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|This was written in the midst of a writer's block, so don't expect wonders from it.|
Also, please ignore any typos in here - if you really wish, I'd love you to death if you pointed them out, but I'd prefer comments on content / overall feeling of this chapter.
To keep in line with the rules on translation, the word 'Aspah' is a curse of indiscriminate meaning invented purely for this story.
Of Sanctum and Politics
Without a sound despite their massive bulk, almost onepace thick, the stone doors opened reluctantly before them. Those leading them stood to one side, bowing their heads slightly in invitation through the towering doors, just wide enough to admit one at a time.
For a moment, all four hesitated, then Niell took a step forward. For the brief instant between the doors, he sensed the massive doors bearing in on him above him, but then he was out of the dark night air and into the Assembly chambers.
It was immense. The chamber’s majestic gold and black marble pillars soared upwards, supporting the delicate stained glass windows of the dome far above. Lit magically, coloured shafts of light speared down through the glass roof, splaying a myriad of colours onto the mosaicked floor. Dust motes danced in the beams, each one part of a million, bringing the massive hall to life. In daylight, with the full light of Sanctum blazing through the dome, the Assembly would be stunning.
From his feet snaked the tail of an intricately detailed dragon, eventually joining up with the body in the middle of the circular room. His eyes, drawn by the fantastic detail, followed the dragon’s curving body to the Assembly’s seated members, arranged evenly across six tiers. From this distance, they looked more like dolls than…
“How about giving us some room to enter here, Niell?” Inari waited behind him, catching only glimpses around Niell of the columned chamber.
Guiltily, he moved aside, letting Inari, Dakan and Terraic enter. Terraic didn’t stop, but moved straight across out across the dragon’s tail, beginning the long walk to the gathered Assembly. His footsteps echoed softly against the domed ceiling curving magnificently away nearly a hundredpace into the air. The others soon followed. Whilst he crossed the circular floor, Niell stared lovingly between the columns at the vivid tapestries moving gently in the breeze from the open doors. Their fine weave and vibrant colours entranced him as he walked with the others.
Behind, Niell could hear their guards, their footsteps sounding as one.
Ahead, seated sporadically throughout the tiers of the Assembly were those awaiting them. Something didn’t quite fit as Niell scanned the rows, each decreasing in width as they increased in height. There wasn’t a single male amongst them.
“Where are all the men, Terraic?” Inari had apparently noticed the same thing.
“Hush, Inari. Do not let them hear you question their Assembly.” Terraic pointed to those they approached. “There are no men in power, nor can men vote for their leaders – it was a rule passed by majority vote following their defeat in the Border Feuds. They feel having women rulers will lead to less violence.”
“What?” Inari’s voice bounced loudly off the walls. She glanced around quickly, when she spoke again, it was with a lowered voice. “But it could never work that way. Even a queen rules with her king.”
“And they would say it is impossible to rule justly without being voted for.” Niell saw her eyes widen in surprise, and her opening mouth. “Quiet, now. We can discuss this later. For now, be gracious to the Assembly. We are here only at their good will.”
Terraic stepped forward from their group and bowed to the women.
“What is the meaning of this armed intrusion on our waters?” Sitting on the second to top level, the speaker was the highest ranked of those assembled.
“We come in the good grace of the King of Ishtar, Madam. My name is Terraic, Auger of the Grey Order and emissary of King Thaedon. To my left is his daughter, Princess Inari, on my right, my apprentice, Niell and beside him, our honourable shipmaster, Dakan. We beg forgiveness for our oversight with our weapon. It was inadvertently brought aboard and we held no aggressive intention with it.” He bowed slightly, and she nodded briefly.
“We come at the King’s behest, on matters of national safety. Surely you have heard of the recent magical attacks on our south-western borders.”
“Emissary Terraic, Ishtar’s internal problems are hardly our affair.” Her voice remained level, but cold.
Terraic answered immediately. “And on that we must agree, Madam. However, in the respect of past history and unwilling to repeat those events, King Thaedon believed it wise and timely to inquire as to whether you knew something about these recent attacks.”
“Then you may tell him in all sincerity that we had nothing to do with those attacks. We have no wish to ignite further conflict, as much as it may seem you wish to with your incursion into our waters and obvious use of elemental magic.”
“That would please the King greatly, Madam. However, your point raises another concern with us. King Thaedon returns your request for peace, and as his emissary, I can only assure you we hold the same feelings. What happened at sea was caused by my apprentice here. He is new to the elemental arts, and there are none in Ishtar capable of either using, or teaching, such magics. Thus, in the interest of furthering Ishtar-Syracusean ties, would it be possible for him to receive tutelage from Sanctum’s citizens in the use of the elements? Expenses shall of course be paid for.”
Amongst those seated there was hushed whispers in a language Niell couldn’t understand. Eventually, one spoke out. “That is a difficult request to grant, Auger. We feel it unwise to train a potential weapon against our own people, yet your offer has merit: we will discuss this in private. For now, you will be escorted to your rooms for the night. Instructions will be delivered tomorrow as to what is to happen.”
~ * ~
Inari found it disconcerting not to be woken by the rising sun. Rather than sunlight pouring in through the window, the walls of Sanctum merely brightened, evenly lighting the subterranean world. Dressed, Inari stood at the window to her small room staring out at the multitudes of people moving in their own directions that culminated into the larger picture she saw from above.
There was a strange nagging inside her, something she suspected to be the beginnings of homesickness. That wouldn’t have been strange, except that she’d never really had a home to be homesick about. With constant moves, following her father between summer and winter palaces, ceremonies, events and galas, there was not one place she could confidently point to and proclaim as home.
But now, staring out at the impossibly constructed buildings she felt distinctly lost.
“How do they live like this?” She wondered aloud, attempting to imagine what life must be like in Sanctum.
“They manage well enough.”
Inari spun. “Terraic! I didn’t know you were there.”
He nodded in response. “It’s certainly a different picture than what we’re used to, isn’t it?”
“But how could anyone live like this? They don’t even have a sky!”
“You’d get used to it. If we stay here a while, you’ll find their mixture of magic and machine quite alluring.”
“Never.” Inari was quite decisive. “It’s too different from Ishtar… it’s just wrong.”
“Then if I were you, I wouldn’t go brandying that viewpoint around. Princess or not, they won’t take to kindly to your accusations.”
She nodded. She knew that much already from court life in Ishtar.
They sat together and watched the early morning life of Sanctum: people emerging from buildings stacked barely a fivepace width apart across the cobbled streets, tethered beasts dragging carts and the general buzz of market life.
Disturbed by a knock, Terraic stood to answer. Inari turned around from the window to see the visitor.
Dressed in the blue gown of the Assembly, he handed a sealed letter into Terraic’s hand then curtly turned and began his way down the path.
“Wait, sir.” Terraic’s call halted the man’s steps. As he returned to the door, Terraic broke the seal and unfolded the sheet. Sitting behind him, she couldn’t see his face, but Inari saw Terraic’s shoulders wilt.
“Was there something else, Emissary?” The man tapped his foot, obviously impatient.
Terraic looked up. “So what does this mean? Surely we have port till our vessel is fixed.”
“Till then, yes. Our crews are working on her now, so it won’t be long. Till then, you’re permitted to leave two at a time for food and water, but no more. Have a good morning.” He turned and left, this time unimpeded by Terraic’s voice.
Inari stared; it wasn’t often that Terraic swore.
Terraic moved to the window, staring out after the receding messenger. “I’m going to have to call in a few favours. Tell Dakan and Niell I’ll be back in a few hours.”
“Where are we going?”
“We? It’s just me, Inari. You need to stay here.”
“He said we could leave in pairs. Whatever you’re doing, you’ll need help. What better than me: the princess of Ishtar?”
Terraic just looked at her and muttered another curse.
~ * ~ * ~
“Do they still hate us that much?” Inari’s voice was quiet, intended for Terraic’s ears only. Since leaving their residence, wedged a good climb up the rock face, they’d been nudged, pushed and blocked by those in their path. And while she could, with difficulty, overlook those and the unmistakable slurs as accidental or directed towards others, those who spat in their path made an unmistakable impression upon her.
“Their very way of life was destroyed.” Terraic’s voice was low too. “And their existence almost destroyed when we fought them.”
Inari made a strange noise in her throat. “Well they attacked us. And Ishtar wouldn’t hold a grudge for that many centuries. We’d get on with our lives.”
Terraic didn’t immediately respond, instead he gestured around them, careful to avoid knocking the vendor to his right. “And they did get on. But they still remember. And they no longer trust.” Inari followed his gesture, staring around herself.
From up above, Sanctum had appeared a chaotic ensemble of unnaturally leaning buildings and muted earth colours beneath the oppressing ceiling of rock. It stretched from the entrance, where grand edifices lofted into the air, to its extremities, fading out in the distance where the buildings were decidedly less grand.
But from the ground, it was worse.
Through narrow streets lined with stalls they moved, out of place against the pale-skinned, lithe bodies of the Syracuseans carrying woven baskets slung over their backs. Inari’s claustrophobia increased as she moved, in awe of the sheer number of people who pushed past them. She had trouble following Terraic, so closely packed were the people in the cobbled streets. Then there the buildings themselves. All around her, oak, sandstone and silvery metal combined together in immense sizes to create the houses and buildings that arched over the roads and threatened to dislodge the wares of those carts packed higher than usual. She spun and twisted her body, desperate to avoid hitting those walking towards them.
She glanced upwards, then wished she hadn’t. Vertigo clawed at her, as her vision tunnelled between overlying buildings to the stone roof above. She would have tripped and fallen had it not been for the people pressing in around her. At the limits of her sight, Inari could make out winged creatures plummeting from their nooks carved into the sandstone of the cave-system. Creatures of the same species winged their way through Sanctum, carrying small satchels tied behind their wings. Crossing paths and tumbling through the air, it was impossible to hold any one in view for an extended period of time. Colours and movement blended together. Shouts and shoves mixed with each other. There was too much going on around…
“Durnets,” Terraic said, nodding at one flying overhead, bringing Inari down to reality. “Semi-sentient creatures born of magic. They’re used as messengers, in return for…” He wheezed as one particularly nasty man, angled his cart’s side handle into Terraic’s belly.
Inari twisted, straining to make out the offender, but he’d disappeared amongst the sea of look-alike pale faces and laden carts.
The crowd thinned out once they passed the market, and her dizziness lessened slightly as the crisscrossing bridges and overhead buildings thinned. In their place were conventional stone buildings, conspicuously devoid of magical aid that looked as though they had been neither repaired nor washed since their construction. Lop-sided affairs, Inari could see numerous smashed windows and chipped brickwork.
It wasn’t long before the stench of sewerage, left to rot in the streets away from functional drainage, greeted her nose. Yet another deficient aspect of Sanctum – so much for the democratic Assembly.
“Just where are we going, Terraic?”
“I tried the Assembly – that didn’t work. Now I’m trying my contacts.”
“Here?” Inari gestured at one particular two-story hovel, its decaying façade representative of all those around them.
“What I’m trying isn’t exactly legal, but if it grants us a stay here, it’ll be worth it. And it wouldn’t hurt to put some time between us and Ishtar – they might just think we were killed.”
“Why would you want that? My father won’t want to forget us.”
“Inari, you’re a fugitive now. You’re probably wanted dead as much as Niell or I. Don’t count on a warm reception, or even on your father’s kind welcome. Neither are very likely.”
Tomb for a King
|Forbidden Hearts, Part 1|
Tales From the Real World
|The Song of the Elves (poem)|
|Of Humans and Elves, Part 8|