Chapter XV.

17 Jun

Everyone in the fanum repaired to the refectorium hall for the final repast of the day. This consisted of simple avenaceous gruel with barley brewis mixed in it. As Ranid entered the huge eating building, he was surprised by the familiar famulus coming quickly over, as if he had been waiting to see him. The servitor placed a hand on Ranid’s lower arm. “The Mandator wishes you to go over and eat at his table. Please follow me.”

The stunned softum did as he was told. The tall brother in orange led him to a long table in a secluded alcove of the refectorium. Here was Keigo Tragus at the head of the mensal. On his right was a young woman with red-tinged ginger hair, dressed in a pink and white gown. Obviously, this must be his daughter, thought Ranid. From the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Iwis Nudum, the Intendant. The latter was a few places to the left of the Mandator. Both officials wore long white robes.

“Please sit down here, across from us,” warmly invited the Abbad. “One of my people will bring you a bowl of food to eat.”

As the novice sat down his eyes met the emerald ones of the small young woman. Exactly the same as her father’s, he realized. She had inherited from her father, at least to that extent. There was no doubt about that, she was the Mandator’s daughter.

In seconds, a large bowl of gruel was set before him, along with a scooper for him to eat with. Ranid fed himself as Keigo Tragus addressed him.

“Our table usually has fish from local ponds. The small cyprinids and phaxines have a delightful taste to them. I enjoy all our fish, but I have special love for the bogland carpio. And I also demand that our kitchen always have plenty of loach and mudcat. I hope that when they are served in here they will please you, my son.

“Several times each year, on the high holidays of the frog, we indulge ourselves with cisco and lake bloater. When, by good fortune, a donor sends us fish from the Inland Sea, we enjoy whelks, pintado, croakers, and even squeteague. But such delicacies are infrequent, it is sad to say.”

All this time, Tragus eyed and studied the softum. He suddenly changed direction.

“I believe you should begin a course of serious reading tomorrow. It will be an intense, demanding exercise. There is much for you to learn about the history and the principles of our precious faith. None of us here in Feretrum has perfect, or even adequate knowledge of all areas of odylogy. The one individual who comes closest to this ideal sits here next to me. I speak of my daughter, Glia. She has devoted her sharp, intelligent mind to thorough, deep study. I receive valuable help from her when I compose my sermons. Yes, her mind possesses amazing retention and agility.”

He looked at the small, beautiful young woman, as also did Ranid. She did not appear in any way affected by her father’s words of praise, looking at nothing in particular.

The Mandator, after a pause, went on.

“My only difficulty with this philosopher in my family is her speculative audacity. Her thoughts are breathtakingly new and inventive. She constantly creates entirely new structures of ideas that surprise and even startle me. They are very unique. But also difficult to understand, at least for me. For others, as well. I often explain to her that independence of thought is most valuable, but must be tempered by long contemplation, often years of it. My hope is that in time she will see the need for patient reflection and consideration of the new and untried. Our Anuran odylogy is all of one piece, the work of no single individual, but a result of cooperative creation. Any single one of us can add only a tiny morsel to it. Our work must always be joint and united, never too individualistic.”

Ranid, his eyes on the daughter, decided to ask her a question.

“What, may I enquire, is the nature of the innovation you conceive of?”

She smiled at him, replying in a high, dulcet tone of honey.

“My father likes to exaggerate, I am afraid. My reading returns me to our earliest Anuran sources, the foundations of the faith. There is no need for anyone to be inventing the new, when so much concerning our beginning and origin remains unexplored. I am attracted to forgotten writings of our early times. That pioneering era has suffered neglect too long. Many documents of that age deserve conscious elucidation. I am especially interested in materials from obscure, secondary locations. They tend to be highly illuminating in many ways.”

“Most interesting!” exclaimed Ranid, reminded of his own research at the Archivum in the capital. Instantly, he regretted his show of enthusiasm. What will the others around the mensal think of me? It will be necessary to explain my show of intellectual excitement, he said to himself.

“I have, on my own studied some of the early thinkers and their odylogies,” he explained. “Such writings from the faraway past are fascinating. One can never predict what may turn up there. Unexpected ideas are certain to appear. I would like to pursue more such study here at Feretrum if that is possible.”

“You must not give up your ambition,” insisted Glia with vehemence. Her face looked radiant with an ethereal light. She turned with a shining face to her startled father.

“Perhaps you should assign this softum to a tutular who can instruct him in our early odylogy, Abbad.”

The latter gave out a laugh that remained all but soundless.

“That is a splendid suggestion, my dear daughter. Yes, I think I will do that. The idea is brilliant and holds great promise. But the fellow must have someone to guide him through the thicket of spiritual thought. It shall be you, my little philosopher. This moment I appoint you to be the tutular of this new, enthused softum. I can see that he is extremely able. Therefore, I assign him to my most advance thinker, you,” he smiled with self-satisfaction.

The Mandator pursed his mouth as he gazed at the newest resident of Feretrum.

“I thank you, sir,” said Ranid to the father, then turned to his daughter. “I thank you, as well.”

“Where do you think it best to start?” Glia asked her new pupil. “Is there any particular subject of special interest to your thought?”

Ranid considered only a second. Lowering his voice, he whispered to his new teacher.

“That area of odylogy that, long ago, was termed odylosophy. I hope that it is of interest to you as well. Recent generations have tended to ignore it, but it contains innumerable ideas with deep value.”

She grinned at him. “Indeed, it has attracted my interest from my earliest days. There are fascinating subjects in it to consider.”

Her student-to-be went on and finished his bowl of gruel, gladdened by his prospects for spiritual advancement in this heart of Anuranism.

Ranid was surprised at the knocking on the door of his cubiculum soon after he rose, a little after dawn the next day.

“Good morning,” smiled his appointed teacher. She wore a cerulean vesture that clearly indicated she had a mature woman’s form and figure. Her voice had a warm, joyous ring to it. “My father thinks that you should begin to learn and study at once. I have gone to the librarium and collected a number of important rolls and volumes for you to go through. I have them all together in a reading cuddy over there. It is a convenient, comfortable place for you to use.”

Her pupil laughed. “That should not take me exceedingly long. In the past, I have had training in fast-reading and become somewhat skilled in that activity.”

“That will be of use to you here. But first, let’s stop at the refectorium for a speedy breakfast. Then, I can take you to your personal reading sanctum. You will find it a quiet, private place for study and contemplation.”

The exterior of the eating hall glistened with auroral light as the pair approached its entrance. All of a sudden, Ranid spied a familiar towering shape walking into the huge building. He decided to speak about him to his new tutor.

“That is Iwis Nudum, the Intendant. He introduced himself to me yesterday. I was surprised when he said there might in the future be a position for me with him. His words struck me as strange, though. He underlined the need for unquestioning obedience and warned that some sort of testing was coming for me. That was startling and confusing. I still do not know what to make of him. Such a peculiar personage!”

Out of the corner of his eye, Ranid glanced at his companion. He was surprised by the somber frown on her brow. What had affected her so deeply? When she spoke, her voice was hushed up and had an ominous undertone.

“I don’t trust that man and am sorry that my father does,” she muttered guardedly. “Be careful with him. Should he give you any difficulty, tell me of it. I can get my father to look into the matter.”

They entered the refectorium and took an empty mensal in one corner. A server brought them platters of griddlecakes and panada. The two were almost finished eating when Glia started talking again.

“Iwis Nudum is in charge of the pharmaceutic trade that sustains the coenobium of Feretrum. He is the one who oversees the production of medicaments that people travel here for and that we sell outside our walls. The man directs the production of the frog and toad colonies that are the center of our economic activity.”

“I take it that you do not value him highly,” said Ranid. “What do you accuse this person of? What is his great offense?”

Glia avoided a direct answer by posing her own question.

“Have you ever come across any reference to a group called the Gnomons?” she said out of the blue.

Ranid racked his memory. “That name is mentioned in the early history of the amphibiotic current, before the Great Schism occurred. It was a tiny movement that attempted to establish direct mystical connection with the odyle. They were accused by their enemies of trying to bypass intermediary media, whatever they might be. The fear was that they wished to make all amphibians irrelevant. There would be no need for any bridge to the odyl if they succeeded. Each person would be capable of direct contact with the Sublime and Absolute.”

“Our ancestors, the earliest Batrachians, defeated them,” murmured Glia. “But some of those sectaries persisted, hiding underground. They grew mute, pretending not to be mystics. Their movement continues.”

“Continues?” said Ranid in shock.

“There are hints and signs of them here in Feretrum,” she told him in a near whisper.

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