Roquana


by
Robin Gordon



Auksford crest: a great auk displaying a book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"
Auksford 2013

© Copyright Robin Gordon, 2013

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Book I:  Savark Court
***
Chapter 2: Lord Savark's household

    The road to Savark Court was long and Roquana was sleepy, but not too sleepy to be impressed by the magnificent gateway that led into the park: tall columns topped by mythical creatures, a wide entrance between them, with crimson gates topped with gold spikes, wide enough for two carriages to pass each other, pedestrian gates to the sides, and then a pair of handsome lodges.
    The road then led through an extensive park, with specimen trees dotted here and there in artistically arranged copses, and then, through gardens of bright flowers, towards a splendid chateau, with towers and turrets, gables, battlements, verandas, terraces, pillars and columns, arches both Romanesque and Gothic, and indeed every fanciful form of architectural ornament that had ever been known on Humanity’s home planet, the long-lost, and ever lamented, Earth.
    The carriage swung away from the main front door and continued round the side of the house before swinging under a massive archway in the Gothic style and into a courtyard surrounded by two-storeyed buildings, with cloisters on both floors.  Fat pharaonic pillars on the ground floor, ornamented in Egyptian style with carved lotus blossoms, supported a balcony enclosed by light cast-iron arches, ornamented with tracery and sporting above each arch a gargoyle: heads of elephants, baboons, eagles and totally fanciful beasts.  Impressive, I thought, but not in the best of taste.
    The Housekeeper bustled Roquana out of the carriage and called a boy to carry her luggage, then, as the carriage turned out of the courtyard, she led us into the colonnade and through a corridor to her office.  There she outlined to Roquana the nature of her duties before calling in a girl of about Roquana’s own age, whom she introduced as Franette.
    “Franette will be your housemother,” she explained to Roquana.  “She will guide you and tell you about the house routine, and for your first week here you will go with her and perform your duties under her guidance.  Now she will show you to your room, and you will find your belongings already there.”
    Franette showed Roquana her bedroom, quite small and plain, not unlike the one she had at home.  She told her that her own room was further along the corridor, and that she would make sure she was up, breakfasted and ready for work next morning.  She took her along to the maids’ dining room and introduced her to her fellow workers, then, parting from her at night, told her not to lock her door.
    “The Chatelaine doesn’t like locked doors at all,” she said.  “She feels it shows a lack of trust in the rest of the household, so, though there are locks on all the doors, they are never used.”
    Roquana nodded.  “I wouldn’t lock doors at home,” she said, “and this is my home now.”
    “That’s the spirit,” said Franette.  “Oh, by the way, you’ll sometimes hear a lot of noise from the boys’ side of the house, they do get quite riotous sometimes, especially when they have a new boy.  They’re quite different from girls, and I’ve heard that have all sorts of initiation ordeals.  Anyway, that’s all their affair.  It gets very loud sometimes, but you needn’t worry: their part of the house is completely separate and the only door between is kept firmly locked at night.  The Chatelaine wouldn’t want boys and girls to get up to any sort of naughtiness, would she?”
    “Of course not,” said Roquana.
    “Goodnight then.”
    “Goodnight.”

    Franette was right about the boys and the noise.  Roquana couldn’t sleep at all: she could hear them shouting and cheering, and from time to time a thunderous crashing of running feet.  Then she thought she heard someone in the corridor outside, the rattle of door handles and loud roars in the distance.  Suddenly her door was flung open and someone darted inside, slammed it shut and locked it.
    Startled, Roquana immediately flicked on the light.  The newcomer turned, shocked.  Despite Franette’s assurances, it was a boy, a young man of about Roquana’s own age or perhaps a year or two older.  His mouth dropped open, he uttered an inarticulate sound, midway between a gasp and a groan, and clasped his hands to his groin.
    He was trouserless.
    “Sorry,” he spluttered.  “I … didn’t know there was any one here …  I didn’t know I was in … in the girls’ area.  I … I … I’d better go …”
    He fumbled with the key, with one hand holding down his shirt-tail, got the door unlocked and was turning the handle when there came renewed uproar.  It sounded as if it came from the corridor outside.
    The boy kept the door closed, leaning against it.
    “Wait,” said Roquana.  “Lock it again.”
    The boy did so.
    “What’s happened?” she asked.
    “Oh, nothing really,” he said, looking over his shoulder at her, keeping his front pressed to the door and holding down his shirt, back and front.  “I’m new here, and it was just my initiation.  I’m sorry to appear before a lady without my trousers, but the lads took them off me.  I suppose I must be a bit of a coward.  I ran away from them.  I don’t suppose they’d really have done any of the things they said.”
    “What sort of things?”
    “I couldn’t say in front of a lady.  I’m sorry.  I’ll go.”
    “No,” said Roquana.  “Stay here until they’ve gone.  When the noise has stopped you can slip away.”
    “You can’t mean it,” he stuttered.  “What would the League of Purity say if I stayed in your room after dark – especially without my trousers.”
    “Here” said Roquana, pulling off one of her blankets and holding it out.  “Wrap yourself in this.  You can sit in the chair there, and I’ll stay here in bed.  We know we haven’t done anything wrong.  The worst they can do is dismiss us, and I wouldn’t mind that at all.  I’m new here too, and I’d much rather have stayed at home with my mother.”
    The boy stayed.  They talked long into the night, telling each other their histories.
    The boy’s name was Tommuz.  He came from Gollerley, where he had lived with his widowed mother until Gulls and Madame LaTower had invited him to join Lord Savark’s household staff – an invitation that he and his mother knew could not be refused, though, like Roquana, he had not wanted to leave home.
    So they talked, until, eventually, they became aware that all the noise had stopped and the corridors were quiet.
    “I’d better go,” said Tommuz.  “I hope I’ll see you again.”
    “I hope so too,” said Roquana.
    Tommuz got up carefully from his chair, keeping his back turned to Roquana until he had his shirt-tails carefully arranged and held down to conceal those parts that a young man ought not to display to a young lady he has only just met.
    “Goodbye, then,” he said, and held out his free hand.  Roquana touched it lightly, and instantly I felt her thrill as the electricity passed between them.  Tommuz felt it too and turned away quickly.
    “See you tomorrow, I hope,” he said, and slipped out of the door.
    Roquana sighed and settled down to sleep.

    The following day Mrs Broyn sent her to be interviewed by the Chatelaine, which Roquana found a daunting prospect, for, though at her initial interview at home the Chatelaine had hardly spoken, leaving the  conduct of the interview entirely to the voluble Monsignor Gulls, she had exuded a formidable presence, so that Roquana and Mrs Smuff had no need of the Secretary’s encomium to realise that Madame LaTower was a person of considerable importance and, more importantly, strength of character, whom it would be unwise ever to cross.
    The Chatelaine welcomed Roquana to her large and imposing office with cold formality.
    “You are doubtless aware,” she said, “or if you are not aware it would certainly be surprising, that His Lordship is not only, as is most right and proper given his role in the exploration and development of Sunday, one of the richest and most influential men on the planet but also, and I cannot stress this too strongly, the President of the League of Purity, which is devoted entirely to the maintenance of chastity among our young people and the avoidance on Sunday of the sort of sexual free-for-all that pertains in some newly colonised worlds.
    “This being so it is of vital importance that His Lordship’s household maintain an unsullied reputation for purity, chastity and devotion to the dogmas of the League, you understand me?”
    “Yes,” Roquana quavered.
    “It will therefore come as no surprise to you if I ask you, formally as Chatelaine of His Lordship’s household and therefore as His Lordship’s personal representative, whether you are a virgin.”
    “Yes,” said Roquana.
    “Do you mean by yes that you are a virgin, that you agree that it will come as no surprise if I ask you, or that you disagree and are indicating that it will come as a surprise?”
    “Erm … “ said Roquana, “I mean … yes I am a virgin.”
    “And you have had no man in your bed?”
    “Of course not.”
    “If you tell lies you must expect the truth eventually to be exposed.  I will ask you once more: have you slept with any man or boy, have you allowed any male to deflower you, or are you still virgo intacta.
    “I am a virgin, Madame,” said Roquana.  “I do not lie.  If you don’t believe me, why don’t you send me home?”
    “You have heard of the Inquisition, of course,” said Madame LaTower.  “Suppose his Lordship, at my request, were to ask his intimate friend the Grand Inquisitor of Sunday to instruct an Inquisitor to penetrate your mind and discover whether or not you have told the truth.”
    “I have told the truth,” said Roquana.  “You may ask an Inquisitor to examine my mind if you like.  I have nothing to hide.”
    Suddenly the Chatelaine smiled – a frosty smile, but nevertheless a smile.  “I am pleased with you, child,” she said.  “You have answered well.  I shall comfirm your assignment to Mrs Broyn’s staff and you will have the opportunity of waiting on the great ones of Sunday next time they gather here at Savark Court.”

    Franette was waiting for Roquana outside.
    “How did it go?” she asked.
    “Horrible,” said Roquana.  “She kept on asking if I was a virgin, almost as if she believed I wasn’t.”
    “But you stuck to your guns.”
    “Of course.  Anyway she sort-of smiled at the end and said she was pleased, so I’m on Mrs Broyn’s staff with you.”
    “Good-oh,” said Franette.  “You’ll like Mrs Broyn.  She’s nearly like a mother to her girls, but as for Madame LaTower, well you might as well talk to an iceberg.  We all think she’s ghastly, but don’t let anyone else hear you say so.  Anyway, on Mrs Broyn’s staff you get plenty of time off, so you can go and meet your boyfriend for a walk in the garden … if you’ve got one, of course.”  Here she tittered girlishly.
    Roquana thought it meant that Franette had a boyfriend and said nothing.  As for me, I was still seething at the Chatelaine’s suggestion that Lord Savark could demand an Inquisitor to investigate a particular, chosen person just by asking his intimate friend the Grand Inquisitor – and if you had ever heard the Grand Panjandrum’s opinion of Lord Savark, expressed only inside the department and to trusted and dependable Inquisitors, you wouldn’t be taken in for a moment by that claim of intimate friendship.

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Roquana:  Index.  --  Chapter 1.  --  Chapter 3.

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