Not surprisingly, there was not much discussion while there was work to be done. Hands and eyes were required for digging, not exchanging of signs. Still, once a break was called, I did my utmost to spread some discord based on the information that I had "overheard" from Lady Willow Dack.
"I am greatly concerned," I signed, then paused to knock some dirt off of my hands and to let anyone who cared to converse to look in my direction, "about our judge. Smoke-Veridian and I were assigned to cleaning just outside of her quarters. She was having an emotional exchange with her husband, the ebon Khatta, and she let slip many scandalous things about herself." I paused to dust my hands again.
"Do not bait us then make us wait. What is this gossip of yours?" signed Midnight-White, leaning against a tree rather than sitting on the ground like most of the others.
The others did not prompt me any further, but I had their attention, so I continued, "She is quite the colorful character. It seems she was once a pirate and a slave-owner, and she was thrown out of the city of the People on her own world. It concerns me to think that someone such as this would be judging our moral character?"
"'Was once' is not 'is now'," signed Violet-Copper, and then he folded his hands. When he first came to the monastery, his hands had been very still, but then for a while it seemed he might move his hands almost as quickly as Cobalt-Black. Perhaps he has run out of things to relate, for he has gone back to his previous frugality of signs.
There was a pause, while I thought of a retort, but Hazel-Blue jumped in. "Why was she thrown out?"
"I do not know," I answered truthfully. "But from the context, it was not something she was proud of."
"Then why shout these things loudly where they can be heard? She orders us everywhere we go. Are we to think she had put you just outside her quarters without regard for what you might hear? And if she was not proud of this, why would she bring such things up? It would have made more sense in an argument for her husband to bring them up, then," Midnight-White signed. Seafoam-Turquoise nodded in agreement.
I should have taken the time to get more specifics on the "argument" I had heard. It is easy to be annoying and complain a lot, and to act a role when the very nature of our situation precludes me from having to say anything about "my" past and even if I did, I could make it all up and no one would be the wiser. But I think I should have asked more of the Lady before coming out here. "I must confess," I signed, "that Smoke-Veridian heard more clearly than I did. But he can verify what we heard. Ask him he can tell you more." I quietly resolved to try to get to Smoke-Veridian before any of the others did, and to try to craft a stronger story.
"Why bother?" signed Midnight-White. "Let us all go to our judge and tell her what we 'heard'. She might appreciate learning that she needs a room with thicker walls."
My first impulse was to suggest that this would be a bad idea … but that would be in line with playing the part of a liar who just made all of this up to cause trouble. I doubt that such a quick resolution would reveal much of the character of the candidates to the Lady … but rather just that I am a terrible liar. "You do that," I signed, "but you need not mention me." There. That could be read as cowardice, or that I had made the whole thing up to get them in trouble, or any number of things.
No more was signed of this for the remainder of our break.
I realized that I had very little to work with to make a convincing story, and no opportunity presented itself for me to pull "Vermillion-Pink" aside to flesh it out a bit. I would just have to improvise and inform him of any embellishments before any of the actual candidates got to him to confirm my claims. Rather than just, out of the blue, throwing this latest bit of gossip about, I waited for our break and for some opening to spread discord. With a few little pushes on my part, our conversation eventually worked its way over to discussing the Lady Willow Dack, advisor to the Archon.
"I think our judge makes you especially nervous, Ebony-Yellow," signed Steel-Magenta.
Ebony-Yellow looked up, signing, "Do not be overly concerned for me."
"Haven't you more to sign than that?" queried Royal-Bronze. "But I am not concerned. I know myself and my strengths and weaknesses. If I am chosen to succeed the Archon, I will not disappoint. But if another is chosen, I will continue to faithfully serve in my present station."
"Unless your weaknesses are enough to strip you from that station as well," Cobalt-Black warned. "These tests seem to be bringing out the worst in many of us."
"Surely that is the intent of the judge," I interjected, "but I wonder about how she was deemed to be worthy to judge us."
Emerald-Goldenrod pounded his chest with a fist in exclamation, then signed, "She is worthy because the Archon has deemed her so, and it is the right of the Archon may his years be many, and may the Star increase his wisdom to choose his successor by any means he sees fit."
"Of course," I signed, bowing my head reverently at the mention of the Archon, "but she is from a strange world, not part of the People. He cannot know all things about her. I am concerned, for Vermillion-Pink and I were outside her quarters cleaning, of course, not eavesdropping… ," I really didn't care whether I was thought a spy, but if I were thought a snoop, it wouldn't make the claim any less convincing, "when I heard the judge and her husband in a loud and heated discussion. Many things were said. I believe that the speakers assume that if one cannot make sounds with the tongue, then one cannot hear them with the ear."
"That is nonsense," Emerald-Goldenrod insisted. "She has spoken to us many times."
I shrugged. "But her husband does not speak with us, and in the heat of arguments, logic is forgotten. They spoke of many things no doubt not meant to be heard outside their door, and I would not repeat them, save that I find them troubling."
"What, that she thinks we are all smelly and dirty?" signed Cobalt-Black. "If so, I would be inclined to agree."
"No," I responded, "I learned that she led a life of sin. She has been a pirate and a slave-owner, and she has even been cast out of the city of the People on her " I was broken off by a hand-clap from Ebony-Yellow.
She was standing now, and she pointed one hand at me with a commanding gesture such that it seemed she actually expected she had authority over me. "Sign no more of this. You are a duplicitous trouble-maker," she signed. She surely had no idea just how right she was.
I bowed my head. I had said my part, and hopefully that would be enough. Perhaps Ebony-Yellow's display of anger would serve to brand my claim in the minds of those present all the more, since she usually was so reserved and dare I say even timid. I was actually quite taken aback myself, and I imagined that the real Smoke-Veridian wouldn't show any bravery or boldness.
"Interesting choices of offenses for your tale," Cobalt-Black signed. "I should wonder if piracy and slavery are special problems on the world you come from. Perhaps you are a governor of one of the frontier planetoids?"
Steel-Magenta signed, "Hold, Cobalt-Black. We should not ask of each others' identities or origins, even in jest."
Cobalt-Black signed back, "Technically, we were never given any such instruction, but that still fits the spirit of what we were told. I concede. My apologies, Smoke-Veridian." His signs were very formal and neutral in tone. My nod in response was similarly reserved.
Steel-Magenta turned back to Ebony-Yellow. "Once again, you display agitation on account of our judge. Have you anything to share with us as well?"
Ebony-Yellow just ignored him, as she returned to her earlier resting spot.
"Perhaps it is just that she is not used to being judged so," Royal-Bronze signed. "And thus even more unnerved when we seek to judge our judge. Let us wait until after this contest before we start debating the merits of the test."
"Yes," I agreed in jest, "wait until you see if you've won or not. Whomever wins won't have much cause to complain anymore."
They didn't seem to be in much of a mood to discuss the point further, however, so I decided to let it rest. I figured that even though the conversation had ended, they would still be thinking over this little incident.