Chapter XXII.

20 Jun

Returning to his cube, the tired novitiate was eager for sleep. But before he could lie down and rest, he had a dreaded visitor, the Intendant.

How much did Nudum know about today’s and tonight’s activities? It was necessary to speak with heightened care and caution. Nothing was to be told to this evil-minded Gnomen, a corrupt and depraved mystic who only considered himself and his own selfish interest. His ignorance was to be preserved.

“How did your first day of work go?”

Ranid tried to look indifferent. “Not badly. It wasn’t as hard as I imagined.”

“You met my nepotal, Aptl Nudum?”

“Yes, we worked together in the morning. He taught me the requirements of my task.”

“I see,” muttered the other. “Tell me, what do you think of him?”

“I don’t know, but he seemed an ordinary brother. There was nothing too odd or different about him. He seemed to be quite normal. That was the impression that he made upon me, I believe.”

Ranid was aiming at giving an answer with no untoward implications in it, that meant and implied very little at all.

“He is a Gnomen, but not too effective at it. Ties of family mostly brought him into our group. I believe that when you become a full member of our circle, you can take over as the crew chief out there. He can be a good second to you. That would be the best of arrangements, I think.”

“You are saying that I can replace your relative?” said Ranid with surprise.

A knowing smile crossed the face of the Intendant.

“When Aptl is brought into a job here alongside me, you can be of enormous value to us at the Sump.” Since Ranid made no response, Nudum continued. “There will be changes in the coenobium, and they are not too far in the future. Once they happen, you will be told what you are to do. Until then, be ready for immediate orders. They may come up very soon. You should be ready to receive and carry them out.”

This was puzzling to the softum. Was the Intendant referring to a hidden conspiracy to take over command of Feretrum? It might appear to be so, if one were to leap to a sudden surmise. Was a seizure by force planned? What method did the Intendant plan to use?

“You shall not be here for the celebration tomorrow,” went on Nudum. “Stay close to my nepotal and do whatever he orders you to. Understand?”

Ranid nodded that he did, though in truth his confusion had become complete.

He was most happy when the visitor turned around and left.

After only an hour or so of genuine sleep, he slipped off for the Frog Sump an hour or so before dawn.

Scores, then hundreds and several thousand Anurans flocked to Feretrum as the morning passed. The mood of these pilgrims was a festive one, regardless of the troubles at the Frog Sump. They were present to commemorate the founding of this spiritual community, but also the glories of the frog-based faith. The travelers from far and wide were determined to have themselves a good time. On the main meadow, mensals were set up for games of spoilfive, scarto, and slapjack, run by the brothers. Outsiders were present to engage in a variety of other sporting activities with cards: canfield, lansquenet, cooncan, conquian, videruff, gleek, slam, primero, piquet, cinch, pedro, muggings, and monte.

Games of chance, luck, and skill were available for every kind of taste, every degree of risk.

At small stalls, women sold cracknels, maypops, soursops, sweetsops, shandygaff, and farl cakes. Homemade oenomel was being drunk on all sides, by nearly everyone. Visitors ate baked fish from nearby streams, enjoying the taste of tench and mudcat. Festive emotions prevailed, catching hold of everyone like a spreading infection.

The crowd in the coenobium’s meadow grew constantly larger and noisier. Kettles of hot posset rapidly turned empty as drinkers poured the milky wine into their mouths and down their throats. Eager thirsts remained unsatisfied. The music of a theorbo band raised the spirits of the many jolly revelers. Sudden, unexpected dancing broke out at numerous locations, again and again.

Young men in short curtails played at tip cat, knocking wooden pieces into the air with strength and abandon. Costermongers sold nugae of every conceivable kind to the crowd of visitors from outside.

At the far end of the meadow, pantominists in frog-green costumes enacted ancient Batrachian legends. Spectators surrounded them on all sides. A furtive chiromancer tried to read palms and tell fortunes in a quiet, secluded grove, away from onlookers, keeping away from the squads of brothers who kept the peace and order of the Encaenia.

The thousands of celebrants looked forward to noontime, when the highest magistral of Anuranism was expected to arrive and officiate over the day’s cult services and ceremonies.

Ranid conversed with Ereth for several hours, explaining his findings in the librarium. Neither one of them had reached any solid, final conclusions about what the Gnomens were up to at the Frog Sump. What was the ceratophrys that was considered in many sources to be a hazardous bane? What was its true nature, and how important was it?

“There is one person who can give us answers,” muttered Ereth, sitting at the eating mensal in the central cabin. “We have to interrogate Aptl at once. There is no other way. I would like to have you go and tell him I want to discuss a certain matter with him.”

This mission took only a minute for the softum to fulfill. He returned with the nepotal and followed him back into the cabin where Ereth waited.

How were they going to break the expected resistance of this relative of the Intendant? Suddenly, a way to outwit this man with special knowledge struck the mind of Ranid. What if they pretended to be part of the Gromen movement themselves? Was such a deception at all possible?

Ranid had to seize the reins before Ereth began to question the swampman.

“What is the ceratophrys, brother? The Intendant told us to get it from you, so that it can be used for a new, unprecedented purpose of importance.”

Aptl spun around, facing Ranid and giving him a confused, uncertain look.

“You are one of us? And so is he?”

He turned around to gaze at the equally surprised manager of the Frog Sump.

Erath stared back at Aptl in silence, sensing that Ranid was carrying out some delicate, intricate strategy.

The nepotal started to speak directly to the new softum.

“Are you a Gnomen, then? How can that be? Why wasn’t I told of it?”

Ranid decided to play by ear and see what would happen.

“It wasn’t the right time until today. There is the Encaena celebration taking place in Feretrum. There are great crowds of visiting Anurans here in the coenobium. This is the long awaited day of retribution for what Feretrum did to us so many years ago. The time of cataclysm has arrived. There can be no more postponement or delay.

“So, you must allow me to take all of the ceratophrys at once. There is no time to lose. I must have it at this moment.”

“But I still have frogs alive in the Sump,” retorted Aptl. “They are not all dead yet. That has not happened as needed, but remains for me to complete. A lot of work still remains for me to complete.”

“We can always return later and finish the rest off,” lied Ranid. “There will be plenty of time for that later. Today, we will advance the main plan.”

“Has Keigo Tragus been killed yet? I told Iwis not to take so much time for that task, but to have the hygeist called Omphal give him a lethal amount in a single dose. Who cares how it will look to outsiders once we have full control and make Iwis the new Mandator? The healer does not have to be so slow and meticulous in his killing of Tragus.”

Ranid decided to venture another gambit. “We may need additional ceratophrys soon,” he mumbled as if thinking aloud. “I have no doubt that we will need extra supplies of it before too long. The supplies will certainly fall very low as we use them up.”

“I can get you more of it in the future,” promised Aptl. “There are still many natural ceratoids underground in the subterrane beneath the soil. They grow and thrive like they do above ground. No need to worry, I tell you. There can be a lot more supplied in coming days. I know where they are and how to get my hands on them with ease.”

“Ceratoids are small horned frogs and face many enemies,” remembered Ranid from his wide reading in the librarium.

“The subterrane gives them protection,” argued Aptl. “And I provide them plenty of food in the Sump. Iwis trusts me to take good care of these bane-makers that only we know are there. They are our hope for future victory and conquest. All our hopes of success lie with them.”

Ranid and Ereth exchanged meaningful looks, each perceiving what the other was doing at the moment.

“What happens now?” asked the manager of the Frog Sump.

“We must go to the Encaena for the final battle,” said Aptl. “On this day, the Gnomens will capture Feretrum. Our main weapon will be the killing ceratophys. Everything will then be in our hands.”


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