Friday, March 23, 2018

Looking Southward and Backward, Part 12.

Out here, we are utterly exposed. The wind is dying down by itself, but it can be legendarily powerful across these flatlands. Once upon a time, this whole area was the heartland of pastoralists of varying sorts. First the Ersuunians, then the Haraalians and their kin, grazed vast herds of cattle as well as horses in between the patches of intense hill-country which dominate the imagination of many people confined to the walls of their towns and cities. Indeed, the homelands of the hillfolk are grand and extensive, but the plains which surround them are what allowed for the formation of those first nomad confederations which would eventually give rise to the urban existence which so many of us enjoy.

Even after their fences and tents were traded in for walls and buildings with stone foundations, the hooves of beasts trod over these regions in uncountable numbers along the borders of vast farming estates built to feed burgeoning polities. It was only when the Rupture occurred, and vast areas of grassland were subject to killing frosts the likes of which had not been seen before, did their numbers dwindle. And when they did fall, they plummeted, for the herds and their owners had multiplied and gorged for uninterrupted centuries. Even now, a few hundred years after that winter of winters, local belief holds that one cannot drive into the topsoil with a plowshare anywhere in the south-central plains without striking the skull of a bull.

Not that there is much driving of plowshares around here these days. Many areas are still given to dirt so loose that it blows away on windy days such as this, and deeper soil still possesses that imperceptible taint of overuse. The land that may still be good for hardier crop-raising would have to be reclaimed from the wild first, for the old towns--such as the one purportedly erected alongside Janskurf's Place--crumbled away into nothingness long ago. Deneroth, rather than investing in the risky venture, has opted to feed itself primarily through trade- even as it rulers bemoan the loss of territory and loudly champion returning to the territorial integrity of the old days. Still, the dirt road is wide enough for wagons going both ways at once, attesting to the stubborn regularity of trade from the south.

A peculiar aisle of raised ground divides the two horse paths, dotted with the same tall, tough grasses which surround us. I am remound of the details of one of the accounts of the palace of Haraal, as penned by one of the personal scribe-assistants of Laizij himself. Supposedly for a whole mile leading up to the entrance to the ill-fated stronghold, two roads positioned closely together like this were divided by a pair of tapestries of immense length and height. Woven upon each face was all of the accomplishments of the godlike emperor, oriented so that they could be read while approaching from one road and while leaving along the other. Every day they were being dragged forward or back as new chapters of his greatness were added, lengthening the tapestries while ensuring that they remained perfect, if flipped mirrors of one another.¹

Up ahead, at the highest point on a gentle slope, we can now see the dark timbers of Janskurf's Place. It rises up out of the least inviting-looking patch of heath in the entire land, perhaps a result of one clever bit of business acumen- the worse the environment looks around it, the more inviting and safe the old tavern seems by comparison. The two halves of the road merge together before it and pinch inward as they lead toward it and the structures nearby. The roadside sign we are nearing now is even larger than I had pictured, standing easily twice as high as I do. Elrusyo lightly elbows me and grins as we come close enough for Hraela to recognize that the sensationalist Denerothi Ersuut engravings upon the sign are not even accompanied by anything in a known Gertish dialect.

She is not amused.

¹ I am also remound of one infamous passage described in The Attestations of Itraszes, in which one of the tapestries miraculously transformed to reveal the future of the empire on the night of Haraal's disappearance, describing in grizzly detail all of the plagues, catastrophes, and evils to be visited upon its peoples. The Attestations only surfaced about a century after the ruler departed from his realm, but it was accepted as true enough to be used as an argument for the deification and veneration of Haraal. While I am no expert on topography, I can somewhat confidently state that these plains have not yet been swallowed up by an ever-expanding lake of black fire, causing me to cast some of my own humble skepticism upon the prophesies.

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