Kings are diligent to discover the truth
about those around them.
– The Proverbs of Shedey’uwr
Two hours later they gathered in an elaborate dining room, smelling of soap and scented oils. The sauroids had been able to satisfy their every request, even Horace had pronounced himself happy with their accommodations.
Saans rejoined them at the table, sitting in the first seat from Seasar’s right hand. The two shamans sat, one on either side of the king. Opposite Saans was an elderly sauroid in drab, olive-colored robes. The Knights were seated next, three on each side of the table, followed by several lesser functionaries rounding out the rest of the company.
“Saans must be higher ranking than I thought,” Horace whispered to Jon, indicating his closeness to the king. “Maybe a Colonel or even a General.”
The thief nodded absently, his eyes captivated by the elegance of the room and its furnishings. From where he was sitting he could count several thousands worth of gold and silver fittings. Jeweled settings twinkled at him from around the room as well.
Katrina followed his eyes and guessed at the thoughts that must be running through his head. She elbowed him sharply in the ribs. “Hey, mister law and order, don’t go getting any bright ideas.”
He gave her a hurt look. “I’m not, but where did they get all this? There’s a fortune just in this one room.”
“Good. It means they can pay us when we’re done,” she whispered back.
Seasar tapped a claw against his goblet to get their attention. “A toast,” he said, holding it up. “To our new friends, may our association be profitable to us all.”
“Here, here,” they all muttered. They drained their glasses and dug into their food. There was a preponderance of meat dishes, understandable since the sauroids were carnivores, but all of it was excellent.
The king started the conversation almost immediately. “Mira, Alhan here,” he nodded at the elderly sauroid, “tells me you’re far more nervous than your friends. Why is that?” Although his voice was mild, his manner made it clear that he wanted answers.
The Knights froze, staring at each other. The king had put his finger squarely on their weakest link in this position, the one person among them who had a grudge against sauroids.
The clink of silverware died away.
The king waited patiently, ignoring the sudden tension in the room, continuing to eat as though nothing were wrong.
Mira felt the fine food turn to sawdust in her mouth at his unexpected question. She struggled to choke it down, trying to find some way out of her predicament. Nothing presented itself however and she slowly raised her eyes to meet the kings. “It is the result of an incident from long ago,” she stammered. “It’s nothing.”
“Tell me of this incident,” he said softly.
Her heart was threatening to burst from her chest. “I . . . I can’t,” she finally managed.
The guards stationed around the room came to life, surging forward to punish her for her disobedience, but the king waved them back. “Would I be right in assuming that this ‘incident’ involved lizard men?” the king asked her.
She nodded mutely, unable to trust her voice.
“Lizard men harming someone you loved?”
“Yes,” she whispered, so low they had to strain to hear her.
“Ordinary lizard men or sauroids?” the king pressed her.
She frowned and looked up, “What?”
The room was dead silent now, all attention focused on the exchange between Mira and Seasar. The king had given up his pretense of normalcy and was concentrating solely on their conversation. “There are two kinds of lizard men,” he informed her. “Those you are used to, our brutish cousins against whom you have an understandable grudge, and those of us who live closer to the sun.” He forward leaned on his elbows. “Have you noticed any difference between us and them since your arrival?”
Mira glanced nervously at her friends for support. Aaren gripped her leg under the table and nodded for her to go on. She gathered her courage and plunged ahead. “You’re smarter. You stand straighter, your hands are different. It’s . . . it’s a whole series of little things.”
“What you say is true. Do you know why?”
She was regaining her self-confidence a little bit. “You mentioned something about being closer to the sun?” It was more of a question than a statement.
He chuckled lightly and resumed his meal. “Very observant. The sun, as you might be aware, is a source not only of heat and light but also of vast magical power. Reptilian races such as ours respond favorably to that power. The closer we are to it, the more it affects us. The lizard men that you are accustomed to on Gaia are savages, little more than smart beasts because they are born so far from the sun. But here, our race responds to its power with a tenfold gain in intelligence. The closer we are at birth, the greater that gain will be.” The rest of those present relaxed and began eating again. “To distinguish us from our savage cousins, we call ourselves sauroids,” the king finished.
“I’m sorry I misjudged you,” she replied with difficulty.
He shrugged it off. “Think nothing of it, it’s quite understandable. You are not the first and I doubt you’ll be the last. But it does bring us to our need for your help, and you should be the most interested of all, Mira.”
He nodded. “General Saans? Would you outline our needs for our guests?”
“Told you!” Horace whispered triumphantly to Jon.
Saans nodded at his liege, then addressed the table. “As mighty Seasar told you, we need to be close to the sun at birth, the closer the better. But, although we’re already smarter than our unfortunate brethren on Gaia, we’re still not as mentally agile as we might wish. Most of our people aren’t as smart as those you’ve encountered here in the palace. We’re the lucky ones, our capacity rivals yours.” He paused. “How do we increase our people’s abilities? How do we do it in a manner guaranteed to give us the results we want?” He picked up his glass and peered owlishly through it at them.
“A pirate ship crashed a few leagues south of here, and we recovered the life chest, skengine, and star engine, along with all the controls.” He swirled the liquid around in his glass, then drained it. “We are familiar with such devices since merchants come by on a regular basis – we have enough gold to entice them it seems – and we’ve chartered their ships occasionally to visit Beorn’s and Harpel. So we knew what we had and how it could help us. We even designed our own ship, a brood ship to be stationed in close orbit around the sun where our children can have the maximum benefit from its power, but we ran into a problem.”
“None of our people can navigate in space. Our eyes aren’t adapted to it, we tried several times and nearly lost our ship because of it.”
Aaren and Elric exchanged a knowing look.
Saans saw it. “So, you understand our need.”
They nodded in unison. “Perfectly,” Elric said, “but we can’t stay around once your ship is stationed closer to the sun. We have to leave.”
“Yes, we are aware of that. So?”
“Well, once the eggs hatch, how are you going to get your children back here again? For that matter, how are you going to get new eggs up there?”
The king took over. “I think a slight demonstration will answer that.” He gestured at one of the guards. The guard nodded and ducked out. “Ryal,” all the sauroids briefly lowered their eyes, “has given us gifts that will solve that problem.”
The guard came back, thrusting the door wide open and a dozen more sauroids wheeled in two large objects. They were identical rings, with an inner diameter of 10 cubits, mounted upright on wheeled bases. The huge rings were made of intertwining strands of gold and silver. A large ruby was mounted on the side of each and alien words were etched into the insides of them. Seasar got up and went over to them. “These are the Rings of Ryal,” again all the sauroids lowered their eyes, “and they will allow us to cover the emptiness between the ship and our city in a single step. Observe.” He waved a hand over the ruby on one of them and billowing smoke filled both rings. He stepped through one of them and emerged from the other!
The Knights came half out of their seats in surprise.
The king chuckled at their reaction, waved a hand over the ruby, and resumed his seat. The smoke disappeared and the guards wheeled the rings out and closed the door.
“They will function over any distance,” the king told them, “in either direction. That is, they will constitute a two-way path between the ship and the city. So you see, once the ship is stationed around the sun, we will no longer need your services. You will be free to go your way . . . with our eternal thanks.”
“And some gold I hope,” Jon interjected. All eyes turned to him and he blushed under the sudden scrutiny. He stuck to his position though. “I mean, eternal thanks are all well and good and I hope we’ll always be friends, but it won’t pay for the repairs on our ship if you know what I mean. Sorry to seem so mercenary about it, but it needed to be said.”
Seasar nodded. “I have not forgotten the reward we posted. Rest assured, you will get your gold.”
Aaren signaled for the king’s attention. “I haven’t had a chance to confer with my companions,” he stated, “but I think it’s safe to say we’ll do whatever we can to help you. We came here to do a job and we intend to do it. If we’re as acceptable to you as you are to us, then there’s really only one question left to ask.”
“And that is?” the king prompted him.
Aaren spread his hands. “When do we start?”
“As soon as possible. Tomorrow or the day after at the latest. We don’t want any eggs on board until we’re satisfied that the ship is in position, so there aren’t many preparations that need to be made. General Saans will be in charge of the operation. You can coordinate everything with him.”
Aaren stood up and raised his goblet. The others hastily joined him. “To the mighty Seasar and his noble project!” He drained his glass and slammed it down.