By Jerome Shrima
It is springtime in Caisis, a mountain region of the northernmost habitable land of Uropa. But it is only spring to the stargazers. To the common people it is still winter, the wind still howls, the lakes are still frozen,and the great iceland to the north still defies the stars and births furious snow storms like the one raging outside right now. The last meager light of this storm of fog and snow obscured sun has faded, and the people of the tiny town of Pigalle have taken to their sparse dinners, straw filled cots and animal hide coverings. In the town's namesake inn the Pig and Ale, two men sit apart from the other travelers who are stuck here until the storm abates. They talk to each other over a small table that their uncharacteristic large forms make appear even smaller. One is black, a Murakkam if ever there was one. Wearing an ankle length overcoat made of sabercat skins sew so that the long winter manes have become a huge collar that swirls around the neck of the coat and then flows down its back. If one looks twice they can see that one of the beasts, presumably the larger one, has relinquished its saber toothed skull to be the hood that now rests unused opon the mane. Underneath the long coat, the owner may or may not be naked except for the loin cloth and high wrapped moccassins his people wear in Mura, the rain forested land south of here and then east of the Pillars of Herukhuti that are at the mouth of the Nile where it emptys into the Ursudd, the great swamp that seperates his continent from Uropa. His companion is a swarthy redhaired Hibernian, one of giant stature also, but where the Murakkam is tall and svelte, the Hibernian is tall and thick muscled, wearing his hair braided in the style of his ancestors the Basarkii, adorned with peices of gold and silver and precious stones stuck into the braids, and other riches worn as bracelets and neck chains so that he is never without money or wisdom. The aura they emit is palpable; but not unkown, it is one of wisdom, loneliness, dangers, adventures, successes, deaths, and melancholies. They are sworn brothers of the Society of Vagabonds. Their aura recognized by all from birth. They are leaning towards each other--the Hibernian listens as the Murakkam whispers to him in their secret language, Zendar.
"The seas are growing deeper, and the shorelines receding. The Great Sudds that shalowly seperate the lans and the continents and archepalagios are becoming lakes; and seas, and oceans, again. The prophecies are coming true."
The Hibernian nodded.. "I know. I sailed to Kamit from the great isles of my northern homeland last year, and on all the ships, the crews talked of nothing else. Rising seas, violent storms, mountains rising from the waters spewing smoke and fire then receding back into the deep. Lost coastal lands covered with water, the towers of their great cities poking from the surface, and the waters higher still at their next passing. Then thinking back on it all, I realized that some of the smaller isles of my own archepalagio have disappeared to."
"The Murakkam stared at the Hibernian for several seconds Then asked. ."What is your name Hibernian?
"My people's name for me, or my sworn?"
"Both. Knowing them both would be best, tell me yours and I will tell you mine. I feel we are both here for the same reasons and that more of us are on the way. The glaciers are melting around the world; north an south, that is why the waters are rising. This place is warmer and more humid now than it was ever before, in human memory, that is why there is fog and snow. A few years ago it was to dry of a cold to for fog and snow this way at this time because the glacier was much closer."
The Murakkam paused, a twist of distaste on his mouth after his last sip from his cup. "Not to interrupt brother, but when is our food coming? I am tired of drinking this stuff, it is to sweet."
The Hibernian laughed. "Thats the first time I ever heard anyone call mead sweet. Your palette is used to that bitter blood red wine of the south, but I admit, this mead could well be mistaken for sweet in comparison."
The Murakkam laoghed. "That is true, but I heard that this mead is made from fermented honey. Is that the reason it is sweet?"
The Hibernian laughed again. "Not all mead shares the same recipe. Let me taste that. I happen to be drinking ale."
He tasted the mead and smiled. "This is the good stuff. Now my name among my people is Auri Aurisson, the bull who is the son of the bull. My sworn name is Tauima, and this is honey mead, the innkeepers way of honoring our presence I think, because my ale is fit for a palace banquet."
"Yes it makes sense. Your people named you after their Auroch; a wild, wandering, noble beast, and your sworn name means son of the sacred Apis bull that is cared for by select holy men.
Simultainiously they reached across the table for each others right hand.
Their hand shake appeared normal, except for the placing of the tip of their index finger on the pulse spot of the wrist of the other.
The Murakkam smiled, that handshake implied emplicit trust to them. "My name is Saar. It is my sworn and only name, because my parents and all of my ancestors are Vagas."
Tauima smiled.As an arcane vagabond he knew the meaning of all names, Saar's clan, was the oldest of all Vagabond clans from which thier very name came, meaning those bonded with the Vagas. The Vagas claim to be descened from immortals who transcended into spirit beings and now wander the Tuat at will.
Tauima grinned and said. "So have you self-resurrected yet?"
Saar laughed at the inside joke. "Well all I know is that all of my resting places are still empty."
Tauima looked at Saar and said. "I have heard of you. You are a great griot, a warrior sage, and a bloodborn prince of the Vagabond ."
"Aye, I am, and I have heard of you. Your reputation is as worthy as mine, for you are born of the same spirit. I sense now, that something is on your mind.
"And yet I have just thought about it. I am thinking that no one, especially a Vagabond can resist hearing a story from the greatest story teller of them all. So while we wait for our food, we can each tell a story to the other; but no ordinary story, one with a prize at the end, and not just one but many, if the food comes before we finish we will continue while we eat. This place stays open all day and night; our beds are behind those curtains over there, and the owners have marvelous indoor facilities that somehow never smell."
"Who are the owners?"
"Two brothers, identical twins except that one lost an eye to a raven, and wears a patch over it now. The one with the patch is named Odin, and for obvious reasons he works days. The other, whose eyes are still a pair--is Jokun, and he works nights."
"So where is Jokun now?
"He is here, I heard him bellowing orders to the kitchen staff earlier, he is a bellicose man but beloved by these people as is his brother."
"I would like to meet him."
"I'm sure you will this very night, he is a bar and sings amazing odes here every night after cut off time."
Saar frowned,. "You said this place is always open."
Tauima laughed. "Cut off time is when for the rest of the night--they will only serve what is left on the bones of the meat butchered for this day that has been cooked and not ate. The cut offs."
"I intuit there is a lack of vegetables and fruits right now."
"Aye, Only if the tubers stored fromthe last harvest have spoiled, but there are plenty of meats; deer, elk, bison, mammoth, sloth, bear, fish and of course pig, lots of pig. I saw you when you came in. What did you order?"
"Good. Th fish is usually fresh, I ordered the same thing."
"So are there any other rules for the telling of these tales?"
"Well we are going to be here for some time watching these glaciers melt and the whole world flood; so lets say twelve nights to start. All told at this inn, six stories apeice, one a night. They must be true, they must be about other sworn brothers or sisters, but not about ourselves, unless we were a part of it. in passing. They must also be about sworn vagabonds who by our intuition will show up here within the next twelve days."
Saar grinned and waved his hand around the room."That sounds reasonable, my brother, but everyone here looks bored except us. I'm in the mood to entertain; so lets tell them outloud in the trade language of our world. By the way--what is the prize?"
With his right hand Tauima stroked his wealth laiden braids and smiled. "The one whose tale does not produce its main character by the day after the last tale is told pays our tab for all the days mentioned."
Saar laughed, reached inside his lion coat and fiddled around a bit. When finished ,he pulled out an ornate sash. He laid the sash on the table and undid the bright yellow cord wrapped around it. Diamonds, pearls and rubies spilled from within the loosed folds.
He waved his left hand over the small treasure. "Ahh yes; the thirtenth day. O'kay, it's a deal. We'll draw lots to determine who goes first."
Saar rose from his chair and strode quickly over to the fireplace, he reached into the tender box and drew out two splinters of kindling, one longer than the other, he matched them top to top andfolded his fingers around them. As he walke back to the table he announced to the others in the room.
"People; move you; tables close, we two Vagabonds are going to entertain you."
Saar sat own and held his closed hand out to Tauima. "Long stick goes first." He said.
Tauima drew the shorter twig.
Saar would tell the first story.
THE FIRST STORY
The first story introduces Jokun to Saar and Eru'khu, Eru khu's history and birthright etc. Remember. Karakam Mountains, The Dasu and the Yeti, Shumeri and Tehu, Tehu's Harem, The pyramid crystal.