Thursday, January 30, 2014

VI. The Soundling

Now rises an unknown child.  Born from the ice, descendent from whatever blood or hope has guided it, rising above the ice and into truth, part mirage. 
            After the rupturing the seedling shows its first face.  This is one of lies, for at dawn we wear a different mask than at dusk and though a first blossom may be light and delicate in time it may grow tough and thorny.  As with men, armor is used to hide infirmity, and innocence is a ploy by nature to demand care and affection.  Youth is a false time.
            Should the gardener survive more care is needed.  Most likely this new life will be weak in many ways, a small mote dwindling against the endless cold of Winter.  Continue tending to its environment, the ambitious may try to key the new life towards this or that passion.  If it hungers for blood, feed it, if it seeks out light give it the sun. 
            Life is truly a ritual of chaos and the future dances without regard for the past.  The great uncertainty is truth.  Each creation might be honest, showing instead the first color of the distant blossom, without poison, pure as starlight, growing towards an ascendant dawn.

Eley fled the night, convinced red eyes followed her.  She could still see them, like a constellation of stars at the mysterious man’s side, dull and somber red.  And they all watched like demons.
            Night was a comfort.  She was used to the dark, either the cloistered shadows of the jungle or the night sky under which she scouted the valley, tending after her magics and spying on the townsfolk.  It wrapped her in a speckled web of stars.
            These were the only thoughts terror allowed her for some minutes until her heart calmed.  Across the ice, the shrill cry of an owl.
            A man who wore stars, unwholesome stars, this was a stranger kind of stranger.  Eley knew the vagabonds and capitalists who despoiled the valley well, watching their caravans lumber across the snows.  Some nights she snuck close to the blue house and listened to their bawdy songs and foul languages, learning this and learning that.  Knowing their pollution, dead men laughing.
            Most likely the horrible man was one of them, but what of the song?  Oh, the song, it still resonated in her mind, quite unlike usual music, which warped and faded with memory. 
            Thoughts boiling within the girl retreated into her jungle.  Where huge things screamed and hunted she clambered up a tree to a favorite nook.  She slept, cradled by broad leaves.

The rupture came suddenly, days later.  Another greater tone, heartbreaking in its magic, stung the air.  The jungle went silent.  The cracking followed.
            Never had Eley heard its like before, and from her own domain too.  Life ran without limit within the White Jungle but she was sure that it was all within her mind by now, allowing for certain variance.  But, at that moment, she was ignorant of the massive breaking which echoed through the canopy.
            Two kinds of things made up the jungle, though there was some overlap.  There were the Verds, which grew from seeds and remained mostly in place, producing flowers or poison or fruit.  Then there were the Crea, the animals and stranger kin, which hunted or foraged, and sang their own songs and played their own games.  Some her mighty, some were meek, but all were known to the girl for she had grown most of them.
            From her lair she entered amongst leaves of five, eight and eleven, reaching fronds, soft ferns, metallic berries and massive trunks.  Above her the trees made their wall of shadows, through which tiny beams of weak sunlight streamed in, illuminating the jungle floor.  There were massive bulb plants, and graceful orchids, blood hungry nettles and ancient fruit. 
            Despite its name the jungle held many colors, flashes of tone and glamour where rare daylight struck.  A few even glowed.  The Verd spoke to each other, part of a grand argument told in chemical words and vivid spells.  Enchantment rose at every step Eley took.
            Magic arose, swarming the air like a traumatic memory.  It became real without sight or touch or any of the usual sensation.  Down it fell.  She drowned.
            Imagine a color which cannot exist, despite all laws it shines.  Overwhelmed by sight the eyes wish to be blinded and the whole being trembles through the moments.  Time dies and, like a blossom, the world opens.
            Eley described such moments in the jungle as a smell, its color is green, and it reaches from her lost master through the halls of time to the ruptured now.  The Emerald Lady lies spattered like stars across the night sky.
            A small tugging brought back her senses.  Seyo’an the monkey clawed at her ribs for attention, its huge eyes staring up with yellow intensity.
            “You fear?” she said, gasping for consciousness.  “Let us see the child.”
            Seyo replied by climbing upon her back.  Together they moved past the magic, which swarmed like gnats under the boughs, and sought the place the sound had come from. 
            Silence was the clue.  The Jungle was a noisy place, but to the west there was a pronounced quiet.  The monkeys didn’t hoot, the insects didn’t buzz and even the trees refused to creak in the wind always streaming down from the mountains. 
            Their path led them to a clearing.  Silver-barked giants ringed the open patch of snow and ice, their tentacle arms reaching out for the sun, leaves spread like teeth.  A few snow flies played in the light.
            Suddenly Eley went still.  From the far side a narrow spindle unfolded itself, perfectly mimicking the shimmer of the trees.  On stilted legs it gently crept into the clearing, testing its wings, pincers clicking as it peered about with antennae and faceted eyes.  Its potent thoughts buzzed through the girl’s mind and she bit her lip to stay quiet. 
            Like Seyo’an, it too was frightened and moved away from the silent portion of the jungle.  It had been hiding.
            “No hooting now,” said Eley.  “Be braver than Pazur’o.  Think of that, braver than the mind-hunter, the mimic-devil.  He’s running away.  We won’t.”
            Wonder pulsed through the girl’s veins.  This wasn’t the people-dread caused by that man in shadow outside Jomoth’orr.  No, this was life and death and sweet blood on flowers.  Excitement shook through her limbs and carried the pair onward.  
            The path rested soft with pale leaves.  Black fruit hung from the trees, twitching and spinning with insect activity.  Sweet, rotten, perfume filled the chill air.  The way grew thick and quiet.
            Something flickered through the dense underbrush.  Squeezing closer, Eley pulled aside the last branches.  A bird sang without song.
            A slight shifting, like the sky moving at the corner of your vision, and she snapped her head around to look.
            Facing her, no, facing the bird, was some pale structure, hidden further amongst the tangling Verd.  Between the colossal trees and the leaf-strewn floor grew all ranges and kinds of plants, meshing together into a riddle of life.             Pawing through this tangle, which rustled as it should, Eley reached some kind of blue conical depression set in a white wall.  The wall shifted slightly but she was able to see into the depression clearly. 
            Its interior was a series of rings or steps descending to a hole, the blue color growing with each step.  The ring before the final depression had four more secondary holes spaced in such a way that the apertures made a cross.  Uncomfortable with her positioning Eley attempted to lean against the wall.
            Suddenly the sound left her.  Now the ghostly orifice faced her, the whole wall, the whole structure turning.  Silently the jungle went mad.
            It crashed through the brush after her, breaking trees and crushing flowers.  Seyo’an fled into the canopy, leaving Eley to scramble away.  Thorns cut into her flesh and branches tugged at her blossom garment.  Breaking into a small clearing she splashed into strange smelling mud.
            Here were the mammoth bulbs, huge vines which grew equally enormous pods.  Each was different, some pulsated or glowed, some had been gestating for millennia.  One was split open, the amniotic guts of the thing making a massive puddle in which the girl floundered.
            Behind her the trees parted.  What trundled out was the size of a small house.  A living monolith of white flesh, pocked with several small, blue depressions, the largest of these resting at head height.  It moved by three powerful limbs, each ending with a knotted claw, blades curled upwards so the thing could walk on the knuckles.  Overall it seemed triangular, a sort of asymmetrical pyramid.
            The primary orifice was aimed at the girl and all her sound left.  With a smile she realized that was its mouth, drinking in her noise.  Its other depressions were probably ears.  
            Eley couldn’t imagine fear at such a beautiful thing.  She felt the ground shake as it stalked towards her, the other bulbs bobbing and quaking at each footfall. 
            As it grew closer she felt a strain growing on her body and mind.  Both seemed agitated, unsettled, like a cold ache.  Eley sagged with weakness as she took out a berry from a fold in her garment.  Popping it produced an eye-watering smell which drove to the back of the sinuses. 
            The thing stopped, towering over the girl.  Then Seyo’an shrieked and the beast shot after the poor creature, crashing through the trees.  Eley’s sound returned and with it her strength.
            At least it could smell the peace berry.  She did too, and had little interest in leaving the spot until the scent faded away.  By then Seyo was tugging at her shoulders and the silence had moved elsewhere.
            “Don’t you like him?” smiled Eley as she pulled herself from the muck.  The stuff made her feet tingle and she crouched next to it, trying to find some mystery in this afterbirth. 
            The monkey squawked in negative. 
            “So handsome and strong,” she mused, leaning close to the fluid.
            The stuff was clear, gone to mud now, and reeked of harsh metals.  It also hummed.  A sound was caught up in the solution, suspended, the distant resonance of the great cry which heralded the beast’s awakening. 
            Eley frowned to herself, the creature needed a proper name.
Since coming to the jungle Eley had given all kinds of names to the things which inhabited her enchanted world.  Seyo’an was the first, though soon Pazur’o was discovered, the Tot’rot kin and the Aura’kaa.  More and more things flew and scuttled and grew in the jungle than in the rest of the world, of this Eley was certain.  Outside was dead, and the elders did always say that the lands beyond the valley were graveyards without even ghosts to keep the ice company.
            Paos was the name she landed on as she harvested particular herbs and blossoms while far off the silence moved about her jungle.  Yet, on occasion wondrous notes cried out.  She mused upon this child of song as she concocted her magic.
            That the birthing music came from the same source she heard that night she infiltrated the town was certain.  Occasionally she heard lesser works on the wind, and raced to the edges of her domain in futile hope that the player would reveal themselves. 
            Fear again, as she looked out over the snows towards Jomoth’orr, fear of those eyes, those words.  She feared the human disease, the house tombs, the spear and the lamp.  Life outside was sick, its blood was cold.  Give her a thousand abominations and she wouldn’t flinch, but show her a hearth and a family and watch her shudder.
            With preparations complete Eley followed the silence.  Finding the monster wouldn’t be difficult, but she worried she was inadequate for the creature, being part of a species mass and not unique, excepting her talent.  She stank of magic.
            Taking great pains to be quiet, the girl followed Paos through the kaleidoscope forest.  When it wished, the thing was capable of slipping through the brush with some grace, only resorting to violence when triggered by particular noise. 
            The bodies told of its passing and she stepped over many peccaries and tawlik birds left behind.  They had no sound and did not live.  These were creatures whose cries were loudest in the jungle and lived upon the shadowed floor.  In their quiet eyes she realized a new strategy.
            Circling around the silent path the girl strode between the narrow stalks and massive trunks until she came to the clutch of trees she passed earlier that day.  Branches heavy with cylindrical pods hung quiet in the air.  She shoved one and the whole thing let out a layered chiming.  Eley’s ears went numb as the thing’s sound-drinking organ shifted in her direction.
            She crept back into the shadows of a large tree and waited.  Insects buzzed about, prickling through her hair, hunting each other across the flowery expanse of her garment.  Bird friends chirped softly nearby in the low language they reserved for close kin.  Here rumbled Paos amongst the music of the chime tree.
            All noise from the willow ceased and even the movement of the boughs stopped.  Paos looked up with its bland face, the listening organ like a searching eye. 
            Eley leaned out from her shadow and blew a cloud of petals over the beast.  The pink magic settled over her victim without effect.  Paos backed away from the sorceress then crashed off into the forest once more.
            An hour passed and she found Inlos Ital murmuring to itself in a low pool of snow melt.  By now the silent drinker was far off, its bubble of nothing drowned in the teeming jungle noise.  The slim bird watched Eley as she approached, long beak turning quizzically this way and that.
            After feeding Ital a prized grub the bird began to sing.  Low, haunting hoots wove an elaborate song and soon the quiet thing came. 
            Paos approached and the Ital just stared, confused, unwilling to sing for strangers.  It had taken Eley years to gain the creature’s trust.  Now the two things, one old friend, one new, stood in silence, wondering after each other.
            One could only hear and smell, its world limited by hunger and silence.  The other was particular about sharing and chose to be silent.  Beauty held both things hostage in different ways.  A third party was necessary to break the stalemate.
            From atop her canopy perch Eley balanced across a tree limb.  Unloosing a makeshift gourd she poured out its contents carefully, making a waterfall of thick turquoise fluid which embalmed her new friend. 
            In the thick jungle air the stuff flexed and bent as it fell.  By the time it hit the beast it was a tangle of waving nerves.  In seconds the growth overwhelmed the monster.  Which each second this grew new layers, dancing according to ebb and flow of the victim’s pulse. 
            From within Paos trumpeted and the stuff died quiet.  All Eley found was a decaying black ash as sounds of escape played through the canopy.  Inlos Ital had already flown.  She was alone.
            Hours later the beast was busy drinking the noise from a gathering of white apes.  It took not only their song and screams but also their breath, their pulse, and their hearts.  Some motive, noisy life arising from the muscle could be taken away and leave such victims denuded and eternally quiet.  It was in search of a song.
            Trundling through the mayhem Paos searched the chaotic songs of the jungle.  The ones it went after were a mystery.  Some victims it drank, others it simply tore to pieces.  As a consumer it had no fill, as a critic it had options.
            Late in the day a rhythmic knocking called it to a particular tree.  High branches rose into shadow and laced the sky.  The canopy was thick here, allowing only twilight. 
            Drawing close, it moved carefully not to infect the staccato beat with its own noise.  Against one massive tree something flickered.  There, an insect rattled its carapace against the trunk, enticed by a symbol was written near it, wet and metallic.
            From above a leaf fell.  This broad kite drifted down and touched beast, which twitched as it slowly brought its mouth to bear on the beetle’s mating beat.  The leaf made a slight tone, like a huge metal drum being lightly struck.
            Then more leaves fell, each a note, a touch, building, cascading, ascending without climax.  Paos drank its fill but there was too much, it staggered, overwhelmed within the flow pouring down from the upper boughs which shook despite there being no wind.  Frames of light flickered through, allowing the luster of the leaves to shine bright for just a moment.  Amongst this shimmering storm the monster staggered back and then it sang.
            The noise erupted, more physical than heard.  Deep in the earth it seemed to live and where it touched the air distorted.  From this grinding seed the note spiked.  The tree before it cracked and splintered, the trunk shattered and left falling.
            Eley leapt to another tree before hers collapsed.  The apes she had conscripted to her service fled, leaving only herself and Seyo’an to climb to the floor and find their target missing.  And she laughed.
            It was all too beautiful, so unknown, a creature of legend grown by the Jungle.  All other things here she had come to know, that was the game of it.  Wild things were inherently distrustful of every atom and it was only by sorcery that the girl had become part of the inhuman society of the White Jungle. 
            She laughed herself to a place of soft leaves and flopped down into the heap.  More spells were forming in her mind, binding perfumes and poisonous charms.  She need only transmit her love for the thing through some medium it could understand. 
            There was some precedent for monsters in her life.  The anawke tried to hunt her, and the apes could charge and howl, but only because that was their nature, of which she had no fear.  This thing was more rarified.  Already it let her live as it went in search of great noisemakers.  Surely it knew some aspect of her love and power already.
            Then the girl shot up.  Seyo’an, often chattering, went quiet with her thoughts.  In her mind the Method presented itself and the great noise which birthed the Paos.  This thing wasn’t her creation, she realized with cold jealousy, but that of the unknown beast of the town, the one with the song.
            When the Paos had tasted all there was to taste within the White Jungle it would leave and take her heart with it.  Outsiders were playing at her magic now.
            Joy left her body in a hot flash.  What remained was unfocused anxiety and a touch of that fear she felt when confronted by the man wearing stars.  Eley crept back to her lair and tended to her witchcraft.  The men, she knew, would soon bring the hunt to the jungle.  Perhaps that musician would come with them and if they found the beast then they would take it, and in doing so cut out her heart.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

V. The Rupture

Germination, like a pearl forming, like an idea, grown through time.  This is the phase of magic, against which the Riddle spell works its cold breath.  If your use of the Method has been true, then here sprouts the reward.
            It is a rupturing, the beginning of beginnings.  As a birthplace of monsters it will grow from the tears of your enemies, and amidst the clear, metallic dream ink a feathered angel will be written.  Whatever has been used to nurture the seed, whatever aspects fed through ice and time, those keys will determine the thing grown. 
            The gardener may not recognize the blossom; such is the way of growth.  As a natural process the Method produces things of variance and possibility, without limit, either in process or product or prediction.  Worlds may be grown, enlightenment cultivated, the pale vine of today will yet strangle stars. 
            The Method may produce any natural thing; all things are natural.
            And still the balance holds.  Should the Method be weakly interpreted the seed will die.  If the environment has too much of one humor and not enough of another poison will flourish.  Any reason may change, change the seed, change the sprout.  All may be done correct and yield nothing.  Nothing is also natural.
            Here begins new life.  Emperors lust after such treasure but grasp nothing except the poison thorn.

The nomad held up many colors, the silk shimmering under bright afternoon.  Trading with outsiders took place past high sun.  The Jomoth women made a floor of thick jungle leaves and placed their wares—loomed in their houses each morning—so that the hungry merchants of Ahgren and Ruin might look on, amazed and make poor deals.  Jomoth’orr silks held quite the reputation.
            The Trumpeter yawned from his perch, bored of commerce.  Several days had passed since D’douc’s murder and the Fencer’s subsequent, and uncharacteristic, shift in mood.  Having taken up the axe, the polar barbarian swung and hacked with the Jomoth all day in their lumberyards.  Every night he would stumble back to the blue house, inhale a meal and then collapse in their room on the second floor.  Keeping company with such boredom the Trumpeter had to provoke his own entertainment.
            First there were the fellow travelers, who kept the drinks flowing and slowly realized the two from their exploits.  Soon they were alone at any table they wished and could make the highwaymen and cannibals jump with simple gestures, like brandishing a cursed sword or playing a plain note.  Merchants never were a good judge of culture.
            So the Trumpeter found himself outside, perched atop the blue house, watching the goings on in town.  He made a study of its people and customs which he intended to forget as soon as some true amusement arrived.
            He looked at the tents of the silken nomads.  They were the same garments worn by the wanderers.  When encamped they shed part of their bright Winter silks, the lower braves using their spears and tools as supports for those of station. 
            He looked at the slanted roofs of the Jomoth, how by design they warded off the storm winds which spilled from the mountains and directed the ice melt into cisterns behind each household.  Even now the Trumpeter watched a great sheaf of ice break loose under the assault of sunny afternoon and slide crashing into the stone pit found there. 
            He looked to the people of the Jomoth, their thick vestments made from rich silk.  The tapering rods carried by the men, the pale faced women, their fine hair of muted color—a trait evident in both sexes. 
            The Trumpeter began to laugh.  He boomed from the heights of boredom.  He slid down the roof and skipped onto the snow.   As he ran through the town he noted foundations and handkerchiefs, smelled food cooking and children playing with sticks.  Such was his glee that he scared several of the large, buzzing insects which were kept as pets, leaving worried children to cry. 
            Exhausted but jubilant, the mad musician at last ran out of energy outside the town.  He stood at the edge of the nomad camp, a place he and his friend were no longer welcome.  His laugh overcame Coyat’oc smile and with this victory he wandered off and fell asleep and dreamed of pale lemur-men.

The Fencer wandered through the sunset.  Besides him loped Harx, Natl, Copa’an, and Grou, men of the Jomoth, all worn down by their day’s labor.  These were the lowest of the town, unable to pay for their own young men to do their duty.  By custom all Jomoth owned a share of the great trees brought from the Jungle, but to reap such profits required work, or an appropriate monetary compensation.
            These were fair-haired men, pale skin blemished with freckles, eyes of thin color.  Though they wore their finest coats to the cutting fields they worked stripped down under the warm light of this enchanted land.  Should there be an accident—a hand cut, a limb crushed—then all made a gesture towards the far off jungle to ward against the evils of the creature they intimated in their conversations but of which they were unwilling to speak clearly to an outsider. 
            In the few days he had spent toiling the Fencer had learned much but when he asked certain things or showed interest in certain topics he suddenly found a barrier between himself and his fellow workers.  They rarely spoke in their own words, but instead used the common tongue to speak of women and profit, occasionally telling stories of the jungle beasts and their previous hunts.  Large things waited in the jungle, hunting things, monsters of poison, flesh-drinking flyers, stilt-legged behemoths with long snouts, long tongues, which drunk the marrow from those they caught.  All were excited for the next hunt.
            And then there were the words which they wouldn’t speak to the Fencer.  Their faces changed as they fell into a far more comfortable language.  The old men did it most, their Baranti being broken, their tongues stilled at sight of the ashen stranger from the polar south.  Novels were written in this other world, so close to the Fencer but divorced by an atmosphere of protocol and tradition.  This was a common binary elicited by the Riddle, of ignorance and misunderstanding.  The Fencer simply struck the tree harder every time his temper flared.
            Jomoth industry sprawled across the snowy hills west of the town.  A dozen trees, each with their own team of men, awaited the saws and axes.  Here and there drying fields for the leaves, salting pits for the peccaries and many more niches.  The leaves of the eley trees changed color as they dried.  It was from these that the vibrant silks of the town were dyed.  The silk itself came from the Anawke.  They wore its wool too, milked its venom and used their fangs in certain medicines.  All found a use, nothing went to waste. 
            This was isolation with company, a thing the Fencer had grown used to in his travels.  The Jomoth were cordial and half-genuine, not like the city men and their practiced distance.  Still, the work was exactly what he needed because Coyat’oc never bothered him here.
            Such was the quiet which wouldn’t last.  The day ended.  Inside the doors of the blue house the Trumpeter waited—had been waiting—to jump up at sight of his fellow traveler and make such noise that the trumpet itself seemed quiet.
            “A most remarkable revelation has come to my attention,” gasped the tall man. 
            The Fencer waved him away.  He was tired, and wanted nothing more than whatever exotic meal was offered that night to be followed by the cold oblivion of their room.  The worst cubical in the place, set at the northwestern edge, with a ceiling so slanted that the Trumpeter continually bumped his head.
            Smiling at such entertainment, he moved to the counter, sought out the young man who kept their tab and purchased what he thought would be stew.  Baranti was also his second language.
            “What’s the smile for?” demanded the musician.
            “I was having a singular and joyful thought,” sighed the Fencer.
            His food arrived, some kind of peppery morass of roots and questionable meat.  The overall color was red.  As he ate he noticed something was missing.  The Trumpeter had vanished.  The rest of the meal was suddenly unpleasant.
The next day, at their noon break, the Fencer asked the question he’d been holding onto since D’douc’s murder.  It was cloudy and cold and the breath of the workers filled the air with quickly vanishing plumes of steam. 
            “I saw something the first night I was in town,” he began.  The others took note because the Fencer was a singularly quiet individual.
            “Out by the wall.  Your broken wall.  A humanoid, it fled when I approached, leaving behind strange blossoms.”
            As he spoke the Fencer leaned back against the tree to watch the dull sky.  When no comments came he leaned up into faces full of concern.
            “You have these blossoms?” asked Natl, whose narrow face was slightly wrinkled with age.
            Tucked into his belt the Fencer carried the strange things he had found.
            “No,” he replied.
            “It was the witch!” exclaimed Grou, who was the youngest, largest and had a loose tongue.  They all made warding gestures.
            “All is clear now,” said Natl.  “That brave smelled her perfume and it made him mad.  Did you travel far with the man?  Did he wander off?”
            The Fencer shook his head.
            “It could be anything beyond the wall,” continued the elder.  “She can ensorcel men with a single flower, compel them to take off their clothes and run indecent into the jungle, spoil hunts by scaring away game and coax women to be unfaithful.  She is, in all things, responsible for every last trouble for the Jomoth.  May her blood feed the roots of the eley.”
            Such outpouring of hate consumed the elder.  Natl’s eyes were slick with tears, red with rage, his voice was quiet and trembled at every atom of this enchanted other enemy.  Looking at each man in turn they responded to this deluge with equal disdain, teeth showing, axes held, knuckles white. 
            “It could be,” began Copa’an thoughtfully, “that the whole incident with the spider was her doing, to make us look bad, or to bring violence past the wall.”
            Now it was the Fencer’s turn to be silent and unresponsive.  He weighed his next words carefully. 
            “Your wall needs mending,” he said at last, before going back to work.

“I want you to find the Fencer and start trouble.”
            The Trumpeter’s words only teased the man’s attention, who gave barely a glance towards the musician as he folded reams of colored silk into elaborate shapes.  Coyat’oc spat a word and waved the Trumpeter off.
            “You’re much like him,” rasped someone from behind. 
            The nomad’s camp was full of activity.  He’d been watching it since sunrise, after a night of walking through the brightly lit town, disturbing the Jomoth, their pets, all without lifting his mood.  The Trumpeter mind was strange with unsorted feelings.
            Bare-chested, wearing not but his sarong, the chieftain ambled towards them, displaying his age as he walked barefoot in the snow. 
            “I just realized something,” realized the Trumpeter, “we’ve never asked your name.”
            The old man laughed.  He wasn’t old for life, just for Winter, which froze men before thirty, should they survive their youth.  Now he seemed a child, left wandering the ice without good sense.
            “Sihiru,” he replied.  “You’ve the smiling disease, sure enough, though you seem temporarily cured.”
            “This town gives me little joy,” sighed the Trumpeter. 
            “Then we are the same in this matter.”
            As he spoke Sihiru observed the men and women at their work.  The long bolts of silk were unraveled, folded many times, some of it twisted and contorted, the beauty transformed into a flat puzzle of color. 
            “What are you doing with all this silk?” asked the musician, ever curious.
            “We silken nomads like to travel without burden, but we must have our silk.  Without the silk we have no name, no reason to wander, to be nomads, apart from survival as we follow the mammoth herds across the slanted lands.  So we fold the silk.”
            “Then what?” demanded the Trumpeter, the answer inadequate.
            “We wear the things.”
            The musician saw it now, the braves carried these new prizes between inner garments and outer robes.  In his mind the wind caught them and like the vivid underplumes of the saasaa bird their hidden colors would be revealed.
            “I can understand what life is like without beauty,” nodded the Trumpeter, his mind grown clear, a rarity.  “Where did you get your silk before the split?”
            The question was so bluntly stated that he had to ask again for the old man had become lost in his tribe’s gains.
            “We weren’t silken then,” sighed Sihiru who started to wander off.  “We were Jomoth.”
            The similarities were there, between townsfolk and nomad, their dwellings, their names, their features.  But the differences were marked and brutal, the division of houses, the egalitarian nature of tents.  Yet they were close cousins, one bound to the other by the addiction of beauty.
            When the Trumpeter had fully digested this secret the old man was gone, and so was Coyat’oc.  Frantically the musician demanded answers from the other nomads but they only yelled back in their native tongue.  Then it peeked out from behind the clouds of his mind.  Everyone abandoned him to a desert of misunderstanding.
            Surely the young brave was a better runner, a better competitor.  Soon he would be at the axe fields.  There was no way of reaching the Fencer first.  After all the abandonment he felt his heart to be a distant star, hugely impossible, full of an energy which must find release. 

It was late in the day when the sound arrived.  Huge, sonorous, it ruptured the afternoon, cut through the cloudy sky, breaking open the sun.  The Fencer knew at once who played the note.
            But this was no ordinary playing.  There were sounds which the silver trumpeter could produce which ranged the heavens and plucked out the hearts of men.  Like with any note these were uncertain arts, and a slight misplay could bring down avalanches or incite a riot, cause forgetfulness or boil brains.  So the Trumpeter didn’t play loud, but instead practiced in his secret moments.  He kept these notes for a time when he might need them, for even he wasn’t sure of their results.  He wasn’t so mad as to tempt suicide.
            Yet the clouds did break and part of the huge disk of late afternoon sun peeked in.  Amongst the shifting gold light the whole band took notice and a cry went up from the Jomoth.  The sound lingered, resonating off the ironstone mountains.
            So warned the Fencer had his sword in hand before he realized it and before the trouble arrived.  Like a herald the note laid out the scene before Coyat’oc as he arrived, breath steaming, spear in hand.  Decided on his fate the swordsman readied for the attack.
            Tall, like a lost willow, Coyat’oc looked about with a grim face.  Then smiling, he made a gesture to old Natl, one which was grudgingly returned.
            “A dueling mark?” asked the Fencer.
            “No,” said Natl.  “He wishes to join the hunt.”
            Distantly the note ended, the clouds returned, the moment which had brought the brave faded to a close, but not before a reply. 
            In the White Jungle a clamor rose just as the Trumpeter’s note fell.  It was somewhere between the cracking of an eggshell and the creaking of boughs in a storm.  Such storms and boughs were unheard of on Winter, but so were notes as lustrous as the Trumpeter’s and as terrible as the thing which awoke in the distant mayhem of alabaster leaves and unknown growth.