Saturday, March 17, 2018

Looking Southward and Backward, Part 11.

Sarq shakily accepted Elrusyo's hand, and the two shook vigorously for several seconds as the hedge-magician drew his self-injured arm back in under his cloak. He then shook hands with Hraela and Ciudo, and I was forced to oblige as well, and in the subsequent moments of celebration in which the rest of the caravan's nerves became somewhat more settled, another shot of drink went around.

Now, after sputtering fire for a second time this day, I am attempting to balance out the alcohol with water from a skin which simply insists upon dripping dangerously close to the fresh ink on my parchments. Seeing that there simply will be no stopping me, as I have come to accept in return with him, Elrusyo asks that I at least scribble something of value while I do. At the conclusion of the first day of this little travelogue, which we are already nearing, he states that he has a very important bit of history to initiate each of us into. Each of us save for Hraela, he makes a note of. She would already be very familiar with this, considering her family roots. This suggestion leaves her looking somewhat bemused. Ciudo and Sarq quietly worry that this is another child-burning celebration.

Elrusyo laughs, but does not say no.

I know what he has in mind, however. I had hoped that it would only be a brief stop for our caravan, but it is apparent that our attendants are itching to overnight at the very same place. I speak of course of the southernmost of all "authentic-styled" Gertish¹ alehouses in the domain claimed by the city-state of Deneroth; Janskurf's Severed Toe, also known as Janskurf's Place.

Janskurf, according to the legend emblazoned on a large wood-and-metal plaque displayed prominently upon the alehouse's roadside sign as well as one of the walls of its common room, was a Gertish hero from the lifetime of Haraal himself. He led a clan of Gertish tribesmen down from the northern coasts to fight for the emperor, and was involved in a famous battle with the classic villains and scapegoats of the empire, an army of Esgodarrans. This teeming horde of hill-people, however, was reportedly unique in that it was aided by a contingent of "treasonous mountain-slingers" commonly identified as either Pach-Pah soldiers from a splinter faction allied with the locals to their north, or as a mercenary group composed largely of individuals of mixed ethnic background.²

As the story goes, Janskurf led his people to a quick and decisive victory over his opponents, but when they feigned surrender, he was struck across the temple by a sling bullet and then chopped upon the foot while he was stunned. They still won the battle, but Janskurf lost his big toe. Hobbled for the rest of his life, Janskurf and some of his people settled the site of their victory and built a small town. When Janskurf died at the ripe old age of over two hundred years, the resentful Esgodarrans naturally invaded once more and tried to raze the town to the ground, but much to their horror his ghost rose up to defend the alehouse under which he had been buried. And so it still stands to this day.

Of course, there is no great battle between Esgodarrans and Gertish tribesmen on the southern border of what would become Deneroth in any historical record but what the establishment claims. Likewise, it is doubtful that a prominent man named Janskurf ever lived among the Gerts who allied with the Haraalians, or elsewhere for that matter, considering the fact that it is by all accounts a gibberish name only vaguely identifiable as "Gertish-enough" by an outsider with an eye for stereotypes. And as a matter of fact, the "traditional" beer and ale culture of the Gertish people is almost wholly a result of centuries of interactions with their southern neighbors- an emphatic consensus by indigenous groups and travelers to the low riverlands alike is that the "original" Gertish drink of choice is a spirit distilled from a wide variety of vegetation known to their homes. If the blindingly blonde wigs worn by many of the attendants of that establishment are any indication, the locals might not even care about the inaccuracies, if they do know.

Though I wish there were a gentler way of saying it, the Ivory Tower University's recent close examination of the alehouse and its history was completely accurate in saying that Janskurf's Severed Toe is little more than a culture-appropriating tourist trap geared to play off of the expectations and ignorances of traveling city-dwellers and University students alike.

I can see the land flattening out up ahead as we enter the broad section of heath in which the alehouse and attached caravansary are located. I should find a way to approach the subject with Hraela tactfully while there is still time, lest someone or something end up with a longsword driven through it this evening.

¹ Note that I have changed over from "Gertisch" to "Gertish" and will attempt to remain that way for the remainder of my journey. Confined to the University as I so often am, it is difficult to resist the hypercorrective pull of the -isch ending, which was made standard in all academic material some five generations ago by the short-lived yet deeply impactful Committee for Agreeable Exonyms. They hold no power over me here however, and so I shall endeavor to use the more common rendering of the adjective, in keeping with my hopes of making this work more approachable to people living beyond the vaunted walls of my home city.

² As will become apparent as we near this expedition's destination, our peoples are more than capable of intermingling, and many marriages or other productive pairings of the sort have occurred in the border regions between mountain and lowland over the centuries. Though mildly stigmatized in the north, these folk face relatively little discrimination from their southerly parentage. In particular, the descendants of former Pach-Pah noble families were quick to infuse their family lines with as much "new blood" as possible once the practice of enforced intra-familial marriage came crashing to an end. The safe assumption that someone two to three feet taller than oneself and born hundreds of miles away was probably not a relative became an important guideline for courtship in those lineages of diminishing status following the revolution(s).

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