Friday, June 25, 2010


I took a detour from the path back in May, when I was still in the mangrove swamp. There was a gathering of alarmingly large coconut crabs on the boardwalk, and I didn't feel like trying to go through them. Several were snipping branches off of the trees with their claws and waving them over their heads like flags. I kept my distance and climbed off into the mangrove roots.

It turned out to be surprisingly easy once I got used to it. They were old mangroves, their roots firm and gnarled, with plenty of footholds. Crabs of the ordinary size scuttled away into crevices when they saw me. I tried to stay out of the water; I'm not sure where the estuary becomes fresh enough for leeches. Twilight arrived as I traveled, turning the humid air beneath the trees a dusky blue-green. In the half-dark, I smelled the smoke before I saw it; I'm not sure I would have seen it at all otherwise. This is not what one expects to smell in so humid a place, so I stopped and looked around to see where it was coming from. A thin plume of smoke was rising from the corner of one of the roots. When I bent down to look at it, I found what looked like a tiny incense burner, a smoking brazier in miniature. There were no grasshoppers nearby. The roots were untouched and free of even the oldest bite marks.

That was when someone began throwing small twigs, with perfect accuracy, at my head. I moved away immediately. This sort of greeting is often followed by showers of small but extremely sharp arrows. Once I was out of range, I looked out into the trees and saw that over half of them were inhabited, full of tiny lit windows like stationary fireflies.

They were full of Tunnelers.

The twigs stopped when I had moved a few feet away from the incense burner, which I assumed to be some sort of grasshopper repellent. The last things miniature people want are giant insects eating their houses. I looked around before moving again, making sure I wasn't about to step on anything and provoke more twig-throwing (or worse). This sort of violent reaction from Tunnelers is completely understandable, as people my size are quite capable of accidentally crushing their fields and buildings before we even notice they're there. Our attention has to be gained quickly and emphatically.

Tunnelers are, to the best of my knowledge, the smallest people that anyone my size knows about. They tunnel in things, hence the name. Many live underground in holes dug by domesticated moles. Others live in walls or the unused spaces of machinery. The Arboreal Tunnelers are one of the most widespread tribes; most of Hamjamser's forests have at least a few trees full of them. They're harder to see in the daytime unless you know to look for the tiny shutters in the bark. Arboreal Tunnelers generally confine their excavations to the dead wood of trees, taking care not to harm the living parts except to punch through a window here and there. Entirely dead trees don't make the best homes; they have a tendency to rot and fall over. Tunnelers rarely go outdoors, as nearly everything outside wants to eat them, so it was unsurprising that I couldn't see any of them. I've never seen a tunneler; I don't even know what they look like. Even the twig-throwers never showed themselves. Every so often, one of the windows would flicker as someone moved in front of it, but that was the only sign of life that I saw.

I'm sure I was making them nervous, standing there, so I left after another look at the candlelit trees. I took a different route back and found the usual latticework warning markers set up along the edges of the boardwalk. Apparently, not many travelers leave the path in that part of the Great Shwamp.

The coconut crabs were gone by then. They'd set up the branches in a cone, like the frame of a teepee, and had set a large conch shell on top. I left it alone. I don't know what it was meant for, but it certainly wasn't for me.

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