They’re now so close to the fire mountain that they can actually see its glow in the night.
I feel like… I feel like I’ll be really old really soon! It’s less than a month to the Festival of Timoine, and then, then I’ll be twelve. A year ago I said I was nearly twelve, and even that I was almost nearly thirteen… But now, I don’t know. Twelve is pretty old already, you have to be responsible and things and start thinking of the future. Maybe I’m grumpy because of the riders for an apprenticeship. It still looks as if I could manage that… Or maybe I’m grumpy because of Fekemme, who’s grumpy because of having to become king more often than not. Or maybe it’s because the stupid people here in the south of Velihas are being grumpy all the time! And they are, oh yes, they are!
So we weren’t have much fun! We left Cuytim as part of the last group, and then went up. We could have taken the coast road, where we might’ve seen more of the Sea Persons, but there weren’t any villages, only inns, along that road. So we went over-land, up on the thingy, where the land is almost flat but still high up over the sea.
It was the most boring place I’ve ever been! Flat, gray, grey and greenish, with rocks, pebbles, stones and sometimes a boulder! And copses of stupid, stunted-looking trees, more like leeks with delusions!
It was good, though, to be walking again. When I said that to Mík, Fekemme and Fikmet, they didn’t understand, they thought I was talking about going places, travelling, but I really did mean, ‘walking’. Just putting one foot in front of the other, singing, doing semsin stuff, going along, wind in my face, sometimes rain on our heads, click, click of our clogs on the sharp stones and shells of the road. That was good.
And we did work! I started teaching Mík and Fekemme the Valdyan letters, they are much better than the ones Velihas has, because our letters, they make the word and don’t just sort of hint at it! You don’t need to know the writer to be able to read them, or at least, not if they write neatly.
And that was good, but Fikmet complained that Ferin had been doing the same thing, teaching and learning stuff during their trek across the Khas lands, and that she was bored. How can you be bored when learning new things? But then, she knows her letters already, so maybe she was right anyway.
It was a long trek in any case. First, we passed any number of small villages, where people kept sheep and orchards and so on. We gave our show, of course, with the Juggling Tower of Foreigners, and in one place we got fresh milk! An ewe had lambed too early, and there was milk! I loved that — the first milk, it’s spring soon!
It became a bit of a joke, that there would be a feast wherever we would arrive, and nobody knew Fekemme, either. It was dancing, making music, telling stories, doing a show, having lots of food — cleaning out the winter stores, I guess, but also some freshly slaughtered sheep, sleeping in the village halls…
And all the time, every new village was grumpier! I don’t know why, I thought it was just me being stupid, but Mík backed me up and said he’d noticed it too, and so had Fikmet and Fekemme. It just was that way.
One day, the road came to a big, deep cut in the land! It ran, people said, all the way through from west to east (but why not the other way around?) and was very, very deep. I threw a stone down, and didn’t hear it come to the bottom. Somehow, semsin I guess, or else common sense, I had the feeling that there was water down there. It was very mysterious!
And there was a stone bridge across the gap, and it was really old. Old enough that the passing carts had made deep ruts in the actual stone! And the sides of the bridge, they were decorated with all kinds of carvings and sculpture, weird beings made out of parts of people and parts of beasts and doing stuff. And there were curls and things that looked like writing, only unreadable.
And one of the traders who were in our group, he said it was Ishey work! Ishey!!! Like the people we met in Turenay! Who had all these weird couples, two men, two women and two women one of whom said he (or she) was a man. And he said that the Ishey used to live all over the world, way back, before Valdyas existed, and all the world and everyone was Ishey. But that is nonsense, of course, because, duh, if back then there were only Ishey, were did the other people come from? I mean, the Gods have made the people only once, right? So everyone was made at the same time, and the Ishey cannot have had all of the world, there must have been space for the Valdyans and for the Iss-Peranians and everone else, too.
But the bridge was very old, and if he says it’s Ishey, I guess he’s right. He said an Ishey traveller had come past this bridge a year or so ago and had read the writing out. One of the theatre people who was in our group made a copy of the carvings and said he was going to paint their wagon with the design, which will be strange, but that is good, if you want to get people to come and watch how you miss the easiest of targets with your sword!
Further south, there were more trees, but they still were stunted and had sickly-looking sharpish leaves and inedible berries. There were also vineyards, and some hills and more water, it wasn’t so dry all the time, before, between Cuytim and there, it was sometimes really difficult to wash properly. Fikmet didn’t care, of course! She likes being dirty, but I want to be clean, and so does Fekemme.
People got grumpier still! There was one village where we didn’t even do the show, we just went past and didn’t go in at all. Even the small children were grumpy!
So I put Mevi on my shoulders and we went on to the next village.
There we found the weirdest thing ever!
There was this mill, only it wasn’t a windmill or a watermill, it was a people mill. There were four big sticks, big as oars or poles, and people were pushing the sticks and that was turning a wheel that was turning a millstone that was grinding those inedible berries! And they got out a clear liquid that wasn’t wine, but oil. It looked like a lot of fun to do! The oar-pushing people were singing, and there was music and dancing!
So I asked Mevi’s mum, can we stay here for a bit so I can help? And she said, yes, they had to wait anyway for the trader to buy his oil. And I got in the queue for pushing, and it was clear it was a game, whoever could go on pushing longest would win.
Now I’m not fat anymore — the fat I had when we left Tilis is gone, all the the bits of fat that I still have are stupidly wanting to become stupid idiot useless tits instead of going away with the rest of it, and there was something for that drunk sailor to grab at, but I hope Fekemme and Fikmet and Mík haven’t seen that yet, I’d die, and there’s fat on my bum, too, but all the rest, it’s just me being big, square and strong. And I still have a big, stupid, square face and hands like shovels — and don’t you dare look at my feet! Although you cannot miss them, though I will miss you if we’re dancing, I can dance pretty good! But what I wanted to say is, I’m as big as any of these people in the village and I got my place, and I got a pretty long way towards winning! Only I had to give up my place because others wanted to try, not because I was tired. It was good work to do, just one foot in front of the other, push and sing.
But I was sweaty, and thirsty, and there was watered wine and food, and that was good!
And there was a little lake where everyone who had pushed the oars could go and swim, there were pike, but they were more afraid of us than us of them, and right, because we caught some! And swimming was nice, it was getting dark, so I didn’t mind Fekemme and some other boys coming in, they couldn’t see me properly anyway…
And then we met Lédu she’s very old! And she touched me, and she said, “hey, I don’t know you… But you’re one of us, aren’t you?” And I said, I’m not! I’m Anshen’s, and she said, yes, that was what she meant. She was blind! And she told us she’d had nine babies, and had never been married, she would just choose whichever man pleased her and have his baby! She was weirder than the Ishey, she was! But she was also really old and blind, and… There was something, I guess a semsin-kind of thing.
And Fekemme asked her about the Gods, and she explained how the Gods were, here, in this place, and I wondered about the Song, the Song about how the world started, and if it was different, and she said, no, but what she sang was different!
So the next morning, after we’d pushed the oars some more, we went to Lédu again, and we learned her way of singing the Song of how the world started! It was like we were adding a whole new place to Fekemme’s Velihas, like… It was amazing, because suddenly we learned something about the world nobody had known before!