Wednesday, April 7, 2010

An Audience with the King

It turns out I'm not finished with the Lhasinu after all.

An Audience with the King
by Johnny Pez

Carg Jendo Porga, beloved of the Gods, King of the Lhasi and defender of his people, liked to relax in a small dining room a nice long distance away from his throne room. The dining room had a wide window that faced out onto the Blue Courtyard, and while he ate Carg would gaze out upon the twin fountains that gave the courtyard its name. Normally, his staff knew better than to interrupt him while he was eating his lunch there, so he knew something very important was going on when his chamberlain entered the small dining room.

Carg sighed. "What is it, Trel?"

"Sire, the learned Nelda Hartz has come requesting an audience."

And that was important enough to be worth an interrupted lunch. The learned Nelda Hartz was the leader of the sky people, who had occupied a villa here in Lhasinu for over fifty years. The sky people, Carg knew, were literally from the sky, though they disclaimed the title of gods. They insisted they were mortal, just like people in Lhasi and the Tresinuic Empire and everywhere else Carg had heard of. That they grew old and died, Carg knew from reports he and his predecessors had received from the time the sky people had first appeared in Lhasinu.

Nevertheless, the sky people routinely flew their metal ships up into the sky, and back again. They also had weapons that could kill at a great distance, something Carg also knew from reports that went back decades. They didn't use their weapons very often, but when they did, the sky people were unstoppable. The full extent of their powers was unknown, and it had been the policy of the Kings of Lhasi to do nothing that might cause the sky people to reveal just what the full extent of their powers might be.

It hadn't been a difficult policy to follow. The sky people seemed content to remain in their villa, emerging now and then to look at the people of Lhasi, as well as the kingdom's plants and animals, its marshes and forests and rivers, and even its rocks. Nevertheless, maintaining friendly relations with the sky people was one of the paramount duties of the Kings of Lhasi, if not the paramount duty. So, when Carg's chamberlain said that the leader of the sky people wished an audience, Carg was not minded to refuse her, or even delay her request.

"Very well, Trel, show her in."

Trel did so. The learned Nelda Hartz assumed the standard posture of respect, and Carg quickly bade her rise, and invited her to join him at his meal. The learned Nelda Hartz joined him at his place before the window, and looked at him with those peculiar eyes. It required a considerable effort of will for Carg to refrain from staring at her face, especially when small flaps of skin flicked down over her eyes; eye lids, Carg knew they were called.

"You are here to discuss the Sea Lord's new company?" Carg asked.

The learned Nelda Hartz gave an affirmative tilt to her head. Carg knew that among the sky people, it was customary to nod the head rather than tilt it to indicate agreement. "Have you given thought to the results of your policy?" she asked. Her Lhasinuic was not as fluent as that of her herald, Mac Innis, but Carg had no trouble understanding her.

"I have given thought to the immediate result, which is a reduction in the number of restless, landless younger sons that currently afflict my kingdom."

"Sire, I speak of more distant results. Sooner or later, these young men will return from the stars, and I promise you they will bring highly peculiar and disruptive notions."

"Such as what?"

"Such as the world moving around the sun. Such as other worlds moving around the stars, many of them with sky people living on them. Such as the abolition of the monarchy and rule by commoners."

No doubt Hartz felt that her last example would give Carg pause, and she was right. "Is that how it is among the sky people? No Kings? Rule by commoners?"

"It is, Your Majesty."

Carg slowly rocked his head from side to side in negation. "Learned woman, even if that were true, there is nothing to be done. Having made this decision, I cannot unmake it. I have a reputation for keeping my word, and it mostly consists of keeping to the decisions I have made. In any case, you postulate possible future difficulties. The future must take care of itself. My decision stands."

Carg could tell that Hartz wished to argue further, but she did not. Instead, she made an odd gesture with her shoulders. "Very well, Your Majesty. In that case, consider my words to be a warning. When your subjects return from their service under the Sea Lord Ro, they will bear close scrutiny."

"I do not require a warning from you to know that, learned woman. Nevertheless, I do thank you for your counsel, for I see that it is sincerely given. And if you will indulge me, I would like to know what has brought about this turn of events. Why does the Sea Lord seek to recruit my people now? What has changed?"

Hartz was clearly debating with herself on whether to answer. Finally, she gestured with her shoulders again and said, "It can do no harm to tell you. There is war among the sky people, a civil war."

"I did not know your people fought among themselves as we do."

Hartz was looking out at the Blue Courtyard, but Carg could tell that what passed before her eyes was not the vista of the two fountains. "For a long time, we didn't. When we first began to travel among the stars, it seemed that we had given up war. Star travel seemed to take all our effort, leaving none for war. Also, with so many worlds available, what was there to fight about?"

"But it seems that you have found something to fight about."

Hartz tilted her head. "Power. Those with little want more. Those with much wish to keep it. Now, after seventy years, war has returned to the sky people. But we are out of practice, so the Sea Lord's masters have decided to come to your world and let your people fight for them."

As unfamiliar as the sky people were, Carg could still hear the bitterness in Hartz' words. He also heard something else. "Learned woman, am I right to believe that you and the Sea Lord Ro are on opposite sides in this war?"

Now Hartz turned her strange eyes to look at Carg. "You are wise, Sire. So it is. The Sea Lord's people came to your world with much strength, too much for my own world's forces to resist. So they fled, and now we are prisoners of the Sea Lord."

"You seem to have a great deal of freedom for a prisoner, learned woman."

"It is seeming only," said Hartz, turning back to look at the Blue Courtyard. "My people and I have no way to depart from your world, save by the Sea Lord's leave. It is a most effective prison."

"Will the Sea Lord Ro allow you to continue to study my people?"

"I do not know, Sire. The Sea Lord is playing his tiles close to his vest."

Carg burst into laughter to hear the familiar idiom coming from the sky woman. But he quickly grew sober again. "I should warn you, learned woman, that if any of your people seek asylum from me, I must refuse them. I dare not provoke the Sea Lord Ro."

"I understand," said Hartz. "I will tell my people, though I do not think any of them were planninig to seek asylum." The learned woman rose from her seat and again knelt before him. "I thank you again for your courtesy, Your Majesty. With your permission, I must return to my villa. Or, I suppose I mean the Sea Lord's villa."

The learned Nelda Hartz departed, leaving Carg's mind troubled. If she spoke truly, then the decades of quiet coexistence with the sky people were coming to an end -- had already come to an end. Now turmoil was sweeping across the starry sky, and his people were in the thick of it.

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