Stanza III: A True Account of My Own Favorite Lies

“A True Account of my Own Favorite Lies”
By Lyandara the Unbowing
Written 2,589 standard cycles before the Crescendo

Reproduced from the original codex with footnotes by the Asarian Ministry of Heritage

Everybody lies.

But not everybody’s lies can fell an empire as easily as driving a poison arrow into the belly of a crag-devil.

Many have told my story already, and when they do, they usually begin when the Eladyan Empire arrives in my city. It wasn’t mine, I didn’t own it, but it was the only place I had known. I would tell you its name if I could, but I do not remember it. All I remember from that place were the many globes of painted glass that hung from every rooftop. I also remember the tall crimson banners of the Eladyan army and the smoke and stench of sun-bloated corpses that followed them.

I was one of the ones fortunate enough to be taken in alive. Many historians wonder how I must have felt to be made a slave by this band of foreigners. At the time, I did not suffer greatly since I was already sworn to a lifetime of servitude to a family of dyers. The work was arduous and left my hands aching with pain every night. But worst: the work was tedious, and my life so far had followed the same predictable routine day in and day out.

It wasn’t difficult to imagine that my life could have been better if I was a free woman but barring that I also saw the opportunities present in a life with change as its only constant. My servitude to the Eladyan army was full of such change. Each day, a different task, a different location, and the general mood and needs of the army were as inconstant as the faces of the moons.

Soon I began to understand the basics of their speech as I had much opportunity to listen to them speaking as I worked. Their scholars attempted to understand my own language with great fervor, but unfortunately for them, we servants were very very quiet. This was a trait instilled in us by our former masters and equally enjoyed by our new ones—save for the curious scholars. They wanted me to teach them so that they could serve their empire and seek to negotiate with the many warlords in the region that were quick to strike at the invaders, and quicker to perish.

I told them I would help them. This was my first important lie.

My former masters had guarded the secrets of their dyery with such jealousy that if I or any other dyer there tried to speak to a customer, my masters would be sent into a fit of rage and punish us severely. Their youngest daughter, the most compassionate among the brutes, explained their anger to me on a single occasion. “The smaller a secret,” she said with a wry smile and pointed at our workroom, “the more valuable.”

It didn’t occur to me that their method of dying clothes was a secret since it had been so freely taught to me from an early age. But I realized that the secret was free behind those walls only because we were not.

And so, I guarded my speech as if it were a secret. Had I taught my language and its nuances to the scholars, I would have been worthless once again. Relegated to cleaning latrines, cooking, and tending to every whim of the increasingly frustrated army.

Instead of refusing their request, I simply taught them wrong. I taught them the most vulgar of insults and provocations and told them they were formal greetings. I told them no was yes and yes was no, and I even taught them to speak in an accent spoken by a band of roving mercenaries which would have been despised by any in these lands. With every lesson, I further secured my own future.

One seasonably warm day, the army finally arrived at Ulraka—the city of mirrors. I had never been to this place, only heard of it from stories. But they spoke my city’s tongue, or rather, we spoke theirs. For they had swept their imperial armies throughout my lands many generations before and wiped out all traces of the mother language and culture native to those places before Ulraka’s conquest. This was long before Eladya’s armies now sought to do the same.

They asked me if my king lived there, and I told them that he did not. I didn’t think this was a lie then. I had only known my previous masters to rule me. How was I to know then that their master’s master’s master answered to a king in this city? I knew nothing of kings then, and I was thankful that the general saw my response as simple ignorance—which it was, rather than deceit—which it was not. I knew the perils and power of deceit. This is why I kept mine so well hidden.

 The generals sent the Eladyan scholars who I had trained in the Ulraki tongue, my own language, to negotiate with the king’s scholars. It wasn’t long before they brought the scholar’s heads back to us in a basket. They wore an expression of shock on their ashen faces. The Ulraki demanded to speak to the leader of the army directly, inside the palace, or else they would call on all their surrounding allies to attack our army as we were camped outside the city walls.

The general received advice from his council all night. He emerged from his tent at daybreak and agreed to meet the King of Ulraka in his palace. Seeing how there were no alternatives, the general took me inside the city gates as his translator. My first objective complete, I now had to make sure I did not let the foolish invader get himself killed.

Both leaders met face to face, surrounded by their most loyal guards. Only I stood between them, waiting to provide my humble service of translation. Nobody questioned me. The royal guards paid me little mind, even though I was closest to their king than anyone else.

The Eladyan general spoke first in his sharp tongue. I wrote a record of his words, so I am confident in their accuracy even now. He said: “What you see here is a scouting force. We have been sent to these lands by Hiladroz, son of Yilaria the Sufficient, Archon of Eladya and a servant of his people and their ever-burning will. I am a simple link in a chain that is being forged to unite all peoples under the light of Asar into a single united Empire, with Eladya at its jeweled center”

He paused there to make sure I could keep up.

“Your fabled city will make an incredible link in this chain. We ask for its peaceful surrender to allow for our scholars to draft the necessary revisions to annex your city. If we cannot have your peaceful surrender, then we will bring the might of our armies down upon you and those responsible for getting in our way.”

I studied the words I wrote down carefully (these were written in a script of my own making). The lie I told the King of Ulraka was this: “What you see here is a greeting party, sent from the city of Eladya from beyond the Redpeaks. We recognize the might of Ulraka and you as its rightful ruler. We would like to enter your judgment. You see, we are under invasion from a rival city that is an equal match to our armies, but compared to your empire’s might, would be nothing but vermin you could exterminate with ease. We seek an alliance. If you should decide our cause to be worthy, we would ask for your help in defeating our enemy.

“As a reward, we would offer up our city of Eladya to your rule. For us, it is more favorable to be ruled by a powerful friend than to be occupied by a savage enemy.”

The King of Ulraka leaned back in his throne and stroked his chin. I was already succeeding, for he did not kill the general where he stood. This surely would have happened had I faithfully conveyed the general’s arrogant words.

“And why would I want to travel so far to add such a small city to my dominion?” the King of Ulraka said.

I thought for a moment and said, “why should we take your boast seriously? Prove to me that your city should be something to fear,” I maintained the spirit of the inquiry but changed some important details in my careful mistranslation.

The general smiled wryly and called someone to his side. This was a man wrapped in a simple robe of crimson. He wore a black mask of what appeared to be polished glass which hid his face from the king. This strange man knelt, appearing at first to bow to the ruler. The king smiled until the rocks around the bowing man’s fingertips began to change. The rocks appeared to writhe under the man’s touch and a stream of blinding golden light crept towards the king. The golden stream grew like vines towards the throne and the king cried out for him to stop.

His guards raised their weapons, and the general lifted the masked man back up to his feet. As he did, the river of light vanished back into the stone.

“What was that?” the king asked in amazement. This, I translated correctly.

“Catalysis,” the general replied. I did not know this word in my tongue, so I mimicked the harsh sounds, feeling foolish as I did.

“Is this gift something you can teach me if we help your city?”

“How many of your soldiers can do this?” I pretended to translate.

“All of us children of Eladya are trained in some capacity, but any of the thousands of catalysts of the Citadel could deliver this city to us with minimal support from our armies,” the general replied.

I told the king, “If you help us succeed in our war, we will teach you gifts that would make you more powerful than all of your city’s forces combined.”

At this, the king frowned. He leaned back in his throne and raised a skeptical eyebrow, “If just one of your ka-ta-lees is this powerful then why do you need my help?”

I almost slapped myself when I realized my mistake. I needed to fix this or else everything could fall apart. I turned to the general with a look of concern and pretended to clarify the meaning of the word “thousands.” I lied that we did not have such a large number in our vocabulary.

Then I looked to the king and excused myself to him as well. I explained that I had made an error in my translation as I was still learning the foreigners’ speech. I had said “powerful,” I explained, but I had really meant to say “wealthy.” This seemed plausible, for even then, the meanings of wealth and power seemed so inexorably linked to one another.

I also invented a clarification from the general that catalysts can turn the most common of materials such as stone into any precious stone, metal, or resource.

The king seemed to relax at this explanation and asked the general to demonstrate this by turning a column of his palace to khisaam, a valuable type of gemstone found deep in the redpeak mines.[1]

I translated this request faithfully and watched as the masked catalyst placed his hands on the column. The sandy red stone slowly changed into many cracked planes of purple crystal as the wielder’s magic spread through the pillar.

The king nearly leapt out of his throne and laughed. He spread his arms wide and shouted, “Friends! You are welcome to stay as long as you want under my protection as I draft plans to send my armies with yours to secure victory! I will command my army to not raise a single spear at you and your force as long as our alliance exists.”

I paused, planned my lies, then said, “You have clearly shown that we are no match for your magic. You and your scouting force shall be welcome in my city under my protection. We shall not raise a single spear against your kind if you and your men show us the same courtesy. I will draft a statement of surrender and will command my forces to join your armies and to be at your command so that you may continue your great mission of uniting all cities under the light of Asar with our help.”

When I finished my lie, both leaders ordered their guards to stand down and embraced one another. Whatever tension had filled the room at our arrival was gone and the meeting soon turned into a feast.

I did not feel guilty then as I do not feel guilty now. The intention of the Eladyan general was to gain access to the city of Ulraka with as minimal resistance as possible. I helped him accomplish his intentions but only by taking away his speech and making it my own. Had the general and the king truly spoken to each other the words they meant to, the hall would be filled with blood and screams rather than food, wine, and laughter.

No catalyst am I, not shall I ever be, but I did not fail to see the transformation caused by my speech. I did not see it then, but my transmutation of those words that morning was more valuable than a pillar of khisaam.[2]

In this way, I stayed at my former master’s side and continued to lie. Each lie protected him, yes, but each lie positioned myself closer and closer to what I could see only in my dreams. I lied to keep the Eladyan army patient, even as the Ulraki king did not seem to end the festivities before surrendering, as they expected him to do.

Then I lied to the king about the general’s intention of assassinating him. I pretended not to notice the subtle poison that coated the rims of the goblets of wine that the Eladyans drank at every feast after that lie.

I told the Eladyans the truth about their poison as their veins turned black and the signs of the king’s deceit could no longer be hidden. I pretended to notice these signs at the same time as they did. I told them to not accept any drink but their own, but by that point it had been too late. They stormed the inner chamber of the palace and executed the King of Ulraka, delivering his head in a basket just as we had our scholar’s heads delivered to us.

The general had his revenge, but he and his men were still dying. They had unwisely trapped themselves inside the palace which had been surrounded by mobs of angry Ulraki ready to tear these invaders limb from limb. I met with the leaders of these mobs in secret when the moons were at their darkest. I promised to deliver to them the invaders if they respected the dying king’s last words: to make me, the only person who fought against the invaders for his life during their storming of the palace, the next ruler of Ulraka.

This was a lie of course. The king wasted his final words begging for his life, but nobody else knew this but his Eladyan killers and me, their ever-present translator.

They agreed, but I did not leave them until I had this in writing. I watched as they engraved my name, for all the public to see, in the column of kings in the public square.

It was only then, that I returned to the palace and lied to the Eladyans that our safe escape had been secured. The general was skeptical. I reminded him that even if I was lying, their choices were to die alone of poisoning in a foreign palace, or to die fighting their way out of the city where they could find an apothecary that would be willing to treat them in the nearest town.

This part was true.

If I was telling them the truth, then the only logical choice would be to leave the city unchallenged and find the cure.

But if I was lying, which I was, then the only logical choice would still have been an attempt to flee. For them, dying to survive would always be preferable to lying in wait for a slow and painful death.

This is the truth that I will always carry to my death. The best deceit is one which you always win, no matter if anyone believes you or not.

I watched as the Eladyans attempted to hack their way out of the city. They didn’t make it far, not even their catalyst. Most of them were killed before they could descend the long palace steps. They never thought to take me with them as a hostage. After all, what value could the mobs possibly see in a translator servant?

Little did they know that they were not sent to their deaths by a maligned servant, but by a queen who would no longer suffer at the hands of any master. I would extend this protection to my city—not the city whose name I had forgotten, but Ulraka—now my city of mirrors.

When the Eladyans returned, as I knew they would, I was not intimidated by their threats, or impressed by their mystical pageantry. Instead, I made them weep. I regaled them with the finest lies I had ever spun, lies that saw me bravely fighting as a humble servant to serve and save her foreign masters, masters who had treated me with more dignity than I had ever known. I told them how I held the general in my arms as he died and made me promise that I would do what I could to pave the way for their glorious and inevitable return. They gasped as they learned of the fictitious perils that I overcame to become queen of Ulraka. I claimed that I’d prepare these lands for our inevitable forging of this kingdom as a powerful link into the chain that would become the unstoppable Asarian Empire.

I showered them in gifts and praise, food and wine. In this way, I came into the fold of the Asarian Empire not as a conquered regent, but as a respected and powerful ally. I never bowed, nor was made to bow, to any Eladyan—Archon or elder. After all, how could anyone make Lyandara the Unbowing do such a thing?

[1] This pillar was inspected during Lyandara’s lifetime and was found to only have a thin outer layer of an impure crystal that is visually analogous to true khisaam. This would be consistent with the principles of catalysis since no materials can be transformed into others. The catalyst in question could have rearranged some of the molecular structures of the pillar to create this illusion, but it would have been an arduous and lengthy reaction. There is a pillar with these properties at the palace of Ulraka, but it is unclear if this one is truly the original or if the story was embellished and a pillar erected later to create consistency with this account.

[2] It is ironic that this line should become such a popular figure of speech to mean an object of immense wealth in Asar. As established in the previous footnote, Lyandara understood that only the outer layer of the column was covered in khisaam, rendering it far less valuable than it appeared. Scholars believe that Lyandara intended to maintain the ruse of the column of khisaam even in her final years. It is therefore fitting that the most popular Asarian figure of speech to describe obscene wealth is attributed to no other but Lyandara. The unironic use of this phrase means that she continues to fool many an Asarian to this day—a fact that she would have relished.