Nearby, a number of relatively small, simple buildings made of timber and paper stood around a carefully-manicured garden. The garden spread neatly across six or seven acres, with walking paths deftly cut through it to follow the terrain. It was a huge map of Kirengar, depicting a large inland sea connecting to a much larger ocean. Also, several of the mountains were marked with quartz crystals – probably indicating fortresses.
A small number of men, all bald and wearing similar layered robes, worked and meditated throughout the garden.
Lorekeeper Jianya explained that this was the Garden of Wisdom, and that we had to complete a ritual before we met anyone of great importance. We were told to explore the garden, choose whatever wisdom was most meaningful to us, and bring it back for her to see.
When I asked, Lorekeeper Jianya explained that her people believe that wisdom comes through recognizing one’s own mortality, one’s vulnerability to the world, and the impermanence of all things.
We were greeted as we entered the Garden of Wisdom by a plump elderly man with a kindly expression on his wide, slightly flat face. He was completely bald, with a few gray whiskers on his chin. His brown robes were old and frayed, but the white undershirt beneath was pristine. A silver mirror pendant hung at his chest. When asked, he explained that he was a monk – a type of religious figure – and that his name was Chuachai. He claimed to speak all the languages of the land and instructed that we were only allowed to speak with him. The other monks were sworn to silence until they were confident that they would speak only that which is true, just, and wise.
Chuachai pointed out twelve large stone pillars scattered throughout the serene gardens, each with words carved into a flat spot on it. He offered us parchment and wax sticks to make rubbings of the inscriptions. When asked, Chuachai translated the wisdom of the twelve pillars:
- Friends are like stars. They are always there, but you only see their true brightness at the darkest of times. M’din chose this one.
- To hold the days of your life in your hands for they are known. The days of death are not. T’grim and I both chose this one.
- Knowledge is never free. Something is always paid for the gaining of it. Chuachai smiled as he explained this one and added, “Unlike wisdom.” ‘Mala chose this one.
- A young one’s heart is light enough to carry them off. It means, young people often do foolish things because they don’t know any better. L’nos chose this one.
- The face that can gaze upon the sun has never existed. It means, no one can ignore the laws of nature.
- He whose strength is mightiest was born in the wilderness. It means, strength untempered by wisdom is uncivilized, tyrannical, and unpredictable. B’dir chose this one.
- An idiot and a moron can give clear advice to one another. It means, wise people speak in confusing terms because there are no simple answers to perennial questions. V’dos chose this one.
- An hour may destroy what an age was building. N’lan chose this one.
- At high tide, fish eat ants. At low tide, ants eat fish. It means, the tide always turns; who is on top is always changing.
- Place your gold leaf at the back of the temple. It means, do something charitable or good without seeking attention for it. T’ria chose this one.
- When the water rises, hurry to get home. It means, make hay while the sun shines.
- Every peasant is proud of the pond in his village, because from it he measures the sea. ‘Zana chose this one.
My wingriders were wandering the gardens as I finished my sketches of the gardens when Valenth told me Lorekeeper Jianya was gesticulating wildly at him. When he looked in the direction she indicated, he saw a single cloud drifting toward us. It dawned on me that the stylized symbol of the Bohrun Dynasty was a thundercloud. I hurriedly thanked Chuachai as I ordered my riders to scramble for their dragons. We ran.
We barely got off the ground before a diamond formation of dragons emerged from the cloud, led by a large bronze. They were coming in fast and ‘Mala yelled a moment later that she smelled firestone on the wind. They were ready for a fight.
I had only a split-second to decide, and I knew that my wing’s dragons still couldn’t jump between as they were still suffering from the impossible cold of our journey between worlds the day before. There was no chance that they could escape on their own, so I ordered them to break off.
I channeled my Talent through Novandal’s phrenium brooch and gave the Bohrun riders the inescapable compulsion to chase me. None of the rest of my wing was nearly as desirable. There were no powerful Talents in the enemy Bohrun wing, so every one of them turned to give chase – buying my wing precious time to escape.
One of their green dragons disappeared between, presumably to get reinforcements.
Valenth flew as far and as fast as he could, but he was still sluggish and they eventually caught us. They maintained a diamond formation as they took position above me, forcing me gradually to the ground. All too quickly, I was forced to choose: do we fight and die against overwhelming odds, risk asking Valenth to go between without the mandatory three days of rest, or land and take my chances?
I had just given Valenth the order to land when he suddenly told me to hold on tight. As soon as he felt me get a good hold on his combat harness, he tucked his wings and rolled. We fell through a low-flying cloud in a targeted but terrifyingly uncontrolled blind dive – right between another wing of dragons that had just burst from between. This new wing, which wore orange and black livery in a flame motif, slammed into the unsuspecting and unprepared Bohrun wing with animalistic fury.
Realizing we stood absolutely no chance against two wings of combat-trained dragons, I ordered Valenth to fly as low and fast as he could manage back toward Faranth’s Wing.
We didn’t make it very far before the wing in black and orange caught up with me, and made an obvious opening in their loose ‘V’ formation for me. We caught up with Faranth’s Wing a few minutes later, and crossed another obvious border half an hour after that. We landed in a clearing not far over the border.
The fit warrior in charge of the Kirengari wing had short black hair, sienna skin that had never needed a razor, and a hit of amber in his half-moon eyes. He introduced himself as Commander Garaam of bronze Gongdoth of the Chingfa Dynasty. He said that they had defeated the wing from Nochibo fortress, and explained that we now stood on Zai land. To honor Lorekeeper Jianya, they would escort us to the Zai’s fortress of Modaisa, which means “Crown of Clouds” in their tongue. They would have skilled healers there who could treat the wounded dragons. He hesitated for a moment and added that he hoped that we would one day visit with them and their Queen at their fortress Thusdo, which means “Sleeping Flame”.
When asked, Commander Garaam admitted that their Queen had ordered them to search for me. This is why they were battle-ready when Genji of green Wanth, their spy among the Bohran, had appeared at Thusdo to announced that my wing and I had fallen under attack. When I pressed for more details, Commander Garaam admitted that Genji had somehow sensed the ancient dagger I carry – and known that it was a sign. He refused to elaborate further, politely but firmly insisting that it was not is place to tell me more. For that, I must speak with their Queen.
I noted with interest that, although these men were obviously fit and well-trained, they were all smaller than my Pernese riders – or most of the men we had met in Carindas or Galatia.
We treated our dragons’ injuries as best we could in the field and then flew east for several hours to reach the Zai fortress Modaisa near the top of a giant volcanic mountain. Seven huge stone towers were connected by thick defensive walls protecting several acres of large, ornate buildings – many with curved roofs – and beautiful sprawling gardens. Firelizards perched everywhere; I had never seen so many domesticated ones before, not even at Harper Hall. Each of the seven towers was six Weyr stories tall, and carved with tree and vine motifs. Four huge arches led into what I guessed were dragon weyrs on each floor, so I guessed that Modaisa could house around 170 dragons – more than most of the Weyrs of Pern could currently field.
Studying the terrain, it dawned on me that the stone used for the towers, walls, and buildings wasn’t native to the mountain and probably not even the region. It had all been brought in, dragged or flown up the mountain, in a staggering display of manpower, wealth, or both. Even the many tons of soil for the gardens – which looked purely decorative, serving no practical function – had been shipped in. No Hold had ever put so much effort into building a Weyr. Ever.
We landed in a carefully-marked area for visitors well outside the fortress. A bronze flew out of one of the towers and landed on the wide road leading up to the fortress. He spoke briefly with Commander Garaam and then with me. He introduced himself as Koshin of bronze Bordenth, and said that Chancellor Niran would see to our needs before I met with their Warlord. Before he left, Commander Garaam made a formal request for dragon healers to treat their wounded dragons.
As we walked, we saw that the hollow defensive walls housed large siege weapons that could be rolled out when needed.