Two weeks had passed, and Allafred and his family had spent many hours in conversation. The glowing object was like nothing they had ever seen, and visits to the guild hall had confirmed no such find had ever been recorded before. There was excitement amongst them, but also a wariness that comes only from bitter experience. Who could they sell it to? A visit to any of the city’s brokers would end with a price far below its worth, they agreed. But time began to exert its pressure, and they knew that before long knowledge of the artefact would spread, first discussed quietly in the guild and then more loudly in the taverns, and then more quietly again by those who did their business in whispers, and dark places. Its presence in their vault would then be the cause of much anxiety for the family. While they could handle petty thieves, whispers surrounded the fate of anyone who stumbled across those thieves commissioned by the wealthiest Gadirans as they went about their work.
In the end it was Allafred’s grandmother Retris who set their course, a woman who normally preferred to focus her energies indoors since the death of her husband off the coast of Gadira. As a girl, she told them, she had been taken outside the city walls to see the plays performed by travelling Larriks, and none were more popular than those of the Beyoede family.* She remembered – though distantly – having once seen a story of an Oru in the Old World. The memory had been sparked by news of the Beyoede troupe’s imminent arrival, and so a sealed letter with a drawing of the object by Allafred’s sister was dispatched to their leader via a trusted courier. When a swift reply indicated that there was perhaps some information for purchase, they wasted no time. Allafred, as the finder of the object, would try and learn more that same night.
Carefully stowing the object in a sack with other valuables, Allafred’s father and uncles presented him with the three treasures he had found at the end of his dive on that remarkable day. Anything within, he was told solemnly, could be traded. This was not profligacy: what they truly desired for their names not to be carved on the walls with others lost at sea but above grander buildings, and all who had seen it sensed their fortunes lay with this object. And so Allafred found himself following a cloaked Gadiran employed as a guide, as the pair cautiously navigated the maze of tents, crowds, stalls and open fires in the city outside the city.
At length, he reached the largest crowd he had yet seen, arranged around a stage, where the Beyoede troupe were in full swing behind a sailcloth that shielded the players from the audience. The crude scenery was bright and cheerful, while the huge shadows of their marionettes were visible to even those at the very back — they had expected a large crowd. Allafred had seen shadow plays before, but this was a bawdy story of a Larrik boy seduced by a wealthy Gadiran widow, and he felt his cheeks and neck redden, all the more so when children far younger than him laughed uproariously and knew all the punchlines. The play finished, applause raged with cries for ‘more!’ ‘more!’ and the players emerged, bashfully shook their heads and feigned tiredness, suddenly regaining energy as enticements were thrown to the stage. This repeated several times until, finally, the crowd fell away.
It was then that Allafred saw a woman watching him from a magnificent wagon. She spoke his name, and with relief he followed her inside. The woman, who now introduced herself as Abheria, checked outside quickly and signalled that they were not watched, and so Allafred gingerly removed the mysterious object from his bag and placed it on the table in front of them. Abheria began to inspect it from all angles, he suspected for his benefit more than hers, and so Allafred braced himself to hand over much of what he had brought. But Abheria quickly accepted four Old Coins and a brooch, and began to speak in a theatrical, rhythmic voice that swung between questions and answers.
“My players know more stories than any other troupe. How many? Hundreds. How do we remember them? Allafred, I shall tell you. We practice and repeat over and over, yes, but we have help, because old plays are suddenly new and the plays you Gadirans clamour to hear one week are forgotten the next”. Abheria climbed into the rafters, where many marionettes were stacked tightly, each shrouded in cloth. She began expertly searching through the tiny, faded tags until she brought two down, reverentially unwrapping the coverings. As she turned them over, it occurred to him that he had never seen the side facing the players before. On the back was a script unfamiliar to him.
Abheria spoke again. “We need only look at these marks, and straight away, as you might remember a tune from its first notes, the words flow. Here. This play has not been performed in two lifetimes, since appetites for such stories have long faded. Your strange treasure is not a part of this play. But see here, part of the tale speaks of hostility between the Oru and the Old World. The text is faded, but look! This mark describes a glowing light, and the noise made by the Oru. When I first saw the drawing you had sent I was uncertain, but now I am sure that is connected. So. There we have it.” With this, the puppets were swiftly wrapped back up and put on the shelf.
“I don’t know what you wish to do with this object, which will certainly make your family rich if you sell it, and bereft if it’s taken from you. But if you will take my advice, you will not return it to the city: it is safer outside of it. Did you know that the Babbumattu are spread throughout Edenhorde? Of course you do, you are a bright young man. But did you know that many Babbumatta here in Gadira and the city outside the city come from all across Edenhorde? While some travel only short distances, others have come very far. If you can find a member of the tribe that lives at Cresca, where the mists are thick and the trees tall, you might persuade them there, where the Elder Vestusu lives. He is the oldest of them, well probably anyway, for who knows how old those strange people get. But he is very knowledgeable about the Old World. If you find out what he knows, then I suspect that you will have your answer”. With that, she embraced Allafred, and he left the wagon, and stood in the smoky, heavy night air, wondering on what had been said and where he should turn next.
* Wealthier Gadirans looked down on leaving the city at all, and even those better-off families were known to turn their nose up at the more fantastical stories told by those players camped outside the city (story-tellers bearing tokens, no matter the quality of their material, were deemed to be quite different).