A scribe's search yields an astounding result.
Yffi finished reading the scroll and placed it carefully upon the shelf in its appointed place. It was the last document from his original collection, the scouring of 353AT. Six years it had taken him; six years of stealing time from his multitude of duties and projects, of late nights spent poring over dry and dusty tomes as the lamps flickered and made the words dance upon the page, years of scratching out notes on document after document, cataloguing, categorizing and sorting. And, at last, it was done.
He rubbed his eyes, then his face, and stood up to survey his completed work. Shelves lined the wall before him, each one filled with scrolls and books, neatly labeled and numbered in his own hand, ordered by date from left to right. To Yffi's eyes it was beautiful, the key to understanding, the beginning of education for his people. Six years of toil had brought him to this moment of satisfaction and every minute spent in the work had been worth it. He allowed himself this brief moment of achievement, delighting in the order and reason he had imposed upon the chaos.
But there was work to be done. With a sigh, Yffi picked up his stool and turned to face the room.
Behind him now there was a task completed; before him spread a scene of confusion and disorder. Four large tables occupied the center of the room, each one laden with piles and heaps of documents, scrolls, books, ledgers and papers, lying at all angles, this way and that, one above the other, a jumble of knowledge and wisdom and fact that awaited his touch. And all cried out to him with soundless voices that they be first, that they held secrets and whispers of long ago, news from the past and thoughts of great minds.
Yffi moved the short distance to the nearest table, placed his stool at the end and sat down. There was a note on the top of the nearest pile. In Ulvett's handwriting, it announced, Rescued from the sack of Kulinkort - 354AT. As good a place to start as any, thought Yffi, as he reached for a great bundle of scrolls that lay just beneath the note. He took much care as he untied the twine that held them together. These were old, he knew already, dating from before the invention of bound books. The coarse paper was tough, however, not yet brittle but rough with imperfections beneath his fingers.
The scrolls spread out before him. He reached for one and saw immediately that it was numbered on the outside. Five. That was unusual. But it would help Yffi not to have to sort them himself. Some ancient scribe had the foresight to understand how time-wasting the sorting of scrolls could be to a new reader. Yffi nodded once in gratitude as he turned the scrolls, seeking the number One.
He found it and began to unroll it with care. It was long, too long to be a legal document or trade transaction. Interesting. The end of the document was still furled when he had sufficient unrolled to begin to read. It was written in a neat and precise script, the characters small and tightly-packed on the paper. Clearly the work of some well trained scribe with a passion for neatness. The characteristic old Hussoran script flowed like some complex design or pattern to cover the dull surface. Yffi settled himself to read.
At first, he could make little sense of it. The sentences were short and appeared to come without reason or meaning.
Here you, boy, give me a hand, would you?
You afraid of me, boy?
What did you do, boy?
Your crime, boy, you must have done something for them to throw you in here with me.
Bloody hell, that's a bit more than they need, isn't it?
Yffi stopped reading. He had never seen anything like this in all his years of study. The language was Hussoran but crude and simple, so different from the complex and poetic phraseology typical of their documents. This read more like...
And then he understood. He was reading one half of a conversation. For some unknown reason, this scribe was making a record of the words someone had spoken. A transcript, then. Yes, that was it, a transcript. But why? This was so much outside Yffi's experience that he was completely perplexed. It made no sense at all; the Hussorans just didn't do this kind of thing.
He thought of getting Ulvett to help, then remembered that his Hussoran friend had departed the day before on yet another search for surviving documents in his homeland. And already Yffi was too intrigued by the document to await Ulvett's return. He would have to work out this mystery himself.
Yffi sat forward, concentrating, to start again from the beginning. He read carefully now, trying to construct the other half of the conversation from what was written. It was difficult, but slowly a picture of two men in a cell began to form in his mind. One older, since he called the other "boy", the other writing, just writing, in between answering the other.
And then Yffi came to a few lines that froze his blood and made time cease.
Well, the fact that you're crapping in your pants about being shut in this hole with me. No, no, you don't have to pretend, we both know I'm one of your dreaded sea wolves and you're bloody terrified that I'm just biding my time till I can rip your head off. It's the truth, isn't it?
For a long time, Yffi sat there unmoving, his mouth agape. He could not believe it, did not dare to hope. And yet... He said, "sea wolf"; he definitely said, "sea wolf."
Thoughts multiplied in his mind, questions, possibilities, visions, all tumbling together, one against another, reason abandoned. He struggled to regain control. Get a grip, Yffi, he thought, while a constant litany of "oh shit, oh shit, oh shit..." filled the background to his consciousness. Careful, Yffi, don't go leaping to conclusions. Wait for confirmation. Wait, wait. He forced his mind back to calmness and began to read again, this time alert to any hint or sign that he might be right in this impossible hope that had seized him.
He did not have to read much further before it came.
Oh yes, I was one of the originals, you know. Came out with Penda in the summer of 156 and helped build the first houses at Pendasholdt.
Yffi could not help himself. The explosion of joy in his heart forced him from the stool and he began a crazed, limping, haphazard dance around the room, shouting and singing, "Yes, yes, yes, impossible but true, it is here, I have found it, I have found it, I did not dream it, it's real, it's real, it's real!"
Had Yffi not been as warped in body as he was straight and true in mind, he might have danced the remaining hours of the night. But, in time, tiredness slowed his ungainly dance and reason began to quell the fountain of excited words and sounds from his lips. Panting from the exertion of his dance, he returned to the stool and sat down, his eyes not on the document immediately but closed in the effort to think clearly.
He knew now what lay before him. He had found a record of the words of one of his ancestors from a time when writing was unknown amongst them. A time that he had thought forever deep in shadow, hidden from view by the centuries, glimpsed only in vague, tantalizing glimpses in the writings of other nations. A time that was lost, now suddenly regained through the pen of this unknown scribe. And he, Yffi, had found it.
In awe at the chance given him by fate, his whole being wrapped in reverence for what lay before him, Yffi opened his eyes and his mind, bent to the document and continued his reading.
This is an account of Yffi's discovery of the document now known as "The Gabbler's Testament". That document forms the basis of the unpublished book of the same name which is also mentioned in the Notes to my story, The Box. If it whets your appetite, good. If not, well, I guess I can't win them all.
Word Count: 1,349