Chapter VII.

13 Jun

Approaching the closest structure, Ranid noticed a roof tablet with a green frog painted on it. His premonition had been perfectly correct.

What now?

Ranid decided to knock at this cottage and make a plea for help. There was no time to lose. The unknown condition of Hyle weighed on him. Immediate action was called for, with no hesitation over the difference in faiths.

Several knocks on the betulan door brought forth an old, grizzled man in coarse linsey-woolsey jacket and breeches. The buskins on his feet were of an unidentifiable fabric, some material unfamiliar to Ranid.

“What you want?” said the country character, making an odd grimace.

Ranid tried to be quick and concise. “My walking companion fell and injured his leg. I can’t move him by myself.”

“He is unable to walk on his own?”

Ranid nodded his head yes.

“I’ll call my two sons,” said the oldster. “They can carry him to the clachan.”

It took only minutes for the pair of husky young farm workers to transport Hyle to their cottage in the village. They lifted him up gently, bearing him in their criss-crossed arms. The father supervised their work. Ranid trailed behind, amazed at their humaneness.

These are Anurans! he had to repeat to himself in his mind.

No one asked the spiritual affiliation of the pair of strangers. But it might have been guessed from subtle, almost invisible signs they themselves were unaware of.

A small grandson of the family elder was sent to fetch the clachan’s medicus. This self-taught natural curer determined that Hyle had suffered a broken leg bone.

“You must stay here a few days,” decided the folk healer. “Until someone can come to make a cast for your limb. It will take some time before you can walk upright once more.”

It was decided by the two city-dwellers that Ranid would go back and report what had happened to the now injured Praeposter. The young man walked all the way to the capital and made a formal report at the Archivum. He then returned to the clachan late in the evening. There was news for him here. The medicus had gone to the district center and brought back an experienced nurser. Together, the two set the leg of Hyle in a temporary plaster cast. That might make an enormous difference in saving his ability to walk.

“We must take this man to the district spitale in the morning,” announced the nurser. “They can make him a permanent cast there. That is the best course to take, I would judge.”

“I will carry him there in my mule wagon,” volunteered the old man who owned the cottage. “He should arrive there as soon as possible.”

Soon after dawn, Hyle was carefully loaded into an open farm wagon pulled by an equine. Ranid sat next to the old villager as they slowly journeyed to the central clachan of the area.

The driver assured the pair of strangers that the patient would receive good care at the spitale they were headed for.

“We help each other hereabouts in the marshes,” mused the oldster. “Anurans help Salamanders, Salamanders help us. That’s the way it is out here.”

Ranid smiled to himself. If only everyone, everywhere were like that.

Since Hyle was unable to walk to the Citadelle, the Capitular himself came to the Archivum to have a talk with him. This was only three days after the accident in the marsh. Caudo Eximius arrived without any retinue, in a gownlike vestimentum of aquamarine. He wore no ensignia of office whatsoever.

Hyle, surprised to find the head of the Salamandrites at the door of his living quarters, ushered him into the apartment cube. The Praeposter moved slowly to his writing desk after asking the high officeholder to take a cohunewood chair.

“I have been informed of your injury and sympathize with you,” began Eximius. “It is evident that you are attempting to return to as many of your duties as possible, taking in consideration the problem of mobility. Our hope is for your rapid and full recovery.”

“Thank you, sir,” smiled Hyle. “I appreciate your concern. The medicos tell me that, in time, my leg will be out of this parget cast and back to normal. Let me say that your coming here is a complete surprise that heartens and encourages me greatly. Thank you, again.”

Caudo studied the lines on the face of the Praeposter as if trying to decipher something encoded there. “The young man has returned to his research work?” he softly whispered.

“Yes, he has. Without him having been with me, my physical condition would have been much worse. I am indebted to him for obtaining assistance in time.”

The Capitular drew a full, deep breath. “I am here in order to initiate your preparation for membership in our Apodic Brotherhood. The syndics have, on my recommendation, accepted you. We held long discussions about your researcher, Ranid Rolius. The final decision was rejection. He is not the type of person who can be trusted in our small, intimate circle. There is too much risk of harm with him among us. Confidence would be lacking. So, you will be admitted, but not this uncontrollable scholar. To all of us, he appears wild and unpredictable. He is not an individual that we can depend upon with any security. Who can say what new problems he might present in the future?”

Hyle, shaken by these words, groped for some degree of satisfaction.

“Ranid will continue on my staff, doing archival tasks, will he not?”

Eximius seemed to look across at the painted salamanders on the dado of the opposite wall.

“We decided on immediate elimination as the best solution to the problem of this young man. It must be carried out as soon as possible. Do not be alarmed, it will not be the first time we Apods have accomplished anything like that. Over the generations, there have been cases when eradication of potential trouble became necessary. Death has sometimes been meted out to recusants, when there is no other way. Let me tell you about my own involvement.

“When I first entered as a novice Apodist, our circle was experiencing problems with an addicted inebriate. This chronic imbiber came close to revealing secrets several times with his lose talk. But the greatest point of danger was what his wife heard him babble while asleep. You see, the fellow acted as financial treasurer for our Apod Brotherhood. He was in charge of the money relationships between the Salamandrine Organization and our small, secret circle. He knew all aspects of our business, if you understand what I mean. What if he went too far in drunken conversation or nighttime murmuring? It was decided to dispose of the fool, and I was the one appointed to carry out the deadly task. It was a great, heavy responsibility that then rested on my shoulders.

“But how was I to do it? I decided to use a poisonous herb, the widespread one named aconitum. It was easy to purchase a sufficient quantity from a country grower of herbs. I was not at all proud of my deed, but it had to be done. This incident helped me gain the loyalty of the circle, so that when the vacancy occurred it was I who was elected the new Capitular. That killing was the turning point of my entire career, I must confess. It made me who I am and what I am today.”

“There is no other way for Ranid?” gulped Hyle in rising consternation.

“I am afraid not,” replied Caudo, his face and his voice icy cold.

Hyle gasped for breath. “When does it happen? And who will be doing it?”

“The fewer who know the particulars of what is going on, the better. I prefer not to use the armed guards, who are outsiders. It must be done inside our own ranks, which you will soon be joining. In a sense, you are a candidate who already knows much about us. So, since you brought him to us, I place this assignment on your shoulders. Do you happen to have any kind of weapon or poison available?”

“No,” said the thunderstruck archivist.

“Means can be provided for you this very night. Perhaps a tiny cartridge will do.”

“Poison might be easier and more suitable,” trembled the Praeposter, engulfed in waves of emotion. “Perhaps the one that you yourself once used.”

“I shall send you a vial of aconitum, then. It is fast and deadly. In a short while, my personal famulus will bring it to you.”

“The deed must be finished at once?” whispered the quaking Hyle.

“The swifter, the better,” replied Caudo with clenched teeth. “I must leave now and see to the matter of the substance you will need.”

The Praeposter remained seated as the chief of all Salamandrites departed.


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