Skull Dansuer: Ch 4

Reassembled and significantly more comfortable with my particular predicament in life, I lost myself in the strangeness of the forest before Rowan came back to find out why I was whirling around in the undergrowth. Manders were not the only unusual creatures I ran into in the woods. Eyes blinked and glowed through the various opacities of the wildly-hued leaves and limbs. The best I could equate the sensation of the forest to myself would be to refer to it as the first time I witnessed The Nutcracker on Broadway, and Tchaikovsky’s Trepak became everything to me.

“You alive?” Rowan distracted me from falling into the trap of light and sound. The forest edged away from me as he approached.

“I could be swallowed alive in this place.” I turned from the trees to follow him out.

“Not entirely inaccurate. There have been many who have entered the woods and never come back. Some on purpose, some just to get lost, others who probably made it out.” Rowan snapped off a twig and handed it to me.

Sap stuttered through the transparent branch, gold streams that twinkled in the dappled sunlight. Tiny creatures, what were probably bugs of some kind, crawled through the twisted wood and leaves.

“Are there books on what lives in the woods, or insects, what the trees are called, the plants? I need everything, or else I won’t be able to be understood.” I let one of the tiny multilegged blue pudgy things climb onto my thumbnail and brought it closer to my face to get a better view of it.

“That’s laplace. They colonize the trees and help them seed.”

“It’s a pollinator?” The thing had no wings to speak of, or the regular six legs I would assign to an insect. In a way it looked like a cross between an aphid and a scorpion.

“Pollinator? Not sure about what that is, but they dust the leaves with their shells, and that causes the leaves to swell in the wet season and by the middle of it, the leaves drop to bury themselves in the mud, and we get trees from those.”

I let the laplace crawl back onto the leaf and dropped the twig on the path. “The trees don’t bear fruit? Berries? Like, you don’t have apples or sweet things to eat?”

“No idea what an apple is. If you gather the leaves, though, when they’ve turned plump in the wet season, you can eat them, and they are sweet. They grow soft with a crunchy centre. We tend to preserve them in sofit nectar. Though the carsin trees do better being pickled. The leaves from those are a bit sour, and fermenting them makes them sweeten up.” Rowan turned from the path back to the castle to instead lead me down an agricultural field and past a farmstead.

“The kingdom? Is it primarily an agrarian society, or does it export other goods?” The leaves of the plants in the field glowed an unholy red against black earth. I squatted down to examine the leaves, tracing the thin stalk up to the puffed-up lobe. “Is this edible?”

Rowan walked back to me and squatted down next to me to run his fingers along the stalk I was fixated on. He plucked a pair of small bulbed leaves off the top and handed me one before popping the other one in his mouth. “They’re edible now, you just don’t want the lower leaves, those’ll be better dried and added to soups, the top ones are sweet. This is heneshin, a common, easy crop to grow around here. You can take the stalk and turn it into textiles. The roots are good fodder for the zhmearn. Puts a thick taste on them that yields good fat to store in the larders for winter.

“No, we aren’t an agrarian economy. We do have a good growing area where we’re located, but the plots are primarily for families to keep and eat off of. It’s the mines in the Vheser mountain off to the West that we export out of.”

I regarded the pod in my hand. Nibbling the edge of the leaf, I peeled the shell off of what could best be considered a mucous-like structure on the inside of it that resembled aloe vera. Crunching into the structure yielded a flavour similar to lemon and crab. That was an unsettling combination from something that looked like blood red stuffed Johnson grass. “What comes from the mines?”

“Primarily savan, though we do get a waste product off the sluces we call yusu that works great for greasing carriage axels and pullies that sells well too.” Rowan stood back up to continue our walk. The sun was throwing the fields into chaotic gold and dazzling ruby light.

“Savan? Is that burnable, or is it a pretty gem or metal?” I plucked a few more leaves off the heneshin and chewed on them.

“Burnable? Who would ever think of burning something out of the earth? No, nothing of the sort. It’s a strong metal that we cast here and send out to other countries for manufacturing. It’s what makes up most of our armoury and transportation. We also use it for things like shovels, cooking pots, the like.” Rowan turned at the end of the heneshin plot to point out the soft undulation of a valley peaking out behind the castle. It was covered in a patchwork of coloured squares and small farmsteads.

“What are all of those?” I pointed to the agricultural plots.

“Different things, lilit, forsyst, corser, gigit – a hardier version of lilit, and a few fodder urtanger.” He rolled his shoulders and led me down the path that would put us into the hamlet of farmsteads.

“I take it those are other types of these leaves?” I waived back to the heneshin field.

“Pretty much. Some people do grow morenet because they’re pretty to look at. Decorative bushes and such. They’re good for the remars.” Rowen explained.

I wasn’t quite getting the explanation. He was listing off so many names that had no context for me. “Remars?”

“Like the laplace. Those are a type of remar.”

“Oh, what I’d call a bug. Okay, I can wrap my head around that. So, you’ve got some kind of pretty bushes that are good for remars to inhabit and those probably benefit the food production plants.” I jumped to the conclusion as a swath of bushes hedging a field of ochre yellow grasses finished off the heneshin field. The glowing orange-amber bushes held what I would have called flowers, though they were a crystalline lavender pokey growth.

“I take it these are morenet?” I slid a finger along the sharp edge of the structure to discover instead, it yielded to my finger, burst open and scattered a white glowing dust all over my hand.

Rowan chuckled and slapped the dust off for me. “It’s traptraveler, and yes, it’s a type of morenet. The dust sticks to everything. If you don’t get it off, you’ll be crawling with shorthand, a type of fuzzy remar that likes the taste.”

“Traptraveler? Does the dust taste any good to regular people?” I sniffed at the pungent powder.

“Some people like it; some say it can be kind of astringent.” Rowan’s face squished up in an unpleasant scowl. I licked a digit tentatively. Rose and crabapple. The astringent aftertaste came from that crabapple flavour, but it was subtle.

“You said that the other people in the castle, they discriminate against you and your mom, right? Do you taste flavours differently from people like me?” I rather liked the traptraveler dust.

“Flavours are a lot more pungent for us, yes. We can smell better than you. We see better in the dark and are quieter too.” Rowan caught a glowing eight-winged butterfly-like butterball of a bug and carefully let me see it between the cage of his fingers.

“Shorthand?” I guessed.

“Yep. Little fire starters, as they’re also known for. They get drunk off traptraveler dust, and then, if they accumulate enough of a cloud of them, they’ll end up getting hot enough to light fields if it’s during the dry season.”

“That sounds worse than locusts if you ask me. Are they harmful if I let it walk on me?” I wanted to see if the velvety surface was soft like the traptraveler had been.

“Not harmful, but they’ll take your skin off if they find traptraveler dust.” Rowan cautioned.

I smacked my hands against my tights to get the powder off quickly before I was covered in the little creatures with that warning. Rowan chuckled at my efforts.

Free of dust and the shorthand, we continued walking into the hamlet with dusk setting behind us. “Where are we going?”

“To The Inkwell.” Rowan let his teeth flash.

“A pub, I take it?” I pulled my sleeves down around my hands as the wind picked up and drove a cold prickle along my neck.

“The best around.” The tall man pulled his hat more firmly down on his head and clapped me on the back to drive me around a corner of morenet brush. A road studded by shop style rock buildings rose amongst the foliage.

“Let me guess, it’s the only one around?” I fidget with the hems of my sleeves, my skin prickling at the idea of a crowded room, the noise, the press of humid body odour.

“Well, there is that too. You never made it into the village before now, at least not that I’m aware of, so I don’t think anyone there will recognize you. In case, though, will it bother you to still go by Wallace? I mean, if someone recognizes you, it’ll be strange.” Rowan checked with me as we passed by several closed shops.

“Would they recognize me if I went by a different name, or would they just think I looked similar to the prince?” I turned from messing with the hems of my shirt to scratching at the back of my neck, where the sewn edge of the collar was grating at my last nerve.

“Maybe, maybe not. You would blend in fine if you just had a hood to hide under a bit.” Rowan stopped at a modest hewn transparent copper door. The crowd inside was less than I had expected. If anything, the ability to see into the buildings was excellent for preparing myself early before entering. I dragged in a breath and willed my fingers to be still. Pulling a mask of indifferent aloofness across my face, I shrugged and nodded to the door. Rowan twisted the knob in, and we entered The Inkwell.

Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.

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