K’brin: Chapter 5, Journal 15 – The Luminous Manifestation of Sound and Spirit
- Once we were safely back at the inn, I asked Valenth and then Rogenth to creep closer to Idalia to see if they could still sense human minds. They could. T’grim said that Rogenth reported, “There are many sleepy minds here. But it’s like the whole town is holding its breath, waiting.”
- N’lan reported that Torenth felt vibrations in the ground. I suggested that this might just be the powerful river flowing beneath the town, but Torenth said that the rumblings decreased – almost went away – at night. Perhaps it was a water wheel, then, or trip-hammers powered by the flowing water? After some thought, I asked Gil about this and he said that he would stay behind in Idalia the next day to investigate.
- The next morning, we discovered that the inn had separate bathing chambers for men and women beneath the main level, fed by powerful sprays coming from the fast-flowing river that could be adjusted by rotating special stone blocks with a metal pole.
- Lorekeeper Shindra had already left by the time we had groomed and eaten; we found her at Novandal’s small house, helping him clean up after breakfast. After some discussion with L’nos, we agreed that T’ria, M’din, V’dos, and I would fly to Capella to draw attention while L’nos, N’lan (ostensibly in command), T’grim, ‘Mala, and Zana went with Master Novandal to steal the Silfium plants. I didn’t like splitting my Wing, especially in potentially very hostile territory, but we had no real choice in the matter.
- Capella was a sprawling city near a region of marshes and grasslands below with several busy roads leading up to it. It boasted beautiful, ambitious architecture – with many huge domes, decorative fountains and mosaics. It was humbling to remember that this wasn’t Galatea’s capitol. Capella wasn’t even one of its largest or wealthiest cities.
- Near the center of the city was an almost impossibly large, domed building with huge archways leading inside. Valenth reported that it smelled of dragon inside, so we landed on the heavily-scarred flagstones. A bell rang as we were landing and several people came rushing out – obviously a ground crew. When asked, we clumsily communicated that our dragons didn’t need to be washed, oiled, or given any other special care. I didn’t want the ground crews spending any more time near our dragons than was absolutely necessary, for fear of them noticing their false skiutes, general lack of battle scars, and odd behavior.
- Valenth reported a couple of minutes later that the man who runs this place, who was in his 50’s, could definitely hear dragons. I nearly panicked until I remembered that Daena had told me that some men can, indeed, hear dragons… if they like men. If they perceive like a woman. I ordered Valenth to keep himself and our other dragons quiet until our return, for fear of the overseer realizing just how strange they really are.
- Shindra excitedly insisted that we could use my apparent rank as a visiting dragonman, a noble, to gain access to something she had always wanted to see – the Hypogeum. The Hypogeum’s history had faded into obscurity, but it was at least ten thousand Turns old. It was the oldest musical establishment in all of the Dominions, a place where music literally became magic and could physically change the world. They hold only a single performance a month, and each audience is limited to 100 people – so only the most wealthy and powerful are privileged to attend.
- As we walked through Capella, I estimated its size at about 40,000 citizens – easily four times the size of the largest Hold on Pern.
- I couldn’t help but notice that Galatia was an entirely commerce-based society. Everything cost money; nothing was free. You have to buy food, buy clothes, buy everything. Nothing is just given, just owed, to you.
- I also couldn’t help but notice how much marble, metal, and glass had been used everywhere in construction. Beautiful painted murals and tile mosaics were extremely common on walls and the sides of buildings; it seemed like almost everything was decorated.
- The Hypogeum was a monumental, round marble building with entrances on each side. Its unadorned marble walls were covered in many places by giant painted cloths depicting performances. Given their great size, they could probably be seen from just about anywhere in the city.
- The Hypogeum stood at the top of a relatively round, gentle hill in the middle of Capella. Studying the beautifully painted and decorated buildings surrounding it, I gradually realized that it wasn’t just in the oldest part of town but also the most prestigious.
- Lorekeeper Shindra escorted us inside, where we spoke with a young man behind a ticket counter. He, in turn, summoned his manager – who agreed to give us a tour and allow us to attend a rehearsal. She requested that we keep our visit brief, though, since they had much work to do before tonight’s monthly performance.
- The manager escorted us through huge, arched double doors into the domed center of the building – where a round skylight allowed natural sunlight to shine down on a circular patch of grass surrounded by ancient, worn stone. In the middle was a set of narrow, steep spiral stairs leading down into the hill.
- Unlike the beautifully-veined marble of the Hypogeum’s entrance building, the stairs were a pale, rust-colored stone that had been smoothed but not polished. The cramped stairway was lit regularly by chunks of watery blue Usara stones that had been carefully mortared into cracks and other damaged areas of stone.
- We descended about three Weyr stories into the ground to a large cavern lit by fancy sconces with huge, clear quartz points in them. Shindra said that Usara stones this large, especially clear ones, were extremely expensive. The floor was covered with tasteful burgundy wool rugs with floral patterns and gold borders. Upholstered benches with side tables were positioned strategically around the room. This was obviously a waiting room.
- Several small passages led off from this room, and a strange irregular doorway, slightly larger on top and flanked by heavy stone beams, led to another descending, tight spiral staircase.
- We followed these stairs down to an even lower cavern that I guessed was about 40′ across and 20′ wide, with a gently curved, triple-recessed dome unlike anything I had seen before. A matching doorway, larger on top than bottom and supported by heavy stone beams, stood at the far end of the chamber. The walls of this cavern were carved with deep niches for seating, some at floor level and some reached by following short flights of stairs that were narrow and tall even by Pernese standards. False windows had been cut into the seating areas, which I guessed were air vents from the many conversations I’d had with Gil about architecture. The seating areas were well-lit by Usara stones, while the performance area in the middle of the chamber remained in moody twilight.
- At the manager’s behest, a small quartet consisting of one bass string, one tenor string, one horn, and one drum set up to play in the middle of the room. This number of instruments seemed wholly inadequate to fill this space to me, especially since I guessed that the room would have really bizarre acoustics thanks to its shape and the triple-recessed ceiling.
- The quartet started playing, and was quickly joined by a tenor chorus I couldn’t see – presumably through the other doorway leading out of the chamber. As they played, the sound spread throughout the chamber and was gradually joined by more and more voices until a massive chorus filled the chamber with almost overwhelming resonant sound. It was like nothing I had ever heard before.
- Suddenly, the voices intensified and I felt a jolt, a charge, run through my body. It sounded like an entire orchestra and full chorus of men were performing. Gradually, we drifted into a peculiar dream state, halfway between awake and asleep. Images came unbidden to my mind’s eye, somehow inspired and guided by the music. I saw countless flights of perfect, fierce dragons flying fearlessly into battle against Thread. After the music crescendoed, this incredible vision gradually faded until we were again fully in the waking world. When asked, Shindra and T’ria reported similar experiences but wouldn’t share the details with me.
- Obviously deeply moved, Lorekeeper Shindra spoke with the manager again and convinced her to show us how it was done. She escorted us almost exactly one hundred paces to a trapezoidal room with an oddly-rounded niche at the back. Instead of a full chorus, there were only two men here. With gestures and a good bit of patience on Shindra’s part for serving as translator, they explained that everything sung in this room is amplified tenfold and will repeat for seven to eight seconds in the main chamber. It only works for bass and baritone voices. Somehow, the resonating niche at the back of the room makes one or two male voices echo down the long corridor, emerge out in the main performance hall, spiral up and around it into the dome above, and then rain down as multiple voices from the ceiling.
- The manager said that their engineers have studied the Hypogeum thoroughly, but still don’t fully understand how it works. They don’t even know the structure’s original purpose. They think that it once had many more passages, but they stopped excavating it when they discovered its wondrous musical properties. They didn’t understand exactly how or why it worked, so they feared damaging it. They believe that the complete structure was four or five times larger than it currently is, and had many more small rooms. They also have reason to believe that it was built using heavy stones that only dragons or special equipment could move, and then buried afterwards. Talented Sakarian engineers have come from all over the Dominions to study and re-create it in other cities, but the most they can do is inspire strong emotions – not cause actual waking visions. Both T’ria and I checked for any signs of Talent, but found none.
- Afterwards, Shindra escorted us to an expensive restaurant with a beautiful view of the city for lunch. We spent the next couple of hours in a private dining room, my wingriders enjoying a leisurely meal while I frantically sketched the many incredible things we had already seen that morning – especially the Hypogeum.
- Eventually, Jith (Jenrith) came into close enough range for Valenth to faintly hear her tell us that it was time to go. We joined the rest of Faranth’s Wing on a series of rocky outcroppings about a mile from one of the city’s Silfium fields. As we walked through the light forest to join the rest of the wing, Shindra gasped. She had spotted a giant bear, about 400 pounds and 6′ tall. When asked, she said it was a Capellen bear and explained that they’re now extremely rare because they have no aggression at all. Still, people hunt them for trophies and for their valuable hides. Shindra crept up to it, whispered something in its ear, and reverently – lovingly – stroked its fur. She had told it that she hoped it had a long life and many cubs.
- The rest of Faranth’s Wing had spent the morning harvesting the tall Silfium plants from different parts of the fields, to make the theft much harder to notice. Then they carried the cut plants back under the treeline and bundled them into the uninteresting-looking flour sacks that Novandal had brought exactly for this purpose. We nervously loaded them onto our dragons, our eyes constantly scanning for Galatian patrols – but we saw none. We returned to Idalia without incident.
- Master Alchemist Novandal began rendering the Silfium flowers as soon as we returned to Idalia, mostly to get rid of the evidence of our crime as quickly as possible. All of Faranth’s Wing chipped in. I was a little frustrated that I had to directly order T’ria to stick to Novandal like a burr so that she could see exactly what and how he did everything. I asked ‘Zana to do the same, since she’s also very perceptive and has an amazing memory for details.
- I caught up with Gil at the inn that evening. He said that Idalia makes most of its money using gigantic millstones beneath the town to grind stone into dust. This dust can then be formulated into other stone – concrete, plaster, processed marble, and more. This is why merchants visit here with such large quantities of trade goods, because they’re bargaining for extremely heavy stone products to ship all over the rest of Galatia and sometimes to the other Dominions as well. Gil said that these millstones were an impressive feat of engineering, but nothing that we couldn’t do on Pern. We don’t have such things not because we can’t build them but because we carve, not build, our Holds, Halls, and Weyrs. Plus, Pern’s challenging terrain – and the threat of Threadfall – make long-distance overland trading difficult and risky at best. This is why all but the most ostentatious of structures are made entirely of native stone.
- The next morning, the merchant inn was abruptly and curiously devoid of the bustle of the previous day. In fact, it seemed we were its only guests. When I asked Lorekeeper Shindra about this, she said that Idalia schedules special days every once and while when no merchants are expected in the city. This was one of those special days. When I asked what happens on these days, she said that she would show T’ria and me – but no one else. I placed L’nos in charge of helping Novandal with processing the Silfium flowers, and followed the aged Lorekeeper across town.
- As we walked into Hightown, we were joined by a number of townspeople dressed in nice clothes in more subdued colors than we had previously seen in Galatia. About halfway through Hightown, we turned onto a well-worn dirt path leading up the forested backside of the hill that Idalia had been built upon. T’ria quietly reported a few minutes after we left the town that her Talent had returned. I checked and found that mine had, as well.
- We eventually reached a steep cobblestone staircase leading up the side of the hill. A small stream burbled happily alongside it. At the top was a carefully cultivated oval clearing in the woods, bordered on all sides by flowering shrubs. Chimes had been hung here, too, and tuned to match the local birdsong. At the far side of the clearing was a simple wooden building with wide arched doors standing open.
- A number of simply-dressed people socialized quietly, obviously waiting for something. Lorekeeper Shindra introduced us to Cailora, the Speaker for Alesu. She was a young woman incongruously wearing a very conservative green wool dress and the full cream-colored shawl of a much older woman. She also wore numerous wrist bangles.
- We didn’t speak the same language as Cailora, so the Speaker had us clasp hands and then speak while simultaneously concentrating hard on what we were trying to say. We were able to understand one another through Talent.
- Cailora welcomed us to the Shrine of Idalia, a place no dragonrider had ever visited before. When I asked, she explained that Alesu is the spiritual essence that fills all things, living and not, and binds all things in existence together. This Shrine is a place where the Kinatori (singular: Kinator) come to harmonize themselves with Alesu, with all that is. “All things and places and creatures possess a distinct spiritual essence. Everything that is created, from the weather to craft goods, is an expression of that essence. People with a deeper connection or understanding can influence the world around them, and connect with others.”
- Cailora excused herself temporarily to prepare for her sermon, which Shindra explained was a religious talk or lesson, and everyone began filtering into the building a few minutes later. Inside, I was surprised to see that the small building was actually much larger than I had initially thought because much of it was set into the hillside. Living tree limbs and ivy had worked their way through the walls, making it feel as though we were still in nature. The floor was made of local river stones, further reinforcing this holy place’s connection with nature and the land. It was lit by clear white crystals, and the only furniture consisted of simple benches arranged in a rough circle to face the center of the room. Along the walls were equally simple shelves containing fascinating artifacts: small carvings of animals made out of bone, pieces of decorative pottery, incense burners, small metal bells, crystals cut into flower shapes, and paper scrolls. There was also a tall cabinet shaped like a spire and painted with the constellations of the night sky that contained many striated stone ‘eggs’ with flat bottoms. They were crafted of a familiar-looking granite (Hynavaeth), so I guessed that these were probably Antiquity Stones.
- Eventually Cailora began the sermon, with Shindra quietly translating for T’ria and me as best she could. Cailora explained that the Essence of Alesu is everywhere. You cannot always see, hear, or feel its presence but it is always there. Be steadfast, be just, and do not withhold in time of need, and you will rejoin with the land when you leave this life.
- I was shocked when I realized that many of the Kinatori were modest Talents, and Cailora was gently guiding them in sharing their emotions and surface thoughts. Those with Talent helped those without. Previously, the most Talents I had ever seen at the same time had been at Ista Weyr: Daena, Senesta, Karthen, T’ria, and me. I nearly jumped when I felt someone gently, tentatively, touching my mind. I took a few deep breaths to calm myself, and then intentionally lowered my mental defenses – willingly joining in their communion with Alesu.
- After the sermon, Cailora led a brief group prayer, followed by the public airing of concerns between those in attendance, and finally provided private counselling off to the side for those who needed it. When she was done, she returned to where we stood investigating the artifacts on the shelves. She introduced us to Ferelis, the Speaker’s assistant and a Talent. He was of average height and build, with brown eyes and soft brown hair, and wore an off-blue tunic with embroidery around the neck and sleeves.
- To the Kinatori, Talent is direct proof of their beliefs, the sum of which is called Kameni. Some people are born with a deeper connection to the world, and through discipline and wisdom develop the ability to interact with it. We have proof that the spirit of a person can stretch beyond the flesh, to speak without words or to see and hear distant places. One needs only go another few steps down that path to realize that, even when the flesh is gone, a portion of that spirit remains and becomes a part of everything. The flesh decays to rejoin the earth and, in time, become something else. The spirit is no different.
- The governments of the Dominions outlawed Kameni long ago. This is because Kameni teaches that all people are fundamentally equal and deserving of dignity and respect. The governments don’t agree. They have rigid hierarchies, and no interest in surrendering their power or privilege. Kameni also teaches that our actions have consequences far beyond ourselves and our own concerns. Some of the things that we do will even echo down through history. It was best summarized, “What we build is not only for ourselves, but for the future we’ll never know. We must comfort ourselves knowing that the actions we take will be felt by others, even if they never know who we were – or that we existed at all.” Realizing how this sentiment was echoed in the inscription in the Memorial Room in East Isle Hold, I nearly cried.
- Sensing this, Cailora carefully asked what we made of all this. Nearly overcome by emotion, I haltingly explained that the formal teachings of Kameni had been lost to us but that its beliefs had not. We live collectively, place little value on physical possessions, and always strive to build for the future. For the dragonriders of Pern, this is especially true because we willingly spend our lives, going into deadly combat time and again so that others might live. Cailora’s eyes grew wet when I explained that the first and most important lesson I had to memorize at Harper Hall as a future leader was, “A people grow great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.” She was ecstatic that their beliefs, if not their religion, had not only survived but thrived on Pern.
- Ferelis retrieved one of the Antiquity Stones from the ornate painted cabinet, and said that he would show us how it is for the Kinatori of Varlada. He explained that he was about to share a memory of a Shrine much greater than the Shrine of Idalia, but not as well hidden. He then concentrated on the stone, and I felt like I had when T’ria and I had first experienced the Vision on the Hatching Sands of Fort Weyr. We suddenly found ourselves standing in a Kameni settlement consisting of a large, beautiful nature-inspired temple surrounded by multiple wooden outbuildings. I somehow knew that our perspective was that of a Talent, who was using their ability to hide while recording what was about to happen for posterity. The Kinatori scattered in panic when a patrol of five dragons (one brown, two blues, and two greens) swept over the area and began raining down fiery death. Some Kinatori fought back with crossbows, but accomplished little. Suddenly, a gold dragon flew in and backwinged hard to hover over the Shrine. She bellowed a mighty roar, sending the remaining Kinatori running in terror, and vomited a tremendous torrent of flame over the Shrine – shattering windows, cracking wood, and then tearing the building asunder. The Talent holding the Antiquity Stone suffered horrible agony as the brown dragon caught them in a blast of searing flame, and the last thing that we experienced was them saying that they had stayed and died so that we would know who brought doom to this place: Sovindra of gold Akuneth, from House Lutoras. The excruciating pain, the scorched air, and the awful screams slowly faded away. I returned to the present shaking, with tears streaming freely down my face. Watching a queen dragon breathe down death and destruction was just too much for me. T’ria was also badly shaken, but not as much – probably because she wasn’t Weyr-bred.
- Ferelis apologized, but said that he had to make absolutely certain that we were who we claimed we were. Now they knew for certain. Cailora explained that some of the first dragonmen to make the Crossing had been Kinatori. In fact, their gold rider – Sorka – had been a Speaker for Alesu. They had to flee Varlada because their dragons had shed their skiutes as their riders became less warlike, and eventually the governments of the Dominions figured out this meant they were adherents of an outlawed religion.
- Cailora asked if we would be willing to say a few words for posterity the next morning, and then excused herself. Shindra escorted us back to alchemist Novandal’s small but neat house. He apologized for having suppressed our Talents, but had to keep the people of Idalia hidden until they could confirm the Lorekeeper’s incredible claim. When he asked why I hadn’t tried to break through his mental block, I answered simply and honestly: I had guessed that many or all of the people of Idalia were Talents from Shindra’s comments, and didn’t want to impinge on their privacy or hospitality by pushing through their defenses. The old man stroked his chin thoughtfully, and echoed something Cailora had said not an hour before, “Truly, you aren’t like any dragonrider I have ever seen before.”
- When I asked Novandal how he had so thoroughly blocked our Talents, he took out a silver memorial locket and opened it to reveal a detailed picture of his deceased wife, Innova, painted inside. Behind the metallic sheet was hidden a huge (about 20 carat) brilliant cut Phrenium stone. Since he can’t be separated from Phrenium for long without losing his spirit and dying, he thought it fitting that he place it behind his wife’s image – since he could not bear to be parted from her, either.
- Novandal then asked if we had any Phrenium stones and, when I admitted we did, asked to see them. Each one is a unique work of art. He was shocked to see that our stones were so small, until I explained that no Phrenium deposits have ever been found on Pern. The stones we carried had finally returned home to Varlada after being gone for over twelve hundred Turns.
- Novandal looked thoughtful and then retrieved another large Phrenium stone set into a brooch shaped like an oak leaf. He’s no longer able to wear it because the oak leaf was a popular symbol for Alesu, and the Galatian government had finally realized its significance.
- When I asked why he didn’t just have the huge stone re-set, Novandal explained that Phrenium is not expensive on Varlada. Only a small number of people can make use of it, and those who do run the very real risk of becoming hopelessly addicted to it. When Phrenium is used in war, the Talents who use it are given large enough pieces – and asked to push their Talents hard enough – that they’re almost guaranteed to become addicted. If they survive whatever war they were in, they are expected to pass their Phrenium stone down to the one trained to come after them. They’re allowed to choose their time so they may die with dignity, but they seldom live to see old age.
- Novandal then casually mentioned that I shouldn’t be afraid to use Phrenium, though, because I’m Eldritch. Eldritch are Talents that can’t become addicted to Phrenium, no matter how much they use it to amplify their natural Talent. He was certain of this because of my unnaturally bright hazel eyes. Any Talent that is strong enough to be reflected in the eyes is a strong one indeed. Also, I look like I’m at least half Kirengari. The Kirengari are obsessed with lineages, and are the undisputed masters of breeding Talented bloodlines. Eldritch are the result of mating one of these Talented Kirengari bloodlines with a powerful non-Kirengari Talent. The Kirengari will see me as having polluted blood, but think that my Talent more than compensates for it. I would, however, be barred from high political positions in Kirengar.
- We worked and studied steadily with Novandal through the rest of the day and returned to the inn at curfew. Remembering a promise I had made to Shindra, and reflecting on what we had learned that day, I took out my guitar and played a song for her – “A Father’s Lessons,” the song I had originally written for Garoway. I let my feelings flow freely out through my Talent, and T’ria became tearful almost instantly. Then, one by one, my wingriders stopped what they were doing or emerged from their rooms to listen. Halfway through the song, the innkeeper, his wife, and children came out of their private quarters as well. He was hugging his children close and his wife was crying softly by the time I sang the last verse.
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