Early Spring – on the river.
The barge had to stop for repairs, giving me an opportunity to stretch my legs. I walked inland for a few hours, on the suggestion that there was a monk who lived somewhere nearby. Whether by chance, fate or magic, I cannot say, but I found the retreat hidden away at the edge of a tributary creek. The first sign that someone lived nearby were the clumps of flowers, seemingly planted as coloured trail markers leading down to the valley. The monk was a woman named Elise, a naspani mystic of no particular order. She claimed to have trained “with the big folk”, but to have left all that behind to live “where the birds are louder than the people”.
Her home, in keeping with local naspani culture, was on the water. In the valley was a small spring fed lake and she had built her home upon a pontoon barge which floated out in the middle. The crooked wooden platform leading to her door was kept in place on either side with a variety of flowering sedges and reeds, tiny birds flitting and chirping in a feasting delight upon the insects that lived upon the water. On the far side of the lake I could see the misty edge of a tiny waterfall which must have fed into a creek leading back to the main river.
She was talkative enough, and seemed unconcerned to have an uninvited guest. I told her of my travel plans and she replied that if I was going to Ardrennan, that I should visit the city gardens, Queen Lilly's Gardens. She said they would change the way I look at all the natural world.
I asked her about the Grey Marshes in the south, the old napani homeland. She didn't want to talk about them, and soon found a polite excuse to ask me to leave. As she closed the door behind me, I noticed an old scar on the back of her hand, and her crooked fingers looked as if they had been broken once, and had healed improperly.
A thousand years of protection under the Bright Song, and still the scars of our ancestral folly haunt us. As I walked back to the river I thought about the first story I had ever heard of the Grey Marshes: the legend of the Grey Tower. They say it is made from the oldest trees in all Telanya, and that the arboreans of the Great Forest still dream of the time, long since passed, when the South was green.
When I returned to camp the khumos were done with work for the day and had pitched camp with a troupe of naspani singers, a choir really, who practised long into the night. Old Grumpy told his funniest story ever, that of the adventurer and hero, Rambunctious Turnkey, who, while sailing in the seas beyond the Bright Song, escaped from pirates with a clever trick involving a book, a compass and a three coloured pencils. I couldn't possibly re-tell it.