A Story for an Age Distant and Past (Part 7)
Year 4 SC (1512 Stayatam), The north side of Sha-Mikat
The tower of the Miktaban library was visible over the desert mountains. Qela stood to the north, looking down on Sha-Mikat. The city was not large, nestled as it was in the river valleys and clinging to the hills and riverbanks, but it was well maintained, and the majestic, classical architecture of the Miktaban dominated the eye. It truly was a beautiful building, a marvel of engineering from five hundred years ago, that only recent structures by the Badhit were able to challenge in majesty.
Abilel was beside her, astride his Aq. He had not been this far south in his entire life, owing to the Kazeyish exile, though he had seen the library’s tower from far off before.
“What is that?” He said. Qela turned to see him pointing. In the distance, a column of people were moving out of the southern city gate. In fact, it looked like there was quite the commotion throughout the city, with large crowds and movement in the streets.
Qela frowned. “I don’t know. It doesn’t look like an army. Why would so many people be leaving?”
They quickly made their way through the reed farms surrounding the city and into the streets. Indeed, there was a level of chaos that she’d never seen in the capital. There didn’t appear to be any violence, but the guards were out and moving quickly. Concerned, Qela charged ahead on her Aq, arriving at the gate of the Miktaban. She quickly handed the bird off to attendants and rushed inside. Abilel scurried behind her, precious book bound in his arms, to catch up. She made her way through the library’s offices, not bothering to send an aid forward to announce her arrival. Most of them looked busy anyways, rushing about and speaking to each other in tense, hushed voices.
After climbing a flight of stairs that she could hear leaving Abilel wheezing behind her, Qela came to Tajani’s office door. It was open, and she saw Tajani sitting inside at her desk, hands folded before her. Another man, younger and wearing fine robes, paced about before her, gesturing angrily.
“... No choice in the matter! I’ve lost all control! Surely you can understand that!” He ran his hands under his head wrap, disturbing the cloth.
Tajani sat still in her chair. She was not one to raise her voice, but Qela saw the look on her face and recognized the anger. She leaned forward calmly and spoke, with a quietness and intensity that Qela knew was reserved for very specific moments. “I know your situation, Jamitayyin, but yelling at me will not cure your clan of its stupidity. Nor will it bring us closer to a solution. Now, I would kindly ask you to lower your voice so we can continue to speak as befitting the conventions of an official diplomatic meeting.” Her eyes raised at this point, seeing Qela in the doorframe. “Ah. But it appears that first we have a guest. Please, enter.”
The man, who must have been Jamitayyin Bkhanif, turned to look at Qela as she stepped in. She gave them both courteous bows before sitting in another chair off to the side.
“Qela,” Tajani said kindly. “Excuse us. This is Chieftain Jamitayyin Bkhanif. We were just discussing recent events. Chieftain, this is Qela, one of my pupils and the individual that I assigned to do field work for my personal project.”
Jamitayyin stood and gave her a well-practiced bow, seeming to easily stifle his emotions for the benefit of courtly formalities. “A better day for having met you, my lady.”
“Now, I think it would be prudent to catch you up to speed, would you agree, Qela?”
“Yes,” she said with a little too much enthusiasm. “What is happening in the city?”
“To put it simply, the Bkhanif have declared themselves disbanded from us. Our alliance,” she gestured to Jamitayyin, whose face had returned to its angry scowl, “is effectively dead.”
“This is not my fault, it must be said,” Jamitayyin added in. “My own family, my clan, strongarmed me. They gathered up all the credibility that I’ve lost over the past decade trying to keep this peace together and declared their intentions against my will. My resources have shrivelled up, my own allies have abandoned me, I did everything I could!”
Tajani held up a hand. “Calm, Jamitayyin, no-one here imagines that you are at fault.”
“Yeah, the peace was always sort of understood to be one misstep away from collapsing, right?” Qela asked. Jamitayyin nodded soberly. “But what happened? Why the fuss now?”
Tajani leaned back. “We are at war again, Qela.”
“Only a few days ago, word reached us that the Badhit and Iqashit are invading across the west. The Bkhanif didn’t think that they were getting enough out of our deal to risk themselves against this larger enemy, so they have pulled out.”
“The people leaving town then, they’re all Bkhanif?”
Jamitayyin let out a long sigh that turned into an emphatic swear under his breath. “At first, yes. But as news got out about the war, and the breaking of the alliance, a lot of other civilians have been fleeing as well.”
“We saw war so recently,” Tajani said, staring at the wall. “They have no confidence that we will win, or even survive, this one. Especially without the Bkhanif’s aid. So they are fleeing.”
Qela leaned back. This could be the end of the Miktaban. She could already imagine the western clans sweeping across an already war-weary people, the cities and libraries being abandoned, or worse, going up in flames.
There was a dry panting sound from the doorway. All three of them turned to see Abilel standing there, clutching his precious ancient book to his chest, leaning against the doorframe.
“Qela,” Tajani said sweetly. “Who is this?”
Qela quickly stood and offered her chair to the old winded man, which he gladly took. “Tajani, you remember where I went on this last mission?”
She took in a breath. “Well, this is Abilel Kazeyish.” The chieftain of the exiled clan gave them a tired wave.
Jamitayyin slowly turned his head to look at Tajani. “There better be a very good explanation for this.”
“Yes well, you understand my personal project. Qela and I have spent the last four years scouring the libraries of Tiemaqil Shike to find a way of opening the Gate. And we found nothing.”
“So,” Qela said. “In a desperate attempt, I went north, to the Kazeyish. They were the only place left.”
Tajani glanced at the large book wrapped up in leather in Abilel’s hands. “And I presume that you found what you were looking for?” Abilel nodded and held the book up with a smile.
Jamitayyin leaned back. “Ok, that is all well and good, that doesn’t explain why you brought the chieftain of the Kazeyish, the clan of traitors and tyrants, to the Miktaban!”
“I had no intention of just giving up my precious tome to someone such as her,” Abilel said in his older dry voice. “Besides, I am just as devout as anyone, and if this book could be used to open the gate, then I want to be there.”
“Devout?” Jamitayyin said incredulously. “The people of the Kazeyish, devout! This really is the end of the world.”
“That’s enough, Jamitayyin,” Tajani barked, raising slightly in her chair and fixing the chieftain with a steely glare. “Their ancestors sinned, yes, but we do not fault those of unfortunate birth for the crimes of those who begot them.”
Abilel’s eyes were wide. He clearly didn’t expect Tajani to jump to his defense.
“Your behavior today is understandable, but that does not make it remissible, Chieftain,” Tajani continued. “We are in a moment of crisis, when our strength is needed most. When lives are in danger, a leader who turns to weakness and vitriol is no leader at all.”
Jamitayyin sunk back into his seat. “I understand your words, Kjalit Miktabit. I will heed them.”
Tajani leaned back, and Qela thought she caught the sight of a momentary triumphant smile. “Well then. We have two major events. The coming of war with the betrayal of the Bkhanif, and the arrival of Chieftain Abilel Kazeyish. One is disastrous, the other, depending on what is in that book, could be revolutionary. How do we parse this?”
Qela shifted in her chair uncomfortably. “Well, the Miktaban is under existential threat. We cannot win the war as it stands. Compared to that, the opening of the Gate certainly doesn’t seem like it should be a priority.”
Tajani smiled. “Or,” she said, looking at each of them, “it could be our salvation.”
“I don’t follow,” Abilel said.
“Consider this. We four are devout followers of Yongit. We have prayed for his guidance and thanked in his holiness even in the darkest of times, including now.” She looked around the room. “Once we open the Gate, do you think that he would stand idly by while the prosperity of his followers is destroyed by the short-sighted and the power-hungry? Or would, once he knows of our situation and heard our pleas for salvation, issue forth from his Court at long last at the front of his divine host, and bring all of our kind into a new age, before this war could even reach the city walls?”
“Salvation...” Abilel muttered under his breath.
Jamitayyin gestured to the book in the chieftain’s hands. “The thing is, we have no guarantee that that book actually works. Do we?”
“No, we don’t,” Qela said. “But we have to try.” She met Jamitayyin’s eyes. She could see that he felt hopeless. She knew that he was a holy person, just like her. “It will have to be a matter of faith, Chieftain.”
Jamitayyin did not break her gaze. She saw him consider her words, and then resolve spread across his face. He nodded. “Very well. The Gate isn’t far. So long as-” he was cut off by an attendant rushing into the room shouting Tajani’s name.
“Yes?” She looked up in alarm.
“Fires, your scholarliness. Fires have been set in the city. There are reports of hidden soldiers attacking guards in the streets!”
Abilel rose up, face aghast. “By God’s Court, look out the window!” he pointed. They all turned. Indeed, outside, they saw the city aflame.