Trade rune Harstal’s Tale Motion rune

(This appeared in Tales of the Reaching Moon 15.)
For four years, Harstal Verlainsson of the Locaem apprenticed to Sora Goodseller of the Hendriki. He kept the accounts of the caravan, and also compiled this log. (Please note that Harstal’s information is not always 100% correct.)

Our caravan left from the Building Wall, which resembles nothing so much as the coral Sora had obtained from some mermen in Nochet. In fact, less scrupulous traders are said to break off pieces of the wall and sell them to unsuspecting Sairdites for the price of coral. Sora proposed to use the Grazelands route1 through Dragon Pass, since there were rumors of unrest in Sartar. She hired nine Grazers, or Pure Horsemen, of the Green Crown tribe2. Their leader, Avarkorda, wore many eagle feathers and gold disks in his hair. His face was painted with a red diagonal line under his left eye, and he had tattoos much like our own. He wore two gold earrings in his left ear, and a silver bracelet set with amber from Imther. The mane and tail of his horse Apple Stealer were also decorated with feathers and gold hoops. The horse also had a wide red stripe painted on its flank. He carried a bow in a golden case, several of the short lances these people use either from horse or on foot, and a sword in a mother-of-pearl inlaid scabbard of Esrolian make. I estimated the total value of his possessions (not counting his horse) at 2000 sovereigns. The other warriors were named Barsdarin, Chukorda, Penroste, Dastandros, Saraskos, Yanorpolti, Hendron, and Jendetarl. They were of like appearance, though their decorations were not as elaborate, worth perhaps 1000 sovereigns, and some carried a mace or axe instead of a sword.

1. Sora could have taken either route, though with her mules the advantage of river travel through Sartar would be reduced. (This advantage was no longer available to the Lunars after they made the Ducks the scapegoats of Starbrow’s Rebellion.) The Grazers set a high price for an escort, making their route more expensive.

2. Technically the subdivisions of the Grazers are patrilineal clans.

Sora argued with Avarkorda when he refused to take the Runnel Path, insisting she was mistaken. Sora was quite sure she had taken that route before, but finally had to give in.3 For the rest of the day I had to talk to the guards. I know little of their language, but luckily they all had some Trader’s Talk. Avarkorda did most of the talking, but Penroste was more fluent.

3. Grazer escorts vary the route they lead caravans on, to make sure the traders don’t get too familiar with the path.

Avarkorda pointed out Sunelf Hill, where the wood people worship Yelmalio, and said we were in Green Crown tribal pastures. We were soon met by three young warriors, carrying bow cases but no lances4 . They wore feathers, but had a only single gold earring each. They led us to their tribe’s camp, a circle of free-standing tents. The outer circle was made up of warrior’s tents, and surrounded by a crude fence of brush. Inside were more tents, with a large white tent which served as a temple at the center. Something in this tent glowed redly all night and made deep rumbling sounds. Weeds grew up around the tents, which appeared to have been pitched here for at least a season. Children stared at us, but kept their distance, and were strangely quiet. Jardanraltan, king of the Green Crown tribe, gave us hospitality. His tent was filled with many fine items, including a rug woven in Kralorela5. Serving maidens in soft leather dresses brought platters of venison and round barley and wheat loaves. Everyone waited until Jardanraltan ate before starting. I found it hard to drink the sour milk6 we were served, but the Grazers drank bowl after bowl of the stuff. Jardanraltan asked many questions about Esrolia, and I found it easy to believe he had once led many raiding parties there. An elder gave a puppet show of the Feathered Horse Queen and her warriors chasing the Red Emperor out of the Grazelands. Sora found it amusing, but I couldn’t make out the words.

4. Thus they were in the Rider age group.

5. Many Kralorelan floor coverings have solar motifs.

6. Kumis.

We travelled through Seven Foals Vale to Rich Post, where Sora traded with the local tribes. Though the town was a major market, the shrine to Issaries7 was in poor repair, and I myself polished the statue and donated beeswax candles worth 15 sovereigns. I was pleased to see the shrine to the Red Goddess was even more run down. We continued climbing the Dragonspine Hills, which were covered with yellow-orange flowers called Kargzant’s Kiss, and almost looked like they were on fire.

7. Probably the same altar that Sartar set up as a gift to the first Feathered Horse Queen.

As we headed down into Hiia’s Valley, a dozen riders galloped down a hill, whooping and yelling something even I could tell was hostile. Our guards immediately charged them, dodging the arrows fired at them. I raised my crossbow but Sora stopped me.8 The horsemen were now thrusting at each other with their lances, leaning far out of the saddle as they rode by each other. Someone fell, and I cast a Longview to see who it was. One of the attackers was trying to rise, but Chukorda managed to capture his horse. I was surprised to see everyone using decorated lances with no tips.9 Finally, the attackers were driven off. Chukorda was very pleased with himself, saying he now had ten horses and could buy a wife.

8. Sora is apparently aware of the mock attacks staged on caravans through the Grazelands, used to justify the high price of guards.

9. Coup sticks.

We continued cautiously. On reaching the river, we could see the grimy smoke rising from Smoking Ruin10. When we entered the Maresmile tribe’s pastures, we were approached by four Venderi, or field slaves. When they were about ten paces away, they fell to their faces and crawled the rest of the way, whining piteously in a language much like Esrolite. Apparently they sought permission to trade with the caravan, which Avarkorda granted. They took us to a longhouse that appeared oddly defenseless with no earthworks11, and traded a pig for some spices. Sora herself roasted it, and I learned that her reputation as a cook was well-earned. Our escort refused to eat it, saying that it was unclean12. The Venderi also paid in coin for ten ells of blue cloth, and the Grazers seemed proud that their slaves had money.

10. After two troll armies defeated a force of dragonewts in a battle called "Uz Eats Dragonewts," they were defeated by the main dragonewt army, and their corpses burned as an insult to their beliefs. For over 400 years, the ruins where the pyre was built have kept smoking, and no troll has been able to contact their ancestors who were burnt there.

11. The vendref keep many Orlanthi customs, like their style of architecture, but the Grazers no longer allow them any defenses.

12. Grazers eat no herded animal except horse.

I was completely unprepared for the spectacle we found in Redburn Valley. Dozens of bright red horses13 pranced in rows. Covered wagons of every color followed, some trailing incense. Beside them, in step, marched warriors in armor like huge turtle shells, carrying naked swords14. On a golden horse rode a woman old enough to be my mother, but as lovely as Estal of Durnsa, though she was as tall as I am. She wore a cap of eagle feathers, a white leather jacket covered in beadwork, and a skirt of iridescent green plumes. Gold bracelets completely covered her arms, and she wore long, feathered gloves. Around her neck hung a priceless ruby the size of my fist. The breeze blew a bright gingery perfume, and I felt giddy. The hand puppet had not prepared me for the Feathered Horse Queen. Sora and I dismounted, while our escort reared their horses and waved their lances as she passed.

13. Probably painted.

14. The traditional armor of the Hiia Swordsman cult. Hiia supposedly wore turtle shell armor when he first met the Grazers, somewhere in Dragon Pass. The Feathered Horse Queen’s vendref bodyguards have special dispensation to ride, so these may have been on foot for political or ceremonial reasons.

We crossed Jaldon’s Wrong River at the aptly-named town of Tollford, and continued downstream. We passed a slow-moving wagon pulled by four horses, driven by a youth not old enough to wear a feather. Seated cross-legged next to him was a shaman in trance, the left half of his body painted with Grazer designs, the right tattooed much like the Aggari. Under the wagon’s coverings something was brightly glowing even in daylight, and there was an odd smell, like a lightning strike close by.

As we headed down past the many cataracts, one of the mules slipped, breaking its leg and spilling part of the load. Sora was concerned that we had somehow offended either a mountain spirit or the river, since her mules were normally so sure-footed. Avarkorda confessed that his tribe didn’t get along well with the Sky Bow tribe who lived here, so I was left to heal the mule as best I could while they both held a sacrifice to the local spirits.

We made it out of the mountains into Maregraze Vale with no further incident, though the river was still interrupted by cataracts every hour or so. Sora set up a camp and sent out two riders, who returned with a group of Hoof Dancer tribesmen and a herd of horses. Enasdral Firehand, the most senior of the Hoof Dancers, refused to deal with a woman, so I had to negotiate on Sora’s behalf for a pure white horse. Luckily Sora used Mindspeaking to tell me what to say, though she still ended up paying three times the usual price for a gelding of its quality. This didn’t seem to bother her, and she named the horse Snowflower, started riding him, and wouldn’t let anyone else care for him. I think this horse was the real reason she chose the Grazelands route.

Copyright ©1995 David Dunham. Last updated 4 Feb 01.

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