Tuesday, March 18, 2008


They say in the Railway Regions that if you want something to turn, you should build it in Milldacken. It's the milltown that began milltowns. At the edge of the cliff it's built on, the river is as strong as it gets before it leaps down to the foothills and turns placid and wavy, like a well-fed snake. You can hear the town's thousand waterwheels from miles away - though at this time of year, of course, only the waterwheels under the ice are still moving. They're loud enough by themselves. The sails of the inn's largest windmill go past my window every few seconds.

Milldacken isn't quite as much of an architectural hash as the beaver town of Fishrick, where the inhabitants are constantly dismantling roads, canals, and other people's buildings to use the mud in their own projects, but it's close. All the wheels and gears and drive shafts make you feel like you're in an enormous wood-and-stone clock. Everything is centered around machinery; if the best place to put a drive shaft is through the middle of a dining room, everyone will just get used to ducking when they serve the potatoes. There's hardly a single building that doesn't have some sort of mill on it.

Living in a city where everything turns, the Milldackeners design everything in circles. All the buildings are round. The streets are laid out in loops like irregular chain mail. There isn't a single local dance step that moves in a straight line. The railroad runs along the cliff and spirals around the tower of the Train station, which makes the whole building look like a large screw. (Ironically, it's one of the only things in Milldacken that doesn't turn.)

Being on the edge (quite literally) of the Railway Regions, Milldackeners can look out from the cliff here and see miles and miles across the Mountainous Plains. It's almost as good as the view from the Needle Tower. (Coincidentally, I could see the light of the Tower's beacon salamander above Sconth last night.) The buildings at the edge of the cliff go down almost forty levels of terraces in the rock before they run out of horizontal space and release the waterfall to roar its freedom out into emptiness. The cliff below Milldacken is honeycombed with the intricately carved ruins of an old cliff city, an abandoned labyrinth of tunnels and pillars and galleries in wet black stone. No one lives there anymore except bats and a few cliff lions. At this time of year, ice from the waterfall coats the outer ruins like a million years' cobwebs. The mills right on the edge of the cataract grow enormous tresses of ice in the Winter, like fossilized lace or upside-down cacti, which rip whole waterwheels off of buildings if given the chance. The edge millers go out every day, armed with pickaxes and spiked shoes, to check on them. They're not about to lose their wheels to giant felonious icicles.

It's even worse during the Spring thaw (which, apparently, is less than a month away). When its tributaries start flowing again, the entire river, frozen solid over the Winter, breaks up into chunks of ice the size of buildings. Teams of Milldackeners go out onto the bridges with long poles to push the ice into the center of the river. (There are bridges there, very high ones, but no buildings.) The shards grind over the cliff like giant teeth and plummet to the ground far below. Children line up along the terraces to watch them explode. If all goes well, the ice jostles its way through the town and only bites chunks out of the occasional bridge or shed; if not, it's been known to carry off whole buildings. Everyone who lives next to the river leaves until the worst of the thaw is over.

The townspeople seem to disagree about which river Milldacken is actually on; I've gotten a different answer from everyone I've asked. I've been told that it's the Kastel, the Rushel, the Glom, the Tanterill, and the Snail. One miller even said it was the Jagarmelt, which is ridiculous. You can't even SEE across the Jagarmelt this low in the mountains, much less build a city across it.

Before the tributaties freeze in the early Winter, the river carves out tunnels and caverns underneath the thick surface ice. They dry out as the water slows to a trickle. At this time of year, they're crawling with explorers, glacier climbers, cryo-geologists, and children (though most of them aren't allowed to go far into the caverns). Apparently, there's some sort of festival held under the ice just before the thaw. I hope the Train doesn't get here until after that.

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