(“Sonderhau” was originally posted as one cohesive block before I had an attack of sanity and realized that maybe, just maybe, close to nine thousand words were a bit too much for the average person to get through on a lunch break. I’ve now subdivided it into rough “pages” for your enjoyment.)
“Peculiar,” Tervud said. His brothers stirred, but offered no response. It was their way. Before him lay a mangle of things he’d known. To his right ran the shady dell, more overgrown than ever, and the shy beams of old Rikam’s barn poking through flowering fronds. Yet, the Ansethi sign, once varnished but fading and moss-bedeviled when last he walked this path, was gone. In its place stood a new pedestal of beaten Gravadan copper, with a glowing golden sigil and dozens more inert beneath it. He touched the sigil.
Only discipline stopped him jumping, for the pedestal said, “Greetings wayfarer! If you are Murit, take no action. If you read another language, press 2. If you are illiterate, press 3.” Tervud waited. “Greetings, fellow Murit!” the pedestal continued. You are worked copper and foreign magic, Tervud thought, smiling slightly. You’re no more Murit than my brothers. “Here are the directions for–Sifeir’s Run–Have a pleasant day!” Golden lined flowed through the sigils and spiraled out around the pedestal, forming road signs in angular Murit script.
“And here I hoped I might show the two of you where I grew up,” Tervud said, patting his brothers. One swung at each hip, held by gold-trimmed belts of black leather. It was a Murit warrior’s peculiarity, calling your weapons siblings; traditionally they were the same gender. He passed a boy running down the path with a wood-ax. Judging by the gleaming edge, he’d just resharpened it for another go at the edge-brutalizing shahir wood so prized for tool hafts. Tervud’s own father set him the task hundreds of times. Perhaps all those hours caressing the ax’s edge–and learning to think of it as a caress–were where he’d gone wrong. Tervud’s war-twitchy hands flinched for the scythe-swords; he caught them. The boy, huddled and huffing, did not see. He might not have in any case; Tervud often moved quickly enough others didn’t–couldn’t–notice.
How must he look to that child, raised here in Sifeir’s Run with separ herds, swaying crops, and overrunning verdance to every horizon?
A dour man in his black tabard–an outlander’s hanging–black shirt, black pants, black boots, with only the gold on his belt and his vibrant blades to color him. Tervud at least offered some familiarity: dark brown Murit skin, a strong nose beloved of poets and a certain strand of artist, a height of five foot seven–short for warstock.
Of course, he hadn’t been born warstock. But thirteen years separated him from the last hewn fool who reminded him of that.
The trees were less dense than he remembered; shouldn’t that work the other way around? No, he realized, there were spaces clear of ferns or grass, just wide enough there might’ve been stumps there, once. Someone had taken it upon themselves to hack away the less-perfect trees: the thunderstruck, the burned, the gnarled, the discolored, trees simply too old. Something in him reviled this. Why keep the forests only to cut down the most interesting parts? Once, he’d have snarled “peacestock,” as if all vileness petty or vast sprang from that one word. Remembering his bigotry shamed him. I was no better than they, once.
“Early rains and a strong harvest,” he bid the next person he saw, a harried-looking young woman he didn’t recognize. Her eyes–bloodshot. Overworked?– flitted to his brothers.
“Mhm,” she said, passing on. She seemed well-fed for all her strain, maybe even a little too well-fed. Excess fat offered homes for a spindleworm infection, and who in Sifeir’s Run could afford a healer? Her clothes bothered him; so much exposed bosom and leg. The poor thing would be torn to shreds by thorns the next time she needed to clear a field.