Monday, October 8, 2018

Zuq-Artlash, and other sedentary Fokari towns.

"Grain-slaves, yes, kha'en, yes, weak people of soft stuff, all of it. But what does that make you for dining with us? I thought so. Now come and pour some fermented milk with me so that we can discuss terms."
- Neshan Mez-parh, pashdehm rug merchant and elected go-between for negotiating trade with nearby tribes.

By and large, the enigmatic Fokari are believed to be a nomadic people. They inhabit the narrow bands of hospitable grazing territory in between the easternmost frontiers, and the wastelands proper. Out there, carefully migrating in cycles to prevent land overuse and tribe overlap, they herd fine-faced and strange-footed goats called yuum. They dwell in tents of felted wool, produce clay and bronze vessels of unexpected but exquisite quality, and they live their lives according to a rich and dualistic belief system.

Not all of them live like this, however. As fearful as they are of He Who Reaps & Sows, some Fokari flirt with the idea of extracting more than just wood, clay, or water from the land around them. Some Fokari live far past the edges of the wastelands, so far deep that none from the outside world are believed to have made contact with them in centuries. Out there, past the point where the ground turns to sand and bizarre rock formations dot the stretches in between mountains and gorges, there are rare few dots of life. Sometime in the forgotten past, Fokari pioneers or exiles stumbled upon the first deep-desert oases. Here, with more water in one place than most would ever see in their lives, they did what feels like anathema to many traditional Fokari: they settled down.

They still reared goats, of course, but they were no longer the vast, communal herds of entire tribes. They were smaller, family-owned flocks which could be watched by one or two people at a time, not far from the homes of mud brick and reed which they erected for themselves. Fewer meat animals were needed--and indeed wanted--when the available grass and foliage was to be focused on and cultivated.

The trees under the care of the oasis Fokari grow taller than any others in or around the wastes. Of course they would still appear quite stunted compared to their western cousins, and all of the above would be equally dwarfed by the giants of Reossos, but they are still impressive specimens for their situation. Some species are selected and grown to possess thick, wide canopies able to offer shade on the oasis outskirts, but the bulk of them are less lateral, and have been bred with harvesting in mind. Dozens of varieties of stone fruit and edible seed-bearing trees crowd the green belts in groves populated by small animals and the odd songbird, grown to supply each oasis town with food. Surplus is either stored in deep pit-houses, or traded and exchanged with the Fokari of nearby oases alongside other goods.

The largest of these oasis towns is known as Zuq-Artlash. While the exact meaning of the name is lost on us because of a very limited understanding of the Fokari languages, the root elements of it suggest wind and heights. This is entirely appropriate, because one face of the oasis is hedged in by a cliff which acts as a windbreaker for the town and groves below. It is also the site of the other curious innovation of the sedentary Fokari.

Overlooking Zuq-Artlash are rows upon rows of twisting wooden things, held in place by squat clay walls and wood which has nearly petrified with age. Harnessing the wind which blows out over the oasis, a veritable farm of vertically oriented windmills spins day and night to power grindstones for the residents down below. Rumor among the traditional nomad tribes who dare trade with the oases holds that the wind is even used to pump water up from the earth, though this is even less substantiated than the rest of the knowledge concerning the towns. The nomads are distrustful and mildly pitying of the town-dwellers however, so tales telling of impressive wonders rather than dolefulness may have a grain of truth.

The adoption of sedentary lifestyles has done a few peculiar things to Fokari social order. Though it is still a far cry from the old caste systems of the ancient Pach-Pah kingdoms or Ersuunian warlords, society in the oases is more stratified than on the wastes. The khiltah and mish'khiltah bodies--council and lesser council respectively--seem to have been merged into one entity which handles large and small matters in a very public manner. Families are no longer so self-regulating, and something as embarrassing and intimate as a dispute between lovers may become known to all of one's neighbors if a case is disruptive enough to merit the attention of the elders. This has a discouraging influence on trouble-making, or at least that is the intent, keeping civic life orderly. The chief or headman holds far more authority than in the pastoralist tribes as well, resembling something of a town mayor merged with elements of a quartermaster.

The positions of Speaker and Seer still exist in this context, supporting the Fokari worldview of dualism and of past and future. But they often occupy or tend to buildings or grounds specifically dedicated to their duties. These shrines or holy houses for lack of a better term are often the site of much larger and more ornate braziers than are to be found in the transient tribes. Depending on local tradition, some might even be tended to so that their sacrificial flame is never allowed to die.

It is unknown where in relation to the other oases Zuq-Artlash is located. Nor is it known where or how many similar towns exist across the deeper wastes. What is known is transmitted through the Rare nomadic Fokar who deals with outsiders, so there is obviously some contact between the two parties, no matter how stiff or pragmatic. But what is not known is if the denizens of the desert waters know who or what exists east of east, beyond the edges of the wastelands.

No comments:

Post a Comment