With some farewells and some companions, Irikshan departs from Shormton to begin his trek across the Imaadudish Empire.
3072 words | 12 min
Irikshan’s departure was more ceremonial than he’d expected. Even so, it was not very ceremonial.
That morning he had gone to see Colonel Drew, who’d commissioned a map of the continent as a gift for Irikshan. It had a far more detailed representation of the continents of Otai and Eleon than the map that he had had before.
This map also marked the empire’s territory along with the names and borders of the provinces within the empire. Most bore the same name as when they had been independent kingdoms, save those whose rebelliousness had outlasted the patience of past emperors. These had been made examples of, then forged anew.
While the empire’s homeland was in southern Eleon, the vast majority of the land they controlled was in fact in Otai. They controlled the bulk of northwestern Otai but had made comparatively marginal gains in Eleon. Under the rule of the late emperor and the current one, they had begun to take land in Vrakura, the continent that Irikshan and the Tumenzarians called home.
He was currently in Namhni, eastmost of the Otai provinces. The optimal course that Drew suggested would take him in a spiral around the empire, heading northwest into Meihian, then northwards into the Imaadudin homelands, followed by a westward path through the northern provinces before taking an eastbound route back through the southern provinces. He would end his capital-city-hopping tour back in Namhni, before departing from Shormton again.
Yet, Irikshan could not suppress his excitement to meet groups of dragons other than the Tuemenzarians and Ebonscales he’d seen all his life. He decided on a more direct westward path after visiting Meihian. He would be happy to pass through Meihian again if need be.
Before Irikshan’s departure, Drew had exchanged Irikshan’s Bank of Gordieva notes for ones issued by the Imperial Bank, which – unlike those issued by the more local banks – were universally accepted across the empire. He had got a one-to-one trade ratio, despite the imperial notes clearly holding more value. He suspected that Drew, who had also provided Irikshan with supplies for his journey, had subsidised these costs from his own funds. When he’d expressed his gratitude, Drew had told him not to mention it – so he did not do so further. However, he did resolve to come to visit Shormton and Drew before he returned to Tumenzar.
When it came to his departure, Irikshan had simply expected Drew, the gate guards and the mages who were to accompany him – Lucile and Jared. What he had not expected was a small crowd of citizens that had come to see him depart, along with a handful that wished to travel with him.
“I’m not going to be slowing down for your sake,” Irikshan looked at the merchants’ wagons that stood outside the stables, hidden behind the people congregating in the courtyard. Beasts of burden the horses may be, but those burdens would surely slow them far more than his companions’ mounts. “I’m only obliged to travel with the imperial mages. If it were not for them, I might have flown all the way between cities.”
“But master dragon,” the one that had approached him began, “we-”
“Enough,” another spoke, “Aydan. ‘Twas foolish to expect the dragon to escort us. He has his own business to attend. We can hire guards if you’re so frightened of bandits.”
Aydan opened his mouth as if to protest, but then thankfully thought better of it.
“Won’t be bandits near Shormton anyways,” Drew approached, “I’ve been making sure of that.”
The merchant gave a nervous nod, then returned to his caravan.
“What are bandits?”
Before Drew could answer, another human pushed his way through the crowd. He was leading his horse which was saddled and distinctly lacking a cart. Upon sighting Irikshan, the creature let out a shrill whinny before suddenly calming. Irikshan sensed a thread of willpower connecting Lucile’s mind to that of the horse.
The human only seemed briefly surprised by the horse, before continuing his approach. “Meneer Irikshan, mag ek, net ‘n reisverhaalverteller en -kunstenaar, by U aansluit?” His enunciation and accent impressed the dragon but were not that of a Tumenzarian. While the man did feel vaguely familiar, Irikshan could easily see that this ‘travelling storyteller and artist’ was no Tumenzarian. He continued in Imaadudish, with an accent that almost seemed local but was slightly off. “I believe it may be greatly beneficial to my craft to travel with you.”
Touching the human’s mind, Irikshan sensed a burning curiosity, but a mental barrier that he dared not test blocked all but this emotion. He looked to Drew. He’d defer the colonel’s knowledge of his fellow man.
“Kamon, I did not expect to see you back so soon.”
“The winds were favourable and brought the ship to port ereyesterday. Word reached my ear of a dragon from a far-off land who has skill with the pencil, brush, and mind’s eye. I had to see him for myself. Once I had, my mind was made that I shall strive to travel with him. My works may be all the better for having travelled with a dragon. Imagine the stories we could trade while we travel.”
A moment of silence passed, Drew wearing an expression Irikshan could not read, while Kamon looked almost expectant. Irikshan only barely noticed a slight movement of the man’s free hand, turning his palm upwards and fingers towards Drew.
“Ah, yes,” Drew made up his mind. “You may join them so long as you do not pester Irikshan or get in his way.”
“I shall endeavour to be unobtrusive.”
Quite unexpectedly, Drew began to chuckle. When faced with the others’ quizzical looks, he said, “All this hoo-hah about the first dragon being here in decades, and we’re getting four in a month.”
A short-lived spike of the hope impaled his heart before Irikshan realized he would have noticed if any more of his kind had arrived. “I don’t see any others?”
“A team was dispatched from Meihian a couple days ago to do some work for the emperor. Or maybe his advisors.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I was told this morning, and you were busy enough. Besides, you won’t encounter them on the road. They’ll be flying.”
“Do I have to have an escort?” Irikshan gestured to Lucile and Jared. “I would much rather fly.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Very well,” Irikshan concluded. “Let us get going, then.” Before anyone else asks to join. He bowed his head to Drew, who returned the gesture, then turned towards the gates and began his march. He heard the mages prompt their horses to follow, while their newest companion scrambled to climb upon his own and then trotted to catch up.
Miscellaneous children chased after the group as Irikshan passed under the great arched gate, but they did not follow for long before the calls of their mothers bid them return.
And so, they departed on their journey – down the main road that travelled north of Pangoor Lake but south of the Tessanemir Hills and eventually to Meihian.
The well-travelled road was not dirt as it once might have been. Part of the Empire’s efforts to increase the ease of movement for both commerce and troops had been to build great long paved roads between major cities. As an Otai trade city which provided access to ports in both Eleon and Vrakura, the main road was appropriately paved and well maintained.
Irikshan wondered if the workmanship truly remained of this calibre all the way to Meihian, or if the records were exaggerated.
For now, there were many minor paths branching off into the abodes and places of work for those who could not afford to be within the city walls. He had come out here before in some of his exploration beyond the city. The place was no slum, but still held a stark contrast to the wealth within the city.
People dotted the sides of the road here too, watching him with the mix of expressions that he’d since grown accustomed to. Speaking to the people who lived here had proven challenging. Many did not speak Imaadudish, meaning Irikshan had relied on Jared to translate their Namhnese for him. But now he simply advanced along the road, not stopping to speak.
Eventually, the houses gave way to the agricultural land that, along with fishing activities, kept the city fed.
Lucile, who had been following at a distance and talking to Kamon, trotted forward to Irikshan’s side. Seeing that she was holding a familiar orange towel, he stopped and reached for it. He took it from her and rubbed the cloth against his scales, before returning it to Lucile and walking several steps onwards.
Now paying attention to his three-man entourage, he saw Kamon bring his horse to a stop at Lucile’s flank. She leaned over from her horse and gently caught the horse’s attention while Irikshan sensed her loosening her mental hold on it. Irikshan did not need much experience with horses to tell that it was skittish.
She comforted it, with gentle strokes on the head, ear scratches and apparently blowing its nostrils. Eventually, she brought the orange towel closer to it, allowing it to smell it while continuing to calm it. Its ears turned backwards and it let out a snort, but a carrot that Lucile offered quickly caught its interest. She gave the horse another scent of the towel before feeding it the carrot.
Satisfied to see the horse crunching away, Lucile tutted her horse onward, signalling to the rest to continue forwards. “Keep your mare facing him until I say otherwise. I shan’t be suppressing her all day. If she gets spooked and the danger is not in front of her, she will bolt. We will get her more accustomed to him during our breaks.”
Irikshan recalled what Lucile had done with the two of her horses that she and Jared now rode. She had simply kept the horses facing him, while he stood still. It took a good deal of time, but – with nowhere else to go, and no sudden movements from him – their fear gradually gave way to curiosity. Unfortunately neither had spotted the carrots he had offered them, as orange as his hand was, but they did eventually smell his hand and ultimately become more comfortable in his presence.
“So,” Kamon began, “What’s stopping Master Irikshan from simply flying off and continuing his visitation of the empire’s greatest cities at a pace more suited for a being gifted with such magnificent wings?”
“I find myself asking that.” The question had clearly been directed at Lucile but asked in such a loud manner that Irikshan couldn’t help but feel invited to join in.
“Well, he’d probably be arrested.” Her answer was also ostensibly directed at the other human but clearly intended for Irikshan.
“And what if he resists?”
“I’m sure he’s studied history and knows of the strength that comes with numbers.”
Irikshan snorted loudly, interjecting, “Becoming a fugitive within the empire I seek to learn about would not be beneficial to my studies. I do not intend to defy the emperor.”
When no one said anything more, Irikshan looked around at the scenery. He’d previously made some sketches of the fields – open, growing crops, or grazed by cattle – that lay on the flat or slightly hilled lands stretching almost as far as the eye could see, with the dark green and grey of treetops and mountains above the horizon before them. He needn’t make more sketches just yet.
“Kamon,” he looked to the man, “Tell me about your travels.”
“Well…” He prompted his steed to move a little faster until it was in a position more in line with Irikshan’s flank. He kept the horse’s head directed slightly towards Irikshan, although it refused to turn this way and continued on its parallel path. “I travel around the empire’s territory – and its neighbours, where safe, gathering and sharing stories of the people, the lands, and the folklore. I guess not too different from what you plan on doing, save you’re doing it for… the sake of research? Fun?”
“Primarily the former. We don’t have enough reliable information about the people of Otai, having… kept ourselves away from humans for so long. You probably know, but we’ve only begun to trade with the human kingdoms nearer us in Vrakura in the past couple of centuries, following the example of the Ebonscales. But I do also find researching fun, in a way.”
“Hmm, you Tumenzarians seem to have a thing for accumulating knowledge. I make a living through my stories and art, but do have my family’s wealth if all else fails.”
“What do you think of ‘us Tumenzarians’?”
“Tough crowds to please. The first time around, the folks of Tumentown didn’t want anything to do with me. Understandable that refugees from the empire wouldn’t want anything to do with a man of the empire.
“Then I moved on to your main cities. Found more of an audience there, but surprisingly few would simply listen to a tale for the sake of a tale. It seemed like they would rather – for lack of a better description – barter knowledge. Met several dragons and humans who treated me kindly, but they usually held some ulterior motive. Not something malevolent, mind you, but ulterior nonetheless.”
“Barter? Ulterior? Malevolent?” Irikshan butchered the pronunciation of those words.
Kamon thought for a bit. “Ruil, verteekte and kwaadwillig.” Kamon did better.
When Irikshan nodded, he resumed, “When I later returned to Tumentown – having learnt how to adopt a more local tone and facade, I found a warmer welcome in the city. The people were eager to hear tales and performances that distracted them from reality.”
Irikshan waited for the man to continue. When it became clear he would not, Irikshan asked, “Where did you learn our language?”
There was a moment before he spoke where an expression that Irikshan could not properly read crossed his face. It was something akin to pleased, but not quite. “I learnt most of it from scholars here in the empire who had returned from Tumenzar, but I was further tutored by a dragoness in Tuemensuid. She gave me discounted fees in turn for aiding her in improving some of her Imaadish notes. You might know her. Oluwa.”
Surprise lit up Irikshan’s eyes. “Oh! She’s the one who taught me Imaadish!”
“Yes. I witnessed the starts and ends of some of your tutoring sessions. I neglected to introduce myself at the time, and when I asked after you – all I was told was that you planned to explore the empire at some point in the future. I had no idea that, months later, I would encounter you again in the empire – especially so soon after we both arrived. Although, when I did arrive and hear of an orange and green dragon, you quickly came to mind.”
“I’m afraid I did not take much note of you then. I did not outright recognise you today, although you did strike me as familiar.”
“Not to worry. I was just another human, come to your lands to learn.”
Irikshan took some time to think back to his lessons. In replaying the memories, he now recognised one of the humans as Kamon.
While he did interact with humans and wasn’t entirely dismissive of them, interacting with them was… uncomfortable in a way…? Uncomfortable wasn’t the right word. They came and went with the seasons. He struggled to form meaningful connections with them beyond the formalities, knowing the effort would be wasted when they departed in such a hasty fashion, either from Tumenzar or the world entirely.
Despite their short lives, they lived at such a slow pace. Such inefficiency. Even now they slowed him due to their own insecurity about his trustworthiness, or perhaps some other reason only they understood.
Irikshan became lost in thought as they continued their journey.
The empire had already had already changed the face of Otai. Arguably even the world. What would their legacy be? Would the empire outlive the humans of today? What of the dragons? What would the archives have to say of these conquerors when five generations of Tumenzarians had passed? Many a rise and fall was documented within, long forgotten by humans – each leaving their mark on the world in some way.
Eleon, the continent Imaadudin called home, was a war-torn place, with kingdoms constantly vying for land, resources, and the power those brought. The very first queen regnant of Imaadudin had decided that pursuing campaigns in Eleon would not be the best long-term strategy for the kingdom. Nay, it was the bounty of Meihian – and the kingdoms that lay behind this great barrier – that caught this queen’s eye.
Over two hundred years ago this monarch seized power, despite her father’s dying will. She launched a brutal campaign against the Meihianese, earning her an apt nickname. The mere prospect of facing both dragons and humans that defended their homeland had dissuaded many a would-be conqueror, but not Bloody Mary. She was victorious but did not reign long. A Meihianese assassin cut her reign short.
It was Mary’s half-sister and successor, Elizabeth I, who set the precedents for Emperors and Empresses to come. She ruled moderately and fairly, integrating Meihian as part of the empire rather than a vassal. Meihianese, and citizens from most kingdoms conquered from then on were treated as citizens of the empire. She set about forming an imperial culture to unify disparate peoples.
Her expansions into new territory were stylized as bringing civilisation, technology, open commerce, and culture to those in need. Any that actively dissented from or plotted against the crown were quickly and quietly dealt with by the vast and powerful Secret Service that flourished within the empire under Empress Elizabeth’s reign.
Although a military superpower – the empire was not afraid of resorting to diplomacy, intimidation, or subterfuge to get what it wanted. The empire made substantial gains through the centuries to become the giant it was now.
Even this empire strove to emulate one of past, that lasted in some form or other for over a thousand years. Do humans learn from the mistakes of the past, or are they doomed to repeat them?
All in all, this meant that there would be a great deal for Irikshan to see. And to learn…