Rise and Fall of the Frozen
Cleric of Shimye-Magalla
When she thinks of home, she remembers green. A deep, dark green full of things that whirr, things that buzz, things that growl and rustle. She remembers ropey vines and the scrape of underbrush. she remembers trees that reach up through the very roof of the world, piercing the green and inviting the sunlight through the canopy. One tree, in particular, which grew next to the small house. She remembers running figure-eights, in a hurried toddler’s plod, around the house and the tree, humming some forgotten rhyme: two verses to circle her house, five to circle the tree. The house sat among a dozen more, in a circular clearing surrounded by a jagged wooden wall which grew from the ground like jutting stone. There were two proper gates through the wall, formed by knotholes taller than the peaks of the dwellings within.
When the slavers came, she was seven years old, and they came through the gate on the village’s south side. She remembers that the men, and the few women, towered over the people of the village. before they caught her, she had squirmed through a knothole high in the wall beyond her house and her tree, and had run until she tumbled. she lay still all that night, listening to the footfalls and hissing shouts of the slavers as they swept the jungle searching out others who had run. one lone bright star shone through the canopy. she held her gaze on the star, as its neighbors slowly spiraled about it, and the star stayed with her until the morning. She hid all that day, and again the next night, the star kept her company. when she was caught, and when she ran again, and again, each night she spent hiding, the star was with her among the trees.
When the young man finally found her, the last time, he was drunk, and angry. He was the one who had come to her mother’s hut that first night, and had been tasked with capturing the lanky halfbreed who had bit his hand, slipped out the knothole from right under his nose. In the weeks since, as they made their way towards the coast, she had made herself a nuisance, and now she was his fault. They had shamed him, belittled him, told him not to come back until he found the yemba pup. All this she learned from his ranting, which she was surprised she understood, in part, though the tongue was not the one her village had spoken. In his shame, he had drunk too much, and was careless with his words. He grumbled about the woman he had found in the house, guarding her whelp. He prodded at the gash that woman had left on his arm, with a hand marked by her daughter’s teeth. When he hit the girl, it reminded her of an old man she had seen goading a mule. When he cut a deep X into her cheek, she made a noise like an animal in pain.
He tied her hands and feet to a heavy iron stake, which he drove into a tree root, as he griped like the old man late to market. she saw the star then, over his shoulder in the darkening sky, and did not fear him. In his drunkenness, he was heedless of the hollow noise of the tree root, or the termites which clambered out of the wood. He fell asleep in a patch of moonlight, and snored loudly.
Later, she held the iron spike up towards the star, with trembling hands slicked by the young man’s blood. then she ran, stumbled in a stream, washed herself, threw the spike into the underbrush, ran again. When she came at last to the village, the outer wall was blackened, the houses gone. She followed the star then, and when the rainclouds came, or the canopy of leaves blocked out the sky, she followed the streams to rivers. The next group of men were traveling in a boat on this river. These men were pale, and red flushed, and sweated heavily beneath their beards and breastplates. when they saw her they were hushed, briefly, and then offered her food, and talked animatedly amongst each other in a tongue she did not know. It was from these strange men that she learned what the stinging X-shaped gash on her cheek meant.
A full week had passed on the river, the water had widened, and for the first time in her life, she had been out of the jungle, drifting through a vast expanse of savannah. It was as the trees closed in again, and they neared their destination, that the man with the wiry, yellow beard had explained, shamefaced, in a stumbling pidgin, that his crewmates had decided to recoup their losses by selling the runaway at Port Freedom. when she asked what “the runaway” was, the man avoided her eyes and gestured vaguely at her face, and after that would not speak to her any more. The river swam with crocodiles and serpents, and that night she noticed that the men slept in turns, so that one was always watching her. She lay awake that night, and listened to the songs of frogs, bats, and night birds mixed with the bellow of the crocodiles and the warbles of jungle cats. Her star shone down
She remembers little of Port Freedom, or the auction. Then the pale men from the boat went into a room with darker men in bright sashes and pantaloons. These other men came out with hard faces, and took hold of her chains, and led her to a boat in the harbor. She only took real notice of these men later, aboard their ship, when their faces softened. Then the old man with bright, kind eyes was unlocking her shackles, laughing to the rest of the crew that the stupid Avistani couldn’t tell the difference between a crew of slavers and a crew of freemen if their lives depended on it. one of the men who laughed hardest was also cleaning blood from a short blade, and his hands shook, though his eyes shone.
It was from these men (and the rest of the crew, for they were mostly women, and many children, though largely it was men who went to “do business” with slavers) that she learned the name of the star which had guided and protected her, and the name of the wilderness and the tempest, and the names of her enemies. It was here that she met the only mother she could remember, and pledged herself to that lady of winds and father of storms, the sister in the wilds. her troubles did not end in that creaking boat, but they paused for a time, and then her journey began in earnest.
She would be captured as a runaway, again, years later in the Shackles, but her captivity was briefer, her bumbling captors meeting their ends more cleanly. Later still, she would see with her own eyes the fury of Abendego’s Eye, and through desperate heaves of seasickness, she looked on the face of the Eternal Tempest, through watery eyes full of awe and love.
Now, the girl (and despite standing over seven feet, she is little more) huddles under heavy furs, at the fire’s edge. She stays aloof from her fellow travelers, her gaze intent on the black of the night sky. The tips of her fingers, her lips, the underside of her nose, have chapped to a slate gray, glistening with the bear fat she has daubed on her cracked skin. Beneath a heavy, furred hood, the rest of her face is the color of a thunderhead, and is animated by the same constant motion. tattooed swirls of blackness show at the hollows of her neck, and the backs of her hands when they emerge from heavy gloves. Her black eyes flash in the fire’s light, and her teeth glint bright white as she mouths devotions in a whisper.
She is looking to the Cynosure, her lady who dances in stillness among the swirl of celestial neighbors. Her gaze does not falter. Her hands flash in complex gestures, splaying, twisting. They flutter to the battered iron point of a tri-bladed star knife, up to her cheek. She touches the tip of two fingers of her left hand to the scar below her left eye. the fingers have been blunted by frostbite, and the scar is a pale, gleaming starburst, or a compass rose. Its north point reaches the orbit of her eye, its southern tip resting the sharp line of her jaw. As she taps the new skin of her fingertips to the old scar, the look in her eyes is one of joy.
Any travelers sitting near enough, if they were fluent in the Mwangi dialects, would hear one familiar passage in her whispers, repeated over and over:
starsong and wind, consecrate the journey before me.
tempest and moonshadow, trouble my path, lead me astray from the cart-rut of kings’ roads and the cobbles of the market square.
they are the stuff of hobbles and of prison walls.
compel me to make my way through the wilderness,
blinded and stumbling to the waters’ edge.
Waves wash over me.
I am carried on wings of light.
i am buoyed by the gusts of the hurricane.
Speak secrets to me in a voice of thunder,
Bathe me in the deluge,
Smile upon me with lightning as our paths converge,
And branch again.
walls rise before me.
atop their battlements stand the world-breaker, the all-seeing eye, the monstrosity.
the standard bearers of undeath stand armed in their legions, but they are ants on the shore.
they bare their jaws against the waves. they cheer their victory when the waters draw back from their sandhills, and know nothing of the tides or the coming tsunami.
your loving friend, your sister, your child, o’yeng seeks you on this journey.
i turn quickly to catch a glimpse of you,
i quicken my pace to meet you.
mother shimye, sister magalla, i am coming!