The Stone of Merraro
Behind the great cathedral of Merraro is a glorified and very sacred shed. It’s decorated like a chapel itself, with carved illustrations of the benevolent suns and some mythical angels and whatnots. It’s lit by (as of yesterday) thirty-eight big oil lamps with the flags of the nations that merged into Trest. But it’s still a big shed, for storing a big rock.
And it is, indeed, rather a big rock. It is almost rectangular except for a long spike on the top right, making it about the length of my neck total, and half that wide, and a nice solid two or three feet thick. It’s a pretty grey color, with faint swirly spirals of darker grey shot through with golden sparkles of pyrite. And, according to the guidebooks, in days that Trest thought more glorious, Archconsul Nespers — who was a stonemason in her youth — carved the first treaty establishing Trest.
Lots of people — both kinds of people — had been collected to observe the fate of the big rock. Lawmakers and treasurers and generals, wearing their greatest finery, with silken cords binding their hands to their necks. Reporters for newspapers and television stations. Hated and hateful the event would surely be, but a thoroughly-documented hatefulness. Dozens of gendarmes, wearing new blue and orange spiked caps. And of course the seven former consuls of former Trest were there. They didn’t get to wear their finery though. They wore leather yokes, with heavy chains trailing behind.
And us, of course: the seven remaining dragons, all looking as glorious as possible. «Ythac, why aren’t you making a point of having seven dragons and seven consuls?» I asked him.
«Couldn’t think of anything sensible to do with it. If you five had asked to rule Trest under us, I might have done something with it. Since you’re not planning to help us, or even stay past the end of the mating flight, I didn’t want to make you seem like crucial symbolic elements to the dracarchy.» Ythac’s mental letters were jerky, the points on the “i” and “f” tall and spiky. But I couldn’t tell that he was nervous just to look at him. He was a sculpture of delicate blues and greens, his natural spikes augmented by secondary ruffs, staring monumentally at the hovens. Llredh, next to Ythac, grinned a huge predatory grin, and curled his tail over Ythac’s.
The chief of gendarmes gestured at the lawmakers with her baton. Most of the lawmakers dropped to their knees and recited in a loud ragged unison, “We are gathered today to surrender our empire to Llredh and Ythac our conquerors.” Two of them, more battered than most, refused to kneel and chant. The chief gestured. Two frozen-faced gendarmes picked their way through the surrenderers. They tied cords of catgut around the arms of the resisters, and twisted them slowly. The others finished their recitation, and then started it again, quietly, as a background obbligato to the rest of the ritual.
Llredh roared. “Let Archconsul Shuvanne bring forth the ancient symbols of Trestean unity, so that we may revise it to show the reality that is now, and evermore shall be!” He had obviously been rehearsing too, or that would have come out in his usual twisty speech.
Gendarmes unrolled the chains that trailed off the backs of the consuls’ harnesses, and carried them into the shed, and hooked them into seven hooks in the front of a cart. Someone surreptitiously started a little motor, too: the Stone of Merraro was far too heavy for seven unathletic hovens to drag. But the consuls had to do a good deal of the work.
The leaders of Trest wept when the Stone of Merraro rolled out of the shed. One of the two who had resisted fell to his knees then, and the catgut was untied from his arms, and he joined the chant.
Ythac reared on his hind legs, and spread his glorious blue wings. “Hovens of Trest! Your former rulers were fonts of wickedness! They stole from you the admiration that all of Hove once had, and replaced it by universal fear and resentment! They took your money and your peace and your children, and built weapons and tried to impose their will upon the whole of the world. You poured forth your blood and your labor, and all that came to you was hatred and strife! At last, in their arrogance and blindness, the consuls challenged the world-travellers, the world-conquerors, the dragons. Such a thing could not endure, and has not endured.
“And today the supremacy of the consuls is over. Today my husband and I shall rule you. Today is the beginning of peace, of harmony, of prosperity and joy.”
Ythac and Llredh reared their heads back and breathed together upon the Stone of Merraro, darkness and flame. I wasn’t entirely sure that darkness and flame were the best symbols of peace, harmony, prosperity, and joy. Speaking as a fire-breather myself.
Llredh’s fire neatly melted the top spike off the top of the Stone. That sort of evened it out, which will do for a symbol of harmony, I suppose. The crunch of the spike falling back and breaking the wall of the shed sure won’t.
I don’t think the hovens noticed the result of Ythac’s darkness at first. A few seconds later Tarcuna wailed, “The words! The words!”
The Stone now read,
«I didn’t know you could pervert meanings with that,» I wrote to him.
«It’s like causing grammatical errors, only semantic. I did cheat a bit with a language spell though,» he wrote back.
And then the ritual got exceedingly dull. Ythac had composed a Charter for the Dracarchy of Trest. It was generally based on the Charter of the Consularchy of Trest, except that Ythac and Llredh, each, have absolute authority to do whatever they want. Mostly, though, the hovens are expected to govern themselves, as long as they do so wisely in Ythac’s opinion. Not the sort of ûj you might expect.
The only part that was the least bit interesting was when the last remaining resister needed to get his arm amputated. I broke the script a bit and put a healing spell into him afterwards.
Coda: Conquest Party
Afterwards, of course, there was a big reception in the huge public square in front of the cathedral. Everyone at the ritual had to attend the reception too, of course. Only a handful of Merrarovians came, and they mostly didn’t eat very much and didn’t look very happy.
But Ythac and Llredh did pick up a gaggle of hovens, eager to chatter with them, to flatter them, to offer their services. I only recognized the chief of gendarmes. So I asked Tarcuna, “Who are those people?”
“I don’t know many of them. The one with the red stripes and the red cape is named Uborst. His picture’s in the paper sometimes, he does a lot with politics. The one next to him is Larella Spargee. She’s very rich, she gave a great deal to Archconsul Shuvanne. I don’t know the others … oh, that one with the green and pink globes is Reverend Dreyrey.. He’s in some strange sect or other, he’s on television a lot. We always changed the channel when he started talking.”
“Well, I’m glad that some important people look like they want to cooperate with Ythac and Llredh. They’re going to have an awful time trying to govern a huge nation by force, just the two of them,” I said.
“People who attach themselves to the dragons aren’t going to be people you’d want to rely on. Anyone with any principles or moral integrity is going to oppose you. Even if you cut their arms off,” said Tarcuna. She flopped her useless arm.
“I’m sure Ythac can get them to behave decently,” I said. “They can’t really keep secrets from Ythac, and people like that are surely going to be particularly cowardly and susceptable to threats of violence.”
“Have I been paraded around in public enough yet? I’m the only Trestean citizen lucky enough not to be surrendering to Llredh and Ythac today. Even if that’s because you already got me.”
Well, since I do have her, I have to take care of her. “You can. I’m going to stay here ‘til the end of the reception though.”