Introduction of the Principal Soloist
To me had fallen the delicate task of informing the new Eplakil of his recent elevation. So when news arrived at the palace that his ship, the Gilded Eel, had docked at the nearby village of Foltoikui, I set out at once to find him. When I emerged from the stifling dimness under the jungle canopy, the fierce sunlight revealed more than one ship bobbing about on the bright waters. I was not experienced in the ways of trading vessels, so I descended to the village, passing through the thornwall, and stopped to make inquiries. The first likely informant I found was an elder, engaged in mending the end of a rope.
"Isde Ikhsior?" the old man responded, showing his nut-stained teeth. He seemed amused. "So Ikhsior rates as high now. That"s appropriate." He set his rope aside, levered himself to his feet, and, as he was an elder, I carefully refrained from noticing the overly energetic way he brushed bits of tree bark off the seat of his green cotton gisgir.
"I"ll take you to the Bedime of the Gilded Eel," he said.
"That is most gracious of you," I responded.
He led the way down to the gleaming white beach, and onto the floating wooden platforms that led out to a round bodied, two-masted ship. Several workers were unloading clay urns, and as they walked past the footing shifted beneath us, making me bob up and down in a most disconcerting fashion. The elder didn"t seem to find the unsteady footing much of a problem, and he marched over to stand beside the large man who was lifting the large unwieldy urns over the ship"s railings. "Bedime Ikhsior, you have a visitor." I looked about, attempting to identify who he was addressing, but I did not see anyone who seemed to be directing the workers.
The big fellow beside him put down the urn he was holding and straightened up, and I found myself staring directly at his broad expanse of bare chest. "Isde Ikhsior?" I croaked.
"Isde." He repeated the honorific in a rumbling bass, immediately gasping that there must have been a change in his status. "What has happened?"
There didn"t seem to be any way to say the words that wasn't entirely too stark. "Your uncle, the former Eplakil of Seteblite, is even now ascending to the celestial ones, Your Eminence."
There was a pause, and when I looked up I could see signs of dismay written on his features. "Is my cousin at court?" he asked.
"Your cousin became feverish during the worst of the summer storms, Your Eminence. He is also on his way to the celestial ones, may both their ascents be smooth." I must have misheard the next words of Isde Ikhsior, for an eplakil would never so forget his eminence that he would comment negatively on the moral worthiness of the mother moon.
"My aunt?" he barked.
"She has retired to your giniliklito," I answered, relieved that the worst of the news had been expressed.
The platform bucked beneath my feet as one of the sailors returned, and Isde Ikhsior lifted the urn and thrust it at him. "We'd better hurry," he said. "My aunt has gone home, and I need to stop in at Seteblite as soon as possible to see her."
His care for the Eplakili seemed most admirable to me, but was not, unfortunately what she desired from him. "Isde Eplakil, your aunt has written you a letter," I interjected, wondering if I should have found a way to present it earlier.
"Well, give it here then." He held out a massive hand and I hastily pulled the tablet out of my pouch and gave it to him. His features twisted into a scowl as he read over the words I had scribed so carefully at my shocked and grieving Eplakili"s direction before she had left the palace.
"She wants me to stay."
"Yes, Eminence," I responded, puzzled by the tone in his voice. How could he not want to stay at court now that he knew his aunt desired it? I must have misunderstood.
"To 'establish my eminence, and uphold my position at court'." He handed the tablet back to me, and I decided that I hadn"t heard him add a muttered, "I don't even know what that means."
The elder who had brought me to the ship reached out and patted my Eplakil on the arm. "The court is all the land there is to an eplakil. Of course your aunt wants you to stay."
"And I can hardly ignore her wishes at such a time. Tell Tofol that he needs to find a new ship"s bedime," he ordered, and then he turned back to me and examined me closely.
"You didn't introduce yourself," he noted.
"Forgive me," I responded, dropping to one knee in the second reverence, and hoping that the slimy green growths on the platform wouldn"t stain my bleached-white servitor's gisgir. "I am Deule, and I was scribe to the late Eplakil, may his ascent be smooth."
"And now you are my scribe, I don't doubt. Will you act as my guide to the palace?" I rose unsteadily to my feet, and looked at him with unworthy dismay growing in my breast. He still wore the simple cotton gisgir and unworked vest of his former position, and I foolishly had not thought to bring any other attendants with me. I considered what would be whispered about the court should an eplakil arrive at the palace in such attire and attended only by his scribe, and became suddenly determined that he would not be so diminished.
"As you are well aware," I croaked, "an eplakil should never venture forth without a suitable train."
"I"m aware of that?" He removed his hat, and ran a hand through his uncropped hair. "Tell me what a suitable train would entail."
"Canopy bearers, fan-boys, and at least one musician," I answered without hope that any such would be forthcoming. "Perhaps a guard or two."
"Guarding me would seem unnecessary, perhaps even ludicrous. Furthermore I have no canopy, and therefore no use for canopy bearers," he responded. "A fan-boy is easy enough to come by, but I don't know that I'd trust him to get back to work quickly enough had he the entire distance from here to the palace to lose himself in." A young boy peeked his head above the railings and grinned cheekily.
"A musician, however, I can provide. Leghi!" Even given that the musician was presentable, his train would still be inadequate, and I hastened to voice a willingness to correct my fault in not coming fully prepared.
"As Your Eminence well knows, it would most inappropriate for you to walk such a distance in the heat of the sun. I will return to the palace and fetch you a canopy."
"This, too, I already know?"
"He is from the palace," the elder who had led me here explained, chuckling. "You merchants, you just leave the goods here and let us deal with the servitors of the court, so it"s no wonder you don"t understand them. A servitor will never admit that any lord is less than perfect. He holds a high position, so he must be acting in a manner suitable to that position, no matter what their eyes and their ears tell them to the contrary. A lord couldn't possibly not know the things that he should know. You will have an interesting time ahead of you."
Just then one of the sailors arrived, breathless, and gasped, "Bedime?"
"Ah, Leghi," Isde Ikhsior responded, "how would you like to fetch that nilanpi you so like serenading us with, and bring it along to the palace."
"To the palace!" he squeaked.
"It seems that I require a musician as an attendant."
"A palace musician!" Leghi squeaked again.
"I see that the idea does indeed meet with your approval." He gently nudged the young sailor, who turned and sped away. Then he turned back to me. "I am surprised to hear that there is too much sun on path to the palace; I had thought it ran under the shade of the trees. But if you say it is too far to walk in without a canopy, then perhaps I should not walk at all. Isn't there a dock by the palace?"
I did not understand what this had to do with canopies, but I inclined my head. "There is indeed a dock."
He turned to the village elder. "Anything I should know about the waters?"
"How about I pilot you in?"
Before I quite knew what was happening, I had been lifted up and placed on board the ship, and my new eplakil was striding energetically about giving orders. Someone began chanting something mostly unintelligible and highly inappropriate. Ropes were coiled, and uncoiled, and hauled upon, and the gold and green painted sails of the Gilded Eel dropped into position and began filling with wind. Something strained and something else stretched and the sound of the lapping water against the side changed subtly, and then we were sliding away from the land and out into the open water.
The movements of the ship seemed to make my stomach uneasy, but I clutched at my tablet and stylus and firmly ignored that fact, and concentrated instead on noting how the water changed colors beneath us, clear, and then turquoise, and then deep green. Eventually my Eplakil returned to where I was standing. "I meant to ask you."
"What is it about being a palace musician? Leghi is acting like he has been promised a life of cool shade and sweet drinks." He nodded in the direction of the young sailor, who was crouched over his instrument, removing each reed from the frame in turn, and polishing all the mallet marks off.
"As Your Eminence well knows," I responded, "music is an important part of court life. You have several musicians in your train, who work under the direction of your nuragere."
"Nuragere. That sounds like the ancient tongue. Musicator?"
"And I'm sure I don't need to remind you," I added hastily, "that your nuragere is responsible for composing music for you to perform at various amgato to gimgie, as well as helping to provide musical accompaniments and assisting Your Eminence in presenting your best singing voice and bearing."
"Perform?" Isde Ikhsior said in a tone that was much less horrified than it sounded.
My eplakil would never lower himself to use the same sort of language as his sailors, so I did not hear what he said next. In fact, I did not hear most of what my eplakil said for the remainder of the trip to the palace.
If you would like to read further, please let me know.