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OK, done. On to today's extract.
I'm in an ebullient mood. So, one of the more fanciful, romantic corners of the setting today. Who doesn't love a flying island?
Qeraf, the Seven Cities and One
Ruler: Queen Anamanthalis, Divine Scion of the God-Emperors, Avatar of Pheleyia, Sister of Heliona
Government: Absolute hereditary monarchy
Population: In total 2,000,000 Atlanteans, 3,000,000 slaves
In the centre of Kintrala runs the Shasta-kin range, dominated by Arsach Rhok, Atlantis's Second Peak; on the side of the mountain lies Khebes'en, the City of Stairways and Steps, a peaceful city, walled, full of dusty narrow brown streets, full of dust, up winding stairways and alleys you have to traverse sideways, its precipitous slopes lined with houses. The source of the River Khebes runs from above the city, along the Western side and down past the base of the mountain, leading to the outskirts of the largest of Kintrala's forests.
The markets here are bathed in riots of sound and colour – the people wear bright, joyous colours, the men oil their beards and moustaches, and the women braid their hair in complex structural styles – and the smells are of sweat, and perfume, and of heavily spiced foods, savoury and sweet, that they make here and still sell in abundance. Sweetmeats flavoured with flowers from the forests; fish roasted in firepits and glazed with honey and herbs; aromatic rice cooked in a rich orange paste; chickpeas in spices.
Khebes'en is the One; but in the sky, above the peak of the mountain, Qeraf the first of the Seven. Qeraf proper. And stretching of into the heights, each higher in altitude than the last, seven inverted mountains of stone and earth bearing cities and forests of their own, that appear to the watcher among the clouds of the morning sky as if coalescing from the air, in a line, one after the other, five, six, seven, curving into the distance. Parfa, Sus, Peos, Odâ, Osuo and Alta.
The armies of Qeraf are a flock of great mechanical birds, trailing multicoloured pennants like the tails of something tropical and delicate, inlaid with copper and gold, all clockwork brass and jewelled eyes, each carrying a fine high backed saddle on which rides a warrior in high-peaked helmet trailing ribbons and beads, breastplate of polished gold. Beautiful and cruel, hard and fair as the mechanical birds they ride. Each morning they fly down to the market square below, to the waiting crowds, to sing for Khebes'en and Atlantis, to declare that the Queen yet lives.
And in a vast tent-palace on the island above, a court, a rich deep red carpet lined with courtiers in little groups, women in outlandish dresses that leave little to the imagination, piled up hair, makeup in reds and golds and silvers, men in elaborate cloaks and kurtas, high feathered turbans, golden breastplates that glitter in the streams of sunlight that filters through gauze panels in the ceiling of the marquee. In the centre of this extravagant beauty, on a simple gold painted trestle chair sits Anamanthalis, her hair falling in golden ringlets. She is one of the most beautiful women you have ever seen, appearing in her late thirties but far older, her chin delicate but strong, her cheekbones angular, her lips strong and full, startling green eyes under smoke-painted lids, heavy lashes, strong, thick painted brows. She shines like gold. She shines like life. She is one of the most powerful magicians in the world.
The people below love her, and the people of the islands of Qeraf, Parfa, Sus, Peos, Odâ, Osuo and Alta live in a state of expectancy; Anamanthalis awaits the call to arms, and in the meantime the city of Khebes'en and the seven flying islands above exist in festal stasis, each night filled with fireworks and song, waiting for marriage or war.
For Oduarpa has sent his suit: he seeks an Empress to join with his fate, to share his soul, and Anamanthalis has not decided to take his hand and legitimise his reign or to declare for the hidebound but known Helio Arcanaphus. The golden birds of Qeraf, the Seven Cities and One, are soon to fly out across the West.