Friday, June 17, 2011

Market Street, Day 4: the Singing Huntresses

These two looked like an interesting pair. I could hear them laughing from across the street (one of them, anyway). I introduced myself, and they agreed to let me draw them if I bought them another round of drinks.

Their names are Emiline and Katal. Emiline was drinking green tea with mint; Katal had something that steamed and turned the table black when it spilled out of her mug. They were in good spirits and talked while I drew. Emiline says she grew up in Ganraminga, a coastal city in Minann, just far enough from Mollogou to stay intact. It's a city of mist and elegant manners. Katal told me a long, detailed story about how she was raised by wolves on the Scalps, and how she left when she realized she was bigger and stronger than any of them. About twenty minutes later, she told me another story about how she was raised by shark-riding bandits on the Mandible Coast. An hour after that, it was sky-monkeys in the floating jungles.

The two of them make their living by traveling across the plains, hunting and singing ballads. There wasn't much hunting to be done in town, but I did get to hear them sing in the inn this evening. They say people are often surprised to find that both of them are equally skilled at hunting and singing. Katal has a lovely alto voice, sweet and clear between her fangs, and as delicate as Emiline looks, she's apparently rather deadly with her bow. It's almost as tall as she is.

There's a lot of space on the Scalps. Of all the creatures that cross them - thunderbeast, rainwalkers, candlegiraffes, wild horses, lightning hyenas - very few ever come within sight of a town. Katal and Emiline say they find some creature no one's ever heard of on almost every trip they take. This month, it was a strange elephantoid beast with multiple tusks; they grow in rows out of its mouth, curling up and over its head in ranks, like a second ribcage. There's a whole herd of them on the plains. The two huntresses caught "the best one" and brought it back to the Museum of Natural Philosophy in SuyMaTmakk, where it will probably spend the next month being cleaned by carrion beetles and then stuffed. It took the huntresses two weeks to drag it back on a wagon. This is what they were celebrating when I met them.

At this time of year, though, they mostly hunt thunderbeast and speckled antelope. Katal seemed to be wearing most of an antelope already; she wore one of the speckled skins as a dress and several particularly interesting bones around her neck. One of the songs the two of them sang this evening comes from the Scalps, and they performed it the traditional way, with drums made of antelope skulls. The clack of bone went perfectly with the clattering Hmakk words.

The songs came from all over Hamjamser. There were sea shanties, hop-fugues from Kennyrubin, lightning-fast breakdowns from the Railway Regions, arzenroyds with chords that made the silverware vibrate. I recognized love songs (frequently estimated to be half of the music ever written) in at least five different languages. They sang a few hymns, a cappella; the harmonies were breathtaking. They even sang the Saga of Neinrak, one of those bleak Northern song-tales of ice and revenge. It takes half an hour and leaves every character dead. They had the entire room spellbound by the third verse; by the eighth, we were joining in for the choruses (there are five different ones, each repeated throughout the saga). By the sixteenth verse, most of us were too choked up by the story to trust our voices anymore. It took several patter-songs and ironic ballads before anyone could smile again.

While they sang, I touched up the paint on Emiline's quiver. It had gotten scratched while she was wrestling a cathomar in the foothills of the Railway Regions. Though she's modest about it, Emiline has trained rather extensively in the kinds of martial arts that let you toss around creatures five times your size. She's the only person I've met who's chosen the contest of strength - usually the least popular of a cathomar's traditional three choices - and one of the only ones I've even heard of who's actually won it. The cathomar must have been quite surprised.

Some of my favorite songs were the ones from Mollogou, crooked melodies with strange, metallic chords. Katal's instrument is called a trangaban; it's an enormous stringed thing, like a five-foot banjo made of steel. It looks like she occasionally uses it as a club (presumably when her actual iron hunting club isn't handy). For the Mollogou songs, she played the trangaban with a pair of tin spoons, producing a sound somewhere between a steel drum and a dulcimer. Emiline plays the soolian, a relative of the clarinet. It has a flared opening carved to look like a dragon's head. The two of them showed exactly how good they were with their instruments when they performed a traditional haknit from SuyMaTmakk; soolian and trangaban skittered up and down the scale, forming complex, glittering harmonies with Katal's powerful voice. The angry words of the haknit would have been slightly more convincing if they hadn't been grinning so widely the whole time.

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