustle of muslin behind him snapped him from his thoughts.

“I find the noise of the ambulatory so disturbing,” smiled a goodwife attendant of the Contemplation. “It jars one. Do you not agree, Adjutant?”

Obdurate had always found the Rahsic tradition of “Contemplations” ironic; he appreciated the idea of members of different vocations to share ideas and bond socially, but most fellow contemplators were perplexed by what Obdurate shared and so kept him at a polite distance.

“Oh. I beg your pardon, but it does not disturb me. At night, when I am walking, I find the sound reassuring.”

Her eyes fluttered, her attempt at conversation confused by disagreement. “That thundering reassures? Pardon my curiosity, but I do not understand.”

He shook his head. “I am sometimes taken with a restlessness at night. I stroll to…clear my head. There is…some traffic…that late. There are few on the streets –- out-outside the Secure. Deliverymen. Constabulary.”

Since childhood, Obdurate had practiced distractedness and he now considered himself a Master Artist. He could finesse to the lowest hum of preoccupation, or if necessary build it to a thundering blither. That he always seemed preoccupied with weighty matters, he knew, had helped him win this post over qualified competitors who worked with an apparent ease of conscience.

Everyone assumed that because he pondered fiscal matters for his commanding officer, the esteemed “General Greatsergeant-grandson-of-the-General”; the General being the fellow forever smashing that copper snake demon on the mural at Lanthernmount Square.

The truth: people who knew him found him odd. That tired him.

But this goodwife would be rattled into thin-lipped frustration, but not dissuaded. “But how does the sound comfort?”

“The sound reminds me,” he considered. “That there are other travelers in the night.”

Perturbed, she looked out the window. “Ah. I am sorry, but the sound bothers me. I am not sure why the devices were put in place. The elderly and the guilds used to arrange for carriages.”

“Hmm.” He looked out the window and twitched his fingers as if counting; that usually made people go away.

But she asked, “I wonder why they are no longer allowed.”

“You wonder why do not….”

“Allowed to arrange for more carriages.”

“There are…more people. Now. To transport.”

“Then why not more carriages?”

A flit of his gaze to the ceiling; would he have to break out ledgers for some peace? “Um?”

Why are there not more carriages?

“On the streets? I believe it is to keep the number of draft animals from overwhelming the streets. Our king gave his blessing.”

This was a sure conversation stopper.

She puffed. “Yes. I meant no offense, but the noise disturbs me. I do endure it for the good of all.”

“I have always…remarked on your wonderful patience, Goodwife.”

Obdurate sighed and gave up waiting for his usual conversation partner. The goodwife then spoke of the moments she had that day: when she had realized that working with your hands in the dark, like an actuated bullet assembler had to, must be so terribly exhausting; and that her own laugh now sounded so much like her father’s, bless him; and that souls were lifted by the color yellow because it reminded us of the sun.

Obdurate considered what she said, and was touched by her earnestness.

She asked, “Did you come to a realization today?”   

“Not being a student of magic, I would not know of the practicality. But this occurred to me when tallying the columns of materials expenditures last week, and I am taken with it: Objects have spirits, and spirits are known to communicate with us through numbers. Therefore, if properly done, adding the day’s expenditures could be a type of numeromancy. One could attune to a Great Spirit of Double Entry Bookkeeping and discern the enemy’s expenditures, and thereby know the enemy’s strengths and disposition. The accountant could prevail upon the Great Bookkeeper to scramble the enemy’s bookkeeping and have them receive too many barrels of salt or not enough tea. And then it occurred to me that perhaps that’s already being done, either on purpose or accidentally, and that is why supplies are shipped in the wrong amount or to the wrong destination. If such a spirit existed.”

The goodwife blushed. “That is a bit beyond me.”

He shrugged and sighed to that familiar refrain. “Yes. I am sorry.”

“Oh! Here is our hostess!” The goodwife’s relief was also familiar.

Obdurate turned and there she stood, at long last. She walked in measured pace in conversation with an old Thurihe man; she seeming like caramel to the man’s wrinkled white parchment. She glanced at Obdurate. That look rang his soul like a bell.  

Goodwife Greatsergeant smiled. “Pardon my intrusion, Adjutant, but I could not help but overhear that you walk about the city at night. May I introduce Squire Tezumbrage, Mezzo-Baritone for the Royal Complete Appellate Court?”

Obdurate bowed.

At first, this was why he took the dusty traditions of the First Army of Invitation Appropriations Posting: the opportunities to converse with the exemplary of Harmonium.

Among The Paragon Families of the Kingdom, those refined since birth to be living symbols of the Royal Law and Compact were themselves inspiring and humbling. But he lived only to be in the presence of Respiration Greatsergeant.

Goodwife Greatsergeant sipped her tea. “My good uncle had many insomnia cures.”

Obdurate asked, “Indeed, Goodwife?”

“All invariably used barley whisky or blunt objects.”

“Did your uncle have insomnia, Goodwife?”

“Terribly. You might have seen his portrait. He is the flushed-faced and bumpy-headed fellow propped up in my sitting room.”

Goodwife Carper giggled. The grandsquire’s expression remained as still as “The Sanctuary of Enthus” before the Secure’s Gate. The Goodwife’s nudge ellicited a grin from the stone-like face.

Respiration said,“The grandsquire and I were contemplating languages.”

The grandsquire’s voice rumbled through to Obdurate’s knees.

“Oh yes. My sons are touring the Adanikar courts and colleges next year. Do you speak Adanikarese, Adjutant?”

“Grandsquire, I speak…only enough to get somebody else slapped.”

The grandsquire nodded. “You should have been a tactician.”

All laughed silently.

“Do you and Goodwife Greatsergeant converse well?”

“We recite poetry. It engages more than speaking about mundane matters.”

Respiration said, “An ancient, esteemed poet named Trah-sh-fah.”

What is she up to now?

“Trah-sh-fah” was a nonsense word she and Obdurate used when they couldn’t think of the proper Adanikarese word. It blended well during recitations, and they suspected it meant “twist-nose.”

This intrigued the squire. “Trah-shah-fah? I have read some Adanikar poetry, but never heard that name.”

“More whistle in the ‘t’, and just ‘sh’.”

“Ah!”

She asked Obdurate, “What were we discussing about it?”

He concentrated on his feet to keep his face from flushing. “That the poem is ancient and venerated. And becoming more ancient and venerated with each passing day.”

“We prompt each other’s pronunciation. The poem goes…”

She spoke in Adanikarese:

            “What is it that forces along the rain

            Caressing the soft yearning earth

With a thousand thousand fingers

So that the trees give sigh into the night?”

Respiration gave translation, then asked, “What was the rest of it, Adjutant?”

She maddened him this way, in that she took such risks. Poems like this from married women were frowned upon in any language. It angered him and thrilled him.

He added in Adanikarese:

 

            “What is it that forces the many-finger rain?

It is a huge wet masseuse containing terrible internal wind.”

 

Her mouth stretched to contain her guffaw.

His heart pounding, he pretended a translation to the others,

            “The crest of the thunderhead breaks and

            Stretches soft and languid into the night.”

 

She straightened her back and bowed. Her eyes warmed with admiration, but her mouth tightened. She kept challenging him to leave, trying to frighten him with recklessness.

He met her eyes. I will not go.

Grandsquire Tezumbrage suppressed a smile. “I heard more wind than rain in that storm, captain.”

Did they reveal themselves? Did he suspect? The possibility paralyzed him.

Yet the captain thrilled. He had made the grandsquire smile.

Respiration bowed to Goodwife Carper. “Goodwife, you look flushed. Squire, would you do the honor of accompanying us to the victory terrace? The air moves well there.”

“Yes. I would be honored. Would you excuse us, Adjutant?”

Goodwife Carper touched her pale face in puzzlement as she turned away.

Obdurate waved. “Certainly. Enjoy the sun.”

As the three strolled away, Obdurate heard the great judge whisper wryly. “We’ll leave the adjutant to his wind. Are you sure he knows the language well, Goodwife?”

She looked over her shoulder at Obdurate with mock doubt.

Obdurate walked to the refreshments and used the movement to conceal a deep sigh.

That poem was rather good. Our improvisational skills are improving.

            That night behind the ivy garden, they would have a good laugh about the risk they took in front of the squire.  Obdurate would share his thought of the theoretical Bookkeeping Spirit and he knew, with a profound relief, she would be intrigued and add to the idea or pick it apart. They would kiss and laugh and whisper in an antiquated foreign tongue. She would touch him until his thunderhead broke, and then there would be nothing.

Then eventually, General Greatsergeant, the monster, will discover and he will kill me in a duel for knowing his family’s secret treachery, and overtly, for sullying his marriage.   

            He saw an officer at the door and knew it time for another meeting. Obdurate tread softly on the stone staircases to keep the echoes from disturbing ruminations, and walked down the street to Lanthernmount Square. He made it into the Civic Disposition building, and into the third blue room. He sat at the traditional spot on the tile floor.

            Adjutant Hakek-akakel from the Naval Squadron Command looked up beside him. His sharp lizard-like smile made his bright-red chin feathers splay.

            Hakek-akakel clucked. “Mischief, mischief, my boy.”

            At those words, Obdurate’s preoccupations made him blush, until he realized Hakek-akakel spoke. Exults considerd it courteous to keep company awake through riddles and odd interjections. To return the favor Obdurate lengthened his stammers, which he knew Hakek-akakel appreciated.

            At the front of the room, the Public Works adjutant entered in a swirl of saffron muslin and followed by two young, puffy-eyed clerks. He took his seat before the great round mirror, the clerks seated at the foot of the dais, ready to hand him any paper at his request.

            The Public Works adjutant smoothed his uniform jacket and intoned the age-old contralto. “Consternation and regret are set aside. All are enjoined to help all abide. We begin with the civil agenda regarding transport scheduling…”

            The Civil adjutant told all of how the increased use of the ambulators relieved the pedestrian flow to the foremost of the Eight Neighborhoods, for which the Ward Champion then thanked him graciously. The Merchant Magnate adjutant told of brisk trade and receiving good value for merchandise from the Trade Houses representing the nations in the Foreign Due.

            The Craftsguild adjutant announced that masterworks would be presented to His Royal Highness a month hence at the Festival of Glories. Stuffsguild prepared for the autumn festivals, and their masterworks would also be presented, which included a shimmercake taller than a three storey house and a weedloaf which could feed five and be made with a mere handful of seeds; such boasts always caused friendly remarks of competition between the craftsguilds. The Ward Champion presented her list of concerns from the Eight Neighborhoods, but no grave concerns, and she amused all with updates of neighborhood competitions. Hakek-akakel declared that the Royal Naval Cavalry Squadron would be doing maneuvers off Yahermarain Shoal tomorrow, and could possibly be the scene of many marvels, or dull as mud.

Obdurate updated all:

“The Army of Invitation has reached the farthest point of the Ijkalla Archepelego. It has encountered the respect the inhabitants feel for our Divine King, and the Legion works to improve the inhabitants’ keeps and their roads.”

            The Public Works adjutant motioned for the Police adjutant to address the group.

            “This morning at dawn, strangers broke our customs. Two strangers dressed as a widow and her daughter breached the Eldest Daughter’s Shrine through means yet to be determined.”

            Audacious.

            “A search of the disembarked was poorly executed, and panic broke out. These strangers broke through onto the street. They did arrest a rogue philosopher.”

            The Public Works adjutant’s gaze swept to the back of the room. “The Brigade Magnate will cooperate with the police.”

            The piping voice of the Brigade adjutant: “As always, adjutant.”

            The usual terseness and contempt flavored their exchange. The Scout Brigades had been so lax and arrogant, few expected much of them.

            And so on into the warm afternoon, through the Physicians and the Scholars and the Pathetics, all had the same mundane news to communicate and needs to be met.

His mind wandered, as always to Respiration. His heart panged and to distract it, he considered the book he had just read; a tale of sacrifice and enlightenment of the genre called “Dusk-Thicket Tales.” It was like a parable or cautionary, but this tale differed in that it used a still-living person as its subject.

Eventually, the Public Works adjutant intoned. “All are dispatched to do their task. Your life work is all we ask.”

In the bustling hallway, Hakek-akakel guided Obdurate to the wall. “Have you yet read the book, Obdurate? Galavanting the world! Spying! Stealing! Slaying abominations!”

            “I had just finished it. Thank you for the loan. I confess I found it exciting.”

            “You took a whole three days to read a book! You must have been busy! How go your experiments with double-entry numeromancy?”

            Obdurate glanced around the crowded hallway. “I was just…joking. It would be…too dangerous for me to experiment like that. I could be fined or censured.”

            “But it is startling! Discerning a creature through its delineations, instead of its presence. Charms of concealment would be worthless. Using your numeromancy would be like predicting a boat’s course by seeing its wake. Wakes in a sea of numbers.”

            Obdurate glanced around again, looking for someone who may overhear them. “Yes. I suppose it would.”

            Hakek-akakel tugged Obdurate’s cuff and shouted. “Numbers! Numbers-numbers-numbers-numbers-numb –-“

            Passersby gave them disinterested glances. Obdurate laughed at his own uneasiness, which was Hakek-akakel’s intention.

            “There are deserts of space between a step and a tumble.”

            “Thank yo-o-o-ou, adjutant. Perhaps…I will…pursue the matter.”

            “Ha!”

            “But why…haven’t you…given the matter its due?”

            “Our discerners are too busy with weather determinations to experiment. And I have been given a possibly boring assignment from the police.”

            “The police?”

            “Today they wear blue-green coats.”

            “Yes, tomorrow…they may not. What…is the assignment?”

            “I am to coordinate naval assistance in the search for the interlopers. Customs has scant physicality for their discerners to work with. It will be a glorious frustration.”

            “Ah. Military aid to find two smugglers?”

            Hakek-akakel giggled and nodded. A russet-feathered Exult wearing a merchant’s suit passed, and giggled out of courtesy.

            Obdurate whispered. “Ah. Is that not…odd?”

            “Quite unexpected and unusual. I must hurry. My time is the Royal Navy’s time.”

Hakek-akakel turned and scuttled down the hallway.

Obdurate called. “Life is ever a mystery, Adjutant Hakek-akakel.”

Hakek-akakel waved behind him. “One that is always licking your face, Adjutant Obdurate Childteacher.”


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