Mirrored from Sythyry.
“I’ve never been this far down in Kismirth,” said Arfaen. She had fretted for an hour about what to wear — it was a formal invitation to the Herethroy farming community, so she should dress up, but it was farmers, so she should dress down…? She dressed up. I wore ribbons, as usual.
“I haven’t been here very often either,” I said. I did create the whole city, and I’ve been on every floor in every district at least, but certainly not in every room. The farms are fairly far down from the promenade, and the Green Witch Herethroy had set up their village sort of a thing three floors below the farms.
[A better, if less evocative, translation of the name would be 'The Village of Advanced Magical Farming'. -bb]
On the world-branch, one would have plenty of warning as one approached a Herethroy village. First one might come upon flocks of grazing animals, being raised for wool and horn and bone and sale. Then orchards, and then a mile or so of fields of vegetables and grains. Interspersed all around one would find outbuildings and the occasional barn. The village itself should be visible from some way off, as a cluster of two- or three-story homes, plus barns and silos and such. The details vary from place to place, but villages are, first and foremost, visible.
That’s not how it works in Kismirth. Kismirth is constructed from wood (and other materials), and is, in effect, one immense building hanging in the sky. Its promenades and corridors must needs curve around the outside. One simply cannot see very far in it. And, while vegetation is plentiful if one thinks of it as a building, it is mostly such plants as can be taken care of by simple elementals or very routine spells — or are replaced nightly before they can wither.
Unless the locals put in some extra plantings. So our first warning of Green Witch Village was a series of window-boxes in front of the windows of the outer promenade, brilliant of flowers and gleaming berries. Seasonal, too, which was odd in its own way — Kismirth has no seasons; it is always at a comfortable temperature.
“I think our Herethroy are up to something,” I said.
“Oh, no! We don’t have any evil plans!” wailed Elecampagne, who was demonstrating zir lack of evil plans by lurking in an alcove and eavesdropping on me. Or, perhaps, being the lookout and greeter.
“I think you’re up to beautification, and honoring the cycle of the year even though we don’t really get much of one in here, and making Kismirth look like home!”
Ellie flattened zir antennae. I was pleased to see that the two of them moved quite naturally; I couldn’t tell or remember which had been pulled off and reattached. “Is that evil?”
“Not in the least! I am glad to see it!”
Reconstituted Herethroy Village
The villagers were waiting for us, arranged in a semicircle around the top seats of an underused amphitheatre. I’d estimate between two and three hundred adults, plus suitable children. They sang a Traditional Herethroy Village Greeting Song, of a sort which used to be popular a long time before I was born, when a village was greeting honored guests. (When I was young, such songs were mainly performed in Herethroy Farming Village Themed Herethroy Farming Villages, viz. those which made a bit of extra money putting on traditional entertainments for tourists.) They sounded quite ragged, even to my untrained ears, as if half of them them weren’t quite used to the tune or perhaps the language. And as if they hadn’t been singing together for generations like a real Herethroy village would have been.
It wasn’t the Rounses and Noritts alone inviting us over. It was the whole of Green Witch Village.
- The Herethroy come from all over. Not even just “all over Ketheria”; we’ve got three families from lower branches. They came to Kismirth for a wide variety of reasons, but all of them variations on a theme of “living at home wasn’t any good anymore.” The Rounses and Noritt’s story wasn’t too unusual.
- They quite intentionally set up their homes a long way from the center of Kismirth: as far from the whorehouses and opera hall and restaurants and libertine city life as they could. They were trying to preserve some of the lifestyle, the ethos, the traditions of Herethroy villages. They are trying to keep their children somewhat out of the admittedly luxury-prone and arguably wicked life of the tourist regions of Kismirth.
- These two facts don’t work very well together. Since they come from all over Ketheria, they don’t have the same lifestyle, ethos, or traditions. They are not hideously incompatible, but they are not the mini-monolithic polity that a typical Herethroy farming village is.
- There were five bowls of plue on the table, in five fairly different styles of cooking. Arfaen instinctively took a small portion from each one, and found good things to say of each. I, less cluefully, took a small portion from just the closest one — how much heavy grain porridge am I to eat, anyhow? I’m a tiny lizard! — and disappointed most of the Herethroy, including the Rounses and Noritts.
- They don’t all speak the same dialect of Ketherian. Some say “potato” and some say “potarbo” — and some say “We moved to Kismirth” and some say “Wie moffed at Kismirth“. The non-Ketherians don’t even speak any dialect of Ketherian very well, and say things like “Allus Kismirthi movaan“.
- They speak plainly. Your typical farming village has lots of subtle and idiosyncratic turns of phrase — “This plue is quite delicious” to mean “I don’t like it at all but will not directly criticize it”, but “This plue is very delicious” to mean “I love it”. Or vice versa for the next village over. The Green Witch villagers don’t do that. They are quite obvious about not doing it — one actually said of another village’s style of plue, “This plue is quite delicious” and then corrected herself to say, “But it’s not really to my taste, it’s a touch foreign, but it’s surely all of a delicious for its native land!” They’re working to get along and become a village, but they’re not there yet.
- At some point we’re going to need to start making people pay for homes. Not yet, not while we’re trying to lure people to Kismirth. But this village of a few hundred Herethory have rather liberally helped themselves to apartments. (Since Kismirth is really one big building, one lives in a suite of rooms. I did manage to tame the crystallization method somewhat, but the typical apartment still has two or three extra parlors.) In some instances I don’t blame them — they’ve got a small herd of sheep, and everyone, bug or sheep, is probably happier that the sheep live by themselves. In others … one four-adult family with two children and two grandparents has taken over two Cani-family apartments: enough space for thirty adults plus children and servants. They’d be rattling around in one of those, but they took two. (Up in the center of town, people aren’t obviously being greedy about it — or rather, when someone is too greedy, they get scolded and usually seem to stop it.)
Or maybe we don’t need to any time soon. We’ve got plenty of space, with more showing up all the time. I’m too used to thinking of flat cities, where a typical building has only a few floors. (I shouldn’t be — I fly around over Vheshrame often enough — but I am.) Kismirth has more than a thousand floors even in its most natural aspect.
“And how do you like Kismirth, now that you’ve been here a few months?” I asked, despite my wife flomping me with her tail to shut me up about such an indelicate and direct question.
“There’s not a simple answer there,” said Allam. “It’s, well, snug. Very safe, in ways none of us are used to. The walls you made are as stout as those of Vheshrame city herself.”
“Stronger, a dozen times stronger or more,” said Arfaen, who has actually lived inside Vheshrame’s walls and knows them as well as most.
“And I didn’t make the strongest parts,” I added. “Glikkonen did.”
“I don’t know who made ‘em and of what,” said Allam. “But they’re there, and that’s somewise a comfort, and somewise not.”
“How could it be not?” asked Arfaen.
“It’s as if the wizard there expects to need them that strong. What could be plaguing us, that even Vheshrame’s walls wouldn’t keep out?” said Allam. “What sort of monsters do you expect to be stopping by? The nendrai’s the most terrible in all Ketheria, and she’s kept out by Vheshrame’s walls.”
“And let in by Kismirth’s; we built them that way. If there’s any trouble coming that needs walls to keep out and wizards to fight off, we’ll have that nendrai helping out,” I said. “But the walls are seeds planted deep, to sprout in decades or centuries.” I had hoped that the farmers would like that agrarian metaphor, but they simply looked perplexed. Maybe no seeds are actually sown deep to sprout in decades or centuries. “We don’t need them so strong now, but we might sometime.”
“Well, that’s that, then, and I’m satisfied knowing that,” said Allam. (Arfaen told me that he meant just the opposite.) “Anyhow, there’s more to Kismirth than just the walls. The pay is good, and I’ll not mourn owning my share of the village and the fields again.”
“How does that work?” I asked. Phaniet arranged it, not me, and I didn’t read all the details. Or any of the details.
“When everything is going well, there’s one fraction for the city, there’s another fraction split evenly among all the farmers who work at the Green Witch farms, there’s another fraction split among everyone who works for Kismirth anyhow, and there’s another fraction set aside for future needs of the village, and there’s another fraction set aside to take care of us in our old age, and there’s another fraction set aside to buy seeds and tools and make repairs and any-such-things. Oh, and there’s another fraction to pay for duelling accountants and some auditors. Not sure I see the point of so many accountants and auditors.”
“You won’t see the point until you get cheated out of nearly everything you own by an embezzler,” I said. “Which will be never, if I and all those duelling accountants and auditors have anything to say about it. I’m still a bit upset over when it happened to me.”
“That’s your right then, I suppose, as … whatever you are to Kismirth.”
“What happens when things go badly?” I had to ask.
“I don’t know in practice, m’lord,” said Allam.
“I’m not your lord, or anyone’s lord,” I snapped.
“Mine! Mine!” chirped Arfaen.
“Only when you’re in a particularly submissive mood!”
“Anyhow, I don’t know in practice, O Zi Ri,” said Allam. “We haven’t had them go badly yet. But the rules say that the city’s fraction goes away first, and that’s a rare wonder if that’s how it actually goes when the shovel snaps and the … the child falls and cracks zir head.”
Arfaen arched her tail up. “What, you think we won’t keep to our own rules?”
“I didn’t, I wouldn’t say such a thing!” (Arfaen told me later that he meant such a thing and implied such a thing but didn’t say it.) “But I’ve never heard of a landlord who didn’t get her rent every year. And, begging your pardon, we’re using a lot more than land here in Kismirth, what with the carts and the elementals and the Quick Quarter and all. I wouldn’t be a proper peasant if I didn’t trust the nobles to take their due first and leave me to scrabble with what’s left. It’s happened a thousand times before that way, O Zi Ri, and if it’s ever happened the other way even once I wouldn’t know.”
I half-spread my wings. “They mightn’t teach it in Peasant Academy…” (There’s no such thing; peasants usually get eight or ten years of the best schooling their village can provide — from teachers who might have had a few years more than that, often in city schools. It’s something, to be sure.) “…but it has happened before. Yylhauntra was telling me about how the Hrreptites did it during the Holocaust Wars, just the other year. We cribbed a fair bit from them.”
“Begging your pardon, O Zi Ri, but the only of those names I’ve heard of were the Holocaust Wars” said Allam. “Did you build these walls in case we had another round of those?”
“For one sort of enemy,” I said. “Or for an off-world god on a rampage, or that sort of thing. Anyhow, Yylhauntra is one of my grandparents; zie’s been alive since the beginning of time.” Allam waved his antennae, so I had to correct myself: “I mean, since the creation of the Zi Ri. Your species was around a few years before Yylhauntra and zir cohort existed. Anyhow, zie got involved in a philosophically-based rebellion during the Holocaust Wars. Ultimately unsuccessful, but they had some strong ideas about how a country should be arranged, and for whose benefit.”
“Whose?” asked Elecampagne, who had insinuated zirself under Allam’s arm while I was talking.
“The people who live there,” I said.
“What’s right with that? Why would it be arranged for the good of the people who don’t live there??” asked Ellie.
“Well, usually the nobles and landlords and such get their share of benefit first,” I said. “Ask your father; he knows. Actually, Kismirth isn’t a city-state, it’s just a city in the city-state of Vheshrame, so the Duke of Vheshrame and the Vheshrame treasury get their share of Kismirth’s money. So do you, though, since you’re a citizen of Kismirth.”
“I get the same as the Duke…?” asked Ellie.
“Well, the Duke’s share is the biggest by far.”
“What does the Duke do for Kismirth?” asked Ellie.
“Less than your parents do for Kismirth, truth to tell. It’s more what he’s done for us beforehand that earned him his share — he and his ancestors. There’d be no Kismirth if Vheshrame hadn’t trained us and tolerated us, and they deserve respect and some money for that. The plan is that Kismirth will pay some nice taxes to Vheshrame for a century or so, and then become independent. We’ve got it all worked out in the city charter.” (And I don’t believe for a minute that it will happen that way. Perhaps I have been to Peasant Academy myself, or listened to how the Viceroy of Pelcour dealt with the Hrreptites and their philosophy. One reason for those walls is a hate-war against Vheshrame. I do not even hint at this to anyone but those I trust the most, such as extradimensional monsters whom I have never met.) “So you might wind up as a citizen of Kismirth Mene before you’re old enough to retire, Ellie. For that matter, you might wind up as the Mayor of Kismirth Mene — and that’ll be as important as the Duke of Vheshrame then.”
“I’m just a peasant cosi…” said Ellie.
“You live inside the city, and soon enough you’ll have lived here longer than most people,” I said. “And the mayors get chosen from people who live here. So you’ve got as good a chance as Arfaen’s son Quendry, say.” (Well, except that Quendry is a Cani growing up close to all the most powerful people of Kismirth, and Ellie is off in Green Witch Village and as far away as possible. By the city’s laws I’m right. Ellie could be Mayor of Kismirth when zie’s of age; zie could never, ever be Duke of Vheshrame. That’s something, isn’t it?) I remembered something else. “And a better chance than me! Nobody over a hundred twenty years old can be Mayor.”
“Why not is that?” asked Allam.
“We don’t want to be the City-State of the Immortal Overlord,” I said. “I’m going to get stodgy and set in my ways and unaware of the needs and ways of the modern world, and generally Entirely Archaick And Obsolete.” (Arfaen whispered, “What is this going to get? You’re like that already; you were hatched like that!” I hope she is mostly teasing.) Which is just fine for a wizard, but it’d be terrible for the head of a country.”
“You’ve got that silly veto power, though.” noted Arfaen, and told the farmers. “Zie can veto anything the city does — any law, say, or any election of a mayor, or de-ratify a treaty, or nearly anything else. But don’t worry. The city can overrule zir veto, they just have to wait a year. Or — but don’t worry. Zie can’t actually make any laws or appoint any mayors or make any treaties zirself.”
I spread my wings. “But! I am allowed, by the city charter and some of the by-laws, to say nothing of custom that has dated back to the earliest days! And by some of the invisible writing on the oath that Allam swore when he moved to Kismirth! And by incredible signs and most solemn and secret testaments!” When Allam, at least, looked nervous, I added, “To have a second helping of dessert. Anyone else like some?”
Ellie did. Zie scampered ahead of me to the dessert table, skipping on three legs, the way that Herethroy can do that doesn’t look at all possible. Perhaps zie saw zir future as sweet and choicesome as the desert table. Perhaps it actually is. Perhaps the Wrongfolk and I are doing something Right.