Sorry for the lack of updates, but I’ve been super busy. I’m doing well in NaNoWriMo – currently I’ve written 23,450 words – but not as well as I would like. I’ve been spending a lot of time writing papers, and just finished my first draft of “From Ardashir I to Mahmud of Ghazna: Society, Culture, and Identity in Early Medieval Iran.” Only two more lengthy research papers to write this month!
But, as promised, I offer you the prologue to The Divine Madness of Kings. As it’s going, the book is going to need a lot of editing, but at least the ideas are getting out there onto the page!
The sound of bells rang throughout the fortress-city of Ulaanbaatar, bouncing between pyramids and obelisks, spires and domes, towers and pagodas, buttresses and minarets. The entire city rested on the top of a gigantic column of stone, expertly hewn out of the earth. Aircraft from all of the planets of the Terran Home Rule and all of the Tribes of the Tyrrhish Nomads circled the city, and few craft from far beyond the borders of the Human Empire joined them as well.
At the center of the great city, capital of the Terran Home Rule and the center of governmental affairs of the entire Human race, lay the Grand Auditorium. It was filled to the brim with dignitaries and notables, all sitting stiffly in the pale limestone seats extending upward from a semi-circular stage at their front, containing at least twenty thousand beings from across the known universe. Scattered chatter filled the air, but
A Tyrrhish aircraft, bearing a striking resemblance to a metallic green fish, flew in low over the audience, circled the Grand Auditorium three times, and then sank down onto the floor of the stage, where several beings had been awaiting its arrival. A door opened in its hull and four Humans, dressed formally in the Tyrrhish fashion, with long robes in their tribe’s color of green flowing around them and enormous golden pendants inset with emeralds hanging about their necks, emerged, bearing a golden stretcher. They walked forward and laid it down upon a stone table brought to the Auditorium specifically for that purpose, and then stepped back to their aircraft. The beings who had been standing on the platform before then proceeded to move forward, and stood in a semicircle behind the stretcher.
The stretcher was by no means empty. A cloth of green lay across it, embroidered with golden thread marking the symbols of every Tyrrhish tribe. The Humans standing at each end of the stretcher – one wearing a blue robe with a sapphire pendant, the other with a black robe and obsidian one – turned to face each other, bowed slightly, grasped both ends of the cloth, lifted it off, and let it fall to the floor. The cloth’s removal revealed a still, peaceful corpse, arms crossed over his chest, and his eyes closed. He was dressed in the gray uniform of the Terran Home Rule’s military, but wore a Tyrrhish pendant around his neck. He was a middle-aged gentleman, and had the faintest beginnings of a five o’clock shadow on his face. His short, jet-black hair blew gently in a whispering wind, and his immaculately polished black boots reflected the sun into the faces of the audience.
The Human standing in the center of the semicircle of beings began to speak. He wore a red and black beret, and his dark skin gleamed with sweat as it trickled into his thick beard. “We are gathered here today to honor the death of one of the best of us. A Human who has achieved remarkable things in his life. He will never be forgotten, for without him, we would not be where we are today. An exile and an outcast, thrown out of Tyrrhish society and unwanted by Terran society, this man managed to become one of the most respected soldiers in the Human Empire, earning the trust of every Human under the Home Rule. He was chosen on the basis of his impeccable record to be the representative of his adopted planet, Pallas, on the greatest Human expedition of all time, on board a ship we called the Ambassador. That ship brought a hand-picked crew to the Seven Seas star system, in order to investigate life-signs coming from one of those stars. It was to be our first successful attempt to find sentient life- other than us, of course – in the universe.” The man paused for a moment and drew a small vial of water from a pocket. He gulped it down and wiped his brow.
“Despite many setbacks and terrible disasters, that expedition managed to return not only with the proven existence of sentient life, but also with that life itself. The survivors of the Ambassador expedition brought Juxtani Civilization to us all, and integrated us into a larger whole. We have emerged from this experience as a greater and better civilization. This man helped bring Juxtani Civilization to us, and us to them.
“But not only did he do these things. No, he also bridged the apparently irreconcilable gap between two peoples who had been separated for the better part of each’s existence: the roving Tyrrhish Nomads and the sedentary Terran Home Rule. He risked his life to go and find the people who had banished him and bring them into the Human fold, uniting the two halves of humanity at last.” The speaker smiled, and thunderous applause filled the stadium.
He raised his hand for silence. “But that is not all. No, not only did he unite Juxtani and Humans and Humans and Humans, but he also exposed the rotten core at the heart of the Home Rule. Along with the legendary Jakken Jalhalla Servidos and others, he helped to save the Human race from complete and utter annihilation at the hand of Banditry and then-Third Thiefking Roland van der Tyke. His work with the Order of the Bronze Dragon brought a terrible plot to slaughter all of humanity into the light, and thereby managed to help save us all, and bring the Home Rule out of the thrall of the Dervishes.” A collective shudder passed through the crowd.
The speaker smiled. “The man whose life and spirit so recently left us to pass into the hands of the Lord was a unifier, in the vein of the legendary Juxtani, Chivak Warbringer. He brought us back to the Juxtani, and brought the Tyrrhs back to us, and then saved us all from an untimely end. He will always be remembered for the sacrifices he made in the name of Human progress, and his death, peacefully in his sleep five days past, is a difficult blow for us all to bear.”
The man straightened up and saluted. The four Humans on either side of him did the same, while the two on the ends of the stretcher bowed their heads and clasped their hands together. “Mikhail Nikkelei, we salute you.”
A long series of speeches began following the end of the opening speech made by First Governor Jonah Michelson of the Terran Home Rule, starting with the Chief Admiral of the Terran Fleet, Michaela Johnson. Her hair tied back in a severe ponytail and her eyes set and hard, her speech was formal and cold. “Mikhail served alongside me on the Ambassador expedition. He was a good man, and a better soldier. Without him, we would not have made it back here alive, and without his insights and connections to the Order of the Bronze Dragon, the Dervishes scheme with Roland would have succeeded.”
Michaela saluted the corpse stiffly and stepped from the speaker’s platform, making room for a Juxtani dignitary, the Vizeri Lord Majias. Lord Majias spoke at great length about Mikhail’s character, emphasising not the importance of his actions, but the depth of his compassion and his wisdom. The Chief Shortel Ambassador to the Humans, Thyrak, spoke next, and told of Mikhail’s diplomatic skills and his impressive achievement of reconciling the Tyrrhs and the Terrans.
Another Shortel, Jarken, a close friend of the deceased, spoke about Mikhail in general terms. Several Tyrrh – including Mikhail’s own father – followed. “When we cast Mikhail from our ranks so many years ago, our community lost a great soul. When he returned to us, not as one of us but as one of them, we had been appalled initially, but his honesty, sincerity, devotion, and drive convinced us to at least hear him out. And when we did, when we returned to humanity as brothers, not as prey, we gained back our lost soul, and gained the chance to build a better future with our own kind – and the Juxtani.”
The last to speak in memory of the deceased was one Derekk Andres san Paolo, the husband of the vanished Jakken Jalhalla Servidos, and the director of the Office of Governmental Oversight. “Mikhail… meant many things to me. He was a close friend, and was a comrade-in-arms during the fight to save Earth and the Human race from Roland’s schemes. As a head of the Order of the Bronze, he showed us all that he was not afraid to skirt the authority of the law in order to do what’s right. He serves as the role model for the Office of Governmental Oversight, and has always been an indispensable part of our team. The world will be a much bleaker place without him. Rest in peace, dear friend.” Derekk bowed his head deeply to Mikhail and stepped back. Jonah Michelson took the stand again to make closing remarks and to invite everyone to the reception to be held in Ulaanbaatar’s Hagia building. Derekk did not wait for the First Governor to finish speaking before walking off the stage and into the wings.
A small boy waited for his father there, sitting on a wooden crate, and bounced to his feet as his father approached. Derekk smiled and knelt before his son, who threw his arms around his father’s neck. Derekk lifted the boy up over his shoulder, causing him to giggle. “Are you done, daddy?”
“Yes, I’m done with that farce.” Derekk put the boy down and grabbed his hand, walking him away from the Auditorium. His son waddled after him, looking up with eager eyes.
“What’s a farce, daddy?”
Derekk smiled. “You’ll learn no doubt when you’re older, Darien.”
“But I wanna know now,” Darien said. He let go of his father’s hand and crossed his arms. “I’m not moving until you tell me!”
Letting out a half-sigh, Derekk knelt down again by his son. “A farce is a show, son. It means that there was no substance behind it.”
Darien thought for a moment. “How was uncle Mikki’s funeral a farce?”
Derekk considered withholding that information for a few moments, and then gave in. Darien could be painfully stubborn, and Derekk had a feeling that his son wouldn’t move until he knew everything.
“Because the government was honoring Uncle Mikki like he was one of them in order to look good in front of the ordinary Humans. But Uncle Mikki only worked for the government for a little bit, in order to bring his people back into the fold, and then afterward did all he good to resist increasing government power.”
“Like you, daddy?” Darien asked, eyes gleaming.”
“Like me, but unofficially. I am still a member of the government, even though it is my duty to make sure they don’t get up to no good.”
Darien nodded sagely. “It all makes sense.” He beamed up at his father. “Someday I’m gonna be just like you!”
Oh, you will be, said a voice in the back of the young boy’s head. That and much more. Darien smiled.
Derekk smiled in return. “We’ll see. Maybe you’ll be something even greater than me.”
“I could never be as great as you, dad.” Darien hugged his father, and Derekk returned the embrace, eyes dancing with happiness.
But you shall be. Far greater.