go your studies of Llyani?”

The younger priest swallowed, started to speak, and tried again. “My Lord, as is known to you, the Empire of Llyan perished some twenty-five thousand years ago — nay, more, if the Livyani scholars are correct. We lack material-I have studied rubbings of the one hundred and fifty-eight stone inscriptions in LIyani, and I have had access to five of the seventeen most authentic books in the language. Yet this is so little. As my Lord knows, the centre of Llyan's empire lay not within our own land of Tsolyanu but rather in the plains between Mu’ugalavya and Livyanu to the southwest. All that we have are the later records of the Three States of the Triangle, some works of the Time of the Dragon Lords…” He trailed off, cursing himself for a babbler, well aware that the Prior knew all that he was telling him. But what did the man want?

Prior Haringgashte pulled himself to his feet and extracted a worn leathern case of map-symbols from the litter of documents on his work table.

From this he took out a small pyramid of blue lapis lazuli. Tiny knobs and loops of gold had been affixed here and there upon its surface, and flecks of other minerals glinted from within. This, Harsan knew, symbolised the Empire of Tsolyanu, and each protuberance, curve, subtle shading, and texture told its tale of cities, roads and distances, populations, products, villages and towns, and other data, readable only by those skilled in High Cartography. Next emerged an oblong of sand-yellow jasper: the desert lands of Milumanaya to the north of Tsolyanu. Beyond this he set out a faceted rhomboid of smooth green serpentine; this stood for the hostile lands of Baron Ald of Yan Kor. Above this a tablet of wavy blue slate was placed to indicate the crag-coasted northern sea, each serration, curve, and change of texture marking a harbour, a cove, an island, a distant settlement-even reefs and tides. Three smaller polyhedrons of carnelian, agate, and red porphyry were arranged to the left of this to represent the little northern states of Pijena, Ghaton, and N'luss. The Prior then brought forth a cloudy wine-red dodecahedron of bloodstone which stood for the sprawling empire of Mu’ugalavya, Tsolyanu’s sometimes hostile western neighbour beyond the Chaka Range. Below this he added a curiously twisted moon-shaped symbol of rippling fire opal: the far-off land of Livyanu. A final plaque of wavy slate to the right of the symbol for Livyanu and beneath that of Tsolyanu signified the southern ocean, the Deeps of Chanayaga. The rest of the symbols he left in the case.

“Can you read these, then, priest Harsan?”

“Only the rudiments, my Lord. I am more comfortable with the maps drawn upon paper by merchants-not with these of the High Cartography. ’ ’

The Prior’s lips sketched a thin smile. “These tell much more. To see, to touch, to feel-so much more than flat lines upon a page. Come, show me where the Empire of Llyan of Tsamra once lay.”

Wondering, Harsan put forth a tentative finger and touched the empty space between the symbols for Mu’ugalavya and Livyanu. “Here, my Lord.”

The Prior reached into the welter of materials on the table, picked up a small casket of dun-red metal, and extracted another map symbol. With the air of a mother setting a morsel of sugary Dmi-root before a child, he laid this in the space marked by Harsan’s finger.

“This was found in a tomb of the Bednalljan Dynasty near our city of Urmish. The casket is Fulat — steel- alas, now one of the rarest metals on Tekumel and one of the most costly therefore. Go ahead, examine it.”

Slowly the younger man stretched forth his hand to caress the faceted crystal. The symbol was translucent, as deeply green as the Chakan forests; it resembled beryl, yet it was softer and somehow warm to the touch. Within it tiny motes of living gold and ruby-red and jet-black swam lazily like little fishes. Harsan’s fingers seemed to travel of themselves from knobbly protuberance to tiny gold boss to miniature intaglio. As he did so, he realised that he was hearing snatches of speech at the very outer limits of his hearing: diminutive pygmy voices talking, lecturing, reciting, shouting, declaiming, singing-all in a language he could not make out and so faint as to seem but the echo of his own blood beating within his temples.

He snatched his hand away.

“It is a thing of the old ones, priest Harsan.” The Prior reached out to take the symbol. “Once when I travelled with our late High Priest, Huketlayu hiTankolel (-may Thumis commend him to the gate-guards of Belkhanu’s paradise! — ) to the Imperial citadel at Avanthar, I saw others of these things in the cabinets of Lord Qoruma, the High Princeps of the Omnipotent Azure Legion. Most of these map symbols are still and cold, like the poor copies made now by our artisans, but he had one or two which glowed like this and seemed to speak as this one does, though no one living knows the magic needed to bring the voices of these ghosts clearly to us.” Prior Haringgashte turned the map symbol over. “Look here, priest Harsan.”

Harsan peered and then suddenly bent closer. The crisply incised characters on the symbol’s base were the convoluted whorls and ornate floral arabesques of the artists of Llyan’s empire, and in the midst of these were the squarish, squat characters of the LIyani syllabary. In an awed voice he read:

“The Ever-Glorious and Most Puissant-three characters I do not know-Empire of Llyan, God — King, Ruler of Tsamra, and- another glyph I cannot read-Master of-hmm-and Holder of the Power of-” he paused and finished on a questioning note, “-the Man of Gold?”

As he looked up his eyes met the hard gaze of the Prior. For a moment the silence held. Then the older man blinked, took the map symbol from Harsan’s hand, and said, “There is more, priest Harsan. -Tell me, is your analysis of the structure of the LIyani language complete?”

Harsan wrenched his attention away from the green-glowing map symbol. “My Lord, it was accepted as my Labour of Reverence. I mean, Lord Thumis deemed it worthy-there are only details… Even now Chushel the Glassmaker blows the final matrices for the elaboration of the syntax…”

“Come, I will look upon it.” Haringgashte rose and slipped knobbly feet into worn sandals of woven reed.

Chapter Three

Prior Haringgashte led the way through the night-shadowed halls of the sleeping monastery to the north wing where the Scholar Priests had their quarters. Beyond this in what was called the New Annex, built half a millennium ago, was the Hall of Mighty Tongues. This was unique to the Monastery of the Sapient Eye, a showplace that even the Temple of Eternal Knowing in Bey Su, the capital, lacked. Many learned pilgrims made the detour from the north-south Sakbe road to trudge up into the foothills and gaze up the marvels wrought by Thumis’ priests. Here, in keeping with the Tsolyani love of depicting everything visually, the Scholar Priests had striven to reduce the complex patterns of language itself to visible, tangible models, comprehensible to those who had mastered the symbolism.

A single torch guttered in its bracket just within the door of the long L-shaped gallery. Inside in the place of honour stood Vringayekmu’s rendition of the phonology and syntax of Mu’ugalavya, the tongue of Tsolyanu’s mighty rival to the west. Twisting spirals of smoky red glass rose from a foliated plinth of black onyx; these were the features that made up Mu’ugalavyani’s twelve vowels. Farther up, these joined, separated, and joined again with convolutions of emerald, ochre, and violet, representing the consonants and the syllabic patterns of the language. Above this, skeins of other colours of glass, crystal, and precious metals danced in the torchlight; the complexities of the noun system and the Mu'ugalavyani verb. Then, like the boughs of some great petrified crystalline tree, these networks entwined, reached out, met, parted, rose and fell together, branched away, and interlocked far overhead to form the intricate patterns of the syntactic structure. Harsan had learned to read it all, could drink it in through every pore, could almost sense spiritually the final mingling of all of these many strands to form at the very apex of the model the first couplet of the Third Ode of Bi'isumish, the Blind Poet of Ssa'atis:

“Wherefore seekest thou, O sage? Tarry, for lo,

The spring, the autumn, the rains-all come round to thee again.”

Beyond Vringayekmu’s creation stood a massive tower of soft, mottled, green stone, dark velvet, grating pebbles, and thin lacquered strips of Chlen- hide. This was priestess Fssu’uma’s analysis of Ghatoni, the tongue of the fisherfolk who dwelt along the western shores of the northern sea. Its three major dialects were each represented by a towering pinnacle reaching up into the gloom. Still farther down the gallery the long-dead priest Horri’s squat pyramid of black glass, set with winking garnets and looped with silver strands, symbolised the language of Salarvya, the great feudal empire bordering Tsolyanu to the southeast. In spite of his present concerns, Harsan could not help but feel a momentary twinge of envy: how beautifully had Horri treated the two hundred and

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