Chapter XVI.

17 Jun

His tutulary presented Ranid a long reading list and several dozen document collections. His first assignment was to formulate and compose in his own words a life of the founder of the Anuran faith. He wrote it with a metallic styloid on a silkpaper roll.

– Scael Imarus, the first Amuran, was an unlikely person to establish a spiritual movement of such an enduring sweep and scope as the one that arose.

– Born in a small delta clachan, his early years were not too different from those of the typical swamplander. The first major turning point in his life came at the age of seventeen, with the winning of a scholarship award to study pharmacology in the capital. This placed him on a path that led to historical greatness. He became closely acquainted with a great variety of substances obtainable from the amphibians, especially the frogs. At a period when Alsike Caldus was roaming about the countryside of Caecilia, Scael was carrying out pioneering research on frog-based remedies for human illnesses. All his time and attention was focused on the life of the frogs. Some of his friends, influenced by the preaching of Alsike Caldus, attempted to recruit the young apothecary into the new movement sweeping the capital, Salamandrism. Scael became adamant in his refusal. He quickly perceived flaws and weaknesses in the radically novel faith. His opposition to it grew intense and personal. Many friendships were lost in spirited arguments over points of odylogy.

– In public debates, Scael tried to refute the principles of salamander superiority. He argued that the wrong amphibian had been selected to be the primary representative of the Absolute. He began to chart a new, unexpected road of enlightenment. The center of his thought system became the frog. Scael went far beyond ancient Batrachian and Salientian beliefs, unifying the two old faiths into a unified, merged Anuranism that combined toads and frogs into one family of faith.

– Scael promised his followers across Caecilia a new era of prosperity and health if they put their faith in the croaking amphibians. Anuran scientists were expected to make startling discoveries that would transform all of life. Medicinals were now to take a new direction. A corrected and validated doctrine was offered, one based upon rigorous nature study.

– Scael sent missionaries throughout the land, then took to the road himself. He went to war with the ideas of Alsike Caldus and his Salamandrites, drawing many of his followers from their ranks. Conversion was often due to the practical, physical benefits claimed to come from the frog. The Salamandrites soon had a competitor who rivaled them in numbers and fervor. Attempts to conciliate the two sides failed and the Great Schism ensued. Rational Anuranism repudiated Salamandrine obscurantism, in the minds of Scael and his followers.

Glia visited day after day, to accompany him to the refectorium for morning, noon, and evening meals. He completed his first reading assignments with astounding speed. In time he began to delve into new areas and subjects previously not available to him. His eyes moved over pages, not for a single second bored or without curiosity. A sense of what time it was only hit him when Glia would appear at his cubiculum.

“How is it going?” she asked one day at noon. He put down the large folio he had been looking into and gave her an inquiring look.

“Everything I read is fascinating for me. I believe there is enough of value to keep me here for many years to come. My inner spirit has risen to extreme heights. I can hardly believe the progress I have made since beginning.”

“Yes, I can see that in your face, Ranid,” she said with a friendly laugh.

He rose and followed her out of his reading sanctum.

As the two of them sat eating hackberry flans in the refectorium, a lanky, elderly brother in dark brown workclothes stepped up to their mensal. He addressed Glia in a muffled tone. “Can I have a moment of your time, precious sister?”

The two that were seated looked at him. “What is it, Ereth?” she asked.

“There is a bad situation at the sump. Many dead and poisoned frogs. Could you go and warn your father?”

“Of course. But I think he would like to have a direct report. Could I have a look for myself on what has happened at the sump?”

“That is a good idea, sister,” said the one called Ereth. “When shall I see you there?”

Glia thought a moment. “This evening. I can skip vespertine for once.”

The old man named Ereth disappeared in a rush. The two at the mensal gazed at each other. Glia decided her pupil had need for an explanation.

“The sump is what we call the frog preserve and reservation. Since the founding of Feretrum, there has existed this special marsh where medicinal varieties of frogs are bred and nursed. For many years, Ereth has been in charge of that entire facility. He is an old comrade of my father. The two have been close to each other since they were children.”

“The man now faces some problem with his frogs?” inquired Ranid.

She nodded that he did. “Unexplainable sickness, leading to death. Some sudden plague. I must tell the Mandator and then go to the sump tonight. I am my father’s eyes and ears in this matter.”

“Could I accompany you, Glia? I know something of amphibian biology.”

The tutulary accepted his offer at once. Thus it came about that Ranid made his first visit to the Feretrum Sump.

The pathway to the concentric structures in the marshland were narrow and circuitous, avoiding the soppiest, spongiest ground. The two walkers, proceeding on in silence, passed by the watergum trees and decayed waterweeds. Shallow ponds and meres were visible in the darkness on both sides of the trail that they treaded.

Ranid, carrying a tiny bull’s-eye lantern, lighted the path before them. It threw a ghoulish illumination upon red checkerberries, black thimbleberries, and orange spiceberries that grew in the soil between the water ponds. A pair of phalaropes became frightened by the humans and flew off into the night sky. The two walkers also awoke some water rails, crakes, and ousels. Nasty gallinippes tried to bite at the pair but rarely succeeded.

They came to a low building, from which old Ereth exited at once to meet them. After exchanging greetings, the three stepped into the main cabin of the sump. On a long table, the old man had arranged the dead frogs for the visitors’ viewing. The sight was a ghostly one, without question.

“There is no reason or explanation for this,” he told the two. “I have never, in all my experience, witnessed anything similar to what you see, and the cause of it is a mystery without solution. This is a biological catastrophe that has never occurred before.”

He then guided the pair to a large vitrine tank that held the ill but still alive inhabitants of the swamp preserve. Ranid bent down, looking carefully at each victim of sickness. The frogs had no energy at all. There was an inert quality to every last one of them, without exception.

Glia asked Ereth a question she obviously knew he was unable to answer.

“What can it be? What is causing this strange decline and dying in them?”

No reply came, because none was possible for the caretaker of the frogs.

Soon Ranid and Glia started back homeward to the inhabited center of Feretrum.

“Did you inform the Mandator?” asked Ereth as they left his simple cabin.

“Yes, I did. But he is not feeling well at all. He is spending this evening resting in his cubiculum. I told him to try to sleep. That is the best thing for him at present.”

A worried shudder seemed to strike the old man as the pair departed.

Little was said on the way to the residence buildings. The two promised each other to continue with Ranid’s training and instruction the next morning. They said good-night and separated.

There was something unexpected for the softum when he opened the door to his cubiculum. A small lantern was burning inside and a huge brother was sitting on a stool.

“Come in, come in,” said Iwis Nudum, beckoning him to enter.

Ranid, shaken by his surprise, stepped in and closed the door. He stood an armspan away from the intruder of his personal space.

“You have been to see the devestation at the sump, I understand,” began the Intendant. And your young teacher went there with you. Now tell me this: does either of you know what the cause is? What makes them become ill and die?”

Ranid attempted an answer. “It is all a cloudy enigma, it appears. I myself have no idea whatever about the cause of this catastrophe with the frogs. I do not have the slightest notion what may lie this horrible scourge that the unfortunate amphibians happen to be suffering.”


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