9. And verily, thereafter, in the days of woe, when nary a tear was spared amongste all the armies of Gillean and Ventius, the lands of waste began to cloud and thunder. And there the heavens did join in with the holy tears of its most holy knights, and for an hundred hours the rain beat against the earth unceasingly.
10. So did EZERIAN cleanse the wounds of many and sanctify the dead, for all to see that he had ordained these legions of Sacredness and Might. And there amongst the stones, some cracked and unraveled by thunder, and when the rain did cease, the bodies of men and soldiers and knights were laid up to rest. (more…)
At the front of the lodge building, just behind where Waypoint sells its fare and brews, Daddy stops in front of the door. We’ve already loaded up my horse. I’ll be ready to go, as planned, before the sun rises.
“Do you want me to … to be up in the morning, Liddy? See you off?”
“Oh, you’ve done that plenty,” I say. “No need to burden yourself.”
He nods, but I can see this bulge at his lower lip, like he’s got his tongue pressed against the back of it. “Okay, then. I suppose this is it.”
I nod. He just stands there, hesitating for a moment longer. The big, brass lodge key he got handed, he’s playing with that in his hand, spinning it around. “Daddy,” I say, slow and sure. “I’ll be back. I’ll be back in just a few weeks, okay? Won’t be long at all.”
He raises his eyes up at me, eyebrows pushing toward the archways.
“Really, Daddy, I’ll be fine.”
“I know,” he says.
“Then what are you so worried on? I’ll be back soon. It’ll be the same as always.”
For a fraction of a second, I see his teeth clench together and his eyes narrow on me, but then the look clears off his face. “Of course you’re right,” he says. “Of course. We’ll keep your wool clean.” He leans in for a hug, awkward-like, like he’s not real sure how it’s done or if he has permission. Of course I just step in, put my arms around him. His free hand that’s gripping the key is still off to the side. For the most of it he’s hugging me with one hand at the top of my back. He pats me a couple times, then steps back brushes himself off some. Not the sort of man to hug much, that’s for sure. “Spine straight,” he says to me. So I stand tall. He smiles, then turns and unlocks the door. As he walks he straight in and I walk to the stairs on the right, he just keeps ambling on, saying over his shoulder, “Good night.” (more…)
Now, Willow don’t seem quite like the right name to me somehow. I mean, this horse is beautiful, no don’t about it. But I think “Willow,” I think the tree, with all those slender branches. Something whispy and beautiful—and right, so, this horse is beautiful, but she’s got a solid build. Maybe not hefty, but sure on, healthy. Guess I would have called her something different, but then, I’m not much for naming names, and this spares me the trouble, so Willow it is.
When I go over to Waypoint, I tie Willow out on the post-fence in front, side of probably six other horses. When I walk in, Daddy’s in conversation with a table of plump men who look decked out enough they must be merchants. Wearing plush velvet clothes dyed all colors of bright, wearing cleaned-up furs and such. Dad beckons me over. When I arrive, he explains that this group’s heading on north and west, but if I took a real circular route I could use their company to connect with another company and then another and another, and eventually get back down to Cheyvelrus, if I’m willing to extend my trip another week or five. But I’m no friend to that idea, and I tell him so. He almost looks happy when he nods at me. “Well, it’s your decision,” he says.
He and I go to a table and I’m a bit touched by him ordering me a brew. It’s a common courtesy for his daughter, but it seems a right nod to me being officially grown and all. He asks if I got a horse, and I say yes. He doesn’t drill me down on the price just yet, so I let it slide by. Instead he outlines a list of things we need to get for me. “Now, since you won’t be leaving with the merchants, you won’t need to rush this. But you could leave by morning if we get it all shopped out before nightfall.”
“Well then,” I say. “We best get it all shopped out before nightfall.”
“You’re sure on that? No harm to spending an extra night in a comfortable bed.”
“I’m right full and sure. I want to leave before the sun spies me in this town. Lots of ground to cover.” (more…)
In theory, this first trudge on over to Marsh should be the most dangerous part of the journey, at least if you’re marking it up hour by hour. Daddy and I know it okay, and moreover, we know each other’s stride, so we can take the journey in seven hours, a bit less. In that time, we don’t see a damn thing. Well, that’s not true. There’s the rush of overgrown trees and shrubs, the fire-berry bushes that are barely starting to turn their fiery shade, the path vines, the whole lot of everything growing. Then the swarms and clouds of clossies trying to suffocate us as we stride on. We see a skrag or two as well, but nothing to be concerned at. Nothing more than the usual.
The time passes too fast and too silent. It’s just me and Daddy, so we can’t take on any scarier beasts should we draw its attention. I know that’s much of the reason Daddy keeps to himself here—that and it’s part of who he is—but somehow I’d hoped we’d get a bit more of a chance to say … I don’t know what. But something, maybe. The seven hours is gone before you’ve got a chance to swallow the notion, and here we are in Marsh.
Marsh’s got a proper fence. Don’t get me wrong—like I said, Daddy and Grandpa, they’re fine woodworkers in their own right, and we’ve got a tall, thick fence to keep us guarded. But here, in Marsh, it’s the sort of thing that makes you feel real safe. It’s not sharpened branches that build it up. It’s logs. I reckon nearing four strides tall. Sharpened tops, like you’d figure. And thick, too, because they’ve got these logs on either side, built around I don’t know what exactly, but probably clay-mud. In that path between the logs, they’ve got people wandering day and night, armed with proper bows and arrows—the trail set below the sharpened tops of the logs so only the waist and up of the watchers are ever seen. Ever heard someone say, “You’ve got a Marsher’s eye?” This is what they’re talking about. The watchers here, the archers, they’re just about the best, and I can testify to that from the competitions I seen back at festivals.
More, it’s Marsh has people. Not just a tribe of us, like out in the Wildes, but a few scores of families all grouped together. I reckon scaling up from a thousand people, at the least of it, so they can all throw in to have a few boys spend their days in watching the fence-line. (more…)
To say that the Wilder people are hardened is not a matter of exaggeration or prejudice. Rather, it is a simple fact visible within the paradoxical life and death of those who live in [the Wildes].
By the age of 30, one of every three “Wilders” will have been killed by attacks from “beasts”1. Of those that remain, another one in five will die due to conditions or risks related to these dangerous environments. These conditions and risks range from poisonous berries2 to starvation3 to dying from cold or other environmental factors4. And within those who survive all the environmental factors, a recorded 39% migrate outside of the territory5. What remains is a mere third of those originally born as “Wilders.” However, amongst those who survive and remain beyond their 31st year, the life expectancy escalates to 71, nearly a decade older than the imperial average6, even after adjusting for similar pre-natural deaths. What we are seeing is that those who survive and remain in this brutal territory become more physically, and perhaps also mentally, durable. (more…)
Half the night, I’m up thinking of the beasts that tear up the space between where I am and where I’m going to. The other half, I think of what’s really scaring me.
See, I went into that panic learning about my mum’s wedding dress being the tunic I’m wearing, but it wasn’t just because I imagined myself getting married in the same getup. It’s that I know my mam, and probably my daddy too, are imagining the exact same thing. The way it works in the Wildes is, you marry who you want. We don’t have arrangements, we don’t have promised childdren, we don’t do that here. We’re too free of spirit. Sometimes I just wish we were a little less free, though, because how it works is we’re expected to hitch up our skirts, tuck ‘em into our belts, and go trudging through the mud until we’ve hunted ourself a boy.
The way it works is, here in the Wildes, it’s for the most part the boys who die. It’s for the most part the boys who hunt, so it’s for the most part thems that ain’t coming back. It leaves to bit of an imbalance. And not many of us live in close part. Marsh is the closest outpost, the closest place that’s more than just a family or few tied together by a stake of land. That’s a ten hour trudge each way, and not a journey to make lightly. Daddy makes it once a month to get our tack and venison, but even he goes with a crew that bands together. Safety in numbers. That’s the rule. (more…)
My grandpa gives me a compass and a map of the kingdoms. Andy gives me a tough hemp rope that she’s been working on for the last long while (I kinda suspected it was for this, but then, Andy isn’t much of a liar). Dan gives me a bag of chestnuts. Crazy little bug is proud as all kingdoms that he’s picked them up himself, but I’m obliged to stick to the mostly silent script for another while, so I just ruffle his hair and smile at him after he says, with his mam’s prompting, “To guide you on your—on your way, I give you this gift. That you—what? ohh—that you may, uh, have tea.”
Then Crysy gives me five crowns. Five crowns. That’s as much money as I’ve ever held at a time, and even as I’m beaming at her and smiling at her notion of, “That you may remember that indulgence is part of what makes life beautiful,” I’m full and well distract. Because that white silk is still clutched under my arm, and I know as soon as Crys has done her part and my dad’s said his closing blessing, I’ll be able to take a closer look.
Dad’s not much with blessings, but he rambles through the standard puddle of words, asking the grace of Ventius and the guidance of the light, and on and on. Then he looks me straight on and says, “You are my daughter.” That part’s not in the script so much, but blessing’s ain’t supposed to be on script anyhow. He just says that, though. You are my daughter. And he leaves it pretty well there, not saying why he’s bringing up this fact. Not like my heritage has ever been questioned. But there’s something so … I don’t know, boldening, if that’s a word … to the way he says it. He says a tick or two more about being grateful for the Velran empire and for the chance to live in the Wildes (we all know he’s speaking in something of a contradiction of terms, but that’s what it’s like here), and then he gives thanks for having a healthy family that will be worthy of sending tributes for. He closes with the usual, but he says it in a way that makes the words his, like he always does. “May the day shine forever on us, and may our shadows ever disperse, these things we ask of Thee, in humility. Light bless us all.”
We echo back those last four words (don’t know why I’m explaining all this; imagine you’ve had plenty of blessings your own selves, but just in case you haven’t). All the while, though, my eyes are pretty well drawn onto the silk. Not just silk, but white, radiant silk. Silk like this must be worth all my other clothes combined, ten times over, and then some spare crowns to boot. My daddy sits down, and finally, that’s our cue to talk as we please. I go over to mam right away. (more…)