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“The thing was sealed up with pitch on the inside,” he explained as they stepped inside. “We had quite a time of it pulling that lid off. Whoever put it in the ground expected it to survive the ages.”
“Indeed,” one of the men said; later on, Chakan never could remember which one was speaking at any time. “This is the box?”
“I mean no offense, but you speak like a foreigner.”
“Aye, I take none. I was born a Reacher. The Matriarchy offers louts like me a plot of land, if I agree to be a good husband to my wife. Seems like I got the better end of that bargain.”
Both visitors looked amused, although Chakan meant his words as a pointed warning. Reachers were often considered warlike in this part of the wide world. One of the men reached inside the box, and scratched at a light spot on the bottom in one corner. “Wax,” he said. “They lit a candle before putting the lid on.”
“Why would they do that?” Chakan asked.
“It helps to seal the box. Perhaps the ancients had other reasons, things we forgot in The Madness.”
“That contraption showed a date… year 1812 of the Pearl Throne, if I remember right. The eve of The Madness. The rest of it warned of disaster.”
The men looked at each other. “I don’t suppose you remember the exact date?” one asked.
“Nay, but I sketched the thing as it was when we took it outta the ground.” Chakan took a breath. “Tell me true, folk. Can a machine predict the future if it’s calibrated against the stars?”
Again, they looked at each other before speaking, making Chakan wonder if they had some form of silent communication. “That we know not. Such things we leave to the mistress.”
“Ah,” said Misiva, as Chakan entered the kitchen. “I was telling your wife, I have never seen an artifact from the time of Camac That Was so well preserved in my entire career. I am prepared to offer you twenty-five gold octagons for the mechanism and the instructions, and five more for the notes and transcripts you have made.”
Liana and Chakan stared wide-eyed at each other. That kind of money would make them rich, by Chakan’s reckoning—able to live idly for over a year, perhaps two.
“Ah, ah, we’ll have to think that over,” Liana stammered after a long moment.
“Oh, I hope you won’t think it over too long,” said Misiva. “The sages will simply take it off your hands, and call it property of the realm. “You have put much work into puzzling it out, and I would think you should have somewhat to show for it, no?”
“Aye,” Chakan replied. “We’ll give it our most serious consideration.” That was a sarcastic Northerner idiom, but he doubted this wealthy Westerner knew that. Indeed, he would have to explain it to Liana.
“Good. We shall return, day after tomorrow.” Misiva stood, her menfolk bowed, and they departed.
“Chakan,” said Liana, watching the carriage roll back towards Queensport, “I am leaving this decision to you. Had we turned it over to the sages right away, as we should have done, I would not be so tempted by wealth.”
“They were polite and proper,” Chakan mused, “but that says little about their hearts. Say we took their money right away. Who can assure us they would not find a way to take it back?”
“But if they would do such a thing… perhaps they would try to take the mechanism while we consider the situation?”
“I told those men I was a born Reacher. If they took not the hint…”
“So we should take the mechanism to the sages right way,” Liana suggested.
“That they will expect,” Chakan countered. “They’ll have a trap set for us.”
“None fight like a Northerner defending his land,” Liana quoted. “So we let them come to us, when we’re ready for them. When do you think they’ll come?”
“A day or two before market day. That gives us a little time to plan our defense.”