Chapter 1 can be found here.
Chapter 2 can be found here.
Kron, not participating in the turbulent demonstration, only drew further attention to himself. It was now that he realized, when the cries and involuntary gestures of euphoria ceased, that he had worked himself into a precarious situation. He had stupidly allowed his impatience with the queer fellow to quicken his tongue and to cloud his foresight. Others around him, those most able to observe his insolence, now conversed in stifled whispers. Kron remembered, perhaps too late, those things he had learned in his youth at the academy about the nature of this district, about its tradition of violence and sudden, spontaneous justice. The word justice could only be used loosely, for the local definition of it was nebulous at best, and depended less upon the act in question than upon the peculiar likes and dislikes of those in the immediate vicinity of the supposed transgression. He knew that he must remove himself from the thoughts of these reveling natives. Arrival at the destination of the others might allow him to slip away unnoticed, or plunge him into an even worse predicament. There he would be one infidel amidst thousands of true believers, and this would not help to guarantee his safety or assist him in the continuation of his journey.
“Stranger, do tell me something,” Dalamud began again, this time in a parody of the other’s own dialect.
“What might that be?” Kron asked in a tone of patient, civil politeness.
“My brothers here and I have just been wondering if all those in Dargrath have such haughty dispositions as you.”
“Haughty disposition? Why, sir, I hope that you do not consider me haughty! I suffer with the thought that I may have offended you and your brothers.” He scanned across those near to him, bringing to his face the most penitent and conciliatory of expressions. “I am a weary traveler, and have had too little rest on my long journey. This has, perhaps, depleted my manners and made me something less than a polite visitor to your beautiful land.” He dropped his head as a sign of displeasure with himself.
“I do not enjoy taking you to task in this way,” Dalamud said with great self-satisfaction. “We of Raqhun hold nothing but good grace toward visitors, but we expect courtesy and respect from those passing through here. We are a humble people, extremely humble indeed, and we look for the same quality in those taking advantage of our hospitality. Being a simple and unassuming folk, we have been exploited by those with keener wits and lesser morals.”
“I apologize,” Kron said, “for my unforgivable behavior.”
“Your apology is accepted. Let me say, stranger, that we of Raqhun are benevolent. We love to make amends, and usually do so by sharing our most valued possessions. Soon we will be arriving at that which is our greatest treasure. We hope, weary traveler, that you will stop with us at the sacred site ahead and join with us in the appreciation of a happening so rare and exquisite that it shall be noted and referred to as a turning point in the history of mankind. We are perfectly serious with this invitation, and believe that it would offer you an ideal opportunity to gain the rest which you so desperately need.” Dalamud smiled, obviously pleased with his speech, and exposing unashamedly his unsightly teeth.
Kron wondered at the source of the clever words that rolled forth from such a disgusting orifice. Dalamud waited excitedly for Kron’s reply. A score of others waited also, watching him with blank expressions that would surely liven after his response.
“I am touched by your thoughtfulness, and consider myself lucky to be here at this particular moment. I am humbled by your patience with me, and consider it a privilege to be invited to share in such an important event. Of course I will be there with you.” These words flowed without hesitation, and Kron saw the nods of approval after he uttered them. He pleased himself with them, but of greater importance pleased his critical observers.
So it happened that Kron encountered a further delay in his journey, being so persuaded to pause at the roadside to see the miraculous occurrence. It was several hours until he managed to gain a suitable position, with his guide, to be able to look upon the tree and make a judgment about it. A fence had been constructed around it in a circle, the radius of which was about twenty paces. A dozen men were inside this fence, all of whom were employed in some worthwhile capacity. Several of them were measuring the tree with a tape, noting and verifying both the most and the least obvious of linear relationships between various appendages and markings on it. Several artists were duplicating the tree on paper and canvas from different angles, attempting to preserve the thing in all its splendor for generations to come. More men were at tables writing, setting down the permanent and official record of what rose before them. They were governmental and spiritual scribes, those whose words and paragraphs filled volumes of books which could only be read by those deemed important enough to have been trained in that difficult capacity. There were also men there who guided the others, making certain minor but perhaps monumental decisions about words and colors and units of measurement, providing motivation and direction to the information that would disseminate from this place in the days to come.