CHAPTER I: ADUMBRATION

A KREAN NOVEL

 
The Shendar Book of Myths   
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Introduction. In which the young Krean mage Déárán, having done his duty as an unwilling Imperial Appraiser, is confronted by Master Merchant Terensis, the latter believing himself to have been used most unjustly... Meet Master Terensis, the Great Vessel, who seems to be less enraged by being fined than by the fact that he has been fined by a man half his age, whom he considers to be barely past adolescence. But this he will not admit...
 

éárán Asaen, curious, talented, and rich, with a penetrating mind and irresistible laughter, seemed to unite some of the great blessings of existence; and had risen in the world for twenty years with little to mortify or hinder him.

Déárán planned - and planned with such ingenuity, such inexhaustible spirit, that he expected everything, all chance and circumstance, to bend and give way to his indomitable energy.

The real evils of Déárán’s situation were a desire to have rather too much his own way, and a disposition to arrange the affairs of his world with little thought for the many turns and surprises of life, the inclinations of others, or his own exhaustion: these were the disadvantages which threatened to alloy his many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with him.

Embarrassment came, an unforeseen embarrassment. Four days ago, during one of the many ostentatious parties held among the noble men and women of Kimbar, the awkward incident happened. Déárán, a valetudinarian, would not have attended the festivity; he was not feeling entirely well that day. Yet, chance and circumstance – perhaps also the inclinations, desires and intentions of certain others - contrived that a special invitation should arrive, three days prior to the party, in his name at the Rhuníth estate. The past week had been full of physical exertion at the Golden Coronet and Déárán, reasoning so courteously, decided that a world with Déárán enjoying himself was a slightly better place than a world with Déárán sweating. He accepted the invitation so handsomely addressed to him.

The party had set off well. The gardens, the estate, the walks… all had been decorated in a style of beauty the reigning character of which was elegance. There circulated among the guests even a rumour that Gérán Fleetfoot had constructed the two swan shaped ferries.

All morning long the graceful boats carried people to and fro the lake bordering the estate where the party was to be held. Water-dancers greeted the guests before the ornate anchorage. The aged stone stairs leading up to the outer ring of the gardens were bathed in rose petals; red and pink and crimson dressing the walkway. From the hundreds of bird chirpings that accompanied the visitors on their way, Déárán’s quick mind and lively imagination inferred the presence of Birdsingers, hiding, perhaps, amidst the canopy.

There, at the top of the stone steps, was a flabby gentleman, with a moist surface, a massive configuration of brow, and eyes so much too small for his moon of a face that they seemed to have been originally made for somebody else. He certainly was a great creature, flabbily speaking.

Their eyes met for one brief moment, to the exasperation of one and the considerable misfortune of the other. Then, cumbrously at first, then gaining momentum, this great creature charged down the steps, not unlike one of those colossal Anpagan Pacifier galleys - leaving, in his wake, first a ripple, then a stronger, more turbulent current among the battalions of guests scaling the rise.

Khalid, heir to the Rhuníth estate, cringed, and extracted himself a few palmspans sideways. Déárán stood, still, at ease, shoulders back and relaxed, a proud suggestion to the arch of his back. He observed a canary alight from a nearby branch and settle elsewhere, closer to the food, higher up, perhaps to afford itself a better view of the spectacle that was about to unfold.

Against the considerably heavier bulk of this vessel, the young Krean described a fragile figure – growing more and more isolated in the clearing opening up around him as throngs of guests kindly removed themselves, less rapidly than they might have wished, more hurriedly than civility prescribed. Duels, in Zhun, were not unheard of.

Tall, graceful, and lean, Déárán held his ground, unperturbed, like the unwilling knife awaiting the onslaught of the butcher’s meat at dinner.

“What is the meaning of this!” bellowed the great creature.

Beline Terensis must have received the Fine.

“Ah! Master Terensis. Always a pleasure. How do you do?”

“Away with the civilities!” said Master Terensis breathing heavily from his nostrils, on the point of breaking out into some strong opinion.

“Perhaps, sir, you should sit down – here, on this bench, away from the sun – to give yourself a more favourable opportunity of recovering your breath,” the young Krean entreated him, with some agitation for the man’s health, and the prospect of his being overpowered by a failure of the heart in any incident to which he might be a party.

“There I was, on my way here, when the carriage was intercepted by an imperial messenger – one attached to your office if I am not mistaken – to hand me this, this FINE!”

“You have sufficient reason, I dare think,” said Déárán, “for being chafed and irritated –“

“There again!” exclaimed the great vessel, becoming violently angry, his sails, his portly chest, expanding with the wind. “I am of a quarrelsome temper. I am irascible. I am not polite!”

“Not very, I think.”

“I shall not pay it! If you think you can make me pay this, this –“ said Master Terensis, staring at the piece of paper in his hand with angry bewilderment.

“I believe we established that it was a fine - not an uncommon creature – sir,” suggested the Krean.

“You believe!” said the man, pausing in his wrath to catch his breath, exhausted anew by so much talking so soon after his impressive assault on the stairs, before it was fully restored. Abruptly, Master Terensis broke out fiercely, “This, a ... a Fine?”, still refusing to comprehend that school of thought, first cultivated by the Krean and now spreading among the officialdom of the empire, which said, that however high he be, the Law was above him.

“Yes, sir. Nothing could be clearer. I happened to be present when it was being inscribed. I saw the paper.”

“You saw the paper! – you wrote the paper too. Déárán, this is your doing!”

“Ah, that,” Déárán responded, calmly, with a gleam in his eyes that promised to develop into a most dangerous disposition, “is the subject of some controversy.”

“Cantriversee,” corrected the vessel, absentmindedly.

“Although its consequences are abundantly clear, as I said, there remains some contravuhsee regarding its causes. Recall sir, when, a month ago, entirely unsolicited, you suggested, so rightly, so righteously, in the vein of a citizen doing his Duty, that, as I was now an officer of the Empire, perhaps my income – including my private income – should be subjected to Imperial Taxation? The Third Vizier was so impressed by this noble conduct that he felt it upon his office to acquaint himself with the affairs of such an exemplary citizen. I dare say His Eminence was very much inclined to reward you a Medal in the hope that you may provide a shining example of all that is proper, all that is just, and all that is due, to your kinsmen – until, to his great surprise, he discovered that the Annals recorded far less tax revenue than one would expect from a merchant of such significance.” Déárán paused, so that his words, and the weight of his meaning, might be better absorbed. “So there I was – not in any official capacity, but as a conscientious citizen duly paying his taxes – when, the Third Vizier – having reasoned that such a model tradesman could not be evading his Pipeweed Levies– happened to be writing a missive instructing me to look into the matter.”

“...”

“Excuse me sir? I fear I did not catch that. Never mind. Imagine my astonishment when all my due diligence suggested that our Exemplary Citizen might have been more vehement in professing than performing! Thus, I sent out the first Official Enquiry. When two weeks passed without any response, instead of fining you right away, I used my discretion to address two further Notices to you. I thought to myself, ‘Zhun is, still, an outward province. One cannot expect the tidings to function as efficiently as in the Peninsula. Master Terensis might have never received the Enquiry. Give him one more chance to put his house in order!”

“You vicious Krean!” Master Terensis never spoke without first putting up his great hand as delivering a token to his hearers that he is going to edify them. “Have you any idea how much this costs!”

“I believe – “

“Ten thousand sovereigns!”

“Ten thousand sovereigns, one hundred and seventy-six viziers, and thirty-seven footmen’s pence, in fact. A quarter of the quarterly profits of the agricultural line of your trade.”

“You vile, vicious, villainous man! I thought you were opposed to the Pipeweed Levies!”

“I have indeed expressed my objections decisively – perhaps more strongly than prudence would have wished - to the Emperor, personally. I also object that we Krean, who produce the most, who trade the most, and therefore give the most encouragement to the industry of the Empire’s other nations, should have to face such extravagant levies and consider it unjust that Krean traders should be taxed less advantageously. And I shall continue to make my objections publicly. But an unjust law, so long as it is in force, must be obeyed.”

“Ten thousand sovereigns!” repeated Master Terensis, the great vessel seemingly unable to put it out of his mind. “Ten thousand sovereigns! You vengeful beast!” burst Master Terensis, raising his hand in indignation, and going up to the young Krean as if he meant to strike him. Master Terensis’s advance was suddenly halted, and vigorous ripples, originating in his middle regions, swiftly travelled up to his flabby cheeks, as if he had run into an invisible barrier, stomach-first. “Krean sorceries!” cried the great vessel, livid with grievance.

“Sir! Command yourself enough to say no more! This is neither the place nor the time to discuss the matter any further. If you have any – “

“But ten thousand sovereigns!..” lamented Master Terensis, somewhat subdued.

“As I see you do have further objections,” Déárán took a little book from his pocket, and with calmer asperity added, “I shall give you an appointment tomorrow afternoon, at three. Good day!”

Déárán Asaen, dignified, astute, and by now slightly irate, moved on. His friend, very eager to join him and put as much distance in as short a time as possible between himself and the great bulk of Master Terensis shaking so very much unsteadily, followed. The crowd, slightly disappointed that the spectacle was now over, reconvened and slowly, courteously, made its way up the flight of steps, with an air that was an example to mankind.

Baline Terensis sat down on the stone steps, an anchor hitting the ocean floor, and released his weight, flabbily, like a ship dead at sea, the wind removed from its sails. Master Terensis sat for some time; not quite comprehending how he came to be stranded on such forlorn, grey rocks, and how something so small –for nothing had been or was visible on the horizon – should sink so great a vessel.
 


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