Chapter One, Scene One

Chapter One

Scholarly Pursuits

 

“Bibliomancy was given to us by the Gods. No one outside of our culture knows how to perform it, thus must that remain. It is a system of magick; one that is the end result of a contract between man and the Unknowable. It is a magick for the wise amongst us; its rules are flimsy and hard to nail down. Ours is a magick that can bend the very fabric of reality; if one is clever enough. Now. Say that back to me,” Ma’Rosi said as she paced across the carpeted floor before Sylith. Beneath the carpet was bare earth.

Sylith had always wondered why his people had not made floors over the soil, just like the other cultures he had read about. The builders could easily use the same stone or wood they used for walls, but they didn’t. Instead, they just lay carpet after carpet over the ground. That had to be expensive. Carpets weren’t even produced in the Mahima Islands; they had to be traded or bought.

Ma’Rosi was the Elder of their Clan, and many had said she was the most powerful amongst them. Sylith had no doubt about that. Ma’Rosi had been old when he was born, and now he thought her ancient. No one in town knew her actual age, but it had been whispered that she was well over 150 years old. That was foolish, of course. Sylith knew the average person only last till 80 years of age. 90 if they were extremely lucky. Myth and legend had said that, in the distant past, people lived to be well over 500 years old. Such stories were codswallop.

‘It is to keep us closer to Spirit,’ Ma’Rosi had said a hundred times. Sylith still didn’t think it made sense. Spirit was all around, why was it important that they built no floors to maintain a connection to the higher power? The entire clan had heard stories of buildings of the other nations. It was no secret they made floors of marble, stone, wood, and so many other materials. It all sounded fabulous, yet Ma’Rosi did not allow anyone to cover the floors of their houses in any physical material save carpets.

All floors aside… The boys had been through this lecture hundreds of times by now. It was necessary, Ma’Rosi had said to him earlier in the day. Sylith was old enough now to begin teaching the children of their village, and if he was to teach them, Ma’Rosi wanted to ensure it was done properly. She was a lax woman, usually, but she took her role in their society seriously.

Sylith was sharing this slow-paced afternoon with his two best-friends, Abrex and Eelyx; twin brothers. Their mother and Sylith’s mother were childhood friends; both women becoming pregnant around the same time, it was only natural that their respective children become close. Both families had resided on this island ever since their village, Ma’Bagi, was founded a few hundred years prior.

The Isle of Aagaa was a small one, it’s natural resources scarce enough to support a population of 200. Sylith had estimated his village’s population to be around 163, give or take. There were some members of the Domzi that were traveling abroad. If history was to be any judge, some of those Domzi might never return to their respective home islands; thus it was hard to nail down how many Domzi called Aagaa their home. Sylith had tried to organize a complete list of the island’s inhabitants, but most of the townsfolk refused to cooperate with him. They didn’t see the sense in ‘wasting time cataloging our neighbors.’

“Yeah, we know this already, Ma’Rosi,” Eelyx groaned; his slim face and angular features made a sharp contrast with his dark hair. Something about Eelyx had always haunted Sylith. Eelyx looked just like his twin, Abrex, but there was something about Eelyx that had always drawn Sylith to him. Something that wasn’t there with Abrex. Sylith couldn’t put his finger on it; the only thing he knew was that he liked looking at Eelyx.

Eelyx slumped back in his chair, the parchment and quill before him sat lonely and unused. Sylith had to stifle a laugh at the comment. Eelyx was always so impatient in class. Sylith knew that his best-friend would rather be out in the open air, practicing with his staff. Eelyx had often said that classrooms were stifling. Well, he didn’t use that word exactly, but close enough.

“Patience, Lyx,” Abrex, Eelyx’s older twin brother, broke in soothingly, “Ma’Rosi would not be reiterating this if it were not important. If you know it so well, then speak it as she asked.” Talking in a calm manner, Abrex easily delivered Ma’Rosi’s speech without error. Eelyx rolled his eyes and Sylith had to stifle another giggle. He didn’t like it when the pair fought, but watching them squabble was always entertaining. They were both so stubborn, their arguments lasted weeks before one or the other forgot what exactly it was that they had done to offend the other.

“Very well done, Abrex,” Ma’Rosi said approvingly, “Eelyx, if you disapprove of the way I have delivered it, perhaps you know a better way?” The older woman smoothed her long skirts as she gave Eelyx as reproving look.

Eelyx considered this for a moment before nodding. He stood from his chair and spoke in a mock-knowing tone, “Bibliomancy is special. The Gods gave it to us and it’s difficult. When you go on Pilgrimage, don’t teach anyone else Bibliomancy otherwise they might screw up the world. There. Happy?” He sat back down quickly, rolling his eyes in the process.

Oh my, he is in a mood! Sylith thought to himself.

Ma’Rosi seemed to take no notice of Eelyx’s poor behavior, “Yes, I think you captured the meaning of it, Eelyx. Now try it again like you want to teach the younger members of your clan. Sylith, Abrex, and I have no issue waiting here until you can say it like you mean it.” Her deep brown eyes locked on to his.

Eelyx gaped and glanced from Ma’Rosi to Sylith. Sylith knew better. He kept his eyes on Ma’Rosi, all cool calm, and then nodded to Eelyx without looking away from the Elder. Abrex mirrored Sylith’s motions. Ma’Rosi smirked, satisfied with their lack of response, and glared at Eelyx. He looked back at Ma’Rosi and sighed.

“Bibliomancy was given to us by the Gods. No one outside of our culture knows how to perform it, thus must that remain. It is a system of magick; one that is the end result of a contract between man and the Unknowable. It is a magick for the wise amongst us; its rules are flimsy and hard to nail down. Ours is a magick that can bend the very fabric of reality; if one is clever enough,” Eelyx said all monotone and sulkiness. Sylith smirked to himself despite Eelyx’s expression.

“Very good, Eelyx. Abrex, I won’t bother asking you; I’ve sat in on your classes and I know you can make a near-perfect imitation of me. Well done. Now, as you may know, most of the old texts you will encounter will refer to Bibliomancy as Caligromancy. There is no difference, it is just a means of translation preference between the High and Low tongue…” And on Ma’Rosi carried much into the afternoon. Sylith learned nothing new during the lesson; he wasn’t supposed to. These lessons were merely a means to review what they had learned.

Sylith, Abrex, and Eelyx were to begin teaching the younger members of the Domzi clan and to do that they needed to be sure they had memorized the basics of Bibliomancy. These last few days had involved Ma’Rosi, the Keeper of the Clans, drilling the trio on their knowledge. Where they lacked, she was there to compensate. Ma’Rosi had been the trio’s main tutor throughout the years, so she had expected perfection from each of them.

“I am satisfied,” Ma’Rosi had announced after a time to the trio. Sylith exhaled in relief. He did not doubt his abilities, nor Abrex’s, but Eelyx was another story. No matter how gifted he was, Eelyx had zero interest in scholarly pursuits. He had skill where Sylith and Abrex had knowledge. It wasn’t always conventional, as far as the Elders were concerned, but he was indispensable in his own way.

“Tomorrow you shall all begin teaching the younglings. That means you are responsible for their future. Your successes and failures shall be measured by your students. Remember that fact and I am sure each of your students will be a credit to the Clans. You are dismissed,” Ma’Rosi said before bowing her head slightly to the trio. They returned her bow, but much deeper, as was appropriate for a woman of her station.

After the formalities were over, Abrex rushed up to hug Ma’Rosi, as did Eelyx. Sylith hung back until the twins were done. He was just as happy as the other two, but he could show more reserve. No doubt Ma’Rosi didn’t want three young men swarming her at once.

“Oh, thank you, Ma’Rosi. Truly, your tutelage compares to none,” Abrex gushed as he enveloped Ma’Rosi in a hug, which was not very hard considering just how short the woman was. Eelyx was right behind him cooing, “We would not have come this far if it were not for you.” Within seconds, Ma’Rosi had disappeared amidst the pair’s flattery and embraces.

Sylith rolled his eyes as Eelyx took both Ma’Rosi and Abrex into a great big bear hug. It was cute in a way, but Sylith knew they were only kissing her butt. Sylith was planning on doing so too but in a different way.

“My mother baked you something in thanks for helping us, Ma’Rosi,” Sylith announced over the twins. He bent down to reach into his satchel, fumbling about between all the books and accouterments stuffed within. Hands outstretched, Sylith offered Ma’Rosi a parcel of oiled paper wrapped in twine. Her eyes widened for a fraction of a second before accepting the package. Eelyx and Abrex shot Sylith withering glances.

It was no secret that Sylith’s mother was the best baker in the village. She had single-handedly redefined the Domzi way of eating with her pastries stuffed full of cured meats and roasted vegetables. The stonemasons had constructed an extension on her bakery in thanks for her efforts to simplify their daily meals. Workers around Aagaa flocked to Sylith’s mother’s bakery on a daily basis to buy her pastries. Wives had thanked her too for simplifying their jobs.

The Domzi were not used to such convenience. Most wives woke an hour or two earlier than their husbands, just to whip up something delicious for them to eat at lunchtime. After Sylith’s mother started stuffing dough with meats and vegetables, everything changed. Sylith’s family had seen an increase in their wealth, not exorbitant but enough to make a difference.

The oiled parcel Sylith offered to Ma’Rosi contained his mother’s newest concoction: a dessert pastry stuffed full of custard and flecks of fried sugar. It was delicious. And expensive. Abrex and Eelyx had to have known exactly what was in the parcel, judging by their looks; they had tasted it only the day before and they knew just how delectable it was. Surely Sylith would curry the most favor with this gift. There were cows on their island, but not many; anything involving milk or it’s subsequent products carried a heavy price tag on the islands of Mahima. Not to mention the sugar, which was only imported twice a year…

Ma’Rosi’s eyebrow cocked and a sly smile crept across her face. “Thank you, Sylith, and thanks to your mother as well. Please give her my regards. I know how costly this must have been, truly you did not have to. Thank you nonetheless. I shall enjoy this with a fine cup of silver tea tonight as I read a few select tomes. Truly. Thank you.”

Sylith was all smiles. He could not help but to bring his fists to his hips, in a fine gesture of self-satisfaction. It was Ma’Rosi’s turn to stifle a chuckle as the twins wore mirror expressions of muted anger. Some would say that Sylith bought people’s affections. That was the wrong way of looking at it. He merely enjoyed sharing what he could with those that he loved. If it came with any unexpected benefits from others, well, all the better.

Eelyx opened his mouth, with a snide comment no doubt, but Ma’Rosi was quickly ushering them out of her Classroom and out of her large house. She was not rough or rude about it, not at all; just insistent. Anything Eelyx was going to say was quickly forgotten as Ma’Rosi began speaking to them while walking them out, “I am so sorry we cannot spend more time together today, boys. As you are all aware, the other four Elders will be arriving shortly and I must prepare beforehand. Just look at my rat’s nest of a head. It’ll take me hours to brush it out! Thankfully I won’t need my brush,” she gave a wink and a nudge at that.

“Ma’Rosi, please, let us stay! We can help-“ Abrex began, but was curtly cut off by Ma’Rosi.

“No, no, no. I have occupied enough of your time today, boys. Besides. What makes you think I do not need a moment to myself, hmm?” Ma’Rosi wagged a finger under Abrex’s nose as they faced her at the front door.

“I didn’t mean anything by that, Ma’Rosi. Surley, you cannot think-“ Abrex was cut off again.

“Light, child! I am simply jesting! Really, Abrex, you shouldn’t take everything I say as gospel! I am old and prone letting my mouth run away on it’s own. You should know this by now. No. I think you must be wound too tightly after the past week. Take the rest of the day to yourselves and relax. Word is Old Gil received a new shipment of giggle weed… Not that I should condone it… But youth will be youth,” Ma’Rosi gave them a knowing smile and another wink before closing the door on them.

“Well, I never…” Abrex breathed.

“Oh, do come off of it, Ab. She’s right. You’re wound up tighter than stableboy during the Spring Rites Festival. You need a release, brother. C’mon, Sy. Let’s do what Ma’Rosi said and pay a visit to Old Gil,” Eelyx said, slipping both his arms over Abrex and Sylith’s shoulders. He lead, no, pushed the trio away from Ma’Rosi’s tile-roofed house. Sylith let himself be prodded along.

They walked down a hardpacked dirt road towards the center of the village. More house lined either side of the road, each looking like smaller copies of Ma’Rosi’s dwelling. She had the largest in the village, by far, but certain perks came with being the leader of a Clan, not to mention the Keeper of the Clans. That was like being the Queen of the Clans; maybe not exactly like the Queens he had read about, but near enough for their small society. It was even said that their ancestors used to have a Queen or a King, but they called it something different. Zultanne, if it were a woman ruler. Zultahne, if it were a male ruler. They were words in the High Tongue, a language used by the old Mahimans. They were relics of another age.

“I am on nothing, brother. Why don’t you come off of whatever high horse you’re on,” Abrex said to his twin, all snide coolness.

Eelyx rolled his eyes, “Don’t worry, Ab. I’m not feeling particularly feisty today, not with Ma’Rosi giving us the rest of the day off. No. I’m feeling refreshed. So, I’ll let you off easy with the comments… for now.”

Abrex huffed and Sylith broked in quickly, “Yeah, Ab, let’s just drop it. You too, Lyx. It’s over. We have the whole day to ourselves! The sun is barely passed it’s midpoint, let’s make the best of it. I, for one, think that visiting Old Gil is a fabulous idea. We can stop by my mom’s bakery, pick up a few pastries, and sit by the docks for a little while. I wouldn’t mind a puff, a pastry, and a sailor,” Sylith gave a throaty laugh at that.

Eelyx started laughing too and Abrex just blushed, but Sylith saw a quirk at the corners of his lips. Abrex liked the sound of that too, he was just too shy to say it.

“Sounds like a plan, friends,” Eelyx announced before breaking again into a hearty chuckle.

One thought on “Chapter One, Scene One

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