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Humans and dwarves would consider this a nuisance. The elves, however, find it highly diverting and entertaining. If one room in the Grotto is closed off by the rapidly growing coral, the elves simply pack up their things and move to another that is certain to have been created in the interim. Finding one’s way through the palace is an interesting experience. Corridors that lead one place one day will take a person somewhere completely different the next. Because every room in the Grotto is certain to be one of surpassing beauty—the white coral glistens with an opalescent radiance, pink coral shines warmly—it doesn’t really matter to most elves where they are. Some who come to the palace on business with the king may wander the Grotto for days before making the slightest attempt to find His Majesty.

No business is ever pressing in the elven community. The words hurry, haste, and urgent were not in the elven vocabulary before they began dealing with humans. We dwarves never dealt with either until only recently in our history. Such diversities in human and elven natures once led to serious clashes among the two races. The Elmas, though generally easygoing, can be pushed only so far before they push back. But, after several destructive wars, both races came to see that they could gain more by working together than apart. The human Phondrans are a charming, if energetic, people. They soon learned how to manage the elves, and now they wheedle and flatter them into doing what they, the humans, want. This noted human charm worked even on the dour dwarves. Eventually, we, too, were won over by them.

The three races have lived and worked together, each on their own separate seamoon, in peaceful harmony for many generations. I have no doubt that we would have continued to do so for many generations more, had not the seasun—the source of warmth, light, and life for the seamoons—begun to leave us.

It was human wizards, who love to probe and prod and try to find out the why and the wherefore, who discovered that the seasun was altering its course and starting to drift away. This discovery led the humans into a perfect flurry of activity, quite marvelous to behold. They took measurements and made calculations, they sent out dolphins to scout for them, and questioned the dolphins for cycles on end, trying to find out what they knew of the history of the seasun.[15]

According to Alake, this is the explanation the dolphins offered:

“Chelestra is a globe of water existing in the vastness of space. Its exterior, facing onto the frigid darkness of the Nothing, is made of ice, fathoms thick. Its interior, comprised of the Goodsea, is warmed by the seasun, a star whose flames are so extraordinarily hot that the water of the Goodsea cannot extinguish them. The seasun warms the water surrounding it, melts the ice, and brings life to the seamoons—small planets, designed by the Creators of Chelestra for habitation.”

We dwarves were able to provide the humans with information concerning the seamoons themselves, information gleaned from long Times tunneling and delving into the sphere’s interior. The spheres are a shell of rock with a hot interior comprised of various chemicals. The chemicals react with the rays of the seasun and produce breathable air that surrounds the seamoons in a bubble. The seasun is absolutely required to maintain life.

The Phondrans concluded that, in approximately four hundred cycles’ time, the seasun would leave the seamoons far behind. The longnight would arrive, the Goodsea would freeze, and so would anyone left on Phondra, Gargan, and Elmas.

“When the seasun drifts away,” reported the dolphins, who had witnessed this phenomenon firsthand, “the Goodsea turns to ice that slowly encases the seamoons. But such is the magical nature of these moons that most vegetable and some animal life on them remains alive, merely frozen. When the seasun returns, the moons thaw out and are once more habitable.” I remember hearing Dumaka of Phondra, chieftain of his people, relating the dolphins’ information concerning the seamoons to the first emergency meeting of the royal families of Elmas, Phondra, and Gargan, the meeting that took place when we first heard about the seasun drifting off and leaving us. That meeting was held on Phondra, in the big longhouse where the humans hold all their ceremonies. We three girls were hiding in the bushes outside, eavesdropping, as usual. (We were accustomed to spying on our parents shamelessly. We’d been doing it since we were little.)

“Bah! What does a fish know?"[16] my father demanded scornfully. He never took to the notion of talking to dolphins.

“I find the idea of being frozen extremely romantic,” stated Eliason, the elven king. “Imagine—sleeping away the centuries, then wakening to a new era.” His wife had just recently died. I suppose he found the thought of dreamless, painless sleep comforting.

My mother told me later she had a mental image of hundreds of dwarves, thawing out in a new era, their beards dripping all over the rugs. It didn’t sound romantic to her at all. It sounded messy.

Dumaka of Phondra pointed out to the elves that while the idea of being frozen and coming back to life several thousand cycles later might indeed sound romantic, the freezing process itself had definite and painful drawbacks. And how could any of us be certain we would actually return to life?

“After all, we have only the word of a fish on that,” my father stated, and his pronouncement brought general agreement.

The dolphins had brought news that a new seamoon, a much larger moon than any of ours, had just recently thawed out. The dolphins were only now beginning to inspect it, but they thought it would be a perfect place for us to live. It was Dumaka’s proposal that we would build a fleet of sun-chasers, set off in pursuit of the seasun, find this new seamoon as did the ancients. Eliason was somewhat taken aback by the terms build and pursue, which implied a considerable amount of activity, but he wasn’t opposed to the idea. Elves are rarely opposed to anything; opposition takes too much energy. In the same way, they are rarely in favor of anything, either. The Elmas are content to take life as it comes and adapt to it. Humans are the ones who are forever wanting to change and alter and tinker and fix and make better. As for us dwarves, as long as we get paid, nothing else matters.

The Phondrans and the Elmas agreed to finance the sun-chasers. We Gargan were to build them. The humans would supply the lumber. The elves would supply the magic that would be needed to operate the sun-chasers; the Elmas being clever with mechanical magics. (Anything to save themselves physical labor!) And, with typical dwarven efficiency, the sun-chasers had been built and built well.

“But now,” I heard my father say with a sigh, “it has all been for naught. The sun-chasers are destroyed.”

This was the second emergency meeting of the royal families, called by my father. This time, we were meeting, as I said, on Elmas.

We girls had been left in Sabia’s room to “visit” with each other. Instead, immediately on our parents’ departure, we hastened to find a vantage point from which we could, as usual, listen in on their discussions. Our parents were seated on a terrace facing out over the Goodsea. We discovered a small room (a new one) that had opened up above the terrace. Alake used her magic to enlarge an opening through which we could both see and hear clearly. We crowded as near this new window as possible, being careful to keep in the shadows to avoid being seen.

My father went on to describe the serpents’ attack on the submersibles.

“The sun-chasers were all destroyed?” whispered Sabia, as wide-eyed as an elf, with their almond-shaped eyes, can get.

Poor Sabia. Her father never told her anything. Elven daughters lead such sheltered lives. My father always discussed all his plans with both me and my mother.

“Hush!” Alake scolded, trying to hear.

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15

Humans were the first to communicate with the dolphins and learn their language. Elves think dolphins amusing gossips, entertaining conversationalists, fun to have at parties. Dwarves, who learned how to talk to the dolphins from the humans, use dolphins mainly as a source of information on navigation. Dwarves—being naturally suspicious of anyone or anything that is not a dwarf-do not trust the dolphins, however.

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16

Humans and elves claim that the dolphin is not a fish, but a species similar to themselves, because dolphins give birth to their young the same way they do. Dwarves have no use for such a nonsensical notion. Anything that swims like a fish is a fish, according to dwarves.