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Authors: Dem Mikhaylov

Inquisitor

BOOK: Inquisitor
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Dem Mikhaylov

‘Inquisitor’, a series of stories

Story One

Start of Way

A sleepy village situated on the bank of the wide Asdora was lazing in the sun so scorching that most of its inhabitants made a sensible decision to wait until the heat was over in the shade of fruit trees talking to their neighbors to kill the time. Despite of the peace and calm that the village was wrapped in, some anxiety was increasingly growing.

All recent talks ended up with discussing the weather abnormally hot for the season. Arguments about possible drought and crop failure became more and more severe.

Every day the peasants hopefully looked up into the sky waiting for signs of rain that could save their harvest.

But it was in vain.

No single little cloud, let alone thunderstorm.

The Asdora usually deep and free-flowing had grown shallow exposing sandbanks with wisps of decaying algae to the scorching sun beams. Every day the villagers filled dozens of buckets with river water but it was enough to give drink to thirsty animals only and to water backyard allotments not to let them dry up. Fields surrounding the village required too much effort that peasants didn’t have. And day after day laden ears of wheat nodded lower and lower to the ground that was cracked because of the drought. Soon – if nothing happened – under-ripe grain would start dropping on the dry soil.

Dignified old men were sitting under the shelter, meaningfully frowning their grey eye-brows and going over all the troubles that the village had faced in their memory. Middle-aged men preferred keeping silence glumly and from time to time shouted at their wailing wives to calm them down.

The elder’s beard was shaking helplessly, when he was counting coins kept in the village money-box again and again. He hoped to find enough money to hire a mage who could control rain. But no way… Miserable coppers could hardly amount for one silver coin. But everybody knew that the mage wouldn’t leave his house for less than five silver coins. Mages are that sort of creatures. Their ears could distinguish ka-ching a dozen of leagues away, but they would be deaf to a pleading appeal of a blind beggar messing around at their feet.

Only kids were happy on such hot days. They took advantage of the fact that their parents didn’t notice them and were enjoying freedom – sudden and that’s why even more admirable.

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Fla-a-a-tis! Where the hell is this brat?! Flatis! I’ll tell your dad and he’ll skin you alive! Fla-a-a-tis!

Making sure that her naughty son wasn’t going to emerge and there were no signs of him anywhere, the lady stopped shouting, waggled her finger at the empty yard and disappeared behind the door. But actually the yard wasn’t empty. If the enraged mother had looked at the hayloft, she would definitely have found the reason of her fury – two mop-headed boys, covered with wisps of herby hay, were hiding there. Holding their breath they were waiting until the danger was over.

The door banged shutting but the boys were not going to show their presence soon. They were still waiting. Their prudence didn’t let them down – in less than a minute the door banged opening. The lady who hurried outside was turning her head left and right very quickly hoping to see her son dashing away. But the yard was empty again except for a couple of hens idly messing around in the dust.

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Oh, Flatis, your dad will skin you alive for sure – the dark-haired boy whispered under breath.

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No, he won’t – the second boy replied with some hesitation in his voice and then added – his ultra blue eyes were sparkling at the moment – Mommy won’t tell him. Lery, if somebody asks you about it, say that we went fishing! To that deep place under Bird Cliff. Got it?

-
        
What about fish?

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We’ll catch a little fish on our way back home as a proof – Flatis hissed, he didn’t like when his tricky ideas were challenged – We don’t have a lucky strike every day. So we don’t have to lie!

The door banged closing in the yard again, it meant that outraged Feklisia – Flatis’s mother – went away. All clear! And the boys hurried to escape.

They rolled down the hayloft, climbed over the fence – nearly tore their pants mended all over hundreds of times – and found themselves in a dusty village street.

Crouching, the boys ran fast along the fence and only when Flatis’s house couldn’t be seen anymore, sighed with relief and straightened up. Peasants were waiting in the shade of garden trees until the midday heat was over. Nobody saw the boys’ secret maneuvers.

The narrow street ended at a steep slope – the Asdora was lazily rolling its waves below it. Holding on bush branches and stones protruding from the ground, the boys descended to the river bank and bended over water to drink well. Their escape was perfect and Flatis was bursting out with pride. He could do it, as it was Flatis who developed all the details of the plan and persuaded Lery, his best friend, to join. It was really perfect – they skipped from the strict parental control and then they had to move on to the second part of the plan.

Flatis dove into deergrass growing at the bank and soon came back carrying a large bundle. Yesterday he pretended to go fishing, put into a bucket all the necessary things to realize the plan, brought it out and hid in the dense deergrass. Besides he managed to catch fish enough for family dinner. The father praised him grudgingly and the mother exclaimed with delight ‘What a breadwinner!’

-
        
I found it – he answered Lery’s dumb question, the boy’s eyes were sparkling with excitement. Nobody had tried to steal the bundle during the previous night and then they had everything required for the plan realization.

-
        
Can you imagine how grateful everybody will be! – Flatis whispered for some reason – Even the elder will bow down to us!

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Are you sure? – Lery burst out laughing with disbelief. – You must be kidding! I can’t imagine our elder bowing down!

-
        
He will, no doubt! – Flatis said persuasively and added seriously – But first we must make the host take the treat and send rain to the village as a token of thanks. – If Father learns that we bring offerings to the host of the deep water, he’ll skin us alive! – Lery added and scratched his back as if he felt the biting of birch rods.

-
        
He won’t know about it – Flatis calmed him down – Don’t tell anybody and everything will be fine! Stop being afraid! Are you going with me or not?

-
        
I’m going… - Lery signed.

A happy smile spread on Flatis’s face. He patted his best friend on the shoulder and bended to pick up the bundle lying on the ground at his feet. The content of the bundle played the main part in their plan. Flatis had started careful preparation of the host’s treat several days before their escape. It didn’t take much effort to catch some fat frogs in the pond, to take out small beads of their eggs as well as to steal a dozen of eggs from the hen house. Lery had brought a clay pot of a necessary size and a bunch of small air-dried fish - fishermen caught a lot of it by nets – from his attic.

The boys mixed all the ingredients of the treat properly to make a homogeneous mess, added some water and exposed it to the scorching sun. In two days the treat went bad enough to start smelling and it was almost impossible to come closer to the pot. Lery made a deep inhale by chance and immediately vomited. Thanks god, Flatis managed to pull the pot aside, otherwise they would have to start all the preparations from the very beginning. At last everything was ready. The boys hurried up to the edge of the river bank and then to the village mill that was situated on the side tributary of the Asdora. They were not interested in the mill – moreover, at that moment the waterwheel wasn’t working, as it was not harvest season and there was nothing to mill. From time to time the miller came to check the wheel and the mill stone performance as well as to see if the dam wasn’t washed down. But he did it because he was used to it. In fact due to heat and drought the water level had decreased so much that the waterwheel hardly touched the pond surface.

The boys were interested in the hammer-pond in front of the dam – it was the place where the giant whiskered host of the deep water had always been living. A spotted catfish. It was quite friendly fish that was spending most of its time lying on the oozy bottom of the pond and lazily moving its fins. Despite of the huge size, the catfish’s jaw was as big as an adult’s fist, as for its small teeth, it was almost impossible to see them.

On warm days kids loved diving down to the bottom and slightly patting the catfish’s slimy skin covered with water weed and shells. Certainly Flatis and Lery were not an exception, rather the organizers of such games.

Flatis’s father disapproved that fun and always threatened to punish his disobedient son. But once – to Flatis’s unutterable delight – his father confessed with embarrassment that thirty years ago he used to dive in the dark deep water to pat the catfish on its back. Then Flatis’s old-aged grandfather told him that the catfish had settled down in the pond long before his birth but it used to be twice smaller than at the moment.

The catfish had been living in the pond so long that became its integral part. When the peasants came to the mill, they often brought some treat for the fish – morsels of stale bread, tripe of slaughtered livestock and poultry. Seeing people approaching the pond, the catfish swam up to the surface, ate its treat promptly and after thanking the quests by waving its tail, descended to the bottom again where it usually got frozen to digest the food. Fishermen knew the catfish’s favorite rest place and didn’t throw nets there in order not to bother the host of the pond – besides, it was useless – it was impossible to drag such a corpse out of the water without tearing the nets apart. And it could be harmful – despite of the local priest who told off the peasants – the village gossips believed that in fact it was not catfish but a water ghost that protected the village against any trouble. Men were secretly laughing at their superstitious wives and mothers but no one dared to argue – as no one wanted to sleep at the hayloft instead of the warm family feather bed with the beloved wife who was softly snoring at the side.

They laughed at gossips but nevertheless even the old generation didn’t remember an incident when a villager sank. Fires did happen. And once or twice a predator attacked. But there were no incidents in water or nearby. So no one offended the old catfish. No one tried to bother it in vain. Every spring the fat miller – Nikephoros – wanted to open the dam gates to clean the hammer-pond from sand and branches properly but every time when he saw the catfish sunbathing in shallow water, he postponed his idea for next year. It would be safer as he thought.

Young girls ran to the hammer-pond to foretell their husband-to-be – they beckon the catfish to come to the surface, treated it with delicacies and whispered their lover’s name and then holding their breath were watching the way the catfish was descending to the bottom. If it did it calmly and quietly, their family life would be peaceful and nice. But if it hit its tail against the water surface and stirred the ooze, then they wouldn’t get on well with their husband who would enjoy physical punishment.

When a new priest appeared in the village to replace Father Ceriny that passed away because of the old age, he learnt about the host of the deep water and all the legends connected with it, he certainly got angry and even preached a sermon to blame the villagers for paganism and to threaten them by divine retribution. The peasants listened to the sermon with great interest, holding their heads declined discussed the meaning of the word
‘pegginism’
and went home. Realizing the words wouldn’t help, Father Caressy made up his mind to act decisively – he threatened to place under the ban anyone who would dare to feed the stupid fish or ask it for anything. It helped the priest to win, thus, the host of the deep water didn’t have everyday treat anymore. About a week ago Flatis – who knew everything about everybody – overheard a piece of the conversation between village gossips who gathered together at the well every day. Sure, they were talking about the abnormal drought. So then, one of the old women noticed that, in her opinion, the host of the deep water was offended and it would be a good idea to treat him well as their ancestors had always done before the advent of the Creator. Pleased with a generous treat and gender care the host could send them a long-expected rain. But the other women hissed at the old lady – if the priest heard her sacrilegious phrases, he would spit bile – but she didn’t give up and stuck to her point – the host of the deep water was angry and if they wanted to ward off any trouble, they should cook him a treat as soon as possible – not a usual one, but special, appropriate for the case. Their talk didn’t lead to any action and after gossiping the women went home. As for Flatis, he brought heavy buckets of water to his gate and then hurried up to his best friend Lery. So that was why they came to the hammer-pond. They were going to treat the offended host of the deep water and beg him to send rain. The only thing they had to do was to call the catfish to the water surface. Flatis had performed that simple ritual thousands of times before – slap the water a couple of times and the catfish, eager to take the treat, would come up to the surface. Having got to the mouth of the tributary of the Asdora where the village mill was located, the boys went up along the flow of the river and soon they found themselves at the thick worm-eaten logs of the dam. Chasing each other, the boys ran up the small hill covered with grass and out to the bank of the hammer-pond. They caught their breath. Here they were. They reached the place. Everything looked the same as when they had been here before. Except for the water level – the drought caused its decrease and usually broad water stream had dried up.

BOOK: Inquisitor
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