Wow, pushing the limits here; that is what fear will do for you.
Well, still some already material left though it has gaps in it: gaps where I do not know details of that moment but know what comes after. I will do that at times. This is a first draft so you are going to get all the lumps and bumps that come with that I am afraid. That said, I am actually pleased with how complete the text has been up to now (full of errors certainly, but no gaps of writing).
Any way, apologies for the extended delay, now on with the show.
PLEASE DO NOT PUBLISH OR REPRODUCE WITHOUT MY PERMISSION
Chapter 8 PART 3
The Sulk & Through
By a ceaseless rotation of limbre and gastrine, the Douse Fish was kept at a cracking pace for so small a vessel, passing upon the ladeboard other craft guided by less impatient souls.
With the westering sun low in the wan blue dome of almost cloudless heaven, the cromster made the great rivergate with beats to spare, her timely advent hailed by a great din of frog chorus ringing from either weedy bank. Dark in the dusk-light against mounting billows of delicately orange clouds rising to the north and twinkling with a myriad lantern and window-lights, the Spindle entirely blocked the river ahead. Against the pallid element Economous could make out the crenelations of the squat bastions that anchored it to either shore, and see its long low battlements crawling with people all moving with snail’s speed from right to left – east to west.
“Refuge-seekers,” the lady passenger said as if she and he had been in constant conversation all day, speaking with pointed volume to be heard of the squall of frog-song. “They seek to escape the growing threat of monstrous uprising to the east. And hark,” she continued pointing to the sheoak lined eastern shore where high-screened barges disgorged companies of pediteers in the rouge and juverd – red and yellowed green – mottle of Useless. “The city-states begin to mass their soldiers.”
Economous beheld the mass of moving martialing souls on bridge and bank in amazement. “The threat is truly that grave?”
The woman looked at him sidelong. “Yes,” was all her answer.
It was Economous turn to look at her. “And has it reached up to the Undermeer?” he asked, fearing the answer.
“I do not yet know,” was the reply. “I presume that is your journey’s end?”
“Aye,” Economous nodded slowly. “That it is.”
“SEIZE ALL LIMBRES! RIDE THE TREADLE!” Patefract bawled, cutting conversation short.
Immediately the poor cromster was again put to shudders as her pace was arrested and she was brought with handiness of long experience to join the end of the line of vessels all waiting for their turn to pass through the impenetrable fortification. Pacing at the steerboard beam of the tiller, Mister Patefract fretted the much desired summons by the rivergate masters while his small crew worked to unstep the single mast and lay it secure upon the deck. Muttering and glowering at the flag-bearing masts that rose from the central hornwork of the Spindles, the master let out a wordless bark when the Douse Fish’ number was finally signalled with the instruction to proceed.
With tell-tale shudder, the cromster drew into one of the four low tunnels through which vessels were let upstream. Passing under the daggered teeth of a ponderous black-iron portcullis, Economous felt a strangely anxious thrill – a silly little fear that they would not be allowed on for some reason. Here on a low stone pier to the ladeboard-side along with the usual waterside cablemoors stood a coterie of excise clerks and their guards, each proofed in black and all looking drawn and drooping in the stark light of their night flares after a day long of ceasless scrutiny. So very much like the inky, neck-stiff clerical souls of the city, Economous paid scant heed to their preamble as they declared their right Imperial to step onto the Douse Fish’ sacred deck, marvelling instead at the grimy arch of stone a scarce arm’s reach above where dark algaes glistened with the sweat of tunnel-confined water. The cromster was tied, the excise clerk’s came aboard review the bill of lading and the other passenger made her leave.
“The dove’s flight carry you safe to your harbour, Mister Some-time,” she said, offering this odd parting with the slightest of curtsies.
“Oh, travel well, good lady,” Economous bade in farwell, half-standing and fumbling his hat from his head in surprise, amazed to discover that this woman was even shorter than she had seemed whilst seated.
“Indeed,” she said. “If you do happen to discover that nickers threat your destination please send me word of it.” She passed him an unexpected item – a calling card inscribed with a name and more amazingly an occupation:
Dolours of Herbroulesse (Ly)
Laude to the August of the Right of the Pacific Dove
This woman was a calendar!
Yet before Economous could press for more, this Dolours of Herbroulesse sprang warrior-nimble to the stone quay with a flash of parti-hued leggings showing through the flaring shirt of her coat and hurried through a heavy iron-bound door that lead by a low arch off the stone quay of the tunnel pier.
Cries from the pier and a officious bow from the chief of the excise clerks told of the Douse Fish’ worthiness to proceed. With shouts of his own and, Patefract had the cromster continue “under limbres,” as he ordered it.
“Half ahead by limbres,” Patefract ordered loudly, smiling finally in satisfaction – an expression that looked positively wicked on so uncongenial a face.
As the cromster came out of the tunnel a bright pink sibaline flare shot from a central bastion into the darkening sky, informing all approaching vessels from either south or north that they would have to moor for the night in the shadow of the impassable wall. With sullen clang and a ponderous splash a great black portcullis dropped behind them as if to add punctuation to the signal: no other was passing through today.
But the labour of the Douse Fish was not done. Despite the closing day, the faithful little craft was made to tread on, pressing upstream as above her, her crew and sole passenger a slow spectacle of tiny cosmic lights came out in ones and twos until the entire dome of sky blazed with spangled fire. Catching a line of other vessels visible only as low shadows on the faintly glistening water and single dancing mast lamps, Patefract joined his course to their their’s, becoming now the tail of this improvised squadron. At first the vessels kept to the left – that is, the ladeboard and in this moment western – side of the river’s flow, allowing way for south- and sea-ward bound vessels to pass unhindered upon the right. Yet as they wore on in silent north-bound convoy each vessel began to prefer a course as close to the middle of the river as was reckoned prudent, as if their masters were by mystic accord reluctant to remain near the ladeborad shore. Chimes – or late supper – was softly called and the meal-time conversation amongst the Douse Fish’ small crew gathered at the bow happened in a hush, every sentence accompanied by vigilant furtive glances to the western landfall.
Sitting now upon the deck, back propped against the bit, Economous ate his own meagre repast from Bidbrindle’s thoughtful parting parcel – pan-bread, best Wretcher wide-cheese and parched apple parings – and kept his own puzzled watch upon the ladeboard shore. “May I ask why you have taken port on the opposite bank to your course?” he inquired of a passing bargeman.
“’Tis an unhappy stretch o’ ribbon is all, sir,” the fellow muttered with a nictating wink. “Discomfittin’ sounds and causeless spookings. Yet fear not; harm seldom happens.”
Yet as it had been with the teratologists, rather than frightening him, the intelligence that monsters might be lurking in shadows and tangles scarcely the length of a long field away aroused only intense fascination. Wrapping himself in his coat like a blanket, he stared scarcely blinking to the dark western shoreline, wishing he had a laggards eyes to pierce the black blank and spy what manner of hobpossums might be skulking there. He listened pointdly yet no discomforting sounds came to him across the river but the gentle plash of earthen-reeking water pushed aside by the blunt blade of the cromster’s bow and the endless batrachian chorus ringing out from the reedy mud. Undisturbed by man or monster, it was as if every tribe of frog had turned out to bellow from the sodden grime – long low hoomings, metalic ringings, repetative baritone mutterings and high pingings that almost gratted in the ear – a raucous trilling concord that did not cease even when late coming Phoebë raised her lumpen lunar dial above the dark eastern line of trees.
With the moon’s arrivial Economous made a bunk for himself where he lay. Draping his cloak over himself and doubting any prospect of sleep, he set himself to witness the transit of the celestial glories as he had once done on secret night excursions as a child. Trying to summon the ephemerides – the tables showing seasonal planetary positions and subject of no small count of examinationaries at Athingdon Athy – to mind, he determined himself to witness the transit of tiny Jekyll across Maudlin’s midnight face. Yet as the great constellations – Vespasio, Medise Toxothene, Vauxall, the Tides and the Lots with luck-plagued Droid twinkling so innocently from within – span in radiant glory across the benighted dome, the silent rhythmic throb of the cromster’s gastrines and the gentle yawing of the deck lulled him…
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