Oppressive, terrible heat poured down, drenching fields in waves of purple-green fire. Rain had stayed away from Ptolia’s fields too long. Tall whotol tangles slumped in exhaustion, intertwining strands of growth first drooping limply, then crisping in parched death. Every cycle was warm in this land, but not so warm as this. Nor as dry. Ptolian Readers studied Council Records in detail for hints on survival. Surely their ancestors had overcome a season such as this. Yet as they dug back ten, twenty, thirty cycles and more, no answer became apparent. Frantic farmers cast about desperately, struggling to determine either cause or solution.
It was not long before a scapegoat was found.
Idled by drought, newly impoverished citizens with time to gossip noted a strange phenomenon. The Outcast Marna still worked daily, harvesting alfalfa seed steadily. Her neighbors mourned their own lost whotol fields and wondered bitterly. How could this be? No sensible way; obviously, some unnatural force was at work, perhaps an unholy compact between Outcast and some unspeakable evil….
Marna had no answers, ither. Despite her field work, she did not understand how these alfalfa plants survived. Garrhan could have told her about water tables and deep-reaching roots, but how many Ptolians knew anything about water tables? And Garrhan was not here to ask.
She felt her neighbors’ hatred; it came at her in waves, sometimes strong, sometimes not. Too sensitive to ignore this, she used the Mirror Technique, a mental mirror behind which she remained untouched while every violent thought returned untouched to its sender, reflected swift and hard as summer lightning. She was good at it. But it was tiring to maintain. She wished for her mate.
How did alfalfa survive? Not evil alliance; she knew full well Garrhan would serve only the sacred Eck, the holy Spirit, voice of Sugmad.
Fortunately, she was filled with a fresh knowingness, the keen awareness that before long he would finally return, he who was her strange yet wonderful mate. It was something she sensed with a rising inner excitement.
Meanwhile, greater and greater reservoirs of resentment built against Gar within the general populace. Devil indeed was he fast becoming to these simple agricultural beings. Having no alternative to offer, skeptical Clan Readers simply continued to dig through archive after archive.
One evening they found the answer. It was a stunning discovery. There had been a war, the last of the Ancient Wars. Short, bandy-legged Dwagels had swarmed from the sea in tiny boats, thousands of them bent upon destroying the Clan. So it was that few Ptolians later remembered the deadly heat: Bloody war dominated all memory. Council Records seemed to indicate, however, that more Dwagels had been overcome by the abnormally high temperatures than had their Ptolian Clansa opponents. Accustomed to cool underground retreats, their leadership erred fatally in attacking at the very beginning of an unprecedented heat wave. In fact, these grotesque creatures had held their own in battle, swinging double bladed axes that chopped all too many tall Ptolians down to size.
At daybreak, the Readers took these findings to Leh Ghian. He was already in conference with his commanders, discussing once again the intelligence brought back by Quaran’s daring jungle foray. Many steps had already been taken. Top crafts workers studied and tested new bows, longer and more powerful than the jungle based shortbows from which their design was stolen. Completed bows, along with barrels of arrows, were then promptly shipped to units stationed in combat readiness. Someday, Jinda must make his move; let the first battle be fought on Ptolian home turf.
These new Council Record findings were disturbing. Ghian knew Garrhan could not be blamed, but at least he could have dealt with the Sure One. How did one fight heat and drought? Having participated in the Dwagel Wars, he found his memory being forcibly refreshed. Yes, it had been a difficult time. He checked the Date of Record, noting how long ago all this had happened.
Exactly eighty-four cycles ago….