The Country WisdomEpisode 1, Chapter 3
Visit Altenor through the eyes of a young girl discovering the city for the first time.
Cedric Neumann & Laureline Brun
After this minor mishap, we continued our journey to the home of a rich merchant. We waited in the hallway, and when we entered his house, I was shocked. Almost the entire entrance was a kind of pool, dug into the ground. The floor was carefully tiled, but plants and fish gracefully enveloped the room. Had there been a flood here? I was about to ask my father when our host burst in.
The sticis, draped in the most beautiful jewelry and linens that I had ever seen, must have been important. My father bowed and made some strange noises with his lips, and then the host answered him, well… at least I think he did. As I watched this ceremony, I began to understand why there was so much water here: it was fit for a family of aquatic creatures. My naivety almost made me blush. My father was right; it was time for me to discover this unknown world; and my brother was definitely a fool for not being interested in this fabulous city.
The merchant guided us to another room, without the slightest trace of moisture, designed for business. It was lofty and open to the sky. While I was protecting myself from the sun’s rays, a cloud passed by. I quickly realized that it was actually a flying ship, it must have been gigantic! It blocked the whole window but the light did not dim. A small dial embedded in the wall emitted a warm and pleasant light that spread throughout the room. This magic was combined with a rotating sphere in the dial’s center, it was an atorium! The vessel moved passed liberating the solar source. My eyes widened: it was simply fascinating!
Meanwhile, the two men were discussing. As I listened to the rest of the conversation, I learned a little about the relationship between this huge city and my homeland.
What an encounter! We emerged from that bizarre house and my father, after yet another lecture and a hundred conditions that I tuned out but quickly accepted, gave me ten minutes of free time to explore the neighborhood.
I wandered through the surrounding streets, with a light heart, looking everywhere. I reached the edge of the ring we were on: a multitude of systems, each more ingenious than the other, allowed us to pass from one ring to the other. All of them took into account the perpetual movement of the Atorium. Some people used boards, so long, so thin! They seemed easy to remove when the time came, but you had to be willing and able to risk it… Others used rope bridges. That at least wasn’t entirely new for me: there were plenty of them back home, and I’d seen them on the Wall of Winds islands too.
I noticed two other similarities with where I lived: the powerful wind and the kites flying in the air currents.
At home the gusts of wind grazed the ground and carried everything far away, they were warm and smelled of earth and grain. You could hear the noise of the animals, the rustling of the cornstalks. Sometimes the gusts brought us squeaky, rattling songs. This had always frightened me before, but now at least I knew why. Here these winds were hoarse and vertical, they came from the bowels of the city, like a breath between the rings. They carried the scent of the masses and the sounds of the bustling city life. As I got closer to the abyss and the breeze, my hair flew up. By reflex, my hands seized the railing. Alive! The city really seemed alive!
In spite of these billows, I bent down to see the levels between the rings. They were filled with people, and of such a depth that I did could not detect the bottom!
The kites were both familiar and distinct! At home they were used to lift loads, pull carts, reach roofs and mills, some of my friends even traveled with them on a daily basis. Here, they seemed decorative and entertaining. Individual cohors and alacars used the skies at low altitude, zigzagging between their wooden and paper competitors.
Most impressive were the huge bridge mechanisms. They must have risen when the rings turned. Watching them was beyond my wildest imagination. I was struck once again by the wealth of the commercial district. These systems were very complex and connected the district to the second ring. The people crossing the bridge were overloaded with bags, but they rushed and hurried so quickly they were almost running. The flow was uninterrupted and constant.
Slipping into the flow of another bridge, I too entered the second ring. I forked at the first opportunity and watched. Suddenly I heard an argument break out not far behind me. A young alacar with white hair and deep blue iridescent wings caught my eye: he was being scolded by a human! He was small, peculiar, with dark hair and purple clothes. The alacar seemed to be annoyed, his feathers were swelling up. All the passers-by had moved away from the two strangers. The two protagonists were armed and caped; something about them was very striking.
“You’re getting on my nerves Zeta, you’re just doing what you want! Share your plans before you execute them!
– Just admit that my ideas are excellent, and besides, you are hardly in a position to speak about egoism, Mr. Alacar, … he who flies away at the slightest problem!” retorted the one named Zeta with, disdain… or malice perhaps, I could not say.
The birdman sighed. He seemed to realize that there was a crowd of people watching them, and he calmed down. I could not hear the rest of their exchange. I began to laugh softly. Life seemed to be full of surprises in this unusual city. I began to dream again and think about my friends’ stories, that these two could be adventurers on a mission! How exciting. I found myself envying the alteans.
As I joined my father, a little voice in my head said, “Go Mauve, go! You can do this!” I promised myself that I would become a merchant worthy of him, that I would listen and learn, that I would come back to Altenor. I would not doubt that I could do it, and perhaps I would even live in the city… away from my stupid brother and his manure!