Friday, March 20, 2009

Baffu's First Story Complete.

For your reading convenience, the whole story is in the comment section of this post. Strictly rough draft, completely off the top of my head -- but I think it's a solid start.

That said, I have no idea what the title is.


Sean Craven said...

The giant Baffu crawled through the service entrance, scarred knotty knuckles pounding the bone floor like mallets. First Wife rushed toward him holding a towel and once he was fully inside he sat cross-legged and bent forward so she could dry his hair.

“Walk in rain, you.” First Wife spoke in market pidgen and her voice had a companionable, familiar nag to it.

“Try fly, older sister. Don’t work,” Baffu said. He extended his hands and flapped. Carefully.

The service corridor was too small for Baffu to stand up even if he crouched. The ribs overhead had been darkened by smoke until they were brown, the polished bone underfoot yellow-orange with age. Every surface had been wiped clean within the week.

First Wife was old, as old as her husband Doctors but still in full vigor, white hair tied back in a tail and the mustache she’d stopped plucking drooping down in wisps like mist. She had a man’s hands and ruled the household the way Doctors ruled his court. Baffu loved First Wife dearly but he was used to strong women; he always wondered why a father-tyrant like Doctors put up with the way she bossed him around. She was nothing like his other wives; Second Wife was plump and gentle, with a sway to her round hips, Third Wife was slender as a shoot and full of merriment, Fourth Wife was a childhood friend of Baffu’s, still a girl from the market. All chosen for their beauty…

It made for a complicated household, one that Baffu, with all respect, did not entirely approve of.

First Wife turned to drop the sopping towel in a bin made of fragrant wood she’d brought from the Outer World and handed Baffu another towel and the robe he wore when he visited Doctors, dark blue with a dragon-whale curling up the back.

“Spend night?” First Wife asked.

“Depend drunk, we,” Baffu said.

“La, la,” First Wife shook her head, then broke into the language of the poets. “My beloved younger brother, our venerable repository of justice and wisdom is anxious for your company.” She hooked a thumb in the direction of the patio and lapsed back into Market. “Out there, got bottle. Food soon.”

Once out of the corridor Baffu was able to stand up under the eaves that shielded the porch from the rain. Reeds like insect legs with spear-head leaves at each joint rattled around him and hid him from view as he stripped his wet tunic and kilt off, dried himself, and put the robe on.

He stepped onto the porch and saw old Doctors laying down on his lounge, cup in hand, and beyond him the oversized couch that had been made for Baffu’s visits.

Doctors greeted Baffu in the language of poets. “Younger brother, tower of might and terror of the unrighteous, would you deign to come and greet this worn and weary old man with the affection to which he has become accustomed?”

“Older brother, the delight with which the prospect fills this crass brute cannot be overstated; his meager grasp of the courtly tongue fails utterly his gratitude to be in your august company.” Baffu went to the old man and embraced him and they kissed one another’s cheeks. Since Baffu’s growth everyone seemed small as children to him but Doctors was a small man regardless, barely coming up to Baffu’s waist. Baffu could feel the frailty, the stringy muscles and soft flesh over bones turned cruel by the years, and it gave him a moment’s sadness.

There were no lanterns, no candles. The square patio and the porch surrounding it were lit only by the steady pink-and-yellow glow from the buds of the potted plant that was the evening’s focus. It was Doctors’s (so-called because of his meritorious degrees in medicine, literature, engineering, and of course jurisprudence) first blossom viewing since he’d been exiled to the City of Wealth (so-called because of the wealth it brought to the Four Empires, its name a cruel joke to locals like Baffu).

Baffu had run across the plant near the shipyards where a stray seed had found itself a patch of nearly-fertile soil and brought it to Doctors. It had thrived under Doctors’s care and now the old man was able to have a small taste of the civilized life that his enemies back home had sought to deny him.

The slender green-black chitinous stalks trembled as rain fell and the blossoms strained inside their buds. Soon they would emerge and Doctors and Baffu would know for certain what kind of plant it was.

“Better a single blossom in the company of a heart’s true friend than all the Empire’s gardens in the company of shining adders and lacquered turds,” the old man said and they clinked their cups.

The two worked their way through the bottle and then another, the old man matching the giant drink for drink. Baffu allowed Doctors to guide him through the conversation, elaborate phrases in praise of the sound of raindrops, the shifting luminous patterns as clouds passed across the sky, the potted flora that filled the patio…

Then in an opportune moment of silence Baffu broke from the language of poets into the patois used by jurists and accountants and students of the sciences.

“Older brother, I need your advice,” he said. “You know I keep the peace out in the market. Well, now they’re asking me to settle disputes and I fear it won’t be long before I’m working your main line of business.”

“So I hear,” the old man said, and curled his lips in a shape that only resembled a smile.

“I’ve been reading everything I can find about the great judges,” Baffu said. “Right now I’m reading The Jurist Of Black And Gray.”

Doctors closed his eyes and shook his head. “Your granny must have some real trash in her library if you found that one.”

“I didn’t get it from her.”

“Well, throw it away.” Doctors opened his eyes again and shifted on his couch to face Baffu. “What case are you on?”

“I just finished the one about the student who lived over a restaurant. He’d eat his humble bowl of grubs each morning and night and smell the hot fat and aromatic spices cooking below him and the scent seasoned his food. One day he thanked the restauranteur for this; the man took him to court and sued him. The Justice Of Black And Gray had the student get ten coins of red-gold shell; when the young man brought them in to court the Justice had him cast them on the floor in front of the restauranteur. ‘There,’ he said. ‘You are paid for the smell of food with the sound of money.’ And then he sent the two on their way with an admonishment to live in harmony.”

Doctors fixed Baffu with a hard stare. “You want advice? Here it is.”

He gestured to a plaque on the wall; it was much like the one Baffu had seen in the court where Doctors acted as judge but older and simpler in design. Carved out of fine-grained ivory and inlayed with colored wood and shell, it showed four figures, posed close together; a tall stern man with a dour face, a calm woman with a look of keen intelligence, a dark angry youth, and a gently smiling girl with downcast eyes.

“Kneel before them,” Doctors said. It was a command.

Baffu did as he was told. Kneeling, he still looked down on them but he felt the weight of their authority.

“If you sit in judgment, they are your family and you must please them,” Doctors said. “They are Father Law, Mother Justice, Brother Vengeance, and Sister Mercy. Rarely will you be able to please them all and as families will, the ones you slight will still be part of your life one way or another.” Baffu heard the Judge sigh with deliberate drama. “I know you, younger brother. Father Law and you are going to have trouble with each other. Come, recline and have another drink. You need to hear the parts of the story that fool crab-frog left out of the book.”

Baffu settled down and took the cup Doctors offered.

“Now that Justice, may he walk on his ass on streets paved with teeth, thought nothing of telling that poor student to go and fetch ten coins of red-gold shell. How was he to do that? He was of a humble family, and he himself was not just humble, he was living in true poverty. But Justice commanded and so he went to the money changers and asked for a loan.

“How his heart soared when the coins were returned to his hand! Or so thought the Justice of Black and Gray, who was a young man himself and full of pride in his cleverness. What he didn’t consider was that the student went back to cash street, handed back his coins, and said, ‘I thank you for your loan. Please, how long do I have to pay the interest?’”

Doctors stared out at the potted plant with its struggling luminous buds in silence, then drained his cup. Baffu picked opened a third bottle and poured for both of them.

“So?” he asked.

“So, indeed,” Doctors said. “The next time the Justice of Black and Gray saw the student the young man lacked the modest dignity that had formerly been his hallmark; the student turned this way and that, his scholar’s robe open so that his private parts were displayed to any who cared to look. That is because his sash was around his neck and he hung from a rafter in his room. It was the restauranteur who found him when the smell of the student was stronger than the smell of cooking.

“Now the Justice may have been too much of a fool to foresee the results of his judgment but if he knew nothing else he knew this; men are mortal but debts are not. He went to the money lenders and found that they had been satisfied – when the debt fell on the student’s parents they indentured one of their daughters to work the Flower Boats.”

“Oh,” Baffu said. Out of respect he refrained from the indignant commentary on the ways of the Empire of Flower and Foliage to which Doctors belonged, but his heart surged with anger at this injustice.

“Oh, indeed,” Doctors said, and swirled the dregs of his cup. “Worse, the poor girl had been infected with —” and here Doctors slipped into the poetic language for a phrase “— The Mauve and Lavender Blossoms of the Nubile Impassioned.” He took a sip. “That is an infection of the skin. It releases subtle chemicals of the sort produced in the ductless glands, chemicals that regulate the differences between men and women. For a time, the victim finds themselves with the passion not of a woman but of a man, indiscreet and undiscriminating, desiring not an individual person but desire itself. Their sweat is an intoxicant, stirring passions in one who takes it into their mouths as they play amorous games…”

“You mean whore’s paisley,” Baffu said. “I’ve heard that after a time it turns women into men.”

“Not so, not so,” Doctors said. “But it does have certain… unfortunate cosmetic effects. Thusly, it is only used on the lowest grade of prostitute, one whose employer intends to use and discard them. Now if I may return to the story – and I trust you’re paying attention?”

Baffu nodded.

“The Justice knew he had done well by Father Law and Brother Vengeance, but in his ears he heard the chiding sighs of Mother Justice and Sister Mercy. A struggling family whose hope to enter a son in the bureaucracy had been cut short with sorrow, then shame heaped upon them through a connection to the liquid world of the Flower Boats, their daughter lost as well.

“So he found her on the docks, waiting for the Flower Boats, and against the wishes of his family and the ways of courtly life he married her. That was the beginning of his downfall, which as I recall was not written of in that stupid book, but any social losses were more than compensated for by the gift of his marriage. In what he thought was an act of self-sacrifice he gained…” His voice trailed off and for a moment he was lost in contemplation. Then he gestured sharply at Baffu with his cup; liquor slopped on the boards of the porch. “So. What advice have I just given you?”

Baffu, feeling the drink, took a moment to frame his thoughts. “That one needs to look at one’s decisions clearly and reach a conclusion that will produce the desired result when it goes out into the world. That one should be wise rather than clever and not make judgments for the pleasure of judging finely. That when you find your judgment in a state of imbalance consult with those four —” he jerked a thumb at the plaque “— for your guidance. And that there are times when you should just hitch up your kilt and do the right thing, consequences be damned.”

“Good enough,” Doctors said. “Good enough.” Then he looked at the potted plant and got up from his couch. While he had been speaking the rain had thinned and then stopped, though clouds still hid the world beyond the sky. “I think the buds have been softened enough for the blossoms to…”

Baffu got up and went to the plant. Doctors was right; one of the buds was splitting. Baffu held his finger out and the blossom crawled onto it, seeming grateful for the warmth. Its cluster of crinkled petals pulsed and swelled, turning into wings. Its eyes glowed with the internal light of coals under ash.

As Baffu went back to the porch, First Wife came out carrying a tray holding bowls of dumplings and sauces to dip them in.

“If you don’t eat something you’ll be sorry in the morning,” she said. “And anyway, it’s not a proper blossom viewing without dumplings.”

She set the tray down on the table between the couches and Doctors looked up at her.

“You are the ring of light that shines around the world,” he said in the language of poets. “You shine and turn the clouds to pearl.”

“Drunk, you,” she said in the pidgen of the market, and smiled.

“Look,” Baffu said, and held the blossom down where she could see it.

The blossom suddenly unfolded its glowing petals with their pattern of gold and rose. First Wife reached toward it and Doctors said, “Careful, dear. It’s an Ember Tiger. They sting.”

First Wife held her hands still and as one sleeve slipped Baffu saw, by the light of the Ember Tiger, a dappled pattern on her arm like the petals of the blossom. The marks were mauve and lavender…

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