Wheels rumbled on the stone road below as a gypsy wagon slowly rolled its way through the darkening woods. There were four such wagons stretched out along the road, pulled by two heavy horses that plodded sedately in the last light of the evening. Each carriage was brightly painted and bore the symbol of the clan that drove it; the crow and a slight tinkling could be heard coming from within. A girl sat at the head of the first, her hands lightly holding the reins as she did a systematic check of her family members: those on horses, and those driving the wagons. Soon after, a voice from behind called the halt and the gypsy girl turned the horses off the road, stopped them and climbed from the seat, little bells around her ankle jingling as she walked. Slowly, the rest of the troupe began dismounting from the horses and wagons, each of them stretching and looking about at their location.
‘Parith!’ one of the elders called, talking up a long stick and hobbling to the girl, ‘look after the children while we set up camp,’ she caught up a young boy by the wrist, and gently pushed him to the gypsy girl. Parith smiled and picked up the boy, setting him on her hip as the other children clustered about her. She leant against one of the coloured wagons and watched the men as they passed, secretly smiling or dropping her eyes to the floor. She knew she was pretty and she knew how to use it to get what she wanted. Soon the camp was set- hammocks being hung within wagons, fires being lit and blankets being laid out on the ground as a pot of stew sat beside the hot coals and the family clan assembled around.
Stories were told to the children before bed, Parith listening on by the sidelines as her brown/green eyes watched the flames of the fire begin to shrink until there was little but coals left. Finally; Haarah, one of the elders pushed herself to her feet and bid the clan a good night. This was the signal for everyone else to retire to their hammocks and so slowly they all took up the blankets and shuffled through the darkness to the wagons.
Dawn broke and there was noise coming from outside the carriages, so Parith stood, swung from her hammock, pulled on her old, tattered green skirt and patchwork top, then stepped out as she tied a large bandanna over her head in the typical gypsy fashion. Fixing the assortment of silver bangles on her wrists and upper arms, she greeted the members of the family who were already awake; kissing some of them once on each cheek.
A quick breakfast of breads and conserves was prepared- mostly for the benefit of the children, before the horses were again hitched to the wagons and the caravan started out along the road to Fey where they would next perform.
As they travelled, some of the men of about Parith’s age would ride up beside her and bid her good morning, smiling shyly and blushing beneath their hair. She would act uninterested, shrugging them off with a tiny smile and they would ride off again, feeling disappointed but interpreting her smile in its meanings towards them.
Parith was a true gypsy- proud of her culture, her heritage, and her people. On her wrist was tattooed a crow- the symbol of her clan and that was an oath that could never be broken. She had heard of Gypsies who had given up their life and now lived as herders or farmers, but to her, they were not true Gypsies and had forgotten what it meant to be one.
Occasionally song broke out from down the line, the deep guttural sound of the older women or the young voices of the children as they recited the old travelling songs. At about midday, the forest opened up into an expanse of fields where sheep raised their heads as the wagons passed, occasionally running off in fear or watching after them curiously. Small villages were scattered about, smoke could be seen rising from the stone chimneys of the cottages that dotted the fields and Parith almost wrinkled up her nose as she tried to imagine herself living in such a life.
Sitting atop a stony hill sat the city Fey where the clan would be entertaining for the coming few days and they each looked forward to a rest before moving on again, eagerly anticipating making some money and showing off their talents. The horses followed the road up the side of the hill, bowing their heads and urged on by the gentle slap of the rein across their backs and the calls of ‘Gee up!’ from their drivers. They entered the town through the large double gates and the road changed to cobbles. A busy main street stretched before them, houses and shops being two floors high with little flower boxes on the second. Alleyways ran off the main street and at the very end of the town was the market square which, for now, was reasonably quiet.
As they began to make their way to the square, the Gypsies could feel the cold stares of some of the people on the side of the road. Most normal townsfolk- bakers, butchers, blacksmiths etc, didn’t trust Gypsies as they were often confused with Nomads who were more known to steal and cheat than Parith’s people. Children, on the other hand, ran alongside the cart and laughed and shouted happily at the Gypsies’ arrival. Soon the children would become prejudiced with the views of their parents and grandparents, but there would always be more to follow in their footsteps.
As per routine, once a fairly large crowd had gathered around the wagons, Parith and her brother Lukah climbed atop the carriages and waved to silence the people.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, children; friends! My sister and I would like to take a moment of your time, if it is not too much trouble!’ he started, voice ringing out clear above the people there. This was not normal Gypsy custom within most clans but it was tradition for theirs.
‘That’s right! The Clan of Crow shall be performing in the market square for the next three nights!’ Parith cried, a bright smile on her lips.
‘We shall be singing, dancing, music making…’
‘Telling stories, selling goods and all for your entertainment…’
‘And nothing at too great a price, of course!’
‘All we ask in return for our services is a little coin- what ever you can spare…’
‘So come along, have a dance or a laugh…’
‘Bring the children, they’ll love it too!’
‘Remember, that’s three nights- see you there!’ Lukah bowed deeply then somersaulted off the wagon, leaving Parith to climb down and move her horse on again as the rest of the clan followed behind, waving to the people on the side of the road. The Gypsy business was entertainment- anything to keep the audience happy for without a happy audience, you got no money, and without money, you couldn’t live comfortably. They may have been nomads but they still liked to live comfortably.
The camp was set up within the market square, close to the walls. Tables were erected, rugs were laid on the floor for story telling and dancing, and the troupe got as much practice as they could before night fell, curious children peering around the corner of building so they could sneak a glance at the Gypsies before their mothers took them by the ear and led them away.
Parith spent the time sitting by a table as men of the town came to ask who she was. She was quite well known for her singing and dancing, among other things that earned her more money but a worse reputation. Still, she knew if she interested the men before the show, there would be more who would attend at night and that in turn meant more earnings for the clan.
Darkness fell and a note from an accordion rang out across the square, where lanterns had been lit in a semi-circular area around the gypsy camp. Children ran over, followed somewhat less enthusiastically by their parents. A fast jig stared being played by the accordion and hand drum while some of the younger Gypsies enticed people to start dancing, spinning around them in a flash of colour as the bells on their ankles chimed in time to the music.
Soon the adults that gathered had forgotten their past fears about the Gypsy people and were drinking and dancing along, spinning and laughing as the music played- sometimes changed to a fiddle and then it was Parith’s turn to sing. Already she had established herself within the crowd there and so all fell silent as she stepped up to the stage, a tiny smile playing on her lips as she looked over the crowd. A drum beat began, fast and lively and Parith turned herself to the side, raised her hands and clapped them in time. Then she sang- it was in the old language, but her voice came clear and fast, rolling out the words as if they were her natural tongue. She spun on the stage, stamping her feet and occasionally laughing mid-song, her eyes shining in the firelight. A small wooden flute joined in her song and the beat got faster and faster as she repeated the words over and over again. Soon it all came to a spiralling halt in which she bent in two at the centre and bowed as the people below clapped and cheered.
She made her way off stage as another song began and walked to one corner of the stage where a small group of people followed her. As the music on the stage began to get a beat, she began to dance, twisting her arms above her head and swinging her hips, looking to each of the men there as she did; mysteriously and seductively as they all tried to dance around her.
The night wore on until finally the music stopped and here she sat herself upon the stage, one of the menfolk coming up to her somewhat hesitantly.
‘I’ll give you… 50 bronze pieces for.. uh…’ he went red in the face before another man pushed his way forward, sliding himself up beside the gypsy girl.
‘150 gold bronze says I can take you to bed tonight,’ he said, pulling out a small pouch. 150 bronze pieces was not a lot to most, but for the Gypsy people it was a fine offer and would probably last them a long time.
‘Deal,’ she murmured, then kissed him on the lips.
The wind whipped up outside the stone shelter, making the small cracks whistle and moan. Snow blew into the entrance though no wind reached the small cave where the family sheltered. One of the great white bears roared in the distance and the woman appeared nervous, fidgeting with her fur gloves.
‘Hian, I do wish you would see where your father is,’ she muttered, using their tongue rather than the language of Iadae. The older boy squinted his eyes at the entrance of the cave and pulled his furs tighter about his shoulders.
‘He shall be fine mother, Jycob, see to the fire,’ he turned to the younger boy who quickly took a handful of sticks off the pile and moved to the back of the cave where a small pile of coals sat, the smoke going up through a small hole in the rocks and then outside.
‘When your father returns with the fish, we shall eat well, sleep the night, and then travel to K’ylien to meet with the others. It shall be a grand event to meet with our family again. I have not seen some of them in many years,’ his mother smiled slightly, her cheeks rosy with the cold.
‘Go and see if you can find your father, but do not stray far!’
Hian pulled fur gloves over his hands, tightening his jacket about him before pulling himself out and onto the snow. The land was white and he could see only a little way before him but, taking a deep breath, began to take slow steps further from the stone shelter, calling his father’s name into the air only to have it silenced by the wind. Ahead, he made out movement and a black shape struggling against the onslaught of snow and so increased his pace slightly, being careful not to sink too far down.
Hian stumbled to his father who had fish slung over his shoulder and special boots on his feet, his beard was white and his eyebrows had small icicles forming. Taking a string of fish, the boy turned and began back for the rock shelter- barely visible to any but a Westerner.
They both entered the shelter, his father beaming proudly as he dropped the fish on the ground, and Hian going quickly to prepare the fire. Each of the family members knew their tasks and could imagine no other way of living. Once the fish was cooked and cut up appropriately- some of it being placed in bags for the trip to K’yien, the rest was given in equal portions to the members of the family; regardless or their age or physical build. Now with full bellies, they unrolled their fur blankets, stoked up the fire and lay down to sleep, preparing for the early morning start.
When Hian awoke, he packed up his things and headed outside, knowing his father would have already harnessed the reindeer and readied the sled. The air was crisp and the sun was just beginning to rise, shrouded in a fine mist that seemed to hang forever over Fówyn. Hian tied his things onto the sled, checked the reindeer then waited for the rest of his family to be ready. This took only a little time and so soon they were off, the two sleds being driven by the older men as Hian’s younger brother sat in the front of one and his mother in the front of the other.
The young Western was looking forward to visiting K’yien again. It had been many months since he had been inside a large city and seen his many relatives and extended families. It wasn’t often that a whole clan gathered, but when they did- it was a joyous occasion which every member cherished. The reindeer ploughed onwards, bowing their heads and dragging the sled north.
They camped the night knowing they would have to travel for only half of the next day to reach the town. The family found themselves sheltered by a small stand of trees and so unhooked the reindeer, tying them to the trunks so they couldn’t wander during the night. Eating most of the fish that was in their bag they settled down to sleep upon skin mats to keep the cold out of their bodies as the stars shone overhead.
Hian woke with his father and together they harnessed the reindeer and before long they were off again- racing across the snow plains where nothing grew, wind whipping about their fur hoods. As afternoon fell, the black shape of the city could be seen within a shallow valley- the rooves of the houses white with snow but a bustle of noise came from within. The reindeer perked their ears and sped up, stretching their necks in anticipation. Entering K’yien they were faced with people dressed in furs, reindeer roaming freely through the streets and tiny little houses with straw rooves where smoke came from the occasional chimney. They rode for the northern end of the town and there entered a small street where a Grandparent of the family owned a large house. Hian unharnessed the reindeer and let them loose in a small corral, along with several others that were already there, before joining his parents and brother within the house. His grandmother greeted him with gusto; kissing both his cheeks and looking him up and down while muttering to herself in the Western tongue, nodding her head in approval before turning to his brother Jycob. She shook her head now and tutted, shuffling across to the fire and dipping a ladle into a large pot and spooning soup into a bowl before moving back to Jycob and handing it to him.
‘You have not been feeding this boy well enough! He is just bones!’ there was more tutting and head shaking and Hian’s mother went to speak but was interrupted by a knock on the door. Cousins, Aunts, Uncles, Great Aunts, second, third and fourth cousins all continued to pour in for the rest of the day- each being received and greeted by a kiss on both cheeks and remarks about the family and how they were looking.
Soon, all the women were cooking and laughing, laying out the feast for the night as the men talked loudly and drank warm mead by the fire, occasionally slapping one another across the back with enthusiasm. When the food was set out, each of the family members took their places and the Grandmother spoke some words- she being the oldest and wisest of them all. Once this was done, each person waited until those older than them had served themselves before taking food and so this meant more talk between children as they waited for their meals. Soon everyone was busy eating though there was still much laughter and noise from each of them as the feast went on.
Once the food was finished and the plates had been cleared away, more mead was served and the music began. They danced and laughed and drank all through the night, and only when morning began to break did they collapse in a heap and sleep till the afternoon. When he woke, along with some others, he found his cousin Sayib and together they went to roam through the town, talking of this and that, happy in each other’s company. They stopped by the eastern wall, looking out over the desolate lands as the last of the afternoon rays stained the snow pink.
‘A friend of mine… he just returned from the centre…’ Sayib said, turning to Hian with bright, wide eyes.
‘The Centre? Why would you go there?’ he asked, furrowing his eyebrows and resting his chin in his hands.
‘He said he couldn’t understand it- didn’t know why anyone would leave Fówyn for what they have there… but lots of people are doing it they say- sick of the Western life…’ she shook her head sadly and Hian did the same; strands of sandy brown hair brushing at his cheekbones as he did.
‘I don’t see any reason why they would want to leave; I would not like to leave,’ he muttered, scratching his forehead and glancing back at the town behind them; bathed in a pale pink light. Sayib rested her head on his shoulder with a sigh, her hand clasping at the neck of her furs.
‘Maybe I will one day, but I’d come straight back- I’d not like to stay there… but it’d be an adventure wouldn’t it? Don’t you think it’d be an adventure?’ her voice was excited and this made Hian nervous. She was some years younger than he and if all the children were to abandon the Western Ways…
‘I would not dream of leaving. This is my home; Fówyn is my only home,’ and with that, Hian stood, smiled slightly to his cousin before walking back into the darkening city.
A tiny stream bubbled past an ancient oak, the crystal waters running over rocks and pebbles. The forest floor was moist and green and the sun filtered down through the trees giving the whole woods a look of vibrancy and life. Laying by the side of this stream was a girl dressed in green, her fingers dipped in the running water and her eyes closed. Scattered throughout the woods were other such people; all on their bellies, breathing deeply and being completely still. The girl by the stream pressed her ear against the ground and pursed her lips for a moment, before lifting her head and looking to a tall figure dressed in white robes.
‘There are strangers in the woods,’ she muttered, her hands resting on the ground below. The figure in white nodded his head once, a coy smile playing on his long lips as he watched the student carefully before parting those lips and speaking one word;
The girl winced slightly but turned her olive eyes to the trees, chewing the corner of her lip.
‘Gypsies?’ She was unsure of the answer and instantly knew by the look on the teacher’s face that she had answered wrongly again. She stood and walked to where he waited, bowing slightly with a sigh.
‘Aideen… if you would just listen, you could do great things. I think perhaps you are too rushed, to quick to give in to those thoughts that you know are not right. Come, we shall return to the village, you can see to the animals then I think you should go meditate. Do not listen to your voice- listen to those outside you. It is the fool who listens to his own voice,’ the teacher smiled lightly, bowed then began to walk slowly back to the village along the worn path. The other students began to rise, stretching and complaining about this or that.
With her head bent, Aideen soon began to make her way back to the village as the afternoon sun began to dip behind the western mountains and bathe the land of Nilmadé in darkness. Quickly she fed the village’s pigs, horses and dogs; giving them each a pat between the ears and a few words of praise before setting off through the forest again, this time heading north and climbing to the rock piles where she could look out across the land in darkness.
Here she sat, in the last fading rays that sunk behind the snow-capped mountains at her back and closed her eyes. She let her mind sink below the layers of darkness, trying to find that first whisper that would guide her to all the voices. Then, there it was, and she followed it in her mind until she was completely consumed by whisperings and mutterings, coming from everywhere and nowhere- all around her physical form in voices and languages that still she didn’t understand.
Her breathing had quickened and so she forced herself to relax; un-tensing her hands and taking deep gasps of air as the voices continued to press around her. She was a Speaker and possessed a talent that no others in Ianane could ever learn; the ability to read the earth like a book. To know its most intricate feelings, to understand the whispers in the trees and the scattered tracks by the ponds and now she heard all the voices- the rocks, the trees, the water, the wind and it pushed down on her and tried to suffocate her with knowledge. And yet there was still her own mind, ever present that tried to separate one of those voices from another so she could never truly hear them.
Taking a deep breath, she focused on just one sound, imagining a black wall between it and all the others. Soon it became clear and she almost lost her concentration in her excitement. Gathering together her thoughts, she now began the more difficult task of forming a question and sending it out to the voice.
Who are you? She imagined her words going in all directions, seeking out that other voice. It could be any creature in the forest; any animal or tree. That was one thing she still had yet to learn; being able to separate the voices and know what she was speaking to. There was silence and she thought perhaps her question had not been received. The voice was still in her head, whispering and weighing heavily upon her mind, before the noises stopped and she received an answer.
I am Falastir. The true voice was proud and clear, regal like a King and Aideen thought perhaps it belonged to one of the Ancients- the trees, until her mind remembered back to the early teachings of names. In the Old Language of Nilmadé, Falastir meant Eagle.