fourteen conjugations of the obstreperous Salarvyani verb! No pilgrim from Salarvya had ever looked upon this masterpiece without gasping in admiration, and indeed, some scholars had even been known to shed tears before its perfection.

More recent constructions lay around the comer of the room to the left, among them Harsan’s own analysis of Llyani. Now he saw that a stranger sat before his work, crosslegged upon a study-mat. A five-wick oil lamp flickered beside him, washing his right arm and his sharp profile with yellow-ruddy light. It was the messenger.

The Prior stopped before him, sketched a bow of greeting. “Auspicious messenger Kurrune, this is priest Harsan, who made this.”

The man seemed to unfold as he got to his feet. He towered over Harsan by a handspan, yet he was slender as a new sapling, fine-boned, of early middle years, with the axe-edged features of eastern Tsolyanu and the indefinable air of the far traveller about him. Now he wore a grey guest-robe of the monastery. His blue courier’s headdress lay beside him upon the flagstones.

“I greet you, priest Harsan. I was pondering your creation.” His voice was deep, grave, and slow. Harsan recognised the flat accent as belonging to the desert city of Fasiltum in the northeastern comer of Tsolyanu.

“It is insufficient, my Lord.” Indeed, Harsan’s truncated pillar of amber and gold filigree could never match the glory of Vringayekmu’s creation nor even the slighter work of Fssu’uma. Too little was known; there were too few sources, no living speakers of Llyani. The curving, spiralling filaments were bare, deficient in detail. The model’s amber spheres were simple, lacking the nuances of curve, colour, and texture which should have revealed the inner systems of the language: the relationships of its grammar and syntax to its semantics and thence to a depiction of the Llyani world-view. To the practiced eye the model was a good yet introductory sketch, clearly the work of a student, albeit one whose insights showed promise.

The messenger paced slowly around the construction, looking, feeling, touching, gently rubbing. The smooth warmth of the amber and the russet-yellow highlights of the dark gold seemed to fascinate him. He paused finally before the two priests.

This was no unlettered bearer of messages. Harsan ventured, “My Lord, you comprehend…?”

The other gave him a slight smile. “Who I am concerns you not. What you have made here does concern me. You may address me as Tusmiketlan, the ‘You of Polite Anonymity.’ In return I shall call you Tusmingaru, the ‘You of Honourable Youth.’ Let me look upon the creator of this work.”

The messenger bent and lifted the lamp. Its light revealed a serious-appearing young man attired in the knee-length grey kilt, stiffened Firya — cloth collar, and reed sandals of a junior priest of Thumis. Harsan was perhaps twenty years of age, slim of build, yet clearly strong as a new tent-rope is strong, with light coppery-gold skin, high cheekbones set in a sharply triangular face, perhaps a bit over-long in the jaw, eyes set a trifle aslant above a typical Tsolyani eagle nose, yet with the wide and generous mouth of the peoples of the western Empire. Harsan’s brows were now a straight line of furrowed puzzlement beneath his cap of black hair.

Kurrune considered. It was clear that the boy had not yet so totally committed himself to the temple as to shave his head and don the black skullcap. Two braids hung down to Harsan’s collar in front of his ears, their ends caught up with twists of silver wire, and the hair at the back of his head was cut to three fingers’ length, all in the rural fashion of the Chakas. A rustic. Yet a young man with talent-and some burgeoning skill.

The messenger nodded and turned to the Prior. “Have you shown him the object I brought?”

“I have. He read most of the inscription.”

“Then I shall show him another item.” The courier took something from a wallet at his belt, unwrapped it, and held it out to Harsan.

Wondering, Harsan took it-and almost dropped it. The object was a human hand!

“Fear not,” Kurrune said in an amused tone. “What you hold is but a waxen cast of a piece of sculpture. The original is of gold. Have a care lest the heat of your fingers blur the writing upon the palm. That is what I wish you to see.”

Harsan turned it over, holding it gingerly by the carven fingers. The hand was excellently modelled. At first glance it did appear to be a waxy-pale human hand, severed at the wrist, the thumb and four fingers extending straight out and touching one another. Yet it was clear that this was but a carving: the fingers were too long, the workings of the joints and the creases of the knuckles stylised. And strangest of all, there were only conventionalised depressions where the nails shouid have been. Holding it near the light, Harsan saw that the palm was indeed covered with script. Two writings were here, however, one horizontal band across the palm, and another, vertical column that led down from the finger-tips to the wrist.

The vertical column was again Llyani.

There was a long, intense silence. At length Harsan raised his head.

“My Lord, this is a religious relic. A pilgrim’s copy of some powerful talisman. People can purchase trinkets like this at any of the great shrines.” He drew a breath and pulled at his lip. “There are two inscriptions. The horizontal one is in N’liissa, the tongue of the Dragon Warriors, that dynasty which ruled after the fall of the Three States of the Triangle. I am not much versed in it.” He shot an apologetic glance at the Prior, “but I did study it somewhat in order to use the Llyani grammar of Tlu’en of Ssa’atis, which is written in N’liissa. In any case the text is not difficult: prayers for the buyer of the talisman. It was added later, for you can see that it partially covers the Llyani writing. ‘High’ Llyani was nigh a forgotten tongue by the time of the Dragon Warriors.”

“And you can read the Llyani inscription?” The messenger’s gaze was keen.

“Not all, my Lord. I should consult my notes on the syllabary, and also the dictionary of Homon Tneqqu of Kheiris, which we have here in the library. It is an incantation, and it speaks of several things. This much I can read. There is mention of a ‘Place of Iron Scales,’ and there is the name of a Llyani goddess called Kuu Tep — followed by the classifier glyph for ‘original structure. ’ I cannot make much of that. Then comes the classifier for ‘tool’ or ‘instrument,’ and the words ‘cube of flint’-obsidian. Then it speaks of the defeat of this goddess and her-minions? — the-umm- He’esa, ‘Those Who Are Always Seen and Yet Remain Unseen’-whatever that means-at a city called Shoshche, together with the dismantling-or walling up? — or sealing off? — of her ‘cube’ by the ‘Man of Gold,’ the same glyphs as were upon the map symbol. Then there are two columns of incantations addressed to this ‘Man,’ but they are meaningless without the sorcerous skill to unlock them-and there are some signs here at which I cannot even guess.”

‘‘Is not this ‘Shoshche’ the modem Mu’ugalavyani city of Ch’ochi?” the Prior inteijected.

‘‘Even so, my Lord, or at least a site nearby in the jungle there. As for the name, as you know, the Llyani fricative ‘sh’ became a glottalised affricate ‘ch” during the Bednalljan dynasty, and though the Mu’ugalavyani no longer pronounce the glottalised series as such, they still write certain archaic names with those symbols. The medial ‘shch’ first became ‘chch,’ then this simplified to-”

The messenger raised an impatient hand. “Peace! There will be time for such mysteries later! I am off to Tumissa at sunrise and require my sleep.” He paused, then said, “There is yet one important cask to be broached. Priest Harsan, the two items you have seen tonight are only a part of a trove discovered in the old Bednalljan cemetery at Urmish. I would describe the other pieces to you, but I was myself not permitted to see them. They are… important…”

He retrieved the waxen hand from Harsan’s fingers. “Your analysis of Llyani was reported, of course, to the Temple of Eternal Knowing in Bey Sii. I imagine your good Prior Haringgashte keeps the High Council abreast of all that transpires here at the monastery, eh? Well, the bare bones of it are these: when this tomb was opened at Urmish, the High Council, only needed to poke into their records, and, ohe! — there’s a priest Harsan at our monastery in the Chakas who reads Llyani. I had business in Chene Ho, Paya Gupa, and Tumissa, and the High Council deputed me to pass by and sniff at you and your work. If you can read these ancient squiggles, then I am to ask you if you would undertake the study of the hand-and the other items as well?”

Harsan could only nod. The successful completion of such a temple-backed project would open doors to dizzying heights within the hierarchy. For a young man with no clan and no wealth, this was better than the best!

Kurrune hitched up his kilt. “I cannot claim to read your language-model well. It shows promise. Prior Haringgashte knows me from of old, and he’ll vouch that though I possess but a pinch of knowledge, I do own a handful of judgment.” He shot a half-humourous glance at the Prior, who remained impassive.

The messenger dug again into his wallet and produced a scrap of brownish parchment. “I can thus complete my task here by handing this over to friend Haringgashte. It is a writ for the transfer of this priest Harsan to the Temple of Eternal Knowing in Bey Sii. You have a six-day to prepare, and then they want you there within two or

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