In the time of the god-king, lord of the sky, director of rain, clouds, and wind, whose name was secret, emissaries came from the plains to Clevaria. They worshipped strange gods of earth, and carried one with them in a box of silver and lapis. They brought this god to stand before the god-king, and they brought also gifts of silk and ceramic and oil, and they spoke of alliance between the plains and Clevaria: between the high and low places of Shoun.
The god-king, lord of the sky, was a wise and proud ruler who had led our people to the heights and protected us there with power, dwelling at the Tower-at-Llur for ten generations, giving us a good life in the high places. The god-king saw that the emissaries brought gifts not born of the plains; that they spoke of alliance but promised hegemony. They offered their god as a gift, but it was intended as a counter to the god-king’s power, so that one god might struggle against the other instead of protecting the high places, and Clevaria would be ruled by the low places. So plans were laid against their plans, and traps set against their traps.
The emissaries feasted there in the high places, near to the Tower-at-Llur, and all was good. Agreements of trade and peace were spoken and signed, sealed with the laws of gods, but never an alliance. And always the god from the plains dwelt in the Dome-at-Llur, at the center of the high places, where all forces but that of the god-king, lord of the sky, came to nothing.
Now the emissaries grew tired of feasting and talking in the high places; their thin plains blood longed for the food and words and heavy air of their home. So finally they came to the god-king and said, Lord of the Sky, we wish to speak of the alliance.
This was a time for spear-straight speaking, so the god-king asked the emissaries if they would leave their god in the high places after securing an alliance. They answered that they would, saying that if Clevaria had had gods other than the god-king, then one of these in turn would be invited to dwell in the plains. Then the god-king asked them where in Clevaria their god would dwell. At this the whole court watched and listened widely, because this was the question of proof. And the leader of the emissaries said, Our god will dwell in its shrine, on a little dais below the left hand of your throne.
Then the god-king, lord of the sky, stood, and the air darkened with his wrath, and the emissaries trembled at the terrible voice that came to them out of the darkness. It said, Had you invited my priests to erect a shrine on a hill in your land, I would have known your friendly intent and been satisfied. Had your words housed your god in the Dome-at-Llur, or in the valley we call Ammedar, I would have known your harmless intent and been satisfied to sign alliance. But to house your god in my room is worse aggression than if I, myself, god-king, were to stand with my feet on your very altars! Then the god-king, lord of the sky, broke the box of silver and lapis, and threw down and destroyed the god from the plains. The courtiers fell upon the emissaries and killed them with stones, and burned the bodies along with all their tainted gifts.
They praised the god-king then, exclaiming that no mere earthen god, who must be carried in a box, could possibly match the might of the lord of the sky, who was incarnate in human form immortal and could move or speak at will, instead of through agents or in dreams. But the god-king frowned in the midst of the triumph, knowing that there would now be war against the plains; that the plains were prepared for war in case their emissaries should fail. Preparations began for the defense of the high places even before the courtiers had enacted the rites of victory over the earthen god.
War did follow, for the plains could not ignore the affront to their power, even had they laid no shadow of their desire on the high places. After the harvest had passed, scouts and lookouts from the hills began to tell of the coming of an army, one hundred thousand men with spears and shields and the eight-foot willow bows of the plains. At this the god-king smiled, for against the armies of the director of winds arrows were worse than useless.
Battle was joined in the foothills, and continued with blade and spear and mace and stone, and the magics of the wise of each side, so that the terraced fields grew strong and wild for three generations after the watering of blood that came. The god-king reached forth in power from the Tower-at-Llur and ensured that for each warrior of the high places who fell, two soldiers of the plains fell too, and two more were injured, and two more fled. But the gods of the plains were almost silent, except that the earth would occasionally tremble as if in fear.
On the ninetieth day after the winter solstice, when planting would soon begin, as the armies rested around Borandai in the foothills and the god-king paced in the high streets of Llur, the earth awoke in violence. The mountain-top vanished in smoke, and burning stones fell from the smoke onto towns and roads and high pastures, even in places so far away that they could not see the lights of Llur except on the clearest of nights. The earth shook with the release, no longer in fear but in rage. Then the god-king’s immortal body was destroyed, and the god-king went to dwell in Dream as the other gods do. And then it was that Clevaria became nothing more than the high places of the Slakiv Empire, paying tribute of gold and strong mountain stone and labor to the plains for many generations.
Some are still alive who remember when the Slakiv Empire shook within itself even as the earth shakes, and the high places were walled against them, and emissaries sent to tell the court in Daphili that no more tribute would be paid. Ever since our emissaries returned unharmed, the sorcerer-kings have ruled the high places, and Clevaria has been free.
But when a sorcerer-king orders an execution, the condemned is taken to the Crater-at-Llur. There the Sign lies graven cold in the earth. Clear rains fall and gather in the cold lake, but no plant grows and no animal moves.