Chapter VIII.

13 Jun

Slowly staggering and lurching along an unlighted corridor, Hyle came to the cubiculum of Ranid. Holding onto the crutch he was using for support, he rapped on the quercine door.

The young scholar was surprised to see him. “Come in, sir,” he told the injured Praeposter, inviting him to sit on a small, stuffed squab. Ranid himself remained standing.

“I have something urgent to tell you,” began Hyle. “This has enormous meaning for your future life. Where shall I begin? Caudo Eximius visited me only a short time ago. He is now gone, but what he said is abominable.”

“Abominable?” reacted Ranid with confusion and shock.

“He instructed me to accomplish something that totally disgusts my conscience.”

The other drew a step closer. “What could that be?”

Hyle pursed his lips. “I am to see to it that you die. The syndics have rejected you as a recruit to the Apodic Brotherhood, while accepting me. Out of fear that you have dangerous knowledge about their existence, they decided on your immediate elimination. That task is assigned to me, as my first duty to their faith. I am assigned the task of seeing to your destruction.

“They fear eventual public exposure through you. Outsiders might learn of their invisible cult and what it does. A pledge of silence from you would be less than worthless to someone like the powerful Capitular we have ruling over us. Suspicion will always be hanging over your name.

“There is no longer any place for you within the Salamandrine system, my son. I, of course, refuse to perform this fiendish act. But then he will send someone else, or even kill you himself. There is no place for you any longer in the Archivum. Flight is your only possible escape. And it must happen without a moment of delay. That alone can save you.”

“That is incredible!” sighed Ranid, feeling his brain whirl.

“Soon a famulus of Eximius is to bring me the aconitum with which I am to poison you at a refectory meal. It is taken for granted that I shall obey this evil command. That is the method chosen for erasing your further existence.”

“What shall I do?” asked the excited Ranid. “Where shall I go?”

“Leave the capital at once. There is one place you can find immediate refuge, among the kind villagers who rescued me. Remember them? The Capitular will surely send people on your trail. But they will keep and protect you there in their clachan. I am certain of that.”

“But I am a Salamandrite,” objected Ranid, perplexed and confused.

“Not any more, not any longer. These country people, as you saw, are tolerant and warm of heart. They will accept you in their midst. What I think you should do is reveal to them a growing interest in their particular faith. Make them believe that you are thinking of conversion to their way. You have to pose as a potential new Anuran. Do you understand? They will be thrilled by having a city man with a burning interest and curiosity about what they believe. Tell them that you are eager to study and learn, eventually to enter one of their isolated spiritual communities. Do you know what an Anuran coenobium is?”

“That is a group that forms a secluded social island, a retreat for solitude and contemplation. But I would be lying to say that I hope to join one,” argued Ranid. “Wouldn’t I be a false hypocrite, a dishonest pretender?”

“All that is needed is to profess an interest in their odylology, in a general, philosophic sense. You can say that you seek an opportunity to study their concepts and contemplate in peace and quiet. If you become a student softum in a distant spiritual community, you win for yourself the security and protection of an impenetrable disguise. The matter of final, complete conversion can be left indefinite. They cannot and will not force you, of that I am sure.” Hyle paused for a moment. “Aren’t our Apodic masters really only pretending to follow the Salandrine teachings? Don’t they have a secret system of their own? You can see how fluid and unreal our labels are. So, it is no great misdeed to go among the frog-worshippers and evince an interest in their ideas and methods. It will be most interesting, I assure you. Most importantly, you will be safe in such a place.”

“But my flight may cause you terrible harm and trouble, my friend.”

Hyle shook his head. “Not at all. I will claim that the aconitum failed to end your life and that, realizing what my intent was, you fled in the night to unknown parts. I will be absolved of any complicity. No one will know what actually happened, that I warned and protected you. Both of us can then give a sigh of relief.”

Ranid made a strange grimace, then spoke in candor.

“You shall become a false Apodic, while I go out among the Anurans. At least we both remain some sort of Amphibiots, don’t we?” A smile of cynicism crossed his lips.

“That is the price of survival for each of us, my son,” muttered Hyle.

Within an hour, the fabulus arrived with the aconitum. By then, Ranid Rolius had deserted the Archivum, taking along with him the two diaries he had discovered there.

During the week he spent among his friends in the clachan near the capital, the fugitive became acquainted with an itinerant Anuran predicator. The aged sermonizer gave the young seeker of truth specific advice about where to continue his efforts for spiritual enlightenment.

“You must go to the province of Salientia. That is the true wetland, in more senses that one. I call it the Batrachian heartland. There are marvelous coenobia there. Enter one of them in order to elevate your soul to a higher plane of life. Identify yourself as one seeking enlightenment. You will learn what you yearn to know in such a place.”

“You received your spiritual education there?” inquired Ranid.

The old man nodded yes. “I have never regretted the time I spent. Neither will you. The experience cannot be described, but it can change your entire life. It will provide you a new purpose and deeper understanding. You shall come to have a greater understanding of both yourself and the spirit of the world we live in.”

“What was the name of your community, sir?”

“Feretrum,” answered the predicant.

That night, Ranid decided to make that place his destination. But first, he had to get there. Could he make a journey in secret, by unguarded backroads?

Would the local Anurans be willing to shield and aid him?

He announced his decision to the family that was hosting him. They insisted that he stay, but Ranid argued that his future lay in the faraway spiritual community of believers. His new friends accompanied him a few leagues, then left him to proceed alone, on his own. The trekker had only a small map of Caecilia to guide him in the right direction. Specific pathways could be learned en route. He would have to ask questions to guide him onward.

Ranid stopped to rest and study his chart. How did he plan to reach Feretrum in Salientia? There was one extensive obstacle in the way, the delta region around the Salientian River. It would take considerable time and effort to cross that region. Ranid buckled up his courage as he walked forward toward the delta barrier.

The delta had wet forests of basket oak, locust, sugar maple, boxelder, and swamp chestnut. There were also scattered examples of water hickory, shagbark, and live oak. Lakes, lagoons, canebrakes, and muskeg bogs made movement over land difficult. Ranid learned this and much more as he crossed the region’s boggy, miry, and fenny areas of unending morass, slough, slime, slosh, mud, and sullage. Dangerous quags, ooze, and swails had to be avoided as he slowly crossed the poachy soil, so hard to judge as to its firmness.

He continually looked behind him, taking an indirect zigzag course to confuse possible pursuers sent by Eximius. Everglade areas were the hardest to traverse. Orange and yellow lantana and tall palmettos created a semi-tropical flavor. Progress grew increasingly difficult for the fugitive.

Almost imperceptibly, he came into a zone of bayous and muskegs. Tule, bulrush, reed mace, horse tail, and cat tail grew out of stagnate waters. Sweet flag, calamus, frog bit, water thyme, and swamp milkweed were visible to the treker as he walked onward. He became familiar with the edibles of the wild, gathering bog bilberries, red whortleberry, and cranberry for occasional snacks along the way.

Ranid whistled to long-legged spoonbills and flycatchers in the waters.

Several times he suspected that a single or several persons were a short distance behind him. Each time he changed direction and thought to give them the slip. Was this all from out of his imagination? There was no way for him to know with certainty. He could not allow himself to become over-confident.

The anxious wanderer entered a district on the periphery of the delta called the Cheerless Swamp. This proved to be undulating wetland forty leagues long and twenty-five wide. Forests here contained cypress, black gum, juniper, swamp cotton gum, and water ash. Patches of marshy grass opened between the stands of trees. An intricate network of bayous provided a maze in which Ranid believed he could lose anyone tailing him. It was a natural labyrinth that would certainly protect him.

The days passed by with his confidence in a successful escape rising as he proved to himself that he could cope with the barriers of nature that stood in his way.

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