These boots aren’t made for walking. And nor am I.
I’ve only been going a day, and already the bitter taste of defeat has faded to a vague tang; dominated as it is by the overwhelming urge for comfort. Oh comfort, how I miss thee! I think I have a blister coming, but I’m loathed to take my shoes off for fear of not getting them back on. They seem to be bulging in their tight prison today, where yesterday, they were snugly encased in fine soft leather. That expensive leather is now caked with dust too, which is extremely unlikely to wash out.
But I will soldier on, and in doing so, will report to you, my beloved readership, on my progress and my findings. And my oh my, what findings! I am only a day from the lavish comfort of Callij, and already I am overwhelmed by the difference. It is stark.
A plea to creative readers: as I look upon this, my eyes grow bored by the uniformity! I crave inspirational images, but alas, my hands fail me in that regard. I am not a ruddy artist. Are you? If you are inspired to articulate your (related!) imagination, then please, send it to me, and I will refresh this blot with its vibrancy. And you never know; I may even share some of the winnings.
It’s fair to say that I am well aware of the incredibly skewed wealth of Callij. But to walk not a half day from the borders of that great metropolis and find a world so at odds that it bewilders, was not what I expected. Mandari culture has, for reasons I will elaborate on later, focussed itself into ‘hubs’, and the spaces between these hubs appear to me to be vast and sparse. Beyond the crisp borders of Callij is little more than a wide expanse of fertile land; broken only by the infrequent and compact farmsteads which house the labour-force. Dissecting this ‘sea’ of agriculture is a series of roads, one of which is chewing up my feet as I dream upon these words. But it is not the fault of the roads – no indeed, they are of a remarkably fine construction; an extension of the immaculately cobbled arteries of Callij. It is my poor soft feet which are at fault. Too much time spent sitting down (or indeed, laid out!)
The road itself is busy enough, and I am frequently battling traffic for my rightful place on the stone. Either side of the fine roadway, the soft earth is rutted with deep grooves where carts have been forced over in an attempt to pass each other – or, more likely, in submission to the other. The variety of those in transit is also bewildering.
Bright and garish meets mute and sombre; vast and imposing meets subtle and compact; aggression and defensiveness versus joviality and generousness. There has been no shortage of folk to stop and commune with, but often, they are brief encounters. A moment of shared sustenance is quite different from a shared journey – oh my, yes.
And then there are the trains of the families of ‘High Society’. As one Hantô congregation passed – a series of wagons numbering the double dozens, with a heavy armed contingent to boot – I was near enough trod into the dirt. To look upon these processions was evidently frowned upon in this situation, a most bamboozling scenario. Not a day before, I could have been cheering on this leviathan of high-born nobility as it snaked its way through Callij, but out here, I am little more than dirt. It only reinforces my views of the inter-hub regions – affectionately called the Between. It is, somehow, a lower class of Society. A scary place.
I did find one friendly merchant who offered a ride, and I took it eagerly, massaging my feet as I sat in his loaded cart. But then he went the wrong way, and I had to abandon ship. That was at dusk, and morning is now upon me.
There is actually an inn up ahead, a rarity by all accounts. But my funds are sadly depleted. And hunger is taking me. From the pit of my stomach, something alien is encroaching upon me. As I sense it steer my actions, I think I understand. It is boldness.
Now, as I have suggested, I am a failed architect. But that doesn’t make me a bad architect; no indeed. I am by all accounts a very good architect, with an eye for the sublime. Not compared to the architects obviously, but my work was looked upon favourably.
But the thing about a good architect is that they also have to have a rudimentary understanding of the building aspects too. As I approached this inn, thank dear Mailajnn and her merciful tits, something dawned very suddenly upon me. I did have currency after all.
The place was shambolic, and I knew how to fix it.
As I walked into that place and surveyed the scene, I think I experienced what wise men call an epiphany. As I have already said, Mandari Society is divided between hubs, which are rooted around one of the seven original families. The Mandari isle is populated with the wonderful architectural and social centres of these families, and wealth invariably follows wealth.
But between the hubs, the country seemed to be filled with either farmers or failures. And now I am in an inn full of failures, and even despite my ragged appearance, I reek of success.
I’ll be honest readers – I was delighted with my choice of brown trousers as I walked up to reception. They hide a multitude of sins.
“Room and food, please.” I tried not to sound like a complete arse, but suspect I failed through the use of the last word.
This was the tough bit.
“Ahh – you see, what if I was to say that I couldn’t pay you.” I could literally sense the brutes easing out of their seats. “But I can help you mend your building in exchange for a bed.” I was sorely temped to add ‘my good sir’, but there was no way my face would have survived the impact.
“You don’t look like a ‘penter.”
It took all the oafish gears of my mind to unravel that word, but I did catch up.
“Oh indeed, no; I am an architect.” I smiled, which was a mistake. This would go one of two ways.
I will not lie. I am a complete stranger to what you might call ‘hard work’. But thirty days and nights I have been at the inn, and I might be beginning to enjoy it. The sun has burned my skin, but the embarrassing harlot red has now subsided into a tinged tan of sorts – I’m almost proud of it. I suspect I may also have some strength developing in my arms, which is a surprise. I genuinely didn’t believe that such strength existed. But the most satisfying thing about this little stint, aside from my superb renovation of this sorry little building, is my progress in oafish society. The punters here, who represent a staggering array of professions, are not the thugs I had imagined. They are delightful company.
In fact, the only negatives are thus:
- The drink is piss poor (in fact, it could be recycled urine);
- The ‘girls’ are a bit more homely than I’m used to, though they do make up for their lack of looks with their enthusiasm.
But alas, it is time to leave. The inn is at a crossroads – the perfect place for an inn by all accounts – and when I arrived, I had a clear idea of direction: north, into the lands of Mallahn, to the Eastern Horn.
But now it is time to leave, my mind is irrevocably changed. Friendly calls, and I am heading east instead. The Adunas Mahija stand in the way, a mighty mountain range, and that was the reason for my aversion from this path. Climbing those bastards was going to be … a bastard.
But my strength is as never before, and my confidence is high. And lying behind those mountains is something that makes me want to cry.
The place ‘where man meets the sea’. Namcalla.
Now, before you call me a complete fool of a man, I have prised the shoes from my poor feet, and despite the early appearance of a blister, crisis has been averted. My time as a ‘penter offered my feet the recovery necessary for the one and a half days travel I had endured, and they are now entirely restored. The soft leather slipped deliciously over my restored limb-ends, and I feel invigorated in these here clean clothes, with food in my sack, and a certain ruggedness to my person. I just want to shout at the mountains, and make them know the voice of their would-be conqueror.
Oh sod it – “hurrah”!
And with a tear tugging the corner of my eye, I shake the hand of my short-term employer, nodding my thanks, slip Deidre – my favourite – the eye, turn elegantly on my heels, and stride confidently towards the bastard mountains. Namcalla, here I come!