“Let’s see the world, shall we?” Teresthan said. Anna took his arm, somewhat against her better judgment, and let him pull her along through the other side of the site, where wildflowers clung stubbornly to some lovely rocks and waterfalls dashed in torrents under happily finished little bridges, some of wood and some of stone. Anna recognized decorative elements from some of her earlier drawings for railings and pillars. Teresthan’s grin brightened whenever she noted something with approval.
“And here we cross to the other side of the world.” Teresthan led her across a very pretty but foreign-looking bridge into more gardens being planted and tended by almond-eyed people with broad straw hats. Everything about their gardens was strange and wonderful, all carefully arranged with lots of empty space, and asymmetry that created symmetry out of the void left about it. There were small and large buildings with sweeping rafters and beams. Women in silk robes placed fragile panels of paper and reeds for walls with very simple but elegant tools. Anna would have lingered, but Teresthan pulled her through. “They don’t like strangers, though they are frighteningly polite about it,” he explained.
“I thought the far-siders never came here,” Anna said, looking back at the growing village and gardens as they continued up the hill.
“They don’t. They never have.”
Anna paused when they crossed another arching bridge, past first one and then another set of men with watchful, narrowed eyes shaded under their broad hats. “They’re different,” she said.
“As you might expect from people new to this half of the world,” Teresthan said, trying to pull her along out of range of the foreign glares.
Anna lowered her voice and walked along with him. “No, I mean all the buildings and colors and clothes on this side of the bridge are just a bit different from back there.” She saw more round shapes here, more use of yellows and blues rather than the deep pinks and soft greens in the site behind them. Though many things were the same, some weren’t, and the only guarded bridge in the area was the one where the two groups of very similar-looking men glared across at one another.
“We have two different nations of far-siders, do you suppose?” Teresthan asked.
“I don’t think, somehow, that they ought to have been put next to one another.”
Teresthan nodded. “I see it too. Well, they will be interesting neighbors, won’t they?”
“How about the other side?”
“Well, you’ve met the Vespiri workmen.”
“But it was to be Sarvarthi neighbors, wasn’t it?”
“The Vespiri have taken over the exhibit along with the rest of Sarvarthi, it seems,” Teresthan said, looking a little angry. “It’s mostly in Sarvarthi style, but it’s not what the Sarvarthi people would have chosen. Bazaars and fireworks, but not a thing about their medical academy. They’ll bring in paid Sarvarthi to look authentic and add color later, I’m told.”
“Do you have Sarvarthi relatives?” Anna asked. Many southfolk did. Sarvarthi was, or had been, an ally nation, dating back to a dramatic story about a Sarvarthi healer who had once saved the life of an Amryn.
“Probably.” Teresthan shrugged. “I’m related to nearly everyone.” He smiled. “Not to you, though.”
Anna chose not to answer that. “What are the buildings on the top of the hill to be?”
“The big one that’s already finished belongs to Firaus. Levour has the glass hall with the indoor gardens and the whole stairway down. The Vespiri are building that thing with the spiky towers, and Germhacht has that castle or factory or whatever mix of both that thing is.”
The top of the hill bristled with spires and scaffolding, spiny shells promising mammoth results. The fair planners had decided to put the most “advanced and civilized” nations with the largest pavilions at the top of the hill, and the more colorful, less important, and more ‘charmingly savage’ nations at the base. On the plain below the hill of advancing civilization there was space for the Biroon and Maguldi tribes and their menagerie of native animals, and some of the poor Maribellan natives. Anna had heard nothing of the native Maribellans but that they painted rocks and had been mostly run over by eager and desperate Maribelle colonists. It seemed a few more colorful and tribal people groups were awaiting import into spaces on the rocky ground between the hill and where the midway would be. Anna was grateful at once that the Shandorians had their space, however precarious.
The gleaming white monoliths atop the hill seemed, to Anna’s eyes, to loom greedily over the grass huts and colorful tents below. “Do you suppose they think of themselves as predator and prey nations, like Minister Eglesham said?” she asked Teresthan.
“They’d be silly to,” Teresthan said mildly. “Ever see a hunting dog go after a porcupine? Or any dog try to bully a cat? It never goes like they think it will.”
“Minister Whistlewright insisted that if we were under tier two, we’d look like delicious territory ripe for new colonies, factories, and natural resource mines full of cheap labor.”
Teresthan grinned, a little gleefully, at that last.
“If you say that in that case we shouldn’t do any labor, you will not like my temper,” Anna warned.
“What is Shandor?” he asked her.
“How do you mean? Are you asking if we’re a porcupine?”
“We’re something rather older and less predictable. We pull in and entrance our prey, until they come along with us.”
“Go on and tell me what you’re thinking. You clearly want to.”
“Shandor,” said Teresthan, coming to a stop, and looking at her, “is a fairytale. We need only tell it well, and we will have done what we should.”
“A rather good one, too. We have excellent material.” Teresthan twirled, a mad dance and a bow at once, and continued on down the path.
“But fairytales aren’t . . . well, people don’t believe them,” Anna said, skipping to keep up with Teresthan’s long strides.
“That’s part of what makes us so amazing and dangerous.”
“You really believe that.”
“Back home, for a while, I was training to be a bard. I’ve heard nearly all the stories. I know what we’ve done, what we’re capable of doing. What’s in us, and that the least of us can stand up and surpass the most powerful of us if the Land is with them. We’re made of stories.”
“But we can’t tell those. Half of that’s secret, isn’t it?”
“Trust me,” Teresthan said, “I know not to spoil the good bits of a story.”
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