I have lots of final prep to do before Serpents of Sky launches next week! So I don’t have much in the way of bloggish thoughts today, but I did do a few rough sketches. Just some random Aligare folk.
I think it’s about time I update the diagram of the Aligare peoplekinds — the one that appears at the beginning of every Story of Aligare book. In the original image, I was trying for a clean, simplified look. But I’m thinking a more detailed, dynamic art style like these sketches might make it easier for readers to visualize the Aligare races in the story to come. Thoughts?
In the land of Aligare, aemet folk have strict rules about cutting trees — trees being the plants closest to goddess Verdana. But other types of plants are fine to cut branches off of, as long as the cutting is done respectfully and for a good reason. There are aemet artisans who use their plantcasting to coax shrubs into specific shapes. Why carve wood — and end up with waste pieces — when you can cooperate with the plant and get the exact shape you need?
When aemets need to comb their hair (which is thicker and waxier-textured than a mammal’s hair would be), they often use combs made from branches. Bramble vines and rose branches can be used as is, but their thorns make more effective brush bristles when they’re cultivated all on one side of the branch.
The craftsperson encourages the plant into shape, often making the end of that branch into a decorative flourish. Then the branch is cut off (with apologies and thanks given to the plant, and plantcasting used to heal the wound). The thorns are secured with a bit of glue or sealant, and their points are filed slightly blunter. Any additional decoration is simple: some twine, wire or beads. No paints that would cover up the plant’s gift.
Since plantcast brushes are made with such care and reverence, they’re often given as gifts on special occasions, or as thanks for a particularly meaningful favour. They’re simple but valued items you might find lying around an aemet’s home.
- The structure of Aligare homes (heidicvlach.com)
- Flashback post: How I used light and dark magic in the Aligare world (heidicvlach.com)
- Flashback post: A magic spell by any other name (heidicvlach.com)
In my last post, I talked about Aligare dogs and how they fit into a non-human society. Dogs are useful to aemets — for many of the same reasons early humans found dogs worthwhile to have around. And dogs have been present in Aligare long enough to be talked about in legends.
Aligare legends are a teaching tool as well as a form of entertainment. Since there’s no written language, people tell each other the information and moral values that need to be passed on. Some legends morph into multiple forms, adapted to different storytellers’ tastes. Other legends are so well-loved, they endure with very little change. There are factual legends about how dogs descended from wolves — but the story of Juniper is more popular. It tells of the dog’s enduring loyalty, the gift these creatures give to peoplekind.
Here is an except from the upcoming book, Render:
“I’m doing Juniper’s work, in a way,” came the [dog] breeder’s voice from across the stone hearth. Steam rose from his hands: he had finally gotten his cup of tea. “I’m sure she’d have wanted everyone to have a loyal beast the same way she did. You know the tale of Juniper and her dog, don’t you, sprout?”
A pause. Rue sensed a child’s small head moving, his antennae cutting air while he shook his head.
“You haven’t heard it? Goodness! You need to know about Juniper if your neighbours are going to have dogs.”
Anticipation thickened in the air, the combined attention of people ready to hear old truths. On a deep breath, the breeder began:
“Long ago, there was an aemet woman named Juniper. She liked the feel of earth under her feet and she drew strength from it, just as a plant draws from deep roots. Juniper walked the land and saw its sights, too detemined for any howling wind to stop her, and too brave for any portent air to unsettle her. She even walked through a hard-wind rainstorm for an entire day, not daunted in the least. Juniper’s dog followed her everywhere she went, raising his hackles at any unfitting motion in the land. That creature didn’t leave her side for a heartbeat.”
Rue’s hand fell to Feor — who lay so quietly in front of her that she had nearly forgot him. Dog fur passed smooth under her fingers. She got another flick of slimy tongue over her skin.
“They grew old together, walking and seeing each corner of the land. They knew every breath of air and every pebble resting on soil. Juniper was brown with age and the dog had a limp in his hind leg, but Juniper didn’t feel that they were finished. She wanted one more new sight, she told her dog while she stroked his ears. One more place they could see together.
The dog jumped to his feet and trotted away from Juniper, barking for her to follow. She called for him to slow down but the dog had a force in his heart. He kept trotting even as his limp grew worse and Juniper wished for a rest. They reached a place of blowing sand and smooth rock, and plants as tough as rope. It was a desert at the edge of the land, where the two of them had never been. Juniper and her dog looked at the desert stones and the wind-warped trees, and the shine of endless sand. Juniper sensed winds with a thousand years’ wisdom and not one mote of water. It was new, indeed. Thank you, Juniper told the dog. He licked her hand. And then he laid down and breathed no more.”
The breeder paused. Rue thought she sensed a twitch in his air-filled throat, a swallowed lump of emotion.
“The dog returned to the earth to nourish the soil. Juniper stayed there, kneeling over his resting place, and she cried. Cried until she had no more moisture to cry with, and soon she died herself. In that dry land, their remains gave life to a new plant sprout — one called a juniper bush. It had scaly leaves and tough wood, so it feared no drought. Even now, a juniper will still grow wherever sand gathers — as long as there’s a friend there to look upon that sand.”
To Rue’s knowledge, that was a legend many hundreds of years old. Folk said that the desert was long gone. Passed over by the shifting Great Barrier, swallowed by the outside wastelands full of terrible Cold. Rue knew that from stories told in the broodery — just one of the passed-down stories she still remembered the cadence of. Even without its desert home, the juniper plant must have lived on, protected and nurtured by its aemet sisters; juniper wood had to come from somewhere, after all. Looking at the guard ring on her wrist, Rue could imagine the hours of work that went into wood cultivation even before dyes and metal findings became involved. She wondered what sort of soil a juniper plant preferred. Something inhospitable to other plants, surely. Acidic. Soil that would starve the roots of anything less hardy. Rue ran fingertips over her guard ring, which was polished too smooth to feel like wood at all.
“I don’t think we’ll need to go to any deserts.” she told Feor, “Just this mountain.”
Feor opened his mouth like a smile.
This legend speaks of the bonds of love and trust that can cross species barriers, in the Aligare world or any other. Despite her moments of cynicism, Rue can appreciate that, and it’s one of the many themes at Render‘s core.
- Korvitongue (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Salterra sickness (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Aligare greetings (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
While building the Aligare world, I drew a lot of inspiration from Earth’s history of evolution. Nearly every living thing that has ever inhabited this planet has other creatures similar to it, splintered off from some common ancestor. We humans are very closely related to the great apes, but we can also look at monkeys, tarsiers and lemurs and see a vastly extended family. I wanted my Aligare races to see some different cousins living among them, too. For aemets, those distant relatives are the sylphs.
Earth mythology says that sylphs are air spirits. Sometimes they’re invisible beings made of magic or emotion. Sometimes they’re physical creatures similar to fairies. They probably have wings and they’re probably feminine, and that’s about all folklore agrees on.
Well, that left me plenty of room to worldbuild! I mostly drew on the fairy-wing part of the mythos, and the idea of whimsical, flighted beings. Aligare sylphs look more like dragonflies. Like so:
Like their aemet relatives, sylphs are betweenkind. Their skeletal system is a mixture of bones and chitin plates; they have mammalian eyes and insect antennae; their body temperature hovers around lukewarm. Sylphs lean more heavily to the insect side, though. They have two pairs of wings, and a simplified circulatory system made possible by their small size. Sylphs have airsense, but it’s much less sensitive than aemet airsense: sylphs mostly detect moisture in the air, so they can sense incoming storms and make sure to find shelter.
Sylphs are herbivorous, eating mostly lichens, mosses and exposed roots. They spend most of their time in flight, preferring open spaces and mountain peaks. Their skin and shells have speckled camofluage colouring, for some measure of protection while they’re on the ground feeding.
These creatures are social. They’re usually seen in lively colony groups, buzzing in playful circles and chirping a wheep-wheep-wheep cry to one another. Particularly brave sylphs might fly closer to a person or large animal for a better look, although they’re too skittish to really interact with. The Aligare peoplekinds think of sylphs as “luck bugs”, creatures who brighten your day just by allowing themselves to be seen. But because they are betweenkind, sylphs are affected by some of the same disease demons that terrorize aemetkind.
Tillian peered down. “Is that a sylph?”
It was a stick-shaped body, mottled with lichen-dull colours, shimmering where its clear wings caught light. Hiding in plain sight, indeed. Peregrine stepped around it, placing his feet careful in the muskeg. “Yes. They watch folk when they’re alive, though. The easiest way to sight them is by the sparkle in their eyes.”
“It’s– Oh.” Fur brushed against his neck as Tillian turned. She likely watched the still little body in their wake, mourning that no one had helped it.
“We’ll see more of them around here,” Peregrine said. “The same as that one. Sylphs are betweenkind, so they catch gripthia, as well. The only time they aren’t good fortune is when they turn up dead.”
—Remedy, a story of Aligare, Chapter 10
Aemets have no gene theory, and they still think of sylphs as far-flung relatives. That’s not much of a stretch, though, when aemetkind considers trees and plants to be their sisters. It’s all part of the highly flexible definition of family that Aligare society lives by.
- Aligare greetings (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Aligare weather and its lack of cold (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- The history of lichen: how I build ideas (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
I’m focused right now on Render, the story of Aligare where a remote aemet village is beset by wolves. It’ll be out sometime soon, likely in March. In the meantime, have a sample of the story! This is a scene from Chapter 4, in which Rue the aemet seeks out the enigmatic hunting korvi, Felixi of Velgarro.
This excerpt is from a work in progress. The final version of Render, a story of Aligare might be slightly different.
Near the end of a third hour — when the daylight was richly gold — another shape pressed into Rue’s awareness. Too far off to gauge its size properly — and Rue told herself twice not to assume a bounty ahead of the harvest. But as heartbeats clicked past, she grew more sure of her sense. The shape was too large and too many-limbed to be anything but a korvi, his wings slicing the air like well-honed knives.
He flew within seeing distance, a speck gliding through the clouds. He was yellow-feathered and gold-skinned, his pale limbs and white belly blending with the cloud-streaked gold of the sky. Difficult to see unless one was already looking for him. That was a useful way for a hunter to be hatched, Rue supposed with her stomach turning slowly over.
Wheeling on the wind, he turned his long-jawed face turned toward her. Impulse clamouring inside her, Rue raised both arms and waved. If there was a particular wave to call a korvi down from the sky, she wasn’t familiar with it, but her clumsy motion seemed to work. He came closer on unhurried wingbeats, beating air downward before he held his broad wings steady and dropped to the meadow grass. Air rushed away and settled.
This looked like the Felixi of Velgarro described by aemet kin. He was thick-built in the shoulders, muscular like Rue supposed a hunter would be. He straightened from his landing — straightened tall, holding his horns skyward and turning stone-hard eyes to Rue.
His throat moved as though he meant to speak. Nothing came out for an instant; he swallowed, frowned, and tried again. “Something you want?” he asked in a rasping voice.
Like he hadn’t spoken in days. Like he was a wild creature himself.
But he was right, there was something Rue wanted. “You might say that. You’re Felixi of Velgarro, aren’t you?”
“Yes.” He cocked his head, eyeing Rue. “And you’re another Aloftway pup asking me to trade, hmm?”
She blinked; the sensation of skipped pleasantries slid roughly away. “I … yes. Our leaders request your help in hunting wild quarry.”
“Leaders? I thought you had a mage in your little Aloftway. A mage.”
The pierce of his gaze made Rue hesitate. It didn’t truly matter whether a community chose a mage full of casting arts, or a clever-tongued leader, or some patchwork of the two; it was was a triviality of words and surely even a hunter knew that.
“It seems to me that we have one mage and one leader,” Rue ventured. “One is better with casting than the other. Does it matter?”
The hunter didn’t visit village folk because he had an arrogant way about him, said Rue’s innards in a sour voice. Arrogant wasn’t even the right word, not an exact match to the cross-legged korvi standing before her.
“At any pace, are you interested in trading?”
What a difficult nut to crack. “There’s nothing you want? I was told to offer you anything the village might provide …”
“Anything? Well, that’s a mote more interesting than last time.” Felixi sat on his braced tail; he sighed hard, like chiding himself. “Fine and well, I’ll part with a moment of my time. You are?”
Keep up with him, said the proud spark in Rue’s heart. Speak up responsibly. Like the mage herself would.
“Rue Tennel. Nearest hand to the mage, daughter of the tinctoring arts.”
“Right, then. Rue. I’m Felixi of Velgarro, as you already know. Hunter of creatures.” He didn’t flick his wings open, not even a featherwidth. He only nodded. “Has Aloftway grown anything worth bothering with? No barley, I don’t care for animal feed.”
“By a chance, we don’t grow any.”
“Truly a chance?”
Rue’s thoughts tripped again, but she thought better before her mouth could fall too far open. “No,” she admitted. “The farming folk just didn’t want to waste their casting on crop that doesn’t care for mountains. But we do grow white beans and spinach, and garden herbs, and I can forage for any particular forest plant you’d like.”
“Feh,” Felixi huffed, but he paused like thought in the very same breath. Plans formed behind his eyes while they flicked over the plains grass.
Rue couldn’t help looking better at him, in this moment. Scars stood out on his shoulder and arms, white against his yellow, raised lumps against the air. He had been injured more than his dragonkind resilience could match — and he hadn’t had a healer to knit his wounds, either. A rope-thick scar led up his thigh, under his tattered pants. His cargo pouch was all but empty, knotted around itself. But his waistband carried a second brown item, one Rue gradually identified as the sheath of a knife — the largest she had ever seen. He must have led a frightful life, Rue thought.
“I’ll take nuts,” Felixi decided. He stiffened at his own words, air sliding under his slight-bristling feathers. “Hazelnuts, acorns, I’m not particular about which kind. Or honey. Or some preparation of both.”
“All right, I’ll bring a bushel basket,” Rue said, while her insides chilled at the thought of filling it. “Would that be enough for a large creature?”
“Deer? Nurl? Something else?”
“It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s a food creature. We’re expecting new arrivals and they’ll want meat.”
Curiosity raised Felixi’s brow, but he kept any questions firmly held behind his teeth. “It’ll likely be a nurl. Which’ll take me a day, so count the hours and don’t be late. Until then.”
And he opened his wings, bunched powerful legs and tail, and sprang into the air. Felixi of Velgarro was flapping away before Rue could believe her senses.
He was thoroughly odd, and more than that, he stirred a fear Rue couldn’t put words to. A bone-deep wondering if she should flee. Turning to the forest, back toward Aloftway, she walked and sorted her thoughts into piles. She supposed the sheer fact of a wild-wandering hunter was unsettling: this was a person who dove onto wild beasts like a wild beast himself. It wasn’t natural. Not in Rue’s sense of the term, anypace — where it was fair enough to raise a food animal and care for it, in exchange for a terror-free death.
She had helped Mother clean meat, once, in old Ordiny village. They had been gifted a lump of horse meat to be made into stew, and it had put a similar fear in Rue’s belly — the awareness that this moist red mass used to be part of a creature.
Why was it from a horse, she had asked in small voice?
This horse got hurt, Mother explained. She picked up a short-bladed knife, looked to the meat and hesitated. It had wrenched its leg and it wouldn’t have lived anypace. So the kindest thing was to release it from pain, then make use of what it left behind.
Rue had wondered why the horse hadn’t gotten a funeral, like other friends of aemetkind. But she supposed horses weren’t a personkind. Maybe they had other ways of returning their plant-element spirits to goddess Verdana’s care. Some other path through the whole wide land. Legends swarmed in Rue’s memory, the tales of ancient times and gods deciding what would feed what — the tales she wished would fit together more neatly.
She considered asking about it, but Mother was making her uneasy face. The knife parted meat, drawing a wedge of air downward.
She could do it, Rue offered. If Mother watched over her.
Turning a smile toward her, Mother said that would be fine. Here, Rue. It would be a great help if she did.
That horse, Rue understood as she grew older, had likely been helped to its death by the same friend who fed and groomed it each day. Or at least an odd-job korvi with a calm temperament. Like how Judellie had taken care of the caravan horse limping too badly to be sent back down the mountain. That was a far measure away from Felixi of Velgarro, some thorny fellow who dropped sudden and fierce out of the sky. Someone who demanded a bushel of food to even think of helping. That was the crux of it, Rue thought as she paused in the forest: Aloftway was asking Felixi for help and he grudged it. He must have had his reasons — but who had reasons so chill, so sharp of tooth?
Maybe, she thought with a swell of embarrassment, she was just too young an adult to take seriously. She simply didn’t have the air of aged knowledge that a family leader would — and even if she did, aemets only lived for a productive forty years. Rue wondered suddenly what Felixi had guessed her age to be, whether he had decided her a leader. If only she could sense that truth.
Returning focus to the forest around her, Rue searched the air for serrated hazelnut leaves. She wouldn’t know the depths of life today, or tomorrow, either. But if she followed Felixi’s mist-veiled wishes, perhaps he would be easier to work with next time.
Want to read the whole story? Stay tuned to this blog or one of my social media accounts! I’ll announce when I have a sure release date for Render.
- The lucky rue plant (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Light and dark magic: how I used the concept in the Aligare world (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Aemets’ airsense (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)