three months: say, the first of Drenggar.”

This opened one door too many and too fast. Harsan shook his head involuntarily as thoughts leaped to his lips. “My Lord Kurrune-this means leaving my service here, and-” he cast about for some objection that would make sense, “-and-but- why ME? I am not a known scholar of Llyani. What of Kurukten of Jakalla, the Arch Scholar Gruneshu, the Priestess Dlessuna of the temple of Hnalla, the Lord Buretl hiChuvren…?”

Kurrune waved a hand, paim up to show that he did not know. “I am not privy to the doings of your High Council. It’s not my business. Gossip has it, however, that this Kurukten died some two months back. And Gruneshu is an ancient dodderer, as I can attest with my own eyes. I know nothing of the others. I was sent to look at your model and see if you’re really as clever as your kindly Prior keeps reporting… And, as our proverb in Fasiltum has it, ‘the main course does not much care what else is for dinner.’ All I can suggest is that your youth and this,” he waved at the model, “make you more useful now than the fusty pedantry of all your other greybeards. You’d best get your feet hardened for a long journey. It’s twelve hundred Tsan or so to Bey Sii.”

“Hold, now, Kurrune,” Prior Haringgashte interposed smoothly. “You come at the boy teeth snapping like a charging Zrne! Give us time to gather our wits, and then we shall see what reply to give the High Council. I, for one, do not wish to see Harsan leave his studies as yet. Even Zaren, Harsan’s comrade here, knows nearly as much Llyani as Harsan does. His talents have always been more practically directed, of course, but-”

“My Lord Prior, the writ is there.” Kurrune leaned down to pick up his headdress and pinch out the lamp. Shadows leaped forth to take possession of Harsan’s model. “There is no answer other than compliance. You do have time-if you have both daring and high connections in the capital. Delay, then, and fire off such protests as you will. Or bargain Harsan for funds for a new image of Lord Thumis, or the rebuilding of the dormitory for your guests. The present one is full of biting Karai-beetles. Or as you will. The High Council is not immune to string-pulling. More than this I do not say.” He yawned. “In any case, the night demons befog my wits and whisper to me of sleep.”

The Prior pursed his lips and bent to roll up the mat Kurrune had used. “Harsan, you may leave us now. We shall see what is to be seen.” As the younger priest turned to go, he added, “Sleep now, but do not fail to call upon Qumal tomorrow. He will supply you with five strokes of the ‘leather rosary.’ How else to repay you for failing to announce Kumme’s arrival before that ill-visaged and latrine-breathed Ferruga burst in upon my nap? As it is written, ‘the hide of a young man is like that of a Chlen-beast; peel it, and it grows back ever thicker and stronger.’ ” The Prior smiled lopsidedly and turned back to his guest.

Chapter Four

The two men waited in silence until the receding slip-slap of Harsan’s sandals and the click of the door closing told them that he had left. Above them the high clerestory windows were etched in the eldritch green luminescence of Gayel, Tekumel’s second moon. The torch'at the entrance, around the comer of the narrow L- shaped gallery, had long ago collapsed into dark coals within its sconce, and now only the faintest scattering of Gayel’s light dusted the ghostly upper pinnacles of Fssu’uma’s towering work and picked out veins of gleaming gold from among the twisted boughs of Vringayekmu’s masterpiece. At the far end of the chamber, behind Harsan’s model of Llyani, the wall tapestries fluttered in response to the “Silent Walker of the Night,” as the men of the Chakas named the chill night breeze from the Inner Range.

The Prior rounded upon Kurrune and spoke with fierce intensity. “And now you can unravel me this skein, my friend! When you asked me to show the boy the map symbol I had no idea you came to take him from us! I had hoped to see him complete his work-attain the Third Circle at least, before sending him out to jig to the pipers of temple politics!”

The other shrugged, held out a hand cupped palm up in mute deprecation. “Old friend, what can I say? I am but a talking ATiM-bird, fluttering here and there to squawk my simple words, and am gone again…”

The Prior snorted. “Nonsense. I know you from of old. Did we not sweat out a miserable ten years together in the temple school at Tumissa? Tell me, honestly, as Hnalla, Lord of Light, loves you: how many masters now do you serve?”

Kurrune smiled, not in the least put out. “Currently I think it is six-three of which are here, here, and here.” He touched his stomach, his heart, and his forehead. “The remaining three are less troublesome.” He held out his blue courier’s headdress. “You know that I am a messenger for our good Lord, the sixty-first Seal Emperor of Tsolyanu. You know also that I favour our Lord of Wisdom, great Thumis. And the sixth of my masters you must guess at, for I may not reveal the name.”

“Tell me what you know of this matter at least!”

Kurrune sighed. “ ‘Sow seeds in the desert and reap only sand,’ as we say in Fasiltum. The High Council of the temple does not confide in such as I. But this, good Haringgashte, may be the shoot from which the tree sprouts: not only is Harsan young, not only does he unravel Llyani as easily as a maiden weaves garlands for her lovers, but is it not also true that he speaks the tongue of the insects-the Pe Choi?”

“Ohe, I had guessed as much.” The Prior licked thin lips. “The boy is clanless, brought to us by the Pe Choi from the inner valleys. For Thumis knows what reason they had kept him instead of handing him over to the nearest human settlement when they found him abandoned in the forest. None knew his parents, nor had we any record of him. When he came to us, he spoke only Pe Choi, a language no human has ever learned before. He whistled, he hooted, he trilled, he snapped his fingers and clapped his hands-and the insects understood him. He lacked the organs needed to make all of their strange sounds, yet he had developed substitutes. It was three summers before he could speak freely with the other children here in the monastery. Even now there are times when he strikes me as odd: a difference of idiom, a sense of attitude, who can say?”

The messenger glanced over to Harsan’s model. “You tell me that he is the only human ever to learn the tongue of the Pe Choi. Why did he not make it the subject of his Labour of Reverence? There are many who know Llyani.”

“We had thought the same,” the Prior replied, “but he said that there are no symbols-in glass, metal, or any other substance-for the sounds of the insects’ speech. More, he denies that our symbologies can truly represent their conceptual framework. Who knows, he may be right…”

“Perhaps he would keep his knowledge to himself? Later, when he grows more skilled, he may submit it as a Labour of Reverence for admission to a higher Circle?”

The Prior made a sour face. “Another unanswerable riddle. In any case, Llyani has status, prestige as a ‘high tongue’ of the ancients. It is also likely that the other acolytes in our school had much to do with his choice-teased him about his jungle origins, his lack of clan, lineage, and parentage-and made him miserable enough to select the most noble, most difficult, and most esoteric of all of the ancient languages.”

“La, friend Haringgashte, you now answer your own question.

Why send for this one lowly novice, as fresh as a Dlel — fruit from the tree? Here is a reason as good as any: a clever young fellow, talent visible within him as light within a lamp, a love of picking apart your ancient grammatical puzzles, a background of alien strangeness-something that provides him with a new perspective upon his studies. Why should the High Council not whistle him up when a bagful of old bones and trinkets comes to light?” He tapped his wallet.

“Because it is not enough! If there is one lesson I’ve learned in fifty years in the priesthood, it’s to follow a skein until I get back to the first knot. When Harsan spoke of Gruneshu and the others, his bolt did not miss its mark. Other scholars of Llyani exist, greater ones by far. Every temple of the twenty deities has some duffer or other who can riddle the language.” He scraped a hand across his small, shaven chin. “-And these relics have naught to do with the Pe Choi. There’s no hint of Pe Choi manufacture in the two you showed me. We lack a theorem sufficient to explain the data, as our old teacher Chayanu used to tell us in his logic lectures. The boy is clanless-not a good sign, for it means that he is expendable, and none to ask after him. He is naive, unlettered in the intrigues of the temple, vulnerable as a fish on the shore…”

Kurrune lowered his eyes. “Old friend, I really speak words of wind. I know nothing of this. About other matters I could fill you as a river fills a bucket. But not this. I swear it to you.” His tone softened. “My sources do bring me a drop here, a driblet there, and from all of these trickles I can often make a pond. They say of me that all gossip flows to Kurrune the Messenger, as a river enters the sea. Were you to ask, I could tell you how the Royalist

Вы читаете The Man of Gold
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату