Some Aligare sketches

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.aemetfeb14sketch korvifeb14sketch ferrinfeb14sketch

 

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?


Aligare’s lucky numbers and their basis in lore

The creation myth in Aligare says that life and magic came from a plant, the Greatbloom. It blossomed for 48 years, then died in an instant.

Attempt #2 to colour this lineart.

Attempt #2 to colour this lineart.

That 48-year period is a unit of measurement in Aligare: an elden. Like how we have a particular word for a period of 100 years. Why does Aligare use such a random number?

Well, Aligare doesn’t have as much regard for factors of 10. For aemets, korvi and ferrin, a “nice, even number” doesn’t necessarily end in a zero. They’re more interested in factors of 2. Standing on 2 legs is stable; standing on 4 legs is even more stable. The sentient races have 4 digits on each hand and foot, and so do most of the wildlife. There are 2 high gods and 4 gods. The land seems to revolve around pairs and quartets, so these are the numbers considered important.

Four is a particularly lucky number because it’s 2 squared. If an Aligare citizen is particularly religious or superstitious, they’ll noticably prefer their life to be arranged in twos and fours. It’s a common preference in aemets.

 

“Feor, his name is?” Judellie leaned to see the dog better, to consider him. “Is that a special name …?”

“It’s likely based on four,” Mother said. She spoke confident: she knew every custom that had ever been declared lucky.

“The breeder said something like that,” Rue added. “He’s the fourth pup of his litter.”

“I’m glad he went to you,” Mother admitted. She worked an arm behind Rue, to put a love-soft hand on Rue’s shell. “You two match. Two is a half-measure of luck, you know.”

Render (A story of Aligare), Chapter 7

Not everything falls into twos and fours. Most notably, there are 3 peoplekind races. And that part about 2 or 4 legs for stability? Well, korvi use their tails as a third leg. If everything were lucky or fated, then luck and fate wouldn’t be meaningful. But to be a crowd-pleaser in Aligare, your best bet is still to make everything divisible by 2.

Related articles:

The meaning of book titles: how I named the Stories of Aligare  (heidicvlach.com)

◦  The legend of Juniper (heidicvlach.com)

◦  Aligare greetings (heidicvlach.com)


Aligare hairbrushes

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.

aligarebrushespic

 

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

You can tell a lot about a culture by what it builds. And in the Aligare world, folk don’t build a lot of structures other than homes and shared social spaces.

An Aligare thatch home would look something like this, although with less square angles. The walls would angle inward and the door frame would be a trapezoid shape.

An Aligare thatch home would look something like this, although its angles wouldn’t be so square. The walls would angle inward and the door frame would be a trapezoid shape.

Aemets were mostly responsible for the advent of house construction. In ancient times, when ferrin lived in the trees and korvi lived on mountaintops, travelling families of aemets began building shelters out of fallen wood and plant debris, propped against living trees. As they developed their plantcasting magic into full-blown agriculture, they also developed the art of permanent(-ish) buildings made of plant materials. And like many Aligare developments, the process picked up speed as aemetkind befriended korvikind and the two races pooled their skills. In the timeframe of the Stories of Aligare, the vast majority of buildings are built in the aemet style.

Building a house in Aligare isn’t as simple as chopping up trees into lumber and nailing them together. Aemets treat the plant goddess’s gift of wood with great respect,  so there are rules about how wood should be used. To respect the tree’s death, wood is never placed with its grain running perpendicular to the ground — which would be akin to propping up a dead body and pretending it’s alive. When wood is used to make the structural poles of a house, those poles are set into the ground at a slant. The exact angle isn’t important as long as it’s clearly not a 90 degree angle. Korvi often find the necessary wood for these poles, since they respect aemet ways but don’t have the same qualms about breaking a tree down into needed material. In some places, korvi metalsmiths provide steel poles for buildings — which don’t need to be placed in any particular way.

Widely was also a fine example of cooperation between the peoplekinds. Syril couldn’t help thinking that every time he landed; today, falling earthward on wide-held wings, he thought the very same. The buildings were roofed and walled with grass thatch, but built on metal poles so that aemet folk wouldn’t fuss about which direction the wood grain in the poles was running. Truly a revelation. The result was good, large buildings that tapered only slightly inward, instead of the drastically slanted pole homes that stifled out every bit of headspace a korvi could possibly put his horns in. All around, Widely made excellent use of materials, in Syril’s opinion.

Render, a story of Aligare, Chapter 8

But when possible, aemets like to tie their house walls around living trees. The house is dismantled and retied each year, to accomodate the trees’ growth and avoid stunting them. With some plantcasting energy spent, it’s possible to grow trees specifically for house structure. If a village is founded in the plains and a few strong casters decide to put the effort in, that village can become a new patch of forest.

The roof (and sometimes the walls, too) are made of woven thatch. Polegrass — which can grow as tall as a person — is used, or else cornstalks from the town’s crops. Strongly scented flowers such as marigold are worked into the thatch to repel insects. Gaps are filled in with moss, cotton fibre or clay. If not thatch, the walls can also be made of wood boards, since the wood is laid horizontally. In fact, wood boards for houses are very valuable, usually given as gifts of love and esteem.

How lively everyone’s hopes had been, giving Arnon more precious boards than the remnants of the Tellig family could possibly use for their two selves. The newly named Fenwater had wanted a leader, someone too stalwart to fear demons, someone surrounded by children learning the trade. They gave their saviour Arnon more house boards, so he could make all the home he would ever need. Father had supposed – in a thoughtful moment years past, candlelight snagging on the lines around his eyes – that he would use the boards for extra training space until Rose had her children.

Remedy, a story of Aligare, Chapter 5

What about korvi-style homes? Their major contribution to housing is pretty much the skill of mining. Hotrock Volcano is a network of tunnel-towns, where korvi live in the warm rock and scrape out spaces large enough to live in. Occasionally, nice slabs of rock are brought beyond Aligare’s mountains and mines, for use as furniture or walls. But for the most part, korvi make use of aemet-style homes when they travel beyond their ancestral Volcano home. If a social space is made with korvi visitors in mind, it’ll usually have a ceiling height that’s really excessive by aemet standards.  That gives enough head space for the often-claustrophobic korvi to feel comfortable, and keeps them from catching their horns on the ceiling thatch.

And ferrin? When they first met the other peoplekinds, they hadn’t developed structural techniques other than their natural way of sheltering in hollow trees, or building squirrel-like nests of clumped plant matter. So ferrin usually accept whatever sturdy homes the other kinds build, or learn to build in the aemet way.

In the current time frame, Aligare hasn’t had much motivation to advance their building techniques. The climate is mild, so dirt floors and thatch walls suit everyone fine. And since aemet-majority villages often fold under the pressures of illness demons, it’s helpful that a village’s buildings can be easily taken apart for their boards and poles. Maybe in a few thousand years, Aligare homes will look different. Maybe.


The legend of Juniper

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.


Dogs in Aligare

The world of Aligare has its distinctive fantasy races, but it also has many familiar Earth creatures. I did that to avoid spending a ton of energy reinventing wheels, and to lighten the reader’s burden of new concepts.

For instance, Aligare has some animals that stand about 3 feet/1 meter tall at the shoulder, eat meat, live in packs and communicate in loud cries. If I said these things are called lunines or yappits or worfs, the reader would need to keep reminding themselves of what the term meant. And they’ll probably think, “It’s like a fantasy dog.” So I thought, heck, let’s save everyone the trouble and call it a dog. I don’t think the dog-role creature loses anything by simply being a dog — as opposed to the peoplekinds, who are non-human for many reasons.

Anyway. The point is that Aligare society has domestic dogs.

 

johnny_automatic_collie_dog

Dogs met the peoplekinds through aemets. Unlike humans, aemet instincts are heavily skewed toward the “flight” aspect of “fight or flight”. If they’re not able to escape from a threat, they’re unlikely to be able to defend themselves. At some point, someone found orphaned wolf pups and thought it would be a good idea to care for these creatures — after all, they already live in family groups and protect their own. Maybe they would be willing to accept aemets into their families. Those wolves were bred for temperament until the distinct dog race showed itself. In more modern Aligare times, aemets still keep the majority of dogs, but they’re also available to ferrin or korvi. Ferrin tend to get along especially well with dogs, since ferrin are fluent in the scent and body language cues that dogs use.

 

Since they’re viewed as non-sentient friends, not mere tools, Aligare dogs haven’t been so intensively bred as Earth dogs. There aren’t any toy breeds, or highly refined breeds like the dachshund. Dogs are still quite similar to their wolf cousins in body size and physical ability, just with gentler personalities and slightly floppy ears. They have a thick coat of fur for protection, in mottled patterns of black and dark brown.

 

And like wolves, dogs are born with darkcasting magic. It’s used to blur their form and hide in shadows. That’s useful for the wolf, but not so much for the dog unless it’s hunting its own dinner. Dogs’ darkcasting abilities haven’t received much attention in the breeding process: dogs are simply taught not to disappear into the forest. The only time Aligare society pays much attention to dogs’ darkcasting is if a dog gets injured, because it means they need darkcasting healing. Mismatched bright healing would endanger their health even more.

 

To match aemets’ original intent, dogs are working animals and they’re often taught to be guard dogs. Aemets are instinctively nervous of being alone, so a well-trained dog can often give them the confidence to live alone or travel by themselves. In Render, Rue is given the young dog Feor, who knows many basic commands and is trained to a guard ring. This piece of jewelry is made of juniper wood so it has a distinctive scent. Like many other guard dogs, Feor has been taught from a young age that the holder of his guard ring is the one he must protect. Rue is his preferred master, but if she gives the guard ring to someone else, Feor will obediently follow that newly-marked leader and defend them with his life.

 

So in Aligare, dogs aren’t common, casual pets. Their carnivorous diet is a burden to be taken seriously, and they must be matched with the right peoplekind companions. But there are still dogs in the Aligare streets, and they have the same friendly, devoted spirit as the dogs we know.

 

On Monday, I’ll blog about the legend of Juniper. Dogs’ guard rings are made of juniper wood for a reason — a reason held in an old aemet legend.


Korvitongue

In the ancient Aligare world, korvi and aemets each developed a spoken language. But as the peoplekinds interacted and grew closer together, it became clear that aemet mouths couldn’t make the rolled sounds of the korvi language. They just didn’t have the hardware to do anything but mangle korvi words.

 

Gosh, friend. You're pretty bad at this.

Gosh, friend. You’re pretty bad at this.

 

Fortunately, aemet language didn’t have that issue. Korvi (and ferrin, for that matter) could speak it just fine. Out of courtesy as much as practicality, aemettongue became the default language. It’s now called commontongue and it’s considered everyone’s language.

 

I know, I know. “Commontongue” is the most cliched thing I could possibly name a fantasy language. But in this case, I figured it was best to call a spade a spade. Aligare society would consider it very positive that the three peoplekinds have a language in common. For the purposes of my stories, English represents commontongue — although commontongue isn’t English, per se. Just a language with a similar structure and sound profile.

 

As for korvitongue, it does exist. Sort of. I’m not methodical enough to build speakable languages as a fun hobby, but I have dabbled in conlang enough to determine the rough basics of korvitongue. It’s heavily based on the Romance languages, and that’s why korvi names often sound French, Italian or Spanish.

 

Remedy and Ravel didn’t really need korvitongue. It was just a background element, something korvi were implied to speak among other korvi in the Hotrock tunnels. An early draft of Remedy had Tillian interpreting korvitongue messages, but it simply wasn’t a necessary element to the story. That’s a common downfall of invented fantasy languages. Unless the linguistic culture is strongly relevant to the story, there’s little reason to give the reader grammar lessons or make them boggle at foreign words.

 

In Render, korvitongue will be shuffling a step closer to the limelight. Judellie of Cherez is a korvi with a strong korvitongue accent. She just kind of manifested that way in my head. Many korvi speak with a very slight accent, but it’s rare to have a really marked accent like Judellie does. Under stress or excitement, she might forget a vocabulary word or stop using contractions. So what’s her story? Why didn’t she learn commontongue during the early childhood period of greatest fluency? Good questions. As a character, Judellie is mostly a manifestation of being korvi. She’s easygoing but fierce, social but independant. She’s a foil and a role model to Rue, the aemet who sometimes feels like she was born the wrong species.

 

Inventing a language is a great way to indicate, “This is a fantasy world, things are different here”. And it’s a technique I do want to use more in the Aligare world. Not too much. Just as the linguistic equivalent of sprinkles on the cupcake.


Aligare wildlife: the sylph

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.

sylphs

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:

sylphcolour

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

In any society, real or fictional, the way people greet each other can be very telling. Greeting etiquette is directly linked to other social rules. Which gestures to make, what to say, whether people’s rank or social status have to be addressed.

handshakepurple

Aligare society is all about cooperation and mutual gain, and so the social rules are quite relaxed. When meeting a new person, folk assume that the new person is friendly, because why wouldn’t they be? There’s no such thing as class or caste: everyone is born equal and encouraged to make friends. Everyone can freely address everyone else. If a given person doesn’t like meeting strangers, they tend to go live in an isolated place where they won’t need to bump into any.

Greetings are mostly verbal. Just a simple “hello” or “good day” or “welcome”. It’s acceptable to address a complete stranger as “friend” and then ask a favour, like you actually are friends (“Pardon me, friend. Which way to the mage’s home?”).

Aligare society does have a form of handshake, but it’s specific to ferrin. Ferrin are small folk — about the size of an Earth housecat — with a lot of natural predators. They’re more likely to feel nervous in the presence of a big stranger. So when meeting a new ferrin and introducing themselves, aemet and korvi folk traditionally offer their hand. Palm up and held loosely, in an unthreatening way. This is an invitation to sniff the new person and get to know them better, in the same way that we humans introduce ourselves to dogs, cats, and other creatures with a good sense of smell. Even wild ferrin who have never met other peoplekinds will usually figure out the intent of this body language. At this point, the ferrin can actually sniff the offered hand if they want to — if they’re actually feeling uneasy, or if the new person simply smells interesting. The ferrin answers the greeting by grasping the aemet/korvi’s hand in both of their little hands and giving it one light shake.

ferringreetingsketch

In Remedy, Rose the aemet has known Breeli the ferrin for years. But in the early story, Rose is so rattled thinking about her mage responsibilities that she forgets herself, and offers her palm to Breeli as though they’re meeting for the first time. Breeli is nice enough not to comment. She just shakes the offered hand. Hey, what are friends for if not putting up with your brain farts?

Korvi have a more generalised physical greeting: they open their wings slightly, fanning out the flight feathers. This can be done for anyone, not just newly-met strangers. It might be a token movement that shows a featherwidth or two — or it might be a three-quarter spread of the wingspan, a dramatic gesture like a spur-of-the-moment performance.

twilightsainttradesketchsyril

Syril of Reyardine, I’m looking at you. (Art by TwilightSaint.)

Fanning the wings in greeting is very much optional. Korvi with outgoing personalities tend to do it along with their “hello”, “good day” or “welcome”. If a korvi is extroverted enough to chat up everyone they meet, they’re probably fanning their wings for those same folk. (And if they have any sense in their heads, they tone down the greeting for a nervous-looking ferrin.)

Greetings are appreciated in Aligare society, but like anything, the customs aren’t set in stone. Wild ferrin might not be familiar with town customs. Practical folk might skip the pleasantries and get right to the point. It’s all valid, and it’s all part of daily socialising.


Sneak peek at Render, a story of Aligare

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?”
“No.”
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?”
“Not particularly.”
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.