So there was a fair bit of treasure-hunting among the less busy drakes, despite the mediocrity of the results. And, naturally, a concerted attempt to understand and glorify the artistic styles of Narethy. If, by some miracle of fashion, artifacts from Narethy became valuable, the Expedition would profit the most.
Which led to several conversations along the lines of this one, which is between Yarenton and Evrath. (Yarenton insists on a disclaimer for historical accuracy: I have made up every word, but the content is close to correct. The inaccuracies in content are simply omissions — I neglected to mention the low bitter scudding triangular clouds that lent the scene an extra degree of distressing mystery — and the fact that I have the dragons indulging in wordplay and other cleverness, as dragons so often do, when in fact they were too distressed and mysterified to do much of it.) [And of course that wordplay got translated into English, which didn’t help the accuracy one bit. -BB]
“Well, Evrath, this is a peculiar sort of field,” said Yarenton.
“The word ‘field’ might mean any of several things,” said Evrath. “You might, for example, mean ‘an academic discipline or course of study’. This would make a peculiar field in that sense. Though I certainly see the point of the discipline — or rather, all of its many points.”
“Yet it is not that sort of field,’ said Yarenton.
“Ah! Perhaps you mean a vector field!” exclaimed Evrath. “That being, an assignment of a length and a direction to each point on the ground. Yes, indeed! The lengths seem to be some nine or ten feet, and the directions seem to be more or less upwards. They are well-marked by all of those very sharp titanium spikes.”
“I concede that you stretched that word to fit,” said Yarenton. “But it is not the meaning I intended.”
“Well, then, surely a field like unto a force field. This one exerts a strong emotional force, which may be felt even from a half-mile away in the sky! Rather horribly, at that,” said Evrath.
“Not that either, oddly enough.”
“Well, then. I am out of incorrect meanings, so perhaps you could do me the honor of explaining the correct one?”
Yarenton snorted. “The sort of field in which farmers grow their crops. Consider: each of the spikes may be taken metaphorically as the stalk of a plant, and the mummified naret impaled upon it, as its rather disgusting crop.”
“Rather disgusting, indeed. I am no more opposed to atrocities among small people than most dragons are, but, when they are not committed by dragons for some salubrious purpose, they seem rather pointless,” said Evrath.
“And yet, as you have done the honor of noting, this one is full of points,” said Yarenton. “Each of which has been used precisely once.”
The two beasts landed on the edge of the field.
Evrath sniffed around with a dozen senses. “Well, these mummies are quite peculiar. I presume that the desert nature of the immediate area has caused them to dry out so thoroughly. Though why this particular regular heptagon of about two acres area should be a desert where nothing grows and all is dry, when the immediately surrounding region is an overgrown jungle of lush plants well-watered by the rains, is a small mystery. Clearly, to several senses, some magical effect is at work here — but we have seen very little magic on Narethy elsewhere.”
“Well, when one impales gross upon gross of small people, history suggests one of two motives. Either it was done recreationally, or educationally. As a point of education, it works best when the small people who remain can see the corpses of the victims, and thereby be reminded how unwise it is to defy the impaler. The use of a preservative spell suggests that the impaler wanted to keep the result of the festivities, as such a memorial,” said Yarenton.
Evrath demurred. “I demur! For this was done deep in the wilderness. There are no roads leading close to this spot. I am at a loss about how this quantity of titanium spikes was brought here, much less how they were emplaced in the ground and introduced into so many narets. But ignoring that mystery, why would a memorial be erected here of all places? More sensible by far to have it in the midst of a city, if it were intended as a matter of public education. I should venture that it is an act of villainy. If it is a memorial, it is a private memorial, for the enjoyment of the impalers alone.”
“Yet there are no roads. Presumably the impalers could fly.” Yarenton snorted again. “If they were not actually dragons, they may well have been some third cousin to us, spiritually if not materially. That magic is not astral, but it is recognizable at least.”
Evrath tapped at the nearest mummy. “Yet they are not so draconic as all that. Observe this mummy’s tattoos! A superb example of the classic III-a pattern in that catalog Charimaan is developing. The next one is nearly as good. The one after that, pattern II-a with some quite elegant extra fringing. And so on! These narets were wealthy and highly decorated. Any dragon would have had them flayed and their skins preserved. It would make an excellent collection within a hoard.”
Yarenton frowned. ”Ššḁ is not quite a defining characteristic of draconicity. Or, perhaps, this is a hoard, and these specimens are mounted for display. Not in the narets’ style of flaying, but in a different aesthetic.”
“If that is the case, I would expect some guard mechanism,” said Evrath seriously. “Some alarm that rang when we came here, some spell watching us. If there is any such thing, I have not noticed it.”
“We may test it easily enough,” said Yarenton, and pulled the nearest naret mummy off its spike. Both drakes looked and listened, and used detective spells, but there was no reaction.”
“Well — not a hoard? The hoarders are departed, or dead? The guard-spells are exhausted? They operate in some medium of which we are unaware? The theoretical hoarders have not shown up to guard their theoretical hoard, in any case,” said Yarenton after two hours.
“Well, then. Are these mummies valuable to us?”
“I think not. They have little enough lluyew. If they were prepared better, they would be worth gathering, I suppose.”Support this project! Show that you’re reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, the writer, and occasional other entities at sythyry.livejournal.com. And/or buy Bard Bloom’s books on Amazon, especially Mating Flight and World in My Claws, the prequel to this story. Also: Glossary and Dramatis Personae.