Sahja meditated. The path to Nirvana is a full void: a finite infinity that stretches across the single point of the mind. To properly pursue the path, one seeks enlightenment by searching the things that one already knows. It is impossible to truly find enlightenment outside of oneself. A person will find many clues leading to it in the outside world, but ultimately it is found within.
Her journey to Nirvana had started at a Baladata or “girl’s school” in Vudra. It had taken her all over the Inner Sea as a sailor. Now she sat in the small shrine to Irori in Almas, the capital of Andoran. The path would most likely lead her much further, but for now, in the peaceful contentment of her soul searching, she felt she was where she should be.
“Mistress Sahja.” The sweet sounding soprano of her acolyte’s voice broke through the barrier of Sahja’s mind. There was a hint of apology, possibly fear, in the voice. So the young cleric did remember she wasn’t to disturb her mistress during meditation, but felt that there was some urgency that precluded her previous instructions. More likely, since fear was involved, someone else felt their urgency over-rode the acolyte’s instructions.
Sahja listened intently, but did not open her eyes. Yes, there were two people standing behind her. She could hear the breathing now that she was less self-absorbed. It was not another of the shrine. The rasp of the breathing was too desperate to belong to a cleric of Irori. He? Yes, her guest was most likely male and had run a ways to get here.
“Tell our guest to remain here; I’ll speak to him momentarily. You may return to what you’re doing.” Sahja slowly allowed her mind to return to focus in the real world. She rose, keeping her upper body rigid, swinging her bare feet fluidly under her and standing. She wore slightly faded orange silk tightly wrapped around her upper body and yellow silks hanging from her belt and wrapped loosely to form leg coverings that didn’t hinder her movement. Her skin, like most Vudrani, was well tanned: not too light or too dark. Unlike most of her countrymen, her eyes shown a brilliant green, accented with a touch of barely seen eye shadow. That and the red dot on her forehead, set above and between her eyebrows, was the only make-up she allowed herself to wear. Her black hair she wore long and clasped with a golden ring behind her neck.
She turned to face her guest. He was a youngster, no more than twelve, with rusty blonde hair and brown eyes. Like many his age, he was wearing the leather apron of an apprentice. It was surprisingly clean, especially considering he worked in a job that required ink: there was ink stained blue on the knuckles of his hands. He was not a scribe then. A scribe would not have ink on his knuckles. Sahja let out a light-hearted laugh as she realized what the young man did for a living.
“There’s a devil in my shrine,” she said happily. “A printer’s devil. What brings you here today, young devil?”
The young man tried to laugh nervously. “’ave we met, miss? I don’t recall us meetin’ afore…”
Sahja placed a hand lightly on his shoulder, trying to calm him. It had the opposite effect. She kept forgetting that Andorens had different notions of personal space than Vudrani. “No worries,” she said trying to hide her accent as best she could. They were about the same height. She lifted his hand in hers and ran a finger over his knuckles. “Scribes don’t get ink on their knuckles as a rule.” she said.
“Now that’s a flood,” he responded. “Ya ’ave the eyes of a falcon, miss. I’m a devil right ’nough.”
Sahja made a motion like she was scribbling on some imaginary paper. “Or write enough,” she smiled slyly at him. The devil just looked blankly at her, missing the joke. She continued quickly. “What brings you to the shrine of Irori today, Master…?”
The apprentice looked down at his hands trying to make the nervous gesture look like an attempt to rub the ink off his knuckles. “I’m Dore ’allanson. It’s my master, Ben Forlin, miss. ’e needs your ’elp. ’e sent me to see if ya would ’elp him find our stolen type.”
The cleric wondered if the “h” was one of the letters that was missing. “Sounds like you need the watch, not someone like me.” Sahja said slowly. She had said that line many times before and it hardly ever made a difference.
“That’s what I toll ’im, miss. I did. And ’e did call the watch, sure ’e did. But ’e was figurin’ that seein’ ’ows ya ’elped out old Zimmer last fall, findin’ ’is stolen necklace from the temple…”
“Yes, the stolen stole. I doubt I’ll ever live it down.” She lightly rubbed her palm against her eye and forehead, but her humor was lost on the devil. Sahja supposed that he spent so much time working with words that he had little thought for playing with them. She quoted from the Azvadeva Pujila, “‘Enlightenment cannot be found without service to others.’ Don’t worry, Dore. I’m a pushover for word devils.”
The watch had already arrived at Ben’s shop when the two arrived. Sergeant Mlunsa, a former tribesman of the Mwangi Expanse and Sahja’s main connection inside the watch, was taking notes as she and Dore entered. “Dah!” he exclaimed. “I see the real detective has arrived.” Each word was fully enunciated in a way that made every syllable clear. Sahja liked the sound of the sergeant’s voice.
He was dressed in the typical blue, white, and gold uniform of the Almas watch. Next to him stood a short and stocky man in an apron covered with ink. He wore a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and ink on the bottom of the arms. His hair, despite a relatively advanced age, completely covered his head with an uncombed shock of white. There was a little tinge of ink streaked blue just above his left ear. The printer looked hopefully up at Sahja.
“Oh, thank you so much for coming Miss Sahja,” he said almost pitifully. “I’ve heard so much about all the good you’ve done around here. I’m very confident you can help me out.”
Sahja smiled at the praise. “Coming from a left handed printer, does that make it a left handed complement?” she asked.
Ben laughed. “I do say it with all sincerity…wait a moment. How did you…?”
“There’s ink in your hair on the left side, but not the right” she answered lightly. How did people not notice such things? she wondered.
Ben laughed again. “I’d heard that I’d need to watch what I say around you, but my, I need to watch how I look too?”
Sahja simply smiled and began a careful look around the shop. The press dominated the middle with a small forge on the port side (if the shop had been a ship and the door the front). Tongs and a crucible sat on a shelf next to it along with a couple of black bars. After that, there were cubby holes all along the wall holding the casts for the different letters.
The opposite, or starboard side, held a work bench with a few random ink stains on its surface. The wall above it was noticeably empty. Unlike other walls in the place, there weren’t samples of previous work or works in progress. It was just blank.
The back held a small desk that faced the door. Its surface was cluttered, so much so that it made Sahja cringe to view the disorderliness of it. Wherever Nirvana existed in the universe, that desk was at an opposite point.
As Ben and the sergeant seemed busy talking, she took a moment to step outside the shop. Dore followed silently. He’d been quiet most of the walk over too. She appreciated how he allowed her to think, even if it was more out of nervousness than courtesy. The door had no knob on it, but had been relying on a simple latch and large padlock to secure it while the owner was away. The lock was lying on the ground. The side where the lock latched had been smashed smooth, but the keyhole looked untouched. She looked up and down the road. To the starboard side of the shop was a cooper and to the port, a blacksmith.
Sahja left the lock on the ground and poked her head into the shop. She got Sergeant Mlunsa’s attention and motioned towards the cooper’s shop. “I’m going to see if anyone next door heard the lock get broken off.”
“Dah!” the sergeant responded. “You go and do that Miss Sahja. We be still trying to figure out how much Ben’s type was worth.” The two returned to their discussion.
“Ya think the cooper might ’ave taken the type, miss?” Dore asked as they turned to leave.
“No,” Sahja responded, “I just like the word, ‘cooper.’ It sounds nice doesn’t it?”
Dore didn’t agree or disagree. “That’s good, miss. Both our neighbors are nice ’nough folk. I don’t think either would ’urt Ben.” He held open the door for Sahja and she entered the cooper’s shop. She decided not to comment on Dore holding the door.
The cooper’s shop was an antithesis of the print shop. It was a little smaller, but the floor was not only well swept, it was waxed. Shelves on the back wall held supplies and some tools. A workbench, clear of tools or work at the moment, sat under the only window. The cooper himself, sporting a tradesmen’s apron, well combed honey-colored hair, and a large smile, sat on a stool in the center of the shop, carefully placing the slats for a large barrel with the help of a hide mallet.
“Dore,” he said congenially, not able to look up from his work at the moment, “what brings you to my shop today? And who’s your guest?”
“’i Adam,” Dore said. “This is Miss Sahja. She’s ’elping Ben find out ’oo stole our type this mornin’.”
Adam stopped mid-swing with his mallet and several slats fell to the floor. He might come to regret the time of careful work that was lost, but for the moment, his face showed a sympathetic concern. “Why would anyone steal type?”
“The metal… It’s expensive,” Dore said emphatically. “It’s made of lead, tin, and bit of… of some…secret metal. We’d be ’ard pressed to replace it all afore the rent comes due the morrow.” Sahja was about to comment on the printer’s devil being “hard pressed” but Adam spoke up first.
He winked at Sahja as he said, “Secret metal?”
Dore sighed and shrugged, “Ah, Adam. Don’t be doin’ that again. I toll ya. I’m not allowed to tell no one about the secret metal.”
Apparently they’d had this conversation before. Adam’s smile broadened. “Is it gold? Afraid that if people knew that… Hey! Is that why your type was stolen?”
“Nah. It’s not gold.”
“Then why’s it secret?”
Sahja watched the exchange with some interest. She knew what the third metal was, but guessed that Dore had a hard time saying antimony—a metal made by alchemists to help the type hold its shape better. Adam knew at least that it was something Dore couldn’t pronounce. It didn’t seem to matter if the cooper knew what the metal was as long as he could use it to cause a little friendly torment.
“Can’t ’ave everyone knowin’ or they’d all be printers too.”
Sahja redirected them by saying, “Why do you need the type to pay rent if it’s due so soon? Doesn’t Ben already have the money?”
Dore looked slightly indignant. “’Course Ben ’as the money. We can pay rent, but then we wouldn’t ’ave any type to keep on goin’.”