Countless stories, lays and histories are told throughout the life of any Myldoran, and we were expected to learn many new tales while we were at the Place of Learning. This wouldn’t be the intimate storytelling we’d known at home; but our Lore Master made it as informal and comfortable as possible. Once we were comfortably settled on the cushions provided, he looked around and said, ‘I know you all heard The Tale of the Wise Ones when you were Fours, and I would take a guess it was a favourite with most of you?’ Heads nodded, while I shuddered inside.
‘The Tale you were told then was a simple story suitable for Fours, and here you’ll learn much more of what happened at that first meeting. But today’s Tale follows on from it, and traces the consequences of the discovery of Myldora by those first off-worlders. Now, you were told they were strangers, but I wonder, does anyone know who or what they really were?’
One Youngling jumped smartly to her feet, ‘They were explorers, Master Gureshimo.’
‘Yes, they were,’ he responded, adding, ‘when you’re here with me you don’t need to stand to give your answers, you will remember more if your bodies are relaxed.’ Then he continued, ‘But they were not just any explorers. They were a Survey Team from the Fourth Inter-Galactic Empire, Senior Masters sent out by their Elders to find new worlds. Those Elders ruled many people on many worlds, and they wished to find even more. They wanted to find worlds whose people or resources might be useful to them. And even though the Survey Team went away thinking we were an unremarkable people on an unremarkable world, the information they had gathered about us went into the Libraries of the Empire where it could be read by anyone else who had an interest in new worlds.
‘In the Months after they left, our Elders, knowing we could be in danger, called Senior Masters Guild by Guild, to Gatherings by the Great Lake, and they talked about how they could be better prepared to deal with new arrivals. For they all agreed we were now vulnerable, and not all visitors from beyond the Far Out Star could be relied upon to be peaceful.
‘It was then that the Guild of Star Watchers became so vital to our safety, and one of the first decisions made was to train more Scholars in that Guild, and to develop their training in new ways. Over the following Changes a worldwide network of paired Watchers and Callers was created so that there would always be plenty of warning if another ship should appear above us.
‘The Guild of The Turning also held many meetings and made detailed plans for all foreseeable situations, until everything was as ready as it could be.’
He paused to look around at us before concluding, ‘If any of you here become Scholars of The Turning, the plans for our safety will be a vital part of your training, and of course those like myself who train in the Mind Libraries will continue to learn that knowledge and pass it on from one generation to the next.’
Hearing this I suddenly realised I was a part of this story, I was connected to that distant past I’d heard about since we were Fours. So I wasn’t surprised when he asked, ‘What do you think this story is about now, Sevens?’
I tried to express my realisation, ‘It’s not just a wonderful tale of clever heroes beating their enemies Long Changes ago, Lore Master. It’s about us getting ready to go on with their work so we can keep Myldora safe. Not a long ago Myldora, but our Myldora, our Nations, our Houses, our villages, towns and families.’
‘Thank you, Bruathimo Shathureon. It is indeed as you have said; it’s about you, and it’s about now,’ and he waited, allowing us time to absorb this world shaking revelation.
‘Does that mean we’re not really safe?’ asked a visibly shaken Rolpure.
‘No, it doesn’t,’ he answered calmly. ‘We’re as safe as all the Masters of our world working together can make us, and that is very safe. This story is about the people you know whom you’ve never considered, and it will show that they are far more important than you ever imagined.
‘It’s about the Masters of Calling, the Masters of Turning, and the Master Star Watchers who learn the patterns of the stars and scan the skies for us, all of whom are trained and prepared to act should danger approach this beautiful world of Myldora.
‘But they’re not alone. Many many others are included in their plans and are ready. There isn’t one Guild which doesn’t include in its training skills which will help us to survive if a Total Turning should ever be necessary. Even the Guild of Service, whose members do the ordinary everyday tasks which keep our towns and villages clean, our shops and businesses supplied, and table linens and work clothes laundered, have their own part in the plans. They’ll be Turned first, to prepare The Refuge for our coming.
‘So the ancient story you heard when you were Fours continues today, because today our Elders are still meeting, still planning and still preparing. And now, today, you Younglings have become part of their preparations.’
He smiled, quietly amused by our now very solemn faces, ‘You can trust everything that’s being done for you, know you’re safe indeed, and learn how it became possible as you listen to The Tale of The Bringers of Gifts.’
‘We are the Myldorangi of Myldora, and we have three Great Gifts: The Remembering, The Turning and The Calling, and we live long full-lives. Hear now how we remember those who brought new gifts to us.
‘It rather surprised the Elders and Masters that Changes passed and no sign was seen of strangers from beyond our stars. One or two began to think that we needn’t worry so much. But most decided the plans must be kept and the new training should continue, and they were the true wise ones.
‘What no one had understood was just how complicated is the passing of time when people travel between the stars. For although messages can be sent almost instantly, and even the star-ships move faster than we can imagine, still, here on Myldora many Changes were passing while that first ship journeyed towards its home world. And that was all to the good, for it gave time for Scholars to be trained in new ways, and for many Masters to be created from Apprentices.
‘So it was that it was sixty-seven Changes before another ship was seen, this time by a Star Watcher in the far north of the lands of the Pronarenori. Within two days the Call had gone out and Senior Masters were arriving at the Place of Gathering. Before another two days had passed, every Myldoran was as prepared as they could be to act on any message that might be sent from the Great Lake. Now all they could do was watch and wait!
‘This star-ship wove strange patterns above us for two Rounds-of-Days before it began to descend, and finally it came to rest exactly where the first ship had stood. And as if re-enacting a well-known story, the Elders Elydinetro, Trerethilimo, and Ashenengora, once more went out to meet strangers from beyond our Stars as they left their ship.
‘On this occasion seven golden-skinned men and women, with auburn hair curling gently to their shoulders, stepped forward to greet them. They wore trousers and fitted tunics in a variety of muted colours and soft leather shoes or long boots. At once they spoke in our Myldoran tongue, offering their good wishes, and explaining they had come with a desire to learn from our Elders, and to share with them knowledge of their own.’
We murmured in surprise at this unexpected twist to the tale, and the Master asked, ‘What do you think of that, and what do you think the Elders did?’
‘I think it’s very strange, but whether it was good or bad I don’t know,’ Enkulimo answered.
‘Perhaps Great Master Trerethilimo would have known,’ Poelimo tried to sound casual and avoided glancing at me. ‘Doesn’t the first story say he could tell what they were thinking? In any case I believe the Elders would be very careful and not trust them too soon.’
Several other Younglings voiced suspicion, but said they thought the Elders would at least pretend to be friendly for a little while.
‘Can anyone guess how they knew our language?’
Reoshimo was first to answer, saying, ‘You told us the Survey Team had put everything they’d learned into their Libraries. So these people had studied our language there – and they’d have followed the Survey’s directions to the same landing place for the ship.’
‘Yes, that’s it exactly. Well done. Don’t rely on just one story to tell you all you need to know about something, Younglings. If you think there could be a connection always look at more than one tale. So let’s find out what happened next.
‘A simply furnished pavilion was set up not far from the foot of the ramp, and refreshments were offered and accepted. Then, after introductions – which gave the strangers no hint of our skills or Gifts – the conversation commenced.
‘These people described themselves as scholars of a world named Zutlia. (In their world scholars are like Senior Masters – adults with Changes of training and experience – and most were specialists in their Libraries.) They told the Elders they gathered histories, studied how other races lived, and shared knowledge which would aid peaceful worlds. Their Senior introduced himself as Team Leader Qeplo and assured Great Mistress Ashenengora, “All we want to take from your world is knowledge of your stories, tales of your past, and understanding of your lives.
‘ “And we have come in haste because we want to learn these from you before your ways change.”
‘ “Why should they change? We have no desire to change them!”
‘ “Forgive me Lady Ashenengora, if I say that others have said this before, but once they have accepted off-world knowledge and technologies then change is as inevitable as the Rising of Myldora’s Near Sun each day.”
‘ “We accepted nothing!” broke in Elydinetro. “We took nothing from them because we understood almost nothing of what they showed us,” he added, attempting to maintain their carefully crafted reputation as simple folk.
‘Qeplo bowed. “I stand corrected, Great Master Elydinetro, and that fills me with hope, for rare indeed are the worlds where races like your own are not seduced by the wonders of high technology and all that scientific progress seems to promise.”
‘It was at this point that Trerethilimo took a turn in the discussion. “Team Leader Qeplo,” he remarked very quietly, “you spoke of sharing your knowledge with us. I would ask you two questions if you will permit it.”
‘ “Of course. We will be glad to answer them,”
‘ “Surely sharing your knowledge with us will do precisely what you have just regretted. It will begin to change our lives and our traditional ways. So I ask, why do you offer us something which will do what you do not wish to happen?
‘ “And then I would ask, precisely what knowledge are you offering? For we are disinclined to bargain our tales for a gift hidden from sight. It may be that we shall make the same decision again and refuse your knowledge as distasteful to us.”
‘There was an embarrassed silence, and he hurried on, “I say this openly, for I believe you are a man who speaks the truth and does not hide behind empty words.” ‘
‘This,’ the Master explained to us, ‘was Trerethilimo’s way of letting the other Elders know what he had Sensed of Qeplo’s feelings and intentions, without him guessing his skills.’
We were delighted at his cunning, and our Master, after taking a brief drink to ease his throat, led us further into the tale.
‘ “You are both perceptive and wise,” replied Qeplo, quite undisturbed, and bowing to Trerethilimo, “and I will endeavour to answer you.
‘ “You ask why we would offer you something which will change you. It is a sad but irrefutable truth that once a world has been found by the Empire’s Survey Teams, and the report entered into their archives, that world will not be left undisturbed. Others will follow with a variety of motives, and change cannot be avoided.
‘ “We Zutli go to enormous lengths – some of them, I confess, not entirely within the limits of the law – to be first to read the Survey’s reports, and send our ships in haste to those newly discovered worlds. This we did, and came to you in the hope that the changes which will come from our knowledge will be small; for what we offer is just that – knowledge, histories, tales – and the use you make of them will be entirely of your own choosing. We hope the knowledge we offer may guide you in the future, most particularly by warning you against those who do not wish you well.
‘ “In some cases we may offer some low technology and the necessary information to maintain it. But that depends on who we’re negotiating with. And that should answer your second question,” he finished.
‘Qeplo’s Second, Team Leader Cloxi, bowed to the Elders. “Great Ones,” he began, “may I put a question to you which may help you understand more fully your position and our concern?”
‘The Elders glanced at each other, and then Trerethilimo (who had, of course, understood his colleagues) nodded graciously.
‘ “I give you thanks,” Cloxi responded ceremoniously. “I would dare to venture that after the Survey Team left here you had lengthy meetings with the leaders of your people.”
‘He paused just long enough for Elydinetro to answer gravely, “Yes, we did.”
‘ “Can you tell me, without revealing anything you do not wish us to know, whether you planned changes to your lives in order to be better prepared for the next off-world visit?”
‘Now the Elders looked seriously disturbed, and hesitated to answer.
‘Qeplo slid smoothly back into the conversation. “I am truly sorry this is causing you distress, but I. . .no. . .we,” he indicated his whole Team, “believe it’s important for you to understand how your life and traditions have already been changed, even though you accepted nothing from Survey.
‘ “We want to offer you whatever will best protect you from further interference while suiting your traditions. We have vast archives which we can make available to you. We have been to many worlds, and have learned much wisdom from them; wisdom we can pass on to you. What do you say?”
‘ “Great Master,” Ashenengora said, honouring him with a title equal to hers, “we thank you for your explanation. I hope you will forgive us if we now take time to consider both what you ask and what you offer. And I beg you will not take offence if we ask that you remain on or very near your ship for two days until we return with our response to your request.
‘ “This pavilion will remain here, and fresh food and drink will be provided each day. Should there be anything further which you need, you have only to ask one of our Junior Masters, and they will immediately pass your request on to us.”
‘ “Great Ones”‘ said Qeplo, bowing low to all three, “we have learned that wisdom comes from not rushing, but using our time fully and well. We are a patient people, and will gladly enjoy some days of rest in these pleasant surroundings while you confer together.”
The Master looked around at us. ‘Now, Younglings, are you inclined to trust the Zutli any further?’
Shanure was first to answer this time. While the rest of us were still hesitating she gave a carefully considered response. ‘From the words they spoke I would say they should be trusted. However, Lore Master, we didn’t hear their voices, or see their faces and the look in their eyes. How can we judge them properly without those?’
He raised his eyebrows in amazement, most impressed. ‘Shanure Ystureon you have answered wisely!’ he said, as we nodded our agreement. I guessed no one in our Thirty could have done better.
‘No more is needed but for me to tell you what in fact occurred.
‘As you would expect, the Gathered talked right through the next two days, their arguments veering now one way, now another. The problem lay not in whether the Zutli’s gifts were to be trusted, but in the fact that we could not tell them one single story or history without revealing the truth of our Great Gifts. If the Elders were to agree to this trade of information, then Myldora’s secret was revealed. That was the point on which they were stuck. Finally it was decided to speak to them again.
‘Since this situation, on which the whole fate of Myldora might depend, was extremely delicate and potentially dangerous, a further six Elders were chosen to be part of the next day’s negotiations; chief among them being Uanangure, Lore Mistress of the Theamurori, (thus ensuring that the Lore Masters of all three Nations were present) and Spiranathenu Great Master of Calling of the Pronarenori.
‘Now. . .if you are thinking, Younglings, that putting all of our Great Lore Masters in danger was foolish, be assured that it was not. For one of the others chosen was the Great Master of Turning of the Pronarenori, who, with Trerethilimo, was to prepare to Turn the whole delegation to a place of safety called The Hidden Sanctuary.’
Caught up in the tension of the moment, we sighed in relief. The story had gripped us with anxiety despite the fact that we wouldn’t be hearing it unless those Elders had survived.
‘At midmorning on the third day nine Elders returned to the ship, greeted the Zutli, and made further uninformative introductions. Since Great Mistress Ashenengora was the most senior of the Elders, and the Zutli seemed to have no prejudices about gender roles, she had been chosen to continue as their speaker.
‘So, having invited all present to be seated, she began, “Team Leader Qeplo, we have discussed your offer most fully but have been unable to arrive at the decision for which you hoped.”
‘Disappointment wrote itself all over his team’s faces, and even Qeplo was hard put to appear undisturbed.
‘ “However,” she continued, ” being a people who value truth and trust, we have agreed to explain to you, in outline only, the problem which faces us.
‘ “We are inclined to trust you with our stories, and would do so if we had not very carefully hidden from the Survey Team the heart of our identity and our history. There is nothing we can tell you without revealing this, and we believe, despite your best efforts to conceal it, it could draw unwelcome attention upon us.
‘ “We trust you to offer us nothing inappropriate to our traditions, but we cannot tell you those traditions, and this, honoured people of Zutlia, is our situation.”
‘ “Great Elders of Myldora”‘ Qeplo replied, after a few moments for thought, “we are honoured by the trust which has enabled you to mention the existence of hidden matters. We will respect your desire not to uncover your secrets, though we shall regret them for many years!” and he nodded sadly before concluding, “With your permission we will now withdraw into our ship for a discussion of our position, returning by mid-afternoon to conclude these negotiations.
‘ “However, before we do so, my Team will give you their solemn word that they will never, under any provocation, reveal that the Myldorangi of Myldora hold secrets unknown outside their world.”
‘Each team member then came forward and made their promise, after which they all ascended their ramp and the door to their ship was shut.
‘ “Trerethilimo, speak!” commanded Ashenengora sharply. “Are we in any danger? Should we Turn?”
‘ “No, and no, Great Mistress!” he answered. “I Sensed deep regret, a true sadness for all they might have learned, but no anger, no desire for revenge or retribution. I believe we may continue to trust them, and return here at mid-afternoon to receive their last words to us.”
‘ “Are we all agreed?” she asked in a voice filled with relief. They were, and when Spiranathenu had sent a message that all was well, they departed to the Great Lake to eat and rest.’
At this point one Youngling was unable to restrain himself, and burst out indignantly, ‘But. . .but it’s called The Tale of the Bringers of Gifts!’
The Master roared with laughter, and we sat there astonished, not knowing whether to join in or to feel offended. When he’d recovered himself and wiped his eyes he smiled broadly at the boy, who was now extremely nervous.
‘Indeed it is, my friend, indeed it is, and you have just paid me the greatest compliment of my career, never before has one of my listeners been so caught up in my storytelling. Patience, Younglings, we are not at the end yet.’
He took another drink, settled himself again and resumed the tale.
‘Once more the Elders came to the pavilion, where they seated themselves to await the return of the Zutli. They were much amazed when, after ensuring the door was closed behind him, they saw Qeplo descend the ramp alone.
‘Walking over to stand before them, he bowed deeply. “Great Elders of Myldora, you have been generous in your hospitality, and careful in your speech. So it is that I come to speak to you alone. Let what is said between us now remain forever locked in our hearts.”
‘The Elders were startled at this, but Qeplo spoke on swiftly, “I believe you are indeed Great, that you are Masters and Mistresses of notable and wondrous skills. . .about which I have not spoken to my Team, and about which I will not ask!” Seeing their continuing fear, he made the sign of reverence to the Grace, and offered them some reassurance.
‘ “Do not be anxious, my friends, the thick heads of Survey have none of the deep wisdom of the many worlds which I have studied over long years, nor do they believe as you and I do. And there are those of us among the Zutli, Great Master Trerethilimo, who are also ‘perceptive’; though we do not have such a Great Master as yourself on our Team at present.”
Ignoring Trerethilimo’s open mouth and the gasps of several Elders, he said, “We believe worlds such as yours are particularly precious; that your traditions and stories should survive as much unchanged as possible; and that you should be helped to protect yourselves.
‘ “Unable to judge as precisely as we would have wished,” and he smiled sadly, “we have nevertheless decided to offer you three gifts.”
A muffled cheer was heard from a certain Youngling, and we chuckled.
‘ “We wish to offer you some powerful skyscopes which we trust will enable you to keep a better watch for incoming visitors. Should you agree to accept them, Cloxi will instruct your Master Star Watchers in their making. Further, we will give you star charts,” he saw their puzzled looks and explained, “star patterns on special material, showing the stars and planets in this quadrant of the Galaxy.
‘ “Lastly, we wish to instruct you about the races who are most likely to be roaming this quadrant; which of them are to be trusted and which feared and avoided. No doubt you will choose who from among you is best qualified to receive that information.”
‘In a stunned silence the Elders each looked to Ashenengora and nodded. Visibly shaken, she stood to reply to his offer, “Qeplo of the Zutli, if we are Great then you and your fellows are immeasurably greater, and we are shamed by your generosity.”
‘He moved as if to speak again, but she held up her hand and continued, “We have no need to consult further, but with the deepest thankfulness will accept your offer. We do have simple viewers, but something more powerful which is within the capabilities of our smiths and other craftsmen will be a wondrous gift indeed.
‘ “Our Picture Makers will, together with the Master Star Watchers, gladly learn to understand the charts; and the Wise Ones of our Libraries will be glad to hear of those others who wander the vastnesses beyond our System.
‘ “If you will give us a little time to make due preparations we will welcome you to our Gathering Place by the Great Lake, where there are the workshops and halls necessary for our instruction in these skills, and where you may stay until your generous tasks are completed.”
‘Neither then or at any other time was mention made of his ability as a ‘perceptive’. He had shared the fact of it with them in confidence as a sign of his honesty, and it was held so for very many Changes, being passed under oath only to the Great Lore Masters. It was two Long-Changes before the Elders decided enough time had passed for the truth to be included in this story, as you have just heard it.
‘So it was that the Zutli, out of their natural goodness, gave us their gifts freely; and still Long-Changes later we can look into the further skies, understand what we see, and be prepared to welcome or avoid those who come our way from time to time.
‘And thus it is that the name of Team Leader Qeplo is among the Most Highly Honoured of Myldora, and so it is, my Younglings, that you are kept safe and will in your turn keep others safe.
‘And that is The Tale of the Bringers of Gifts.’
We sighed, and left the Hall in thoughtful silence, knowing that everything we Learned from that day on would be coloured by the Tale we’d just heard. Childling Play was well and truly over.