…In fact Hal had ridden into a shallows many lengths from the true land—a dry and barren looking land. Our own fens in the Long North are a paradise by comparison, for it seemed not a thing grows there, but sand and misery.
The shallows emboldened the skylings. But before they could pick away our suffering flesh, we heard a cry as from a great warrior. Thick black nets propelled by windcatchers scooped swathes of the skylings at a time, only to deftly bring them crashing down into the water.
The net handlers, dark of skin, worked from three small watercraft, two to each. One piloted the windcatchers while the other beat the trapped creatures senseless in their nets. Soon the hunters had decimated the skylings. Then one of the hunters raised a hand in greeting, fist closed, unlike our manner.
I will make a fuller description of the people of the Long South soon enough. For now, let me speed up my tale.
I remember nothing of how the hunters brought us up out of the water and to their settlement. When I awoke it was to find myself bandaged with soft plants, a gourd of deliciously sweet liquid by my head and a crowd of astounded people watching my every move in a crowded muddie—the form of building favoured there.
Each of our surviving company had a separate muddie. For several passages of Gaal we ate and drank and slept, the people generously providing for our every need.
As soon as we were hail, these people of Gaal—such is their name in their own tongue—brought us back to Hal to help us dislodge her from her perch in the shallows.
Such a job it was, but the Gaalians worked quickly and well. I’ve never seen beings meant for the air spend so long under water.
…but I had promised to speed my telling up.
With Hal safely moored in the village, we quickly set to learning all we could of the land and people in the Long South.
We learned their language, which is far unlike anything known to our Folkin, though not too hard to master, and soon realized that we were on the remote end of a long and populated coast.
Rarely had our hosts left their homes to see their Kin and Karkin, so they had little to share about them. The same was true of those Gaalian people living beyond the reach of the open water—though these regularly came out of their villages to trade.
Incredibly to our company, the villagers had little interest in plundering, though their mastery of water lore was substantial. The Gaalians had very little wood to work with, making the construction of watercraft much more difficult, confined to narrow craft of hollowed out broadbushes stitched together with resin.
Wide were their eyes when they heard tell of our homelands and of its many treasures. We were surprised they knew as little of us as we of them. They had not heard tell even of the Shinse or the golden towers of Kunazem.
In short, the Gaalians were a happy people. They had few possessions, but never seemed to want for anything, being accustomed to the unchanging tides and rhythms of their lives.
It was only a few octaves before our curiosity for the rest of the coast grew. We decided to continue our journey. We were eager to repay our hosts, and gladly did they accept our offerings of armor and axes—but it was our invitation that whoever should wish to join us that proved the greatest honour of all. Eagerly did most of the inhabitants engage in a drawing of lots, because we only could take an octave. Of the many who applied, six of the young men and two elders were chosen.
And so we left, packed with extra stores from the village, including great stone jars of the aweful skylings, which proved to be delicious.
The first journey up the coast will always be burnt into my memory.
The village Gaalians that accompanied us blew a shrill horn at each settlement we passed, which was invariably returned—an invitation for a visit.
Once our Gaalian ambassadors had enworded the situation, a welcome feast immediately began. Gladly did our company partake in these rituals, sharing stories, answering questions and indulging in delicious food and drink.
When Gaal’s absence seemed to reach its peak, the communal dances began.
Gaalians love to move and shake to the banging of a drum. And in this they show great skill, tirelessly moving along the coursing paths of the rhythms set for them. Gaalian dancers tell stories in much the same way our Songweavers do, though steps and movements replace the meanings of words.
Our village Gaalians said each dance differed, though we did not notice.
We stayed in each village for at least three passages. By the time of our departing, we had an enthusiastic group of potential crew interested in following, such was the Gaalian desire to join in the journey.
These were difficult to refuse, especially the most beautiful of the female Gaalians—tales of their prowess belong in another song—but we eventually succeeded in dissuading them, on the condition that we would return.
It is worth noting here that we had few thoughts of returning home or of plunder. All we could want the Gaalians freely put before us in peace…