"Mama, Mama! Look what Nila found! What is it, Mama?"
At the sound of Hano's eager cries, Miemma turned from her work. She had pulled three potatoes from the ground, and was starting on a fourth. Straightening, she dusted her
hands off on her apron, and grimaced as her back protested. She had carried three children, one of whom was nestled against her back, sucking sleepily on his fingers. He was almost grown too large to carry. Oh, how life marched! Hano, nine years old and impossibly curious, was running towards her. In his hand he brandished something thin and curved. Even marred as it was by dirt, Miemma could see it sparkling.
"Give it, Hano! It's mine!"
Nila was five, and as the only girl child in the hut, had to fight to be seen. And fight she did, as hard and as tenaciously as either of the boys. Her braids were in disarray, and her little face was screwed up, ready to scream. But as Miemma took the object from Hano, both children forgot their quarrel to hear their mother's pronouncement.
"It is clearstone," Miemma said thoughtfully. "It makes
sharpstone when it is broken."
"Sharpstone? Like Da's knife?"
"Just like Da's knife, Nila."
Hano was not convinced. He wrinkled his nose.
"Doesn't look like stone to me. Stone's all pebbly and thick. This is smooth."
"That's because it's not stone. Not really. This was made."
"Who made it, Mama? And what's it for?"
"Come, you two. Sit here. You may eat one of your cherries if you'd like."
"Well, alright, but just this once."
"Once, long ago, when the world was very young, Man was king. They say that Man's villages stretched as far as the seas, and shone with hot smoky magic. Oh, the magic we could do, so long long ago! We could fly like a hawk, and run faster than an Akhal Teke. Man tamed vast shining beasts and tethered them to paths, and they groaned and wailed and ran. Man was everywhere, and what Man wanted, Man received.'
‚¬ËœBut Man grew jealous and spiteful. Three factions arose,
each with a different vision of how the world should look."
"What's a fackshun, Mama?"
"It's like a clan, my love."
"Two of the factions, the Caps and the Corps, wanted a world of metal and fire. They fought and they spat, and threw hot eggs that seared, and cold arrows that froze. Their arrows and their swords cleaved the land, and with that they made the Badlands, the place Da says you can never go, and rightly so.'
‚¬ËœBut there was a third faction, led by Mortimer Myst. He was gentle and soft, and saw a different image for the world. It was he who gathered the tekes and the gypsies, the falcons and the boars, the deer and the pumas. He hid them in his lands, the Fells, where they would be safe and well. He saw that the world could only survive without the hot dusty taint of the other factions, without metal and burning and destruction.'
‚¬ËœBut the factions were warring, and the Metallurgists came closer and closer to Mortimer's fells. His people, his animals, were in danger. Mortimer Myst was kind and good, but he was also very powerful. He gathered crystals and dust, and made a terrible, beautiful potion. He climbed to the topmost point of the highest mountain, and then he set his poison onto the wind. It tore apart all that was evil and cruel and unjust in the world, leaving only that which was simple and good and kind. Mortimer Myst perished, but his legacy survived."
"And then what, Mama?"
"Then the world had to begin anew, my love. But something was different. Mortimer Myst's magic dust had forever changed the world as we knew it, into the world as we know it now. Would you believe, my love, that Gypsies didn't always have wings, and Tekes horns? The dust brought the Raptors back from their sleep deep within the earth, and changed the living things of this land. Even the fish, safe and hidden in the water, are altered. The longer we live on this world, my dears, the more it changes us. When we respect it, when we care for it, those changes are kind. They come as wings and horns, lava and magic. The four guardians - the Hounds, the Boars, the Falcons, the Selkies, they watch us to make sure that we never divide or seek to rule again. That is why we thank the soil for our cherries and our potatoes, and why you always wear your cloths over your mouths when you go near the Boundary."
"But what about Sharpstone, Mama? What was it for? Is it a bad cold arrow?"
"No, my love. It is like the other things we find buried in the soil sometimes. It is pretty, but it is just a memory of a time long gone. Of a time best forgotten."
The children were quiet as they considered their mother's tale. Hano was the first to speak.
"So can I keep it, then?"
"No, I found it, it's mine!"
Laughing, Miemma took her children's hands, and together they wandered through the green-purple twilight, under a sky sparkling with stars of Men and of Gods. They wandered back to their simple hut where, once, long ago, a mighty city stood.