Feneng 5

It was neither the third day of the third week nor the evening of the deepest tide, and so it could not be time for a festival prayer; nor was it a day sacred to any significant saint, nor a time when a dignitary was expected.

Yet the assembly bells were ringing, and so I followed the archivists out of the scriptorium and down the long stair that led to the greater assembly hall. It seemed we were the last to arrive; the banners of the other callings were already looming among the seats. An acolyte stood at the foot of the stage and lifted a hand for silence. This was all very unusual. “The dance master Blackbird Lantern comes to Red Cliff with books from Veamándhi-of-the-Marshes, but the ride has fatigued him. He wishes to dance to shake the stiffness from his bones.” I noticed that some of the elder monks seemed very excited at this announcement, and very soon I was to discover why.

Even from the back of the hall, I could see that Blackbird Lantern, who had stepped out of the shadows as the acolyte scrambled to her seat, was very thin, and his eyes were lined with bright red kohl. His riding coat had one long sleeve.

Without ceremony, the drums began to play, and a trumpet sounded the first notes of “Choking Crane,” which happens to be an aria from my favorite opera, and though I did not know it then, I have seen it a great many times.

Blackbird Lantern's performance was unplanned and unrehearsed, and I have never seen one to equal it. When the bells rang to show the springing of the trap, he planted his right foot on the floor and from that point onward, did not move it from that spot; when the crane, exhausted, fell to the ground, his legs bent at seemingly unnatural angles and I swore that I could hear the bones in his knee grinding and cracking against each other. His sleeve trailed on the ground in front of his open mouth, like a pool of blood. It was a long moment after that final gesture before anyone dared move or breathe. Then the hall broke out in applause.

Afterward, the scriptorium was abuzz with rumours....

Blackbird Lantern
Méemlam Lái (light.v-TOOL blackbird)
Payussen Veamándhi (payuh-sen; swamp-GEN.pl)
Veamándhi-of-the-Marshes is not a temple of any great fame or distinction; sitting as it does on the borders of the Fever Waste makes it more concerned about the health and hygiene of the surrounding people than the sorcery, warfare, and liturgical wonders of the great temples.


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