Chapter IV.

20 Jul

In a few days the weather on the peak cleared up and a large caravan of weighty gyags entered the claustrum through the main gate. Drivers guided the strong domesticated, long-haired bovine carriers into a circle, then started to unload the heavy burdens from their backs.

Yie stood beside his master on an upper balcony of the corridor on their building, looking down at the show being put on before their eyes.

“The assessors are busy collecting taxes down in the valleys, regardless of what the weather outside may be,” explained Emies. “It goes on forever, for we up here would be lost without the contributions that they gather for us below. We cannot grow the barley, oats, and rye that we eat up here in the snow. Our weather is too severe and raw for any agriculture. We are beholden to the labor in the valleys for most of the food we consume. In fact, for almost all the necessities of living.” He turned his eyes on his pupil. “So, I have to give a sincere thank you to the dorpers who help keep us alive.”

Both men, the older and the younger, smiled beneficently at each other.

“And we of the valleys receive galactic protection in exchange for all these assessments of what we produce,” remarked Yie. Silently, he wondered at the unevenness of this exchange for the belowers. It was plain to him who was receiving the better side in such a trade. This had been the situation on Tegumen since the beginning, for untold generations, without exception or variation. Cosmic protection for food and material supplies, that was the historic formula and equation. It made survival possible.

The chief of dynamics, looking downward, spied someone there.

“Look, there is Joa walking across the hegumenia. She does so much for her father, the Hegumen. He would be a lost man were she not there to run his household for him. She frees his time for the major problems he has to deal with, just as her mother did before she died.”

“The wife of the Hegumen passed away young?”

“Very young, soon after the birth of their only child. I often wonder…”

He stopped himself.

“Yes?” said Yie, growing excited.

“I was about to say that Joa has taken up many of the duties of her deceased mother. But perhaps I speak too freely of what concerns no one but those two, Nomb and Joa Aacn.”

The prentice said nothing, pondering in silence what had just been revealed to him.

Joa acquired the habit of bringing special dishes from the hegumenia kitchen to the apartment of the two technicalists. Once she brought pieces of a roasted chevrotain. On other occasions she provided them with the serow, a goat antelope of the high altitudes, and then the rare goral and the rarer tahr. All this menu was new to the belower named Yie.

“You are spoiling us with such fine food, Joa,” the chief of dynamics said to her one day. “Both Yie and I will soon become two gourmets. But we heartily enjoy what we eat, don’t we, Yie?”

“Indeed, we do,” blushingly answered the latter, turning to their patroness. “Tell me, Joa. Were the serow, goral, and tahr native to the planet, or were they conveyed here from elsewhere at the time of the colonization of Tegumen?”

She seemed to look away for a moment, but then turned back to him.

“I truly do not know, but I can try to find the answer in the record depository. It might be there somewhere, in the archival material. But I will not know for sure until I make a search of the sources.”

Yie had difficulty concealing his emotion of excitement. “There is some kind of document depository here in the claustrum?”

An answer came by surprise from the mouth of Emies.

“Anything old that has survived the decay or time is preserved in a special room of the hegumenia. Few know of it because hardly anyone ever uses it.”

“I can easily obtain the key-opener from my father,” announced Joa. “He knows that I have a passion to study and investigate our past as the people of the mountains. I know that I can do it.”

Yie leaped forward toward what he saw as being a shining opportunity for him to learn more. “I would give anything to be able to search existing records. There is so much that might be lying there that could answer many questions I have in the back of my mind.”

“Questions?” said Emies, surprising his prentice. “What sort of questions?”

Yie turned his reddish brown eyes on his mentor.

“I would only read there in my spare time, after the completion of my technical studies for the day. It would be a kind of idle hobby, not interfering in any way with my work in energy dynamics.” He turned back to the young woman, addressing her. “What do you say, Joa? Could you take me into this historic depository of the claustrum to look around? I would deeply appreciate it.”

The two young persons regarded each other for a moment, until Joa made her decision on the matter.

“Yes,” she nodded. “It is possible. I will get the key-opener and we can both make an investigation there together.”

The supper of ursine guicade was nearing its end when the daughter, at the opposite end of the long table from the Hegumen, made her request in a loud, melodious voice.

“May I use the key-opener to the records depository, father? There are things that come up in reading old legends that remained unexplained for me.”

He gave a stern, inquiring look with his clear eyes of baby blue. “What possible questions can find solutions in that trash?” asked the Hegumen.

“Well, there is the question of the earliest venery for game in the mountains of our planet. How similar was hunting in that early period to what we have today?”

Her father stared at her for a moment before opening his mouth to speak.

“Very well. I’ll locate the key-opener and leave it on my work desk.”

“I may need it several times, father,” she added.

“Take the thing whenever you feel like it,” he murmured lowly.

No more was said on the subject that particular evening.

The following noon, Yie happened to return alone to the apartment of the chief of energy dynamics before his mentor arrived. The latter was busy with the fine calibrations of metering gauges at the shielding station outside the walls of the claustrum.

He was there less than a minute when Joa appeared carrying a salver with the midday repast. She sat it down on the eating mensal, then turned to her new friend.

“I have it,” she informed him. “My father handed the key-opener over to me last night. We can now search for what lies behind the traditional legends.”

Joa reached into a pocket of her gyag-hair coat and removed the large metalline object. Smiling with joy, she showed it to him, then placed the key-opener back where she carried it.

“What do you think, Yie? When should we start?”

He let out a sudden laugh. “It is entirely up to you, since you are holding the means into the depository.”

“Yes, that is the honest truth. So, let me think.” She needed only seconds to decide. “Tonight will be very good. I was only going to read some folios in my room, but I can go into the document depository with a tallow lamp. There is, unfortunately, no iotic connection into that room.”

“No iotic saque that we can read by?”

She grinned. “No one has ever before used the depository at night.”

“It appears then that we will be the first to do so,” he said with a jovial warmth and lift in his voice.

Even with only tallow light, he hoped to uncover some hidden truths in the records and documents of the claustrum’s archive.

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