Tuesday, July 12, 2011

521 - Hidden Pages

I sat back and tapped the end of my glass pen against my teeth, staring at the dusty fragment in front of me in the Conservancy.  The women were four stacks over, just discussing some tricky bit of rebinding without damaging the fragile paper, so yellowed it was brown and inclined to disintegrate, their voices now a fixture in the library so much that I could not imagine the space without it.

For all that the male scholars sputtered and blew like cranky dayanal complaining that the ship they wished to play with was moving too quickly for them, they had come to admit – or rather demand -- that the trickiest work of conserving the ancient records must be done by the women, with their delicacy of nature and smaller eyes to discern finer detail and other such nonsense.  Now that they could read, certainly shouldn’t they be made useful before their lady parts fell out and their brains exploded from the unnatural learning?  I’d heard more than one crusty old scholar say… “Well, of course they’re good at the work!  It’s cleaning after all!”  Which conveniently ignored the fact that aitza didn’t clean anyway… they hired fessas women to clean for them.

The book in front of me, ‘Imperial Family Re-Examined’ had a whole section hidden by carefully gluing pages together, something almost tissue thin on either side, with a kind of dense black and white art work illustration that almost illustrated the text.  It nearly escaped my notice since art paper is normally thicker than print pages and the glued sheets seemed only fractionally heavier.  What had caught my attention was a brittle corner where the glue had come apart, exposing the hidden text.

I had a dozen sheets of the illustrations now carefully laid out under glass and the ancient text, which had been protected clear before me.  The first page was an elaborately illuminated genealogy of the Aans five hundred years ago and I was on the point of just closing the book before I realized that it was almost identical to the one I knew of my own family.

I pulled the magnifier over the bottom of the tree and read, in the sunburst that signified Reigning Imperator, the name of Daiarilas Aan.  That was the same.  But instead of the single Imperatrix shown there were five.

Each of the first four one showed a single child beneath her name and it seemed that every one of his wives died in childbirth.  All four of the children listed were male.  I checked the dates and it was the time of the boy plague. The Empire was decimated by an enormous number of boy babies dying or being stillborn.  It did not affect the mothers’ health in any other way.  And it was a plague that came and apparently went without Haiu Menshir being able to do more than mitigate its effect, though they discovered that it was a water-borne illness and eventually developed a test for it.  Until the test, one never knew if the woman had the illness until the first dead child was born.

The artworks in the book were illustrations of the funerals, the horror of the Empire and the massive trauma we had all suffered.  The final two pieces showed Mikas cleansing the waters, with some of the filters and disinfecting protocols used to this day, and Risae in Her full aspect of Chiurgeon, holding Her hand over the weeping multitude.

All of the hidden pages were in some kind of code except for the first line.  “To She Who Creates All 7416.

The first unhidden page after the coded and concealed ones, was the genealogy I was familiar with, with Daiarilas married to only Marlifia, who bore him Feliras… who I knew as ‘the Devoted’.  He was EnRobed and did his Ten Tens and reigned for one of the longer times… nearly seventy years.

If this was a substitution code, common in Arko because we had printed books, so people would be able to have the same copy of the same book, I’d never figure it out because I would need to know which book and which pattern was the basis of the code.  I chewed on the end of my pen, thinking.

If it was a man trying to hide something I would check the smutty parts of the Holy Book… well, what people would consider smutty.  I went into the stacks and fetched the print edition from that time.  Most likely the one used by the Imperator’s dekinas but perhaps by the Imperator and Imperatrix of the time, themselves.  It was a very ornate and the book itself was quite large.  I was puffing before I got back to my desk.

I checked Muunas’s Song to Selinae, Mikas’s Ode to Risae, and a few others.  It was gibberish and I told myself I should stop.  How was I to guess the code from what could be thousands of pages in thousands of surviving books from that time?  I rubbed my eyes and then realized… even though women were not supposed to read… perhaps there was a secret writer?  A woman?  Hmmm. Considering the opening prayer it would seem to be.

I flipped to the Goddess parts of the Book and wondered for a moment if I were a boy who, as part of his duty to his mother, read her scripture to her every day, how different would I have been?  I tried Selinae’s Song of Creation, and then The Prophet of Kir.  Neither of those unlocked this code.  The numbers at the end of the prayer were not chapter and verse numbers unless someone had left out the ‘:’, but someone just reading it would probably think it was Selinae’s seventh book, chapter four, verse sixteen.  But that didn’t work either. 7416.  Page seven was in the men’s part, page seventy four was the end of Triskiniton.  Seven hundred forty one was Mothers of Arko.  I tried the sixth line, then the sixth verse and suddenly sensible words began appearing on my page.  “I am Marlifia…”


My apologies for the late posts:  This is Monday's and today's will go up right after I finish writing this.  I will be away from internet, working/staying at a friend's cottage with no access so things will be a little off this week.

This weekend is the infamous Muskoka Novel Marathon, where for a ten dollar donation you can watch Karen and I do our thing (writing! writing!) in public.


  1. It is true though, women are better at finework. I work in the electronics industry, and the soldering of teeny tiny chips and ICs onto PCBs the size of saltine crackers is done mainly by women.

  2. Yes! This is true. Smaller hands. Harold Wilson, the speedboat champion in 1949... married his mechanic. People said she could fix the Miss Canada IV while it was running.

    Some people also said he married her so he would no longer have to pay her. ;)