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Old Jul 3 2012, 11:55 AM   #1
P'ter
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Join Date: May 2006
Location: Wolverhampton
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Default The Case of the Dragon's Den

1. The Discovery

“So; what do we do with this lot then?” Filona asked her twin Maree.
It was just after Turn’s End. The weather was atrocious, so the Master Harper had decreed that the duty sections were to spend the afternoons in the Hall turning out the various stores, workshops and archives.
The recesses of the instrument workshops were being emptied, cleaned and painted out by two work sections of apprentices; while a group of journeymen assessed the stored instruments, putting many aside for restoring and repairing, and throwing out a few deteriorated beyond measure.
Under the eagle eyes of the Master-Harper’s wife, four groups were assisting the kitchen drudges to empty the various pantries and larders, stacking the contents on tables and benches in the kitchen, ready for a wash down. Tomorrow, similar groups would start repainting the rooms. Later in the week it would be the turn of the stores of clothing and furniture.
The remaining apprentice work groups were engaged in cleaning out the archives located in a series of cellars under the Main Hall and Dining Room.

-o-0-o-

Around the fire in the Master Harper’s study sat the senior Craft Masters. Beakers of wine, mulled with aromatic herbs, sent wisps of steam curling towards the ceiling only to be blown off course by the inevitable draughts. From across the courtyard came a series of asthmatic toots as some poor journeyman attempted to resuscitate an ancient horn.
“That sounds even worse than the Turn-over concert,” remarked the singing Master as everyone winced at the broken notes.
“That’s one of the things I want us to discuss,” put in Master Harper Kandar, “But before we get down to specifics, I want to start with the overall picture. Back at Fall Eveners we had a cracking good standard. We took in a bunch of keen apprentices and posted out a good number of excellent journeymen; more of them than I would have liked but, with the population expanding ... what’s gone wrong?”
There was a silence for a bit while the Masters sipped their wine and glanced at each other.
The Master Legist cleared his throat. He was the oldest master by far: students were heard to claim that he’d personally written the original Charter. “As you all know, apart from instructing the journeymen in their duties as legal advisors to the Holders, and arbitrators, I also teach the senior apprentices the basic applications of the rights and duties as laid out in The Charter. They may know it off by heart, but they have no idea how to apply what they know.” The younger Masters all grinned; they too had sat those classes of his. “As usual most of them started out all keen. If I set them a task, they’d come back with really good work. They were researching in the archives and most of them were handing in useful answers that often went well beyond what I asked of them.
“After a few weeks almost everyone was handing in the absolute minimum. I know that the initial keenness wears off and that most apprentices go through a period of rebellion and being lazy, but I have never known an entire class go that way all at the same time.”
The singing master spoke up again. “That’s what went wrong at Turns-end. What they sang WAS accurate, mostly, but there was no spark. It was DULL!”
Rubor, Master Healer, joined in. “I don’t know whether it’s relevant at this point, but there’s been far more evidence of bullying than usual.” He nodded. “We’ve usually had a degree of it but, I’m sad to say, it wasn’t till over Turn’s-end when we collated our records for the last turn that we spotted the trend. We failed to get any victim to say who’d done it. But, whoever it is, they like slamming doors on trapped arms, and that takes at least two perpetrators. They also like kicking kidneys.”

-o-0-o-

Plyne, third son of the Lord Holder of Southern Boll, one of the oldest apprentices, had sent the twins off on their own to the farthest section of the archives, with orders to start working back towards the rest. Tall and fair; with his uniform tailored to show off his figure, he expected any female apprentice to be flattered for any attentions he bestowed on them. The twins had not been impressed. He was also very jealous that they lived in Fort Hold when he had to slum it in the dormitories. He grinned at his two cronies: Tinee, granddaughter of the Berba, Lord Holder of Telgar, and Almore son of the Master Weaver running the craft hall here at Fort.
Lugging a bucket and mop, brooms, dusters and a couple of glow baskets, the twins had disappeared into the gloom.
“Let them work themselves stupid,” Plyne declared. “The rest of you start this end and don’t work too hard: we’ll be watching you.”
Reaching the far end, the twins set to work. The glows in the central basket were exhausted so they only had their hand lamps to work by. To left and right there were racks of records. Against the blank end wall stood a table with a couple of stools tucked in under it. They started with the left hand rack. Carefully each shelf was emptied onto the table. Shelves were damp dusted, spinners and their webs were dislodged, and, since this end held the oldest and most fragile records, the scrolls and books were very carefully cleaned down before being replaced back in order.
It was when they were emptying the second racking that they made their discovery.
“I can see the top of a doorway,” announced Maree.
Filona put down her arm full of scrolls on the table and came to see.
“Oh... yes. Let’s empty the whole rack. There’s room on the other one for some of it. It’s not exactly jammed full.”
With the rack empty the twins struggled to move one end sufficiently out and away from the wall that they could wriggle in behind it. To their surprise the low door was not locked. It opened out towards them. They peered in.
Ahead of them stretched a short passage ending in an arch. Above them, the ceiling sloped down to shoulder height. Maree wriggled back out from behind the racking and grabbed a glow basket. Hand in hand they cautiously crept along.
“By the first shell, where are we? Asked Filona.
Maree thought for a bit. “This end of the Dining Hall and off to this side: I think we must be under the kitchen stairs. That would be why the ceiling slopes”
Through the arch the passage turned right and ended in a square room a few paces across. A couple of bars of daylight, from a pair of gratings high up in the left hand wall, dimly illuminated the space.
“Where are we now?”
“I don’t know. If you give me a hoist I’ll look out through that grating and find out.” Filona seized her sister around the thighs and lifted. “We must be under the main entrance steps. I can see across the courtyard.”
“Swap?”
“Okay.”
That done, Filona wandered over to the sole rack of records and peered at the books and scrolls. “Wow.”
Maree crossed to her. “What?”
“Look at these. Their reference numbers all start with one. These are really early: first pass or interval.”
“Definitely ‘Wow’!”
“There’s one slipped down the back.” Filona reached carefully through and carefully extracted a book. “Where does this one belong?”
Maree held their glow near the volume. “I can’t see any reference number at all.”
Filona looked closer at it. Its hide cover was scuffed and had cracked down either side of the spine, which was bare of any title of archive reference mark. She very carefully lifted one corner of the cover.
“It’s music. So; what do we do with this lot then? Do we tell the others?” Filona asked her twin Maree.
“What? And let Plyne and his gang try to take all the credit? There’s not much point in telling Master Sinteen,” she said, naming the current Master Archivist, “he’s too lazy. Let’s only tell Master Kandar.”
“Good thinking. Let’s hide this place again. Lucky we’re fast workers.”
Quickly they heaved the displaced racking back into place and piled its contents back onto the shelves.
“You’ve still got that book from in there,” said Filona pointing.
“Shells, where can we hide it?”
“Here.” Filona took it, carefully slid it down the front of her trous and flipped her tunic back down to cover it. “We can look at it later. Come on, let’s go.”
They walked briskly back past the other apprentices still wiping down shelves, supervised by Almore. They were just about to exit the archives when Plyne and Tinee, lounging near the doorway, spotted them.
“Where do you two think you’re going?”
“The necessary,” replied Maree.
“Both at once?”
“We’re twins: it happens that way.”
“Come back here.”
The twins ran up the stairs towards the entrance hall, but Plyne and Tinee were older, larger and faster. Hands descended on their shoulders.
“You two work too hard for your own good, and have no respect for your elders.”
They were pushed back down the stairs, none too gently. Filona turned her head and bit down hard on Plyne’s wrist. He yelled and let fly a kick right into her stomach. She doubled up and puked all over his feet. “Yuck!” His fist mashed into her eye.
Maree was twisting and hitting out at Tinee who was trying to hold her off and slap her at the same time. The appearance of Almore, who promptly wrapped a bear-hug round her, tipped the balance.
Unseen by the five fighters, another apprentice fled for help.

-o-0-o-

The arrival of the Master Harper and the Master Healer soon put an end to the one sided conflict.
You three: outside my study now!”
Rubor dropped to his knees to examine the twins. After a few seconds he looked up. “You and you,” he said pointing to a pair of apprentices, “get a couple of those carry-cots from the Healer Hall and bring back some of my journeymen with you.”
Before long the twins were tucked up in bed in the Healer Hall, dosed with numbweed and fellis, and with Sareel sitting keeping watch over them. Filona’s eye socket had been very carefully stitched and their various bruises and grazes had been daubed with lotions and potions. Master Rubor had found and extracted the book down Filona’s trous.
“I don’t know what that is,” he said placing it carefully on the table between the twins’ beds, “But it probably saved you from some serious internal damage.”
Drugged and drowsy she mumbled something.

-o-0-o-

Seated behind his desk, flanked by his wife as the Senior Hold-woman and the Master Healer, and with the other senior masters ranged beyond them, the Master Harper regarded the truculent trio standing before him.
“What do you think you were doing?”
Plyne glanced at the other two apprentices. “It’s not fair.”
“What’s not fair?”
“The twins: everyone treats them as something special. They’re show offs! They come here and in their first term they’re working with us seniors rather than with the juniors where we all started. They’re even doing some journeymen studies. They work too hard and show the rest of us up. They won’t do what we tell them. And, THEY get to live at the Hold.”
“To take your last point first: they live at the Hold because they are fostered to Lord Stirdee. You are not. All three of you are an indentured apprentices because your fathers, when they signed your papers, were most insistent that you each should live the life of a normal apprentice in the hope (probably vain) that you should experience ‘normal’ life as opposed to the privileged status you had experienced up till then. That is one lesson I don’t think any of you’ve learnt in the five or six turns you’ve each been here.
“The twins wear apprentice uniform in order to fit in; but they are not apprentices. They are not indentured. They have to learn as much as they can fit into a turn. If they’re lucky they may have two turns. In the subjects that they are well advanced in; yes, they work with you seniors or even the journeymen. In others, such as instrument making and composition they are working with the juniors. That is their correct level in those subjects.
“You seem to think that they have it easy living at the Hold? I can assure you that they don’t. They are still expected to carry out duties as fosterlings: to do learning time in the kitchens, dairy, stillroom and dispensary. And when we’ve a Fall on they’re not hiding in here with you lot until Fall’s over and then going out to mop up. They’re out on their runners risking their lives just like the Weyrs.”
There was a knock on the study door and Lord Stirdee entered.
“What you did to the twins this afternoon amounts to attempted murder.” Kandar continued. “I am not prepared to keep you in my Hall. I’m cancelling your apprenticeships and returning you to your fathers. What they do with you is up to them. Lord Stirdee has provided an escort to take you to the Hall where you’ll spend tonight within in their cells. Your kit will be packed for you. You will NOT return nor speak to the other apprentices. I now have to spend the time till dinner writing to your families instead of getting on with finishing my composition as I’d hoped. Go!”

-o-0-o-

It was not till after the evening meal that Kandar had time to visit the twins in the healing wing. He found Sareel sitting with them and chatting quietly with Maree. Filona was lying fast asleep. A supper tray was perched on the table bearing evidence that the twins were not starving.
“Maree, I’m sorry that I haven’t been to see you before. How are you?”
“That’s all right Sir. Rather sore still, but it’s only cuts and bruises. Tinee’s rings did most of the damage; to me at least. Filona’s got it worst, at least this time.”
Kandar went and looked at Filona.
“She’s lucky not to have lost that eye,” said Sareel, “and that kick to her abdomen could well have ruptured her spleen or pancreas, if it didn’t leave her sterile.”
Kandar turned back to Maree. “Well, those three won’t bother any of you again. They’re spending the night in the Hold’s cells before being escorted home tomorrow. By the way, your parents are on their way to see you. Now, you’re to get better, hey? The Ride of the Twins must go on, right?.”
“I’m not sure Filona will be up to it. The next Fall’s only four days off.”
“If I can get the time off,” put in Sareel, “I’ll ride with you. I rather fancy trying my hand at it. I’ve still got a runner, even if it’s my youngest brother who’s keeping him exercised.”
Maree gave Sareel a thankful, if weak, smile and then turned to Kandar.
“Sir, we were coming to find you when we got stopped.”
“You were; why?”
“Well ... we’d found this hidden extra room.”
“An extra room?”
“Yes Sir; with some really early records in it.”
“Where?”
“The door is hidden behind the right-hand racking in the farthest archive store.”

-o-0-o-

The Master Harper and the Master Archivist hurried through the sections of the archives heading for the far end.
“What were they doing back here?” Asked Sinteen. “We haven’t bothered with this end for ages. We’ve enough to do coping with the recent stuff and cataloguing all the new records.”
“I suspect that they were banished down to this end as an act of ostracism. Ah, here we are. Now: the right-hand racking.”
For the second time that day the racking was emptied. For the second time it was heaved out from the wall. For the second time the door was opened.
“Thank the Egg; the twins left us a glow basket.”
The two masters had to duck somewhat more than the twins.
“Well; they were right about the age of this lot,” said Sinteen, stroking a careful finger down the spine of a large volume. “Definitely they’re first cycle. This lot were crossed though in the catalogue turns before I took over. I assumed that they’d been thrown out as rubbish or beyond copying, restoration or repair. I dare not let the apprentices loose on this lot. It’ll have to be me and a couple of trusty journeymen. Do we hide them away again?”
“Let’s take another look in that end section before we decide that.”
They retreated and Kandar looked round carefully.
“If we move the table into the centre, we could position the racking against the end wall instead of the side. You’ll need to replenish the glows so you can work safely.”
“Are you trying to teach a tunnel snake to suck an egg? We’ll have to bring each item out here to work on it: there’s no table in there, nor any way to get one in through that passage. We’re going to have to reinstate a lot of our catalogue. More work!”

-o-0-o-

The day of the next Fall, Filona was sitting up in her bed in Fort Hold. The swelling around her eye was beginning to subside although her face was left with a rainbow of bruises across which the stitches of her laceration wandered like a drunken trundle-bug.
Maree was well wrapped up in her riding gear about to take Sareel out for her first turn as equine ground crew. Since this Fall was across northern reaches of Fort, they were going to be heading up the valley to the old Beacon Post.
“Are you sure you’ll be all right here on your own?” she asked her sister.
“Of course I will. I won’t exactly be on my own, will I? There are only a few hundred other bodies who will be shut in with me.”
“You know what I mean. What are you going to do with yourself?”
“I’m going to work on our mystery book. I’ll start oiling to covers so that we can open it up. I want to see what the music is.”
“Well: don’t get bored. I’d better be off or I won’t have time to check Merrylegs’ tack.”

-o-0-o-

Filona took up a jar containing a mixture of oilberry juice and wax, shook a small quantity onto a rag and started rubbing it into the cover concentrating on the folds either side of the spine.
The book’s cover had been cut from a single sheet of hide. The cords, holding the sections together, had been brought out through a series of holes and tied off in a series of fancy knots across the spine. The front and back had each been reinforced with an inner layer of hide each stitched tidily to its outer. The dry, neglected cover soaked up the lubricant and started to reveal its original colour of reddish-brown. Except for the fancy knots, it was plain with no lettering, decorations or tooling.
In slowly working her way around the volume Filona realised that tha back cover appeared to be slightly padded: it was thicker than the front one.

-o-0-o-

Six glasses later her sister, reeking of agenothree, came bustling in to their cubicle to find her towel and go for a bath to wash of the stink.
“Wow! That cover’s come up a treat. What’s the music like? What are you reading?”
“H – m? Don’t know. I found this tucked in the back cover. It’s amazing.”
Maree sat down on Filona’s bed. “What is it then? What’s it about?”
“It’s a journal of sorts about a journey, a dragon and a treasure. You’ll have to read it yourself. Go and have your bath, you need it, and change. Go and have your meal downstairs. I’ll have mine quietly up here. By the time you’re done, I’ll have finished and you can start.”
__________________
"Truth is stranger than fiction: fiction has to make sense." Leo Rosten.

"When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."
C. S. Lewis

"I find television very educational. Whenever somebody switches it on I go in the other room and read a book." (attributed to Groucho Marx)

The Pedants are revolting! (against bad grammar)
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