Chapter III.

25 Jul

Gev pointed out and named the various species of trees as they made their way into a long valley of thick forest. Quercine, fraxine, salix, ulmus, acer, and betula among other types were individually pointed out by the tinker who drove the hoop wagon. His two passengers felt increasing security as the distance from Zeviv Mountain and the claustrum grew greater and greater. It was becoming harder for their Red Hat pursuers to trail them as their route turned, swirled about, and wandered. Distance was becoming their protector.

Gev drew their attention to the large yellow leaves of the grindelia plant, the bluish sweet chervil, and the black hellebore. He indicated the trumpet-shaped spring flowers of the ipomoea, the common morning-glory. The natural beauty of the valley forests was inspiring and encouraging to his companions, in spite of the limited minutes of daily heliac light from the sky.

The passengers were surprised and amazed at the tinner’s knowledge of local and regional flora wherever the road took them.

“I have passed everywhere many times, year after year,” he explained to them. “My home is in all the valleys of Tegumen, all of them.”

But then they reached a fork and an opening between two tall mountains that blotted out most of the darkening sky from which the light was rapidly vanishing.

The driver stopped the equines so that he could allow his comrades a clear view of their destination, Calderia Mountain.

“How green it is!” marveled Joa. “I think even the snow peak is beautiful. Can we see its claustrum from where we are?”

“There is no upper community on Calderia. None at all, and there never has been any, from the migration here till now. It has not been settled like the others were. There is no claustrum at the top up there.” He pointed upward with his right hand.

“Why did the Red Hats not build up there as elsewhere?” asked Yie, puzzled by this anomaly in the general picture that he expected.

Gev seemed to look away from his two companions.

“It is hard to say, because nothing about that absence is mentioned in any books. But the Calderi have legends that cannot be substantiated.”

“What do these tales hold?” persisted Yie.

“That our ancestors came here first, before the Red Hats. And when the others arrived to try to occupy and build at the summit they discovered that the area was difficult and inhospitable. In other words, they decided that other mountains were more favorable for their plans and purposes. So, the Red Hats stayed away from here. It was their own decision. They considered it better to live elsewhere.

“For some unfathomable reason, they dared not construct a colony high up on the particular peak of Calderia. The reason has always remained a mystery, though.”

“I believe this is a very exceptional mountain,” concluded the younger man.

“Yes,” seconded Gev. “It is a special place.”

The hoop wagon stopped at the foot of Calderia. Gev informed his associates that they were about to spend the night in the wood-carving dorp of Caed before pressing on the next day to the caves that were their destination.

The trio entered the village on foot with lanterns, the tinker leading them to the cottage of a woodworking artisan named Ling. The latter turned out to be a skinny, gangling elderly man with shaggy white locks and amber eyes.

“Like my ancestors for countless millennia, I have been a carver of wood all my life,” said the dorper, leading Gev and the two fugitives to the mouth of the cave where the workers of his guild made and stored their products and creations.

Carrying a lantern, he took his friend and the strangers on a tour of the underground shop where the wood crafts were carried on.

Ling pointed out the hand tools lying on tables, naming each variety.

All sorts of chisels and gouges, as well as burnishers, stipplers, burins, and gravers were there. He explained in detail the specific use of each one of these.

“Most of our products are sold to the claustra on the mountain peaks,” he explained. “The finest, most detailed carvings go into furniture, utensils, and decorations for the Red Hats. They collect and use our products in their mountain roosts up above us. We live on whatever they choose to pay us.”

He took them on a survey of dress boxes, clothing chests, bed ends, reading desks, armchairs, cupboards, drinking cylixes, head rests, panel seats, and treasure holders.

“No dorps can afford these expensive articles,” he grumbled. “Only the smallest and cheapest items go into the homes of belowers, except in the towns. These, of course, are few and quite distant from each other. So, we are forced to depend on Red Hats as our big customers. Only they have enough sheqels to make purchases. They end up the owners of most of our wares.”

They proceeded into a huge back chamber where a few mosaics and friezes of wood were being carved for specific claustra that had ordered them.

“Notice the rich floral and geometric designs of the ancestral tablets,” he pointed out. Flowers, birds, animals, clouds, and even insects were visible in the carved wood. Ancestral masks revealed the faces of hegumens who had died over many generations. Everything was smooth and precise, made by able hands and sharp minds.

“Look at that expensive trigraph,” muttered Ling. “It represents the Tree of Life, which for most claustra means the peach and the tree that bears it. Red Hat teachings hold that the sacred tree ripens once every three thousand years, and that whoever eats it will enjoy immortality. The peach holds the secret of escaping death. The Red Hats hold it in nearly holy status. They believe in its miraculous qualities and power.

“It was ordered by the Hegumen of Zeviv Mountain, and should be ready for delivery in the next few years. His hope is to see it installed in the hegumenia of his claustrum before his own personal demise.”

Yie could not help glancing at Joa, who appeared on the verge of fainting away from what she had heard at the end.

“You must come to my cottage for evening repast,” said Ling, smiling at the two visitors accompanying Gev. “We can talk more as we eat.”

Roasted leporine with greengage plums comprised the supper meal provided them.

Joa and Yie, for the most part, kept silent and listened to Ling and Gev talking together. Neither one of them wished to reveal where they came from.

But as the wood carver and the tinker conversed, the pair of outsiders did not, at first, have an easy time following what they were talking about. It seemed to them an exchange between foreigners.

“Our new baaser is not at all what we thought he would be,” declared Ling, his face contorted with bitterness. “Not at all. A huge disappointment.”

“But he comes from among the Lingari. His ancestors were always leading carvers. Are you telling me that you woodcutters have not gotten what was hoped for from the man called Caph?”

“Careful, conservative policies are what all of us receive from him, whether Lingari, Caldari, or Rudari. No one is satisfied with this politician, no one. He fears not keeping the Red Hats happy. Therefore the concessions to the claustra continue, on and on without end. We are the servants, they are our masters.”

“Aren’t you exaggerating the man’s faults, Ling?”

“Not at all. He is placing us so low before the highlanders that I fear some day becoming an abject slave. We sink lower and lower. No one has any hope for better conditions to come. There is despair and desperation everywhere.

“The workers of Calderia Mountain will not accept total subjugation, believe me. They would surely rise up and revolt against it. They are not people to accept oppression passively, supinely.”

“They will rise up? And who do you expect will lead them, Baaser Caph?”

Gev made an attempt to laugh at this, but barely succeeded.

“Patience is what the times call for, Ling. But also silent strength and solid fortitude. We must gather together our potential power. I am certain that most of the wrongs we suffer can be righted. Caph must negotiate better prices with the Red Hats. Our standing and income must be improved, for every one of us.”

“I hope to live so long,” sighed the carver with a hint of cynicism.

It was time to change the subject, both of the friends agreed.

“When do you plan to go on the road again, Gev?” asked the host of the evening.

“That is still to be decided.” He looked sideways at Joa and Yie. “First of all, I have certain questions to settle concerning our two friends. Where shall they live and what shall they do? I had best make an appointment to see the baaser as soon as I possibly can. He is the only one who has the authority to decide their future here. I must inform him of their terrible plight. Terrible danger hangs over them and their future. They exist in constant peril.”

Ling smiled at Yie, then at Joa.

“Good luck to both of you. It is something the two of you will need.”

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