The Diamond Grenade – A Series of Novellas.
A Father’s Fate
At one point, on the banks of a confluence where two rivers ran together like closing thighs, there was a certain boatman. This boatman, name of Gur, had a fine long pole (not too bendy, not too strong) with which to move his long wide boat upon the water. Gur slept with his pole, lest it go missing. Then one evening while he was ferrying a few paying passengers from one put-in to the next, Gur’s pole got stuck in thick river-bottom mud and muck and he lost his grip and the pole sank out of sight. Cursing, Gur leapt into the water and dove for the pole. Long minutes passed and Gur’s nubile daughter Guri, at the prow of the boat, began to wail. Gur did not come back up. They found him later downstream. This is how the girl Guri became a very young boatman with a shoddy pole.
The thing about Guri is that she knew everybody. All the fares on her boat. They didn’t necessarily know each other all too often, but everybody knew Guri. And somehow she knew everybody back. She just had a mind for it. Who went with whom and how the families fell out. Names. All the names Guri knew. But only one name made her sing: Tuc. Tuc drank and threw dice, but early in their acquaintance he’d made bold to say that Guri would make a good mother. This observation of Tuc’s about Guri had won her over, so she sang his name in the dark. One syllable songs are short, but carry on the water.
Guri’s favorite disgruntlement was that there was no word for girl boatman. It was poling-upriver hard to get more than a grunt out of half her older passengers, because they didn’t see clear to it being right for her to be doing a man’s job. Tuc suggested ‘boatwoman’, but Guri allowed as how that was more the busty mascot off the bow of a ship than a person who poled for a living. Tuc took to riding with Guri quite frequently. Then one night, he brought her a new pole, and it was a good pole.
Not long after the new pole, Tuc convinced Guri to elope with him a ways downriver to a town where he had prospects. When they got there, they traded the boat and pole for two goats. Guri was better with people than with animals, so Tuc tended the herd while she met and memorized every person she could find. Soon she had so much work taken in to do for folks that what with going to the big, clean houses to perform services inbetweentimes, and attending in good turn to the day’s worth of all the waiting piecemeal work filling their modest house, Guri was too busy to make a baby.
Guri got fed up with being too busy to make a baby and made a baby. Tuc split. Guri’s popularity made her fatherless child the ward of the town. Everybody parented him. That’s why he grew up angry. His name was Gur, after his grandfather. Boy did he have a chip on his shoulder about being told what to do. Everybody told him when and where to jump. Only Guri could make him ask how high. Usually his answer would be jump why? The thing about having a whole village full of parents is that they are going to contradict each other and some of them are bound to be weird people.
Eventually, Gur decided the whole situation had gotten quite weird enough for his tastes, and he left town on foot as his father had. Difference being, Gur took only a book and a blanket, whereas Tuc had packed a bag. Guri hated to see Gur go, and hated that for all her labor she hadn’t a proper gift to send him off with, so she hocked her jewels and bought him a set of sharpening stones. Two good things about honing blades for work. For one, there’s always plenty of dull around. Secondly, there’s rarely anybody standing there telling you what to do while you do it.
Men with hot tempers and chips on their shoulders and such would do better to steer clear of a profession involving weapons. The more Gur sharpened knives for a living, the more he wanted to use them on the throats of half the people he met because of how they all sang the morning greeting to each other in the streets. He’d grown to detest the joie de vivre of the sparsely populated small towns he passed through. He needed the city. He needed to be in a throng.
In the city, he sharpened swords. Guri came to visit and brought a woman friend. They three ate well and took in a fire-and-water show. Guri urged her son to find a woman and make an heir to inherit his sword-sharpening earnings to date when he fell upon the next one he was to service. Gur asked his mother about Tuc. Tuc was in the city, and Gur knew about where. Guri made Gur take her there. Tuc ran when he realized who he was talking to, which was about five minutes after the mother and son engaged him in conversation in an eatery. At first, they just spoke about sport and games of chance. Then about sharpening, then about ferry boats, then Tuc twigged to who they were. Like I say, he ran, but Gur tripped him at the door. Guri and her friend roughed him up with a few pushes and kicks and all but spat in his face, and Gur let him know to steer clear or suffer the considerable wrath of the strapping, scrappy young man-about-town that Gur was. There was a threat to beat Tuc publicly. It was ugly. Then they let him flee. He’d been scrawny and flea-infested, they later agreed.
Guri decided she’s outgrown smalltown workaday altogether and had Gur build her and her friend a villa adjacent his own. Turned out Gur simply lacked the whiles to win a woman of any caliber, so Guri resolved to win one for him. She brought such a parade of candidates to meet Gur that his social life began to interfere with his work. Guri soon had the city on a wire, knew just who to ask if you wanted to talk to who. Gur couldn’t begin to keep up with all the dates he went on. All the candlelit dinners. Eventually they blurred into one long, somewhat less than lucid sleepwalk courtship. Guri saw him drowning and then suddenly gave him just one dinner companion. The one. Her pick. Night after night until there was no dinner without her, and her name was Honoria.
Gur and Honoria soon had Donus, Florian, and Beatus, all popular boy names Honoria blurted when they found themselves with a litter of three . They had been told to expect at least two. Gur and Honoria let Guri raise the boys while they both worked. Demand for their services rose steadily. She cleaned house of course. Everybody cleaned house for the people in the clean houses. Guri always had cleaned, but now she hired and assigned cleaners. Her network was unparalleled.
Guri’s friend told them once when she’d been drinking how Tuc had told Guri she should be a madame in a proper brothel. Guri could have, too, could have run a show like that. If she hadn’t misgivings about the propriety of the product on offer being offered at all. She shied away from that end of things and she and her friend eventually wound up churchly. Thus it was that the triplets Donus, Florian, and Beatus, were raised in a church and spoke Latin when none of their neighbors did.
The boys spoke their own language. They thought it fun to berate and defame everybody around them all unawares in this patois of various etymology. They knew more ways to belittle people with their made-up words than there are numbers to count. And no one understood a word that they said, so they got away with it. No one was given quarter in the boys’ scorn save the clergy, from whom they’d learned Latin - the backbone of their own little infernal language. When they were on a roll of hurling their insults at Gur, the speaking often took on a cadence, becoming akin to a singsong or chant. As it turned out, people loved to hear this singsong nonsense of insults, and soon the three brothers had an income of their own. They became minstrels. Guri and her friend stopped going to church once her grandchildren gained local fame. Gur shook his head and inwardly wondered whether his sons hadn’t gotten the whole idea from him somehow. Honoria danced and danced and danced and danced.
Moving right along, there came a time for the boys to think about falling into a looser formation and taking on other company. The company of ladies. They solemnly vowed to honor each other above all women until they found three sisters. Trips for trips. Everybody thought they were bananas, but they made it happen. Well, close enough. There was a set of sisters roughly their age group in that city. There were and they found them. Take it or leave it just as you will. And that’s the whole roll call for now – Dead Gur, Guris, Gur, Honoria, the boys and their wives. Oddly, considering their trade was singing insults, Donus nor Florian nor Beatus ever made fun of his or each other’s wives. And the wives were well in Guri’s hand from the start. Gur grumbled that there were too many cooks over the pot, but he was doted on and liked that. Everybody agreed that Honoria had ought to stop cleaning houses, so she did.
Tuc came around once and Gur beat him up in the dooryard. Tuc collapsed and Gur went to fetch a sword. Guri shouldered the father of her son and lugged him around the corner of the street, then went to deter Gur while Donus, Florian, and Beatus saw to it that Tuc made it out of the city. Gur roared that nobody ever let him do anything that he wanted to do. The three wives placated him with fruit and lies.
Donus, Florian, and Beatus began to travel to festivals to perform. Bazaars and barter meetings. Their entertainment was known far and wide to be ticklish and catchy. And with some effort, they found that they could actually sing a bit and pick up instruments. And – another hidden talent -- their mother Honoria could choreograph a line of dancers. Guri drummed up girls for Honoria to traipse out for high kicks behind her sons, much to the three wives’ dismay. There were indiscretions and there was a form of six way simultaneous legal and holy sundering, after which the sisters packed bags and lit out. Gur and Honoria admonished the boys to leave off having relations with the dancers, but the temptation continued to overrule what passed for their discipline. Guri said she might as well become a madame after all, as a consequence of which harsh words, Gur would not thereafter allow any of the dancers on his property.
But the boys were on tour and Gur was working still -- less, but still – and had just gotten a contract to service enlisted men’s swords, which was a big damned deal, while Guri continued to bring in a tidy stream of currency by arranging who would clean which house, picking up people and putting them down, as she had been doing in one way or another her whole life. There was no shortage of hands ready to clean, and a veritable plenty of clean houses to maintain. Getting the right hands to each task was a logistical, strategical, communications nightmare suited for just such a mind as Guri’s. To her, it was not a nightmare. It was second-nature.
Honoria took to traveling with her sons and eventually ran off with a soldier. Gur was sure he had put an edge on the perfidious soldier’s service issue sword, and as for the infidel, his better half, he hardly missed her. He missed the three wives, was who he missed. When Donus, Florian, and Beatus returned to the city, Gur implored them to remarry. “Impossible,” was their unanimous reply.
One of the clean house owners was murdered, and suspicious, inquisitive government worrywarts fell upon Guri’s network like hyena on day-old kill. Every cleaner was a likely suspect until alibied. Guri was half-accused of masterminding a clash of the classes by a tradesheet gossiper – always taken with a grain of salt, but a swayer of public opinion all the same. She let out one whooping gut laugh when she heard the allegations and said by god I should. Arrange some murders. And then Donus, Florian, and Beatus couldn’t help but insult all officials and indeed authority itself roundly in song. Several housepets, recently acquired by Gur, reacted to the brothers’ improvisations. An owl ducked repeatedly. A cat relocated to the garden, and two dogs barked.
Guri asked Gur, why all the pets all of a sudden? Were they going to get livestock next? Gur demurred. Guri said well she would not abide goats. Gur ceded the matter. Who was to feed the pets and tend to their functions if Guri and her friend and Gur were to travel with the boys as planned for the summer? Gur muttered about taking one day and one challenge at a time. He was just not forward-looking. Guri had the property pet-free within the fortnight. Except for the owl, which she would cock her head at now and then when lost in thought.
Summer unfolded and off they went, town to town in the entourage of their insult-singing progeny. Accommodations were usually not lavish, but nor were they commonly mean. They slept in inns most often. And in one such inn, the summer half gone, the family found working behind the stoves three sisters of the age of Donus, Florian, and Beatus.
Kismet being such that significant convergences are not to be ignored, there was another ceremony, and there were three new wives. Gur had to give a tour of his holdings to the three sisters’ uncle. This was not enjoyable for Gur, but the uncle’s spirits were buoyant, bubbly even, as they ran down a short list of residences Gur had come to own. His own estate, though relatively humble, was of considerable value, and he had accumulated a few sheaves of more complicated financial securities over the years. Actually, he had basically taken a lot of bets on how the city might evolve in the foreseeable future. His portfolio was his index of associations, his rogue’s locker of connections, above and below board, in the city. The uncle pored over it intently and rolled grapes around in his cheeks like marbles. Yet his only real question before taking his leave was about holdings abroad, of which Gur could honestly report nil.
The last minstrel gig of the summer was in the middle of a desert. Fortunately, it was to be hosted at an oasis. Guri just fretted that the cess might be mishandled, what with so many people in attendance. How many visitors could an oasis village entertain? She put her ear to the ground and by the time they arrived at the oasis, she had introductions lined up for them with everybody and his brother.
Tent city. Revelry as revenue. Misplaced bargain- and thrill-seekers milling along midways of dubious splendor. From anybody who has something to sell right up the whole spectrum of merchandising, service, and penny performance all the way up to the tightrope acrobats. The only people who weren’t involved in the festive commerce were some nomads whose arrival at the oasis was unrelated to the otherwise all-consuming function, its venues and events. Gur approached the nomads straightaway and offered to hone their weapons, which led to him being absent for the entirety of the performance schedule of which Donus, Florian, and Beatus were a part. Gur was simply busy sharpening steel as usual. Guri and her friend found their element easily and became involved with the coordination of labor in the direction of maintaining proper sanitation. Pretty soon Guri wrote the work schedules. Everyone asked her where to go when and do what.
At length, Gur was exonerated from the droll company of the nomads. They had scrutinized his every stroke of steel against stone, making him feel quite like a child rehearsing his memorization for a whole pack of unimpressed fathers at once. Shaking off this somewhat familiar petulance, he sought out his sons at their afterparty and contributed due congratulations and accolades. Biggest show yet and a grand audience response. They were definitely going places. Guri had news for them all. She had insinuated herself into the power structure of the whole circus scene so far as to see how to make a life for them on the road. She had met the head honchos while simultaneously making herself indispensable to the prevailing men and mavens of the whole, loosely confederated conglomeration of travelling folk camped out around the circus. Not only would the triplets draw their own crowds now, but she, her friend and Gur would be employed too in various capacities. Gur was to do maintenance on the tents, his task menial yet essential and unsupervised enough to satisfy his sensitivities. They would live in two wagons, he, Guri’s friend and she, with Donus, Florian, Beatus and their wives ensconced in well-appointed showtent quarters.
Guri’s wagon was a bed with wheels. Gur’s wagon was a workshop with a cot. Harvest was upon them, and before they had much time to acclimate to the new mode of living, they were hopping from community to community across the map. Never the same show twice. Donus, Florian, and Beatus managed to incomprehensibly insult each sitting of faces afresh. And their material never seemed to grow stale among themselves. They genuinely cracked each other up, and the effect was infectious. Their wives sat in the crowd and laughed long and loud. It was their little in-joke. In private, they seemed never to be very amused.
Of all the opportunities to squander funds in the great shakedown of the travelling show, Gur’s favorites were the freaks of nature. Often he lamented half-heartedly that his sons had not been born conjoined. He also liked the outrageous offerings. Not the lewdest of them, but the least believable, certainly, drew him in. Every once in a while when the mood struck him, he would even pay entry to the man-fish, who was clearly not a man-fish. God knows what Gur fed on, attending such shows.
Inevitably, Guri found Gur a mate. She was a mere ticket-taker, Guri told him, and twice the age of the rest. Gur bridled at this description until he conversed with the woman long enough to perceive some of her more remarkable features. Not only did she have a good head on her shoulders, a way with people, and good hair, she was also the niece of the ringmaster and owner of the circus – the largest single operation in the whole sprawling traveling affair.
So it was that Gur found himself detailing his holdings and involvements to a very shrewd man in very improbable regalia. Despite himself, Gur admired and even liked the ringmaster. And the ringmaster, who went by many names but introduced himself to Gur as Alex, well he liked Gur okay too. The nuptials were a low-fanfare but well-attended event during which Gur vowed in sickness and in health to honor and cherish the woman under the veil, and she – the ringmaster’s niece – Colia – she vowed to do the same for him. After the ceremony, Gur and Colia sojourned to the city, where he showed her his estate and handful of residences. Duly impressed, she then felt better about the next leg of their honeymoon, which took them to the houses and manses of her people. The ringmaster Alex lived in dust on the road, but retreated to luxury. His brother, Colia’s father, had his fingers in many a pie being spun on many a pole. This man, Anato, had made much of Gur at the wedding, and maintained in their encounters this spirit of pride in his new son-in-law. Gur felt gratified. Other than a slight shrill edge to the clamor for grandchildren, the honeymoon was winning. They returned to the festival circuit well-fed and rosy-cheeked. Their first night back, Gur took Colia to the man-fish.
Something about being a man-fish gave the man-fish a form of blurry precognition. Given an article belonging to a given spectator, he might well know what would befall them. Standing half-submersed in his tank, his torso gleaming, the man-fish fingered the scarf of Gur’s new wife. “She will never leave you,” the man-fish told Gur, “but you will never fully have her.” Colia cried out objection, but the damage was done. From that night forward, Gur was haunted by the knowledge that he did not have his wife. She would never fully be his. But the dismay this aroused in him was well counterbalanced by the relief he took in the certainty that she would never leave him. They did not visit the man-fish together again.
Donus, Florian, and Beatus made hay while the harvest sun shone upon them, and they prospered. Word of their talent spread across invisible divides into the big clean houses, and they began to be invited to perform at private occasions. These engagements pulled them away from the travelling show. Soon the travelling show lost its allure for Gur and even Guri. Before the snows -- with the blessings of the ringmaster Alex and Anato -- Gur, Colia, and Guri returned to the city.
Colia’s child, born without incident a year later, was a girl. Anrea, the darling, do-know-wrong latecomer grandchild, Anrea inherited Guri’s disdain for popular opinion concerning a woman’s place and fitting social roles. This propensity to buck tradition formed a volatile admixture with her father’s temper. She grew up willful and brave, quick to heat and determined to see things through. Her education was lengthy and comprehensive. Matriculating directly into an appointed official position, she proceeded to make her political mark, becoming now, in the fullness of time, the city’s only female magistrate.
This is where I come in. I am not the great great grandson of Gur the boatman. No blood relation to Guri or Colia or Anrea, yet this is my family. I am their foundling. Anrea discovered me outside a public library. I was but one year of age. She took me for her own, and so I belong and do not belong in the lineage I have thus far detailed, the details of which come to me from the very horses’ mouths, and which I have fixed for myself here as a point of departure from which to pole on along my own route, stop by stop.
I must stop first to pick up my uncles, Donus, Florian, and Beatus. I have secured an invitation to one of their lower profile private performances. How does one tell them apart? Well, they are not identical. Florian is easy because he is the loudest and has the longest hair. Donus is the tallest and the likeliest to let out an actual recognizable curse along with his lines of inveigled invective. Beatus, then, is the shortest, with the shortest hair, and has the signature laugh; there are people everywhere doing Beatus’ laugh, which sounds like two raucous birds having at each other.
At the show, I occupy a big clean house for the first time. Despite impeccable grooming, I feel as though I am leaving smudges of inferiority everywhere. The staff of the house see right through me. But then my uncles are there and all proceeds swimmingly as they entertain. Most of the privileged youth dance. I dance. Florian lays his head back on his own shoulder and lets out a loud drone while thumping his neck with his index finger. Most everybody laughs. I laugh. Beatus laughs. Everybody Beatus-laughs.
Donus is the one who likes to drive the cart or wagon or buggy. He will steer one-handed with his arm around whoever happens to be sitting beside him. I was sitting beside him. The back of the wagon had benches, on which the other two brothers were faced off. The squeaking was intolerable.
“Why does your wagon squeak so much?” I asked loudly enough for all to hear.
“Ran out of cheese!” hollered Donus in my ear. And from the back came two replies:
“Because it can’t groan no more!”
“We’ve sprung a squeak!”
In that absurdly ungainly, unsightly wagon, we arrived at a home of my grandfather, Anato. The valet was in stitches. The brothers took turns insulting him in a lingo no one can understand, then we went in.
“I know those tones of voice!” bellowed Anato.
The brothers gave him a bit of a show. He clapped along and then waved his hands in the air.
“If I knew what you just said, I’d likely kill you all dead!”
To which sentiment the brothers merrily agreed, suggesting methods by which they were to be executed:
“Natural causes me.”
And I said:
“They danced. They actually danced. All those people. I mean I danced, but… I laughed, but… how can it be that I am the only one who finds it off-putting to be so openly mocked and degraded? I mean, you can hear the contempt can’t you? That’s for you. And they mean it, I think. To each other they do.”
“Oh, we mean it to you too,” said Beatus.
“Yes, they do!” came Anato’s bellow.
“How is that acceptable? Let alone… danceable?”
Florian made a move as if he might burst into song or thump his neck or both, and I recoiled.
Anato did a passable Beatus-laugh. “Do it, do it,” he begged Beatus.
I did mine. It was awful. My sour note rang down the hall and at far doors, servers scuffled in.
“Messiah,” said Beatus.
Anato led us to the table, where we went soup to nuts.
“Thank you Grandfather for this lovely gustation,” I ventured.
The brothers piped up:
“We’re not really your uncles you know.”
“Shan’t I call you Uncle anymore?” I asked earnestly (ever my weakness).
“Don’t call me a name-calling hypocrite, you name-calling hypocrite!”
“Call us flush with cash. Anato where can we put all these boxes of money?”
“Yeah Anato, we’re flush. Help us stash.”
“You,” said Anato, “may use the vault.”
As we entered the vault, I felt my self-confidence rise as my expertise kicked in. I knew what these files of documents meant. Could read each and explain them to others.
“But Grandfather, how do you know,” I asked, picking up the first sheet of paper that came to hand, “that this library will expand and need all this work?”
“Ah,” said Anato, “My associates and I shall persuade certain parties to favor expansion.”
“Libraries don’t really need basements. Especially ones that you have to tear down the whole existing construct to build.”
“Gonna be a lot of men on that job,” shrugged Anato.
“With a lot of hands in the pockets of each of them,” I countered.
The three brothers weighed in:
“Library basements make better meeting halls than Sunday School classrooms.”
“Why don’t we pull a publicity stunt and go entertain the workmen somewhere.”
“I could set that up for you,” I said.
“Brilliant!” beamed Anato. “You will organize a show for your uncles. Truly you are one of us.”
“I’m thinking more of a demonstration,” I said.
“There it is!” beamed Anato.
“We can call into question the need for the project, and demonstrate to send the workers home.”
“Bit… cross-purposed, though, wouldn’t that be?” wondered Anato aloud.
I let it go.
The brothers had the wagon drawn up and then I learned why it squeaked so much. It was full of money! The floor to the benches was the top of a bed which was laid in with bundles of cash. Anato laughed and laughed. A two-day counting and sorting commenced. All tallied, storage ensued, and my uncles’ money became a corner of a pile of currency which dwarfed me.
“What if you were to distribute the contents of this vault to a neighborhood of people?”
“That’s where we’re livin!”
“Anato. Watch this one.”
Beatus just gestured with his hand that he had his eye on me.
“Well then…” mused Anato, “…then that neighborhood of people would not work.”
“There’s be no one to dig the library basement,” I offered.
“Lotta jobs, that job,” mused Anato. “And that’s just a maybe-job. Why you pick this deal of all deals. You were born in a library you know.”
“No, I wasn’t. Or at least, nobody knows if I was.”
“You know what I mean. Now, you contact whoever you need to to get your uncles going on this demonstration show, and don’t be shy to drop my name.”
“I won’t be shy, Grandfather.”
“One more, Beatus!”
I knew that in order to pull off a grand-scale performance of my uncles, I’d need all the help Guri would give me. Others could help, but not like her. She would just pick names out of the air and scribble them on cards of introduction for me. I’d have a recipe box of errands to run, acquaintances to make, promotions to engage. So she was the next stop.
“Can’t help you, kid,” said Guri, “Gur’s in on that library project as well.”
“The old library is insect-infested,” said Gur.
“But can’t you just point me in the right direction?”
“Ask your mother. Ask Anrea.”
“They eat the wood!” Gur said.
Next stop, home.
“You want to foil a project your whole family stands to gain by.”
“Oh you know who you’ll need for this?”
“Besides your uncles of course.”
“Yes, Tuc. He knows every back porch and secret meadow workers’ coalition there is.”
“But Tuc is… ostracized.”
“Yes and so will you be if you’re known to have dealt with him, so be discrete, kid.”
“Gur would murder Tuc.”
Mom and I laughed.
“Okay so are there any others I should speak with? Politicians? Bosses? The workers themselves…”
“Talk to them all.”
Next stop, Tuc.
I made contact in public but nowhere bustling. A few people moved on the green expanse of the park, but no one was within earshot.
“I want to help the workers.”
“Don’t we all.”
“At the very least, they will get a free live show.”
“Yeah and at the worst, they’ll be out of work.”
“But they don’t want to work, do they? They don’t like it.”
“Well nobody really… it’s a rare guy who really wants… listen, you just work. You have to.”
“To earn money.”
“I can improve on that…mere… biological imperative. Life is more than working to eat. There is room for improvement in this system. I can make it better.”
“With a minstrel show?”
“You just get me the support of the workers, and leave the rest to me.”
“Support for what?”
“Well, for my uncles, to begin.”
“Donus, Florian, and Beatus…”
“For a free show from them. Soon.”
“And I may speak after the performance.”
“You may, mightn’t you?”
“And I may make some… distributions.”
“Let’s just say, contributions.”
“You don’t get how many workers there are.”
“Well, this will just be the start.”
“What about my distributions?”
“Will this do?”
Let me lean on my pole a moment here and say that I’m not naïve. This project isn’t going to make or break anyone I know. Anato doesn’t care, not a whit, not really, and Gur won’t miss a beat, either, if this deal doesn’t come together.
I decided to go see the library.
It was quaint.
In the reading rooms, I quizzed the librarians. How needful were the new building and basement?
Not at all, they invariably replied.
Were there insects in the woodwork?
None at all.
I ventured to a meeting of a few dozen workers with Tuc.
What I found was a court. With peasants, courtiers, a king, and other nobility in attendance.
It was a good thing I came bringing gifts.
“You bet we’’ll have a show!” Noc, the king, was very certain of himself.
I wondered how my uncles would comport themselves in this room.
I had not known there was such station and place among the workers. Everybody knew to whom to defer and when to speak and what to say. The king was the boss of course, then these unexpected dukes and duchesses of the set. They had one-syllable and two-syllable names, but they were quite manifestly the duke of this and the duchess of that. They represented other whole groups. Those who were accompanying others to the meeting – we visitors - were the peasants. I was with Tuc. Who wasn’t the same station as anyone else in the room. Tuc. He appeared to be along the lines of an advisor to the king. That’s where he stood, over the left-hand shoulder of Noc.
When Noc pronounced that the show with my uncles was on, the rest of the room uproared. Mostly happily. I said hooray, just to be saying something, since everybody else was saying something.
Tuc winked at me and did a Beatus-laugh.
The meeting-room became a birdfight. Everyone Beatus-laughed.
“We’ll dance!” declared Noc.
I realized I’d have to invite the uncles’ second wives. They’d fit right in with the other courtiers.
“Will there be speeches?” This from a duke.
“Aye!” avowed Noc.
“Aye,” I said.
Everybody looked at me and laughed.
“Aye,” said the duke who’d raised the question.
Everyone said aye.
“Well,” yelled Tuc, “now that we’ve voted…”
“… who all gets to, ah, orate?” and Tuc laughed alone. Everybody else got thoughtful.
“Donus, Florian, Beatus, Noc…” Noc listed.
“…Lev,…” I ventured.
No one spoke.
“Lev son of Anrea,” I corrected myself.
There was quick muttered support and agreement.
“Lev before Noc?” asked Noc.
“Just as Noc wishes,” I replied.
“Noc first,” said Tuc.
“Noc first says Tuc son of…” said a courtier.
“Mud,” said another.
I couldn’t but laugh.
“Lev first, then Donus, Florian, and Beatus, then Noc,” said Tuc.
“Oh,” we all said, realizing I would introduce my uncles.
“What am I to say?” asked Noc. “Why isn’t Anrea speaking?”
“She may,” I told the king of the room, “if we want.”
“Ooh,” said Noc.
“If Anrea speaks, many will want to speak,” said one duchess.
“If Anrea speaks, I will speak,” said another.
“Forever,” said Tuc, to smattered laughter.
“Very well,” said Noc, clapping his hands together, “When, where, how much, then who.”
“How much is easy,” I said. “No charge to attend, some money to be given away.”
“How much for a chance at the money?” asked Noc.
“Given, I say. Given away.”
“Well by whom to whom man?” Noc was flabbergasted.
“I’ll handle it,” I declared.
There was a silence and I knew what it meant. Only the king made declarations here.
“We’ll have to let Lev handle the money,” said Tuc.
“Not MY money,” laughed Noc.
“Would you like to be paid to speak?” I asked Noc.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Okay,” I said.
“I would like to be paid to speak,” said the duchess who favored Anrea.
“Okay,” I said.
“I would like to be paid to speak,” said a courtier.
Tuc did a Beatus-laugh.
“I will,” said a duke.
“Okay,” I said.
“How much?” the duke asked me.
“Same as others get,” I told him.
“Same as Noc?” asked the king.
“Yes,” I said. “And same as many others who do not speak.”
I could tell Tuc wanted to know what he was getting. So could Noc.
“What does Tuc get?” asked a peasant. She was accompanying a courtier.
“Same as you,” I said to the peasant.
“Wow,” she said.
“And same as me, and I should like to spend mine on taking you to dinner and a show.”
“Okay,” she said.
Tuc applauded. Others clapped too.
“Aw,” said the king, “a match made in meetin.”
Tuc took my arm and asked me if he was getting only enough compensation for a dinner and a show.
“Someplace fancy,” I said.
“Noc will speak for dinner money!” said Noc.
“So will I,” said my peasant.
“Okay,” I said.
“Hey,” said the courtier who’d offered before.
“Okay, you too,” I said.
“Noc first,” said Tuc.
“Noc first,” I agreed.
“What should I say?” asked Noc again.
“Tell them…” began the duchess who was to speak.
“Tell dirty jokes, Noc.” Said a duke.
“My uncles will handle that,” I said.
Here is what Noc actually said at the rally, after I had introduced the main event and then Anrea had followed up briefly with a sort of public service announcement laying out the fact that the library basement project was basically unnecessary but would generate lots of needful positions labor-wise, Noc said:
“Well, we need the work. But do we need TO work, THIS hard? For JUST ENOUGH?”
Anrea came back onto stage and shook his hand.
“Speaking of JUST ENOUGH,” rang Anrea’s great speaking-voice, ”my son Lev has something for us.”
That’s when I started handing out the money.
With the help of a crew of a score or more cronies, mostly just my close friends, I handed out one full squeaky wagon worth of bundles of cash. Everyone was amused to finally find out why I had parked the squeaky wagon stageside.
The was no riot, thank God, though I swear I saw Tuc fleeing Gur, Gur holding two bundles of cash, and Tuc juggling three. Asked about this later, Gur allowed as how he had been holding his wife’s share, and Tuc had not gotten away. No details of the beating that followed, except that his daughter Anrea had gotten a good lick in.
Orchestrated by Guri, a force composed of Gur’s wife Colia and the three second wives of Donus, Florian, and Beatus, infiltrated the anti-labor movement with admirable swiftness. Those women knew people, and any organization is just made of people. Pretty soon, I learned that Guri and her friend, old ladies, were sitting with Noc. I tried to be invited to one of these head-to-heads, to come abreast of the schemes of what I thought of as a pack of mighty underdogs. My mother secured us an audience by bringing also her grandfather Anatos. I remember that day. I was to learn that none of them (except maybe Guri) were mighty underdogs after all.
Noc: “Anrea! Anatos!”
Guri: “How are you, Lev?”
Me: “Honored to be invited, Great Grandmother.”
Anrea: “Guri, we brought you some bread.”
Noc: “Noc brought wine.”
Anatos: “As did Anatos.”
Noc: “Anatos, you have been creating jobs forever.”
Anatos: “And Noc has been my go-to staffer more than once!”
Anrea: “Couple of movers and shakers here, Guri.”
Guri: “I’ve created a few jobs and staffed them in my day.”
Me: “But what about what you said at the rally, Noc, about not needing TO work?”
Anrea: “Lev honey, that was Noc’s version of what Donus, Florian, and Beatus do. He was insulting our intelligences.”
Guri: “Aw, Lev thought it was for real.”
Me: “Well, there is an anti-labor movement!”
Guri: “Yes, child, but Noc’s not in it.”
Me: “Well, who is, then?”
Me: “Well, what about what you said, Mother?”
Anrea: “Do you remember what I said?”
Me: “Just the whole picture.”
Anrea: “Bunch of stuff everybody already knew.”
Guri: “I liked what your girlfriend said, Lev. She said we were an amazing family.”
Noc: “Yeah, it was like a toast.”
Guri: “The woman who liked Anrea so well spoke after my own heart.”
Anatos: “The pro-women woman?”
Guri’s friend: “Aye.”
Anatos: “Oh, right. She said women workers are under men workers in the big, clean houses.”
Me: “That’s true. I’ve seen that.”
Guri: “What does your girl do, Lev?”
Me: “I’m sure you know more about her than I do by now, Guri.”