Archive for February, 2013

     I must admit that during our first few days at sea, I was a bit perturbed by the thought that the Tainir were regularly using magic around us. Those of my audience of readers who are Kravri will surely understand my apprehension to this notion, but others of the Moy – or even of the Hundred Kingdoms, should this work spread through those foreign lands – may be less certain.

    When Jarutu Nohn Kriiv first united the Great Clans of the Kravri under the rule of the Monarchy, he instituted a set of laws that all of the Seven Clans could agree upon, and these were called the Seven Tables of Law. Ever since the time of Jarutu Nohn Kriiv, the Seven Tables have been the locus of Kravri law, justice, and governance, and one of the fundamental laws has been the Edict Against Magic.

    Legends say that in the ancient days, rogue magicians would terrorize the world and its peoples. The Seven Great Clans each developed their own set of laws establishing the lawful and unlawful use of magic, which generally revolved around involvement in the Priesthoods of the Kritanoi: priests and priestesses – individuals who had been rigorously trained in their art and ethics, individuals who had acquired enormous discipline of mind – were allowed to use the blessings of the Kritanoi that were revealed to their respective orders. But anyone who was not clergy was considered an enemy of the state and was to either be forced into one of the Priesthoods or executed. This general view of the use of magic made its way into the Seven Tables of Law under Jarutu Nohn Kriiv and had been a core part of Kravri law ever since.

    And so, to be surrounded by individuals who were not priests or priestesses but used magic casually and constantly, upset a part of myself on a deep level. But, as the days passed and I saw the Tainir crew using their magics not just casually, but masterfully and responsibly, my apprehensions began to dissipate. Like many in the Moy, I had assumed that in order for magic to be used rightly and properly, it had to be under the auspices of one of the Kritanoi. Otherwise, the use led to narcissism, megalomania, and a callous disregard for other beings.

    The Tainir proved this not to be wholly true.

    Perhaps it is a difference between Men and Tainir? Chejir and Akar both explained to me during the voyage that the Tainir develop and mature as children with the ability to work magic – some are more skilled and capable than others, some are specialists by choice or fate while others seek to become generalists – perhaps it is the pervasive, constant exposure to it that tempers the minds and souls of the Tainir? Perhaps Men are just incapable of using that much power without losing all sense of decency and good judgment in the absence of an external structure to enforce ethical behavior?

    I fear that only the Kritanoi only have an inkling of what the correct answer is to such questions.

    But, I must say that the experience aboard the Dancer of the Winds cemented in my mind to write a letter to the Moynama regarding this particular point of law and theology. There would have to be some reasonable way for the Tainir – and those others not of the Moy who perhaps used magic responsibly, but with less strict regulations – to not fear for their lives when traveling through our lands, simply because they performed an action that was as natural to them as breathing the air is to us.

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     The ambassador’s ship was both familiar and exotic. It looked like most ships in the Harbor of Akhem – after all, I assume that there a limited number of shapes that a vessel can take – but it was stylized in a way that seemed distinctly of the Tainir. The hull of the ship, around the main deck’s railing, was covered in a silver filigree that resembled the tattooing that Ambassador Ka’lahn had covering her skin. The figurehead was of a Tainir figure, arms outstretched before them, as if reaching for the horizon ahead. And the vessel contained only a single mast, its sail not overly large, and no discernible oar-deck.

    Needless to say, when we emerged from our carriages on the pier next to the Tainir vessel, I wondered quietly as to how we would even depart from the dock. But, I kept my misgivings to myself, after all, I was certain that this was not the first time that the crew of this vessel had set sail and likely had an idea of what they were doing. Ambassador Ka’lahn led us aboard the ship while our legionaries and the ships Tainir crew took care of the task of loading our belongings.

    “Welcome to the Jantir Korahm,” she said as we stepped onto the main deck – Rakaj, Tama, and our eldest daughter, Lila, all agape as they watched the Tainir crew bustling about their duties. “In the common tongue of the Moy, it would translate as ‘the Dancer of the Winds’.”

    She introduced us to the captain, Chejir Da’rahn, an Ainur who was taller than me by a head, and whose long, flame-bright hair was shaved and braided similar to Akar’s. Captain Da’rahn smiled and welcomed us aboard her vessel, stating that it was an honor to have a representative of the Moy of my status. Akar showed us the quarters that I, Viro, and the children would be sharing for the duration of the voyage – a room surprisingly larger than I thought it would be, but nothing so ostentatious that I was concerned about the feelings of the crew.

    It did not take long for the Dancer to be made ready for travel and soon Captain Da’rahn was calling for her crew of Ainur sailors to pull in the lines, raise the gang-plank, and push off. Four of the crew grabbed two long poles that had laid upon the main deck next to the ship’s railing and two each lowered a pole into the waters of the Harbor and began pushing the ship slowly backward, away from the dock. I was marveled by this at first as I watched, but was informed later on by Captain Da’rahn, when were well away from the port in the middle of the Harbor of Akhem how it was possible.

    The Tainir were using magic.

    “The poles are simply for show,” Chejir said, her demeanor almost apologetic as she explained. “Since the Moy has strict regulations regarding the use of magic, we must use some…sleight-of-hand, you might say? In the Hundred Kingdoms, magic is used all of the time, it is a natural part of our being as Tainir – we use it the way you Men use speech, for it is something that comes naturally to us from a very early age. But, as we do not wish to incite more hostilities between the Moy and us, we pretend not to be using it where any agents of the Moynama might think that we were undermining the Seven Tables.”

    I nodded softly as one of the Ainur crew called up a powerful wind that filled the Dancer’s sail, but touched nothing else around it, and propelled the ship forward into the Yevij Sea.

     The next few days passed in a blur of conversation, food, and wandering – the first two primarily being with Consul Dar I’igaruu Sharai. Viro and I took the children to visit some of the prominent historical landmarks of Akehm – the Square of Stars, the Harbor, and the Arena of Roses, among others – and I found myself spending long stretches of time simply wandering the city’s streets accompanied only by one of the legionaries who would be part of our escort and honor guard while in Sirr. I was still grappling with the grief and guilt of Cuahuatec in those days and my moods generally found me so restless that the only balm to my aching mind and soul was to exhaust my body with travel.

    One might wonder why I was so distraught over the death of a slave, and a slave that I had only known for a few turnings of the moons, at that. I think that I have been forthright with my own feelings and views on the matter, though, and will not spend any more time going on at length regarding them. Suffice it to say, that I was still wrestling with my own responsibilities and shame over not having done more.

    On the evening of our third night after arriving in Akhem, we were interrupted during our supper with the Consul by Shan’eth, who informed us that the Sirraşi ambassador, Akar Ka’lahn, had arrived. As the Yevijiri woman stepped aside, an individual shorter than myself and draped in a cloak entered the dining room. The figure pulled back the hood of their cloak, revealing long, intricately braided hair that was the brown of loam and chestnuts, shaved to the bare skin on both sides, the skin displaying intricate, scrolling tattoos in black ink that disappeared down her neck underneath the cloak. The ambassador’s ears, like all Tainir, were exceedingly long and tapered to a point; likewise, her eyes were completely black – like two pools of ink that took in the dining room before them.

    I say “her”, though those who are educated regarding the Tainir know that such a common designation of gender is an approximation at best. The beings, who otherwise look so much like Men as to be somewhat unnerving on first encountering them, are hermaphroditic, and the appellation “Tainir” is a common name for the two related races of their people: the Tayin, who appear more masculine to the eyes of Men, and the Ainur, who appear more feminine. Many of their legends and myths state that the Harrimi – a near uncountable pantheon of divinities sprung from the “ground of being”, Ori Nai, and shaped by the demiurge, Ori Hajj, in common Tainir belief – shaped the Tainir races in their own image, seeking to create a mortal creature that was a manifestation of united opposites, of perfection.

    Shan’eth helped the ambassador remove her cloak, revealing a simple dress of light blue with darker, floral patterns, and a shawl about her shoulders of dark, midnight blue adorned with small, sparkling stones on it that made it look like she had the mantle of the star-strewn sky wrapped around her. It was clear to see that the tattoos she had must have covered most of her body, for the scrolling designs were visible on her forearms and her sandalled feet. Consul Sharai made the introductions, being the host, and when he came to me, I bowed ever so slightly at the waist and clasped my hands together – a gesture that I had been taught was the common form of formal greeting among the Sirraşi and several other cultures of the Tainir.

    Akar smiled and returned the gesture. “It is a pleasure and an honor to meet you, finally, Ambassador Kii,” the ambassador said. “Likewise, your beautiful wife and children.” She looked to Dar, with a questioning look. “I hope you do not find me rude, but the journey has been a long one and I would ever so appreciate sitting as soon as is possible.”

    The gregarious Consul smiled and invited us all to relax and resume feasting, calling for more honeyed-wine when Akar replied that she would enjoy a glass.

    “I find the…’adornments’ on your skin fascinating,” Viro said at one point after small conversation regarding our respective journeys had passed. “Are they akin to the art that many Yevijiri women paint upon themselves?”

    Akar smiled softly. “Yes and no,” she said, her voice having an odd lilt to it that was musical and pleasing to the ear, but also seemed a strange mixture of masculine and feminine to which one had to grow accustomed. “Unlike the Yevijiri tradition, the designs are not painted on – and thus making them capable of fading or washing off in a matter of days. These are tattooed into the skin and the patterns indicate different information regarding the person they are on. Several of the patterns of mine display my family history, my accomplishments, my status and position in society, the fact that I am well-traveled and an ambassador for the Kingdom. So on and so forth.”

    “Interesting,” Dar said after he swallowed a mouthful of lamb meat. “I know many men in the legions elect to receive similar tattoos displaying the Naar twined together in a circle around the shield and spears of the Imperial Legion standards.”

    “The…’Naar’?” the ambassador asked, quirking an eyebrow.

    “The four primordial dragons,” I responded. “They shaped the early world and then birthed the Yejimo, the primal giants, from whom the Kritanoi are descended.”

    Akar blinked her black eyes at me and smiled. “Fascinating,” she said laconically, before being drawn into conversation with the Consul regarding some matter of trade between Akhem and Sirr.

    When supper was finished, we were all so full from the food and tired from our days, that we retired to our quarters. Ambassador Ka’lahn even graced the Consul with the honor of housing her for the night, dispatching one of her own Ainur servants return to their ship to let the captain know. In the morning, though, we all – myself, Viro, the children, the legionaries, and Ambassador Ka’lahn’s entourage – bid a fond farewell to the Consul and set out in a small convoy of carriages and cavalry to where our ship awaited us in the Harbor.

     “You see,” Dar said after popping a grape into his mouth, “many years ago there used to be a merchant by the name of Kesh, a Zyvakri man. Now rumors are that in his youth, Kesh was a pirate, sailing up and down the eastern coast of the Yevij taking treasure and slaves where he could. But, as can happen, the life of piracy became too…excitable for him as he grew older, so he took the wealth that he acquired over the years and settled here in Akhem.

    “He dealt in slaves, of course, along with grapes, olives, wine – all of the things that coin could buy and in return bring in even more coin to his coffers. And this all went well for several years, until he received a visit from some old colleagues of his from his days of piracy. This particular visit happened during a party that I was hosting at the villa of one of the city’s councillors – I am well-known for the entertaining evenings that I have a talent for whipping up, if you will. Many seek my services as host in order to reap the reward of claiming to have collaborated with me on an evening of feasting, music, and socializing.

    “But, I digress. As the night wore on it was disrupted by a commotion at the villa’s entrance. It seems that some of Kesh’s old colleagues had tracked him to Akhem and then spent a fortnight in the city following the trail of his movements and dealings until they arrived at the councillor’s villa. They forced their way in, incapacitating three of the councillor’s hired guards, and brought the gathering to a halt as they confronted the old Zyvakri merchant. You see, it seems that Kesh and his colleagues had held their combined wealth together. And when Kesh had decided to retire those several years prior, he had not only taken his own share of the wealth, but theirs, as well. They had spent several years rebuilding their own coffers, all while trying to hunt down the treacherous and disappeared Kesh.

    “Well, as you can imagine, for a host – even one hosting a party outside of his own home – an event like this is an absolute nightmare. Not only had petty thugs and criminals forced their way into a private residence and gathering, but one of the invited attendees was being embarrassed before the gathered social elites of the city. A horrid, horrid situation – which could only be made more horrid by bloodshed.”

    Dar paused to take a sip of his honeyed-wine. “Now, of course, there was no bloodshed. But, not thanks to any efforts on Kesh’s part. No, the man slipped back into his old piratical ways and threatened to brutally murder each and every one of his former colleagues right there in the villa’s atrium in front of the other guests. And it almost came to that – though I sincerely doubt that Kesh would have prevailed, he was older then than I am now and…how should I say it? ‘Overripe’? Yes, I think that is a good description. Anyway, as I was saying: Kesh and his colleagues were a hair’s-breadth away from covering the floor of the councillor’s atrium with their blood…if it had not been for my intervention.

    “Without thinking, I leapt between the two piratical parties and profusely proposed alternate possibilities for this particular exchange to play out,” Dar said, and I estimate that he had uttered that line many, many times in the past. “I was going to be damned if I would be forever known as the man who had held a party that had a prominent merchant and his pirate friends kill one another at. That would be social suicide, I assure you quite well.

     “Naturally, I have quite the silver-tongue – a quality I hear that you possess, as well, Ambassador – and was able to, at the very least, get all the involved ruffians, Kesh included, to relax and take their hands off of the handles of their blades. We adjourned to the councillor’s tablinum while the councillor himself worked hard at getting the party started back up again. In the tablinum I acted as mediator between the two parties and after many hours – so many, in fact, that the gathering had ended and dawn broke over the waters of the Yevij – before Kesh and his former colleagues came to an agreement that that they were both satisfied with.

     “Or, honestly, both parties less than satisfied with, but found acceptable. His colleagues became part-owners of Kesh’s businesses, renaming the ventures after their old pirate vessel: the Sea-Wolf. ‘Sons of the Wolf Trading Company’ they called it…and they agreed to give me discounts on their inventory in perpetuity for brokering the deal.”

    The Consul popped another grape into his mouth and smiled at Viro. “And that, madam, answers your question as to where I got these delicious grapes from.”

     While the Consulate was decorated quite finely – bright Yevijiri rugs, some Zyvakri pottery, and several murals done in stucco depicting scenes from both Kravri and Yevijiri myth – it was by no means opulent or ostentatious. We were greeted by an aide to the Consul, a Yevijiri woman of middle years named Shan’eth, who was dressed in the robes of the Kravri, though her hands, forearms, and face were decorated with the dark brown temporary tattoos common among women of the region surrounding Akhem. Shan’eth informed us that the Consul, Dar I’igaruu Sharai, was at the time out visiting and taking a midday meal with some of the city’s merchants, but would return later in the afternoon.

    “Until then, I and some of the other servants would be more than pleased to get you situated within your rooms here and attend to whatever needs you may have, Ambassador,” the Yevijiri woman said, her brown eyes bright and friendly.

    Slaves owned by the Consulate ferried our belongings in from the carriage to the rooms we would be occupying for the next four days until our ship from Sirr arrived. As they did that, we bid our farewells to Rajai and the other priests of Tule, whose ship was already berthed they told us, and waiting for them to board. I wished the old priest and his companions fair winds and calm seas for their journey, and thanked them once again for relaying my message to Dux Harim Gharan Loati. The old man smiled, his teeth shining like ivory from that dark, graying beard of his, wished us the luck of the Kritanoi and then they were off, their carriage traveling down the dusty, cobbled streets of Akhem to the harbor.

    We were shown to our rooms – elegant but simple affairs that were a welcome respite from the intimately close conditions of the carriage – and I must admit that we collapsed into a deep sleep near instantaneously. I dreamed of Cuahuatec and his dead, blind eyes; as well, I had odd visions of a city covered in ivy and other greenery, and of a smiling feminine figure. We were woken by one of Shan’eth’s assistants, who informed us that the Consul had returned and would be joining us for our evening’s supper. We bathed and clothed ourselves, and were guided through the Consulate’s hallways to a large dining room lit by several candelabras and warmed by a large fire in the hearth, with the city being situated right on the Yevij Sea the air begins to cool quickly in Akhem as Tulaar descends for the evening. We were greeted by a tall, heavy-set man man whose smile and personality exceeded the girth of his waist significantly. Dar I’igaruu Sharai was a joyful, exuberant man whose graying hair belied the energy he obviously felt and displayed. As we dined on goose, cheese, stuffed grape leaves, and honeyed wine, the Consul regaled us with some of his own stories of his many years living in Akhem, or “the City of Qat” and many of the Yevijiri still proudly proclaimed it.

     I traveled back to the inn silently, riding alone in the carriage, while Decurio Atam and his men rode in escort around the vehicle. When we returned, I spoke to Viro privately, explaining what had transpired at the fort. My wife, the blessed soul that she is, comforted me in my despair and grief until I could compose myself.

    I was surprised to find that the priests of Tule had not departed for Akhem, instead waiting to know the outcome of the accusations of murder. “I am sorry to hear that,” Rajai said said, his voice and face solemn. “If you would like, I can use our crystal – our Eye of the Smith – to relay a message to the Dux. It will get to him much more swiftly than by courier or heliograph.”

    I remember smiling and clasping the bearded priest on his upper arm. “I would appreciate that greatly, my friend.”

    Legionaries from the fort delivered the corpse of Cuahuatec not long after we returned to the inn. Atam and I carried him to the traditional catacombs of the Yevijiri and said what funerary prayers we knew, asking Jailii to guide the Gromothim’s soul to whatever land the dead of his people occupied. We stood there in that subterranean tunnel, the dessicated corpses of generations of Yevijiri dead lining the walls around us. The flame of the torch that Decurio Atam held flickering its light across the gray-brown walls. All was deathly silent, and I thought to myself, This is the peace of the dead. This is the gathering of loved ones. A silent hall of corpses beneath the earth. Nothing more.

    With those pessimistic thoughts floating through me, we returned to the surface and bade our farewells to Nev.

    The journey to Akhem was better than it would have been without the priests, but I must admit that despite the conversation and the company, my mind continued to return to and ruminate over Cuahuatec. I would wake at night from visions of the Gromothim hanging from that hope, his blind eyes staring at me with his shade’s accusations. Though Viro, Rajai, Atam, and the others would reassure me, I could not absolve myself of the feelings of guilt, of responsibility. To this day, the guilt weighs upon me, but I thank the Kritanoi that I no longer have those dreams.

    Three days after leaving Nev and Cuahuatec we approached the city walls of Akhem. Rising high – ten times the height of a man – they had stood for three hundred years as a bulwark against invaders and conquerors. In fact, when the legions of the Moy had finally reached the walls of city, it was priests of Krinai who had swam through the harbor and into the city’s sewers, sneaking through the ancient metropolis undetected until the opened the gates for their brothers-in-arms to enter. The Yevijiri had been so surprised by the penetration, that they immediately surrendered, fearing that their patron-god, Qat, had forsaken them.

    We entered through the city’s western gate, dubbed the “Eagle Gate” after Qat’s totemic animal servant in Yevijiri lore. The city of Akhem itself is a sprawling hive of activity and history, the city having been expanded and rebuilt several times throughout its nearly three millennia of existence. On our way to the Imperial Consulate, the seat of the Moy’s chief representative in the city, we passed through the Square of the Stars. So named after a legendary youth who fought off a necromancer that had planned to usurp rule of the city from its priest-king, the square had once been named after the city’s patron-deity. But, according to the legend, which many in the Moy know as “The Raiment of Stars”, the youth discovered an ancient Tainir armor that allowed him to face the necromancer in battle. The battle collapsed the old Temple of Qat – the rubble of which we could see as we passed through the square – though the different variations of the legend offer a multitude of possibilities of what happened to the youth and the legendary armor afterward.

    As our escort and our carriage slowed to a stop in front of the Consulate, I remember looking at the building with a strange mixture of lightness and heaviness to my heart. I had promised Cuahuatec his freedom once we reached Akhem. And though the slave was free after a fashion, he would never see his family, his people in this world ever again. I remember sighing heavily, and taking Viro’s arm as we entered the Consulate together.

Another Flash Fiction entry, folks. This week it’s “Game of Aspects“, where Mr. Wendig supplies three lists of ten possibilities that are randomly picked via a die-roll. I received “Slasher Horror”, “in the home of the gods”, and “puzzle box” as my Subgenre, Setting, and Element, respectively.

So, now I present to you, “The Doom.”

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