[Excerpt from the memoirs of Wilhelmina Saunders]
Avril 10, 492
Departed the outpost of Hayfield, spirits high as we leave the last Newfield fort on our journey east on the Midfer River, called the Chanuk by our guide Kashat. Many of our accompanying soldiers, particularly Private Rush, bristle at following an Ingio, but Marcus has quelled such talk. At least in in the presence of Kashat.
The Ingio seems to know the land well. He claims no one knows it better, though there are few that can call into question his claim, these lands devoid of civilized life.
Avril 11, 492
The day passed quickly, the Midfer still swelled from the spring rains, and the exertion of paddling against the river’s flow keeping conversation among the men to a minimum. So far the land has been empty of Ingios, Kashat asserting we will encounter others as soon as the river diverges from the Akok line of ley. He explained the Ingios believe lines of ley belong to the “shining ones,” which appears to be Ingio term for emets. The Ingios therefore avoid ley and nodi, ceding these areas to the emets.
As if to give credence to his claim, Kashat has passed several colorful strings through his earlobes, saying they will ensure us safe passage through Ingios territory. In the privacy of our tent, Marcus has confided to me how unmanly he finds these braids, but I find myself drawn to their intricate patterns.
Avril 13, 492
We met our first Ingios today, the two men appearing from the woods surrounding the river as we made camp. Kashat tells us they are from the Haysla tribe. And though he is from the Lnut tribe, the three men were able to communicate, albeit crudely. The two Ingios shared a meal with Marcus, myself and Kashat, partaking of our rations and adding a type of boiled root. Though the mush appeared unappetizing, they then added several local plants that enhanced the flavor.
After the meal, Marcus made gift to them of a steel knife, which they accepted gladly. In return they presented me with what can only be described as a broach, clearly made from feathers of a mudbird. Marcus initially scoffed at the inequality of the trade, but Kashat explained this was an honor from the Haysla tribe. After much discussion with the two Haysla, Kashat explained the origin of the mudbird, which I will try to recount.
According to the Haysla, their tribe came to this area long ago but found the new land harsh. So they called out to the birds to aid them. The eagle heard them first, flying off to bring them wood so as to build homes. And though they built lodgings, the shining ones came and destroyed them.
So the Haysla called out again and this time the crow came. It brought them black stones, which they hurled at the shining ones with their slings to defend their wooden homes. And though this drove the shining ones off and was a good gift, it was not enough since they were still cold.
So then the beautiful “bright bird” heard their cries and said it would bring them the greatest gift of all. No larger than a sparrow, no one believed that the bright bird could accomplish this, but that night the bright bird flew up into the darkness to pluck a star from the sky.
The bright bird brought it back to the people, but the star smoldered, burning the bird and singeing its feathers until they were covered in soot. But the bright bird would not drop the star until it delivered it to the Haysla. And when the star was set upon the ground it gave birth to flames that warmed the people. And the Haysla could take this fire with them wherever they went, which made it more precious than either the wood or black stones.
But the bright bird was no longer beautiful because of the scorch marks, the brown splotches covering it now resembling mud. But the people blessed the mudbird for its sacrifice, gifting it with a beautiful voice in thanks. And that is why it is a sin among the Haysla to kill a mudbird, the feathers they find valued highly because they can only be found, not taken.
After the Haysla departed, I spoke to Kashat in private, recounting to him the story of the mudbird I learned as a child where the mudbird’s ugliness is a curse because of its sweet voice. I found the differences in the tales interesting, but Kashat dismissed both my story and that of the Haysla. He said each of these was incorrect, then telling me the origin of the mudbird taught among the Lnut tribe.
In it, long before humans came to Ayr, all the birds gathered together to see who would be chief among them. They decided that whoever could fly the highest would claim the title of chief. So the crow flew up to the clouds, but then the hawk flew above the clouds. And finally the eagle, the greatest among the birds, flew up until it reached the stars.
But what the eagle did not know was that the tiny mudbird had hidden upon its back. Aware that it could not overcome the larger birds, the mudbird instead waited until the eagle could fly no higher. And as the eagle began its descent, the mudbird flapped its wings twice, rising higher than the eagle had and claiming the title of chief among the birds.
Yet the eagle knew it would be unseemly for all the birds to follow such a small and ugly bird. So, in exchange for the title of chief, the eagle gave the mudbird a beautiful voice. And so the mudbird was happy because it never wanted to be chief among the birds, but instead gained its beautiful voice for only two flaps of its wings.
Though, while in the presence of the Haysla tribesmen, Kashat had claimed my broach was an appropriate gift in exchange, privately he confided to me that it was ultimately worthless outside these lands. Only the Haysla treat the mudbird with any reverence, Kashat telling me that he has eaten mudbird many times before and expects to do so again once he returns home.