by Greg Hindman
Yannir awoke from a blissful sleep to a heavy pounding on his door. For a brief moment he panicked, who could this be, who could get by his honor guard? He calmed quickly; the Hria were a very peaceful people and the Celpalani soldiers were among the best in the world. As the pounding continued, he through on a robe and answered the door. Yannir stepped back in surprise and Admiral Kattor used the opening to come into the room and help himself to a drink.
"Hello, Yannir," he said, settling into a chair.
"Kattor, this is a surprise. What brings you back to Bega?" Yannir asked, sitting opposite him.
"So far our scholars and mages have been unable to pry loose any of Annaeyana's secrets. The Saraa won't talk about it. They know about it, but it seems to be taboo. They seem to have several taboos. Friendly enough, but we're definitely outsiders, unclean or something." He glanced down at his own dirty clothing and grinned. "Not that I disagree. The desert tribes are helpful but scared to death of the city. So right now I'm just driving everyone crazy. Thought maybe I'd do more good on the diplomatic front here."
"You can certainly try. But the situation here mirrors that one. The people in the mountains have no knowledge of Annaeyana or much of anything outside their enclave. They seem to be very isolationist. And the wizards, they pretty much kept us in 'safe' areas. Not that much of the delegation minded, they're too much like Mir for some people's comfort. And not very forthcoming either."
"What did you think about them?"
"The few times I broached the name 'Mir' they proved evasive, but seemed rather smug. I get the feeling they might be a break away group from the collapse of the Mirish empire."
Kattor paused. "A group of wizards, like Mir, but not on the friendliest of terms? This could be a good thing for us."
"A possible ally?"
"A potential one. Our magic isn't what it once was. If Mir were to strike again...."
Both men brooded on that possibility for a time.
* * * * * * * * *
Bar-ri met Rey-a-Man at the dock. "What happened? Your message said it was urgent."
Rey-a-Man's gaze was intense. "Disaster looms for Celpalar. We are threatened."
Bar-ri's eyes narrowed. "How? By whom?"
"That is what we must decide. The time is coming to choose."
"Or worse. Far worse."
"We must inform the Ephors and the Meltoleyn."
"But in the end, we must decide. It is to the kings that the defense of Celpalar is entrusted."
The two men walked in silence to a waiting carriage.
* * * * * * * * *
"Pinnol! Get your head out of that scroll!"
The young scholar looked up from his work. "Kornar! Horan!" The large sailor thumped the much smaller man solidly on the back, nearly knocking from his chair. "You've been avoiding us, my friend," he growled.
"So we came to see you," Kornar added.
"But how did you get in here? The Meltoleyn has us sealed away from the world."
"Connections," replied the merchant, "plus we've just come from a council 'secret mission' ourselves. I suppose they figured no harm in us talking to each other."
"And just where have you two been?"
"A small Midsea isle. One occupied by creatures from the Dreaming."
"Establishing relations. Don't want to expose the public to the knowledge such creatures exist just yet."
"Amazing. What they could tell us."
"Or keep from us," snorted Horan. "Me, I'm a simple man. A might leery of anything what comes from the Dreaming. I suppose the Maker has his purpose in them. Personally I'd prefer dragons. At least you know where you stand with a dragon."
"Usually as lunch," grinned Kornar. "So what wonders are you concealing for the good of all Celpalar, Pinnol?"
The young scholar looked into the distance for a moment, then came back to himself and looked his two comrades in the eye. "A mage's lab."
"And?" said Horan. "Aren't those plentiful here at the University?"
"But this one," Pinnol licked his lips, "is from the old University. And used to belong to Markot, one of the mages who created the Great Barrier against the Mirish sorcerors."
"What?" exclaimed Kornar. "And his books? His artifacts?"
"Intact. But no one can understand any of his writings. Whether it's some code, or language, or magic we don't know. The only thing we can read right now is a map."
"Of Avaerand. And Gezor. With many notations or nations and city states and private isles of orders of knights and mages and such."
"A map worth sailing by?" aked Horan.
"If we can find a reference point. Celpalar isn't on here. And the coordinate system they use is different. That's what I'm working on right now."
"Well I no some of the best cartographers in Celpalar..." said Kornar.
"And I've sailed these seas since I was a boy. And am one of a small group to have sailed the eastern seas..." added Horan.
"Suddenly I'm even happier you two dropped by," smiled Pinnol.