(c) Nin Harris 2012. All Rights Reserved.
In the days before the last gaernic refugees found their way to Yrejveree, Aiceli had been a court scribe. She was one of many, and not necessarily the best. She had loved the etch of ink on parchment, but not the painful process of trying to turn the overwrought words of her Lady into something more elegant. That was three decades ago. Aiceli had left the feudalism of Gaern for the strange organised anarchy of the Mykologosia. She was glad to jettison the gaernic courtiers, and her erstwhile boss was too occupied with driving the Caretaker of Domus Exsulis around the bend to really notice. Aiceli had more immediate concerns and had learned to be an opportunist in her old age.
Now, she finished binding the third volume that Grisette had commissioned for her mysterious client. It was a set of rites and codes for alchemical purposes. Aiceli creased her brow over some of the pages she had transcribed, which made no sense at all from what she knew of gaernic alchemy, but this was Yrejveree, an island that had more connections with Terra Cognita than Gaern had ever possessed. She looked up as the doorbell attached to the front door of her workshop rang and the door opened. It was the perfumer, Ipede Dwinkum. He wore a primrose toga today, with owl-rimmed glasses perched on his nose. His features were peculiarly elfin for a wood-dwarf, even if wood-dwarfs were a clean-shaven breed, and decidedly intellectual. Aiceli gave him a wary look. Lately, he had been dressing in a far more sober manner, in very smart breeches, a brown hat and a tweed jacket. However, rumours were still rife about Ipede’s toga-wearing days and the citizens of the Mykologosia were divided on whether these were his days of madness or his days of genius. The more astute amongst them would point out that it was obviously both.
“Word has it you are binding a set of The Alchemica Divinium for Grisette, is this true?”
Aiceli frowned at Ipede, who was ruffling his mess of ginger and brown hair in an agitated manner, using both hands.
“Yes, but how did you…,”
“Do you know who she wants the books for? You cannot give it to her!”
“She has already paid me an advance, and Grisette is one of my most steady clients, I cannot turn down her custom.”
“I will double her advance. Pay her back. Say that you procured the wrong books. Tell her it was a mistake.”
Aiceli was not credulous. However, the urgency of his words and the look on his face swayed her a little. She shook her head.
“Ipede, I cannot! She was the one who secured the original copy for me to correct, transcribe and rewrite.”
The Wood-Dwarf crinkled his brow, his hands moving from his head to his sides as he mused aloud.
“Why would that rotten bounder need copies made if he already had it?”
Aiceli shrugged, turning the pages of the original Volume III of the Alchemica Divinium.
“I was told that her customer did not understand some of the language in the Book because it is in a mixture of latin, gaernic and ferahian.”
“Aha!” Ipede looked relieved as he said, “It cannot be the original Alchemica Divinium then! That was written in a mixture of pig-latin and Egyptian hieroglyphs!”
Aiceli turned the pages of one of the volumes she had been given.
“Correct. However, this was a translation done by a gaernic scholar who decided to replicate the hybrid effect to avoid it falling into the wrong hands. With a code that I was able to unscramble since royal gaernic scribes are taught to memorise the eight hundred scholarly cryptographical systems of Gaern and Ferahia combined.”
Aiceli realised she was boasting a little, but she couldn’t help herself. The wood-dwarf whistled appreciatively. He paused, before throwing her a more serious look. The pause was almost timed, and a little too obvious, Aiceli thought.
“There are no hands more wrong than those of Jezemiah Irlinus, Aiceli.”
Aiceli had heard of the feared alchemist, she had memories of her own unsavoury encounter with him. She clutched her scribe’s gown closer to her.
“How do you know it is him?”
Ipede shrugged, touching the bound volume wistfully.
“I have my sources, I’ve been around far longer than Grisette has.”
“And haven’t you been collaborating with Jezemiah, anyway?”
Ipede looked away. Outside, it began to rain and the boys who had been playing football in the street outside rushed into the neighbouring teahouse. She frowned, wondering if her grandson was with them.
Ipede spoke, “Decades ago. Not my proudest moment. Was around the bend, so to speak. Not that I’ve come back from around that bend by much, but I’m older now. Irlinus must not have the translation. He cannot. You should know why.”
Aiceli nodded. “No, you’re right. But I cannot afford to lose Grisette’s custom either. I have a family to support here.”
Ipede gave her a shrewd look. “It is a translation, is it not?”
She prodded the deerskin cover of the beautiful, cobalt blue book. Her eyes lit with understanding. “Yes, yes it is.”
“The trouble with translations is that so many nuances can get lost. Alas!”
Aiceli laughed. Her face took on a cunning cast that would have shocked her previous employer – if one could call what she did for her feudal lady employment. They had not been given much beyond from fine food, clothes, a place to live and the odd trinket or piece of jewelry whenever they had pleased the Lady Deiranetta. “Are you proposing only double the interest for the amount of work you want me to do?”
Ipede pursed his lips, and was quiet for some moments. Then, he spoke, “Triple, if you let me assist you in the matter of translation. And the price of a new set of volumes made from an alternate translation of the Alchemica Divinium. And, you get to keep the money Grisette will give you when you hand over the volumes I have helped you with.”
Aiceli was delighted at the prospect of both the challenge implied within this new commission as well as the amount of money proposed. She had experienced a major shift in her perception of herself and the world since she had moved to Yrejveree. The events that had brought them to Gaern had not only stolen their homeland from them. It had also taken the life of both her husband and her son, leaving her to fend for both her grieving daughter-in-law and her grandchildren. The money that this new commission would bring would help. It would help a lot.
“This sounds like a promising business proposition,” she said.
Ipede smiled, looking very pleased with himself. “Only the beginning of many such propositions, my dear.”
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