“See, you, she’ll be in the tub and she’ll be naked. She’ll likely be playing with the water. You asked who could give you good answers quickest, and there’s a chance that it’s her. Providing she’s having a good day, she got the history over her whole life from her mother and grandmother. Her great-grandmother was there when the Wanderer laid down.”
“And if she’s not having a good day?”
“Then she’ll play in the water and ignore you. Or she’ll splash you and laugh. Or she’ll talk about lighting fart bubbles on fire. It has to be really dark to see them burn, by the way, so even if she could still do it, you wouldn’t be seeing it today.”
“All right. I’m ready.”
“You don’t look ready. Well you do, but what you look ready to do is be sick.”
Morganzer looked at the women behind her. Kholach and Hallacha kept their faces blank. Morganzer was beginning to interpret that look as an invitation to take her best shot.
“Do I need to be readier?”
“Depends. There’s no particular reason for you to be made sick if there’s something that can be done to fix it. Do you know what’s wrong?”
“I’m not used to being around really old people. It’s off-putting.”
“I see. She is, probably, as old a person as you’re likely to meet. I’m so used to them that most times they seem perfectly right and proper. But even I sometimes think of my own death coming slow when I see one of the bed-babies.”
“They have trouble moving around on their own and they rest a lot. Some of them get childish when their brain ages. It’s like you start as a baby, you grow to a peak, and then you grow back to being a baby again. Only different parts of you peak at different times. Mother is still pretty good at scrying, she’s just bad at making whole sentences, some days.”
Morganzer flinched and shuddered. “I’m sorry. I’m not used to hearing the word mother used for a person. Animals have mothers, people have aunts.”
“And some aunts are mothers. Don’t look so shocked. Someone had to give birth to you or you wouldn’t be here. We just needed to be a bit more flexible with our child rearing with the nemen around. We never knew who’d have to pop Downside. We had to be sure the lambs wouldn’t cut up rough if it was their mother who had to go. So we spread it around.”
“That makes sense. I expect other people, people who don’t scry and wait for prophets to wake up, those people are used to using the word mother.”
“True. If it’s any help, most of the folks raised here get used to the idea pretty soon after coming Downside. Even so, I suspect we don’t mean quite the same thing when we say Mother. I’ve never been anywhere else, not even Farside, so I don’t really know. I just suspect.”
“Can I ask what she looks like?”
“Oh, you can always ask. You can always ask anything, providing you’re willing to take responsibility for the answer you get. She’s lost a lot of hair. It’s not gone in patches, it’s just thin . . . and it’s white and we’ve cut it short because she chews on it when it’s long enough.
She’s thin and stooped and her skin is wrinkled. That’s because we all have a layer of fat and connecting tissue between the skin and muscles. As we get old, the connecting tissue gets weak and the fat shifts away. Even the paunchy among us starts to look gaunt in places. And Mother isn’t paunchy. She looks gaunt all over. And droopy. I’ll be kind and not ask you how large-breasted you want to be when you’re done growing.
Let me know when you’re ready.”
“I don’t think waiting will make it any better. Thanks for the description, though. It’s good to know that her bones aren’t bending.”
“I did say stooped. Her back is a little humped. Her legs and arms are straight, though.”
“I think I can handle stooped. Let’s go, before I get wrinkled and stooped.”
“Right this way.”
This way was back into the round bathing room and a quarter of the way around the wall clockwise. There was a thin woman of what Morganzer guessed to be medium height. There was a smell of rosemary rising from the water she sat in. She was leaned over, playing with the reflections on the water with one stirring finger. Morganzer could tell that she was Looking at something.
“Mother, this is Morganzer Ferntickle. She’s the one everyone has been Looking after. She’s come Downside a bit early and she needs some information before she can start making decisions.”
The old woman looked up. Her face was sagging and her eyes were clouded. Morganzer wondered if she saw very well, without the scrying.
“I remember you.” The old woman’s voice was husky. “You’re the one that keeps dying and getting us killed. You might be the two-scryer. We all hope that you are, you know. If you are, you’re a sign that the prophecy is moving along and if you’re not then you’re a pack of trouble for nothing much gained.”
Morganzer didn’t know what to say to that. While she was trying to form a question, the woman continued.
“So let’s start with the basics. Do you know who we are?”
“Well, I don’t know any special name for us. We’re just us. The nemen have a name for themselves, but I don’t remember what it is. We live here because it’s a good place to scry and we’re good scryers. When the nemen came, we sent the men away so they wouldn’t get hurt and started running a bath house for the nemen. They like the hot water and laundry service.
And there’s some sort of prophecy and some of us might move somewhere else after it’s done.”
“Not too bad. We sometimes call ourselves Followers. The prophet we followed was sometimes called the Wanderer. She’s asleep. It’s a magic sleep. She’ll sleep until someone figures out how to wake her. That won’t happen until the things she’s foretold starts to happen.
Most of us originally came from the
“Valley?” Morganzer had spent most of her life thinking about the local area of sea and protruding rocks. The nemen seemed to come from far away, but she thought of it as somewhere inland and when she thought of inland, she thought of mountains, not valleys.
“Perhaps I should start there. Do you know much about the shape of the Worldshore. There’s a continent behind our mountains and we’re going to have to deal with that sometime, but the Worldshore exists between the mountains and the sea and it’s people think of themselves as separate and of the rest of the world as something not to be bothered with. We’re cut off enough that most of the time we can get away with that. Or at least we used to be able to. Does that sound familiar?”
"No. I've heard the word Worldshore. And I've heard that it's warmer if you go south. But it's so rocky and the sea is so rough, that it never seemed to be worth the effort of getting somewhere a little warmer. So I never thought about it much. The nemen don't come from south, they come from north and east."
"We're near the very top of the Worldshore. Although saying top is arbitrary. We're far to the north. Most of the shore is south of us. People living in the Worldshore all speak the same language, although different areas speak it in different ways. People living in the Worldshore don't call themselves Worldshorians, they identify themselves by their local area, or by the lord of their local area, or sometimes by their guild or school, if they happen to move around a lot. And when I say 'in the Worldshore' the 'in' signifies that I'm including all of the islands that surround us. If I said 'on the Worldshore', I'd be talking about only the coast and inland. There's sometimes significant cultural differences between island, coast, and inland."
"Excuse me, but did you say people live on islands? Isn't that dangerous?"
"Not our sort of island. Ours are all pretty pointy. Very up and down. No. The further you go to the south, the flatter and less rocky the islands get. Roughly speaking, of course. There are a few rocky ones in any spread, of course. Nothing south of, oh, say Attuyu is anything like the jutting needles we have here, though. What was I saying?"
"Er, cultural differences between island and inland - and what people call themselves.”
"Oh, yes. If you're going to be going out among other folk, you'll need to know what they think of themselves. Nothing offends a person worse than thinking they've been misunderstood, especially regarding who or what they are. We can't give you too much current information, but some things are pretty static.
She turned to her daughter. "We need to get this girl a map. It will make more sense if she can see what we're talking about."
"We'll get her one, Mother, but not in the bath." The old woman nodded and made a dismissive roll of one hand. Her voice seemed to be getting sticky as she talked along. Every once in awhile she had to clear her throat to continue. She spoke loudly enough to hear easily, though.
"Let's see, static information on geography and identity. Most folk consider themselves to be North or South and either Shore or Island. If you're not within a days walk of the water you're either Inland, Mountain, or Valley. The biggest Valley is the
Valley, although by strict geometry, it's a good bit south of the
center. If you weight it for population, though, there's about as many
people north of it as south of it. The north is colder and rockier.
Shorter growing season. Fewer big cities.
Most of our original group came from the
Valley. Within the valley there are three free cities and a
bunch of shifting lordships. And you're either City or Near City or Flat
or Hill. I suppose there may be Mountain folk who consider themselves to
be Central Valley. Anyway, the Central
Valley, or just The Valley, if you want to imply that all other
valleys are just little things of no consequence, is a prosperous place and a
place where people can move around easily. It's very flat and the weather
is mild. There are a few weeks in the summer when no one wants to move
for the heat and there are one or two frosts in the winter. You can get
two crops of wheat or three crops of vegetables each year. Around the
edges, where it's not so flat, there are orchards and Walkers with grazing
There are many schools in the valley that teach many things. Our Wanderer was from a group of scryers attached to a school of earth magic. Her people didn't like the way she worked. She was looking too far into the future, they said. They said that past a certain point, scrying was useless because there was too much change between now and then for anything Seen to have validity.
But she kept at it and she became convinced that something horrible was going to happen to the Worldshore and everyone in it, something that would happen long after her grandchildren were dead. Her people pointed out that there would be other scryers living closer to the disaster, so she checked on that, to ease her mind, and came back saying that, no, there wouldn't be any scryers then, at least none in the valley. They said that wasn't possible, and she said check for yourself.
After that things got a little muddled. We know that there were arguments. We know that eventually she convinced a pack of scryers to follow her up here, where everyone said nothing grew and there was no flat land, but she said that there was a small valley, warmed by
, where clever folk could live and hide.
We know that somewhere along the way she picked up at least one person with no
scrying, but a good bit of other magic. hot
There was some contention, when it came to setting things up, Topside. Although Topside and Downside were pretty well connected in those days. There were stairs. And it was called Bottomside at first although why changing the name was significant enough for folks to comment on it as much as they did is beyond me.
As I said, there was some contention, which the Wanderer didn’t like, and of course she tried to scry her way around it. Sensible enough. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be a good way around it, and she took to brooking and Looking far too often. A few folks started wondering if following her was such a good idea.
We’re not sure why she decided to sleep. Although no one says sleep. You’ll be corrected if you say sleep. She’s Waiting. She decided to wait. There are many opinions on why she did it and how she will wake and what she intends to do when she does. But we know very concretely that she’s waiting.
And it’s easier to say sleep when you’re telling someone new about it.
There are records. The records tell us that there have been may factions over the years and that the factions all had their own opinions as to our common history. There are genealogies you can read, which will teach you that once who your mother and father were was a very important thing, indeed. It’s hard to think about how it was back then. Some think that the nemen did us a favor, knocking us out of that mental rut, but the people saying it were all folk who had been aunt-raised and then came down as adults and had to deal with folk who had been parent-raised and thought they had a claim to their offspring’s thoughts and actions. Must have been interesting. Now, where was I?”
“People coming down after the nemen. And factions.”
“Yes, but what was I trying to tell you.”
“You were telling her our history, Mother. She’s going to have to take her brother away soon, unless she can see a way around it. He may have to go farther than Farside. She needs to know how to explain herself to strangers and how to decide what to do.”
“Ah, yes. The two-scry.”
“What’s the two-scry.”
“The two-scry goes out and comes back with the clown. It’s part of the prophecy. Of course what the prophecy is and how it was given are not things that are strictly agreed upon. Oh, my no.” the old woman cackled. “Someone wrote up a summary of all the different versions recently. If you’re curious, you should read it. I think there are multiple copies by now.
I think the best thing to say if anyone asks is that we followed a teacher to a place up north to study. The scryers who stayed behind were eventually hunted down and killed by some king or wizard or something. There aren’t very many in the rest of the world and the few who are there are not very good. Or they’re untaught. Or they’re hiding. Or all three. Scrying may have become strange outside of our little group, and you never know how people will react to strange things.
They know about teachers and groups becoming insular and odd, though. That’s half of what the Worldshore is all about. Live your life on one island or one hill or in one valley. Start saying shair and ish instead of chair and itch. Start wearing your bumwrap on the outside with your leggings attached by strings. They know about insular.
What else do you need to know?”
“Who are the nemen and what are we doing with them?”
“They call themselves the Skend. They’re warrior folk from the continent. There’s a cycle to the weather . . . something like forty years. Mostly it’s too cold and the snow and ice pile up and the Skend can’t get through the mountains to come off of the continent onto the Worldshore. Usually there’s about a ten year period when they come down raiding. We never had anything worth bothering to climb up and get, so they’d mostly leave us alone.
It’s been different for the last, oh, I don’t know how long. But they’re being pushed where they are and they’re planning now instead of just raiding. They’ve been taught all their lives that the folk on the Worldshore are soft and weak and they plan to move in and take it all. They’re being tricky about it. They’ve left off raiding, to let the stories of past raids die down. To let the defenses weaken because there hasn’t been anything to defend against for too long.
They’re planning and they’re watching and they may be making trading alliances. I think we were taken over partly as practice and partly because we could see them come and go and they didn’t want folks farther south to know how much they came and went.
They may be what the Wanderer was Seeing. Even if they’re not, it may be a good idea for the folks south to be warned what they’re up to. Not sure that they’d listen, of course. I’m not going to go tell them in any case, so I don’t have to think about that.
Was there anything else?”
“Let me think.” There was a significant pause, but it was expected that no one would have any trouble with that. “Information about Farside.”
The old woman made a rude noise with a great deal of labial sibilance.
“I’m not likely to tell you anything useful about Farside. Never been there. Can’t remember Looking at it. Your Mother can probably tell you more about it than I can.”
Morganzer didn’t bother mentioning that her Mother was dead. It wasn’t something that applied.