A sample of Repast (A Story of Aligare)Posted: July 3, 2016
As I post this, Anthrocon is wrapping up for another year. I wish I could have attended, but I was there in spirit — through my two short stories included in FurPlanet‘s new releases! My work appears in ROAR 7 and Gods With Fur.
So here’s a sample for ya. Repast ( A Story of Aligare) is meant to stand alone, although if you’ve read Remedy you’ll recognise a few faces. And if you’re new to my human-free world of Aligare, you might want to check out the Aligare Lore section of this blog.
(A Story of Aligare)
by Heidi C. Vlach
Mama said there was a legend about the gods giving out names. Long ago, when the land was new and the first trees were stretching toward the dome of the Great Barrier, the mortal peoples were nameless. That was unfitting for gods’ children. The Great Ones discussed and disagreed, and in the end used their vast power to poke dimples into the peoplekind’s inner essence. Not enough to hurt, only enough to make people want to prod that spot inside themselves. Smooth it over. Maybe fill it with something.
That something, Mama said, was a name. It was different for each peoplekind. The aemets — the betweenkind folk, both furkind and insect — got one given name, and held their family name close so they always had company. The korvi — dragons of the skies — got one given name, and kept their clan name, too, for something to be proud of. And then, Mama said, came their own ferrin race. Some ferrin were happy with one given name. One didn’t always fill them up, though. So Mama’s mother gave her two names so she could pick between them once she was grown, and Mama did the same for her own kits.
Choosing one’s name was a summoning of strength and levity, a sure way to feel right in one’s own fur. Mama smiled, her whiskers folding up fond, and said she was eager to see which names her kits would pick. Or maybe they would find a third name. Wasn’t that right, Vivia Ava?
The twinkling in Mama’s eyes was a thunderbolt through Vivia Ava’s chest. A patch of longer fur — adult fur — was spreading wide across her shoulders and she still had no earthly idea whether she was Vivia or Ava. Neither sat right in her mouth. Neither pretty name, selected by her love-strong parents, felt like the one she should ask folk to call her by. But if even great Ambri thought she should pick for herself, then there couldn’t be any shame in it. Gods, supposedly, knew best.
When Vivia Ava started exploring the oak forest by herself — though always within smelling distance of home — she took the solitude as a chance to mumble sounds. She listened to her own tongue smashing her names into new shapes. And soon enough, she began telling folk that she was Vivia Ava, call her Vee.
Vee left home soon after her adult fur filled in. She put on the scarf Papa gave her — the gold- patterned one that brought out the green in her eyes — and she left the oak forest behind, following the trade roads and their trace scents of travellers, until the oak trees gave way to plains grass and eventually, cornfields ushered a town into view.
This place was Greenway, a large village made up of mostly aemet people. Aemets were as green as their plantcasting magic and every two-legged step came smooth. They gathered together just like the corn they grew, slender and angular, and they smiled down at Vee like they could sense promise wafting off of her.
It was a fine enough town to live in. Vee chose a maple tree on the outskirts of town to make her nest in, after promising her aemet neighbours she would do no harm to this child of the plant goddess. No sap drawn, and no wood broken away unless it was diseased or dead. That was a reasonable allowance to make for folk of another kind; Vee would be uneasy, too, she supposed, if her goddess’s storm clouds were able to burn or bleed. And more importantly, great Verdana didn’t mind people or creatures eating her seeds. There would be meals of maple keys in Vee’s future.
As much as Vee’s neighbours guarded the trees, they still needed wood for their hearths, to cook food and ward the night’s chill away. Vee gathered fallen branches, at first, and she traded them for juicy cobs of roasted corn. As months passed, her foraging took her farther and father afield, out past the farmers’ plots and into the forest so she couldn’t smell the town’s latrines or woodsmoke anymore.
The maple forest had a greener tang to its scent than the oak forest back home. Fewer whiffs of basilisk and cavebird’s scents. Fallen leaves becoming pungent earth. More thrushes’ and jays’ cries and a more robust voice to the wind. After an hour’s quick journeying, the ground sloped upward into the rocky foothills of Hotrock Volcano.
And with each trip, Vee found things. Trinkets more interesting than firewood or seeds: she found treefruit, and pebbles glittering with minerals, and wood bent by the wind’s persistent presence. She even found a rock-clinging lichen that looked like musty leather scraps but was actually worth an eightday of hot meals.
“What can you make of that lichen?” Vee asked the town seamstress, around a mouthful of scalding but delicious pigeon stew.
“Oh, wait until you see it,” the seamstress enthused. “It makes a truly striking shade of pink dye. If you find me more of this, there’ll be more stew for you — wager on that.”
And that was when Vee realized that she had a line of work: she found herself a name and she could find other things, too.
She dug more intently under leaf litter, and climbed higher up the Volcano. Each day, her scarf filled with mushrooms and pebbles as she bore wind-carved sticks between her teeth, and there was never a day Vee didn’t look forward to the search. After all, why would gods put so many things into the world if peoplekind weren’t meant to find it?
“My, but you’ve got a talent for this,” one merchant told her. He was Syril, a red-feathered chatterbox of a korvi, part of some far-spread family who had made their mark in the land — and more importantly Syril was always delighted to see what Vee had found. “Wager four apples on it, the gods have given you a gift, friend!”
Vee tilted her head up at him. “You think it?”
“Do you know anyone who’s looking for forest goods right now?”
Syril chattered off a list of names — a long list, seemingly folk who had asked for herbs at any point within the last eightyear. But just as irritation was making Vee’s tail flick, Syril’s eyes bugged wide. “Oh, and I nearly lost this bit of news in my dustbin of a head! There’s a fellow right here in Greenway looking for inkwork supplies.”
“What sort of supplies?” Like any trade, inkworking had more nuances than Vee had strands of fur.
Shrugging, waving his arms so his bangles clattered, Syril said, “Oh, different things, by the sound of it. The fellow is Welsken — old aemet man, married into the Tennel family? Not quite a hermit but certainly a rarer sight than a rainstorm. I came upon his daughter, Clematis—”
Whom Vee already knew: Clematis kept an eclectic vegetable garden and she was happy to buy all the herb and shrub seeds Vee could find.
“—and do you know what my dear friend Clematis told me? That Welsken is looking for some particular bones.” Syril squinted, his voice lowering slight. “Grazing creatures’ bones — and only wild ones, no farmed horses or any such thing! I keep a goodly stock of trinkets and rabble in my pouches, gods see that I speak the truth about that, but I had nothing within a shade of what Welsken wanted. He wouldn’t even take a bargain on pigeon bones!”
People that discerning usually had the barter goods to back up their tastes. With her ears folding thoughtful, Vee nodded. “I cover a lot of forest when I’m foraging, I’m sure I can find what he needs. Where can I find this fellow?”
The next day, with a scarf full of new treasures, Vee began following Syril’s suggestions. She went first to find Clematis, lolloping on four quick feet down the town’s main road. Daybright winked through the tall maples; neighbours walked between houses, made with the aemet technique of boards tied gently around tree trunks. As the leaf canopy thickened, the path led to the Middling circle, that sacred aemet place full of pungent stacks of rotting plant trimmings. Clematis wasn’t there — just three farmhand ferrin dumping a bucket of vegetable peels — and so Vee headed for the next most likely place. Clematis kept Greenway’s Middling circle and oftentimes, she guided folk to the Garden.
Vee had visited the Garden once. It was a gathering of large, etched stones propped up tall, each one kept company by flower-speckled patches of daisies and yellow gelsemiums. The stone etchings were pictures of the gods — flat depictions of the stories Vee knew, cool and motionless rock that was nothing like a storyteller’s voice.
But that was why Clematis spent time here, telling the stones’ tales. Today, she was explaining a stone to two other aemets Vee had never seen nor smelled before.
“And after the rain stopped, great Ambri came down from the thunderclouds to see the result of her work.” Clematis was fiddling with her braids as she usually did, smoothing them around her antennae’s bases in a way that never satisfied her. “Her mighty lightning had filled the quartz stone with electric magic, so she had electricstones to bury for later. But there had been a tree too close to the strike point. One of Verdana’s children, now blackened and smoldering.”
Blunt-barbed aemet fingers gestured to the stone, to its chiselled sketch of a bird-like Ambri with her head bowed before a stick of a tree.
“So,” Clematis went on, “Ambri sought out her mighty sister. She fluttered through every treetop until she was in the calmest heart of the forest, and there she found Verdana, our mother of green.”
Vee stifled a sigh: this part of the legend always dragged on when aemets told it. But after long moments talking about the lush-leafed haven Verdana lived in and the clean air filtering through the leaves, Clematis got to the point.
“Ambri and Verdana talked for four weeks, though more like the wink of an eye to the gods. Verdana said that her flora were fragile; that was the beauty of them. Sometimes the other elements would harm plants, but that only made ash and charcoal and, eventually, new soil to nourish new life. Lightning was no enemy of plant life. Why, not even Fyrian’s ever-hungry fire was truly an enemy.
It was then that Ambri called out to her same-element children, the larks and swallows in the sky and the lizards creeping under rocks. Birds came and alighted in the trees, and lizards lined the clearing — and ferrin people came, too, peering out from leafy branches.
Let the land know that lightning might do harm, Ambri said. Folk needed to mind thunder’s rumbling warning, and seek shelter. But though it could wreak destruction, Ambri’s element tried always to do good, as well.
The birds took off, chattering the message to all who would hear it. The ferrin nodded to their High One, and took the message into their hearts. So it has been, ever since.”
The visitor aemets touched their palms together in quiet applause, like they might break the atmosphere of the Garden. Clematis looked bright-eyed with her own storytelling, but thankfully she turned a glance to Vee; the visitors drifted away toward the next story stone.
“Good day, neighbour,” Clematis told Vee. “You need something?”
“Your father is Welsken Tennel — is that right?”
Her tone carried a heavy but; Vee’s fur prickled with possible unwelcome.
“I don’t want to bother him for no reason,” Vee added, “but I’m told that he’s a calligrapher? I found some plantkind bones he might like to trade for.”
“Oh,” Clematis relented, “that’s a different matter. I’ll take you to him!”
Every town had its hermits. Folk who decided that their best friends were quiet and solitude. Folk who hid themselves like moles. Welsken wasn’t quite one of those — but Vee wouldn’t have known his face or his scent if she had to find him on her own. All she knew was the kind-tongued gossip about him, and the seamstress’s set of ink-painted clay dishes that she said were Welsken’s handiwork.
Clematis led her along a narrow path at the back of the Garden, through rustling boxwood and sumac. They came to a house surrounded tight by hazel bushes, its wooden walls hardly visible through the meshed leaves.
Clematis rapped her blunt-spined knuckles on the door pole. “Father? There’s a forager to see you, with some bones for trade.”
Silence answered. Nervousness sparked electricity under Vee’s skin and she reined it in: her ears fanned forward at the faint scuffling of movement within the home. Welsken’s footfalls approached and stopped before the door curtain. Hesitating, maybe. Or considering. Vee had always wondered what aemet people’s airsense could actually show them, other than a mound of fur and whiskers.
Finally, the door curtain was whisked aside — by the shortest adult aemet Vee had ever seen, his posture so stooped that his tunic hung like an empty sack. Faded brown eyes mirrored his tacked-on smile. He seemed rusty at meeting guests.
“Suppose we can talk for a moment,” Welsken said.
Clematis hummed a satisfied note. “I can’t stay, is that well with you? Travellers are viewing the Garden right now.”
“Go,” Welsken grumbled mild.
Then Clematis was gone and he was lifting the door curtain, waving Vee inside.
The close-walled home smelled like its waxy-skinned resident, and burned cornstalks and dust. Beside the central hearth pit, there was plenty of room and Welsken and Vee to sit — but any other visitors would have had to sit on his bed and he didn’t seem like the sort to offer it.
“Ah, humph. Something to eat?”
For half a heartbeat, Welsken smirked. “Good. I’d rather see to business, if you don’t mind.”
Vee and Welsken’s story continues in the Gods With Fur anthology, available through Furplanet.com