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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Turning Darkness Into Light

Marie Brennan

Tor Books

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STUPENDOUS FIND IN AKHIA


Newly Discovered Cache of Draconean Inscriptions

Lord Gleinleigh’s Triumph

“True history will be revealed at last”

Though nearly barren of water, the deserts of Akhia are a wellspring of secrets. Year by year, their sands disclose the remains of the ancient Draconean civilization, which has fascinated the public for hundreds—nay, thousands—of years.

Today they have given into the hands of mankind a priceless treasure, nearly the equal of the Watchers’ Heart itself: a tremendous cache of inscriptions, hidden by unknown hands in the deepest recesses of a cave, lost to memory until now. An expedition led by Marcus Fitzarthur, the Earl of Gleinleigh, ventured into the barren region known as the Qajr, where archaeologists had little hope of significant discovery. While sheltering from the midday heat, the earl himself found the cache, containing hundreds of tablets never before seen by modern scholars.

What hands buried them in the sheltering earth of that cave, so far from any settlement yet discovered? Was this the act of some ancient hermit or miser, protecting his library against the eyes of others? Was it an attempt to safeguard these texts against the violence of the Downfall that ended Draconean rule? We may never know, unless the words themselves give some hint to their value or origin. But the content of the tablets is as yet unknown; Lord Gleinleigh insisted on their prompt removal, before looters could flock to the site and steal away this priceless treasure. He is already making plans to bring them to his estate at Stokesley, where he has amassed one of the most extensive private collections of Draconean antiquities in the world.

When approached for comment, Simeon Cavall of the Tomphries Museum offered the following statement: “We congratulate Lord Gleinleigh on his stroke of good fortune, and hope that the world shall not find him behindhand in sharing the details of this cache with the public.”


From: The Office of the Curator of Draconean Antiquities

To: Alan Preston

14 Nivis

Tomphries Museum

#12 Chisholm Street, Falchester

Dear Alan,

All right, you win. Lord Gleinleigh is every bit as insufferable as you warned me. I drove through the dark just to stay at an inn, rather than accept that man’s hospitality for the night.

His private collections are every bit as stupendous as rumour claims, but it’s hard for me to admire anything when I know he must have acquired half of it in shady overseas markets, and the other half from our own shady markets here in Scirland. He is exactly the kind of customer Joseph Dorak and his ilk like to cultivate: he clearly cares nothing for the artifacts in their own right, only for the prestige they bring him, especially the Draconean materials. When I think of the bas-reliefs alone—treasures chiseled off their original homes to decorate the walls of that hulk he calls an ancestral estate, and probably smuggled onto our shores—I tell you, I could weep. The Akhian government would never have given him permission to search the Qajr if they’d had the slightest clue he would find anything of value there. Now he is in possession of what the papers insist on calling “the greatest archaeological find since the Watchers’ Heart” (bah—I’ll lay odds he bought that coverage himself), and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

I cannot decide whether it would be better or worse if he had any facility at all for languages. Such knowledge would give him a greater appreciation for what he has found; on the other hand, he would probably undertake to study the inscriptions himself, and undoubtedly make a botch of it, for he has not the dedication to do it well. As it stands, Lord Gleinleigh is so jealous of his find that I had to argue with him for hours before he would even let me see the whole of it, rather than a few scattered tablets—never mind that I cannot possibly be expected to deliver a well-informed judgment on the material if I have no information to judge from.

But I finally convinced him, and so here is the long and short of it.

The cache consists of two hundred seventy-one tablets or fragments thereof. Some of those fragments likely belong together; there are at least three pairs I’m certain of, but a great many more that would require further examination. If I had to guess, the final count will be closer to two hundred thirty.

Their condition is highly variable, though it’s unclear how much of that is due to botched conservation. Credit where it is due; Gleinleigh did have the sense to attend to that right away, so we hopefully shouldn’t see any more salt damage. But some of the tablets are fairly weathered (from before their burial, I imagine), and a few have suffered extensive surface crumbling, which I fear will make decipherment of those sections difficult, if not impossible.

In terms of subject matter, they’re an assortment, and I didn’t have enough time to do more than make a quick assessment. Some queen lists; a few carved into limestone that look to be royal decrees; quite a lot that appear to be completely prosaic tax records. (I sometimes think the literary production of Draconean civilization was fifty percent tax records, if not more.)

But as for the rest … yes, the rumours are true, or at least I think they are. Fourteen of the tablets are shaped to a uniform size and thickness, with what looks like the hand of the same scribe at work on them. They seem to form a continuous text, judging by the notably archaic nature of the language—it’s riddled with obsolete signs, which made assessing anything quite a challenge. What little I was able to parse at a glance seems to be a narrative. Whether Lord Gleinleigh is right to call it the “lost history of Draconean civilization” I cannot say without further examination, but it is unquestionably a breathtaking find.

And completely wasted on such a man.

However, there is hope! Given how reluctant Gleinleigh was to let me see the tablets, I thought I would have to spend months persuading him to have them translated and published. But apparently he recognizes that no one will care about what he has found five years from now unless they know what it says, because he suggested translation before I could even bring it up. What’s more, I have persuaded him that the dignity of his ancient name requires the greatest care and attention be given to these tablets. Your mind has already leapt in a certain direction, I’m sure, but I shall surprise you by steering you two generations down: I think we should recruit Audrey Camherst.

In my opinion she is easily her grandfather’s equal, where knowledge of the Draconean language is concerned. Furthermore, she has the advantage of her sex. You yourself said that Lord Gleinleigh treats every man who comes near him as either an inferior or a threat to his own prestige, neither of which would serve us well in this instance. Miss Camherst, being a woman, will not provoke him to such displays of superiority. And if he does try to throw his weight around—well, Audrey has her grandmother’s name to use as weapon and shield alike. Given that her family’s attentions are currently focused on preparing for the Falchester Congress next winter, I doubt her grandfather could spare the time and care this task would require, but Audrey would leap at the chance.

I have not yet recommended her to Lord Gleinleigh’s attention, as I think the lady deserves some amount of warning before I drop him on her doorstep. But unless you have a strong argument to the contrary, I intend to write to her as soon as possible. The world is panting to see what those tablets have to say, and we should not make them wait.

Your friend,

Simeon


Copyright © 2019 by Brynn Neuenschwander