Chapter One: The Doctor
Master, it was in the evening of the third day of the southern planting season that the questioner's assistant came for the Doctor to take her to the hidden chamber, where the chief torturer awaited.
I was sitting in the living room of the Doctor's apartments using a pestle and mortar to grind some ingredients for one of the Doctor's potions. Concentrating on this, it took me a moment or two fully to collect my wits when I heard the loud and aggressive knocking at the door, and I upset a small censer on my way to the door. This was the cause both of the delay in opening the door and any curses which Unoure, the questioner's assistant, may have heard. These swear-words were not directed at him, neither was I asleep or even remotely groggy, as I trust my good Master will believe, no matter what the fellow Unoure -- a shifty and unreliable person, by all accounts -- may say.
The Doctor was in her study, as was usual at that time in the evening. I entered the Doctor's workshop, where she keeps the two great cabinets containing the powders, creams, ointments, draughts and various instruments that are the stock of her trade as well as the pair of tables which support a variety of burners, stoves, retorts and flasks. Occasionally she treats patients in here too, when it becomes her surgery. While the unpleasant-smelling Unoure waited in the living room, wiping his nose on his already filthy sleeve and peering round with the look of one choosing what to steal, I went through the workshop and tapped at the door to the study which also serves as her bedroom.
"Oelph?" the Doctor asked.
I heard the quiet thud of a heavy book being closed, and smiled to myself.
The Doctor's study was dark and smelled of the sweet istra flower whose leaves she habitually burned in roof-hung censers. I felt my way through the gloom. Of course I know the arrangement of the Doctor's study intimately -- better than she might imagine, thanks to the inspired foresight and judicious cunning of my Master -- but the Doctor is prone to leaving chairs, stools and shelf-steps lying where one might walk, and accordingly I had to feel my way across the room to where a small candle flame indicated her presence, sitting at her desk in front of a heavily curtained window. She sat upright in her chair, stretching her back and rubbing her eyes. The hand-thick, fore-arm-square bulk of her journal lay on the desk in front of her. The great book was closed and locked, but even in that cave-darkness I noticed that the little chain on the hasp was swinging to and fro. A pen stood in the ink well, whose cap was open. The Doctor yawned and adjusted the fine chain round her neck which holds the key for the journal.
My Master knows from my many previous reports that I believe the Doctor may be writing an account of her experiences here in Haspide to the people of her homeland in Drezen.
The Doctor obviously wishes to keep her writings secret. However, sometimes she forgets that I am in the room, usually when she has set me the task of tracking down some reference in one of the books in her extravagantly endowed library and I have been silently doing so for some time. From the little that I have been able to glimpse of her writings on such occasions I have determined that when she writes in her journal she does not always use Haspidian or Imperial -- though there are passages in both -- but sometimes uses an alphabet I have never seen before.
I believe my Master has thought of taking steps to check with other natives of Drezen regarding whether, in such instances, the Doctor writes in Drezeni or not, and to this end I am attempting to commit to memory as much as I can of the Doctor's relevant journal writings whenever I can. On this occasion, however, I was unable to gain a view of the pages she had surely been working on.
Copyright © 2000 by Iain M. Banks
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