I fear I may have given away too much already to those of you who have not heard this story before, but I will be patient about it anyway—and without much regard for Íora's ever-so-subtle disapproval. It is a story you need to hear, sisters, whether or not you can stomach it now. When I am gone and you have only your own memories of this night to pass on to your own grand-daughters, perhaps even after we have found a new home, you will want to be able to tell the tale properly. Gleméa was interrupted similarly by Kona, you see, when telling me her own story of her childhood, and I have but the scantiest detail for some of the most intriguing chapters of it. I have no intention of letting yet another great account of the history of our people become filled with similar lacunae—let the ravages of time do that without my assistance.
By the standards of the culture of the Ksreskézai, Dzetzo was a nobody; he held no titles that were his own, his house was of little significance and had always been one of civil service for as far as the record-books could carry it. I think Tenksebho Kailo
must have been a new name, as it is obviously just a Sotaní phrase...
What's that? You don't know what it means?
Who here was raised without an education in Oksirapho?
My. How the times have changed. Three centuries ago it was still the literary language of our people, you know. Even with all of its warts, yes, yes. Very well. Tenksebho kailo
means literally "that he might follow," which is to say Dzetzo's family let their allegiance fall where it needed. Wemno—you have heard of Wemno at least, yes? Good, good—was on the offensive some years before, you see, and nobles, like ksikladasa, thought so little of the Crown that such mutinous naming made a good parlour gimmick; to be able to introduce one's servant by an absurd name—obliquely, of course, in the midst of conversation, perhaps calling for a refill of wine—was simply and transparently amusing. To us it was bewildering; these were names suited for slokdtabasa, not free men. But that is how it was.
Now. The narrative.
There were things that, even with his lowly rank, Dzetzo could accomplish which we could not; things like visiting the Royal Archive. As I said earlier, Íoya worked
in the archive, due to her station with the judicial-treasury, but said office was limited to a small room on the ground floor. Only recently had the King himself declared that all free citizens could access the Archive, after relentless years of pressure by his advisers to consider the potential military value of a well-educated public. To us, the real mystery was how it had stayed open after the deluge of unpatented periodicals and pernicious rumours spread, unearthing scandal after scandal from files that surely should have been kept secret. ... It was only years after the fact that Íora explained to me that the King simply had all those responsible put to death. Thus the Archive's exposure was of little consequence, as it was wisely separated from anything of what the military might call an actually sensitive nature, and there was no manner of blackmail the state astrologers could not trace.
"Dzetzo," I called to him familiarly, as we returned to the premises of the Scabbard, "Do you recall the Chronicle of Ksogzano? The conquest of the northern village. Some three centuries past, I think."
At this time of the afternoon, the air inside of the Scabbard's office was heavy with the dust kicked up from the impact dyes used in the hot printing presses. Beams of sunlight twinkled through clouds of the stuff, projected from tiny holes up high on the steeple—remnants, I think, of some riot a century ago that arose shortly before the King's coronation. Dzetzo himself was on the upper level, flanked by two boys—his sons and apprentices—who were watching him clean one of the presses. The rest of the staff had evidently left already, as they were prone to doing during the day's run. Only poor, bookish Dzetzo remained committed to the actual press. ... That said, keep in mind that he was still a fully-grown Okso and was more than three dtotshei
long, from snout to tailbase. 'Bookish' is a very relative concept in this case.
He stood back up and turned around, coming toward the railing over the ramp so that he could see Íoya and myself. "Ah, you have returned, Little Regsabta," he said. His voice was more jovial now, but whether that was for his children or because of them, I could never tell. "And you are... Humble Íoya, also of Tshúkoto, if I am not mistaken." We had left Hegrekña-Uksiñtheka with one of my sisters, Khabla, for she was in no condition to stand beneath Sabta's mighty glare, and would likely be assaulted again anyway.
Íoya was surprised Dzetzo knew her style and pedigree, and the demure façade she would wear around other Ksreskézai—yes, exactly like that; hold that face for a moment longer, Íora—was suddenly complexed with uncertainty. All she could stammer was: "You are correct, fair gentleman."
He smoothed his eyes in pleasure. "I regret that I do not know the text of which you speak, Regsabta. Was it mentioned in a recent publication, perhaps? It may be in the co-editor's files." This was unlikely to be the case, as I had made the town up for this occasion.
"I very much doubt that, Dzetzo," I said. "It was something one of the nobles mentioned at Master's last banquet; perhaps Baron Kzigloko. We might find something of use in the Archive, I think."
He reflected on this a moment, his great eyes blinking one at a time. Finally he lifted his head slightly in acceptance. "Very well. We shall go when I am finished here," he rumbled, looking to his children. One of the boys turned back to him and muttered something quickly; even after centuries of hearing Oksine speech, I could still barely decipher the private, soft murmurings of a child and his father. Whatever he said, it seemed to convince Dzetzo adequately.
He looked at me directly, something he usually avoided. "Or perhaps the last grain of sand has fallen already."