Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Abyss & Sea 16


As the vernal equinox grew nearer, preparations for Disan's attendance at the Great Council grew more intensive, and finally the time came to leave.

"What will you be doing as I'm gone?" Disan said. "It would seem a little early to do another Queen's Circuit."

"Oh, you have left me enough to do this time," said Baia. "I will be spending part of the time in Mir Salal to see the improvements on the repair-yards."

"I had forgotten about that. Well, at least you will have an opportunity to see your father."

"Yes," said Baia. "And I am hoping that the trip does good for Asaia."

"Is she ill?"

"I do not know. She went home and when she came back it is almost as if she were a different person. She hardly laughs, hardly smiles, hardly talks. When I ask her what is wrong, she puts it off." Baia sighed. "Of course, we are all under greater stress these days. Perhaps she just needs some time to relax."

"Well," said Disan, "I wish you both luck. And I wish I were not off yet again."

"That does seem to be your lot, always rushing away," she replied. She regretted saying it immediately, because while she had meant it as commiseration rather than criticism, she could tell that it stung. She put her hand on her shoulder and reached up to kiss him. "Do not dally. I will be missing you here."

Disan went through the formalities to transfer his Residence in the Court at Neyat Sor to the Small Court of the flagship of the Sorean delegation to the Great Council. This, being a more formal visit than his previous one, involved nine ships of the highest quality. A little under five days after setting sail from Soromir, the nine ships turned into the Great Canal and followed it up, reaching Talamir, gleaming in the vestment of its seven walls, in a little over four days because the traffic on the Great Canal was somewhat heavier than usual. After docking, they journeyed to the land-gate and the Oracle of the Sun, whose orikhalh dome blazed in the light, and thence to the Porphyry Mountain, rising in splendor, the greatest of all human palaces that have ever been or that ever shall be. Although Disan had been her only a few years before, it overwhelmed the sight, as if it were some new and unforeseen marvel; then it had primarily brought to mind the memories of his childhood, but now it stood as sublime as if it were made by divine hands. The people that built this were our forefathers, thought Disan, and they were a great and glorious people.

The Mountain was extremely busy and a very harried High Porter made arrangements for Disan's men as swiftly as he could. The entourages of twelve rulers made a significant impact even on such a city-sized place; the High Porter apologized for not accommodating the Soreans within the Khalkythra Palace. "We have had to open up several additional palaces within the Mountain. You will be cared for, along with the Sendan delegation in the Dracontine Palace."

"If I recall correctly, that it is northward and downward from the Khalkythra," said Disan.

"You recall correctly, Your Highness. But I will assign a special steward to guide you; we have done some significant restoration and rebuilding of some parts of the Dracontine, so it may not look exactly as you remember it."

The Dracontine Palace, at least as it had been restored, was much more ornate and even gaudy than the Khalkythra Palace, with lush colors painted everywhere and bright tapestries on every wall. Disan felt that they had perhaps given the painters too free a hand, finding some of it garish, but the tapestries were interesting. Many of the popular commonplaces of legend were there, done in finest modern style: Balan and Beran disputing over the Stone of Night, Castalan's defeat of the khalkythra, Ardalan's twenty-third impossible task, Maia of the Pearls outsmarting the dragon. One that Disan particularly liked depicted Emdalan on his flying wooden horse, bringing the gifts of rose and bee, lotus and silkworm. There were others, too, depicting legends Disan did not recognize, of a great navy setting sail and conquering lands. After a few minutes looking at them, he suddenly knew why he did not recognize these legends; they were not legends of the past but promises, a glimpse of Antaran's vision of the future. These legends-to-be fit well with the tales of the great heroes of the realm, but they left Disan somewhat uneasy.

The rooms of Disan and his guards were off a hall with a beautifully ornate fountain of marble depicting a High King, Disan did not know which one, on the Khalkythra Throne; in his upraised hands he held an orb of solid gold, the sun, and in his lap was a silver orb, the moon. His crown was a crown of stars. His robes seemed quite ordinary, although they were beautifully carved, but when they let the lights die down for sleep, they glowed in the dark like luminescent moss.

Disan set himself to sleep, but before he did so, he looked behind all the tapestries in his room to make sure there were no secret passages. Finding only solid walls, he laid himself down and slept.