Along the River
By Howard Hawhee
The following account, the first in our collection of oral history samples from the Outlying Areas, was collated and adapted from several accounts collected from speakers of Langwessawey* and has been rendered into Classical English so that it will be accessible to the nonspecialist, educated audience. Thanks to the brothers Jengs Bobert and Jengs Mayk for their interest in this project. Because of their substantial material support, the book’s plates were carved and cast in time for printing on the anniversary of the State Ethnohistorical Association.
*[The term Langwessawey has come to refer to the area on either side of the Big River from the mouth of the Lilbig north to Mwalbin, as well as to the people who live there and to their speech. Langwessawey is, properly speaking, the word in their speech best rendered in Classical English as “long distance” or “foreign,” yet it has also come to be applied by these people to themselves. The term is therefore ambiguous and now has two almost opposing meanings; its correct meaning in any given case can only be known from context. – editor’s note]
The Oldman’s name was Bill, but no one knew that anymore.
In his childhood, the Oldman’s great grandmother told him how her own great grandfather (who was born so long ago that the years still had numbers) had told her about an even earlier time than his, when the Old Folks travelled further than anyone alive could imagine travelling. The Oldman himself had long ago come from so far away that he used no father-family name*, but now it had been years since he had gone much further than the small, overgrown garden around the house at the high point of the bluff near the Great Bear Mound. This was partly due to lack of desire, but mostly it was because he had broken both legs in a bad fall when he was helping to repair the town’s granary roof, and they had not been set right.
This morning, a group of the people of High Town village had gathered around the bare spot in front of the Oldman’s house. They had brought the Oldman out in his carrying chair and had set the chair in front of his door at the center of the semicircle of people.
The Oldman’s head was bowed forward onto his chest, and he seemed asleep. The crowd waited.
A long silence gathered and grew.
“What is it?” he said at last. The words seemed to come from a deep, cracked place.
People, mostly very young men, started speaking over each other, as if to make up for the time lost during the Oldman’s silence:
“We can’t find Yazmin.”
“No one’s seen her since the travelers left.”
“The travelers are still around. They crossed the river early last night and camped at the place they came over from last week. There’s still smoke from their fire on the east bank.”
“Then they’re still close! Let’s go after them.”
“We can still rescue her before it’s too late.”
“Too late for what?”
The clamor stopped. The other young men looked at Funny Mikeson Bart* (the one who many years later would become the town’s Oldman) the way that some people might look at a person who is so dense that they feel no need to try to hide their contempt for him.
*[Full or formal names in Langwessawey are much more elaborate affairs than in the rest of the Upper River area (where they are almost everywhere of the form family name + given name) and are formed as follows: father/mother-family name + patro/matronym + given name. The father-family name or mother-family name comes from some distinguishing attribute of the father’s or mother’s family, sometimes a personal attribute (which often can be whimsical), but more often from the family’s work. The patronym or matronym is basically the father’s or mother’s given name as a possessive, plus the suffix boy or girl. Examples will occur throughout this account – ed. note]
“Too late to rescue her.”
“Does she want to be rescued?”
They looked at him again.
“Don’t you want to help, Bart?” They spoke as to a small, not particularly quick child.
The Oldman spoke: “If they were stealing her away, they would get out of here fast. After they left they wouldn’t camp just on the other side of the river in plain sight with a fire burning. And they wouldn’t be traveling by land, with only a couple of small canoes for crossings. By the way, did anyone really see her leave with them?”
Big Billsboy Jim spoke up. “Only the Flying Suits can help. Everyone will see, this will prove they’re not just toys.”
Planter Ellensgirl Rache said, “But we don’t even know if she’s with them. And have you ever gone across the whole river in those things?”
“We’ve practiced for years for a day like this. The boys already got the Suits out early this morning and we are ready to glide from the Point any time. We can be on top of them before they know we’re coming.”
“Sonboys,” the Oldman said, and the formal term brought quiet for a moment. “How will you surprise them? What will you do if they fight you? Will you drive them off but somehow hold on to her? What if you have to follow them? How will you carry supplies and gear for a trip if you soar across the River with Flying Suits? You need to think long and hard about this.”
Big Billsboy Jim said, “We can’t waste time on all these questions, and the hard thinking we already did this morning as soon as we realized she was gone. Once we’re there, we’ll light one fire if we are successful and coming back on our own, two fires if we need more people to come over, and three if we’re going after them. Come on, there’s no time to waste. I’m ready to soar.”
Rache looked at Jim. In size, he lived up to his father-family name. He was well over six feet tall, broad-shouldered and big-framed. She tried to imagine soaring and Jim in the same thought, but gave up. “And you’ll light no fire at all if you really make a mess of it,” she said, but only to herself.
A noise of confused shouting and cheering came from the Point, and Big Billsboy Jim bolted toward the path to the Point, with everyone else following along.
“Come on, we’re jumping off,” Jim called to the ones behind him, and then, raising his voice even more, he shouted ahead toward the Point, “Wait for me!”
The gathering spot around the Oldman’s front door was empty again.
The Oldman sat alone in his chair at the front of his house. He found himself wishing for the times of his childhood, when there seemed to be a lot more old folks around. He reflected that he should have forseen that the young men would rush off soon and should have told them immediately what he knew about Maker Jansgirl Yazmin’s absence. All these years with these people, who were called Langwessawey – that is, by the same name that they themselves used for outsiders or a long distance — and he was not sure that he yet understood them, even though he had been the village’s Oldman now for several generations of High Towners.
They sat in a clearing on the River’s low eastern shore and drank chicory with their breakfast of filberts and cherries while the sunlight began to catch the high bluffs across from them.
“We can be at the Capital in five days.”
“Where the Big School is? I had no idea it was so close.”
“Three days up the Oldpath along the Lilbig, what you call the Lesser River, and two days over land. My apologies for not explaining it to you sooner. We know that you had the consent of your village elder, but you seemed eager to get out fast before word got around that you were leaving.”
“It’s hard to explain how it is in the Town.”
Someone whistled loudly. Everyone looked up toward the Point.
“Part of what’s hard to explain. That would be the young men in their flying suits.”
“You don’t know about flying suits? I thought that University people would… “
“No, not really. Tell us, but make it quick.”
“Years ago someone found in one of the last of the Old Books that we could make suits to glide from high places, like our Point, so now the young men glide and soar for sport from the Point. They’ve been dreaming for years about the day that they would actually be needed to rescue someone from the east side of the River by swooping across in their suits.”
While they spoke, everyone’s eyes were fastened on the highest point on the bluffs of the western shore, almost directly across from where they now stood. Five figures now seemed to hover in the air over the Point and then began a looping descent toward their general direction.
“Should we be worried? They don’t seem like they could be carrying very much for weapons.”
“I…don’t know. Mmm, possibly not.”
She realized that, since the travelling scholars had no experience of flying suits, she was the only one in their group who could tell that the morning breezes were not enough on this day to keep them high enough to make it across the entire River.
Just as she finished speaking, the foremost of the figures, completely clad in bright red and clearly larger than the others, paused in the air about midway across and only yards above the water, then suddenly plunged straight down into the River with a loud “plop.”
Three of the other flyers, in different colors and perhaps a bit more airworthy, managed to make it a little further across before contacting the water with varying sounds and degrees of grace. The fifth flyer set down on a sand bar not too far off the eastern bank.
The would-be bird-men had rolled over on their backs and were silently and laboriously finning their way back to the west bank. Five canoes headed out to meet them. Yazmin and the travelers might have heard what sounded like laughter from up on the Point.
“That was harmless enough — but we’re moving out immediately.”
“You’re completely serious, aren’t you,” Liv said.
“Yes,” said Sperans, “but I’m not expecting you to…”
“I’m not saying I won’t. It just takes some time to get ready, and it will take two to run the birdboat* so I have to ask Marco. But… we can leave tonight I think, and it shouldn’t be too hard. The Moon is up early and can light our way from behind. They can’t get too far traveling on foot and we know that they are following the shore of the Lesser River.”
Long before the Moon had set, a birdboat, one of three belonging to the Town, pushed out from the dark reedy tangles under the bluff and headed for the eastern shore, towards the main mouth of the Lesser River.
*[The Langwessawey were pioneers in the construction of what most modern Englishes call birdboats, human-powered craft that store energy in large springs to give even propulsion and reserve energy for short bursts of speed. Because of the Langwessawey’s role in the introduction of the birdboat concept, an etymological note is in order here: The history of the term in Langwessawey and other post-Classical dialects is uncertain. There is no known word for this type of craft in Classical English, and the words for it in the modern dialects show quite a bit of variation, so we can assume that birdboats must have come into common use after the fragmentation of the Classical language was well underway. The Langwessawey term in all of the original sources for this oral history is hi brid boot and it looks to be an older form of the term birdboat in common use today in standard New State speech and New Classical English. The newer versions of the word appear to have simply changed the internal phonemes of brid by metathesis and dropped hi entirely. Smiff conjectures that hi might refer to the fact that the peddlers sit fairly high up in the boat. Smiff also states that the word brid could be the ancient version of bird. However, the normal word for bird in Langwessawey is brrd, though Smiff argues that the fossilized version brid could have survived in this single term. In contradiction to Smiff, all available Classical authorities agree that brid had been universally replaced by bird half a millennium and more before the end of the Classical period, so it is unlikely that the ancient version could somehow re-appear in just one new term that arose after the fragmentation of the Classical language. Smiff’s explanation of that element of the Langwessawey term is therefore extremely problematic – editor’s note]
On their second day up the Lesser River, which the travelers from the Capital called the Lilbig, they had stopped for the noon meal.
Yazmin hoped that she was not wearing her conductors out with her questions about the Capital and about the Big School, which they called a “University.”
As they sat to eat, she asked Inglisha, the expedition member charged with her direct care and safety, why groups like this had never come to the Town in her lifetime or in her parents’ memory and why there was almost no trade between the two areas, since the Capital was only five days’ easy travel from the Town.
“For years no one from our State moved along the LilBig except in large, well-protected groups. Raiders from the Drylands would cross the Big River to the south of High Town and sweep north. It was all our State could do to keep them from passing further north, and it was very difficult to guarantee the life of anyone traveling along the LilBig.”
“But the Lesser – the Lilbig — empties into the Big River across from the Town, and we have been at peace for years.”
“After the Battle at the Mouth in your grandparents’ time, the Langwessawey and the area around the Mouth have been free of Drylands raiders. But the raiders simply shifted their operations and began crossing the Big River further south and swept up to the northeast. They left the Langwessawey alone because they seemed not to realize that it was the combined forces of Langwessawey and our State that drove them back, and not just the people of the Langwessawey by themselves.”
“Just a year ago, we were able to push the raiders completely south out of the State and station a large force at Glina. That opened up the Lilbig to something besides military expeditions. And here we are.”
“So, all the land along the Lilbig is safe now?”
“We can’t get rid of every group of small-time bandits, which is why we don’t light fires once we’re upstream of the Mouth, but a group as big as ours should have little to fear.”
Yazmin heard “little to fear” which, she thought, is not the same as “nothing.”
“Yazmin, you know that we came down the Lilbig to High Town largely just to see you and convince you to come back with us. We think that it will be an important thing for you, for us, and for the Langwessawey when you come to the Big School in the Capital so that you can see what we are doing, and we can talk about how to help each other.”
“But what is so special about me?”
“We start to get wireless transmissions from a place that we haven’t heard from in half a generation, and then we find out that it is a girl of twenty who has put it together on her own and, what’s more, has figured out who we are and what our frequency is. You do see why we would be very eager to know someone like that, don’t you?”
“That’s just what Makers do. I’m one of a number of Makers from all over Langwessawey, and besides, I come from a long mother-line of makers. My mother-family name is Maker and they call me Maker Jansgirl Yazmin. So, no, I don’t see the specialness of it. The state must have mother-lines and father-lines of Makers don’t you?”
“Well, we in Midstate don’t live exactly the same way you do. I’m not sure that mother- and father-lines of…”
“Boat coming upstream” someone called out, and attention went to the river. A birdboat with two figures pushing the treadles came upstream toward them. Even from a distance, Yazmin could see that whoever was in the boat had the bearing and way of wearing clothes that reminded her of the Town.
“You’re quiet, Yazmin.”
“I think I know who’s on the boat.”
“The same ones who were in the sky and the river the morning we left?”
“Someone from the Town at any rate.”
“You want to go with them?” Liv said.
She had come to the bank of the Lilbig where they could clearly see her and told them that it was alright and that they could come ashore without fear.
“Yes, I do.”
“But Sperans is your best friend and she sent us to bring you back because…”
“Best friends don’t know everything. The Oldman knew I was leaving.”
“But he never said anything to us about it.”
“Did you ask him?”
The three young people were standing some distance off from the travelers, who were getting ready for the afternoon leg of the trip.
It should be noted here that Marco and Liv were both that type of young man much noticed and much sought after by young women, but were also possibly both of the type who would be regretted in not too many years by whatever young women were lucky – or unlucky — enough to catch them.
Yazmin, on the other hand, was that type of young woman who gets little notice early on from most young men, to their later regret.
“Look, I am going with these people. You can go back to High Town and tell them I’m fine and will be back in several months.”
“I can’t go back without you,” Liv said, “I promised Sperans that I would bring you back.”
“No one brings me back. I come back on my own.”
“I promised. I can’t go back without you.”
“Then you will have to come along with us and return with me in several months, because I’m not going back until I’m ready. It’s your choice whether to do that or go back now.”
She did not show whether or not his answer surprised her, but he said, “We can send Marco back with the birdboat. It’s downstream all the way to the Mouth and he won’t have to peddle at all, especially since the spring is already loaded enough to help him with anything he would need to do. When he gets home, he can tell everyone that we are safe and will definitely return.”
Liv joined the group of travelers without much comment from anyone. The next day at about mid-morning, just after making their way along a goodly-sized field of nubbin mounds, the Oldpath that they had been following since the Mouth of the Lilbig veered south toward the river.
Soon Liv and Yazmin recognized a structure familiar to them from the Big River that ran through Langwessawey – tapered concrete columns rising from the bed of the river, stained a dark brownish red. Logs lay between each pair of columns in groups of three (one log between the middle of two columns, and one connecting each side of the columns). The logs were notched to snugly hold half-hewn planks, flat-side up, that extended across the three logs’ width. The planks were closely fitted together to give an almost unbroken surface that stretched across the Lilbig.
Yazmin fell behind to examine the construction. She would need to find out more while in the Capital about the details of how these bridges were built. It would be a bigger job to do this with the large ruins just visible in the Big River to the north of High Town, but perhaps with the Oldfolks’ knowledge that these university people had told her about, they could try something. It would revolutionize the relations of Langwessawey and Langeastaway*, though she realized that the blessing might not be unmitigated.
*[The term Langeastaway refers to the subregion of Langwessawey on the eastern shore of the river, and this name appears to have resulted from analogy based on the mistaken belief that the -wess- of Langwessawey was a directional term. So, the term Langwessawey can refer to the area covering both banks of the river in that region, or it can be used to refer to the west side as distinguished from the east side – ed. note]
She hurried to catch up to the rest of the party:
“Insglisha, what would happen if raiders wanted to cross the river here? Wouldn’t this over-river road be like an invitation to them?”
“The bridge, you mean? Notice that the cross planks are fitted into the logs without pegs. With a few sharp blows from below or from the side, we can take up quite a few of the planks and the only way a party of raiders would get across would be in three single files, balancing themselves with their arms out.” Inglisha made a motion with her body and arms like someone walking a precarious path and trying to stay upright. “In fact, if we take up an entire section between two pylons, then we can also take up the three main logs and there is a complete gap in the bridge.”
“That also makes the bridge easy to repair. When a plank or a log weakens, the bridge-keepers just have to take up the pieces that need replacement and cut and trim more timber.”
Beyond the bridge the Oldpath led on to the southeast in a straight line for about an hour and the thick woods began to thin out. Then the road turned almost due east and skirted the edge of the wooded country, with scrublands to the south.
Around the end of the day the Oldpath circled around to the southeast and they entered the drylands in earnest. The sun was setting when they arrived at a small group of nubbin mounds and set up camp for the night.
“This is the copy room.” Two days later Inglisha was showing Yazmin and Liv through the Recovery Building.
“Old books come to us from all over the State and beyond, and our copyists write down their contents before they crumble. Folks find most of them in what the Langwessawey call nubbin hills. We aren’t just looking for old books. We try to learn something from anything the Oldfolks left.”
“What happens to the books after you copy them?”
“They go to our Copy Library. Committees look over each copied book to decide if it warrants printing. Even if it doesn’t get printed, the one copy of the book will now survive for several more generations and will get copied again when it shows signs of falling apart.”
They moved into another room, equally as large.
“This is the interpretation center. Even though the books are in Classical English, and anyone with a good education can understand the language, there were a lot of things that the Oldfolks talk about that we simply don’t understand.”
They stopped before a group of three young people locked in conversation. Written at the top of their immense working waxboard was the name of the old book that they were adapting for modern use: Build your own charcoal foundry at home
Around the waxboard were what appeared to be separate sets of notes on different passages from the book. One group of notes read:
– Main parts = a five gallon metal bucket, some steel tubing, and a hair dryer.
-What’s a ‘hair dryer?’ Something like clothes dryer of late classical period?
– Used to blow air over hot flames in this book.
– Something like a ‘curling iron’ but more automated?
– But how would this blow air?”
Another group of notes was:
…bolts that should fit your work from surplus sampler bags at US Machine Supply.
– What is a ‘US Machine Supply’ and a surplus sampler bag?
– Related to something from a nubbin hill?”
A second hand had written:
– But there were no nubbin hills until after the time of the Oldfolks.
“They will figure these things out eventually. And in their commentary on the text, they will tell the reader how to make their foundry with something that works like whatever that ancient ‘hair dryer’ apparatus was and how they can get or make those bolts.”
“High Town makes bolts,” Yazmin said. “We are looking for more places to trade them, which is one of the main reasons that I began the shortwave broadcasts.”
“Then we definitely have more business with you, Jans Maker Girl Yazmin,” said Inglisha, mangling her unfamiliar name. “Very few places can make the threaded hardware that the Old Folks talk about.”
And so in the end they agreed that Yazmin would go back with the same group that had brought her. The group would stay in High Town for a season to gather whatever knowledge of different things that Langwessawey could make and to help Yazmin set up a school to show Langwessawey what the University people were gathering in the Capital. Yazmin would set up regular radio contact with the Capital and with other places that the Capital would connect her with. Once she had trained another Maker in High Town to run the radio, Yazmin would return to the Capital to learn more and teach.
And so it was that they again set out on a mid-spring morning, Yazmin, Inglisha, Liv, and the others who had come for Yazmin weeks ago, and in two days they had again crossed the bridge over the Lilbig and headed west along its northern bank.
The next day’s noontime meal was interrupted by a loud, dull sound like a fist hitting leather. Liv looked around to see where it had come from and then followed Yazmin’s glance to Inglisha, who was frowning at a dark wet stain on her right shoulder with the same look that someone might give a particularly large mosquito that had already bitten. One of the other travelers caught Inglisha as she stumbled and the group erupted in pandemonium. Some called “form ranks, form ranks” others “take cover, NOW.” One or two yelled for help for Inglisha, some ran hollering toward the direction of the shots, and others ran screaming away from them.
“Get away,” Inglisha managed to say as one of the other travellers began to cut off her tunic over the wound.
Liv stood completely still, as if a heavy clamp had fastened him to the ground. Yazmin took his left hand in both of hers, pulled hard so that he almost fell, and then, as if the clamp had suddenly loosed, they both began running through the underbrush, their packs still strapped to their backs.
After a time, when the shouts were further away and they could no longer hear the confused yelling or the “thwack” of airgun darts hitting or missing their marks, they stopped to catch breath. Liv began to shed his backpack, but Yazmin interrupted him.
“This is no time to rest.”
“We should wait for the others…”
“Wait for the others? These were raiders who’ve somehow made it this far north and east. We need to keep going. The raiders may have killed or captured them all by now, and we have to get back to High Town. I can radio back from there and tell the State what happened.”
“But High Town is still at least two days away.”
“Whet er two Langessay yunsters doon with a kina fentsy folks frem the Stet tryn the Wilds w’ no aDEE a how to git alonn here. Thill nat be batherin oss w’ thiyr fentsy weys namor.”*
*[“What are two Langwessawey young people doing with these high class people from the State, venturing into the woods with no idea of how to make their way here. They won’t be bothering us with their high class ways again.” Dryland speech will be transcribed as it was given in the original accounts and then translated, as it would have sounded equally as alien to the original Langwessawey tellers as it does here – editor’s note.]
They saw men dressed in the gray, loose-fitting clothes of Drylanders emerging out of the surrounding trees.
“Er y’gunna stan iyr r er y’gunna cumalon? Wunt be nice ta refuse ar hospalitiy.”* Laughter all around.
*[“Are you going to stand there, or will you come along. It wouldn’t be a good idea to refuse our hospitality”]
“Weyur jus gittin redy ta sattelin fer the nayt whin we stumelled onta yez. So ‘iyrgunna mek ar kemp hiyr.”*
*[We were just getting ready to settle in for the night when we happened onto the two of you. So we will make camp here]
“Thizun hiyr’e luks lak e’bin bad,” said the one doing the talking as he nodded his head at Liv. “No supper fer him. Gotta stay out tanayt.” * With quick movements, they had bound his feet, then tied his wrists together behind his back with a rough cord and tied the cord to a tree.
*[This boy here looks to have been bad. No supper for him. He will have to stay out tonight]
“Theezun tho, shlooks lak she cud be afful good. Sh’ comalon w’oss.”*
*[This girl however looks like she could be quite good. She will accompany us.]
One of them gave a shove and they pushed Yazmin along out of Liv’s sight.
It had all happened in a few moments, and neither Yazmin or Liv had been collected enough to say a single word.
The sounds of the Drylanders’ words and their laughter rang further and further away through the woods, until they seemed to stop somewhere just at the outer limit of his hearing, and as darkness fell Liv wondered if he could try his escape without being noticed. The cords were tight and rough, however.
He sat with his hands bound behind him, tugging at the cords without result, and thought, or at least tried to think with whatever part of his mind could think just then. But mostly his thoughts were variations on “How do we get out of this?” and “What is happening with Yazmin?” He tried to analyze the situation, to form plans, but the same words kept repeating themselves in his head. He drifted along in this way through the darkness of the night.
And then his thoughts, such as they were, abruptly stopped.
He felt her hands explore the cords around his wrists, and then there was a rhythmic tugging at the cords until they fell away. He quickly tore off the cords at his feet, turned to face her, and saw a wild woman, her hair disheveled and face smudged or stained. Then he glimpsed in her hands the flash of a metallic reflection of the early morning moonrise.
“Come on, but quiet!”
“They won’t be bothering for awhile. Not as many of them as they wanted us to think there were.” She crouched and wiped the blade on the grass.
“Come on.” She spoke without inflection and moved like a kind of puppet, controlled by someone or something else.
“Which way do we take then?” he asked
“You tell me.” She spoke from a distance.* *[original has frama langwessawey—editor’s note].
His head was clearing and he now felt able to ask intelligent questions: “So, they won’t be bothering … for awhile? How long before you think they would follow? They will follow us, yes?”
“Maybe, maybe not. But if they do, we probably have at least a few hours on them.” Her voice was just slightly less distant.
“Then we’ll make for the bluffs and travel through the woods along the bluff bottoms, but only where they aren’t close to the Oldpath. Where the Oldpath hugs the bluffs, we’ll go further up, maybe halfway to the top. The river and the Oldpath and the bluff tops are too dangerous. Too easy to spot us there. The underbluffs, at least the parts away from the Oldpath, are harder to travel through, and they may get tired of looking for us there.”
For the rest of the night they walked without a rest, not speaking, stumbling through the unfamiliar woods in the dark, southwestward along the underbluff, and then kept walking on through the morning until the Sun was three-quarters toward its highest point in the late Spring sky. They came upon a cave in the bluff and approached it cautiously. The cave went a few yards deep into the bluff and bore no recent sign of humans or large animals.
He broke the silence: “We’ll rest here.”
She said nothing, but walked into the back of the cave, dropped her gear, and sat down with her back against the cave’s rear wall. He walked to the mouth of the cave and made himself as comfortable as possible in a sitting position. He reached into his pack, took out his rifle-bore pistol barrel, screwed it into the stock, rammed charges of powder and lead pieces into the firing chambers, and sat back to doze with the gun balanced over his knees.
He dozed off and on, sometimes waking with a start and clutching the gun, until the Sun was half-way down the western sky.
She was awake, sitting in the same position as before.
“We need to get started again at sundown. It’s still at least two days at the speed we can make in these woods at night.”
“Two days to what?”
“To High Town.”
“What’s the point?”
“What do you mean, ‘what’s the point?’ It’s home.”
“There’s nothing there, I have nothing.”
“Our whole lives are there.”
“I have no life. You go on. Leave me. My thanks to Sperans for the loan of you.”
He sat still for a moment. This was a completely different woman from the decisive actor of the night before. The moment deepened, and the leaf shadows on the ground changed patterns. At last he stood up, rummaged in his pack, and took out a water gourd and his leather-bound kit of small hunting weapons and plant-gathering tools.
“I’m going to forage something for us. You will decide whether to stay or go, but I’m not leaving you. If you decide to stay in this spot, then I’m not moving either. I’ll be gone for a few hours, but I’ll be back well before sundown. Here’s my gun. It’s charged and ready.”
She made a sound, which he took for either disgust or dismissal.
They did press on together, almost without speaking, travelling for two nights, and at the second dawn they reached the Lesser River’s mouth where it joins the Big River across from the Point at High Town.
They went to one of the Town’s canoe caches on the eastern shore of the Big River and found a canoe to cross the river with.
They called out as they neared the main dock for the Undertown, but no one answered. It appeared that there was no watch.
As soon as they had docked, tied the canoe, and stepped onto the dock, they saw that the grain warehouse, the one for the southern trade, appeared to be giving off a thin, smoldering dark smoke. The hardware warehouse, the one for the northern trade, had a broken door lying on the ground in front of it.
They ran to each warehouse and called out, then ran to the watchhouse, but found no one.
“More Raiders,” said Yazmin, “a bigger party than the one that ambushed us.”
Without further words, they almost ran up the main cart path to High Town. The path is steep in places, and to walk it can take half an hour. They made it in ten minutes.
They hurried up to the house beside the Great Bear Mound. The open door swung back and forth in the breeze from the river. Nothing else stirred.
“The fort,” said Liv. “They would be at the fort if they are still here.”
Even after their dash up the hill, they ran to the emergency fortified place on the Point, a place they had only been to as children when the Oldman had taught them about what to do in emergencies like the attacks that had happened in their grandparents’ times.
“It’s Liv and Yazmin” someone called, and the heavy door rolled back.
Inside, the sunlight from the east fell in long, thin lines through the firing slots and they could see the entire village seated in several concentric semicircles around the Oldman. Liv and Yazmin took their places in one of the semicircles. There were no greetings.
“Maker Jansgirl Yazmin and Farmer Narnsboy Liv,” the Oldman began, “how many are with your group from the State?”
“None,” said Yazmin. “We were attacked by Raiders on the way back and Liv and I escaped.”
A silence followed. There was no outward consternation.
“We have been talking about surrender.”
“Surrender? To whom?”
“Drylands raiders. They withdrew at sundown but will be back again today. This has happened on each of the last four days. They stay close enough to prevent us from going for help or drawing water. We’re running low on water. If we don’t make terms with them soon, the small children will start to have problems, then the old people. We would offer to show them where to find all of our cached food and Made products in exchange for their moving on. If they are honorable, that would be the end of it. If not, they might take some of us off as slaves.”
“Let me try to raise the Capital on the radio. We can find out if there is any hope from that quarter and whether it might be worth holding on for another day.”
Her family’s house had been badly wrecked by the marauders, but it was apparently outside the area that the Raiders controlled in the daytime, and the large stone in the back room was still in place on the floor. She pried the stone up and walked down the steps that she and her mother had hewn in the limestone.
“Crank,” she said to Liv, pointing to a worn handle, and he did as she said.
Within a few minutes she had raised the Capital and found that their escort party (including Inglisha) had survived the raiders’ attack and had split up into two groups: one to search for Yazmin and Liv and the other to return to the Capital with the news. For the first time in over a decade, the State Executive Council had signed an emergency order authorizing the use of Fueled Rivercraft, and State Troopers were hurrying down the Lilbig in gasboats, coming faster almost than human imagination could conceive. They should be at the Big River across from High Town that very afternoon. Another group was sweeping up the Big River from the fort at Glina and should be already putting pressure on the raiders from the rear, though they would have to travel upstream, come a longer distance, and portage around the ancient lockndam ruins at Jeeber.
Because of the news from the Capital, they decided to hold on for one more day, and in the end there was not even a fight. Just as the raiders began to appear at the bottom of the bluff and on the blufftop in front of High Town to renew their assault, the detachment from the Capital showed up at the mouth of the Lilbig, and the raiders simply slipped into the backlands from where they had come.
So this is the Story of how we got Our Song, the Langwessawey Song, in the early days of Maker Yazmin when we and everyone else were beginning to call us the Langwessawey. There are many other stories about Maker Yazmin, about the Oldman, and about their friends, but this story about both of them. The first two verses of the Langwessawey Song, they say, are about Yazmin and the Oldman:
She wena langwessawey
She wena langwessawey
She wena langwessawey
But she come back inty ent
He come fra langwessawey
He come fra langwessawey
He come fra langwessawey
But he stay here tillty ent
Excerpt of version from Folk Songs of the Upper River Valley