Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Sand Rat's Apprentice

Like kilopedes, postbirds, and the uncommon Wayfinders, the singing sand rats of the Golden Desert have the rare ability to actually find their way from place to place on the surface of Hamjamser. This is especially useful in the Golden Desert. Its cities and villages tend to cluster around oases and rivers, and they stay small and scattered. Very few of them are ever within sight of each other. Finding one is not like looking for a needle in a haystack; it's more like looking for a flea.

The singing sand rats say they find their way by listening. Each city and village, they say, has its own song, and they can hear them and follow them to their source. Nothing else on Hamjamser can hear these songs. Only the sand rats. Their name comes from their tradition of singing the songs they know to their children; almost every sand rat's dream is to become a guide, and practically all of them achieve it. Guides on Hamjamser are rare and precious.

So the sand rats spend the first few years of their lives listening to their parents or teachers, learning the songs of the Golden Desert or the Railway Regions or the Mountainous Plains, until they know by heart the mechanical rhythm of Miggle-Meezel, the sweet trills of Samrath Kazi, the ancient clank of Cormilack, the bubble of Baconeg, the murmur of Vanister, the drone of Sconth... The more talented ones even learn the variations on a theme that are the thousand islands of Kennyrubin, or the song of the lost city of Fasra Koum, passed from rat to rat for generations for its indescribable beauty despite the fact that the city itself has been gone for centuries. Singing sand rats never forget a tune.

When they have learned all the songs they can from the sand rats they know, they go off to live with the people they will guide. Many of them leave for other parts of Hamjamser; most stay with the white-cloaked nomads of the Golden Desert. It is their home, after all, and the people there need them the most.

Besides, Fasra Koum was built in the Golden Desert. There is always the chance - however slight - that some rat, someday, might hear its voice again.

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