The Duckboards

As roll a thousand clouds to Skygash, so the hosts of Sangkavar came on. As meet above the Spider’s house a thousand broken clouds, so the kin of Tovar met those of Sangkavar of the Leaden Club. And as Sky Titan faced Empty Korang, so the fyrdmen faced their foe, and their blood that day ran as rain from Skygash on high.

— Taroskarla.

“Steady lad, you’ll send yourself keeling! You can’t just barge through the yard like that; you’ll end up arse over tit in the mud. It has its own life you know — ’twill suck you down and leave your bones for the lynxes. Stick to the duckboards till you’re more used to our ways, they’re firmer than they seem. A blessing and a gift, those duckboards…

“You’ll hear it told in Pavis and Furthest and Boldhome that the Far Place is a miserable, sodden, rainy soak of a swamp. Tell that to the Alda Churi, or to the Princeros! It’s true only here under the rain cloak of Skyfall, where Old Man Skyriver pours from the heaven-gash down to the helldeep lake of the Uz. Of the human tribes, only we Tovtaros have built steads in these rain-lashed gors of the north, and here we full expect our daily storm and shower.

“We’ve paid full geld for it, truth be known. Any of my kin can name for you all ninety of Heler’s rainy lovers — from Desardra, the warm early morning rain that falls from a clear sky, to chill Deskoras, the darkness-tinged silence that sits brooding on our valley before each thunderstorm. We know ’em all, in all their moods and humours!

“It’s always rained here, ever since Skyriver battled Korang the Slayer in the Great Before. So the earth has learned to resist the wyrd of water, and turned itself to thick, red clay. The plants and trees reach high in this place, and they put down mighty roots, and will weave themselves a’gether in a thick matting. Good Barntar struggles here, but he has gifted us miniature grains that do well enough in the wet, and vegetables aplenty. We rely on the bounty of the Wild Mother as well as on Ploughson, and honour them both at our altars.

“Heler has gifted our tribe with flocks of Fat-Tail, hardy milking-sheep that love the rain. They have a thick greasy wool that sheds the daily drenching, but they’re stupid, stupid even for sheep, and so require close tending. The herders can be a bit thick as well, especially those Kinlini…

“Our ancestors despaired for their cattle herds ’til Roxos Barnstomper journeyed up the Skyriver to Heler’s longhouse on Three Height Mountain, where he stole a bluehorn bull from the god’s own herd. Now that’s a raid worth telling! The bull was Horny Blue, sire of all our present herds. Tup anything on four legs, would that one, and his breed are gentle as mist if a cow, but fierce as a deluge if born a bull. A hardy breed that love the rain, our bluehorns, just right for the uplands — gruff, surly, and short-sighted. Heler sought justice upon us for the theft of course, but that’s another tale…

Finding but few, they called to the fyrdmen, and the fyrd fumbled through the muck and muddle in search of their spears.

“The duckboards? Listen up while you scrape the muck off your boots. The first of the Far Walkers despised the Durulz, queer little duck folk they were, and we raided them and took tribute, for we are the greater race in cunning and in arms. The ancestors drove them out of their villages and water steads back to the great marsh from whence they came, or else we set them to keep vegetable gardens for tribute. And while we lorded it over them, we lived our lives ankle deep in mud. Now, I ask you, have you ever seen a muddy duck? No, Nor I!

“Spirits of rain and earth made love upon our lands, and their clinging offspring made a misery of our lives. Our yards and cattle runs were churned to a thick plashy slough by the tramp of man and beast. Only the temples of the Earth stood firm. Mud everywhere! I tell you, boots got lost, tools got lost, why calves and children and grandmothers all got lost, sucked down beneath the slop and muddle!

“T’was because of the clinging mud we first foresook our boots, and learned to walk the tula and the wilderness bare. The Odaylans went barefoot anyway: by the feats of their god they could walk on snow and mud without a trace, and they tattooed their bare feet in the rite of mastery. Soon all the herders and goose girls and even the Barnatari were following their example, and so we traipsed through the mud a bit easier, and didn’t have to worry ’bout losing our boots. You should try it lad; your feet harden up after a while. Later, the Animal Twins were able to teach even stead-dwellers the bluefoot mysteries, and so it is that all the world knows us as the Bluefoot Orlanthi.

And to this day and forever, on the first step beyond the lodge, we sing a phrase of the ‘Dry Foot Quacking Song’

“Anyways, one day a trader of the Durulz came with a delegation of his kin to Lagerwater. He offered to trade a great mud-secret in return for his people’s freedom. Well the old men laughed at this, and went to call those of the thanes who had not slid beneath the slime. They found but a few, and those said no, and laughed even louder, and went to fetch what weapons had not been sucked beneath the slough. Finding but few, they called to the fyrdmen, and the fyrd fumbled through the muck and muddle in search of their spears.

“Then the women came out to see what was happening, the women whose fine dresses were stained to the knees with muck and sludge, and whose shining copper-bright hearths were always being soiled with the tramp of muddy feet. Well I tell you, the women didn’t laugh.

“The wives and sisters looked at the ducks, and saw how they were clean and spotless despite their long journey. They looked at each other, and at their dresses, and it was decided there and then without a word. The chief’s wife hurried off to tell him what he must do. For isn’t the women’s moot, the first moot, the loom moot, the most powerful of all?

“So it was that we made peace with the small folk, and promised to honour them as allies, and demand no more tribute, but rather share gifts of friendship.

“We feasted the elder beak folk for three days and nights. Then Dryfeather Tallwaddle (for such the trader was called) took the wains into the workshops of Lagerwater, and  there they laboured for a full day and a night. Then they laid the first of the stead’s duckboards, from the feasting hall to the three main lodges. Dryfeather taught us the runes to carve into each board, and the magic songs and rituals to use when laying them.

“So it is, to this day and forever, the Tresdarnii give honour to the small folk of the Durulz. Most are gone from these parts, apart from Silverquill the grey sage, and that idiot bandit on the Ironspike trail. But we honour them when we meet, and exchange songs and salt together. And to this day and forever, on the first step beyond the lodge, we sing a phrase of the ‘Dry Foot Quacking Song’, that the duckboards remain where they should. And though it rain and it pour, and the rivers swell and rumble, our feet, be they booted or bare, remain dry and clean, and our shining hearths remain free of mud and discord.

“There’s a lad, you’ll be better off not wearing boots about the yard. But before you enter a hearth, ask for a bowl, and clean your feet, good and proper like. And if you must wear your fancy southern boots, be sure you take ’em off afores you go indoors. Never show your boots at a hearth, lad. The gods may be fierce, but they’ve nothing on an angry hearthmistress…

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