Koshin split his wing when we entered Modaisa. A couple escorted Commander Garaam and his men to the infirmary, while the rest politely and professionally showing us small underground weyrs for our dragons. They then led us down short tunnels to a small barracks with bunk beds and a communal washroom for my riders.
As soon as the Kirengari riders had left the common area, T’ria asked me why I had risked my life to lead the Bohran wing away from Faranth’s Wing. T’grim, ‘Mala, and a couple other of my riders lingered nearby, obviously wanting to hear my answer. I shrugged, and told her that only I had the Talent to insure that the entire Bohran wing followed me. If anyone else had tried to lead them off, the Bohran wingleader probably would have assigned only one or two dragons to pursuit. Valenth was the fastest dragon we had and the one least affected by Crossing Sickness, so we also had the best chance of getting away. Also, I had thought about calling upon Valenth’s amazing intellect and surprising resolve to let us jump between a day earlier than we should be able to after a Crossing. T’ria visibly blanched at this, but I shrugged – knowing I was performing for an audience – and admitted that it would have been a calculated gamble, a risk. Finally, I had bet that they would be more interested in talking to, or at least capturing or ransoming, a foreign wingleader than in killing them outright. And that bet had paid off.
I sent T’ria to watch the foreign Dragonhealers work on Commander Garaam’s wounded dragons.
Eventually, two guards came to escort me to what I guessed was a single family home in the northern part of the valley consisting of several buildings of stone, timber, and paper around a beautiful formal garden.
I was soon greeted by a tall, athletic man lacking the bulk or weathering of a dragonrider. He was handsome, about my age, and carried himself with the confidence and poise of one long-trained in the art of diplomacy and negotiation. He introduced himself as Chancellor Niran in very passable Gairia, which I couldn’t help but think of as Pernese. Chancellor Niran had long, straight black hair tied into a knot with a ponytail hanging down below it, and his Razor-thin sideburns accentuated his sharp cheekbones. He wore a rich green tunic with a high collar and shoulders, with the heraldry of the Zai – a majestic tree with sprawling branches and roots – intricately embroidered on the back. He wore gold wrist cuffs inlaid with emerald, and a signet ring bearing the Zai heraldry.
Chancellor Niran sat on a stone bench, and gestured for me to join him. Once I was seated, he immediately opened with a very dangerous question: “Who are you, and where are you from?” I thought furiously, pondering what Lorekeeper Jianya might have told him, or what he might have learned through gossip and rumor or even assets in other Dominions. We had been in Kirengar for only two days, after all, and already learned that the Chingfa Dynasty had planted a spy in a Bohran combat wing.
It pained me to do so, but after a few moments I answered levelly, “My name is K’brin of Brown Valenth, wingleader of Faranth’s Wing. We’re from Pern. We crossed a vast ocean of stars to be here.” Chancillor Niran nodded once, decisively, his posture relaxing slightly. He replied, equally coolly, “We had suspected as much. Thank you for confirming it.” When I asked how he knew about us, he shook his head and said that it wasn’t his place to answer. When I asked why the Bohran had attacked us on sight, he again said that it wasn’t his place to answer, but suggested that I ask their Warlord about this when I spoke with them.
When asked, Chancellor Niran gave me a very brief overview of the Kirengari Dynasties:
- Bohran Dynasty
- Heraldry: Black thundercloud
- Fortress: Nochibo, or “Stone Heart”
- Capital: Zusha
- Chingfa Dynasty
- Heraldry: Orange tiger, a giant and very aggressive feline
- Fortress: Thusdo, or “Sleeping Flame”
- Capital: Yunzao
- Fukea Dynasty
- Heraldry: Purple nine-petaled flower
- Fortress: Hauboran, or “Ancient Horn”
- Capital: Chitan
- Shakas Dynasty
- Heraldry: White crane, a water bird with long legs that hunts in streams
- Fortress: Amagen, or “White Peak”
- Capital: Luodai
- Ying Dynasty
- Heraldry: Blue bell
- Fortress: Kumasko, or “Timeless Water”
- Capital: Mirsan
- Zai Dynasty
- Heraldry: Green tree
- Fortress: Modaisa, or “Crown of Clouds”
- Capital: Sukorai
I also asked Chancellor Niran to have one of his people teach one or more of my riders at least a little of their language, to help us be good guests. He smiled broadly at this request, and immediately agreed.
My riders were in generally good spirits when I returned to our common room. T’grim pointed out that there were a lot of non-dragonrider guards here, and they were respectful but not at all afraid to do their jobs.
A couple of hours later, Chancellor Niran arrived with a small army of servants to help us prepare for our audience with their Queen. He coached me on etiquette while I tolerated servants bathing and clothing me in a local silk tunic, baggy trousers, and cloth shoes.
The throne room was a long hall with mezzanines to either side. Circular skylights and warm gold Usara stones carved into the shape of living flame provided lighting. Small groups of people conversed amongst themselves on the mezzanine level, many of them seated on elaborate padded chairs with small, decorative tables between them. Some looked like politicians and bureaucrats, while others had the distinctive build and carriage of dragonriders – but none of them wore uniforms. All fell silent as we entered the hall.
Following Chancellor Niran’s instructions, we stood near the entryway until he announced us and then walked slowly to the center of the room. The floor tiles transitioned from white to gold-toned and then to gold-plated near the dais at the far end of the hall. We stopped right before the gold-plated tiles began, a position Chancellor Niran had explained indicated both trust and respect.
Once we were standing in the proper spot – I couldn’t help but think of it as my mark, from long years of training as a Harper. Shimmering, semi-transparent curtains were pulled back to reveal an ornate throne completely unlike anything I had ever seen before. A single piece of marble had been carved to look like a dragon’s egg, made steady by a dragon’s tail curved around the base. Surrounding it were hundreds upon hundreds of carved stone flowers, light pink near the throne fading to dark pink at the edges. Behind the throne were two curving, raised dragon wings, obviously deeply symbolic of something – but I knew not what. Two banners hung on the wall behind this ostentatious display of power, one bearing the heraldry of Kirengar (a yellow sun in a blue sky hanging over a green mountain) and the other bearing the heraldry of the Zai Dynasty (a green tree).
Chancellor Niran formally introduced the ancient, diminutive woman on the throne as Queen Siriprena of Sharakelth. The Queen’s perfect black hair was held in a bun by a spiral of gold flame, and she wore layered gold robes intricately embroidered in green and red. Gold jewelry with emeralds and rubies adorned her neck and wrists. She tried to appear regal, but age had stolen most of her grace and grandeur. Still, something in the way she held herself and the look in her eyes warned me that her mind remained far more agile than her body.
Queen Siri addressed us in accented Gairian, her contralto voice still clear and resonant despite her advanced age.
“One of my Lorekeepers was given a special antiquity stone while traveling abroad, a Kameni egg. Much has transpired since he returned.
I sent my youngest goldriders to seek you out in Galatia. They traveled to Capella and dreamt echoes of your presence, piecing together what had happened.
From there, they flew to Idalia, but the Galatian goldriders were one step ahead. House Lutoras had flamed the stone until it cracked, erasing all traces of the past.
So we sent our spies. Those among us with the lightest hair and fairest skin, the children of mixed blood. They went to Woodgate and Landarfal, to Cythera and Idalia. They sought out the survivors of the fires. The Idalians were full of hope and anger. We discovered they were the source of the antiquity stone that whispered claims of visitors from another world.
Never does a man lie in a more cunning way than when he tells a truth to someone who doesn’t believe it.
We were not deceived.
I sent my Shian, Yunsoon, to the Great Temple in Tai-zon, where she consulted with the Sung-Shian. The most reverend sent back a scroll. It read – ‘Where there are dragons, there is Shia.’
Satakam allows us to speak. A trade of information is permitted. My Chancellor and Ministers will see that it is to both our benefits. Remain as my guests and there will be great rewards.”
With that, the audience was obviously over and the shimmering curtains closed. Chancellor Niran escorted us to a side room with comfortable chairs and ice water. The Chancellor provided me with a six inch gold disk, a talisman that he said would identify us as friends anywhere in Zai lands. Patrols with a Search rider will know that I carry it, but I may need to show it to others. One side of the disk was carved with a dragon encircling the sun on one side, and the other depicted seven-petaled flowers and tree branches encircling the sun.
When asked, Chancellor Niran gave us more details concerning the events Queen Siri had spoken of.
The Kameni Egg had fascinated them because it strongly suggested that we really had come from another world, one that was very different from their own. Most of the places we had visited had been burned out. The survivors of Woodgate had travelled overland in small, inconspicuous groups to meet with allies in Ruxon, a mining town in the foothills of the Neathis Mountains. Ruxon Spar, a soft stone that changes color in sunlight and is commonly used in jewelry, is mined there. Ruxon Spar is valuable, so the town is relatively affluent.
Mayor Azora was executed for treason, but her two sons survived, along with their wives and children. Thydee and Feth died in one last honorable battle defending Woodgate, buying its people precious time to escape with their lives. Lorekeeper Findmar lives, and became custodian of one of the Kameni Eggs. He plans to contact the most liberal Bronze riders in Carindas and convince them that they can live free of Gold Council’s control.
In Galatea, the Talents of Idalia sensed the coming of House Lutoras and evacuated the city. They escaped through underground tunnels and waterways. Master Alchemist Novandal and Mayor Stildon are the heart of a resistance movement, with the stated goal of instituting a “representative democracy” in Galatia. Cythera and Capella had not faced any retaliation, and there was no sign that the Emperor’s Foxes, his personal enforcers and spies, had visited Cythera at all. Their trail must have gone cold at Idalia, because the Kirengari knew Lorekeeper Shindra was still in close contact with the resistance.
M’din and ‘Zana looked sick at the mention of so many people dying. As soon as Chancellor Niran excused himself, V’dos immediately demanded to know what we were going to do to aid the resistance. T’grim and L’nos both looked alarmed when he said this, probably afraid their idealistic young leader was going to lead them off on some new quest. I immediately replied that I wanted to offer aid, but only once our primary objective had been completed. We had to secure the Fire Pearls and Saiyena Feathers to help our own people first. We would keep learning what we could along the way, and decide our best course of action once these critical materials had been secured. T’grim and L’nos relaxed visibly as they listened to my measured response, and V’dos agreed that this seemed like a reasonable course of action.
Shortly after Chancellor Niran left, I finally thought to use my Talent to check for spies. I found three Talents, all women, eavesdropping on us from nearby rooms. They all left without a fight the moment I erected a mental shield around the room.
I assigned all of my wingriders tasks, mostly studying the Kirengari language and culture or otherwise gathering information, as we talked that afternoon.
Warlord Shujen of bronze Zandath invited Faranth’s Wing, Commander Garaam’s wing, Lorekeeper Jianya, and Shian Yunsoon to dinner that evening. Warlord Shujen was old, but he still had ropy muscles – and the hint of superiority in his eyes, arrogance or absolute confidence, warned me against underestimating him. He wore simple but expensive green robes with bronze trim.
Shian Yunsoon had a cheerful almond-shaped face and dark eyes, and a voice that was obviously musically-trained. She wore firelizard earrings, and her hair was held in a neat bun by half a dozen slender hairpins tipped with small ruby flowers. Curiously, her fingernails were painted a shade of burnt sunset orange. She wore a modest matching dress with an intricate weave, patterns woven into it thread-by thread.
Warlord Shujen had his staff feed our dragons while we ate, believing it important that both be sated.
Shian Yunsoon translated for Warlord Shujen, while Lorekeeper Jianya translated for me. Warlord Shujin refused to discuss business over dinner, so I had the luxury of studying their table manners while quietly asking Lorekeeper Jianya for explanations concerning customs or bits of conversation I didn’t really understand.
Over dinner, we learned that Shujin became Warlord after his predecessor committed suicide after he suffered a stroke.
About halfway through dinner, a trio of musicians joined us to provide soft, simple music. One played the bells while the others played what looked like guitars with tiny bodies, long necks, and large elaborate tuning knobs. I listened intently, carefully committing a handful of their songs to memory for later study.
After dinner, Warlord Shujin finally broached the subject of politics. He said he hoped I would draw up a treaty outlining the information we would like to trade for. I agreed that this was reasonable, and asked what information they might be interested in. He immediately dismissed the question, assuring me that their Ministers of Revenue, Justice, Works, Rites (Traditions), and the Military would work out those details with me.
Commander Garaam hesitated and then approached me as we were leaving dinner with the Warlord late that night. He asked if we would be leaving Modaisa with his wing in three days time. I pondered his question and then nodded. He hesitated again, something I wasn’t accustomed to from the decisive bronze rider, and then said that he would see to it that a wing of Chingfa dragons would go with us to recover the Fire Pearls if we agreed to a treaty with his people. When asked, he explained that Fire Pearls are harvested by the men of Chonlam, a medum-sized city on the Yankong Sea – within Chingfa territory.
I was still pondering this when Commander Garaam clumsily added that he already knew what his Queen, Queen Daiyusendi of gold Yunrongeth, would ask of me. She wants me to teacher her Warlord Kriang of bronze Kingreth, Commander Garaam of bronze Gongdoth, and Commander Hakkun of bronze Uljith to travel through the Dark. I pondered this, and then asked why we would need to teach the Chingfa dragons to jump between when Commander Garaam’s wing had burst from between to attack the Bohran wing earlier that day. Garaam uncomfortably shifted his weight, and then diplomatically explained that all dragons on Varlada are absolutely terrified of the Dark. No one really knows what or where the Dark really is, it’s deadly cold, and you can’t even breathe there. No dragons will go there unless bullied into it. Genji had only risked jumping between because he knew that gold Yunrongeth would kill his green Wenth if he failed in his mission. Dragonriders of Varlada only venture into the Dark when they have absolutely no other choice.
I discussed this with my wingriders when I got back to our quarters. B’dir wanted to know why they wanted to be able to jump between, since they already fight well. Also, how could we keep them from using this new ability against us? T’grim said we’d need to learn to fight if we taught them to jump between, so we would remain on an equal footing. V’dos was unconcerned, firmly believing that our better-trained Pernese dragons would carry the day no matter what. ‘Mala was surprisingly reserved, suggesting that we could always give our Chingfa trainees a bad visualization point if we decide that we didn’t trust them. N’lan didn’t like the fact that we had restarted the Ambion Rebellion in two Dominions, but advised me to seriously consider Commander Garaam’s offer because we suddenly found ourselves in desperate need of allies. B’dir pointed out that we could find Chonlam on our own and take what we need by force, but I pointed out that we couldn’t count on our luck holding out forever. Especially not against Dominions with hundreds upon hundreds of combat-trained dragons. T’ria shocked everyone else into silence when she quietly volunteered herself and Selenath to learn to fight, if need be.
Later, ‘Mala took me aside and told me that I shouldn’t ever try to get Valenth to fight a gold dragon. It goes against his instincts. Leave that to the greens. They won’t have any trouble attacking a queen, especially not at certain times of the year.