Amates 19, 1277. Town of Banye, in the Buckhorn Boardinghouse. The only inn in town.
Scrubbing off the soot was far easier than hearing what Mikasi had to say. I nearly dropped my mug. Fortunately for my food, I didn’t.
“Wait. What did you just say?”
Mikasi, his own mug partway to his mouth, looked around the table at us wide-eyed.
“Say what?” He asked slowly. “All I said was that I realized what I had overlooked when I read the Cesibus’ notes again. He used a counterweight in his design that I hadn’t accounted for. I was tired and missed that.”
I shook my head.
“No, not that. The part about Cesibus himself.”
“He was a blacksmith, really an inventor, during the time of the Ancient Order.” Mikasi looked even more confused than before.
I set my mug on the dark, rosewood wooden table and stared at Mikasi. This news, really a revelation, was amazing. The clank of plates, hum of chatter in other parts of the boardinghouse and other sounds floated through the surrounding air. In that moment, I had even forgotten about the heavenly spiced barley beef stew in front of me, despite how hungry I was.
The name of Cesibus meant absolutely nothing to me. I hadn’t heard or read even a hint about him before. That wasn’t unusual. The Ancient Order lasted a long time before it fell. They had a lot of inventors during those years and only and only a small cupful had been rediscovered.
Learning that Cesibus even existed was important. But what this overly energetic halfling inventor just causally suggested? That was something else entirely.
“You can translate Ancient Order manuscripts that easily? You can read their language?”
Mikasi sat very still and cradled his mug close to his chest. His eyes darted around the table while he pursed his lips.
“Well… I…” The inventor took a quick drink of whatever that dark, bitter looking liquid was in his mug. “No. Yes?” His eyes wandered over his tin plate of food in front and the long boardinghouse table. “Maybe?”
He squinted at us.
I blinked before I sat back in my chair and ran a hand over my dark braids. Words? I lost those. What could I say? Windtracer Company, the Archivists Guild, and so many more were still struggling to translate what the Ancient Order left behind.
Yet here, in a dusty little town in Planus, was a halfling inventor who had done just that.
While I might have lost my words, Ki was right there to help. He sat forward, pinning Mikasi to his seat with one of those narrow squint-eyed expressions that Ki used so well.
“Mostly? What is ‘mostly’?”
Mikasi drew his mouth into a tight line while he fingered the rim of his elm wood mug. After a second, he shrugged.
“Mostly is mostly.” The inventor frowned with the expression of someone who had misplaced a thought. He even patted the breast pockets of his surcoat as if he had left it there. “Just mostly,” Mikasi concluded after a moment’s consideration.
That worm of an ache had found my head again. I rubbed my eyes.
“Aile Shavat!” I swore in a soft voice.
I took a quiet few seconds to collect my patience before I placed both hands flat on the table in front of me.
“All right,” I sighed. “I do want to hear more about this Ancient Order blacksmith, Cesibus, and I’m going to want to take notes. But. You said Cesibus wrote something down you overlooked. So, was that from a document written by Cesibus, or was it from a collection of works someone translated from Cesibus?”
Mikasi emphatically shook his head.
“Oh, Cesibus wrote it. I translated it myself.”
I slapped the table lightly out of mild frustration. The halfling inventor jumped in his chair, startled.
“I’m sorry. Sorry.” I raised my hands to try to make some sort of peacemaking gesture. “It’s just, this is important… I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Tyre took a long drink from his own mug. He lightly tapped the table with a finger.
“Mika. Take a deep breath, old friend, and let’s start back a bit. When did you learn to read anything written during the Ancient Order’s time? The language is dead.”
A glimmer of light dawned in the inventor’s eyes.
“Oh. Oh!” He shook his head again. “No, I can’t read just anything written by anyone from the Ancient Order. I can read Ancient Order papers and scrolls if they’re written by Cesibus. Anything else?” Mikasi shrugged. “I might could read a little of it, but I’m not sure.”
“Progress,” Evi rumbled, then devoted her attention to the bread, meat, and slaw on the plate in front of her.
I gave her a sour glance, after which I frowned slightly at Mikasi.
“So, Cesibus wrote in some sort of dialect?”
Mikasi pursed his lips again and took a quick drink from his mug before he answered.
“No. Not a ‘dialect’ really.” He gave me a bright grin. “Though I understand why you’d think that! But no. As I understand it, Cesibus was worried about other people stealing his work. So he wrote in a sort of ‘code’.”
“Code?” Ki asked. “What kind of code?”
Mikasi set his mug down before he fished the journal out of his belt pouch. Almost exploding with excitement, he pushed the half-empty place aside, then spread open his journal in front of us.
The pages were weathered and filled with notes, diagrams of pumps, and other devices. A half dozen cloth bookmarks divided the journal. Where there weren’t bookmarks, there were loose, small, hand-drawn maps or pieces of scrolls.
I can’t say I’m an expert at the Ancient Order written language, but I can manage a rough translation of key phrases here and there. What I saw on those pages made no sense to me. It was nothing I had ever seen before. I squinted at the scrawl of letters, which didn’t help one bit.
Mikasi tapped the pages.
“See? It’s brilliant. Cesibus normally wrote his notes in a mathematical shorthand. On this page, I was just copying what he wrote.” He fished a loose piece of paper from the depths of the journal. “Here is one of Cesibus’ original papers.”
The paper was obviously old, and a bit fragile, given how much care Mikasi took with it. Instead of Mikasi’s narrow scrawl, this paper was covered in notes written in a slanted, fluid handwriting. Mikasi touched a finger to certain spots on the relic.
“He used symbols and icons that normally are only used in device designs. Here, he uses them to represent similar words. But that wasn’t enough!”
The inventor rummaged around in a pocket of his surcoat, and produced a small, palm-sized rectangular mirror. He placed that up against the edge of the ancient paper.
“He wrote all his letters, notes, everything backwards, so you had to use a mirror to read them!” Mikasi giggled a bit. “I mean, you’d need a mirror unless you learned to read it backwards like he wrote it.”
“Which, you have?” Ki suggested.
“I had to when I lost my first pocket mirror.”
I leaned forward to stare at the reflection in the mirror while they talked. True to his word, the writing on the yellowed paper now made more sense. Briefly I read the notes, taking time to work out the abbreviations and mathematical ‘symbol shorthand’.
The paper, this one anyway, was notes and ideas on controlling the flow of liquids to produce certain results. There was a drawing of a device similar to a hydraulis pump as well. I suspected this had been a part of a journal the blacksmith used some centuries ago. At the bottom, Cesibus remarked on the nature of light and magic. How, based on his own measurements, he knew that light ‘flowed’ in ‘waves’, which he wrote was crucial in using it to convey messages. Cesibus wondered if magic behaved the same way.
I sat back in my chair, stunned. The implications left me speechless. It took me a second to catch up with the conversation going on around me.
“Gods of the Cresting Tides,” Kiyosi said softly. “And you said you learned to read this… ‘mirror language’ on your own?”
Mikasi smiled again.
“I did. It took me some time to puzzle it out, though. But because Cesibus used so many mathematical symbols, it helped me decipher the rest of what he wrote.”
Ki shook his head slowly.
“Astounding. Really damn astounding.”
I grabbed Ki’s arm to get his attention before I tapped the last lines of Cesibus’ notes in Mikasi’s journal.
“Ki, look here. This part where Cesibus wrote about ‘flowing light’.” I gave him a stern, meaningful look. “If he’s read about Cesibus’ studies involving light…”
Ki was better with translations than I was. It took him only a few seconds to read the reflected notes. I could see it in his eyes that he finished my thought and came to the same conclusion.
He took a deep breath as he leaned forward on his elbows. I could hear his tail gently swat the chair leg.
“Mikasi, I know you might be busy, what with your workshop having burnt down and all…”
The older man chuckled. He waved a hand in the vague direction of the burnt building.
“It’s like I said before. That old place needed a good cleaning. I’ll get to rebuilding it soon. After all, it's not where I do most of my work, anyway.”
“You got your wish on getting to ‘clean’ there, Mika.”
Ki shook his head at that, so I jumped in.
“Well, if you’re not busy right now, would you be interested in looking over some drawings of an Ancient Order relic? We would love to know what you think. They possibly used the device for… several things, but we’re not exactly sure what. We’ve a lot of wild guesses, but nothing really seems to fit.”
The inventor’s eyes lit up.
“I would be delighted!” he said with enough enthusiasm for two people. “Is this part of a Windtracer expedition?”
Now it was my turn to fidget. Mikasi was just so excited about anything with the Windtracers that it made me a bit uncomfortable. I managed a weak laugh.
“Ah, yes,” I replied slowly. “It’s an expedition and we really don’t have a lot of time to spare.”
Mikasi abruptly pushed back from the table, then stood up. He tossed two coins on the table by his plate. At his feet, I heard Nicodemus yawn before cheetah claws tapped the wooden floor. The unmistakable sound of a cat stretching after a nap.
“Let's get started! Where are your designs?”
I blinked, desperately trying to keep up.
“Aboard the Sheldrake. I’ll need to go get them.”
Tyre cleared his throat.
“Mika, where’s your actual workshop? The one you don’t usually burn down?” he asked with a grin.
The inventor pointed to the south end of Banye.
“Other side of town. Two story, mud-brick building. It has a blacksmith’s forge in the back with a custom hydraulis pump next to it. It’s one of my more recent designs to help cool down forged materials and reuse the water.”
With that, Mikasi was off again, like he was hurled out of a slingshot. Nicodemus trotted along happily beside him. I glanced over at Tyre and Evi.
“He really doesn’t do ‘slow’, does he?”
Tyre laughed, one of those belly laughs that could shake the heavens. Evi was also chuckling while she finished her meal.
“No, he doesn’t,” she said.
Tyre drained the last of his drink, then set the mug down on the table.
“Mika’s been that way for all the years I’ve known him. Sharp as a well-honed knife, and gets very focused when he’s got a goal in mind.”
“Sounds like someone else I know,” Ki said dryly, with a sideways glance at me.
I gave him mildly sour look.
“I don’t own a Planus cheetah,” I replied in flat tone.
Ki lifted his mug for a final drink.
“If it keeps you out of near-death experiences, I’d be in favor.”
I rolled my eyes at him.
We quickly finished our meals. I needed to run down to the Sheldrake, gather up my satchel with my journal and other notes. After that, I would head for Mikasi’s workshop. Ki elected to go right to the workshop with Evi.
It was obvious, at least to me, that Ki was eager to see the inventor’s workshop and notes. Especially any more journal entries by Cesibus. Ki was as bad as I was about such things, even if he didn’t like to admit it.
Tyre joined me on the trip back to the Sheldrake. He wanted to check on his buffalo team and going with me made a good excuse to do just that.
On the way out of the Buckhorn, a ghost of motion by a small side window of the boardinghouse caught my eye. It seemed like just someone passing by the window getting on with their day. But it wasn’t what they did that made me hesitate. It was how he looked.
It was a big man, human, broad-shouldered with red hair, wearing what I thought was a red-trimmed leather jacket. The same sort of jacket the Crimson Company preferred to use.
He also had a black eye that looked only a few days old.
I stopped in my tracks and stared at that window. Without a word, I raced out and around to that side of the building. The man was already gone.
Tyre trotted up after me a second later.
“Tela, is everything all right?” he asked, concerned.
I lightly rubbed the side of my head near my black eye and frowned.
“It’s fine. Just… distracted.” I smiled at Tyre. “Let's get my satchel, then catch up to the others.”