“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Natael whispered to Mide as the Selidians stood in the central auditorium of the town Hall. “Everyone will be here soon, and then there’s no going back. Are you sure you want to do this?”
Mide straightened her robes, and nodded. Her hair was piled on her head in the intricate braids of the ancient Suktisian fashion, and her face was painted with thick gold paint. “Do I want to do this? No. No, I have never wanted things to be this way. But what I want has little to do with what is. This land will burn, and in all our studies we have found no way to stop it. But our actions today can save many; if we perish, we perish. But I do not think that will be our fate. You’ve listened to my stories of my life as Madak too often. More likely, they will simply not listen. We are a curiousity, and I doubt we will be little more than that. They will come to see our quaint ways, and our painted faces, and marvel at our apocalyptic words, but they will not see the end until it is upon them.”
Natael smiled, as the first of the Kedonese began to file into the room. “And here I thought that I was the cynical one.”
The higher classes of Perzelsis quickly filled the room. There were several hundred men and women present, all attired in rich fabrics and brightly shining metal ornaments. Mide had tried to insist that some of the lower classes be present, but Heildon Maktsi refused adamantly. There were few enough of the nobles who could fit into the audience room, he explained, and when word got out that some of the rabble of the streets had got a space when nobles had been turned away, he would not be able to prevent an uproar. Mide had finally given in, but had sent two of her company to meet with some of the poorer people, to tell them as well.
After a little while, the nobles were all seated, and Heildon Maktsi stepped to the center of the room. “Good people of Perzelsis! Today is a historic day! For millennia, we have heard stories form our mothers and nurses of the fair folk of Suktis, who live alone on the islands at the edge of the world. We have fancied ourselves to be past the need for such bedtime stories, but today we have found that the stories are true. The fair folk have come, and they are here to speak to us. I present to you, Mide of the Selidians.” He bowed, and stepped backward, leaving the floor to Mide.
Jeda Maktsi could not take her eyes off the young woman in front of her. The afternoon sunlight glinted off Mide’s gilded face, and she stood with back arched gracefully, looking out at her audience.
“People of Kedon, you have heard of my people for tens of thousands of years, without seeing or hearing anything from us. We have kept our silence, making our penance for sins that you cannot now understand.
“You will not understand much of what we will tell you in our time with you. You will find us quaint, and think of our ideas as antiquated, even tribal, unevolved. But we will do what we have come to do.”
She paused, and looked out at the audience. Her heart sank as she saw the noble women whispering to each other behind folding metal fans, but she lifted her chin, and continued.
“In one year, perhaps two, your land will be in flames. Three great upheavals are coming upon you, and you are not strong enough to deal with them. One comes from the earth below your feet, another will come from among you, and the final one will come from the sea.
“We wish we could prevent these things, but there is nothing that ccan be done. Your world will die, and you way of life will be gone. There is only one hope for you. You must become yourselves. You must find out who you are, and you must become strong in that knowledge. When you are scattered to the four winds, you will take your world with you in your hearts and minds. “
A rumble of dissenion murmured through the room, as the people shifted in their seats. Mide held up a hand for silence. "I know that this is not what you wish to hear. What did you want us to say? Did you want us to be impressed with your bright machinery that fills the air with a choking haze and fills your streets with an ungodly clamour? Did you want us to become entranced with your factories and mills? We learned the laws of mechanics many years ago, and your ways are not new to us."
Natael stepped forward, and continued the speech, as Mide stepped back into the group. "We are not here to judge you. We want to help; we want to preserve as much of your culture as we can. We have several ways in which the preservation might be accomplished, but we will do nothing without your co-operation. Will you trust us?"
The question hung in the air for a moment, then a gentleman in the back of the crowd began to chuckle. In a few seconds, the entire crowd was laughing. The Lord Mayor looked uncomfortable, and glanced at Mide and Natael, shaking his head slightly.
The crowd began to disperse and soon Heildon Maktsi and the Selidians were left alone in the chamber.
"I told you that this would be the likely outcome," the Lord Mayor said. Mide nodded. "I know. But we had to try. And we will try other ways, as well. But it would have been wrong not to try to tell all your people. Some of my men and women are out among the poor as we speak; I think they will perhaps be more receptive. And your daughter, Lord Mayor, may be able to help, as well as Suka Loedi. We will not give up hope until the very end." Though she could not smile through the thick paint, her eyes sparkled. "If there is one thing that the children of Suktis know, it is that there is always a remnant. Lord Mayor, may we remain here for a little while? We would very much like to say some prayers for your people and lands."
Heildon Maktsi nodded. "Yes, I would appreciate your prayers very much, even if my countrymen do not. I will leave you in peace; you may find me in my office afterwards, and your carriage will be waiting in the usual place." He turned and exited the large stone room. He walked rapidly down the corridor, and shut himself in his office, locking the door behind him. He sat down at the large wooden desk, and rested his head in his hands.
"Natael, why won't you tell me what will happen to Perzelsis? You all go around, talking about the coming destruction, 'destruction from the air, the land, and the sea,' but you won't tell anyone what will actually happen." Kedi spoke angrily to the young man who stood by her side in the garden.
"I wish I could tell you. I wish I could tell the whole city, believe me." The acolyte looked frustrated, and ran his hands through his hair, making it stand on end. "The hell of it is...I do not know what will happen. Or, to be more accurate, I do not know what causes the coming events. I know that there will be fire, and destruction, and that there will be nothing left of Kedon. I know that destruction will come from the air; I have seen the city lying in ruins; and I have seen the docks fortified against something coming from the sea. But I cannot see any of it."
Kedi studied him with her wide blue eyes. "They said you could see the future. Were you lying?"
Natael shook his head, and crossed his arms. "No, it's the truth. But I don't see everything in the future. It's like...It's like backward memory. Think about your life, the important dates. Think about....your last birthday. What do you remember?"
The young woman thought for a moment, and closed her eyes. "I remember....flowers, on my bedside table that morning. I remember that my corset pinched more than usual that morning, and I panicked because I thought I had gained weight during the night. I remember my friends sitting down to dinner, and Suka dropping her salad fork. She couldn't bend over in the corset, and a servant had to get it for her." She smiled, and opened her eyes.
"But those are odd things to remember, aren't they? You didn't mention any of the gifts you received, or even what order the events happened in. That's what my gift is like. I remember things that I haven't seen yet, but I don't see everything. I do not know what will happen to your people. All we know...all I know...is that everything that remains here wil be lost."
Kedi sat down on a metal bench to think. The day was warm and pleasant; she could hear cicadas singing in the trees, and the idea of wide spread destruction seemed impossible.
"I don't know what to think, Natael. Our astronomers watch the skies, our ships are strong and faster than anything on the seas, and it is hard to believe that anything could move the solid earth of our land. I have come to believe in many strange things, but this is more difficult."
"Please, I beg you, do not back out now. Just a few days ago, you were eager to come back to the Selides with us. "
Kedi sighed, then rose and began pacing the green lawn. "Yes, yes, I know. But a few days ago, I understood that you and your people knew what would happen here. Now that I see that even you are uncertain, I have no real reason to leave here." She paused, then raised her eyes to meet his. "However, the daughter of Heildon Maktsi does not go back on her word. I will continue to study and memorize as much of the Kedonese literature as I can, as you have asked. When I see signs that the destruction you promised is coming, then I will board one of the ships. That is what I can promise you."
Natael opened his mouth to protest, but saw that her will was resolved. "It is not what I had hoped, but perhaps it is all that I had any right to expect. Thank you for all that you are able to give." He bowed,. and took his leave.
"I wish I ha dbeen present when our distinguished visitors spoke in the Lord Mayor's hall," a woman's voice echoed slightly in the wide hall of the hotel. Mariok sat at the bar in the lobby, and listened to the conversations without much interest.
The woman continued, talking gaily with her companion while a waiter stood by, notepad in hand to take her order. "Oh dear, I am sorry, I didn't mean to make you wait. We will both have your wonderful fish platters, you know, the ones with the sauteed eels. Yes, and a glass of wine for each of us. Thank you, that will be all. So, Kepika, did you hear what the Selidians said? Oh you must have, it's been all over the streets for days! Apparently, they were not satisfied with making an announcement before the best of society, they even went into the streets and started talking to the destitute!" Her laughed sounded like fingernails on metal,and Mariok gritted his teeth, wishing that her meal would come quickly so that she would stop talking.
"Well, apparently they showed up in the most outlandish outfits, almost barbaric, you know, I don't think I've seen anything like that since the Astaldaki ambassador had that display of traditional dnacing from his country, but they were all dressed in white robes, and the leader of the group had her face painted with gold, so she looked like a statue. I've seen her walking to and from the Lord Mayor's hall once or twice, and she gives me the chills, I declare. So cold, so unfeeling! Anyway, apparently, they stood there, and after all this great uproar surrounding their appearance, what do they do? Proclaim some outrageous destruction, and say that we are all doomed!" Her laugh rang out again, and even the bartender cringed.
Mariok summoned him over, and handed him several large coins. "Please, send a drink to that lady's companion. I am fairly certain that she needs it."
The bartender smiled, and sent the drink with a passing waiter. He began drying some glasses and setting them on a shelf behind the bar. "I am sure the lady will appreciate your kind gesture, sir. And what is your opinion of the 'distinguished guests'?"
Mariok shrugged slightly, and got up from the bar. "I'm afraid that I haven't yet had the honor of meeting one of them. When I do, then I shall make up my mind. I have yet to meet anyone who takes their words seriously, but then, I rarely meet people awake enough to see what is going on around them, so perhaps they are right." He left a generous tip, and headed back out into the street.