by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
It had been many years since the organ had last given voice. Friar Julian had been a younger man—though by no means a young man—then, and had wept to hear the majesty brought forth by his fingers.
Godsmere Abbey had been great, then, before the punishments visited by earth and air. Now it, like the city surrounding, was . . . not quite a ruin. Just . . . very much less than it once had been.
Though it no longer worked, Friar Julian cared for the organ, still, waxing the wood, polishing the bright-work, dusting the keys, the bench, the pedals. As the organist, it had been his duty to care for the organ. Duty did not stop simply because the organ was broken.
Indeed, it was all of his duty, now: the care and keeping of odd objects—some whole, some broken, others too strange to know—and odd people in similar states of being. The odd people brought the odd objects, for the glory of the gods and their consorts, and the Abbey sheltered both, as best it might.
It seemed fitting.
Before the earthquake, before the Great Storm, Godsmere Abbey had the patronage of the wealthy, and the high. Witness the walls: titanium-laced granite that withstood the quake damage-free—saving some very small cracks and fissures; the roof-tiles which had denied wind and rain; the rows of carven couches in the nave—why, the organ itself!
They were gone now—the high, the wealthy, and the wise. Gone from the city of Collinswood, and from the planet of Fimbul, too; gone to some other, less contentious place, where they might be comfortably safe.
In the meantime, there was no lack of work for those few friars who remained of the once-populous spiritual community of Godsmere. With loss and want, their tasks had become simpler—care for the sick, feed the hungry, nurture the feeble; and curate the collection of artifacts that filled the North Transept, and spilled into the South.
From time to time, the Abbey accepted boarders, though a far different class than had previously leased the courtyard-facing rooms, seeking tranquility in the simplicity of their surroundings, and the sloughing off, for a time, at least, the cares that weighed their spirits.
A bell rang, reverberating along the stone walls: the call to the mid-morning petition.
Friar Julian passed the dust cloth over the organ's face one more time before tucking the cloth into the organist's bench.
"I will come again," he promised it, softly, as he always did.
Then, he turned and hurried down the steps, out of the organ niche, to join his brothers in faith in giving thanks to the gods and their consorts for the dual gifts of life and conscience.
Later in the day, another bell rang, signaling a petitioner at the narthex. Friar Anton stood ostiary this day, and it was he who came to Friar Julian in the kitchen, to say that two city constables awaited him in the nave.
Friar Julian took off his apron, and nodded to Layman Voon, who was peeling vegetables.
"Please," he said, "call another to finish here for me. I may be some time, and the meal should not be delayed."
"Yes, Friar," Layman Voon said, and reached for the counter-side mic, to call for Layman Met, which was scarcely a surprise. Voon and Met had vowed themselves to each other in the eyes, and with the blessings of, the gods and their consorts, and worked together whenever it was possible.
Friar Julian and Friar Anton walked together along the back hallway.
"How many?" asked Friar Julian.
"One only," replied Anton.
That was mixed news. They had been without for some number of months, and while one was certainly better than none, two—or even four—would have been very welcome, indeed.
On the other hand, it was true that supplies were low in these weeks between the last planting and the first harvests, and one would put less strain upon them than four. Unless . . .
"In what state?" Friar Julian asked.
"Whole." Anton was a man of few words.
Friar Julian nodded, relieved that there would be no call upon their dangerously depleted medical supplies.
They came to the nave door. Anton passed on to his post at the narthex, and the great, formal entrance, while Julian opened an inner, passed through it into the clergy room, and thence, by another door, into the nave itself.
Three men stood in the central aisle, among the rows of gilt and scarlet couches. Two wore the dirt-resistant duty suits of the city constabulary. Out of courtesy, they had raised their visors, allowing Father Julian sight of two hard, lean faces that might have belonged to brothers.
The third man was shorter, stocky; dressed in the post-disaster motley of a city-dweller. His hair was black and unruly, his face round and brown. Black eyes snapped beneath fierce black eyebrows. An equally fierce, and shaggy, black mustache adorned his upper lip.
He held his arms awkwardly before him, crossed at the wrist. Friar Julian could see the sullen gleam of the binder beneath one frayed blue sleeve. He turned his head at Friar Julian's approach, and the cleric saw a line of dried blood on the man's neck.
"Just one today, Fadder," called the policeman on the prisoner's right. "He's a sly 'un, though."
Friar Julian stopped, and tucked his hands into the wide sleeves of his robe.
"Is he violent?" he asked, eying the man's sturdy build. "We are a house of peace."
"Violent? Not him! Caught 'im coming outta Trindle's Yard after hours, wida baga merch on his shoulder. Problem is, nuthin' caught 'im going in, and t'snoops was all up and workin'. 'Spector wants a vestigation, so you got a guest."
"There's something strange with his ID, too," said the other policeman, sternly. "Citizens Office is looking into that."
"But violent—nothin' like!" The first policeman took up the tale once more. "He ran, sure he did—who wouldn't? Nothin' to be ashamed of, us catching 'im. And he's smart, too—aincha?"
He dug an elbow into the prisoner's side. It might as well have been a breath of wind, for all the attention the man gave it. The policeman looked back to Friar Julian.
"We put the chip in, then stood back, like we do, so he could make a run fer it and get The Lesson. 'Cept this guy, he don't run! Smart, see? We hadda walk away from 'im 'til he dropped off the meter and got the zap." He looked at the prisoner.
"Gotta have The Lesson, man. That's regs."
The prisoner stared at him, mouth hidden beneath his mustache.
"Not very talkative," the second policeman said, and opened one of his many belt pouches.
"The judge says board for two weeks," he said. "If the investigation goes longer, we'll re-up in two-week increments. If it goes shorter, the next boarder's fee will be pro-rated by the amount of overage."
Friar Julian slipped his hands out of his sleeves and stepped forward to pick the coins off of the gloved palm.
"Yes," he said calmly, fingers tight around the money, "that is the usual arrangement."
"Then we'll leave 'im to ya," the first policeman said. "Arms up, m'boy!"
That last was addressed to the prisoner, who raised his arms slightly, black eyes glittering.
The policeman unsnapped the binders while his partner walked across the nave to the safe. He used the special police-issue key to unlock it, and placed the small silver control box inside. Then he locked the safe, and sealed it.
He looked over his shoulder.
"Ponnor!" he called.
The prisoner pivoted smoothly to face him.
"You pay attention to this seal, now! It'll snap and blow if you try to get in here—that's the straight truth. The blast'll take your fingers, if it doesn't take your head. So, just sit tight, got it? The friar'll take good care of you."
"I have it," the man said, his voice low, and surprisingly lyrical.
"Right, then. We're gone. Good to see you again, Friar."
"May the gods and their consorts look with favor upon your efforts," Friar Julian said; seeing Friar Anton approaching from the direction of the North Transept. He had been listening, of course. The ostiary always listened, when there were policeman in the nave.
The policeman followed him out, leaving Friar Julian alone with the man named Ponnor.
* * *
The garda left them, escorted by the gadje who had admitted them to this place. Niku rubbed his right wrist meditatively, and considered the one who would take good care of him, Fadder Friar.
This gadje holy man was old, with a mane of white hair swept back from a formidable forehead. He had a good, strong nose, and a firm, square chin. Between chin and nose, like a kitten protected by wolves, were the soft lips of a child. White stubble glittered icily down his pale cheeks. His eyes were blue, and sad; far back, Niku perceived a shadow, which might be the remnants of his holiness, as shabby as his brown robe.
It was, Niku reflected, surprising that even a gadje holy man should accept the coin of the garda. Niku had no opinion of gadje in general, but his opinion of holiness had been fixed by the luthia herself. And among the blessed Bedel there was no one more blessed than the luthia, who cared for the body and soul of the kompani.
Well. The luthia was not with him, and he had more pressing concerns than the state of any single gadje's soul. It could be said that his present situation was dire—Niku himself would have said so, save for his faith in his brother Fada.
Still, a man needed to survive until Fada could come, so he looked to the holy gadje, produced a smile, and a little nod of the head.
"Sir," he said. Gadje liked to be called sir; it made them feel elevated above others. And the garda had shown scant reverence for this one's holiness.
The holy gadje returned both smile and nod.
"My name is Friar Julian," he said. "I am the oldest of the friars who remain at Godsmere, and it is my joyous burden to bring the prayers of the people to the attention of the gods and their consorts."
Niku, to whom this was so much nonsense, nonetheless smiled again, and nodded.
"Within these walls, my son, you are safe from error, for the gods do not allow a man to sin while he is in their keeping."
"It is well to be sinless," Niku said flippantly
It seemed to Niku that the holiness far back in Friar Julian's eyes burned bright for an instant, and he regretted his impertinence. Truly, the gods of this place had failed him, for it was a sin to mock a holy man, even a gadje holy man. The luthia would say, especially a gadje holy man, for gadje are so little blessed.
"Let me show you where you will sleep," said Friar Julian; "and introduce you to the others."
Niku froze. Others? Others might pose a problem, when Fada came.
"Other prisoners?" he asked.
Friar Julian frowned.
"You are our only boarder at present," he said stiffly. "The others to whom I would make you known are friars, as I am, and lay brothers. This we will do over the meal." He raised a hand and beckoned. "Come with me."
* * *
Ponnor walked the length of his room, placed a hand on the bed, opened the door to the 'fresher, closed it, opened and closed the closet door.
He turned, and asked, in his blunt way.
"What will be my occupation?"
Friar Julian was pleased. Despite his rough appearance, it would seem that this boarder had a sense of what was due a house of the gods. Most did not understood, and in fact, the agreement between Godsmere Abbey and the city constables stated that no boarder would be required to labor.
So it was that Friar Julian said, "You may do whatever you like."
Bright black eyes considered him from beneath lowering brows.
"If that is so, then I would like to return to my grandmother."
Friar Julian sighed, and held his hands out, palms up and empty, to signify his powerlessness.
"That," he admitted, "you may not do."
Ponnor shrugged, perhaps indifferently, or perhaps because he understood that there was no other answer possible.
"If I am to remain here, then, I would prefer to work, and not be locked all day in a room."
"We do not lock our boarders in their rooms," protested Friar Julian. "You may walk the halls, or the garden, meditate, read . . . "
"I prefer to work," Ponnor interrupted. "I am accustomed."
Were a boarder to volunteer to work, the agreement between Abbey and police continued, they might do so, without the expectation of compensation.
"If you would like, Friar Tanni will add you to the roster." Friar Julian hesitated, then added, in order that there was no misunderstanding. "Your work would be a gift to this house of the gods."
"I would like," said Ponnor firmly, and, "Yes."
"Then we will see it done," said Friar Julian. A bell sounded, bright and sharp, and he waved Ponnor forward.
"That is the dinner bell. Come along, my child."
* * *
The dining hall was full of people—gadje, all. The six friars sat together at one table near the hall door. To these, Niku was made known, and Friar Tanni that moment added him to the lists, and promised to have work for him by meal's end.
He was then released to stand in line, and receive a bowl of broth with some sad vegetables floating in it, a piece of bread the size of his fist, rough, like stone, and as dense, and a cup of strong cold coffee.
This bounty he carried to a long table, and slid onto the end of the crowded bench, next to a yellow-haired gadje who looked little more than a boy, and across from a woman who might have been the boy's grandmother.
"You're new," the grandmother said, her eyes bright in their net of wrinkles.
"Today is the first time I eat here," he admitted, breaking the bread and dropping hard pebbles into the soup. "Is the food always so?"
"There's bean rolls, sometimes," the yellow-haired boy said with a sigh. "Bean rolls are good."
"Having food in the belly's good," his grandmother corrected him, forcibly putting him in mind of the luthia, the grandmother of all the kompani. She looked again to Niku.
"Don't know what we'd do without the friars. They feed who's hungry; patch up who gets sick or broke."
"They do this from their holiness?" Niku asked, spooning up bread-and-broth.
The gadje grandmother smiled.
"Some of us," the boy said, "bring finds—from where we're clearing out the buildings don't nobody live in now," he added in response to Niku's raised eyebrows.
"Isn't the same as before, when this was a place for the rich folk," the grandmother said. "When it was over, and those of us who were left—you're too young to remember --" So she dismissed both Niku and her grandson. "Well, I don't mind telling you, I was one thought the friars would leave with the ones who could—and some did. But some stayed, all of them hurting just as much as we, and they opened up the door, and walked down the street, and said they'd be bringing food, soon, and was there anybody hurt, who they could help."
She glanced away, but not before Niku had seen tears in her bright eyes.
"Wasn't anything they could do for my old man, not with half a partment house on top him, but others, who they could."
Niku nodded, and spooned up what was left of his soup. After a moment, he picked up his cup and threw the coffee down his throat like brandy.
The grandmother laughed.
"Not from around here," she said. "Or you'd be going back for more of that." She looked to her grandson.
"Then come on."
The boy rose nimbly and went to her side to help her rise. Then the two of them moved off, the boy supporting the grandmother, which was Bedel-like. Niku sat very still, caught with a sudden longing for the sight of his own grandmother.
When it had passed, he rose, and went to find Friar Tanni.
His assigned work was to wash the floor in the big room—what the gadje called the nave. This suited him well, since the door to the street outside stood open during day-hours, and gadje of all description were free to come inside, to wander, to sit or lie down for an hour on one of the wide couches, to partake of the offered food.
It was this continual passage of feet that dirtied the nave floor, and Friar Tanni had told him that he might wash it every day, if he wished.
For the moment, he wished, for Fada, when he came, would surely enter by the day-door. It would be best were Niku near at hand to greet him. He had no clear idea what the friars would do, if they found a stranger wandering their halls in search of his brother, but there was, so Niku believed, no reason to discover the truth.
So, he washed the floor, simple work, and soothing, as simple work so often was. When he was done, there still being some time until the midday meal, he took his broom down the long hall to the left of the nave.
This was filled with cabinets, shelves, and tables, and those were filled with this and that and the other thing—an unrelated jumble of objects and intent that vividly brought to mind the work spaces of his brothers and sisters. The "finds" these must be, with which the gadje boy and others like him repaid the god-house for its holy care of them.
Dust was thick on surfaces and objects alike, but Niku had the means to deal with that.
He used the broom first, to clean the dusty floor. When that was done, he pulled the duster from the broom's handle, and addressed the collection.
Taking care to keep an eye on the nave, in hope of seeing Fada, Niku set himself to methodically dust the objects.
It was an interesting collection, to put it no higher than its due. One piece he picked up, his fingers curling covetously around it; another he could scarcely bring himself to touch. Valuable, dangerous, fascinating . . . all jumbled together without regard for utility or merit. It was as if the friars did not know what they had, nor how best to make use of it.
Niku had been born after the earthquake and the storm that had destroyed the city, but he had learned from the tales told by his elders. He learned how those who had means had fled, leaving behind those who suffered, and also much of their own property. The Bedel, scavengers and craftsmen, had recovered items similar to those here, in order to repair, destroy, or dream upon them, as each required.
A bell rang, startling Niku, as if from a dream. He walked out of the transept, into the nave, and looked about. There were a number of people about, as there had been, none of them was Fada, which saddened him. If the bell was a call of some kind, it had no power over those in the nave.
Niku returned to the transept.
Some time later, and Fada still not with him, he took the broom and duster, which would explain his presence, if he were found where he ought not to be, and explored further.
The South Transept was much like the North, save not yet so full of treasure, yet. He did not pause there, but ascended a flight of stairs, to a loft which was very full of dust, and a standing desk facing a tiered platform. There was a low rail behind the desk and Niku stepped up to look below.
A wondrous sight met his eyes—a device he had only seen in dreams, brass glittering in the muted sunlight admitted by tall soot-stained windows. He stood for a long moment, wonder slowing his heart, then setting it to pounding.
Dazzled, he put one booted foot up on the rail, meaning to make the jump to the floor below.
He stopped himself as he leaned forward to grasp the rail, withdrew his foot, and rushed down the stairs.
A moment later, he crossed the threshold into the sunlit niche—and paused, gazing up at it, its perfect form haloed; light running liquid along the silver pipes.
Softly, Niku mounted the dais.
Gleaming dark wood was like satin beneath his fingers, the bone keys were faintly rough. There was no dust on wood or keys; the brass stops had recently been polished.
Niku sat on the bench and looked over the three tiered keyboards, matching the reality before him with his dreams. Reverently, he extended a hand and touched the brass knobs of the stops, pulling one for each keyboard, those being named the Choir, the Great, and the Swell. He placed his feet on the pedals; leaned in and placed his fingers so upon the Choir keyboard, pressed, and . . . nothing happened.
Fool, Niku told himself; there will be a switch, to wake the blower.
He found a small brass button set over the Choir, and slightly to the left of center, and pressed it. Then, as memory stirred a little more robustly, he located the mute stop, and engaged that, as well.
He pressed his fingers once more against the keys.
Frowning, Niku closed his eyes, striving to call up a more detailed recollection of the organ and its workings. It was several long minutes before he opened his eyes again, rose from the bench and descended to the floor.
The trap was behind the organ set flush to the boards.
Niku pulled it up, and sat on his heels, looking down into the dimness. Unlike the instrument, the rungs of the ladder were furry with dust, and likely treacherous footing. He had reached to his pocket before he recalled that the garda had taken his light-stick, along with the papers his clever sister Ezell had made for Ponnor Kleug, his gadje name.
For another moment he crouched there, debating with himself. Then, with regretful care, he closed the trap, stood—and froze.
He had heard a step, nearby.
Quickly, he ducked out from behind the organ, and went up the dais., pulling the duster from his pocket.
The steps came nearer, and in a moment Friar Julian came into the niche.
He paused for a moment, startled, as Niku read it, to see someone in this place, engaged in admiration of this instrument. Niku smiled.
"It is very beautiful," he said.
The gadje's worn face lit with pleasure.
It is," he agreed, coming up the dais to stand at the organ's opposite side, "very beautiful, yes. Sadly, it is not functional."
"Has she ever shared her voice?"
The friar frowned, then smiled, as softly as a young man speaking of his lover.
"Yes. Oh, yes. Years ago now, she . . . shared her voice often. I was, myself, the organist, and --" He shook his head, bereft of words, the soft lips twisted, and the sad eyes wet. "She was damaged in the earthquake. I fear that I will never hear her voice again, on this side of the gods' long river."
"Perhaps," Niku suggested, softly, "a miracle will occur."
Friar Julian's eyes narrowed, and he glared at Niku, who kept his face innocent and his own eyes wide. After a moment, the old gadje sighed, and gave a nod, his anger fading.
"Perhaps it will. We must trust the gods. Still, even silent, she—she is a wonder. Would you care to see more?"
"Yes," said Niku.
They toured the pipe room, descending the stairs to the blower room, with no need of the trap and ladder. Niku inspected everything; he asked questions of Friar Julian, who was sadly ignorant of much of the organ's inner functions. For the old gadje, Niku realized, it was the voice, the opening of self into another self, that mattered. The mechanics, the why, and the what—they did not compel him as they did Niku.
Some while after, they came through the door, back to the organ niche. Niku smiled and bowed his head and thanked the friar for his time.
The sun was low by then, and Niku hurried out to the nave, to see if Fada had come.
Fada had not come before day had surrendered to night, and the day-door closed and locked. That was . . . worrisome. He depended upon Fada, to bring him, quickly, away.
Niku shared the evening meal of a protein bar and a cup of wine with the friars and the laymen. To take his mind from worry, he listened intently to all they said.
They forgot he was there, tucked into the corner of the table, and they spoke freely. The garda's money was to go for medicines. Where they were to find money for food, that was a worry.
A very great worry.
The simple meal done, the gadje joined hands, and prayed together, as brothers might do.
After, Friar Julian stood, and the rest, also, and filed off to their rooms. Niku rose, too, and went to the room he had been shown.
There, he showered, his worries filling his belly like so many iron nails. The message that had come to the kompani had not been specific as to time, but it was certain that their ship was approaching. What, indeed, if it had already come, and he was left here, along among gadje --
He raised his face into the stream of cleansing spray, and with difficulty mastered his panic.
The Bedel did not leave one of their own among gadje. Ezell, Fada—the luthia—they would not hear of such a thing. They would not leave him alone among gadje, not while Bedel knives were sharp. He knew that; and it comforted him.
But, still, a man would wish to continue his life, as long as it might joyfully be done.
His best hope yet rested upon Fada. But hope mended no engines.
It is said, among the Bedel, that gods help those who help themselves.
Accordingly, Niku stripped the blanket from the soft, gadje bed, wrapped himself in it, and lay down on the floor.
Arms beneath his head, he closed his eyes, and breathed in that certain way that the luthia had taught him. And so slid into the place of dreams.
* * *
The accounts page was bathed in red.
Friar Julian sighed, and shook his head, his heart leaden.
A shadow passed over his screen, and Friar Julian looked up, startled.
The stocky man ducked his unkempt head.
"Friar, I come to offer a bargain, if you will hear it."
Friar Julian frowned.
"A bargain? What sort of a bargain?"
Ponnor stroked the air before him, as if it were a cat—perhaps the motion was meant to soothe him—and said, slowly, "I am an artificer, very fine, and I have studied many devices, including such a device as your lady organ in the niche." He leaned forward, his hands still, black eyes hypnotic.
"I can fix her."
Fix—? Friar Julian's heart leapt painfully in his breast. But surely, he thought, around the pain, surely that was impossible. The earthquake . . . they had done all they knew . . . and yet --
"An artificer?" he said, faintly.
Ponnor nodded. "My brothers—all of us—there is nothing that we cannot repair, sir," he said, with a matter-of-factness far more compelling than any more humble declaration.
"And you believe you can repair my—the Abbey's organ."
"Oh, yes, sir," Ponnor assured him. "But there is a price."
Of course there was a price. The gods themselves charged a price, for admission into the Life Everlasting. Friar Julian took a breath, careful of the pain in his breast. The price named by the gods was a soul. Perhaps Ponnor would ask less.
"What is this bargain?" he asked, speaking as calmly as he could.
"I fix your lady organ, and you release me, to return to my grandmother," Ponnor said, and rocked back on his heels, his hands folded before him.
The price was a soul, after all.
Friar Julian swallowed.
He could not, could not free Ponnor from his bonds. The chip implanted in his throat would activate and render him unconscious if he moved outside the field of the device locked into the safe in the nave. The police were not idiots, after all; they held the key to the safe; they held the code to the chip.
It was not in Friar Julian's power to release Ponnor to his grandmother, or to anyone else.
But . . . tears rose to his ears. To hear his organ, once more? To play—did he remember how to play? Absurd doubt. He played every night, in his dreams.
He could not agree to this. He --
Stay. Ponnor offered his work to the house of the gods and their consorts. That had already been agreed upon. This other thing—what harm, if it gave him some ease while he worked? After all, the police would surely be back soon, to take him before the judge.
Friar Julian took a breath and met Ponnor's black, compelling eyes.
"After you repair the gods' organ, I will release you," he said steadily.
One side of Ponnor's mustache lifted, as if it hid a half-smile, and he continued to hold Friar Julian's gaze for a long, long moment . . .
. . . before he bowed his head, murmured, "I will begin now," and swept from the office.
Friar Julian, abruptly alone, covered his face with his hands.
* * *
Fada arrived as the sun was sinking. Niku had come out of the organ niche to clean the floor in the nave, seeking to ease muscles cramped by long hours of kneeling inside small places, and saw his brother enter, sidestepping those day-folk who were already leaving.
His brother saw him instantly, and raised a hand to adjust his hat, the smallest finger wiggling, which was a request to meet somewhere private.
Niku fussed with the duster, and the broom, in between which his fingers directed his brother to the inner garden, and warned him it would be some time before Niku could join him. He then turned his back and reactivated the broom, in order to clean up a spot of mud that had dried on the floor since his morning pass.
When he looked 'round again, Fada was gone.
Niku had taken a battered lantern from among the clutter in the North Transept to light him on his way. He found Fada lying on a bench under a fragrant tree, hat over his face, snoring.
"Wake, foolish one!" Niku said, slapping his brother's knee. "How if I had been the garda?"
"For the garda, I am only a man who came to the house for the meal, and fell asleep in the garden," Fada said, swinging his legs around and sitting up. "I cannot work here," he added, "even with the lantern."
"That is why we are not staying here. Come, Brother; let me show you some things that I found."
"This," Fada said, some minutes later, placing his hand reverently on the organ's polished wood. "This, Brother, is something, indeed! Has it a voice?"
"Not presently," said Niku, from his seat on the dais.
"That's too bad." Fada stroked the wood once more, then turned and sat down next to Niku. He reached into his pocket and brought out a flat black rectangle, which he proceeded to unfold until it was a smaller, flatter black rectangle, with various protrusions, like the segmented legs of a river crab.
"First, I take readings," he said, straightening and bending again the legs. "After I have read, we will know how to proceed, which will we do. You will eat breakfast with your brothers, Niku!"
Hope made him giddy. Fada was the cleverest of his very clever brothers; surely no device of mere gadje garda could outwit him. Was it not said of the Bedel—admittedly, by the Bedel—that there was nothing they could not fix, nor any trap that could hold them long?
Fada placed one of the legs against Niku's neck, over the new, pink scar.
"Be still, now—no talking, no moving. Do not breathe until I say!"
Niku closed his eyes and held his breath. He heard a high, poignant hum, which might have been the device, or only his ears, ringing from tension.
"And breathe," Fada commanded.
This Niku did, reaching up to scratch at the scar.
"Now what do we do?" he asked, when Fada had been silent for what seemed too long.
There was no answer, his brother continuing to stare at the face of his device, his own showing lines of what might be worry.
"Fada?" Niku touched his shoulder.
His brother shook his head, and raised his eyes.
"Niku—Brother, I cannot . . . "
"Cannot?" he repeated. "But—"
"This—thing. It is . . . In a word, Brother, it is beyond me."
"You cannot remove it?"
"That—no. It appears to have established tentacles, and those have intertwined with nerves in your throat. It can never be removed."
Niku felt his stomach churn; the thought of this gadje device forever a part of him was enough to make him vomit. He swallowed, hard, and looked back to Fada.
"But you can disarm it," he said.
"That—yes. But at risk of your life. I may . . . I will need our brother Boiko for this . . . " His voice faded out, which meant he was thinking.
Niku sat, thinking his own thoughts. Boiko meant frequencies. Frequencies meant there was a way to turn the blessed thing off.
"We have heard again," Fada said, interrupting his thoughts, "from the ship. We have a day and a location."
Niku's mouth dried.
Fada looked at him bleakly. "Two days beyond a world-week."
"Surely Boiko can find the frequencies . . . "
"Surely he can, but if we must build a device, in among the packing of all the dreams and findings, for the ship . . . " His face firmed. "We will do it. Brother, you must trust us."
"You are my brothers," Niku said. "But, if Boiko can find the frequencies, we have here a device, Brother." He flung his hand out, showing Fada the organ.
His brother considered the organ over his shoulder, then turned back.
"You said it had no voice."
"And so it does not. But I will fix that."
Fada's face did not lose its expression of worry.
"I don't say that you cannot, Brother, but can it be done in time?"
"It must be done in time," Niku said firmly, "and so it will be."
Fada took a breath. "If you say it, then it is so."
Niku nodded. "And we have another path, Brother. I have a bargain with the gadje who loves this organ. When I fix it, he will free me."
"Has he this power?"
"It may be. The garda have sealed the control box into a safe. I think that Friar Julian is not a man who allows such things into the gods' house unless he has some measure of control over them."
Niku straightened, and looked at Fada with a surety he did not entirely feel.
"Boiko will find the frequencies. I will repair this organ for the gadje. You will bring the frequencies—in three day's time."
"Three days," Niku said firmly. "By then, she will have her voice."
"And if it does not?"
"Then there are still seven days left for my brothers to build their device."
A bell rang somewhere in the Abbey, and they fell silent.
Niku then took Fada by the arm and brought him to his feet.
"Come, there is something else you should see."
"More treasure, Brother," said Fada, overlooking the tables in the North Transept. “Do they know what they hold, these gadje?"
"I think not," said Niku. He stepped over to a particular table and held his hand over that object that had so concerned him. "What do you think of this, Brother?"
Fada stepped up beside him and considered the thing with a critical eye.
"I think that it ought to be destroyed. Of course, they don't know how."
"That would be my guess. It ought not to be sitting here where it can work mischief. Will you take it, when you go?"
"It's best, I think," said Fada, and reached into his pocket, producing a muffling cloth, in which he wrapped the thing, before slipping it into a pouch and sealing the top. "That will keep it."
"There is also," Niku said, reaching carefully into a glass cabinet, "this."
Fada pursed his lips in a whistle, and held out his hand.
Niku shook his head.
"You must do another thing for me, Brother. You must sell this at good terms—bargain hard!—and bring me the money, when you return with the frequencies.”
"Money?" he asked, doubtfully, as who would not? The Bedel did not have much to do with money.
"Money," Niku said firmly.
Fada shrugged and accepted the little figurine, wrapping it also with care and stowing it in an inside, padded, pocket. Then, he looked about.
"Brother, I will stay here until the door opens, and then I will be gone. What will you?"
Doubtless more of the collection would find its way into Fada's pockets, but that hardly gave Niku a qualm. What the Bedel found belonged to the Bedel. It had always been so.
"I will go back to the organ," said Niku.
"Should I come?"
"I think not."
Niku embraced his brother.
"Go safely," he said.
"We will not leave you alone," Fada said, and hugged him hard
* * *
Ponnor was at the organ every waking hour, and Friar Julian suspected, every hour that he ought to be sleeping, too.
The man's diligence shamed Friar Julian—and how much more shame would he feel, he wondered, if Ponnor did restore the organ?
When he had first come to Godsmere Abbey, as a boy, he had an elder brother—one Friar Fen. Among the many pieces of wisdom Friar Fen had given his young brother was this—that priests have no honor, for they must always, and first, do everything in their power to serve, without fault, the gods and their consorts. And then they must serve, without fault, those who needed their care the most.
It was not honor, then, that prompted Friar Julian's search of the file cabinets, table drawers, and bookshelves, looking for the key to the constable's safe in the nave.
Surely, he had once had it; therefore, he must have it still. He had given his word, that he would free Ponnor, should he succeed in repairing the organ. Given his word, in this house, where the gods allowed no man to sin.
Late in the night of the second day—or, more accurately, early in the morning of the third—he found it—stuck to the back of the top drawer of his desk. He gripped it in trembling fingers and went out to the nave to test it.
It was only after he stood in front of the safe that he recalled that the police had also applied a sealant, and had taken care to warn Ponnor of its danger.
And for that, he had no answer.
He started from a doze behind his desk and looked up to find Ponnor in the door. His heart took up a hard, sluggish beat that made him feel ill.
"Yes, my son?"
"It is done," Ponnor told him, black eyes fairly sparkling. "She sings again."
The words—it seemed as though he had heard the words, but lost their sense immediately. The organ—what?
"Friar? Will you come?" Ponnor held out his hand.
He sent a prayer to the gods and their consorts, and rose from his chair, willing shaking knees to support him.
"Of course I will come," he said.
He sat on the bench, placed his feet on the pedals, and rubbed his cold hands against each other. Ponnor stood next to the organ, at his left, and he was pulling a much folded sheet of paper out of his pocket, which he unfolded onto the wood, and smoothed with his palm.
"Here," he said. "This is a song that I write in celebration of her voice. If you will play this, Friar? I will stand --" He looked over his shoulder and pointed, seemingly at random, "there."
"Even muted, that will be far too close for the safety of your ears, my child."
Ponnor gave him a wide grin, his eyes seeming, in Friar Julian's judgment just a little too bright. But, still, the work he had put in to this, the hours of labor and the several nights short of sleep—such things might push a man to frenzy, especially if he labored in a house of gods.
"Please, you will play this?" Ponnor asked again.
Father Julian had long planned what he would play, should the organ ever be repaired, and it grieved him, a little, to cede pride of place to an inept bit of music scribbled onto a grubby sheet by --
By the man he had lied to, and was about to betray.
Friar Julian picked up the paper, running his eye over the notes.
"Of course, I will play this first," he said.
* * *
Niku hurried to the front of the organ, pushing the stops into his ears as he did. When he reached the place Fada and Boiko had determined to be the best, he turned into the sound, and deliberately relaxed.
It was, he thought, a very beautiful thing, this organ. It had been a good thing to do, to repair the blower that had been broken in the quake, and reseat the pipes that had been shaken loose. Very simple repairs. A child could have made them.
Well. Whatever happened in the next few heartbeats—and Boiko himself warned that the outcome might not be happy—he had done well here. This was a deed the memory of which he would wear like a star upon his brow, when he passed to the World Beyond.
Beneath the floor, he heard the blower start.
He heard Friar Julian shift on the bench.
Niku closed his eyes.
The first note sounded, flowed into the second, the third, ascended to the fourth --
Niku felt a jolt of pain, a burning along his throat, he gasped, his hand leaping to the spot . . .
The organ went on. The skin of his throat felt normal, save for the roughness of the scar under his fingers.
Friar Julian played on to the end of the little piece of music Ezell had composed from Boiko's frequencies.
There was a small pause, as perhaps Friar Julian adjusted the stops.
The organ burst into song; a wild, swinging music that had much in common with the music the Bedel made for themselves, when there were no gadje to hear.
His feet twitched into a half-step. He laughed at himself, realized that his ears were ringing, despite the stops, and stepped away from the organ.
* * *
Friar Julian frowned at the scrap of music Ponnor had left, his eye moving over the lines. There was something—a progression, a linkage of line and tone . . .
It was, he understood suddenly, a test pattern; a technical exercise, and no music at all.
He smiled, pressed the blower key, and the mute, and placed his fingers on the keys.
The pattern completed, he paused only to set the stops, his hands moving on their own, surely, no shaking now, and he leaned into the keyboards with a will
He had planned . . . For years, he had planned to play the stately and glittering “Hymn of Completion,” which celebrates unions of all kinds, but is most particularly played when one man and another have chosen to pledge themselves to each other for the rest of their mortal lives.
What flowed out of his fingers, however, was not the structured elegance of the “Hymn,” but the provocative and lusty “Dance of the Consorts.”
Friar Julian closed his eyes and allowed his fingers to have their way.
He came to an end, and lifted his fingers from the keys, listening to the final reverberations from the pipes. He sighed, his heart full, and his soul healed.
"Friar?" a voice said, very close to his left elbow.
Hearing it, his soul shattered again, and when he turned his head to meet Ponnor's eyes, his own were filled with tears.
The other man smiled.
"I am sorry that I will not be able to stay and hear the rest of the great music," he said. "My grandmother calls me."
Friar Julian shook his head.
"I bargained in bad faith. I cannot release you."
Incredibly, Ponnor's smile grew wider.
"I think you are too hard on yourself," he said, and extended a large, calloused hand. "Come, let us celebrate this lady and her return to song."
Friar Julian hesitated, staring from hand to face.
"Did you understand what I said?" he asked. "It's not in my power to release you."
"That!" Ponnor said gaily. "We will see about that, I think! Come, now, and walk with me. We will test this thing. Let us go together down the street to the tavern. We will drink, and bid each other farewell."
"I tell you, it is impossible!" cried Friar Julian.
His wrist was caught in one large hand, and he came to his feet, reluctantly, and Ponnor's hand still holding him, went out of the niche and into the nave, where the day visitors and the laymen, and all of the friars, stood, their faces bathed in wonder.
"Was that," asked a woman wearing a flowered apron, "the organ?"
"Julian?" said Friar Anton. "Is it—I thought I heard . . . "
"You did hear!" Ponnor answered, loudly. "Your organ sings again! Soon, Friar Julian will come back and play for you all, but first, he and me—we have business to conduct."
No one questioned him, least of all Friar Julian, the music still ringing in his head. The crowd parted before them, all the way down to the day-door.
Friar Julian came to his wits as the sun struck his face, and he pulled back.
"You will be struck!" he cried.
"Not I!" Ponnor declared. "What a beautiful day it is!"
That was so, Friar Julian saw, the sun smiling cheerfully upon the broken street, and the children playing Find Me! among the piles of salvage.
Halfway down the street, the bright red sign of the saloon mere steps ahead, Friar Julian exclaimed, "But you're out of range! The chip should have activated!"
"You see?" Ponnor grinned. "You have kept your word! The gods of the house would not let you sin."
A miracle, thought Friar Julian. I am witness to the movements of the gods.
Dazed, he followed Ponnor into the room, and allowed him to choose a table near the door.
"Sit, sit! I will fetch us each a glass of blusherrie! A special day begs for a special drink!"
The friar sat, and glanced about him. The hour was early and custom was light. Across from him a dark haired man wearing a hat sat alone at a table, nursing a beer. On the other side of the door, near to the bar, a young woman with red ribbons plaited into her black hair, black eyes sultry, sat by herself, an empty glass on the table beside her.
"Here we are!" Ponnor returned noisily, placing two tall glasses of blue liquid in the table's center, as he sat down in the chair opposite.
"We will drink to the lady's restored health!" Ponnor declared, and they did, Friar Julian choking a little as the liquid burned down his throat. It had been a long time—years!—since he had drunk such wine.
"We will drink to the wisdom and the mercy of the gods and their consorts!" he cried then, entering into the spirit of the moment.
"We will drink to fond partings," Ponnor said, and they did that, too.
Father Julian sighed, surprised to see that his glass was nearly empty. He felt at peace, and more than a little drowsy.
Across the table, Ponnor set aside his glass and rose.
"I leave you now," he said. Father Julian felt his hand lifted, and blinked when Ponnor placed a reverent kiss upon his knuckles.
"Enjoy your sweet lady, sir," Ponnor said, and was gone, walking briskly out the door.
At once, the man and the woman at the single tables rose and followed him out.
That was odd, thought Friar Julian, and sleepily raised his glass for another sip of blusherrie.
"Hey," said a rough voice at his side. Friar Julian blinked awake and smiled sleepily up at a man wearing an apron. The barkeeper, perhaps.
"Yes?" he said.
"What I wanna know," the man said, looking down at him with a thunderous frown, before is whose gonna pay for them drinks."
Friar Julian sat up straight, suddenly and vividly awake.
Money! He had no money! Ponnor --
"The guy with the mustache said you'd pay for them, too," the barkeep said, using a blunt thumb to indicate the two single tables, now empty. "We ain't the church, here, see? You drink, you pay."
"Yes, I understand," said Friar Julian, his heart sinking, thinking of the few coins left in the cash box, after the medical supplies had been purchased.
Futilely, knowing they were empty, he patted the pockets of his robe. The right one was as flat as he expected, but the left one . . .
Wondering, Friar Julian pulled out a bright blue envelope. He ran his finger under the flap, and drew out a sheaf of notes. Notes! Not coins.
He offered the topmost to the bartender, who eyed it consideringly.
"Hafta go in back to change that," he said.
Friar Julian nodded.
Alone, he fanned the money, seeing food, medicines, seeds for their kitchen garden . . .
Something fluttered out of the envelope. Friar Julian bent and picked it up off the floor.
It was a business card for one Amu Song, dealer in oddities, with an address at the spaceport. Father Julian flipped it over, frowning at the cramped writing there.
The gods help those who help themselves.
He stared at it, flipped the card again, and there was the word, oddities. He thought of the North Transept, the cluttered tables of worthless offerings there.
. . . and he began, very softly, to laugh.
Copyright © 2013 by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Maine-based writers Sharon Lee and Steve Miller are the co-creators of the best-selling Liaden Universe® saga, including latest offering Necessity’s Child. Steve and Sharon maintain a web presence at www.korval.com.