Chapter 59: Travellers' Tales
We left our heroes entertaining an envoy from the Elyssian ambassador, a
nephil named Callais. While some of us chat him up, Robbie, Daphne, and
the Gargoyle go out prospecting. Robbie is just whiling away the time
looking for pretty stones. Daphne is looking for flint to make
arrowheads, and the Gargoyle is along because Daphne is sure that he'd
be good at stone magic if he could just find his groove. They don't find
any grooves, but Robbie finds a kind of nice crystal. He'll have Salimar
color it octarine and leave it with the dwarves at the inn as a tip.
Meanwhile, Markel is showing Callais his dragon and the Marcher ponies, so he'll see what we're capable of for transportation. The Marcher ponies are well and good. The dragon surprises him. He's never seen that breed before. Where's it from. ("Karth," Markel answers, that being his home town.) Never heard of the place. Is Markel going to ride it to the embassy? (Why? Would that offend anyone?) No, but it might have trouble keeping up with Marcher ponies. It would be dubious taste to take a dragon to Elyssia itself. Elyssia and Patala haven't always got on well.
Over lunch, Salimar asks Callais if he travels much. Oh, yes, being a messenger by profession and all. She asks if he ever delivered any messages to the Great Mountain of the Nephilim. He isn't sure he knows where we're talking about. We admit we're not sure either. As we thrash the matter out, Tom conjures an image of Earth, and Callais indicates the Great Mountain is somewhere on the western side of India, in the Hindu-Kush region. There is a thinning of barriers between worlds at the Mountain. (And another such thinning in the same area, leading to the Kaf, to the west of the Great Mountain.) But he's never been there. Nephilim aren't allowed on Earth any more. (Yes, so we hear.)
Tom then asks about the "Places of Penance." Callais tells us that, just as the Kaf is through a portal to the west of the Great Mountain, the Places of Penance are through one to the east of it, for, um... "folk not unrelated to my own, for commencement of an important journey by those who have strayed." Renegade remnant nephilim, in other words, though Callais the Diplomat is much more circumlocutory about it.
Robbie repays Callais with a short re-telling of his own recent trip to the Kaf, minus body and all. Callais is impressed and warns Robbie, belatedly, that the Djinn are dangerous to deal with, being more spirit than "substance."
Robbie asks the envoy where he's been, and learns that he has been on Earth, back when he was very young, and that leaving "wasn't easy." In other words, he's in the same age bracket as Braeta, a veteran of the Flood.
Cautiously putting a few more cards on the table, Tom admits the recent trip to Djinnistan was on behalf of "a lady" (species unstated) who was seeking some missing kin and, when she went looking for them, found this-- (Tom conjures an image of the symbol of the Great Dragons, which Braeta found on the dragrontrooper helmet and dagger, on Destine. Remember Destine?...) Know anything about it?
Callais explains that the nephilim were forces off the Earth in battles against (among others) draconians. Some of the "younger" dragons then wanted to stay on Earth, seeking a Mesozoic Renaissance. During these dragons-&-demigod wars, this symbol was used by some of the more belligerent dragons.
Tom asks what dragons were doing back on Earth? Weren't they supposed to stay off plane, too? Callais angrily replies that he certainly can' answer for them. We make soothing noises, and he makes clear that he's not angry with us.
To cheer him up, Tom regales him with the story of the Patalan Ambassador's embarrassment at the Lanthil Council, misplacing spies and all --whether or not they were exactly his spies, which we never knew for sure. Callais is very interested, professionally as well as socially, especially in the report that one spy was never caught .. so far as we know. Though he rather expects Alvirin's people got it.
Salimar then asks what might be available hereabouts if professional trackers were called for. Callais answers loud and clear: There's the Hunt. And there are rumors that the Huntsman is abroad and expected in Elvencrown soon. This makes it a good time for outlanders to be especially cautious. (We all look at Dafnord, who looks into his ale mug.)
Brunalf steps into the uncomfortable pause and fills it with fan-cat burbles about the Dancing Bear. Yes, Callais has seen him. Has he ever been across the road to the Golden Stag? Only once. We should stay away; with the Hunt active, the Unseelie are riled up.
Next morning, we leave our octarine tip, pack up, and... wait... while the cat goes to pester the bear at breakfast and get an autographed photo. It's a Kodiak moment.
Eventually, we get under weigh. Things do seem to be afoot on the roads. Our carriages have to pass through a troop of fay cavalry. Lots of the steeds are antlered, as are some of the riders, and right of way seems to be a matter of Callais staring them down. Unseelie again... Flying well up, Markel notes riders in the clouds.
We spend the night in a large-scale cottage run by a little-old-lady giantess, perhaps a nephila. The next day, we arrive at the embassy.
We ride down into a glen. At first, there's no building in sight, but soon we spot it, buried in vines. Nephilim come out at take care of our ponies and the dragon. We are shown into a marbled hall, built on giants' scales. The guards are very big, being at least nine feet tall, making the eight-foot Callais look clerkish. He leaves us in a marmoreal sort of parlor, with lots of fruit, wine, and fountains. Music pipes in from somewhere.
Actually, it's coming from a pair of flutes, being played by a faun-like being who is so grey and still, we took him for a statue at first. This naturally puts us in mind of the solid-gray satyr figure we found on the dark side of Lanthil, so we determine to start a conversation with him.
After complimenting his playing, we ask him where he's from. ("Here.") And where are his people from? Ah, that's a more interesting tale:
He tells us about the creation of the fays, as told in "The Races of Earth" -- the blood of Eth falling on and around the tree that sprouted from Eth's staff, as Eth battled a fallen Eretsar. (What is not so generally told is that the demon's blood also fell in the same area. Is this perhaps the origin of the Unseelie?)
Some blood fell on a meadow, which thereafter never failed in fertility. Ages passed, humans came, and then the nephilim ("your noble hosts"). A young nephil goatherd came there while fleeing enemies (Unseelie? Dragons?) and a threefold winter that came on the world at that time, discovered the meadow, and grazed his flock there. The goats produced three kids who were bipedal and, it eventually proved, sapient. A great spirit ("our patron, whose name is never spoken") touched them and gave them the semi-human forms they wear today.
Robbie then asks the piper if he knows anything about this person -- and rezzes up an image of the solid-gray satyr from Lanthil. The faun says "Oh!" is a slightly shocked voice and goes back to his piping.
Callais returns about then, and says Atallais, the ambassador, will see us within the hour. We go to get ready. Preparations include telepathing a message to Nick, to let the Heronians - the other major nephilite embassy -- where we are. We then turn our attention to dressing up. This leads to Robbie discovering that he is not, as he had supposed for the last several days, really dressed at all; he's more upholstered; the cloth is attached to his body. However, he can alter the upholstery at will and experiments with capes and berets and different colors.
Eventually, we feel we are presentable enough to go see the ambassador.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.