Saturday, November 27, 2021

Abyss & Sea 17


The next day was all preparation, and then the morning after there was a great procession out from the Porphyry Mountain to the Oracle of the Sun, much larger than the procession when Disan had last visited. Disan was somewhere in the middle of the procession. As one of the Two, Disan was second-to-last in the line of the kings (which included the queens of the Sendans and the Khaljans, no distinction being made between anointed kings and queens for the purposes of a Great Council), but not every one of the kingdoms was represented by a king. Tavra was represented by Princess Elea and Ezrym by Prince Adven, both of whom were standing in place of their fathers, and Dalre was represented by the Princess Regent Serica, who was standing in for her grandson, an infant. They followed behind the kings. All of them, kings and princes alike, had entourages, so the procession took some time. It was exhilarating to be part of it all, and there was splendor just in the manifoldness of the people, a brilliant flowering of the human race: golden-eyed Talans, Tavrans of light skin and blue or green eyes, dark-skinned Ezrymans and Shalans, ruddy Therans, red-eyed and violet-eyed albino Khaljans, olive-skinned Andrans and Dalreans, tall Soreans with epicanthic folds, short and stocky Sendans, light-green-skinned Zaidens, Marans with heterochromatic eyes, and endless variations of each.

The kings and princes went into the Oracle of the Sun, where the Orikhalh Tablets gleamed on the walls, and they renewed their vows before the Tablets before Illimitable Heaven and the Powers of the world. They then processed back to the Porphyry Mountain, and gathered in the Hall of the Khalkythra Throne. Normally the Khalkythra Throne itself, fitted together from the glowing bones of the khalkythra, was alone and central, but now there was a great dais of twelve thrones, with the Khalkythra Throne slightly to the left. Each other throne had apparently been made especially for the occasion, because he had never seen them before; each was different and crafted to suggest something of the geography, flora, or fauna for which each kingdom was noted; the Sorean throne, at the end on the rightward side of the Khalkythra Throne, was of course made to suggest the sea with silver and emerald and sapphire and foamy settings of pearl.  The kings and princes gathered before the doors and their entourages on each side in the room, leaving an aisle down the middle. Then the High King nodded toward a group of men who stood together in a corner, and at his signal, they began to chant in sonorous unison:

Ai tarien Antaran a taran Tal!

They continued the chant as he walked up the aisle to the Khalkythra Throne. His entourage poured after him, each bearing bolts of the finest mulberry silk, which they placed before each of the other thrones. When they had done so and returned to their places, Antaran sat, with a small smile on his face. The chanting stopped when he sat, and there was a pause of about three beats, and then they began:

Ai tarien Zalan a taran Andar!

And Zalan, king of Andra, walked up to his throne, followed by his entourage, who placed rods of gold before each throne. When his entourage had re-taken their places, he sat, and the chant stopped, to begin again for the next king. So it went through all the kings of the Ten, and finally they came to the Two, the Soreans and the Khaljans, who came to the Great Realm later than the other kingdoms. The chorus began to chant:

Ai tarien Disan a taran Sor!

And he walked up. He made an impressive figure; his dress, of ceremonial orikhalh armor and silk of iridescent Sorean black, with a crown of gold and silver and pearls, would make anyone seem a king, and Disan, a tall and handsome man,  already looked the part before any such adornment. The Sorean delegation brought their gifts up to the thrones by twos, their gifts consisting of two parts, one a small casket of pearls, which no doubt seemed unimpressive in comparison to some of the splendid gifts that had been given before, and the other being a bulkier package carefully wrapped in canvas. Carefully following Disan's instructions, after the pearls were placed, they unwrapped the canvas packages -- all the time, the chant continuing, Ai tarien Disan a taran Sor! -- to reveal bear skins, complete with carefully preserved heads and claws. There was quite a stir at this. There are no bears in the Great Realm, although it is said there once were, and the animal holds a fascination throughout the kingdoms. Antaran was positively beaming, and there was a stir of murmur throughout the hall, and Disan sat back with a certain amount of satisfaction at having made an impression.

He was, however, completely upstaged by Xyly of Khalja, the last to process up as anointed queen, whose entourage bore shields, each embossed with some symbol of the kingdom to which it belonged, a raven for the Soreans. The shields, however, were of orikhalh itself, and no less than three were laid below each throne, making it a gift whose price would have exceeded all of the other gifts on the dais put together. When Xyly took her place across the dais from Disan and the chant for her ended, Antaran spoke.

"We are not yet complete. Three kingdoms have not yet received their seats. Who comes to speak for Tavra?"

The Princess Elea went up to the dais. "I, Elea, daughter of Canthan of Tavra, come to speak for Tavra. My letters of commission have been given to the High King."

And the High King replied, "Your letters have been received and confirmed. Do any of the seated kings deny Elea, daughter of Canthan, the right to speak in the place of the king?"

None, of course, did, and Antaran continued, "Then take your seat, and know that you speak in the place of Canthan the king, your words as his words."

Then the chorus began to chant:

Ai tarien Canthan a taran Tavar!

And the delegation of Tavra brought their gifts as Elea took her seat. The same process was repeated for Prince Adven and Princess Regent Serica. When all the thrones were filled. Antaran rose.

"Twelve are the kingdoms, and twelve are we, by presence or by voice. Therefore I, Antaran, son of Emberan, son of Ardaran, High King by right line from Atalan my first-father, who first formed the Great Council of Ten Kings, hereby declare and proclaim the opening of the Great Council of the Ten Kings and Two."

Then the chorus began to chant:

Ai tarien atar Antaran a taran Atal!

Antaran, soaking every moment up, let them chant this a few more times, then raised his hand. In the silence that followed, he said, "We will now proceed to the Hearing of the Cases."

Once, long ago, the cases had been real legal disputes debated and decided by the kings; now it was more purely symbolic. They still were genuinely legal disputes, selected for some reason or other, but they had already been decided beforehand and the decisions were merely formally proclaimed. After a long series of such cases, they dissolved for lunch, which was held in one of the Porphyry Mountain's spacious interior gardens. Deep in the heart of the mountain, they nonetheless seemed very much as if they were outside; there was even a gentle breeze blowing through.

The royals were beginning to clump in various groups for conversation. When Disan entered, Antaran broke away from where he was standing with Elea and Serica and came over, grinning broadly. "That was splendid, my friend," he said, clapping a hand on Disan's shoulder, somewhat awkwardly given how much taller the Sorean was. 

"Not as impressive as Xyly's," said Disan.

Antaran dismissed this airily with his hand. "Money is flashy," he said, "but we both know that what matters is the showmanship and style. And it was perfect! Absolutely perfect!"

Disan was a little surprised at the vehemence of the approval. "It seemed a simple enough gift; I mostly chose it because it was something different."

"Oh, it was different, and more than that," said Antaran, rubbing his hands with a kind of glee. "It was a symbol, a reminder, of the vast horizons beyond our shores. Perfect! I wish I had thought of something similar." He looked up at the ceiling -- although, as it was an indoor garden in the style of the Great Realm, the ceiling looked like sky -- and moved his hands a bit as if running through a tally. Then he pointed at Disan. "I am unavoidably busy all the rest of the day. But tomorrow night -- tomorrow night we are going to sit down for a discussion. We have things to talk about." He moved his hands around. "Big things!" he said, quietly but excitedly.

Then the High King ambled back to his conversation with Elea and Serica, and Disan shortly thereafter found himself in a complicated discussion of potential trading projects with the Sendan queen and the Shalan king over a light lunch of mushrooms and marsh heron.