She sat at her desk, reading the lastest flash messages. The ones she had hoped she wouldn't see in her lifetime. Although she had been a part of the great evacuation for most of her entire adult life it was still a shock to see the reports that the vast dam of the west had fallen past the point of any repairs. Nature had finally decided it wanted the basin back as a sea.
She had, of course, asked for confirmation, but she had also issued the return order for the few remaining observation stations in the basin and had passed to message of the break east-ward, to let them know the time had come for the great flood of their era. The confirmation would have to come along the ridge route of the signaling stations that had been so useful in tying together the eastern and western ends of the low desert. Still it would take days for messages to go the whole length and breadth of the entire region. She knew the tales of the devices from the 'Age of City and Circuit' that could supposedly connect the same distances in moments. In fact, the legends say in real time. But those are tales from before the 'Days of Chaos', before the cities fell and the circuits stopped. Before, for a while, humanity stopped being human. The only thing that was certain, was that much knowledge had been lost when the devices failed, and during the floods and fires of that time that destroyed many of the libraries around the world. And there had been many times since then when books and learning had been attacked.
This great castle had come into back into being during one of those times, some 700 years ago. It had been built as a bastion against one of those tides on the site of an castle that was thought to have pre-dated the 'Age of City'. It had become a center for learning since then, famous throughout the two continents. It was here, scholars had discovered that the western ocean would reclaim the basin all to soon. It was here, that the plans for the great evacuation were made. And so it was here that the center of the evacuation was decided to be set. And it was to here that a young girl, born in sight of the sea dam, had come. With her gift for languages and diplomacy, she had been in the basin to explain the coming disaster to many different tribes, and to help them understand why they needed to leave the lands of their ancestors. Sometimes it took bringing tribal members to the dam itself, so they could see what was being done and how it wasn't working.
She didn't realize how well she was thought of until a little over 11 years ago when she was made head of the Departmant of Evacuation. And now she also had to oversee the leaving of this castle, for when the cartographers had discovered the Castle Rise would end up as an island, the decision to move the University was made. So, over the last few years, college by college had been moved across the valley and up slope enough to be out of the flooding, until only her people, some of the mappers and a group of signalers were all that remained. One last caravan of folks and belongings to be made before the waters got too high. All the pack animals and carts were here and being readied just for this day.
She kept focused on her work as much as possible recently, she didn't like looking up and seeing the once cheerful and well appointed walls and rooms so barren. She knew she would see the paintings, tapestries and furniture on the "Main Land" in a few days; but not seeing them here, in their familar places, where they had been for so long, left her empty.
"Main Land... I guess that's what we'll all have to get used to calling the other side of the valley now," she thought as she worked.
A soft knock with a familar rhythm let her know who was coming in. Of course it had been a long time since they had shared anything more than a friendly glass of wine and good conversation. The leader of Signal Station 2 was married to a lovely woman and her own marriage... well, she had her work now. She did wonder why he was stopping in here, since the only thing they needed were the pack animals and handlers for the equipment from the station. So it was a suprise when she looked up and saw not only the three from the station, but also two strangers, a young man and young woman. They had the clothes and complexion of a basin tribe, and the woman was slightly limping with a bandage on her left leg. For a brief second she wondered if the two might be 'worshipers', basin folks that would want to know what sacrifices they needed to make to stop the sea from returning. But then she got a good look at their faces and changed her mind. She decided, "These two might be 'Applicants'. They have that look of 'knowledge hunger' that makes a good student." And she didn't let their age or possible lack of formal education enter into the thought of welcoming them to the school cloud her judgement. There are many people who have been on their second or even third 'life-work' and become fine scholars.
"May the day bring joy," she said in greeting to the group.
After the greeting had been returned, she asked, "Who have you brought here?" and was told they had been seen coming out of the Basin and the woman had a wound on her leg from a large cat. And also that these two spoke a language they didn't know. Coming from these three, the travelers must have come from far away, since these signalers knew enough of the regional dialects for at least basic understanding.
They came forward, and after only a slight pause, they spoke: ">Hello!<
", he said. And she said, ">Do you understand us?<
" in a language which she had been taught by an old man when she was younger than these two, and which most of her fellow linguists thought was 'dead'. This was going to be difficult. "A >SOmeWhaT*<
little." She knew her phrasing was off, as was her pronuncation; but the travelers admitted they could understand her.
She then asked in this broken half forgotten tongue where they came from and received a huge shock when they said ">We're from the sea.<
" No. No! That was her biggest fear. That somehow a group had been missed. Everyone agreed the basin had been completely cleared for the last 6 months! One scholar had even come up with a brilliant way to make sure they found all of the different groups by asking several members of each tribe and village to tell them about any other group that they knew of. The scholar said, "We should be able to catch all of the groups this way, since every group interacts with at least two others." And yet here were these two. Who were these people and were there more of them?
She asked for their patience and dismissed the signal crew so they could get back to what they needed to do. She got them to lay aside their packs and got some cushion chairs for the three of them. She hadn't had to do this in a long time, explain the coming flood to someone newly met. As they talked she came to the conclusion she was right about their thirst for knowledge and their intellegence. These two would fit in around here just fine.
But then she found out that they had come alone and that their tribe was still in the Basin. And her heart fell to her feet. No, a thousand times, NO! And when she finally told them about the Western dam breaking and how it how much big the sea would become, she saw the shock on their faces. ">The sea can cover MOUNTAINS?<
When she heard the woman say they needed to get back to their tribe so they could be warned and make it to safety, she realized they didn't understand how big and fast the flood was going to be and that it had already started. That they would have to accept their families were probably already dead and they would need to say "goodbye" to them here, for she couldn't send anyone down to look for a lost tribe. All color drained from their faces as her words sunk in. They looked like they were ready to break down. But then their eyes met and in a flash they grabbed their bags and ran out the door without a word spoken. Before she even stop them. She looked at the swaying beads for a silent moment and sunk to the floor crying. Crying for these two she had just met. Crying because she feared their certain doom. Crying for the 40 members of their tribe who wouldn't know how bad it was. And crying for any other lost peoples that no one would know were gone.
Several minutes later her helper and her friend came in and saw her there.
"Mistress, did those barbarians hurt you?"
"Should we call for guards? I knew we shouldn't have left those pitters alone with you."
"CALM! Language!" she ordered. "Be still. They didn't harm me, except ..." Her old friend, with several others, ran into the room.
"Are you okay? What happened?" he asked.
"I told them of the coming flood and they told me about their tribe. A tribe we somehow missed in the many years of searching. Even though I just met these two, for some reason it hit me hard that they might be rushing to their certain doom."
As they all mulled those words over, one student said, "I wonder what it would be like to make it home and discover it gone?"
"Some of us already know." whispered the head of Station 2. She was the only one who heard him and she knew why he said it, because she had been there the day he had dicovered his village was buried.
"I feel badly I didn't offer hospitality to them in the short time they were here," she said a little too loudly.
"We did give them water and food at the station," the older signal student said. "So they did get hospitality last night."
"Good. Good!" she said warmly. "At dinner time let's tell everyone, anything and everything we know about these two brave travelers. If we talk of them, we will keep them alive, at least in our hearts. Now, be off."
As her old friend stayed to help her put the cushions away, he noticed her looking around with a slight frown on her face.
"What's the matter?"
"I think they took my map book."
"You mean the one we made for your 10th anniversary as Head?"
"I gather some students. We'll run them down and get it back."
"Calm. Calm, my friend. I told them I couldn't send any one into the flood to rescue their living, breathing family; I think it would be hypocritical of me to send people after a book. We have other copies those maps. And besides, it just might help them get home in time. And, if they make it home and get their folks out in one piece, who knows, maybe they'll return it one day. And then we'll have a tale to tell, wouldn't we?"