Hembila is surprisingly well educated. He walked with me all day, and though no conversation was forced I found myself falling easily into it with him. He is regal in his bearing. He tells us that their family is the direct line of the Arbor Kings of old. The Sondu made Matasten the Sapphire City, and he intends to see it restored to that glory under his brother’s reign.

I asked about his reference to the Oaken Throne yesterday. Salisir was the first person from whom I had heard such a name. I told him I had seen no oak of which to speak in the Nanten.

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“That is why it is so valuable. The largest oak in all the world was found in the forests of Ba’hral, carved into a throne of one solid piece, and given to our forebears as a gift from the Prince of Ba’hrain. Soft wood is invaluable in the Nanten. Why do you think we build little from wood, but prefer clay, bamboo, or stone? These trees are difficult to fell and impossible to mill. Some of their branches are used to make canoes, musical instruments, or even works of art. But to build an entire house from this wood? It is simply not done, nor is it worth the effort.”

I hadn’t really thought about that. I told him that wood is ubiquitous in the villages of the Old Empire, but that much of the cities there are made of stone as well. What I found lacking in the Nanten, I ventured, were roads.

“Roads kill everything underfoot. They are a way of destroying for the sake of convenience. Perhaps this jungle makes for slower travel, but nothing needs to die so that we might pass.”

Since we are to meet his brother, I asked what we should expect him to ask of us.

“My brother’s plans are his to disclose, but he will listen to you. I hope he does, for he listens too closely to this Salisir and, like you, I do not trust him.”

“We’ve been told his is not the only claim to the Oaken Throne,” Dionus said.

“His is the only legitimate claim, and you would do well to remember this when speaking with him. My brother is a good man, but he is proud. These usurpers are a source of anger for him. We will unite the kingdom again, but for that to come to pass there will be blood spilled on both sides. It is the way of civil union forged from the ruins of war. No one will exit this generation with clean hands, but we can protect the consciences of our children.”

We will have to keep that in mind for when our plans to visit the Batsu are revealed to Fodafa. The players in this game are as ruthless as Salisir led me to believe. I only hope he knows what he is doing in putting his hopes behind the people of Motasta. I found it reassuring that Hembila doesn’t trust Salisir either, but wonder what that means for us. Suddenly I want to earn Hembila’s trust myself, especially if Salisir never did.

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