My mind’s eye hovered hundreds of manheights above ground. The sight below made me dizzy. It was a sprawling mass of stone, wood, water and greenery. Its size however, was not what made my head spin. It was the design of the city itself that defied belief. Concentric circles. The main city was ringed by three moats, divided so by landmasses that cut clean through them. Walls had been built on both the inner and outer sides of these neatly formed circles of earth. The water lapped against the walls themselves, without any semblance of a shore to pass over, and they appeared to house smaller cities of their own.
The inner circle was walled in the same manner. My attention turned to the little blips that dotted the water. Ships, manned by hundreds of men. Some entered the geometrical wonder through an inlet to the southwest, while others followed the same path out, into the sea. I heard the sounds of clinking metal and followed the noise to watch one of the ships make its way through a fort along the outer circle and emerge on the middle moat.
After admiring the snailing vessels in their enclosures, I turned my attention to what lay within the walls.The circles contained houses, parks, forts and who knew what else. I judged that by foot, it would take barely half a day to cross from one end of the city to the other, moats included.
Seylu, I heard my father telepath, snapping me out of sleep, and my vision. I need you here, now.
Yes, on the way, I told him as I pulled my covers off. It was a lovely summer morning and I basked in the sunlight streaming through the windows as I got dressed and left the cottage. I knew father was at the cove from the impression in his telepathic message. He had not felt overly concerned, just insistent. Whatever was happening, he wanted me there for it.
I thought about the meaning of the dream as I rode. I was no stranger to visions. Did this mean that Vega was telling the truth? Vega was long dead, but he had loved telling stories of his travels during my childhood. I had dismissed his tale of Atlantis, however, reasoning that unless some magic that even my ancestors could not wield had been applied, there was surely no way that any people could have shaped geography to their will like that. And nature rarely, if ever, provides such perfect geometry.
Maybe it was just a dream. An imaginative one.
The beach soon came to view. A ship was moored in the sand. Larger than any of our vessels. Long and slim, with rows of oars sticking out of its sides. Several figures stood some distance from it, my father among them.
‘Good morning,’ I greeted the group. My father and some of the townspeople were playing host to several men whom I assumed had landed on our shores in the large ship. The one who looked like the leader was tall and copper skinned with a narrow face and a well trimmed beard. His clothes were finer than those of the others. They were all dressed in sheer materials that did not cover their arms. Their lower garments were merely flaps that flowed to their heels with slits at the sides that showed their upper thighs and calves.
The leader looked up at me and smiled. I returned the gesture and dismounted. I noticed a man who looked like a native of the Serpent Coast standing subserviently to his side. An interpreter, most likely.
‘This is my son, Seylu,’ my father said as I approached the group. The interpreter exchanged words with the visitor and replied. ‘Well met, Seylu. This is Morentar, emissary of the kingdom of Hometz, from across the Marble Sea.’
Morentar and his retinue bowed in my direction. I returned the bow and Morentar went back into conversation with my father and the townspeople.
It appeared that Morentar and his crew had come in hopes of opening up a trade route between the regional power in the Serpent’s Mouth, the name of the cove we were speaking in. Nowhere else along the coast would his people’s ships be able to land, due to the inhospitality of the terrain. That made sense. The Serpent Coast is a winding, jagged series of cliffs, except at its mouth. And we were the regional power.
Men carrying large chests off their ship soon neared us. Morentar made way for them, and the chests were placed on the ground and opened. Precious metals, spices and all manner of riches were showcased. Father was unmoved, but I watched our men and women look more alert all of a sudden.
‘What would we have to offer in return?’ Father asked.
‘Your hunters bring in hides and tusks, and your miners provide sturdy metals for worthy tools. Even your fishermen offer exotic shells and bones that my people would pay well for,’ Morentar said encouragingly.
Father nodded casually. ‘Yes, yes. I suppose you should take a tour of our tribelands. See if we have anything else of value. Maybe we can lengthen the list of wares to trade.’
Morentar nodded delightedly.
‘Come. We will host you and your crew tonight,” my father announced. I watched my townspeople break into smiles of excitement. My father led the way, taking our people and our visitors towards a path that led from the beach to our town. I leisurely followed the big group, keeping several paces behind everyone. Some way into the journey, however, my father allowed a senior couple to engage Morentar, and gradually fell back to where I trailed after everyone.
‘Interesting looking bunch,’ I commented.
‘I’ll bet the place they come from is even more interesting,’ father replied, with a glint in his eye.
‘I know that look…,’ I said, smirking.
‘We’re going to visit that place,’ father announced.
I almost laughed aloud. ‘How?’
I knew that it was not a matter of whether or not we would do it, but how and when.
‘We’ll go on that nice ship of theirs,’ father said simply.
‘And they’ll take us?’
‘If they want our business, they will.’
‘And you think the council will be alright with letting you go,’ I challenged. ‘Their chieftain. Across the vast Marble Sea.’
‘Yes. Their chieftain. And his son and heir,’ father said. ‘Across the perilous Marble Sea.’
I laughed. ‘Should we take Sila with us?’
‘If she wants to go,’ father said, shrugging. ‘She’ll want to prepare for the Summer Festival.’
‘Yeah,’ I agreed. I thought about the feasts and festivities. It was only weeks away, now. ‘If you drag me with you, I’d better be back in time for it.’
When we arrived in town, a committee was immediately organized to show our visitors around and decide upon what we could trade. Twenty skilled men and women from every line held discussions with Morentar and his aides throughout the day.
My cousins Sila and Solun returned from their hunt at three hours past noon.
‘Are these the visitors from across the sea?’ I heard Solun ask from behind me. Solun is about my height. He has an oval face and a rounder forehead than mine. He is also well muscled and much stronger than the average man, like most of the men in our family.
‘Everyone in town is talking about them,’ Sila said. Sila is my father’s sister’s only living daughter. She is a couple of handwidths shorter than me. She has a long, broad, oval face, with large eyes and a cute, blunt nose. My nose, actually.
I nodded as they came up to my sides. The committee had split up. We were now watching a group of three of our townsfolk negotiate prices of fabric with a few of Morentar’s aides. The lack of an interpreter did not seem to hamper the haggling. Prices were adjusted and fixed by nods or shakes of the head at the quantity of material presented.
The three of us watched until we got bored, then decided to prepare the deer Solun and Sila had carried back for the feast.
‘Sila got him right in the forehead,’ Solun said, as I hoisted the carcass over my shoulder. It was a big male. A good amount of meat. The cooks would be pleased.
‘Only because you weren’t in the mood for a chase,’ Sila said smiling, referring to the ancient way of hunting, in which our ancestors would burst out of the bushes and spear game head on.
‘I just wanted to give you some practice with a bow,’ Solun said lazily.
We walked into the kitchens and I placed the carcass upon a wooden table while my cousins fetched carving knives. Chatting amongst ourselves, we skinned the deer and gutted it, then left it to an excited kitchen hand.
At the seventh hour past noon, the feast began. I took a seat beside my father and since my mother was no longer alive, my great aunt Sola sat on his other side. She was my most senior female relative, after the passings of my mother and grandmother.
Morentar and his crew were given a place of honor. A table in the middle of the hall, perpendicular to ours. The hall was filled with prominent members of the town tonight. Every member of the Council of Elders was there. And most of the Wise Women and the shamans. Many of the wealthiest citizens were present. And many members of my family. Not everyone could attend. Most would be feasting in their own halls across the tribelands.
My family, my bloodline, have our origins in the first people to settle in the area. Following us were waves of new folk looking to carve out an existence along the Serpent Coast. Some were fleeing enemies, others were simply looking for a better life. We took many in, and expelled those who proved incompatible with our way of life. The ones we did keep, we led and we shielded.
Our ancestors had possessed strength and magic beyond those of any other people. People of the bloodline are able to communicate with each other without words, without watching for facial expressions. Some of us could move things with our minds, and spellcasting of every nature came naturally to us.
There were currently three hundred living members of the bloodline, all spread throughout Sigrunta, a collection of towns that made up our tribelands. We had spent centuries protecting those we took in, teaching them to farm, work metal, or anything really. We had fought alongside them against raiders from both sea and land. Our fates were bound to this land and to those whom we let in.
My father is Chief of the Sigrunta, a position that has never left our family in all the years the towns have stood. It is not exactly a hereditary position. I mean, it is. But the Council of Elders, who make the laws, has the right to replace the chief if they judge he or she unworthy.
New prospective chiefs are then chosen from amongst the people, and the one who gains the approval of the Wise Women becomes chief. It’s a process that has never been undergone, although I will have no objection if the people decide to try it for the first time at my succession. I have never cared for power or leadership. I intend to do my best when the time comes, but aspiring to power… that’s just not who I am. I would be just as happy living the simple life.
Father gave a speech to the tune of, ‘we’re so happy to have you honoured guests with us, let us look forward to a golden era of cooperation and prosperity… so on and so forth.’ Then the food came in. Platters of meat, potatoes and vegetables. Steaming stews. Warm bread.
After some time, Solun and Sila started to sing. My heart filled with happiness, as it does every time I watch them perform. I especially love watching Sila’s eyes. They light up with such an amazing energy. And Solun’s voice has a soulfulness that soothes me every time. They finished to thunderous applause and bowed politely.