The Circle meeting was quite boring, filled with organizational issues and the usual polite gossip. Lucille found it hard to pay attention to things she’d been hearing for decades, especially now when she was on pins and needles, filled with curiosity over the contents of the Que’d.
She was lost in thought, trying to make sense of the few words she managed to recall from her childhood, words that jumped at her from the ancient writing. For all intents and purposes, the text was as obscure as an abstract painting, and the fact that she couldn’t read it saddened her.
Lucille tried to remember what her mother had taught her when she was a child, and was furious at herself for not having paid more attention at the time. She was only four or five and the puzzle of the ancient text seemed like a silly game, but she could still remember some of the nursery rhymes. For what it was worth, none of them seemed to have anything to do with the words she had managed to decipher.
Lucille was trying to assess how long it would take Mary to make another copy of the Que’d, one they could study in peace, sheltered from Mrs. Gentry’s prying eyes, when Rosemary’s voice snapped her back to reality with the finality of a sharp arrow.
“Don’t you agree, Lucille?”
She turned towards the source of the sound, and when she was met by Rosemary’s piercing eyes she realized she hadn’t listened to the last half hour of the conversation.
“I apologize, ladies, I’m a little tired today. Agree with what, dear?” she asked Rosemary directly.
“The cave, of course. We have to find out who is responsible for this blatant disregard of our statutes! I don’t mean to impose on you, dear, but, well, with your heritage and everything, we were hoping you could illuminate us in this respect,” Rosemary threw a barb in Lucille’s direction.
The indignity of being descended from the Scholars’ line was again flaunted in front of the entire Circle, and some of the ladies shuffled uncomfortably. Lucille was not bothered. Under normal circumstances, any reference to her lineage irritated her, because she always found herself having to defend being born, but this time it filled her heart with warmth and longing for the lost wisdom of her people. Rosemary noticed the look in her eyes and grew aggravated.
“I wish you could pay attention, Lucille, these are important issues, not to be taken lightly. I understand this discomforts you, it couldn’t have been easy being raised in such undesirable circumstances, not that anybody holds that against you, of course, we can’t control the circumstances of our birth,” she insisted on provoking Lucille, more and more irate that the latter didn’t react the way she wanted her to.
Rosemary considered emotional manipulation an art form and she was very proud of her ability to incite the exact feelings she wanted in her hapless subjects; she would have been shocked to learn that many of the ladies of the Circle found her tactics simply indecent.
Lucille took a moment to be grateful she only had to take Rosemary in small doses, then continued.
“The cave, of course. Well, somebody should do something about that.”
“Who better than you, dear? I just said that of all of us you are best qualified to spearhead the inquiry, something you would already know if you followed the conversation,” Rosemary brooded.
Lucille couldn’t believe her good luck but assumed a thoughtful stance, appearing to struggle with the decision.
“I’m honored by your trust, I don’t know what to say. Are you sure there isn’t another member who would be best suited for this task? I don’t mean to impose…”
“Nonsense, dear, who better than you?” Rosemary insisted, looking at the rest of the ladies for support. The members of the Circle nodded, half in agreement and half trying to shake off the drowsiness induced by a particularly dull evening.
The cool air of the night chased away Lucille’s tiredness and sharpened all her senses. Her mind raced a mile a minute planning the work ahead, thinking of how to involve Mary and elated to have a reason to visit the cave on a regular basis.
The girl wasn’t asleep when her aunt arrived home, quite late. The latter found her pretending to scrub inexistent water spots from a crystal bowl that was usually filled with fruit.
“Leave that, Mary. Go to bed, you need to be well rested tomorrow,” Lucille said in a sibylline tone.
“What is it, aunt? What did they say?” her niece asked, worried.
“We’ve been so honored, Mary. The Circle wants us to document the findings in the cave. You can finish that tomorrow, after we come back,” she nodded in the direction of the bowl, which was spotless already.
“Did they say anything else, aunt Lucille? Did they mention how they found out about the cave, or the old writing, or anything?” Mary asked shyly.
“Oh, I don’t know, dear, I must have dozed off through the first half of the meeting, we’ll figure it out later,” Lucille answered, absentminded, and then headed upstairs to rest.
They started out very early the next morning, this time equipped with writing utensils and little boxes for rock samples. The entrance cave was beautifully lit by the morning sun, an imposing natural chamber embellished with intricate carvings. Lucille and Mary didn’t give it a second glance and passed through to the larger room, that the sun rays were just starting to illuminate.
“Where do we even start?” Lucille asked, awed by the magnitude of the task.
“Can you read any of this, aunt?” Mary asked, hopeful.
“A few words, here and there,” Lucille replied, daunted.
“Maybe we can start with those, then,” Mary encouraged, paper and pen in hand, ready to take notes.
“Ok,” Lucille started, “how about this one,” she pointed to the first word of the first block of writing. “It means document, public” She started getting more excited as she went. “And that says body text”, she pointed to another word combination, half way down. Mary wrote down the translation, diligently.
Hours passed, with Lucille scanning through the copious writing for any word she could recognize, and Mary jotting them down on paper in a lattice, with their associated translations. None of them spoke any more than was absolutely necessary, Lucille completely immersed in the ancient language and Mary quietly trying to make sense of the collection of words she was gathering.
‘Body text,’ she thought, ‘those old timers really pushed the boundaries, no wonder they got banished!’ Tattoos were absolutely anathema in their culture, so much so that not even the most daring of her friends would presume to talk about them.
“Pay attention, Mary,” Lucille pointed to a whole line. “This here says document script write. I don’t understand, the entire opus is written by hand, why would they make the distinction? It must refer to something else, a play script, maybe? Or calligraphy,” she frowned with concentration. Mary said nothing, she just jotted down the words, feverishly, careful not to miss anything.
“Well, one thing’s for sure, this document was meant to be shared with the public, whatever it says,” Lucille commented thoughtfully.
A little scurrying critter unsettled a few pebbles and startled them, as if waking them up from a dream, and they just realized they have been missing from the front room too long. What if someone came to check up on them and didn’t find them?
Mary went through the tunnel first, quiet as a mouse, to make sure the coast was clear, and as she emerged, she saw the light hit the opposite wall and realized they’ve been at this the whole day, the sun was almost setting. Lucille went through after her and they both pushed back the boulder in front of the entrance.
“Well, that was a productive day, make sure to document your findings, Mary, we wouldn’t want to go back empty handed, the Circle depends on us to get to the bottom of this,” Lucille directed.
Mary didn’t comment. She folded the page she’d been writing on the whole day and put it away, then pulled out a blank page and started writing.