The Chronicles of Chheechkaduni (Continued)
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
"But since he hasn’t come..." I rubbed my face, which was moist
with sweat in the oppressive heat of the tiny and noisome room. "My Lord, how
long can we wait for him?"
"We can’t wait forever, certainly." My Lord looked round at
Opodartho, who was sitting on the bed by the wall, running a bone comb through
her hair. "What do you think?"
"I don’t think he’ll come." Opodartho continued to comb her
hair, as though any amount of combing could bring it under control or make her
beautiful. "You remember that I said he didn’t look as though he had the
courage to follow through, despite all the promises he made."
I suppressed a snort. The stupid woman regularly said things
that she "knew", and if once in a while they came true it was almost always by
accident. I did have to admit that I, too, hadn’t really been impressed by the
monk Põcha Pantabhat when we’d met him earlier in the evening.
I think, in the rush of writing the many adventures that had
befallen us between the Affair of the Aggressive Assassin of Agagora and our
arrival at Thoger Tandob, I neglected to describe this meeting.
We had gone down to the inn’s smoky little back dining room,
and Onek Mangsho had left us to sit over thin and overdone steaks of slave
haunch, while he, as he said, mingled with the patrons in the front room and
tried to spy out the scene. Opodartho and I had sat gnawing at the terrible
food, waiting for him to come back.
"You know, Chheechkaduni," Opodartho said suddenly, "I do
believe that Onek Mangsho is beginning to take too many risks."
I preserved a frosty silence. Of course she was right, but that
was the last thing I was going to admit, or she’d never get over it. But the
stupid trollop would not take the hint.
"Coming here was risk enough," she said, leaning over her
plate and murmuring into my ear, "since it’s a trading town and there may be
people who have heard of us in our, uh, former lives, though considering the
state of our finances I suppose it had to be done. But I don’t see how we can
get our hands on the treasure inside that pile of stone there without far too much
"I think our Lord knows best," I said.
"Do you really? I hope you’re right." Opodartho glanced
towards the door to the outer room. "Here he comes now, and he’s not alone."
The man with Onek Mangsho was young, scarcely more than a
boy, and so weedy that he seemed almost to bend with each step. He was dressed
in the yellow and dull orange robes of the monks of Thoger Tandob, of which
we’d seen so many in the street since we’d arrived in this town. I might have
wondered what a monk might be doing in a tavern, but I’d realised by then that,
being the people who controlled the finances of the town, they went everywhere.
"This is the honourable monk Põcha Pantabhat," Onek Mangsho
said, dragging up a heavy wooden stool for the young man. "I’ve just been
talking to him. He knows so many things interesting to strangers such as
Põcha Pantabhat smiled weakly. He had a thin, triangular
face with no hair except a round patch in the centre above his forehead. Onek
Mangsho had told me that the monks’ rank was indicated by their hair, and the
more senior they were the more they were allowed to grow. By that standard,
Põcha Pantabhat must have been near the bottom. "You’re too kind," he said.
"Will you have some food with us?" Without waiting for an
answer, Onek Mangsho reached across the table, took my plate of meat and
Opodartho’s mug of wine and put them down in front of the monk. "We’ve come a
long way, and we’re eager to know all about your lovely city."
Opodartho and I exchanged glances. Thoger Tandob might be
many things, but what it most certainly could not be called was a
"lovely city". In the course of our travels, we’d seen few less attractive
sights than its narrow, winding lanes paved with stone and lined with refuse,
its noisome marketplace, and the earthen walls lined with jagged stakes like
rotting teeth. Still, apparently beauty was in the eye of the beholder, because
Põcha Pantabhat seemed to expand with happiness at the flattery.
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