“You read, Hapa Cottrite? Marks on stone? Or wood?” When Lhored spoke the name, it came out Ca’rite.
“I can, Mister Kubna,” said Cottrite. “Here the marks are on paper, too.”
“Then you can read the holy writings?”
“Sometimes. It depends how old they are. The oldest writings, the words are hard to make out, and you can’t know for sure what they mean. But I can understand some holy words.”
Lhored considered this silently. “In Okan, it’s not lawful to read the holy words,” he said. “Not unless you’re called. And few are called.”
“We have the same law here,” Babra Puehkenz replied. “Hapa’s mother was a reader. That’s how he came to be chosen.”
“I see,” said Lhored. At once intrigued and uncomfortable, he eyed the man. The only reader in Okan lived in Glathe cowndee, and she was very old. She didn’t read any more, certainly not holy writings, because her eyes would no longer let her see the marks. If she hadn’t died over the summer, she soon would.
Unlike her, though, this man was no religious votary. If he were, he would never admit to not understanding any part of the writings. And evidently he spent his time on quite a lot more than contemplating the other world. It occurred to Lhored, in passing, that something vaguely dangerous lurked in this circumstance. Even if it were allowed, fewer Hengliss than Espanyos had time for reading—they were too busy trying to stay alive. And if they did have time for it, they would have nothing to read. Still, wouldn’t it be good to have someone to take the old woman’s place! His presence would bring prestige to the House of Cham Fos. Mitchel would be pleased. More to the point, so would his first wife, the politically powerful Kubnath of Huam Prinz.
We know of Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek’s life and times only because a wandering scholar named Hapa Cottrite fell in with the Hengliss war bands and wrote a journal describing their exploits. His writings, along with a collection of antique documents, were found in a cave in Northern Vada and eventually were passed along to scholars who studied, transcribed, and translated them.
The Fire-Rider stories interpret key parts of the Cottrite Codex, covering the conflicts between Hengliss and Espanyo war bands that occurred during the middle period of the Great Lacuna. Our version was interpreted by Estabanya Marcanda do Tilár i Robintál do Nomanto Berdo, master story teller of the Methgoan Academy of Written and Oral Performance. She based her retelling of the story on the definitive translation by Fontano do Caz Eviatád, sponsored by the Western Regional Council of Research Sciences and the Institute for Theory of Intuitional Dissemination (TID) Studies.
During the Great Lacuna, literacy almost went extinct. Writing was thought to be sinful and a cause of humanity’s many troubles. Consequently, reading and writing were crimes, violations of religious and civil law in most parts of Methgoa. This was particularly true in the regions west of the Sehrra Muns, where neither Espanyo nor Hengliss peoples would tolerate it.
The only exceptions were religious devotees, mostly women, who functioned as seers and interpreters of omens. Cottrite’s mother was one of these, and apparently it was she who taught him to read and write. Although he was evidently not a votary (we find mention of his wife, who served as a magistrate at Lek Doe), he seems to have been given dispensation by virtue of the mother’s status. He was regarded as an officially sanctioned “reader,” although he conspicuously avoided service to the faith.
Indeed, it appears that Cottrite was something of a troublemaker. This is indicated by the eagerness shown by Babra Puehkenz, Lek Doe’s eminent seeyo, to pack him off with the Okan hordes. Her offer of his services to Brez Lhored as a “gift” to help expiate the murder of an Okan kubna clearly had a self-serving motive. Sending Cottrite to Okan as a “teacher” effectively exiled him to the edge of the ice sheet.