Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Hley

The dry stream eventually joined another dry stream, forming a somewhat wider dry stream that still had no water in it. This continued for a day or so before reaching the river.

The river is called the HleyPakkPakkKa. (Yes, that's a triple K, though it's technically a double K followed by a single. Hmakk is not meant to be written in this alphabet.) When someone pronounces the name correctly, it sounds like fireworks are going off inside their mouth. This is how you identify people who grew up in the Scalps. When I try to talk about the river, it sounds more like someone pulling their boot out of a swamp.

Fortunately, many people simply call it the Hley. I can manage that.

The Hley isn't particularly wide or deep; only the middle is over my head, as I found out a few times when the heat got to be too much for me. It's still the largest - possibly the only - body of water I've seen in months. Since the highest hills in the Scalps are about as tall as I am, the river doesn't flow particularly quickly either. You can use its surface as a mirror. It meanders so crookedly over the plains that the banks are made up entirely of peninsulas. Nearly every one of them had someone fishing on it as I walked by. I said hello to a few of them, but they told me - rather irritably - to shut up before I scared away the fish. I stopped after that.

One woman had a pole as thick as my arm, strung with rope and what looked like a grappling hook. She was baiting it with pickles. I don't know what she was fishing for, but the teeth hanging from her hat would have put a smilodon to shame. A few were longer than my fingers.

I didn't ask. From the way she was frowning, I got the impression she would have broken me in half if I'd scared off the fish - though what could scare off something with teeth like that, I have no idea.

I tried to stay out of the deep sections after that.

There are very few boats on the river, but a great many other things. I suppose you could call most of them rafts. Many are made of sticks - the kind you get from the little bushes of the Scalps - tied into bundles and lashed together with string. Others are floating collections of bottles, or barrels, or empty pots. One raft I saw floated on empty snail shells the size of pumpkins. Their openings were sealed with wax. Other people poled by in enormous baskets, either sealed with tar or simply woven well enough to be watertight. A few people were in coracles of oiled cloth stretched umbrella-style over a thin frame. They folded them up at the dock and carried them away on their shoulders.

Then, of course, there are those who don't need boats. There seem to be almost as many people in the water as on it. This is the case in most of the highly populated parts of Hamjamser, but it still surprises me occasionally. Maybe I just haven't spent enough time underwater. Everyone here is quite used to it, of course; it's fairly common to see people stick their heads up out of the water and start conversations with people in boats. Some seemed to be dropping their children off with friends for the day. A group of small mammalian girls - sisters, I'd guess - jumped off a raft at one point to join an otter-like family that looked like they might be cousins. A bit later in the day, a pair of small frogs in straw hats climbed up onto a raft to eat lunch with a family of avians. Everyone seems to know everyone, in and on the river, or to simply not care if they don't.

At around noon, I passed a raft that had stopped on the bank. Everyone on it had gotten off and was doing something in the grass. When I got closer, I found that they were picking strawberries.

Patches of wild strawberries turn up here and there along the banks of the Hley. I'd found a few of them already, but this was by far the largest yet. The people from the raft turned out to be a family - HeMiKa (a reptile), HmoTan (a mammal), and their children (various combinations of the two). Their last name was TiLeKraNa, and they were a family of glassblowers. The raft (which was made of corncobs) was piled high with glass bottles and fishing floats. It clinked every time anyone moved. The family lives somewhere upstream, near a convenient sand pit, but they come down the river every few weeks to sell their wares in the city.

They told me all of this over lunch. After I helped them gather up the last of the strawberries, they invited me to come the rest of the way downstream with them, and I was happy to accept. There's only so much walking I can do in one day when it's this hot. The little awning on the raft was the only shade I'd seen since sunrise.

As is traditional, I contributed the most exotic bits of food I had left. Most of my current supplies are plain food from the plains - bread, dried clackrabbit, and various things made of locusts - but I still had a few of those little sugar things I picked up in Mollogou. The children loved these, though their parents limited them to one each.

While we ate, the family told me all about the city, though the two smallest children kept interrupting to show me various blobs of glass they'd made. Their names are TiLi and HnerKipPeLo. (HnerKipPeLo is at a stubborn age and refuses to let anyone shorten his name.) They've started learning the trade already, apparently, and they seem quite good at it; TiLi had made a bottle large enough to hold a grape, which she showed me several times, and even the blobs were quite beautiful. There were streaks of blue and green in them. (The source of this color is a family secret.) The oldest son, MetTeyy, has started making some of the precision glassware used by the alchemists and apothecaries in the city. He doesn't talk quite as much as his two siblings. I'm not sure anyone does.

Once they found out that I'd never visited SuyMaTmakk, the city became the main topic of conversation. I'd been interested before; now that I've heard a bit more about the place, I can't wait to get there. The raft arrives (probably) tomorrow. I'll write more then, but I want to see this place with my own eyes first.

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