Written for Every Woman Exchange 2016. Many thanks to Hokuto for beta-reading.
"It is agreed then," Samah said, his voice and posture confident. "The mensch are to be instructed in the building of ships and sent into the Goodsea to follow the seasun; they may dwell safely inside the durnai until we awaken."
Sitting in her place at the Council table, Orla thought that if she did not know their situation, she would not be able to tell from his voice: that they were besieged in their own city, that all the efforts of the Sartan could barely hold the walls in place against the dragons' attacks, that cracks were forming through which the seawater dripped. But she could feel how his air of assurance gave heart to the other Council members, and even to herself; they all needed something to rely on in this difficult time, and trusting Samah was an easy habit to return to. Orla did her best to silence her own doubts; the Council had thoroughly discussed Samah's plans. It was her duty now to support him, both as a Council member and as his wife.
Some of the Council servitors were sent to convey the Council's decision to the mensch. With the use of their rune-magic, they could make their voices heard by all the mensch at once, with no need for the inefficiency of mensch communication.
The Council moved on to other business, until Ramu returned to make his report. "Ramu," Samah greeted him. "Are the mensch preparing for departure?"
Ramu bowed respectfully to his father and the Council. "I regret to say that there are some difficulties. We informed the mensch of what the Council has decided, but there is a great deal of argument and discussion. Some of them are even saying they will refuse to go."
Samah sighed. "Their usual habits, I fear," he said. "But we cannot spend our time convincing the mensch one by one. They must understand that there is no alternative."
Tela rose to speak. She was one of the Council who inclined toward Samah's side in their discussions. "Surely, there is no need to spend more of the Council's time on this. Our resources are already stretched thin in fighting the dragons. They will understand well enough when Surunan becomes too cold for them."
"Let me go to them," Orla urged. "Perhaps it will be easier for the mensch if I explain in person. They are frightened, and they want to believe that someone is listening to them."
Samah frowned. "Very well," he said. "But take Ramu with you. He can assist with anything you need and keep the mensch at a distance if they become too troublesome."
"Of course, Samah," Orla said, addressing him by name rather than as husband since he was speaking as head of the Council. "I welcome his assistance." Unspoken was the fact that Ramu would also serve as Samah's representative and would expedite matters if he thought Orla was spending too long in coddling the mensch's foolishness.
To her dismay, Orla found the mensch embroiled in needless quarrels and reluctant to trust each other; dwarves stood aside from elves, who would not cooperate with humans, and even then they splintered into smaller factions and tribes. Orla had to go from one group to another, explaining and offering reassurances.
"How can you cast us out?" one human male protested. "The Sartan said that we would be safe here- and now you abandon us?"
The woman at his side nodded in agreement, her hand gripping his. "Our people are afraid of the unknown and worried for their families. What can we tell them, when they question us?"
Orla repeated the Council's arguments as patiently as she could, trying to assuage their fear. "You will not be abandoned," she said finally. "The Goodsea is not dangerous." To mensch, at least, she added silently. "If you follow the seasun, you will find safe refuge and habitats where you can live. There is enough room for all of you - humans, dwarves, and elves. If all the mensch remain close together in Surunan, it will only give rise to more fighting."
The two humans looked at each other. "We have relied on each other before," the man said finally. "We can do so again. I will convince my people to follow your plan. It will not be easy, to leave everything we know here. But as long as we have each other . . ." His arm went about the woman's shoulders, and they leaned against each other, seeming to shut out the world for a brief moment. It gave Orla an odd feeling to see them. It was pleasing, she told herself firmly, that these mensch at least were acting in harmony. She turned away abruptly and sought out the next group.
A few of the mensch had even tried to hide in the city so they would not be sent away, though of course the Sartan located them easily. "You cannot stay here," Orla explained carefully to one such group. "The seasun is moving farther away, and conditions here will become too harsh for you."
"If conditions are so harsh, why are the Sartan staying?" demanded one dwarf, who seemed to be the temporary leader of the group, though given the chaotic ways of the mensch, Orla could not be certain the same would be true on the morrow. There were murmurs of agreement from her fellows.
"We have told you already," Ramu said impatiently. "We Sartan are stronger and more resilient, and we are protected by our magic. The Council has judged this to be the best course." The Council, led by Samah, had also agreed that all hints of weakness among the Sartan must be hidden from the mensch; they must not know that the Sartan lacked the ability to keep the seasun in place, and above all, they must not learn of the strange effect of the seawater on Sartan magic.
The dwarf tugged at her side whiskers in agitation. "But how do you know those dragons won't eat us? And you can't expect us to go into the water in those fragile things! We're not leaving, and that's final."
Ramu looked at Orla, who nodded in reluctant agreement. There were many things to be done to prepare for their long sleep, and the walls still had to be defended for a while longer. "We have no more time to spare here," Orla said. "You must go to the shore with the others." Together, she and Ramu danced and sang the runes, lifting the mensch and transporting them to an empty spot near where the other mensch had been told to gather.
"Those ungrateful, foolish creatures," Ramu said darkly. "It would serve them right if we left them for the dragons."
Orla sighed. "They are frightened," she said, though privately, she was beginning to understand Ramu's irritation. "And we cannot expect mensch to understand things as Sartan do."
Ramu inclined his head stiffly. "This was the last group. I will go tell my father that the mensch are all gathered."
It took yet more argument (and convincing a last few particularly stubborn mensch by demonstrations of rune-magic) but at last the ships were completed. It would have been foolish to approach the water herself, but Orla sang the runes that would let her watch from a distance as the fleet moved out into the Goodsea. They would be safe, she assured herself. In any case, the Sartan could not spare more time or magical strength to help the mensch. They would have to look after themselves for a little while.
Samah's plans concerning the mensch were carried out successfully, and Orla believed that the rest of his plans would also turn out as he intended. A few weeks after the mensch departed, she stood in her garden, looking around at her carefully tended roses and flowering vines. She could feel the chill in the air; the plants were already beginning to suffer from the cold. This garden had been a place of rest for her, and tending the flowers had often given her solace when it seemed the problems facing their people were intractable. But it was time now to send the plants to rest. Singing and dancing the runes, Orla moved gracefully through the garden terraces; her power enveloped each root and vine until all the growing things were laid to sleep.
The garden looked very bare once she was done. But she knew it was only an illusion, that the roses would arise again with a sung rune. The Sartan too would soon send themselves to sleep; the crystal chambers had already been prepared. And when they awoke, they could begin again, working to create the perfect world they had dreamed of.
She found herself thinking again of the human couple embracing each other, giving and receiving comfort and strength. Samah had remained aloof from her in the past weeks, though she did not blame him for that. Samah had always had a very strong sense of duty; it was one of the reasons she admired him. He would not spare time for selfish, personal matters when the fate of their people was at stake. But soon- The time of their sleeping would seem a mere instant to them, though a hundred years would pass outside their vaults.
When the Sartan awoke, she and Samah too could work to repair any remaining distrust between them, with all the future ahead of them. The two of them could walk here together, in the garden beside the blooming roses. Orla touched a bare marble wall, imagining the garden once more full of harmonious colors and gentle scents. Under the Council's guidance, Chelestra and the other three worlds would become harmonious as well, as they always should have been, and all would be well.