The Pealsong Refounding fantasy trilogy by Michael Warden. Gideon's Dawn, The Waymaker, The Word Within.

Inherited Lands
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CHAPTER 11: THE RAANTHAN PLATEAU

0 comments | Posted: Novel-Entry-The-Word-Within, by Michael D. Warden

Legends hold that the Raanthan first arrived in the Lands with the Pearl in the first Visitation. It is said they served as guides and translators for the people as they slowly learned Dei’lo. This is what the Raanthan themselves believe, even though they have no written history of the time, and no human records survive from that Era to either verify or counter the claim. (1)

As with most legends, it is likely founded on a seed of truth that over time has strayed far from its roots. Nevertheless, I believe there is reason to lend some credence to the Raanthan claims. Raanthan memory is famously long. Among the many mysteries that surround their peculiar race is the one concerning their age. They appear to our eyes neither young nor old. No human we know of has ever seen their children, or even if they have them. We do not know how long-lived they are. Some have said perhaps they keep no written history because they have no need of one. Perhaps they all remember the first coming of the Pearl, because all of them were there. (2)
—The Kyrinthan Journals, Musings, Chapter 14, Verses 66-70

I really should have asked for something thicker. Ajel sighed as he wrapped the sheer material more tightly around his torso in a vain attempt to capture more of his body heat. Donovan watched him idly from across the cell, grinning. (3)

“It’s not really that cold, you know,” the big man observed. “It just sounds that way.” He closed his eyes.
The cell in which they’d been held for the past week was just like all the other structures they had seen since their arrival at the Raanthan encampment. Spindly beams of resinous fiber supporting four walls and a ceiling of translucent cloth. They could see out in every direction as if through a veil. The wind howled with such ferocity at times, like now, to make it seem the whole thing would be swept up any second into the swirls of blowing snow above their heads. Yet, the air within remained still and warmer than it should have been. (4)

Still, it was very far from summer. (5)

“You want to trade?” offered Ajel, nodding to Donovan’s black leather tunic. (6)

He snorted a laugh. “You could have asked for something thicker.” (7)

Not long after their encounter with the Raanthan commander, a handful of Raanthan came into the cell and commanded Donovan to use the Words to heal Ajel’s body. It seemed not so much an act of mercy as a test to see whether the “black eyes” could actually speak the Pearl’s Tongue. Before they would let him speak, however, two Raanthan stood on either side of Donovan and grabbed hold of his arms, threatening to rip them off if he said anything other than the Words needed to heal. Thankfully, he was able to keep his arms, and the mass of deep red and blackened cuts and burns that mottled nearly half of Ajel’s body gently blossomed back to health.
The charred remains of his tunic, however, which had been grossly melted into his burns, now hung from his body in ragged strips. The Raanthan gave him water and bread, apparently aware of the Words’ limitations in that regard, and when he asked if they might have another tunic for him to wear, they gave him this long strip of the thin-spun cloth, which he now wrapped about him in a fruitless attempt to stay warm. (8)

Beyond that one welcome event, they had seen little of the Raanthan, and nothing of the Raanthan commander, whose name they later learned was Katero, despite Donovan’s offer to help with their war effort. A soldier brought water and bread once each day, and changed out the bucket they had provided. The bucket was made from the same resinous material as the beams of the cell. Its fibrous texture and pearlescent color resembled some of the walls in the Stand, and Ajel occupied himself for a time trying to figure out how it was made, until the smell associated with its purpose effectively repelled his curiosity. (9)

Despite the wispy thinness of the walls, they found they could not press their way through them; and the opening through which the Raanthan had come and gone simply ceased to be there when they weren’t nearby. There were no guards that they could see, but they were warned that any utterance of the Pearl’s Tongue would be known and would result in their immediate decimation, the black eyes first, followed by Ajel, of course. (10)

They did have one visit from Amets, in which they learned, or rather confirmed, that these Raanthan were losing a war against a rival faction of their kind, even though they outnumbered their enemy nearly two to one. This civil war had apparently been going on for a very long time. According to Amets, its beginning stretched back to the destruction of the Pearl, but Ajel didn’t really believe that. How could a war continue unabated for over two thousand years right next door to the Inherited Lands without them knowing, and especially with one side so heavily outnumbering the other? Still, it did give credence to Aybel’s stories of the Raanthan menace in the Hinterlands where she grew up, as Amets said most of the “rebellious ones” as he called them, lived in the eastern part of the plateau. (11)

It was not until recently, however, that the war had taken on a fresh ferocity, and the more numerous faction had begun to take heavy loses. Amets claimed that up until about a half century ago, their side had outnumbered the enemy three to one. However, when asked to explain why the war is happening or what it’s actually about, Amets was much more circumspect. (12)

“It is about our great shame,” was all he would say. (13)

“Is your head cold?” Donovan’s question pulled Ajel from his reverie. He hadn’t noticed he’d been rubbing the bald side of his head. The warrior smiled at him mockingly. (14)

“Very funny,” he said, running his other hand through the half of his head that still had hair. “Truth is, I’d rather shave it all off than leave it like this.” (15)

Donovan considered him. “I think it’s a refreshing change.” (16)

“Refreshing?” Ajel repeated, incredulous. (17)

“Startling, then.” (18)

“Startling?!” (19)

Donovan shrugged. “I’m startled by it. Scares the pants off me nearly every morning. I think children will run screaming when they see it.” (20)

Ajel laughed. (21)

Just then, the cloth along one wall parted, and two Raanthan stepped in. “Katero wants to see you.” With that, they gripped each man by the arm and pulled them outside. (22)

The shock of the cold air took Ajel’s breath away. Despite the wind stirring the ground snow, the sky above was a cloudless deep azure blue. The sun floated high to the west like a brilliant, cold medallion, its warmth seemingly unable to reach these snow-blasted fields. (23)

Well, at least he now knew it was afternoon. The cell’s translucent walls diffused the sunlight so he could never tell where it was coming from. (24)

The Raanthan led them someplace new, toward the center of the encampment, near where the great tower stood. Its beautiful but imposing presence was indeed a marvel to Ajel. How could something so high and so narrow stand in this maelstrom of a place? Yet today it stood proud, glistening like white gold in the sun, stabbing into the blue sky like a spear piercing the heavens. On its point high above balanced an impossible white disc, and there upon it, a pinprick of a form walking along its edge. (25)

Before he could see anything more, the Raanthan pulled them into a room much larger than any they had seen so far. The center was filled with a large oddly-shaped table that bore upon its surface what appeared to be a three-dimensional representation of the entire Raanthan Plateau. It was all of one color, white, except for black and emerald green markers strategically placed upon its surface. To one side of the table stood Katero, towering above them all so his free flowing hair danced against the ceiling, and beside him, a Raanthan soldier bleeding so profusely from the head and shoulder that half his body was coated in red. Aybel had told him once that Raanthan bled red as humans do, but even seeing it now, it was difficult to believe. (26)

Around the table stood a few other Raanthan, Amets among them. Their escorts ushered them to the edge of the table, then left. (27)

“Ro’eh, tell the humans what you told us,” said Katero. (28)

The bleeding soldier looked calmly at the two men across the table. “I have uncovered where the enemy is camped. Their great commander is among them. They intend to attack this encampment within a week.” (29)

“Show them where,” said Katero. (30)

The soldier leaned over the table and pointed to a circle of green. “We are here,” he said, then trailed his bloody finger some distance to the east. “They are here, hiding in the ice mountains east of the lava fields.” (31)

Katero fixed his bronze eyes on Donovan. “Our enemy has revealed himself to us, black eyes,” he said. “How would you have us respond?” (32)

Abel watched as Donovan furrowed his brow and considered the map before him. He leaned forward and traced the path that the soldier Ro’eh had identified. He could barely reach it, the table was so large. “How far is this?” he asked. “How many days march?” (33)

“They can reach us within three days at a regular march, faster if they wish. We are not hindered by distance in the same manner you are.” (34)

“How many of them are there?” (35)

“Not as many as are with us here,” replied Katero. “We are a stronger force by half.” (36)

“And these ‘lava fields,” as you named them. Why are they called that?” (37)

“Because that is what they are,” replied Ro’eh. “Rough black rock, covered in snow and ice. There are old lava tunnels running beneath the land there, from a time before we came.” (38)

“It is enough information,” said Katero flatly. “What would you have us do, black eyes?” (39)

Donovan looked up at the towering Raanthan commander. “You know, don’t you? It’s a trap. This warrior here was allowed to escape, so that you would get this information and be drawn out to your doom.” (40)

Faster than Ajel’s eyes could track, Ro’eh flew across the table and with one hand slammed Donovan to the floor. Immediately, Katero’s eyes lit like fire and reaching across, yanked Ro’eh back across the table and set him down where he was before. “Let the human speak,” he said firmly. (41)

Ajel knew better than to help Donovan up. The big man slowly stood to his feet, his face now smeared with the blood of the Raanthan. (42)

“Continue,” said Katero. (43)

“Yirah does not want a siege. It’s costly and time consuming, and may not even work against your kind for all I know. He wants a decisive victory, and you are the one he must defeat to get it. So he has revealed his location and most likely concealed his true numbers in the hope that you and your forces will be drawn out to attack him. Look at these icy mountains. He is in this mountain, isn’t he?” He pointed to the largest mountain in the chain adjacent to the lava fields. He did not wait for a response. “He will know when you are coming, but he will not come out to meet you. He will position himself in this valley, here, on the far side of the lava fields, and draw you to him. Then all of his hidden forces, which are now concealed within the lava tunnels will emerge and crush you from both sides.” (44)

“He is dreaming all this,” hissed Ro’eh. But Katero raised his hand to silence him. (45)

“You have yet to answer the question, black eyes,” said Katero. “How would you have us respond?” (46)

Donovan considered a moment. Then he said, “Let Yirah think his trap has worked. Take your forces outside the walls and march toward the lava fields. But then surprise his forces with an unexpected element.” (47)

“What ‘unexpected element’ would that be?” asked Katero. (48)

“I will gladly tell you,” said Donovan, “and even fight by your side to see it done, if you will agree to also help our cause.” (49)

The great Raanthan’s body flared a harsh bronze, his eyes lit like flame. “I should rip you apart with my bare hands right now,” he said calmly. (50)

“You are free to do that, if you choose,” acknowledged Donovan. “But I am no less committed to my people than you are to yours. Would you really act differently if you were in my place?” (51)

The fire dimmed in his eyes. “What do you want from us?!” he demanded. (52)

Now it was Ajel’s turn. “For now,” said Ajel, “a contingent of your warriors, one thousand strong. Help us retake Wordhaven, and then hold it against any further assault. Second, your word, that at a later date of our choosing, we may call on the strength of your armies to come and fight with us, and you will come.” (53)

“Is that all?!” said Katero, and his voice shook the table. “The arrogance! How brazen and presumptuous you humans are! What you ask is outrageous.” (54)

But Ajel leaned in. “We offer you the chance at victory, against a foe you have never defeated. We offer to fight by your side, to risk our own lives in your cause!” (55)

“Your Words do not work on my kind, Paladin,” Katero sneered. (56)

“Yes. But our Words can crush mountains. Forge lakes of fire under their feet. We can bring life from the very ice and rock. What if you could have dragons fighting by your side? Would that not interest you, commander?” (57)

The Raanthan paused at that, considering. He did not look toward any of the others, but Ajel suspected they were all discussing it in their thoughts. At last, he raised his head and said, “Very well, guardian of Wordhaven. If your plan proves sound, and it results not only in the sure defeat of our enemy, but in the capture or decimation of their commander, then I will send you back to your land with fifty of my best warriors, who will serve you faithfully until the day they fall or you release them.” (58)

“And the other matter?” asked Ajel. “At the day of our choosing, if we send for you, will you come with the full force of your armies and fight for us?” (59)

Katero paused, then said, “If, at that time, it seems good to us to do, and it does not put our efforts here at risk, then yes, we will come.” (60)

Hardly a rousing promise of support, but probably the best Ajel could hope for under the circumstances. “It’s agreed, then,” he said. Katero nodded. (61)

Donovan, however, shook his head in disbelief. (62)

“Well, now that that’s settled,” he said, “let’s discuss the battle plan.” (63)


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Inherited Lands
Gideon's Dawn Waymaker

"...a work of extreme depth and breadth of vision."
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Author

Michael D. Warden has been working professionally as a writer and editor since 1989. After several years as Managing Editor for a large publishing house in Colorado, he stepped into the adventure of writing full time. In addition to his fantasy trilogy The Pearlsong Refounding, he has written several non-fiction books, and contributed to more than 150 other books and magazines.

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