Chapter XIII.

16 Jun

Ranid followed a diagram that sketched the way to Feretrum. This was the only map he possessed. It was clear to him that the journey was to be a long, circuitous one. The fleeing trekker was on an indirect route away from the larger centers. There was no way for him to foresee where his pursuers might lurk in order to capture him. He had to take every conceivable precaution to avoid the enemy, regardless of the amount of time wasted in doing so. This was not going to be an easy trip for him, not at all. He recognized the severity of what would be done to him if he was captured.

When he stopped at noontime to eat some of the food that Joai had packed in his knapsack, Ranid glanced through the Anuran history he had been given. He turned to the chapter dealing with the Unity Congress in the capital, and the part that Alsike Caldus played in its break up into schismatic divisions. This was a period and a topic never covered in detail in any Salamandrine work that he had ever read. It would, of course, be an Anuran interpretation of events, but it promised to contain views of absorbing interest for him. Burning curiosity led him to plow through the section in which the Salamandrine Institutor and Founder appeared on the stage of history as a decisive actor.

“The Batrachian delegates, fated to become the Anurans, came predominantly from the northern and eastern regions of Caecilia. The Salientians who turned into the Salamandrites tended to be from the south and west of the country. Preliminary discussions seemed to indicate that most of the major problems and differences had already been solved and settled, or would be compromised at the Congress. An agreement had been reached on the question of placing toads within the system to be enacted by majority vote. These bufonic relatives of the frog were to be put on the same level as the ranic tadpoles and treated as frogs in future times. Toads were meant to enjoy new honor and higher position than ever before.

“There appeared to be no major difficulty on the horizon until the fiery address of Alsike Caldus, spokesman for the most stubborn salamander faction. He and his followers caused the explosive division that put an end to any prospect of unity. Alsike was the major instigator of the final conflict that resulted in the split and separation.

“He was an individual unknown to most of those attending the Congress. What is his business with us? inquired many when he asked for the floor and started to give an harangue against the unity direction most of the delegates appeared to be taking. His tirade berated the organizers of the convention as devious political operators seeking greater power and control over members’ resources. This orator, Caldus, coming out of nowhere, gave a diatribe against leaders of unification, especially the Anurans striving for harmony and concord. His speech grew malicious and abusive. He barely knew the targets of his vitriolic attacks, yet he made personal attacks on them as individuals. His animosity was directed against both the frog and the toad factions, for he feared Anuran unity as a threat to his own plans and strategy.

“Finally, after he sat down and surrendered the floor, a motion was made to censor the man’s hateful words. This passed almost unanimously. By then, the offender of the rules of civil decency had already left the Congress and Caecilia City. He began an all-out campaign for division and separation, founding new temples and mission offices throughout the country. His attacks on the newly created Anuran organization became ever more vicious. A schismatic movement based upon salamander-worship took shape with Caldus as its leader and architect. Its central theme was the splitting tactics of the hater who stood at its helm. Alsike Caldus failed in his chief purpose of destroying the Great Consolidation of all Batrachians with the toad-based Salientians. The Unity Congress had repudiated his attempt to break up the emerging Anuran consensus. His reaction was to lead the Salamandrites into absolute schism and division, out on their own. That was the terrible result of his malicious machinations.”

Ranid, his brain in a spin, closed the history volume and placed it back in his knapsack. What was he to make out of what he had just read? It completely contradicted what he had learned from his Salamandrine education. First of all, his previous understanding had been that it was Caldus and the Salamandrites who had summoned the Unity Congress. They had supposedly called Amphibiots of every stripe to the general conclave. No prior conditions or requirements had been set. Division came about when the Batrachians tried to exclude anyone except frog and toad partisans from participating. The initial split originated with the newly formed Anuran coalition, according to what he had been taught throughout his education years. It was Alsike who had supported an all-inclusive consolidation, he had long believed, not his frog-centered enemies.

Now he was reading how the newly formed Anurans were the true systematizers, the builders of a logical cooperation. Alsike and his Salamandrites were depicted as confused mystics driven by spiritualistic emotion and political tactics into divisive conflict and schism. They were the heretical troublemakers, according to this interpretation new to him. It was breathtaking, but also puzzling, to the reader of this history.

This Anuran version of what happened stood on its head the one that had been inculcated into his brain by his teachers and superiors.

Ranid grinned sadly and forlornly.

How was his overloaded mind going to deal with these historical riddles?

As he placed the knapsack on his shoulders and set off on the trail once more, his hopes for clarification focused on the coenobium that was his destination. After this long, difficult trek of his through the swamps, he hoped to find answers at the great Anuran center ahead of him.

Walled and secluded, Feretrum stood on a high hummock above the swamps and marshes of the region called Salientia. This was a zone of frogs and toads, in both a geographical and spiritual sense. Small lakes and ponds, wetlands and bayous abounded here. The heart of Anuranism was located in this paludial portion of Caecilia.

Ranid Rolius was on edge as he approached the entrance gate of the coenobium. He had learned from the locals that the Mandator of the spiritual community was a man named Keigo Tragus. Would that person accept him as a student softum? Ranid knew that his future depended on convincing the ruling abbatial to admit him as a pupil. On his own, he had to conceal and suppress the memory of his previous life in the capital. He had to erase the remnants of his Salamandrine education and activity. Whatever he said had to be credible to this head man, Keigo Tragus. Nothing would be possible without a successful philosophical disguise that hid the nature of his own past.

From a large stand of bluetrees came the distinctive song of hirundines and pratincoles, mingled with the distinctly different tones of a swamp snakebird.

A conventicler in orange gown walked toward him as he neared the quercine door at the gate. Ranid gave his name and the tall member led him inside the walled refuge.

A number of brothers were engaged in games of spillikin, throwing down and picking up jackstraws made of silken grogram.

Several structures that resembled barracks stood in parallel, right-angled formation. All at once, Ranid’s guide stopped before the door of one of them.

“The Abbad will see you inside the bedehouse. Go right in, he is expecting your arrival.”

Ranid did as told, opening the door of the low building and entering. He moved carefully down an unlighted corridor toward an illuminated chamber at the end. As he neared the end, a ringing voice sounded forth from out of it.

“Come in, I’ve been awaiting you all this morning.”

The room that Ranid stepped into was somewhat small, yet packed with books, document rolls, and data reels on wall shelves and in storage boxes. Behind a low gopherwood desk sat a plump, rotund man with a bald head and clear emerald eyes. “Please sit down,” said the officeholder in a quiet, controlled tone.

The fugitive took a yellowwood chair opposite the Mandator of Feretrum. He suddenly realized that his face and the expression on it was being watched by the chief of the entire coenobium. What was Tragus perceiving from his outer aspect? How penetrative was the man’s mind?

The Anuran leader began to speak in a moderated, muffled vocal register.

“Why is it that you wish to join us? Can you tell me that?”

Ranid tried to follow the outline he had prepared in his mind, but found that impossible.

“I have since childhood been on a quest of the spirit. As far back as my memory goes, there has been this burning, excruciating hunger for enlightenment within me. A search for the infinite, the eternal, I sometimes call it. What can I say? It is difficult to be more specific, more definite than that. But that has been the drive and the aim of my whole life.”

“I think that I understand,” muttered the other with the hint of a smile on his lips. “But why here, why come to Feretrum? There are other places and locations, other conventicula. Why did you choose us to be your spiritual nest?”

Thrown off balance by a question not foreseen, Ranid realized he had to extemporize.

“I know my own weaknesses, Abbad. They are many. It is often difficult for me to maintain whatever resolution I make. Distractions are always present. They appear often and have an easy time diverting me. I have heard that Feretrum has the formal strictness that my character needs and demands. I do not desire to be in any laxer coenobium. My soul needs a solid, demanding discipline.”

The candidate for entrance looked into the sharp emerald eyes, trying to read there whether his unrehearsed explanation was having any success.

“That is interesting,” smiled the old man. “No brother has ever said that he came here for the sake of our hard life and severity. You are the first one to do so, my son. But we must feed you before a decision is made about your future. My famulus will see that you eat first, then we shall resume our interesting conversation with each other.”

The Mandator pulled a chord that summoned his personal servant to appear and take the candidate to a nearby dining chamber.

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