Chapter XXXII.

26 Jun

On his second visit to the residence, Dera invited him to have jasminoid tea with her in the small recessed galleria displaying works that she herself had painted.

“I never suspected that you were a visual artist,” he exclaimed as he sat down at a round table. The hostess smiled at him for the first time.

“That has long been my hobby and main amusement.”

She poured him hot liquid from a steaming warmer, filling his dainty little tasse with tea.

“What made you turn toward landscape of the swamplands?” he asked, taking his cup and noiselessly sipping.

“Perhaps it was my interest in the wide diversity of frogs and toads,” she replied. “There was a magnetic attraction that drew me at the time. My ambition to paint developed as if on its own. The process was almost unconscious, I believe.”

“Interesting, very interesting. But I do not see amphibians at all in any of your paintings. Why was it that they seem to have been omitted from your subjects? Why did you primarily draw trees and water in still perspective?”

All of a sudden, the smile vanished from her face.

“When I was younger, there was much more spiritual interest in me than in later years. For some reason, my old spirit seems to have waned. Of late, I rarely draw the amphibians. And me a descendant of Vahid Devre! Who would have thought that would happen?”

“I would not worry about that,” he comforted her. “Many people have spells of distance and then closeness. These can come and go, just like a cycle.”

“That is one way of putting it,” she thoughtfully agreed. “Yes, you speak deep wisdom. Tell me this: have you experienced high and low points of spirituality?”

Ranid sensed a warning emotion pulsating inside him.

What should he say to her? How much could he afford to reveal to someone he did not know with any familiarity?

“Mine is not so much an up-and-down fluctuation, as a refining of focus. It is hard for me to explain, even to myself. But of late, I find that my interest becomes ever more general, more abstract and theoretical. I become more philosophical all the time. I do not know where the trend will carry me. All I can say is that an unknown current is bearing me forth.”

Have I said too much? he wondered. Have I confused this heiress to the Anuran tradition?

The woman called Dera appeared to take all he had told her in stride.

“Yes,” she returned,”that is precisely what I feel is happening to me, too.”

Was she moving toward Conjoinism? he asked himself.

The two finished their tea, then Ranid left for his room at the depot hotel.

Once the date for the convention at the Hypogeum was firmly set, hordes of members and sympathizers began to congregate in Caecilia City.

They came by magneto-train, horse wagon and coach, river boat, and road cart. Small, circular green and yellow badges were distributed to identify the Conjoiners and their supporters. All hotels, hostels, lodges, and rooming houses ended up packed with patrons. The streets, avenues, and boulevards of the metropolis appeared to be extraordinarily crowded. Large throngs of enthusiasts came to have a look at the underground hall where deliberations were slated to be held.

None of the permanent residents of the city had ever seen anything like it.

Particular restaurants, tea rooms, taverns, and shopping arcades became favorite spots for the Conjoiners to gather in informal assemblies.

Who could stay unaware of what was happening in their midst?

The two established sects, the Salamandrites and the Anurans, made continued reports about the oceanic wave of heretics to their respective leaders.

Both organizations began to mobilize, for they knew not what was coming.

Caudo Eximius, the Capitulator, continued to be the calmest among all the Salamandrine upper hierarchy. The tall, emaciated leader gave commands in a composed, level voice to his subordinates gathered in his sanctum at the Citadelle. All twelve of them listened obediently to his words as if expecting final elucidation of the situation they faced.

“When one is facing fools like these dissenters, actions cannot be precipitous. There is never any advantage when you move too hastily or without thorough forethought. No, we have to be as watchful as possible and have our eyes open for the perfect opportunity that fits our needs.”

A unanimous murmur of assent greeted this sentiment of the sectarian head.

“One must develop the ability to perceive and understand fatal errors in your foe when they occur,” continued Eximius, his voice reverberating a little louder as he went on. “That is a very important point for each of us to consider, for we all know how stupid these heterodoxers are, else they would not be involved in such insane mouthings or the frolics they are about to commit in the Hypogeum. Our task is to watch for the inevitable flaw and pounce upon it at the appropriate moment.”

He paused several seconds, as if for effect.

“There are several Salamandrine youths, recent initiates, who have volunteered to attend this lunatics’ convention and report back to me what they hear and see there. These people, though only a few, have been trained to be watchful and attentive to everything going on about them. They will be sitting with the sympathetic general public and will inform us what happens in the hall.”

All of a sudden, Eximius smirked with an indefinable emotion.

“There are other alternatives that I plan to explore, but cannot go into now,” avowed the chief of the Salamandrine movement.

Dera only occasionally saw her one brother, Talem. His visits to the old mansion were infrequent, a fulfillment of filial duty to his one and only sibling. Why did he drop by to see his sister on the eve of the great Conjoiner meeting? Perhaps his unconscious goal was something as intangible as obtaining some inspiration from being inside the historic family homestead.

Tall and thin, with the same milky eyes as Dera, this younger brother always provided her an interval of pleasure that broke the monotony of her days.

The pair sat down at a small mensal in a kitchen alcove.

“You look well,” said Talem warmly. “What are you doing to give you such a boost in your attitude and appearance?”

She gave a brief, clipped laugh.

“There is nothing particularly different in my schedule to make any visible change in me. But there is one new matter here in the house. I have had a scholar coming to search through the Devre archives. This person makes copies of letters in the files of Vahid Devre. He is very enthusiastic about what he is doing, I can tell each time that he visits.”

“That is interesting,” said her brother. “What is the fellow’s name?”

“Ranid, he is Ranid Rolius. He is a member of the Anuran spiritual community at Feretrum and appears to be enlightened and inspired.”

“Feretrum? I have heard that there have been troublemakers there. Even their Abbot has been implicated in a new heresy. Many say that Conjoinism started there at Feretrum.”

The sister pursed her thin lips. “I have not heard anything about that from Ranid,” she told him in a lowered tone.

“Perhaps these recent changes out there have no connection to this scholar,” mused the brother. “Who can say?”

Dera attempted to change the subject.

“Is there a danger of physical conflict with the heretics assembling in Caecilia City?”

He beamed her a smile. “No one can predict how things will turn out, but we are quite confident. All five of the Anuran syndics are united in their determination not to give an inch of concession to the dissidents. Their aim is to wear them down, in time.”

She smiled at him. “You are most well-informed, serving the Board of Syndics as Chief Secretary.”

“Indeed, I am at the center of communications within our organization. That furnishes me an excellent vantage point for observing events as they occur.”

“I am proud of you, Talem,” she said tenderly. “They will some day choose you to become a syndic, I am certain of that. It is only a matter of time.”

All at once, Talem made an unusual request of his sister.

“Dera, I am eager to learn what this provincial scholar may be studying and what he has found. Is there any record of the letters he has perused and made copies of?”

She thought for a moment.

“I made marks on the catalog cards that indicate which documents he took to read.”

“That would be one way of going back to specific letters and finding out what drew his attention.” Talem sprang to his feet. “I think I will go and have a look. You can stay here and wait for me. I will report to you if I uncover anything of interest in the family archive.”

Talem climbed down to the family archive chamber. He was familiar with all of its treasures, having spent many hours there over the years.

He went at once to the catalog box and found there the list of letters received by his famous ancestor. As Dera had told him, some of them had small check marks recently made.

The Anuran bureaucrat went to the letter files and searched for specific numbered folders. Taking several of interest, he moved to a desk and began to look these over.

Instantly, his attention was riveted by the content of the messages from an unknown writer, one with an original, agile mind. But the handwriting was one he recognized. He had seen the same distinctive chirography and style in historical documents of the Age of Schism.

Talem realized at once that these letters could ignite an explosion.

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