Section I: Episode 6
August 24, 2014
Dawn's Eve in the Village of Ieik always began with the Sounding of the Horns, just before sunrise. It wasn't a subtle thing. The piercing call of some fifty horns commanded everybody's attention, ensured there would be no mistake that today was a vibrant day.
Because of the cliffs to the east, the sun was always at full strength when it poured onto Ieik, and at the moment of sunrise over the ridge the horns would fall silent, marking the beginning of the Glitterwash—a great old tradition where people flocked into the streets nude to bathe their bodies in sunlight. Even at the height of summer, mornings in Ieik were cold, so it was a brisk affair and only reinforced people's vigor.
After that, the custom was for close friends to congregate in each other's homes and share an intimate breakfast together, then head out, well-fed and excited, to the Street Fair, and a day of arts and crafts, music and dance. And the competitions, the Kitalumba, meaning "Soaring Rivalries." There were many individual competitions, some on the margins fading in and out over the years, some everpresent but only a niche. By far the most popular competitions were the children's kite races in the late morning, the musical competition after the luncheon hour, and, biggest of them all, the great jewel of the Kitalumba, the relay race, at afternoon's end.
It was called the Summer Spring Relay, summer because of the season, and spring because of the competitors: It was a contest for adolescents on the verge of adulthood. There were only three years in a mate's life to be eligible, three years to be able to say "That's me."
It was Galavar's first year, and team captain Javelin's last, and such thoughts must have been on their minds as they gathered together at the finish line to await their spry and spindly teammate Ornithate, because, while their other teammate Asash was present too, he joined in with the spectators, yelling and whooping as the joggers came into view on the next hill over, yet Galavar and Javelin were quiet.
Galavar, for his part, was excited. Although he had squandered a first place position into second place, he still felt proud of himself. Now it was all up to Ornithate. She'd been quite a ways behind the leader at first, but had paced herself well, and now, on the final lap, a cluster of three of them were vying for the ultimate victory.
The afternoon had been veritably warm—a treat at their elevation—but with sunset the warmth always departed at once. The sunset wind even had a name here, Kalalgash, a word for something so shocking that, even when one fully expected it, it was still shocking to experience. In a wind like that, it hadn't taken Galavar long to cool off. Fortunately, it hadn't taken the sweat long to dry off from him either, and he was comfortable enough, his body being well-adapted to the clime of his home. He stood there in the kalalgash breeze now, wearing his brim and freshly redressed bolt, and silently cheered Ornithate on.
The view here was beautiful. This region of the world looked like a crumbled checkerboard, with different jagged pieces all thrusting up to different heights like gigantic columns. The Ieikilii, in their poetic tongue, called them fingers, and each one had a name. At the fingertops, any given piece of land tended to be fairly level, the opinions of erosion notwithstanding, but there were few slopes in between. What wasn't level was mostly palisades—long lines of cliffs, some short, some incredibly tall. The landscape was like nothing else in the world, severe and massive, dwarfing all Kindred scale.
The Village of Ieik spread across several of these fingers, which together formed an abstract kind of bowl, delineated by the shattered terraces of the fingertops. This bowl protected the village from the brunt of the deadly winds, but it also meant that the horizons were mostly obscured by ridges. Galavar's favorite exception was here in the Bloom's Quarter, the easternmost part of the village and one of the highest places in Ieik. From here he could see the Tendowns, more formally known as the Astorhendor, a line of fingers far to the west that made a convincing horizon. Beyond there, he knew, was the rest of the world—a realm of provinces so vast he had trouble imagining it. He loved to come out here and watch the sunsets, with friends when possible but even just by himself, and imagine.
Galavar also felt the teenager's own glee when he visited here, the feeling that he was getting away with something by visiting the places that others didn't. As Ieik's population waxed and waned over the centuries, sometimes the outermost parts of the village fell uninhabited, and nowhere was this more pronounced than in the Bloom's Quarter. Without access to running water, and with a great climb to return from the main parts of town, people didn't live in the Bloom's Quarter if there were better accommodations elsewhere. It was the least desirable part of the village and the first to empty out whenever the population receded…and also the first to fill up again later, hence the name. Galavar thought that was a shame, because it was the only place from Ieik to see the desert's legendary sunsets in their full glory. And, these days, the population was such that the highest parts of the Bloom's Quarter were uninhabited. That's why the relay was held out here: There was plenty of space.
He could also see most of the rest of Ieik itself from here. It wasn't quite dark enough to make out the nightlights yet, but he knew that as the evening light failed the village would soon glow brighter than the sky—particularly tonight, for at the end of Dawn's Eve was the Feast of Feats, one of the festive highpoints of the entire year. In just a little while, all the relay contestants would be fêted there. It wasn't just a feast for them, though. Everyone would be fêted. It was the night for the people of Ieik to bask in their accomplishments and take pride in the lives they had built for themselves. The awards ceremony for the relay would be one of the centerpieces of that feast, to be sure, but it was the centerpiece of a very long table.
"How did I do?" he finally asked, still looking out at the horizon, and the village.
Javelin liked to make wisecracks, but she didn't now.
"I think you did great, Galavar. Master Veskegen went too far with that jar of water."
Galavar hadn't thought of it like that. He'd only seen it in terms of his own competence for the challenge. It wasn't his way to question the legitimacy of that challenge.
"I hope Team Javelin goes out in a roar," he said.
"I think we will."
"So, this is it."
"What does adulthood look like from there?"
She shook her head.
"I don't know, yet."
"What are you going to do after your demonstration?"
"I'm being inducted into the sprinters' club, and I've already been invited to teach athletics at school. And…I think I'd like to learn more about carpentry."
"I don't think you ever mentioned carpentry to me before."
"I like buildings. I like the pieces. I like how they all come together. And I like beating sharp spikes with a heavy hammer."
With a great crescendo, a truly disproportionate boom of Kindred cheer, the jogger Siluneska crossed the finish line first, the straining Ornithate just a dozen paces behind her.
Galavar looked at Javelin, worried, but Javelin smiled.
"It's going to be a good dinner," she said.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!