Monday, November 08, 2021

Abyss & Sea 11


The next few months were busy for both Disan and Baia, the time being filled with not just the ordinary royal responsibilities but the new responsibilities involved in organizing the massive expansion of shipbuilding. Busy schedules often chase out worries, and there was something soothing about the combination of daily routine with the challenge of improvisation in the face of new problems. 

Such was the day. The night was often restful, but only often. Disan began periodically to have severe nightmares. They varied considerably, but they were all unpleasant, and he often woke in a sweat. In some, and these were not the worst although they were the most vivid, he dreamed that he was back east aiding the Chipou tribes, watching helplessly as companions died again on the battlefield. It was difficult to sleep afterward, with their dead faces haunting his memory.

In another dream, a recurring one, he dreamed that the sky was torn from above and thrown down to earth; the earth, under the crashing weight of heaven, was swallowed up in a great gaping hole, a vast and ever-growing nothingness that seemed to devour all things. Mountains were thrown into mountains, and both swallowed by the void; forests were uprooted, and devoured by the void; everything sank into the gaping maw of a fathomless abyss. In a third kind of dream, he dreamed simply that he was taken by a great wave and was drowning.

Other dreams were more complicated. He dreamed once that, while walking through the halls of Neyat Sor, he saw his father, Rezan, in a doorway. He hurried over, but found nobody there. Instead, when he stepped through the doorway, he found himself in a cave, dark and cold and breathing, and there were words hanging on the air in an unforgettable voice -- no, the Unforgettable Voice, the Voice of Fath -- and the words said: For three transgressions and for four, judgment shall surely come upon you all.

The dreams, however disturbing, nonetheless did not occur every night, and, again, busy schedules chase out worries; they often seemed distant in the day, particularly since, in the case of the shipbuilding project, it was especially necessary to establish the foundations before the coming of winter, which was primarily a season for the repair rather than the building of ships, so that in the spring the building might be begun as soon as possible.

The winter snows came early, and all the court at Neyat Sor went down to Soromir for the First Snow celebrations. Winter in Sorea is typically mild, and there had been years in which there was no First Snow festival at all, and often the first snow was a bare dusting, like powdered sugar on baker's goods, but this year there was a snowfall sufficient for snowball fights and even a little light sledding. The adults sat outside on benches brought out for the occasion, making mulled mead over fires and, of course, drinking it as they watched both the next batch of mead, lest it boil and turn bitter, and the children and animals playing in the snow, lest they hurt themselves or get into fights. The dogs were always the most enthusiastic participants in First Snow celebrations, for it is a kind of holiday well suited to their understanding; they enjoyed the snow itself. The tame foxes, for the people of the Great Realm had domesticated foxes as pets, as well, generally preferred to roll around in the icy crackling grass, for the sound and new sensation. Even a few cats gingerly put paws into the snow and meditated gravely on whether this was acceptable behavior on the part of the forces of nature. The house ravens generally stayed where it was warm, but where they did come out, they here and there roosted together, except when they slyly investigating the sacks of ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom used for the mulled mead. 

As the day turned to evening, the lights of the neat houses and trim cottages shone though their windows and colored the lightly drifted snow outside. Soreans are great enthusiasts for stained glass, and scarcely even the poorest house lacks at least one window with color. The cheapest and simplest were ordinary glass painted with a thin coat of paint, but it is common to have true stained glass, in which the glass itself is tinted, sulfur-amber, lead-yellow, tin-white, copper-blue, iron-green, copper-and-gold-red. Above, the starlit sky was crisply clear, and on the snow below people gathered for circle dances and, of course, for more warm and spicy mead, telling jokes and singing songs. It was the custom that for each new batch of mulled mead, a libation was poured to the Powers at the little garden shrines and in the village squares. This was done scrupulously early in the celebrations, but it must be admitted that, as the celebrations ran into the deep, dark morning, and large quantities of mead had been drunk, the accounting for whether a libation had been performed or not became a little inconsistent.

It was a delightful occasion, but some old-timers noted that such an early snow heralded a harsher winter than usual, and so it would turn out to be. The second snow, a week later, did not stop for another week, and it was a cold, icy, windy, heavy thing, smothering the land and besieging every building. The road from Neyat Sor down to the city below was not made for ice or heavy snow, and several times a day pages, some grumbling at the cold and some glad for a chance to walk outside, spread ash and, where necessary, much more expensive sea salt, to melt the snow and ice so that the road would remain traversable. The ash turned the snow and ice at the side of the road a muddy color. Nobody could go outside and come back in without tracking wet, black marks everywhere. Disan and Baia would have preferred to stay in the castle, where it was warm and the food was plenty and there was plenty that needed to be done before winter's end, but royal duties superseded and, given the harshness of the weather, they had to spend much of the day away from Neyat Sor, going door to door to make sure that that the elderly and the poor had sufficient fire and food and blankets. They, and others that they assigned to share in the task, would leave early and return late, tired and wet and cold, with ash-caked clothes. Baia caught a cold toward the end, although fortunately a mild one. Disan, who was the sort who rarely gets sick, teased her for how bad her temper got as she was getting over it. That snow melted, but the winter stayed mostly very cold, and would occasionally flurry in fits and tantrums, some quite bad, although none as long-lasting as that second snow.

Eventually, however, winter broke, and spring began shyly to peek around corners, and it was a new year. It would be a busy year.