Hidden Person Inside
I dream of the clouds,
Of the hidden person inside...
Kiden was familiar enough with the sounds and cries of the street hawkers around her to mentally switch off and just enjoy the sights taking place before her. Years of practice meant that she had confidence she could pick up on the call that would mean work and so she could relax, a vital ability in the chaos of the market place. Tension and nervousness exhausted, and exhaustion meant less work. If she didn't work and couldn't meet the necessary quota, her wage would fall and it might take weeks for her to build back up to her former pay again, during which time she would be in debt, and debt... Kiden shivered despite the warmth of the afternoon; debt was a deep, sheer sided hole in this city.
Relaxation however, gave her the extra stamina she needed to survive the bustle, to pick out possible customers, dismiss the freeloaders, to surrender a possible mark in her book to another scribe without too much worry. There was always someone else wanting their business officially written down. In a place where every citizen knew their rights and was willing to use them to the full extent of the law, a legal record of events was a necessity for most traders, not a luxury.
Kiden had to work harder than most of the scribes, however, her position on the Scribes' Wall was borne under sufferance - most of it hers. She knew that a lot of her customers were drawn by her exotic appeal. But the truly prestigious and the rich, the ones that could add several marks to her book in one transaction, either could not afford to be seen with someone so obviously foreign. Or never came back if they were forced into accepting her services by the absence of any other available scribe.
It always struck Kiden as supremely ironic that she, whose sole claim to the land of the Mountain Keepers was the distant inheritance of a great grandmother, was probably more Southern than most of the people in the market. Her parents prided themselves on how they could trace their ancestry back to the very first settlers on this part of the continent, even before the Jacton Banishment and the legendary lost city of Kirako was founded.
That didn't matter though, when her ancestor's legacy to her great granddaughter could easily be seen in Kiden's features: wide-set, green eyes combined with soft, light brown hair; high, finely marked cheekbones, a light sprinkling of permanent freckles across her skin, tip-tilted nose and a slender limbed height. She was marked at best, as a Mountain Keeper, at worst, as a Northerner. When she had lived with her parents in the trade caravans, it hadn't mattered that she looked so different to her siblings, but here, so far from the routes she was familiar with, so distant from the mountains and the North, the persecution was a lot less subtle. Never physical, but there nonetheless.
Sometimes, in darker days, Kiden wondered what had led her to declare her independence in so drastic a manner. When her mother and father had saved enough money to buy the small farm they had long dreamed about, she had been offered the opportunity to stay with them, as their last child still living with the caravan they had owned. Her oldest brother married and already with one child, had quickly extended an invitation for her to join the caravan of which he was leader. Her youngest brother, who had bought a broken-down farm and was in the process of building it up, had been equally as generous. Her two sisters, one married and settled, the other trying to entice the interest of a man in another caravan, various cousins, aunts, uncles and vaguer relatives had all offered her positions with them also.
Kiden had been conscious of a vague feeling of guilt at having to refuse such unexpected generosity. Though a tiny, cynical voice inside her had said that they only wanted another pair of hands. But she had been tired of the impermanence of caravan life, and had been aware of a burning desire to be free of her large and extended family, just for once.
So she had left the familiarity of all the routes between Iranquoi near the Keepers' border and Syreeta on the coast, and had journeyed to Halsey, the capital city of the Jafardi Tribe, its king responsible for 87 jurisdictional districts. It had the advantage of being entirely free of any relatives of her family. If she was going to be independent, she was going to do it properly.
Kiden's naiveté still shocked her, four years later. Her savings had drained away so fast they might as well never have existed and then to put the cap on all of her troubles, she had received a King's Summons...
As far as Kiden was concerned, normal, everyday people just didn't go before royalty. Court officials, tribal leaders, a district governor if you were unlucky, but not a king. The very junior court official had been insistent however, and after passing through the hands of the palace's headwoman, Kiden had emerged into the throne room. She was now clean-scrubbed and tidy, wearing respectable, if not new, clothes that were more suitable than her own for approaching the supreme ruler of the tribal land.
After two and half-hours of waiting, her turn had finally come. The beginning had not been auspicious.
"Your family hails from Iranquoi, I understand." Kiden had nodded mutely. During her life in a trade caravan, she had dealt with all types of people, from the poorest of the farmers, to tribal leaders. They were all people, her father had said when she spoke of her nervousness in meeting the Chief of the Maat-aya, and if they wriggled when she was speaking, it wasn't impatience, but scratchy underwear. Somehow, Kiden doubted the king suffered from that particular curse, even if he was only 'people' too. The grandeur of her surroundings, the speed with which she had been dealt with by the palace staff, the long, intimidating wait seemed to have robbed her of her voice.
With a twinkle in his eye that had almost made him seem approachable, the King had added,
"That's in the mountains, is it not?" Kiden had heard that particular, and she suspected deliberate, error of geography several times over the past few days, and she had reached a limit with her patient explanations. Stung, she had blurted out a smart reply,
"No, your Majesty, it's four miles inside the Southern border."
Out of the corner of her eyes, Kiden had seen the guards stiffen slightly, a hush falling over the assembled court as her voice rang out clearly. With the feeling that her life was soon to come to an abrupt end, Kiden had straightened her shoulders, lifted her chin to stop it wobbling and to maintain eye contact with the personage on the throne, despite the icy pit of fear in her stomach.
For an eternal moment, there had been a horrible silence and then the King had laughed and nodded.
"Very true," his eyes had sharpened suddenly, his gaze narrowing and pinning Kiden where she stood. Even if running had been an option, she couldn't have escaped those dark eyes that seemed to demand her every secret to be told. She had forced herself to return the intense look, her jaw clenching and her nostrils flaring with the effort.
"Words are important to you then?" Playing safe after her last remark, Kiden had nodded and settled for a simple,
"Yes, your Majesty."
"I need people who understand the importance of words. Who will treat them with respect, and accuracy. Are you one of those people?"
Kiden was familiar with the tactics of trading and knew that she was deliberately being pushed into an answer. This question demanded consideration for the hidden messages she was sure it contained. She needed a job though, and it sounded as if this was what she was being offered. With a mental shrug of acceptance she had pushed away her worries for later perusal: she would never know unless she tried.
"I believe so." The King kept that gaze on her for a few moments longer, but nodded just before she could add any provisos.
"Good," gesturing to one side, he beckoned forth a man wearing the sash of a court secretary.
"Temass, take her and explain the duties and privileges of being a king's scribe."
Kiden later learned that the words were ritualistic, but at the time she had wondered exactly what she had stepped in to and why she found the words vaguely threatening.
The duties were simple: she was to make herself available to anyone who needed the services of an official king's scribe. It was a grand title for a usually tedious job, but Kiden put up with it for the experience, the wage, the tiny room it gave her to live in, the continued independence from her family. And the possibilities, however remote, of aspiring to court scribe, the next step up the ladder and much more interesting and better-paid work.
The privileges of being a scribe were a little more nebulous. She could attend court meetings, though if she offered her opinion she would be firmly silenced for such daring. She could roam freely through the official apartments of the palace, though there was nothing of interest to see. She had access to the Royal Library, but then, so did most of the city, King Ahasiru being an enlightened ruler.
Four years in the city had made her realize how lucky she had been to gain the King's favour, to receive a job. Without it, she would never have been able to afford the living expenses and would have been forced to return to her parents. What she hadn't expected was the loneliness. She had grown up surrounded by loving, well meaning, if sometimes suffocating, relatives, and suddenly she'd had no one. The other scribes were stand-offish, united by their own links to their families and reluctant to let someone so alien into their group.
"Excuse me, could you..."
Two voices speaking over each other broke Kiden out of her absentminded dreaming and she spared a moment to scold herself for allowing her attention to drift so much. She rose to her feet and smiled at the two men who stood in front of her. Jastry's was a familiar face; a market trader that used her on a fairly regular basis, since she added an interest that he hoped distracted his buyers from the mundane nature of his goods. The other, robed and hooded in the usual manner of a traveler, was a stranger to her and with the sun setting over the domed roof of palace behind him, she couldn't see the details of his face.
The two men exchanged looks, started again both at the same time and faded into an uneasy silence. Before they could start the 'you first' game, a small, stocky woman insinuated herself on the group with a cheerful, "May I help you?"
Millen was well aware of the disadvantages that she held as a scribe; she was too short to see people's faces in a crowd, and carried too much weight to beat the fitter ones to a shout, so she made opportunities for herself. Her ability to size up a possible mark for her book was unparalleled in Kiden's opinion. Millen would wander through the market and see business where Kiden saw only a brief exchange of words or sometimes, looks. She had tried to learn from the little woman, but it had quickly become obvious to her, that her skills lay in the more traditional listen-and-dash than in Millen's observe-and-persuade. She admired the other scribe greatly for this talent, and the two women had a sort of friendly understanding. Millen taught Kiden how to make the best use of her assets, and Kiden in turn, provided the physical shielding of her body and told her what she could see from her greater height. The other scribes alternately ignored Millen, or resented the persuasive way she created jobs for herself, but the little woman was unfazed by their coolness, living, as she told Kiden, for the challenge. Kiden had learnt a lot from her and knew how much she owed to the experience of the other woman, so didn't resent this intrusion as some might have.
Even as she watched Millen had managed to learn that the stranger wanted directions to the palace and he was promptly led away by her. Grinning, Kiden turned to Jastry and gestured for him to lead the way. She couldn't however, resist a backward glance to the pair, aware, vaguely, that there was something familiar about the stranger.
The business she conducted with Jastry was more successful than Kiden could have dreamed. She had five separate marks in her book, since each of his clients had also insisted on a copy of the legal record for themselves. Feeling very pleased with herself; she wove her way through the throngs of people towards the palace. If she hurried and wrote up the papers now, she could finish early and carry over the three marks extra marks as a credit against the next day's work.
She was still debating the merits of either a longer lie in bed the following morning compared to finishing early in the afternoon, when she delivered the copies of the record to the Judge's Office at the gate of the palace, "Kiden, finished early today." Kiden was never sure whether Judge Aviat disapproved of her or usually spoke in flat monotones, but it was better for her to stay on his good side so she replied politely.
"Yes. Good business today, sir." The man nodded, barely glancing up from his perusal of the copies she had handed to him, each neatly labeled with the precise directions he preferred.
"Make sure you write up the rest of your business in the Records before evenmeal." Kiden hid a sigh as she watched him examine the papers for errors. Every time she had to leave copies with him, he spoke the same warning. She had never been able to work out whether he was being deliberately patronizing or if it was just an unconscious character trait. Either way she found it irritating and had to take a deep breath before making a polite reply, resisting the urge to tint it slightly with a subtle sarcasm that she knew he wouldn't notice.
"Of course, sir. May I leave the copies with you?" He peered up at her from under his eyebrows before nodding.
"Yes, very well. These appear to be sufficient." Kiden held onto her sigh of relief until she was outside his office, eliciting a sympathetic grin from one of the Judge's junior assistants sitting outside.
"It isn't-t y-you," he stuttered, "he's in a b-b-bad-d m-mood t-t--t..."
"Today," Kiden couldn't stop herself from speaking the word for the young man, it was agonizing listening to him talk. Hanoch gave her a grateful look and Kiden forgot the little twinge of guilt she felt from taking over.
"Yes-s." Hanoch was the first person Kiden had ever met who could stutter at both ends of a word, and she tried to be kind to him since underneath his almost overwhelming nervousness he had a kind heart and a wicked sense of humour. Judge Aviat was entirely the wrong sort of person to have apprenticed the young man, though neither Hanoch, nor the court official who was in charge of such matters, seemed to see it.
"He'll-l-l-l..." Hanoch cut himself off with an almost visible effort and Kiden felt her stomach muscles clench in a sympathetic response, "b-b-be better t-omorrow!" He grinned at her, his eyes shining with the success of speaking such a sentence and Kiden smiled back.
"Let's hope. I'd better go and write up my book though." Hanoch nodded and grinned again and Kiden hurried away before he could start saying 'good idea'. If 'b's' and 't's' were bad for Hanoch, 'g's' were even worse.
The Great Hall of the palace was dominated by a massive dome overhead; huge beams of elaborately carved stone arching up in support. Light and air was let in by a series of horizontal and vertical inlets in the dome itself, all arranged so that when the sun was in the noon position during the summer equinox, the center of the floor was lit up in a perfect, pure white, hexagonal shape. During the rest of the year, the colored glass in the window inlets formed beautiful prismatic patterns, making the room almost too beautiful for the mundane court business that was conducted there. Outside the tall columns that helped to support the dome, desks and shelves made up numerous little offices for the use of the junior members of the court. The north end of the Great Hall led into the throne room, and Kiden poked her head tentatively round the archway to see if anything of interest was occurring.
Her attention was caught by the familiar figure of the robed stranger, so, carrying her book and one of the ledgers that made up the King's Records, she moved quietly into a corner to write up the day's business. Copying from one book to another and maintaining a neat hand was a tedious job that did not require her full attention, so she listened with half an ear to what was happening before the throne. She had almost finished when she heard the King speak, his voice pitched so that it resonated to all the corners of the room.
"According to law, what is to be done with my proclaimer, Vasca, son of Eltoh?" Kiden hurriedly finished transcribing her book as the litany of crimes against the news crier; the King's Proclaimer was listed. The actual decision had been made a few days before and had been the subject of much gossip in the market place; now, the formal wording probably meant that a replacement was finally to be named.
Hugging the heavy books to her chest, Kiden wondered whether the robed stranger had been called for just such a purpose, but the King beckoned forth another man from the people seated in the tiers seats before him.
"Doshi, son of Thomas, your skills have recommended themselves to me as an ideal replacement..."Kiden wrinkled her nose, raising her books to hide her expression; she didn't like the man. He came across as too busy, too willing to please anyone who ranked above him, but to those of equal status or below, he was supercilious and offensive.
The subtly sarcastic wording led Kiden to think that the King had had enough of the unctuous little man and had finally found a way to get him away from his person and out of his ear.
"My liege," Kiden heard several snickers from the more junior of the court assembled on the upper level near her at the overly formal wording. And she thought she saw a flicker pass over the King's face as the little man, bowing repeatedly, went on to describe his great, his very great, honor in accepting such an immense and worthy privilege. Kiden listened with interest as he was allowed to continue, adding several new superlatives to her vocabulary in the process.
"Good," the King turned quickly to his senior advisors when Doshi took a breath, effectively cutting him off and he retreated still bowing and rather flushed. The snickering beside Kiden increased in volume a little and then faded abruptly at the stern look from a courtier on a lower tier.
"Now, I have need of a trustworthy man to replace the services of my personal body servant, Doshi."
"Sire, there are several..." The King waved off the chamberlain who spoke and pointed with his staff to the side where the robed stranger was standing. Kiden raised her eyebrows in surprise as the King called him forward.
"What is your name?" The tall figure respectfully pulled back his hood as he replied, "Samuel, son of Zander, your Majesty." Bright sunlight lit the man's golden-colored hair, making it shine, and Kiden heard her own astonishment echoed in the gasps expelled around the room.
© 1999 Copyright held by the author.
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