Toba Origins: Circa 3127 CT

Toba Origins: Circa 3127 CT

King Nokbido was a Toba of average height, but he looked taller. His rich fur-trimmed cloak, his solid boots, and his golden crown helped make that impression, but that wasn’t all of it - there was something in his bearing that seemed to add to his height.

Today King Nokbido walked across the courtyard of castle Tovaiko to the curtain wall, and rapidly climbed the stone steps to the walkway at the top. A guard heard him climb, turned, saw him, and saluted. The king saluted back. Seconds later his retinue - Dodvo, his chief advisor, and several scribes and helpers - caught up to him.

King Nokbido walked to the crenelations at the edge of the parapet and looked out over his kingdom. In one direction, clean rivers, prosperous farms, healthy forests … and then, to the right, the wreckage of burned villages, muddy trenches cutting across ruined fields, and the stumps of forests razed to build siege equipment.

“We won a great victory, your majesty - under your leadership, we not only pushed the vile Noortoda out of your lands but forced them to sign away rights to three more valleys and agree to a 50-year peace treaty.” He paused. “Just think - we can use that time to prepare for the next war, and perhaps, in time, your son can take even more land from them, and -“

King Nokbido cut his advisor off with a wave of his hand. “This endless cycle of wars - they take land from us, we take it back, and maybe take a bit more - it’s all so wasteful. Look. Look!” He gestured at the blackened land to their right. “How long did it take the peasants to build those houses? How many generations worked to improve that farmland that’s now crosscut with ditches and burned siege engines? How long did that forest take to grow? And now it’s all ruined.”

Advisor Dodvo downplayed it. “The forest will grow back; that’s what forests do. What’s important, your majesty, is that we make long-term plans to press the kingdom of Noortoda now that we’ve got their backs against the wall. Trade concessions, certainly. Tribute, perhaps. This summer we need to do a show of force, near the border…perhaps a calculated minor incursion - deniable, of course - and -“


Dodvo tilted his head in frustration. The path forward was clear, but the king was too obstinate.

“I have a different idea for this summer.”

Dodvo put on a polite - but pained - smile. “Yes, your majesty?”

The king turned and walked swiftly along the wall. Dodvo and the other assistants raced to keep up. By the time they’d caught him the king had already reached the tower at the end of the section of castle wall, and was inside, descending the stairs. Dodvo gathered up his long robes-of-office, and followed the king down the spiral stone staircase, and then out again into the courtyard, finally stopping with the king next to the well.

The king reached out and started cranking the handle to draw up the bucket. One assistant raced forward “I can do that, your majesty”. A second one also came forward “Sire, we have wine of the finest shoavi fruit-“, but the king waved them both away and kept cranking. A moment later a wooden bucket full of well water came into view, and King Nokbido pulled it to one side and set it on the waist high stone well casing. He gestured, and member of the retinue placed a silver mug in his hand.

The king held the mug in front of his face. “Dodvo, how long does it take to dig a well?”

The advisor blinked. “Your majesty?”

“It’s a simple question. How long does it take to dig a well?”

“I - I’m not really sure. Days - weeks, perhaps?”

“And how many wells were ruined - intentionally contaminated with animal carcasses, or filth from outhouses - during the recent fighting?”

“Many, I’m sure. The vile Noortoda pride themselves on despoiling the countryside, which is why I suggest that we should - no, that we need to - punish them back, but-“

The king took a long sip from his silver mug, and Dodvo trailed off, realizing that the king was not listening to him, or - worse yet – was trying to give him some sort of lesson.

“Your honor?”

“Think about how much effort is going to be wasted, redigging the wells that were ruined in the fighting. Rebuilding the houses. Filling in the trenches in the fields -“

Dodvo tried to smile politely again but failed this time. “Majesty, that’s what peasants do. They probably enjoy it, for all I know. Now, as I was saying, this summer we really must -“

The king took another long sip of water from the silver mug, then handed it back to the assistant. “No. No more punitive raids. No more ‘calculated incursions’. I want to do something constructive for once.”

Dodvo blinked. “Constructive? … do you mean, perhaps, building fortifications along the northern-“

“No. We’ll fund the military, of course, enough to dissuade any additional attacks … but I will not increase spending. We do not need to build new forts, or plan new campaigns. This year, I intend to try something new.” He turned his head. “Scribe?”

An assistant stepped forward. “Sire?”

“I want letters sent out, to every city.”

“Every city in the kingdom of Inegro?”

“No. Every city in the Eastern reaches. Allies, trading partners, neutrals - and even enemies if they’ll allow our couriers in. The letter should be read aloud in the public squares, if possible, or distributed to the various guilds of crafts people, at the very least.”

The scribe poked with a stylus at the wax coating on his wooden tablet. “And the letter should say, sire?”

“That craftspeople of all the guilds, in all of the cities, are invited to my kingdom - to my capitol city - at -“. He paused. “When should I specify? The solstice? No. Later, to give them time to make preparations. The craftspeople are invited here on the last market day of summer, to show me their masterworks, and to apply for royal grants, which will fund the advancement of their various arts and sciences.”

The scribe jabbed and scraped at the wax, nodding. “Anything else your honor?”.

“No, that’s it. Take it to the other scribes, dress it up a bit with the proper flowery language, write it with the finest inks, stamp the copies with the royal seal, and have the message sent out as soon as possible.”

The scribe bowed. “Very well, your honor”, took two steps backwards, and then set off to the offices.

The original plan had been for King Nokbido to greet the various craftsmen in the formal hall, but the size of the crowd - and the general interest in each presentation - meant that the hall, even as large as it was, would be too small.

Thus, assistants had dragged King Nokbido’s throne out to the courtyard and set it up atop a low wooden platform. The king sat in his throne and looked at the sky. Four of Quantum Prime’s eight moons – the seven “well behaved siblings”, and Jivla, “the odd one” – were in the sky. The king thought that the current mix was a good omen but didn’t have his court astrologer at hand. He’d ask him his thoughts later, but now it was time to get down to business.

For hours, King Nokbido listened to craftsmen, artisans, and tradesmen make their proposals. Each was passionate about their craft and explained in great detail what they would do with a royal grant. The crowd waited patiently as the first two grants were awarded. The mood changed as the crowd understood only one award remained.

King Nokbido stood and stretched, causing all the others in the courtyard to stand out of respect. He sat back down and gestured for the next Toba in line.

“Tell me, craftsman, what is your trade, what are your secrets, and what would you do if I sponsored your study for a year or two?”

The nervous Toba bowed, then gestured at the table before the king, asking if he could approach it. The king nodded. The commoner stepped forward, removed a pouch from his belt, and shook its contents on to the table. Gems spilled out. “As you can see, your majesty, I am a gem-cutter. I shape the rarest stones, cut them into pleasing shapes, and refine them with abrasives so that they sparkle like a star.”

The king leaned forward, looked at the gems, picked one up to examine it, then put it back down. “Very fine workmanship…and very fine materials. They come in all of the colors of the rainbow I see.”

“Not quite all, your majesty. It’s true, the clear diamonds, and gems in various shades of red, orange, yellow, green, and blue…but in no land known to Toba are there purple gemstones.”

Queen Shototi, sitting at the king’s side, said “Interesting. If the king gave you a royal grant and supported you, what would you research?”

The excited craftsman went into his spiel, discussing gem shapes, colors, clarity, and more, but King Nokbido found himself losing track of the details. This wasn’t the sort of thing he was looking for. Gems were nice, and looked good in a crown, or in jewelry, but he had no doubt that the gem cutter would have more than enough employment polishing stones for rich merchants and other royalty. He was looking for something more - not this.

The monologue over, the king nodded. “Very good, thank you.”

The gem-cutter carefully swept up his gems, bowed, and turned and stepped off the platform.

“Quite impressive, eh, your majesty?”

The king turned to look at his advisor. “How so?”

“Well, obviously, the wealth reflected by anyone who had gems like that. If we brought more gem-cutters into the kingdom - and gem miners, of course, too - we could revamp your crown, and perhaps even enhance other symbols of state. The queen’s crown. The grand marshal of the army’s sword hilt. My modest torc, perhaps. Why, if our kingdom -“

The king shook his head. “Gems are fine, and I’ll not stop our merchants from buying and selling them, and our jewelers from crafting fine things…but it’s not the kind of craft that I am looking to support. It gets support enough as is. Anyway -“ the king beckoned the next artisan to approach.

Dodvo harrumphed, only somewhat under his breath, and signaled one of the assistants to bring him a glass of wine.

The next craftsman, an older Toba with gray hair and a pair of strange glass circles strapped in front of his face, one in front of each eye, approached, and bowed. “Your majesty, I am Gaikvo, a lens grinder.”

The oddness of the device on the Gaikvo’s face caught the king’s attention, and he leaned forward. “A lens grinder, you say?”

“Just so. You are familiar with magnifying glass, I assume?”

The king nodded. “I am. I have several of this new invention.” He turned and gestured, and an assistant scurried off.

“Well, then you already know that magnifying glass makes small details appear larger.”

“I do. I’ve used them to inspect maps, and correspondence written in a small hand by diplomats in distant cities. You call yourself a lens-grinder? That means that you create magnifying glass?”

Gaikvo nodded. “I don’t make the frames or the handles, but, yes, I make the glass part, the lenses.”

The king nodded. “Go on.”

“Your majesty, having used magnifying glasses already, you understand the utility of lenses. Or - “ he paused here “- at least some of the utility.”

“I see the small glass pieces you wear in front of your eyes. I assume this is another use for your lenses? Do they make things larger?”

“Not larger, majesty, but clearer. You know that as we Toba age, our vision often becomes blurry.”

The king nodded. “I … have heard that, yes.”

“I have crafted these eye lenses for myself, through trial and error, and while they work for me, they do not seem to work as well for other Toba… but where I to be given an award to do research and study, I believe that I could expand and document the craft of making eye-lenses so as to help others.”

The king thought about this. “Interesting.”

Dodvo, standing to the left of the king, cleared his throat. “While it is interesting, I wonder how pragmatic it is. Improving the eyesight of Toba who are already quite advanced in years - what real use is that?”

The king looked to Gaikvo. “Are there any other uses for this ‘lens grinding’ of yours, besides magnifying glasses, and eye-lenses?”

Gaikvo looked a little abashed, then said “Well, I hesitate to mention it, because it sounds so odd, but … I have done some experiments with placing multiple lenses together in a framework.”

“And what do these multiple lenses do?”

“Like a magnifying glass, they make far things appear larger.”

Dodvo the advisor scoffed. “Magnifying glasses don’t work on distant things. Anyone who has used one knows that. They only magnify things that are up close.”

At this moment, the assistant who had run off earlier, at the king’s request, returned, holding a velvet lined box, in which nestled three magnifying glasses.

Dodvo turned to the king “With your permission?”

The king nodded, and Dodvo reached into the box, pulled out one magnifying glass, held it up, and looked at a tower across the courtyard.

Dodvo scoffed “The tower is blurry.” He turned to the king. “Honestly, your majesty, that gem-cutter earlier had a much more sensible proposal.”

Gaikvo protested “No, I was saying that two lenses -“

Dodvo reached into the velvet lined box, pulled out a second magnifying glass, stacked it tightly with the first, and looked through the pair. “It’s still blurry.”

“Your majesty, if I may?” and pointed to a small, wooden box he had brought with him.

The king nodded his approval, and Gaikvo put the box on the table, opened two clasps on the side, and hinged it open.

Inside was a long brass tube.

Dodvo said “This is nonsense. We don’t have time for this, but if we must -“ and reached for the tube within.

King Nokbido was faster and put his hand on the tube. “No, let me.”

Dodvo smiled with tight lips. “Of course, your majesty.”

The king raised the tube to his face, but Gaikvo cleared his throat.

“No, the other end.”

The king nodded, reversed the tube, and looked through it, then said in shock. “The tower! I can see each individual stone!” He put the tube back in its case. “Tell me, how does it work?”

Gaikvo started to answer, but his voice failed him. He croaked “Your majesty, may I trouble you for a drink of water?”

“Of course.” The king gestured and a servant ran off to the well with a wooden mug, then returned a moment later. Gaikvo drank it greedily, then sighed, and handed the mug back to the servant.

“I’m just a lens grinder, not a natural philosopher, but as far as I can tell, the images of objects seem to travel in straight lines…but when the images are viewed through glass, the light bends. You’re familiar with how a stick, thrust into a stream, appears to be at a location inside the water where it is not actually, and appears bent?”

The king nodded.

“The same thing happens with images passing through glass.”

“How, exactly, does that work?”

“Ah, there, your majesty, is a question I cannot answer…and that brings us back to your question: if I was given a grant to allow me to investigate questions, what research would I do? And the answer is this.”

King Nokbido asked Gaikvo questions about the process of lens grinding, and Gaikvo did his best to explain. In the courtyard in front of the platform there was general grumbling. The other craftsmen - the weavers, the blacksmiths, the stevedores of the Worshipful Company of Material Handlers, the potters - saw that the king was expressing far more interest in the lens grinder than he had for any of their own and realized that this meant that the last of the three coveted prizes might already be claimed.

Queen Shototi listened for a while as the king interrogated Gaikvo with question after question, and, bored, reached out for the far-seeing tube. Putting the small end to one eye, as she’d seen Nokbido do, she looked through it. The distant tower indeed looked much larger. She pointed the tube at the crowd of local peasants who had wandered over from the market booths to watch the proceedings, and saw distant faces, made clearer.

…and then, on a whim, pointed the tube at the sky, to look at the moons. With one eye she found Exosol, The Red Sibling, and brought the tube to bear on it - and gasped! The moon was ten times its normal size, and she could see not just the oceans of red – sand perhaps - but also small black mountains. She’d never seen those before!

Next, she found Caldera Chaos, The Smoky Sibling, and brought the tube to bear - and again gasped. Through the lenses she saw rock, smoke, bright spots of orange and yellow … and what might be glowing rivers. Were those volcanoes, like in the southern islands?

Queen Shototi was about to look at the other visible “well behaved siblings”, but then decided to look at Jivla, also known as “the odd one”, “the distant one” and “the wanderer” (because it traced out paths in the sky unlike the other seven moons).

She found the brown circle in the sky, looked at it through the tube, and saw more brownness. Jivla seemed to be a wasteland, boring, compared to the other moons…but wait, what was that? Were there other small dots in the sky NEAR Jivla?”

She put down the tube and caught the king’s attention. “Yes?”

“A question for the craftsman. Lens grinder - I looked at Jivla-“

Gaikvo smiled. “Ah, you did, did you? And you saw the moons of that moon?”

The king looked over. “What is this?”

“The queen looked through the far-seeing tube at Jivla, the wanderer, and saw what I have seen before. Jivla is, I think, not a mere moon, but another world, much like Quantum Prime, and may have its own moons, just as our world does.”

The king sat back in his throne, dumbfounded. He licked his lips and reached for words, finally coming up with “Another world? Like our own?”

“I believe so, majesty.”

“Do other Toba live on Jivla?”

“They may; there is no way of knowing… yet.”

“If there are two worlds … might there be more than two?”

“I’ll admit that through my tube I have seen no others…but it is possible, that with more research -“

“I understand. Gaikvo, lens crafter - you have earned the final royal award. I invite you to move to my kingdom, where your research, and experiments will be well supported.”

Gaikvo grinned widely and bowed. “Thank you, your majesty!”

“Sire, I must protest!”

King Nokbido turned to Advisor Dodvo. “Protest? Why?”

“You had said that one of the three awards would go to a venture of military significance.”

“They are my awards, and I will distribute them as I see fit.”

Dodvo stepped closer, so that no one besides the king and the queen could hear him. “Your majesty - it’s not that simple.”

“Do you question my authority to distribute my awards as I see fit?”

Dodvo licked his lips. “No, I, my lord. But the dukes … you have to be aware that they have designs.”

“My dukes will be loyal to me.”

Dodvo leaned in closer. “Can you be so sure?”

King Nokbido suddenly felt a chill of danger. Was Dodvo right? Did his dukes conspire? For that matter, did Dodvo conspire with them? Dodvo was so bold - pushing hard for an award that he had no nominal control over - that perhaps he knew something that he, the king did not.

How to thread this delicate needle? On the one hand, he wanted to grant the award to Gaikvo, to fund his research, to see what more could be learned about the heavens. But on the other hand, if Dodvo and the dukes conspired against him, then putting money on a whim of his, when the dukes wanted the money spent on something else, could trigger a rebellion. …and then, on the third hand, he had just announced the award - and in public no less! - and if he back tracked now, his authority would be undercut, and a thousand witnesses would know that he was weak, and that Dodvo exercised more power than the king himself.

What to do?

What to do?

Beside him, the queen cleared her throat, then spoke quietly, so that just the king and his advisor - but none of the retinue - could hear her. “Advisor Dodvo?”

“Yes, my lady?”

“This far-seeing tube. It could be used to detect enemy troop movements at a distance, could it not?”

“I suppose it could.”

“It could be used to help make out friendly flag signals on distant hilltops, could it not?”

“I don’t know…but I guess so.”

The king looked over…and realized what the queen was up to. She understood the threat that Dodvo was making - and understood the weak position it put him, the king, in, where he could neither deny Dodvo his request, nor could he grant it.

The queen continued. “I believe it could. Now, here is your challenge: you need to convince the dukes that the king has made a grant for military research, that can help them.”

The advisor looked from the queen to the king, and back again. The gears turned in his head. “I… I will do so. I’ll ride immediately and -“

Here the king spoke up. “No. You’ll stay here in the castle. You’ll use the scribes to send messages to the dukes.”

“Surely you don’t want to make enemies of the dukes, sire?”

“Me? No, not at all. You know me as a friend to everyone – local craftsmen, foreign experts, the peasants here in the courtyard, the dukes in their own castles… and anyone else I meet, no matter how far from here. I approach all with friendless and expect the same in return.”

The queen spoke. “As the king said, you’ll use the scribes to send messages to the dukes, and you’ll explain what a smart choice this award is, and how this new science of lenses will benefit them - and will benefit the kingdom as a whole.”

Dodvo cast his eyes downward, realized that his bluff had been called, and that he had been beaten. “I’m sure I can be very persuasive, sire.”

“Good. Now do me a favor: announce that the last of the awards have been granted, dismiss the crowd, and report to the scribes’ offices to dictate your letters.”

Dodvo bowed and hurried to his tasks.

The queen turned to the king. “I’m quite looking forward to Gaikvo perfecting his art and building larger far-seeing tubes. I’d love to see what Jivla looks like …and if it does have its own moons.”

“I’m curious to see that as well…and perhaps to see what, if anything, is even further away.”