It seemed to take forever to gather together all the delegates. Was this how negotiations usually went? Katja had imagined it as a much more orderly process than it was. Perhaps it was when it was not all thrown together at the last minute. Katja sighed. Perhaps it was when it was not being hosted by an Administrator who did not know what she was doing.
She had also imagined it a more pleasant process than it was. To be sure, she had not expected good cheer and bonhomie, but she had always thought that diplomats at least made an attempt to seem friendly, at least pretended that they were simply there to resolve the dispute in a way good for everyone. But the Ylfae were nothing like this. When the two Taladac Ylfae arrived, they complained, loudly and without cease, at having to wait, looking at her with strange looks that she supposed must be the Ylfae version of reproach, as if it were wholly her fault, and yet simultaneously refusing to listen to anything she said, except when they could take it as an insult. At which point they began shouting at her, or rather tried to shout at her, until Kubiri, his calm and pleasant voice somehow cutting through the shouting as if it were nothing, suggested that their shouting was making it difficult to understand their Simplified Samar. That quieted them, although Katja suspected it was the Samar mystique rather than the suggestion that had done it. Nonetheless, they continued to complain to her, at her, about her.
Things only became worse when the Winbaric arrived. They immediately began to complain that the Taladac had been allowed to seat themselves before they had even arrived. It was their station, they said. It was their territory, they said. No doubt the Administrator was on the side of the Taladac, who had oppressed Tura like the Winbaric for thousands of years, and through plotting and scheming -- at this point they looked darkly at Kubiri -- had constantly worked to marginalize the Winbaric and steal what was rightfully theirs. They would have none of it. They would not take such nonsense from Taladac skunaktiriadosh.
Katja had no idea what skunaktiriadosh were, since it was an Ylfae word she had never come across, but the Taladac certainly knew. At this point they jumped up and began shouting at the Winbaric in Ylfae. Anyone who has never tried shouting at someone in Ylfae, should consider doing so at some point. Ylfae is a leisurely language with endless syllables and plenty of vowels, so it is possible to put a large quantity of malice, anger, and contempt into every single word. Nothing sounds so insulting as an insult in Ylfae; even a mild insult is enough to wither a stout heart.
Katja attempted to intervene, but it did no good; the Taladac ignored her and the Winbaric took it as an occasion for including her in their insults and accusations. At one point she looked at Kubiri. He seemed not to be paying much attention to the argument. Contemplative sitting, perhaps. Well, he was the expert negotiator, so she gave up and sat down next to him. She sighed. It had been very different in her mind. She had planned to begin with introductions, and it had never occurred to her that the whole thing would break down into a shouting match before she could even ask for an exchange of names.
"Are Ylfae negotiations always like this?" she asked Kubiri quietly in Sylven.
"Not usually," said Kubiri in the same language. He was watching it all with mild interest. "But it does happen. Their reputation for being erratic and unpredictable is somewhat exaggerated, but there is a reason they have it. On the positive side, it usually takes very little work to discover what they really think and want. At this point in the argument it is probably best just to let them get it out of their system."
The argument grew increasingly heated, the shouting louder, the insults and accusations more creative. Katja wondered if it would escalate to violence. She worried that perhaps she should do something, but she could not think of anything to do.
There was, however, one thing that could bring the argument to a halt. The Tanaver representative arrived.
To say that he arrived somewhat underestimates the Chaka style. He did not just arrive. He sprang into the room, and onto the table, so swiftly that it was almost as if he had suddenly sprung up from the table itself. He threw his head back and gave a call, not a roar but something like the honk of a goose, if geese could make their sounds in bass and sustain it for a full minute. Not a goose, thought Katja, although the sound did remind her of a large bird. Say instead a foghorn. Whatever the natural habitat of the Chaktai, conference rooms were not one of them, and the carrying sound of the call echoed in the room. Everyone else in the room put their hands over their ears, the Ylfae doing so as they were still stumbling backwards from the startling appearance of the Chaka.
As quickly as he had appeared on the table, he ran down toward its end, jumped down onto the bench at the far hand, twisted around, and put his hands on the table, leaning forward as if he were about to spring again. He did not, however. Instead he just looked first at each Ylfae delegation, both of whom were currently cowering against the walls of the room. Chaka physiognomy being so different from Sylven, Katja knew that expressions of one could not be assumed to carry over to the other. But if Herri had been Sylven, the look on his face would have been undeniably one of sarcastic, perhaps contemptuous amusement.
There was a pause as the Ylfae watched to see what Herri would do next. At this point, Katja, having recovered from the surprise of the Chaka's appearance and his piercing trumpet-blast, saw that she had to seize this moment or else not ever get the negotiation under control. She rose and said, "I would like to introduce you all to the Tanaver representative for this negotiation. Now that we have all arrived, we can begin."
From this point the negotiations began to be more manageable. The Ylfae on both sides still refused to give their names, but neither side did any more shouting. One of the Taladac representatives gave a long speech. It made no sense at all to Katja; while it was in Simplified Samar, it seemed to consist largely of discussions of dreams, and by the time it was ended, she was completely baffled at the point. The Winbaric, however, listened attentively, albeit contemptuously, and when the Taladac representative sat down, one of the Winbaric representatives stood and gave a very similar, although shorter speech. Both sides seemed distracted during their speeches, however; in particular, they seemed somewhat disconcerted by Herri's tendency to tap the table with a claw if the discussion went on for any length of time. There was then some arguing back and forth about the various symbols that had been mentioned in the original speeches. This went on long enough that they had not talked about anything that Katja could see was even relevant to the point at issue by the time that the discussion neeeded to be ended for the day.
It had been a baffling, and disappointing, and exasperating day. And it did not help that, every so often, Katja heard an echo in the back of her head, a fragment of memory from the dream: Right roads may lead through the gates of death.