Monday, November 03, 2008

The Rubble Heap

The day Plack and I left Jijangola - most of a year ago, by now - we found the source of all the stone they use.

The Rubble Heap is the only thing in Jijangola that's even close to the size of the Galleria. As far as anyone can tell, all the ruins in the Railway Regions (possibly in all of Hamjamser) end up in the Rubble Heap once they're no longer recognizable as ruins (or, to use the official definition, once no stone is left upon another). It stretches for miles. Grass and weeds grow over the older heaps of rubble, wildflowers blooming in the cracks between flowers of stone, and the occasional tree pours its roots over blocks and finials into the tiny patches of ground, like an octopus on ice. Very little grows here that anyone cares about. It's the stone they're after.

Most of the stones are sunk into the ground, immovable, but some of them are loose enough to shift sometimes. Spaces open up under the surface here and there. There are animals living in the abundance of holes and crevices - snakes, lizards, rabbits, ferrets, mountain spiders, subterranean rodents of almost every kind. Their homes shift constantly as the stones settle, as does the surface of the ground. Walking over the Heap is always risky. Moving stones requires an odd combination of strength and quick feet - if you can't leap quickly away from the slightest rumbling sound while carrying a fifty-pound block of granite, you won't last long.

The stone is worth it, though. There are pieces of castles in the Heap. Palaces. There are corners of pyramids, crenelations and arrow slits, steps and keystones and buttresses, broken marble pillars like snapped sticks of giant chalk. Chipped gargoyles malinger beneath blankets of moss and ivy. The ground is a thin layer of soil and plants over granite and marble, flint and cheeserock, alabaster and obsidian, sandstone and ferralax and graywracke and slate and quartz. Gemstones turn up now and then in the grass. There are occasional blocks of mica, cut from some glittering quarry, peeling stacks of stone like books of glass parchment. Whatever was built with them must have shone like crystal in the sun.

Most of the remains of Samrath Kazi, the Beautiful Village, are in the Rubble Heap. All the stones are shattered, of course; the village was fairly high up in the Railway Regions before the avalanche obliterated it. It fell a long way. In between the chunks of alabaster gravel that are most of its remains, you can sometimes find half of a snow-white pillar or a few inches of flower-patterned railing. The elegant lines of calligraphic Shasta script form pieces of words that will eventually end up in one of the Galleria's rhyming collages.

The Galleria of Jijangola is built almost entirely of stone from the Rubble Heap. That explains why it's such a patchwork of a building. The architects have taken the pieces from a thousand hopelessly jumbled jigsaw puzzles and put them together into a picture of their own - and if it's not a picture that makes any sense, well, sense is overrated.

A large number of people make a living just carting stone to Jijangola. They poke through the Rubble Heap until they find an interesting pile (the Jijangolans like carvings and interesting textures), then unearth and unweed the stones and pile them into wheelbarrows. The Jijangolans reward them (if the stone is interesting) with food and whatever other stuff they have lying around. The rock-rollers, as they call themselves, tend to be mismatched sorts of people. One of them, a burreler excavating around a ten-foot pillar shaped like a pine cone, was wearing an old-fashioned leather aviator's jacket several feet too long for him. The edges were held up by enormous safety pins in an elaborate pattern of drapes and twists. He was also wearing half a pair of magnifying spectacles (possibly to make up for the fact that his right eye was twice as large as his left) and what was either a badly battered soup tureen or a frighteningly large helmet. It had a hole cut in the front for his face. From the back, a square leather shape with late Spring snow piling up on the round helmet, he looked a bit like a giant cupcake.

We said hello, poked around in the nearby stones, and asked him a few questions, but he never gave the faintest sign that he heard or saw us. He just kept digging. He was humming a waltz tune under his breath.

When Plack suggested tipping him over to see what happened, I thought it was probably time to move on.

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