It’s fair to say that my first impressions of the First Fist are not great. This is First Foot, the place where it all began, and yet it is nothing to speak of. There was greater luxury on the boat.
Now, to put this in context, when the Jinq landed in Ahan, the place at which they landed eventually became the city called Jinalas. I have heard a great many things about Jinalas, but now I think on it, I have never heard anything fine about First Foot. Or indeed anything about First Foot. I now see why.
In fact, even calling it First Foot is becoming wearisome. First Foot. First Fist. How are we to make sense of any of this? I shall call this town Shithole.
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.
Bear with me: there is some logic. The residents seem to call it Shietz, which is a strange name. I’ve not seen it written down, but that’s what everyone calls the place. I have a feeling it is Calados in origin, though that is strange. When did we Mandari resort to naming towns in the language of others? I will not be calling it Shietz any time soon.
Anyway, I digress. You can see where I get Shithole from, yes? It fits perfectly.
As I walk around town, the extent of the poverty is overwhelming. Buildings are log-built, some even leaning against each other. In fact, they are crying out for a good engineer, which is fortunate for me. I may be able to refresh my pockets once more.
“Good sir, do you per ’chance have a room to spare?”
“Not from ‘round here are you?”
“No, I’m not.”
The innkeeper tuts. “You’ve got a lot to learn.”
It turns out that inns have very specific intake requirements in Shithole, and this dowdy establishment is not designated for toff-nosed home-landers like myself. In fact, the (presumably) owner was not even kind enough to point me in the correct direction, and so I am left to work out this mad system by myself. So, while I’m working out where on Rhanna’s back I’m meant to stay, here’s a history lesson.
Teaching many of you this will be like teaching a resident of Shithole which inn they should be staying in. You will know it inherently. But some of you might be lost, like me. And beyond that, I’m starting to take a bit of a perverse pride in this blot, and it feels like I should be filling in the background, if only for myself. So, for those of you already in the know, I’m sorry. I’m going to be selfish here.
There are, of course, seven “high-families” of Mandaria. These are the families who sat on the Council in the earliest of days. Below these, there are, then, various other families who effectively constitute the ‘rabble’. And there are of course varying degrees of rabble, ranging from me (just a rung or three from the higher echelons) down to the rabble of Shithole. That is the basic model in most of Society.
And for the really un-enlightened, Society includes all Mandari-led lands including: Mandaria, Xeidan (the First Fist), Ahan, and a bunch of smaller and largely insignificant islands.
So, there is the history lesson. There are seven ‘high-families’ and a ‘rabble-scale’. Things get immeasurably more complicated in Ahan where there are ‘unenlightened’ folk all over the place, but I’ll leave that for now. Let’s just stick to the lords and the rabble.
Well actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that too, unfortunately. There are also the Callahn, who are not a high-family but not a rabble. And actually, there’s also the Nadari. They fall through the gaps too. And thinking about it, the Ranji break the model too. This is all very confusing…
But back to the lords and the rabble, or more pertinently, the lords. Yes I called them lords, because in reality that is what they are. There are actually three ‘Lord-Layers’ (actually named as such), and the highest of these is inhabited by the highest family – the Mahan. It is a prince of the Mahan to which I owe a lot of money, so you can see my problem.
Below this rung, there are then two ‘Spear-Lords’, so called because these families were the first to push the bounds of Society. These two families are the Mallahn (yes, that is the Lady’s family), and the Hânto. It is the Hânto who command in the First Fist (also called Xeidan as you may have gathered from above, though that is also a strange name.)
Now, it’s fair to say that the Mallahn don’t really like the Hânto, and the reason is this. Both these families spearheaded the cleansing of the Fist, but where the Hânto hung back and ‘spread their seed’, the Mallahn took the initiative to fully cleanse the island. And it is during this cleansing that the Mallahn swept onto the northern isle of Oesticalim, and where they were ultimately destroyed. Put simply, the Mallahn blame the Hânto for their downfall.
And I’m inclined to side with the Lady.
But that is enough for now. We are in the Fist, the realm of the Hânto, and you will gather from our history lesson that association with the Lady will not go down well here. Not that I imagine her name opens that many doors, but I am definitely on my own. For now.
But I have found an inn! Oh yes, I have found the inn designated for toff-nosed foreigners. It isn’t much nicer than the other one I found.
“How long’ll you be staying?”
“Well that depends on how much work there might be for me. Tell me, is there demand for architects in this town? Or building engineers of any kind really.”
“Hmm, yes. I suspected as much. Then probably two nights is fine.” I want to at least give the place the once over.
To be fair to the Shitholians, they throw a good party. There was no obvious reason for celebration, but I’ve woken up with a terribly sore head. Better than that though, they love a game of flip-coin, and I’m decidedly better off. I should be able to hold off working for at least a few days. That should get me to the next port-of-call.
And I had some interesting conversations too.
“Tell me, what is First Foot really about. If I had to explain this town to a complete stranger, what would I say?”
This man was amongst the most educated I’ve come across. He shrugged.
“’Twas where the Hânto landed when they took over.” Be aware reader. There is no mention of the Mallahn here.
“Is that really all this place is famous for?”
He stares at the ceiling for a moment, like it would gift him the answers. “There’s a fish stew which is quite famous in these parts. That’s made here.”
Shithole is growing on me.
“Then this really is quite an insignificant place.”
“Only for those don’t live here.” I smiled. He had confirmed my statement.
I rinsed ‘Fish-Stew Man’ for a few silvers that night, but took his advice and tried the food. To give them their due, it is a good fish stew, comparable with the best I’ve had. And I’ve eaten in some fabulous courts. But I was fast realising that this town held nothing of interest for me. In any capacity. There didn’t even seem to be a good brothel.
“How far is the next town?”
“’Bout a half-day walk. Up the coast.” It was telling that they measured in walks rather than horsebacks. I haven’t seen a horse so far.
“And is that a big town?”
He shrugged. “Quite big. They got a market.” Sounded promising.
“So bigger than First Foot?”
“Oh no, much smaller’n this town.” Not so promising.
“And what is the name of this town?”
“Salt-Town. They have salt works there. We send a lot o’ our fish there. Then it gets shipped out.”
It was hard not to smile. “Salt-Town.” He nods. “Where’s the nearest ‘large’ town?”
“Salt-Town’s quite big.”
This was tough going. “I mean something that might look like a city. Something big if you come from Mandaria, which I do.”
His eyes widened, like he had only just realised this. I smiled my widest smile, and he backed away. Was he scared of me? He was backing towards a coat-stand, and he was actually going to leave. Bloody hell.
He grabbed a waxy old mongrel of a jacket and fumbled inside. He pulled out a roll of parchment – real old-style parchment too; the stuff that hasn’t been used for a hundred years – and brought it over. He unrolled it on a table.
“We’re here.” He pointed to the south-west corner of a vaguely crescent shaped island. “Salt-Town is here.” His finger didn’t really move. “And Allazon is here.” His finger swept half-way up the island.”
“Okay. And just for scale, do you know how big the First Fist is compared to Mandaria?” I’d seen it on a map years ago, but it had been a while.
He pointed to an island off the south-west coast, a small fraction of the size of the First Fist. “That is Mandaria.”
I can assure you that I gulped. By my reckoning, the journey to Allazon, whatever that was, was at least ten times the journey I had endured in Mandaria. I sighed. This would be tough going.
“So, this is a big island.”
“Yip. You home-landers always underestimate the size of things. And Allazon is a small ‘city’. You got a lot of travelling to do, by the sounds of it.”
I nodded. I didn’t really know what I was looking for, but I had an inkling that he bigger the city, the more likely I was to find it.
“Is there anywhere round here to get a horse?”
“Horses is rare and expensive. You be better coast-hopping.”
“And what is coast-hopping?”
“Hopping up the coast.” Enlightening.
“On a boat I presume?”
“Mostly, yip.” Where did this annoying yip come from?
“Thank you good sir.” I got up to leave, but my acquaintance stopped me. “Can I help you?”
He scowled. “No, but don’t hurt to be polite.”
“I showed you’a way, and told you ‘bout the hoppin’. You think it’s polite you take my information and hop wit someone else?”
It took a while to fathom, but I got there. “You are offering your ‘hopping’ services?”
“For t’right price, yip.”
“Then let’s haggle.” I was starting to like this chap.