CHAPTER 43: Meetings, a Banquet, and Departure
Wrogen and Wranda were the first to rise, and they clung to one another, both weeping uncontrollably. By the time the others had got to their feet, all immediately drifting into pairs, Wrogen was gabbling between sobs.
‘So many centuries of folly in place of wisdom,’ he wailed. ‘So much waste of all the time bought with magic.’
‘We, also, have used the many lifetimes available to each of us through regeneration,’ sniffled Wranda, ‘towards greater and greater acts of selfishness and evil, all in the conviction that we were correcting foul injustices.’
‘It seemed so clear,’ said Wrogen, ‘that in the natural order of things males had to be dominant, and that where the question of producing new generations no longer applied, females would be redundant.’
Wranda took a turn with, ‘We thought our cycles were so much more tolerant towards all, but every one of them still swung the pendulum much too far in the other direction.’
‘More recently, for us, it appeared to be such a logical step to regard ourselves as superior beings to whom all others should be subservient,’ said Wrogen.
All these speeches were broken by sundry sobs, hiccups, sniffles and chokes.
Aiennea, on the arm of Darrex, said, ‘While our own actions and thoughts have been influenced by your people over the ages, I believe we still take the blame for not seeing considerably beyond the thought that the only reason there are separate sexes would be for breeding.’
Darrex gave her a fond look and shook his head wonderingly. ‘So much evidence in everything we see,’ he said, ’and in so many writings like the Saga, and we were blind to it. The power of two, brought into accord, is the only thing which can produce a perfect balance. All else brings conflict.’
‘The perfect partnership,’ Tergina said. She and Felin had arms around one another. ‘Everyone is prepared to accept that there is no such thing, so they don’t bother to strive for it.’
‘How often I’ve heard that,’ Felin agreed. ’One assumes that some single person has to make final decisions or agreement will never be reached, and so one person is elected to do it. In that way, one doesn’t have the hard work of enforcing that the decisions all have to be joint ones.’
Aiennea seemed to be looking at something far away as she murmured, ‘How mistaken it has been, too, to think that uneven numbers or casting votes are required to resolve conflict. In a triumvirate, so often thought to be the ideal for leadership or justice, two of the members are frequently outvoting the third. That means the solutions are still forced ones, and that they cannot be perfect. Such systems invite imbalance, and that is what they get.’
‘Much as I enjoy standing in cramped passages and chatting,’ said Cudew, ‘don’t you think we might be a tiny bit more comfortable somewhere else?’
‘Yip,’ said Pip.
The passageways appeared to have been simplified in some way, and they reached the staircase unexpectedly soon. All of them put this down to the fact that they had been immersed in thought while getting there.
However, the Darrex Palace which they emerged into, and indeed the whole of Darx itself, had clearly undergone some change. One couldn’t define it, but it was apparent from the slightly puzzled expressions on the faces of all those seen during their return to the king’s tower that everyone had become aware of it.
The expressions in fashion for the servants who brought more much-needed refreshments to everyone were still of utter astonishment, with the bewildered ones worn as accessories.
Derag had been sent for again, and arrived promptly, looking greatly disturbed. ‘Triumph the Cause!’ he barked, glaring at the company the Highest King was keeping.
‘Indeed so,’ said Darrex, ‘although the cause we want to triumph now has been modified considerably.’
A look of disbelief and of desperation crossed Derag’s face. ‘This cannot be. You are no longer fit to serve The Cause or the ideals as originally set out by His Greatestness here,’ he ranted. ‘You and he have been corrupted by these foul witches and this women’s-lapdog,’ glaring at Felin.
With that, he turned on his heel and stretched his wings as if to fly out of the room. Then, in an instant, he pivoted to face Darrex again, stretching out his hand to give a killing blast. The act was so unexpected that there was simply no time to shield or retaliate.
One could almost sense the blast starting its deadly course when a single glarespell hit Derag from behind, and he fell over. Everyone’s eyes travelled from the fading form to the cu crouched down near the door with a sprite on his back.
‘Pip! You?’ gasped Tye.
‘Yip,’ said Pip, in a yip of vicious satisfaction.
‘His expression of cunning just before he turned again gave him away,’ Cudew remarked. ‘I was a lot slower than Pip in reacting to it, though.’ The cu glanced at the spot where Derag had been, and added, ‘He was so dead certain regarding The Cause, but now it’s certain he’s dead from regarding it.’
Darrex sighed. ‘This is a clear indication of the sort of reaction we can expect from so many,’ he said sombrely, and rose. ‘I am going to find Dorge to tell him personally that messages must go out everywhere to say that we have made peace with the Daoine, and that all hostilities are to cease.’
He left, straight away.
‘I’m going, too,’ said Cudew. ‘It’ll help if I can convince Cudorge.’ He also flew out. To Tye’s surprise, so did Pip.
‘This will be too late to save the invading forces, of course,’ Aiennea said sadly, ‘but, as we know, the Darxds in them have all been as corrupted beyond the point of no return, as was Derag.’
Not long after, the king returned followed by a cu and a sprite. ‘That part is done,’ he said, and looked at Aiennea. ‘Now, I feel completely daunted at how we tackle things from here.’
She went still, and her eyes became unfocussed for a while. Then she said, ‘We may have some help, soon. The pattern is reforming in some … quite wonderful ways … but will probably take some time before we can make it out.’
Wrogen and Wranda both gave wordless exclamations, and also sat frozen for a few minutes. ‘You are right,’ Wrogen said. ‘This is a completely new shape coming into play. The old pattern took in our Wreyge plan to have another mass opening of cocoons with the life-force from magic coming from the deaths caused in universal conflict on Terra, Darx and Breena, and to assume control of all three realms once and for all. This doesn’t.’
‘On our side it took in the intention to wipe away male domination by any means available,’ said Wranda. ‘Now it starts to show a wonderful new course under The Power of Two.’
‘That is true,’ agreed Wrogen. ‘Look, the first things starting to be indicated here show that the new order of things must not be rushed, and that everyone will need to be eased into acceptance one step at a … but here I am, behaving as if I am still His Highestness instead of Its Very Lowestness.’
‘This shows,’ said Darrex, ‘that the traditional roles you Wreyges or Wreygese have had as advisors here and in Breena, with the abilities and knowledge and experience you have built over such long periods, are more vital than ever before. Even if you did fall considerably short on the wisdom side,’ he added rather sadly.
He turned to Aiennea. ‘In Breena, you once told me that your advisors are often those in charge of your Magic Arts Guild?’ She nodded, and he went on, addressing Wrogen again, ‘Then, perhaps, it would be good for you to be tied in more with our Darx Artz Guild?’
Wrogen gave a wry smile. ‘As a means of keeping us Wreyges out of mischief? That could work quite well as something we can aim towards for the future. With both guilds rebalanced, of course.’
‘Now, though,’ said Darrex, let us have a full meeting of all the princes and see just how far we can start moving new ideas forward.’
A large public room in another part of the palace was used for this meeting. Only when all princes had been seated did the group consisting of Darrex, Aiennea, Wrogen, Wranda, Dengana, Lusi, Hugh, Tye, Felin, Tergina, Cudew and Pip take the stage.
With his voice carrying magically to the furthest corners, the Highest King began by saying, ‘Before I introduce all those here with me to those who may not yet know them, let me ask you whether you sense that some great change has taken place?’
A murmur of agreement came from everyone.
’This has stemmed from a magical challenge to our very existence. I cannot expect you to understand the details at this stage, but I do ask that you accept the knowledge that has instinctively come to each one of you that a major catastrophe has been averted.
‘The success we achieved could not have been attained without incredible commitment and effort on the part of everyone up here now, including Her Highest Majesty, Supreme Queen Aiennea of Breena, with whom we are now at peace - a peace which we expect will prove to be everlasting. Breena is, in fact, going to be making some changes in the way they are ruled.’
At the last statement, many of the much darker princes present, who had been becoming increasingly disturbed, relaxed and gave smirks.
‘In fact it may be necessary to reintroduce our other king titles, so that these can be put in place in Breena,’ said Darrex with, as a throwaway. ‘and, of course, recognise the Breena queen ones.’
Princely smirks became knowing ones, and widened considerably.
‘However,’ Darrex went on, ‘success could not have come had we not been prepared to adopt some brave decisions in our turn. One of these was to appoint the Paramount Princesses to assist us. You will note that for us to succeed it became necessary for Paramount Princess Tyria and our new Paramount Princess Tuza willingly to become magically converted to Daoine.’ Immediately, many of the glances directed at those two became a little less disapproving.
‘Another who has earned the title through the most valiant services, including saving my own life, is Paramount Princess Pip.’
‘Squeak?!’ said Pip.
Comment something along the same lines was present among many of the princes. Highly titled sprites were not something to which they were accustomed.
‘Now, it is only logical that we balance these titles with those for princes who have highly distinguished themselves, such as Paramount Princes Dew, Deng, Felin, and Cudew.’
At this, the new Paramount Princes looked startled. Audience approval was clear for the first two, but mixed regarding the other pair.
‘All these titles will hold good in Breena, too,’ Aiennea put in mildly, and there was a great deal of blinking in surprise at the sheer presence she projected.
‘That is all I can tell you, for now,’ Darrex concluded. ‘There is much food for thought. Talking of which, it has been a long time since we have had cause for celebration. I think that a banquet would be appropriate. Any questions?’
A great deal of shuffling of bottoms on seats took place, which may have produced some static electricity but did not spark any speech. The meeting ended with those who had attended flying out looking bewildered but, in the main, fairly happy.
‘That was an excellent start,’ Wrogen said, ‘even though you took things ahead faster than I would have advised.’
‘What works, works,’ was Wranda’s comment.
Everyone had gone to their rooms to freshen up and to keep out of the way of an increasingly excited bustle as Darrex Palace prepared to hold the first banquet in a very long time.
Then Hugh said to Cudew, who still had Pip with him, ‘I need to go and speak to Aiennea.’
The dog opened one eye. ‘Go ahead,’ he said, and closed it again.
Hugh took off from the balcony and headed back to Darrex’s tower. Somehow he felt no surprise to meet Dengana going the same way, and to find that Tye had just landed on a balcony where Aiennea was taking her ease.
‘Ah, I expected the three of you,’ the queen said, ‘without needing to read any pattern. You have the feeling that your vital parts have been fulfilled?’
Three sets of nods responded.
‘You are right, I believe, except for the last service you can render by quietly mixing and helping people to get used to the new order of things during the celebrations. Then you will want to get back to your own world.’
‘What I would like’, said Dengana, ‘is that I go back and I tell everyone it is now safe to go back to the Rhino Valley, where it is their home.’ Then he added unexpectedly, ‘But then I want that I return to Breena. I have great love for my family, but my own home, in my heart, it is now there.’
‘Does Lusi know this?’ Aiennea asked casually.
‘No,’ Dengana said, sounding hurt. ‘I go to her room, but she not wanting to speak to me.’
‘You silly goose,’ said Tye. ‘She’s probably busy crying like anything at the thought you’ll be going home.’
Dengana’s face lit up. ‘I can live there?’ he asked the queen.
‘Of course,’ she replied.
‘Stay well,’ he said, beaming, and suddenly was no longer there.
Hugh blinked at his zooming friend, and then asked, ‘Can we still get back to Rhino Valley on the Sunday we left?’
‘I’m afraid not,’ Aiennea replied. ‘More time has elapsed than it had been thought might be necessary – anyway, that whole pattern went awry and has worked out better than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams. Still, that means that you would get there no sooner than late on Monday.’
Hugh and Tye had sinking feelings. Then Tye said, ‘Oh, this is ridiculous. I’m worried about worrying Mom, when we’ve just been seriously worried about millions of people getting killed and all sorts of disaster … but I’m still worried about worrying Mom,’ she finished miserably.
‘If we cycle straight to Ummango,’ Hugh said, ‘we can surely phone from there by late evening? That won’t be so bad.’
‘Wait a minute,’ Aiennea said, ‘there are Conjunctions which could get you directly to your own home Interface for Monday evening, going through Flut Ring and then glancing through Glit to Glim.’
‘We’ll book that flight,’ smiled Tye, and got looked at strangely.
The banquet had a feeling of unreality. There was constant changing of seats to enable people to chat to as many others as possible. Hugh and Tye deliberately stayed together - which they wanted to do, anyway - and set out to charm and dazzle wherever possible. They had allowed slightly more colour in their dress than was now becoming the greatly improved norm, to encourage the process, and they needed little effort to show one another up to best advantage in conversation. Their minds remained closely in tune.
Darrex and Aiennea as a pair were, of course, simply overwhelming, while Dengana with Lusi, and Felin with Tergina, were more than keeping their ends up. Cudew and Pip were also making a great impression from the sidelines.
Even though everyone found Wrogen and Wranda totally intimidating, their presence certainly did have an impact in the right direction.
By the time the party ended it was, as Darrex said to all of them, ‘Job extremely well done.’
Farewells after breakfast were brief though emotional. Even so, there were so many of them that it was well into the morning before they were able to start flying towards Flut Ring.
They were particularly touched when Aiennea said, ‘I really do so love all of you.’
Felin had demanded to be their guide yet again, and had not experienced any difficulty in persuading Tergina to come with all of them to enjoy the brief tour of three of the Rings.
Saying goodbye to Dengana and Lusi just inside the Flut Interface was particularly hard. ‘We still find way we see our brother Hugh and sister Tye, and our friends, plenty-plenty,’ Lusi promised.
‘Go well!’ Dengana said, managing to put a wealth of emotion into those traditional words.
Then they were on their way again, with just the six of them.
Cudew was in fine form, and looking forward to seeing Terra. It was clear that he and Pip were having a lot of communication, because he was able to describe many things about their home which Pip had experienced. The idea of mechanical contrivances instead of magic gave him a lot of amusement.
The trip was as uneventful as flying with one’s own wings in interesting company over countryside with all sorts of Daoine and Faie folk and animals, birds and insects of all descriptions could be. However, at the insistence of Tergina, they stopped to overnight at Rheia Palace in Glim Ring – she said it was ridiculous that they had never met the queen of their ‘home’ one.
The reception they received there was overwhelming, particularly as it transpired that Chenia was there. She had helped with the successful defence of Glim Ring, which had come shortly on the heels of that of Glit.
She related with glee an interesting bit of news from Ding Ring that an army waiting to attack them or Dong - depending on the timing - hadn’t needed any attention. They had been wiped out in a flash flood at Lookout Ford after the magic alarm system there had somehow failed to tell them to look out in time.
Higher Queen Rheia had a girlishly enthusiastic way about her. ’Oh, I am ever so thrilled,’ she said, ’to have such important and heroic people as guests, and, oh, it so fantastic that Paramount Princess Tye should claim this as her home Ring … oh, and Paramount Prince Hugh, too, of course.’ The last was noticeably added as an afterthought.
’Oh, and now you must let me take you to meet the wonderful new young Highest Queen Glorianne. Marvellous choice. She was wonderful when dealing with her invasion, and, oh, an amazing help when it came to ours. Oh, did you know, when she was promoted she was still one of the princesses-in-waiting as part of her training, but she, oh, and her sisters too, all have, oh, such simply incredible talentbut she is, oh, quite outstanding.’
Tye burst out laughing when she saw who it was. ‘She and Hugh have already seen a lot of one another,’ she spluttered.
The new Highest Queen Glorianne, young though she was, exuded much the same sort of quiet power as Aiennea or Darrex - but she was still quite recognisably Tertia.
‘I did feel there was something rather special about them, and particularly her,’ Hugh said later, ‘but I couldn’t quite put a finger on it.’
‘As she did, on you,’ rejoined Tye, with just a trace of malice.
Palaces had a habit of being somewhat disruptive of their travel routines. They set off far later than they should have done, and by the time they had taken affectionate leave of Felin and Tergina, and moved through the Interface to come into Terra at the bottom of the garden of the Redcorn home, it was well into evening.