Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spring in the Railway Regions

Once again, I apologize for the prolonged silence. If someone exists who is a less consistent correspondent than myself, I have yet to meet them. However, while several months of the delay (December, January, and February, namely) were entirely my own fault, most of March and April were not.

Spring has come to the Railway Regions (the lower parts, anyway. It won't reach Milldacken for another two months). The snow has melted, bringing the worlds of the snowflies to an end in a blaze of molten water. Rain is a daily occurrence. Mist-wolves pad through the towns and forests on silent cloud paws, passing like fog-furred ghosts over the rooftops. After spending the Winter as sleeping layers of frost, they seem happy to be moving again. It's considered good luck if one of their intangible paws lands on you.

In short, it's no longer Winter; the snow is gone, and it's possible to travel on foot again. I can't stay on the Train any longer. I rarely stay in one place for even a month. The longer I stay, the harder it is to leave. I left the Train three weeks ago, bidding farewell to Norrel Hepsidine, Flishel, and the sleeping passenger (and receiving one reply in English, one in some other language, and one snore). Flishel gave me a little wooden... thing, presumably as a goodbye present. It looks a bit like a snail, or possibly a very round trantelope. A string goes through holes in the spiral bits so that it can be worn around the neck. Over my years of traveling, I've gathered quite a collection of little charms and trinkets hanging there.

There has still been no sign of Professor Flanderdrack.

My fur has gotten steadily shaggier all Winter; I haven't worn a coat since before Christmas. It's white this time, with black markings around my eyes and the tip of my tail. I'll be sad to see it go. (Actually, when the weather gets ten degrees warmer, I'll probably be quite happy.) With any luck, it will come off in one piece like it did last year, and someone will make a coat out of it.

I left the Train in Findlebar, a small town built around a small and highly specialized library. It is, apparently, Hamjamser's largest collection of books on the Gastropod Conspiracy.* The townspeople make a point of bowing to any snail they see (just in case). As a traveler who lives largely on slug meat and smoked sump squid, I was rather uncomfortable there and only stayed overnight.

From Findlebar, I set out by road; there are a few in the Railway Regions, though they tend to be small and precarious. They only exist where there are no Train stations. Several sections were washed out entirely, forcing me into detours that involved more climbing than walking, and the road was so narrow that I had to climb over fruit carts coming the other way. (I have no idea how they got past the washed-out sections.) At least there were no troll booths.

I don't know the name of the part of the Regions I've been in for the last three weeks, though it's quite clearly separate from the rest. I'm not sure it has a name. It's only a cluster of villages, four or five at the most, but it might as well be a separate country. Postbirds don't go there, as the villagers speak a language completely unknown to the rest of the world. Anyone they could write to is within a few hours' walking distance. Fortunately, each village has a few people who speak English as well.

I'm finally writing from the village of Rampal's Pleek, the first place I've seen a postbird in weeks. I think it may be in Tetravania.** The villagers won't tell me. When I ask, they say Rampal's Pleek is "in the four-cornered land," or "below that which is above," or "it's right here. Can't you see it?"

This, of course, is why I'm almost certain I'm in Tetravania. No one else in Hamjamser talks like that.

*I refuse to comment or respond to comments about the Gastropod Conspiracy. It only leads to trouble. If you want trouble, get in touch with Commander Squish.

**I don't know which Tetravania yet, or how many. I'll let you know when I find out.

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