Tera had known flown since the day she had left Davir. She did not remember much of the experience at the time, so it was almost as if it were completely knew when the chariot rose and she looked out the hatch window as first the land, then the clouds, swiftly fell below her. Uncle Llew, beside her, did something with the chariot controls -- she had only the faintest notion how any of it worked -- and leaned back.
After a while he said, "This will be the last time for a while that we can really speak alone. The clan is making sure the house is ready, but what that means is that every servant will be a spy in someone else's employ, and most of the building will probably be filled with artificial eyes and ears."
"Are they really that nosy?" asked Tera.
"I am understating it. The City runs on gossip and family politics run on information and I am a natural target for curiosity. For the most part, we will simply have to assume that every conversation is overheard. So anything we need to discuss privately needs to be discussed now."
He fell silent and said nothing else, until Tera asked, "Is there anything we need to discuss privately?"
"Yes," said Uncle Llew, sighing. "I am sorry. It is a difficult topic for me. I have not talked about it with anyone for nearly a thousand years, and the last time, your mother and I had a very serious argument about it. But the story will likely color how others react to us, so you need to know it. I suppose the point at which to begin was that there was a longstanding feud between our family and one of the Wenovar families; it was a minor feud, mostly bickering. But then came Mael Four-Dury, who became the Wenovar representative on the Crew, and, as the Wenovar in those days held the captaincy, he became Captain. He was a charming, persuasive man who carried people before him; he was also ruthless and cruel, and he escalated the feud until your mother and I came home one day and found our parents poisoned.
"Poisoning a Davnan is not an easy task; if we can survive it, we will. To do it requires considerable care and forethought. It was obvious that it was not accidental, and it was obvious to us who had done it. Mael tried to kill us, as well, and the whole thing broke out into a brutal war. Mael had managed the matter quite well; many people did not believe at first, and he was a persuasive and manipulative man. The Embiadwe clan stood with us, because we were clan; the other four clans were against us. They no doubt thought that the Embiadwe would surrender in short order. What actually happened was that we had many more resources than they knew, and our clan brought the other four to their knees. I killed Mael and his accomplices myself. We would have won, but at the last moment a number of the other Embiadwe families struck a deal with the other clans: hostilities would cease, the Embiadwe would receive the captaincy, and in exchange your mother and I would be exiled for a hundred years. Your mother and I could not agree on what we should do in response, so we left and never returned." He sighed again. "In any case, Davnan memories are long, and there is bad blood between me and almost every family in The City, nearly a thousand years of non-reconciliation, and thus we are going to see if some reconciliation is still possible, for your sake. I have something I want to give to you."
He held out a pendant on a chain and she took it; the pendant was a pair of wings, connected by a gem, under which in very fine engraving was the symbol for Metal Sun, her mother's emblem-name. " Your mother wore it when she was a little girl. I found it not long ago; I am not even sure why I have it, but it is fortuitous. It is a cleverly made little thing; if you are wearing it, it will prevent some -- not all, but some -- forms of eavesdropping, and there is little lever here around the gemstone -- " -- he took it from her and showed her, a little bit of metal that curved around the side, and then gave it back -- "and if you pull the lever down while wearing it, it will alert me that you are in trouble. I hope you never have to use it, but we can never tell."
She put it around her neck. Uncle Llew became busy with something about the chariot controls, and Tera went back to looking at the clouds beneath them. Eventually Llew said, "We are above The City and are approaching First Landing; you should see it in a moment when we get below the cloud cover."
What does one imagine when one hears the name, "The City of the Gods"? Tera had always imagine great spires gleaming in the sun, adorning a vast city of alabaster and gold, busy and full of traffic, with flying chariots everywhere. The City of the Gods was nothing like this. There were no spires. There was no alabaster and gold, nor any traffic of chariots. In fact, as far as Tera could see once they dropped below the clouds, there was not even any city in The City of the Gods. All she saw were mountains. To be sure, they were extraordinary mountains, beautifully rugged and forested and (in a few cases in the distance) snow-capped. Seeing them from the air was breathtaking. But there was no city. She looked and looked as Llew wove through the mountains, but it could all have been pristine wilderness for all that she could see.
"First Landing is directly up ahead," Llew said.
It took a moment but gradually she could make out a number of buildings in the valley ahead. They were not great spire-buildings, although a few were perhaps two or three stories tall. They were not densely clustered, being mostly scattered here and there in pell-mell fashion among what she could now begin to see were orchards and gardens and perhaps small farms. The closest to anything like a city was the small cluster of about a dozen buildings that they were approaching.
"Tiny Hamlet of the Gods," said Tera aloud.
Uncle Llew laughed. "You are not thinking on a sufficiently bombastic scale. First Landing is not The City; First Landing, which is this whole valley, is the plaza of The City. The City covers this whole spur of the Great Mountains, running from south of First Landing to a bit beyond North Landing, forty miles to the north. Outside of First Landing, North Landing, and Great Lake Harbor, the whole thing is divided into family estates, which of course are not piled on top of each other. We have to land in the Clearing; chariots are not allowed in The City, except for flying in and out, or on city business."
They touched down, opened the hatch of the chariot, and stepped out. The air was a bit cooler than it had been in Mizur, but was fresh and clear. As Uncle Llew removed their luggage from the chariot and closed and locked it, she looked around at the beauty of the mountains rising around the valley.
"Hallo!" someone shouted. He turned out to be a man, brown-haired and with skin that was a golden tan like Uncle Llew's, perhaps a shade darker. Uncle Llew's face on seeing him set into an expressionless mask.
"Llew!" said the man, as he came closer.
"Amaethon," said Llew in a tone of voice that would have frozen a lake. They clasped hands briefly and kissed each other perfunctorily on both cheeks. Llew stepped back and said, "Tera, this is Amaethon Five-Dury, the Captain; Amaethon, this is my niece, Tera Three-Tery."
She courtseyed in goddess-princess fashion, which he seemed to find charming. He clasped her hands briefly the way he had clasped Llew's, and kissed her quickly on both cheeks. "Welcome! It is good to have a new clanswoman!" He turned back to Llew. "There is a carriage coming to pick up your bags, but in the meatime, the Embiadwe are running the Tavern this half-month, so come and have a pint so we can get reacquainted."
"That would be delightful," said Uncle Llew, the chill in his voice taking on a sarcastic edge that made clear to everyone that he would not find it delightful at all. But they all went to the Tavern, which was a building just north of the Clearing.
to be continued