Advanced culture shock

We have a guest from Chile who is about the same kind of roleplayer as we are, and the GM gave him a guest part. Awesome! All the language confusion — using Dutch and Spanish as the mutually unintelligible languages and English as the common language. It was complicated by the fact that I can understand some Spanish, just enough to know what he was talking about, though that would probably have been clear from context alone. At one point we stopped doing the explicit translation step, funny as it was, because it was taking too much time and energy. There was so much discussion among everybody that parts of it were NPC-only conversation, but it didn’t matter.

Absolute high point: Maile showing that one can be very evil indeed and still not be an antagonist. I think it was a character (don’t remember which one) who said “she’s so evil that she comes out the other side”.

With all those sick people in the barracks Zendegî and I (and Halla as well, she’s turning out to be a really good nurse) were so busy that I said “it’s like the war again”– but this time it’s different, these people are getting better. Ktab sometimes helped us, but not this time, and I thought he’d gone fishing but he came back in the afternoon saying “we went to the temple, and beyond the temple where the long straight road is, and there were dead people there! Nobody alive, only dead!” I said “let Halla handle it”, I was too busy to really pay attention and only heard “dead people”, but Halla thought it would be better to let Ezami and Maile go, because she felt that these dead people were not for her to take care of.

Anyway, there were enough living people who needed us to to take care of them. Jakti came to fetch us to a woman she’d been trying to help, “I think this is the woman we saw who is gifted! But she’s all locked up, I can’t do anything, she’s dying of fear!” I thought very hard and then tried to make a place for her that was completely safe, where she didn’t have to be afraid, the way Vurian had taught us. But my hands weren’t large enough to hold her, so I asked Zendegî to help. And it worked! “I wish I could do that, ” Jakti said, “can you teach me?” We said yes, but not right now, because the woman was crying now, pouring out all of her fear with her tears. She looked like a little child to my mind’s eye, and I held her as if she were my little sister.

With all this it was almost the middle of the day, and then Maile and Ezami came back with a young man. We couldn’t understand him at all, but he was from the same people as all the others. There was a girl, Fasal, who had learned so much Dadán in only four days that she could translate for him. His name was Kayuh, and he hadn’t been chased by the soldiers and ambassadors but been chasing them! They’d brought him to us so we could see if he was sick, but he was only dirty and hungry though his skin and hair and breath and piss did stink of the forest. We washed him, and only then noticed that he was completely naked except for his weapons –lots of them!– just like the statue in the city of the dead. As he stood in the water to be washed, all the young people crowded around him, and that made him very shy but he smiled at Tmika (the pretty girl who says she wants only brave boys) when she stuck out her tongue at him. He was really cute– a bit short, and he needed some more flesh on his bones, but really handsome.

Just as he was clean it was time to eat anyway, and it was Iki cooking in the barracks so we all went to get her soft wrap pancakes. All the girls wanted to show Kayuh how to eat them. We made him talk about his adventures –poor Fasal, who barely got time to eat!– but there was a lot of stuff he couldn’t talk about, or couldn’t explain so that we understood. Jakti asked me “don’t you think he should be in Vurian’s class too?” and I had to admit that yes, he did look as if he should. Then she said to him “I’m going to do something scary!” and took his head in her hands and laid her forehead against her forehead, and I could see she was doing something with her mind but not what. And then she got all grey and screamed. Zendegî and I had to make our safe place again, this time to protect Jakti with. She’d seen what had made Kayuh so angry that he’d chased the ambassadors and the soldiers: they’d murdered his whole village, men, women, children, old people, the wife he’d just married on the feast of Dayati! We fussed over him even more after that and brought him the very best things to eat, some of the really nice spicy fish, and sweet melon juice, and Tmika sat behind him and braided his long dark hair.

“We’ll have to tell this to Vurian,” Zendegî said, and called him, but he was still on duty and couldn’t come immediately. When he did come and we told him what had happened, he immediately took all of us (well, Kayuh and me and Zendegî and Halla, and Fasal to translate) to Captain Ailse. She wanted people who weren’t from Dadán, because they’d have a fresher view of things. Even old Parandé was too much of Dadán now.

Even without Parandé the captain’s little office was very full of all of us. Her husband Cabez was there too, looking worried. “I don’t actually have a law book,” Ailse said, “so I can’t check what I may or may not do, and I’m not duyen so I’m probably not authorised to hang those men even though they do deserve it.” And she explained that Valdyan law doesn’t decree a nastier punishment for a nastier crime, but murderers still get killed. “Isn’t there someone who is noble who can come and judge them?” I asked. The nearest I could think of was Lord Lydan in Albetire, but no way was I going back to Albetire to fetch him or ask his advice!

“There’s another problem,” Ailse said. “Cabez says that this town is under the protection of Dayati– if we kill anybody here, deliberately, even if it’s a murderer, she could withdraw it and the town might be tainted forever. But I’m going to put them on the very next ship and then I won’t have the problem any more!” Ailse said, but nobody knew when the next ship would come, so something would have be done about the murderers anyway. And that was where Kayuh came in: he had an actual fact against them! That meant we could have a trial. Poor Kayuh had to tell the whole story again, I could see that it hurt him, and Fasal had to translate it again and it hurt her too.

“Are you prepared to testify?” Ailse asked when he was done. Fasal had a hard time translating that, because ‘testify’ wasn’t a word she’d come across yet. But Kayuh understood eventually and said yes, he was prepared. “In that case,” Ailse said, “let’s feast tonight because you’ve arrived here in one piece, and tomorrow I’m going to let you see the ambassadors and ask you a question and your answer to that will be very important.” Captain Ailse is like that, exasperating! But feast we did, with a lot of nice food and drink, and all the girls wanted to dance with Kayuh but he seemed to like Jakti best. Good for her!

We must have gone home to Parandé’s roof at some time, because we were there when we were woken by clashing swords. It was the soldiers practising, of course. That reminded us that Ailse had asked us to come to the oil mill as well as Kayuh. (I completely forgot to mention Maile! I don’t remember whether she was there too, though she did something very important later on.)

I was quite scared to go into the oil mill because of the scary eunuch who even Maile wouldn’t go near. But Ailse only wanted to talk to the ambassador himself, “he can speak for all the rest”. As we passed the soldiers chained to the treadmill, one of them jeered at Zendegî and the man next to him cuffed him on the ear. Then he asked Ailse “can I speak to you?” “Later,” Ailse said, because we needed to see the ambassador first.

He sat up when we came in, haughty as ever, trying to command us, but this time we could all stand up to it. Perhaps it was because we knew we had him now! “Kayuh,” Ailse said, “this is my question: Is this man the one who ordered the murder of your village?” He looked hard at the ambassador, and recognised him in spite of being without his golden robe and his beard. “Yes.”

“So it is decided,” Ailse said. “We will put him on trial.” And she called soldiers to bring the ambassador outside to the square where practically the whole town was gathered. He didn’t really answer any of our questions– apparently he still thought he was the boss. When I asked him “why did you order all the people in a whole village to be murdered?” he said “those weren’t people, they were a bunch of savages! Clearly he thought we were a bunch of savages too. He said several times that it was an affront, that it wasn’t a real trial, and Ailse got so exasperated that she had him brought back to his room and asked us to wait for her while she talked to the soldier. Later I heard from Zendegî, who had gone along to translate, that this soldier was no older than about fifteen and he’d been taken against his will, he was really a farmer. He admitted having killed, that’s what soldiers have to do, but what he really wanted was to get out of the army and settle down as a farmer again. And there were one or two other men, he said, who were the same way.

We were a bit at a loss what to do now– it was clear that these men were murderers. Perhaps not all of the soldiers, who had only done their duty, but most of them were as bad as the four from the litters, especially their captain. But breaking Dayati’s protection on the town was a higher price than anyone wanted to pay. “If someone is so bad in our village,” Kayuh said, “we’d kick them out, and they’d have to go into the forest on their own and die because you can’t survive on your own, unless you’re really very good.” “And if you’re really very good you can’t be bad!” Zendegî said. “Can’t we let the forest judge them?” I said. “Leave them somewhere, each one alone, kick them out?” But Ailse thought that some might come back, and what then?

I don’t remember whose idea it was, but at last we did have an idea: take them out of Dayati’s realm and into Naigha’s, leave them in the cave where the sea would take them. “But if they go up the stairs as we did?” I asked. “Won’t they be able to come back then?” “They won’t have a light,” Ailse said. “And you came back the same way you went in, they won’t have that either.”

So it was done. Two of the soldiers stayed behind, Ailse thought they were really good men in a bad situation: the young man she’d talked to and one other. All the rest were taken to the cave in a boat. Maile went with them, saying that this burden shouldn’t fall to Halla. She came back much later, looking like death, and fell into my and Zendegî’s arms. “I gave them a choice,” she said, “die at my hands or face the judgment of the sea. I killed two, then went out and waited, and then —he— started to kill the others and take their power. Then I killed him.”

I was so shocked that I couldn’t say anything. I might have expected that Maile would kill the eunuch when she could, and I’d known all along that he was like a dandar and would take people’s power, but the whole situation made me feel sick. (It made Maile sick too, she vomited when she’d told us what she’d done. I wish we’d had some brandy left, but all there was was palm-wine.)

Still, the king will have to hear of this. Perhaps Zendegî and I can go to Valdyas as messengers and bring him the letters– an even better reason to go to Valdyas than just that we want to go to Valdyas!