My friend Treyl was very anxious to see it; he did not realize that my people used books. So I led and Treyl followed with his strange ungainly waddle, away from the clevth and northward into the hills. This was in the time of the wet spring winds, when the rimmith bloom for their brief lives and the sun passes the Seam of Heaven in a shower of sparks. The clevth was upwind, and every gust brought the awareness of my people preparing for the time of breeding: young females ready to mate and drop their eggs in the shallows, half-year-olds anxious to pick up the beginnings of their coats, adolescents ready for a last taste of the ancestral waters before entering their fina1 forms. The night was alive with sensation, alive in a way that made Treyl and the Fifth Forbidden Book so much more exciting.
With Treyl watching I carefully took the Book from its wrapping — cured membranes of the large jarief flsh — and cradled it in my three forward hands. My copy of the Fifth Forbidden Book is a heavy thing, with leaves made from pressed plantfibers and separated by more membranes. As I held it, my hands detected its ancient holiness, and I caught a wisp of the long-ago scribe who had lovingly transferred the words of the original Book to this copy. I opened the Book to its first leaf, raised it to my face and caressed it with my antennae. Just as he had deposited them so long ago, I felt the thoughts of Ep-Naph the Great Warrior, thoughts that he had left to be preserved by the brotherhood for those of his descendants who could comprehend them.
Treyl leaned forward, looking naked without a coat of star-shaped pled by their hundreds, looking ready to fall over as he balanced on an amazing two limbs while reaching for me with the only other two he possessed. When I first met Treyl, I closed my mind against the onslaught of pain that had to emanate from one so crippled — only later I learned that his people are naturally malformed.
His backpack spoke: a combination of the soundless speech of my people, and the noisy chitters and clicks of the secret tongue of the brotherhood. “May I see it, Dleef?”
“It is old and fragile, my friend Treyl. Please take care as you would handling a newborn.”
He left me holding the Book, removed an antenna from his backpack and brushed it lightly over the surface of the leaf. “Amazing. That chemical traces could be so exact. That your sensory apparatus can pick them up. That they convey so much information.”
“The Book is old,” I told him, “and was but a copy to begin with. Many passages have faded and are hard to read.”
“My backpack can read them all. Possibly it can duplicate the chemicals and make those passages easier to read. Would you like me to do that?”
I regarded him well, this odd small creature from nowhere. The rest of the clevth bore him the usual disregard for a stranger who does not smell right; why did I trust him? Was it that other thing, which made me a part of the brotherhood and brought me the emnity of my people? Whatever, I knew that I did trust Treyl, trusted him with something in me that went beyond his smell and his strangeness. “The clevth leaves with morning, and although I do not wish to go south right now I shall accompany them. You may work your maglcs on the Book until daylight.”
“Until daylight.” He pressed one of his hands against mine, gently, to avoid hurting himself on my pled coat. And through the interstices and the living bodies of my pled seeped a measure of his alien feel, and once again I wondered about him.
copyright (c) 2010, Don Sakers
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