— Chapter 6 —

Messenger woths are sturdy creatures, they fit in the palm of your hand. They have excellent memories, and can travel long distances. Many use them as a means of sending messages to other cities. They can carry items many times their own weight.

Lupen was enjoying a mug of bonan wine at the local snack bar at the edge of town, where Eka and Nono had agreed to meet later that day.
    Bonan wine was an alcoholic drink traditionally brewed in Finiku villages, each had its own recipe. Some added herbs, or used other fruit as a base. It wasn’t uncommon to give some of yours to a friend, the restaurant owner Javi explained.
     “Sosae’di de yorala!” Noticing Lupen’s vacant expression, and understanding that the Verido didn’t know Finic, Javi said it again in the Common Tongue. “Best in the land!”
    “Sosae’di de yorala, sosae’di de yorala…” Lupen repeated, determined to remember this time. “Think others in the land say this too about their wine?”
    “Orae,” the restaurant owner said, “but dey is wrong!”
    Lupen laughed. “I’ve had bonan before. Cut thin and dried as chips, never as a drink. How do you make it?”


    Bonan wine


    Two stalks of bonans
    A quarter pail of waterstones


    Let bonans ripen for seven days after harvest, cut bonans and add the squeezed liquid from waterstones. Do not stir the mixture.
    After one day, squeeze the liquid from waterstones and bring to a boil in a hot pot. Add to bonans, and leave to stand for another day. During this period, fermentation will occur.
    Filter the water through a cloth, and consume the filtrate as bonan wine.


    Lupen enjoyed conversing with Javi, that is, until Gree showed up. Gree was also a Finiku and captain of one of the Beobug supply ships Nono had mentioned. Gree took a seat by the Verido, despite there being unoccupied seats all around. Gree’s big bulbous green eyes matched the Beobug uniform, with dark hair licked tight, so tight that the Finiku could not frown.
    One of the gigantic supply vessels, with the name Beobug II painted on its side in yellow letters, was moored outside of town, it had two masts and a green hull. Gree was the captain of Beobug II, and before Lupen could ask Gree was already explaining how Ilk kapo was treated to be turned into gas to power machinery and vessels in Montore.
    Lupen knew about Beobug, the Volare elders didn’t like them, they thought it was disrespectful of them to follow the Ilk. In cities Ilks would eat their weight in teaweet, and when it was on the move again Beobug was always there to catch its kapo.
    Gree threw an arm around Lupen. “Nono good friend to you dae’sa? You arrive on same sandfin. Gree see dis.”
    “You want something?” Lupen asked.
    “Hm. Gree see dat Lupen like to speak plain.” Gree said with a smile. “Nono best sandfinner. But package delivery is waste of talent. Beobug fleet have two ship. Gree steer Beobug II, but Beobug, lead sandfin, need captain. Gree ask and ask but always, Nono say no. I ask too much! Lupen ask for Gree. Voice of Ilk can do anything, orae?”
    Mentioning being Voice was a mistake, Lupen regretted it, blaming the bonan wine. Seeing that the Verido was hesitating, Gree spoke again. “Lupen talk to Ilk! You autority! Use dis title to get good ting for you!”
    “Are we still talking about Nono? I don’t understand why a title is so important.”
    “Lupen forget, Voice is grand being! If talk big, make all around listen.” Saying this, Gree sharply elbowed the Verido in the ribs.
    “I don’t know.” Lupen said, attempting to move away but Gree’s arm was unyielding. “You really think being the captain of a vessel that recycles Ilk kapo is worthy of praise?”
    “Orae!” Gree threw their hands up into the air. “No limit to da energy! Montore no more wait for wind! Beobug give city great great success! Gree swim in coin! No poor, no pain. No more, no more!” Gree said, eyes aglow.
    “Wind is free. And when there’s no wind well, you wait.” Lupen said.
    “Lupen seem to tink Verido taint-free,” Gree’s bulbous eyes were set on the Verido, narrowing for a moment, “all you take free ride on Ilk. How long you do dis for, umm? One ki’annum? Up derr, it keep you from worss of desert. Lupen always safe on Ilk, no understand true misery.” The captain smacked the top of the Verido’s thigh then, causing the sand embedded in the isilk clothes to rise. When the dust settled again Gree laughed. “Well, Lupen learning dis now, orae? You are eer in da dust wit us.”
    “The Ilk is a friend. We co-exist.” Lupen retorted.
    “Dis what Beobug do too,” Gree turned to the restaurant owner, raising two empty mug. “Mou ipaya Javi!”
    Javi nodded, pouring a generous serving of wine to both, a bit of the liquid overflowing outside their mugs.
    Lupen noticed a patch on Gree’s arm then, “what’s that?”
    The captain lifted up a green sleeve to show the full patch, pressed onto the skin. “Is lunch. Much better den real ting, oro!”
    “Yoroi’di!” Javi said, inspecting the patch. “Babam cake! Good one.”
    Lupen was unphased, “aah I see, I see… another Montore industry. Another way to amass coin, another path to titles.” An empty mug sat in Lupen’s hand, “did I drink all of this just now?” Gree’s mug was also empty, but Javi was there to fill them right back up again.
    “Industry mean progress.” Gree said, leaning into the Verido.
    “Progress means coin…” Lupen replied, bored with the conversation.
    “Coin is future Voice of Volare Ilk.” Saying this, Gree slapped Lupen in the back, resulting in Lupen nearly spitting out a mouthful of wine.
    “What is there to do with so much coin?” Lupen said, coughing and trying to move away from Gree, again, with little success.
    “Lupen new to desert, much to learn,” saying this, Gree pulled out a shiny golden coin, which now found itself into the palm of Lupen’s hand. One side bore a poorly-chiseled face, and the other had Montore inscribed on it along with the number one hundred. Lupen was going to return the coin but Gree refused it. “Keep coin, is payment for favour Gree ask. Lupen ask Nono for Gree, orae?”
    Lupen nodded, pocketing the coin. Gree then stepped off of the stool, jelly-legged, and returned to the crew aboard Beobug II.
    Lupen stayed at the bar, unable to put a phrase together.
    Javi laughed. “Eat muckwheat dumpling, healthy wit bobonion, dilly herb and looma root. Verido like looma root, orae? Wawa’de, will imbibe bonan in belly.” Javi pushed a plate of steaming dumplings in front of the Verido. “Eet, eet.”

Having finished all deliveries, and now armed with a tall bottle of plumpkin40 ale, Nono felt it necessary to treat the fleshies to a drink. All three gathered at Javi’s snack bar, savoring their drinks, although Lupen had opted for tea this time.
    Eka, still wearing the coveralls, told them about Orin, Bou, the incident with the pomparu, the fixing of the waterstone pump and all the other items on the list they’d been tasked with. Lupen spoke of the encounter with Gree, and told Nono about the favour.
    “Dis komororo ask Lupen to ask Nono to captain Beobug sandfin? Ia’! Ianae!” The Finiku’s head began to shake and the shaking did not stop for some time. Eka wondered if their friend was stuck in a loop and needed help, but Nono recovered moments after that. “Ia’ is wat Nono say and always say to Gree!”
    “Being on a sandfin like that must be impressive. Why not do it?” Eka asked, remembering the large green sandfin at the edge of town.
    “Yorala’no mai aini’re de mutau’wi, coin ianae.” Nono said with pride.
    “The way of the land is perpetuated in righteousness, not coin.” Eka translated, grinning.
    Both Eka and Lupen laughed at this. Nono went on to say that they were both grown on the same plot of land, because of this Gree thinks that they are close. “Wen young, Nono travel on sandfin, but Gree stay in Tiu’va, talk much, make mapa tink Nono useless! Say Nono waste time, dat only good job is Beobug job. Komororo…” Nono said, cursing at the air, “Beobug do scam. All profit, no work. Beobug sandfin need no captain!” After saying this, Nono leaned in to whisper to them. “Nono follow Beobug sandfin always. Ponopo follow Beobug II, anodder wot watch Beobug I, Beobug III. Nono go to village after fiendling leave, and Nono correct misdeed!”

As the evening went on Nono began to tell sandfin stories, like the one about the notorious Dorake’s passage, known to have buried countless sandfinners over time. While Nono was talking, a small creature flew over to them, and landed on the table. It had short antennae, and delicate yellow hairs all over its body. “Dis Ponopo. Ponopo carry message for Nono, have good memory and know desert well.”
    Ponopo fluttered off the table and landed on Eka’s head.
    “Wow! A woth! Yora’nae Ponopo!” Eka said, watching Ponopo hover back down onto the table, landing near a puddle of spilled plumpkin ale. The woth began to mop it up, its antennae wiggling as it drank.
    Nono pulled out a small wooden box, laid it out on the table and opened the lid. Six round eggs sat in it, laying over a soft tan blanket. “Wot egg,” Nono told them, “Nono carry many.” Nono’s hand reached into the box and picked up an egg. “Dis wot egg ready, but wot only come out when it find someone it like. Woth is loyal, it follow you always.” Nono reached over the table, grabbed Eka’s hand, and placed a single woth egg in it. As soon as the egg came into contact with Eka’s skin, the white egg turned sky blue.
    “It’s blue!” Eka said, amazed by the unborn woth.
    “Blue? Wot egg never blue,” Nono said, looking very confused, “no no no matter! Put finger on egg. Do gentle, gentle stroke.”
    Eka did as Nono instructed and put a finger on the egg, stroking it.
    “Less stroke, good good wot!” Nono continued. The blue egg cracked open after only a single stroke. “Impossible.”
    Lupen and Eka watched as a new woth emerged from the egg. It had a blue body, covered in light blue hairs, it had long antennae, and even longer wings.
    “Sakoi’di! Strong wot!” Nono said, shaking their head in disbelief.
    Eka knew many things, but knew little about woths, although this one did appear larger than Ponopo. Nono grabbed a measuring stick and jotted down every detail, the colour of its hairs, the length of the wings and of the antennae, the diameter of the eyes too. Everything. “Nono visit hatchery to ask question to friend. Friend know much about woth.” Nono put the stick away, and continued to marvel at the quality of Eka’s woth.
    “What should we name it?” Lupen asked Eka.
    “Ianae! You no choose name! Wot choose,” Nono said, waving a finger at them, “is no easy to guess name!”
    “Yea, I mean, the name could be anything! How long did it take you to guess Ponopo’s name?” Lupen asked.
    Nono took a long sip of plumpkin ale. “Five annum, but only after Nono take bad, bad erb. For Nono friend, is long time. Take fourteen annums.”
    “Orae, orae! Mu-mu-mu-mu-mumford. Wot stutter, make guess difficult,” Nono paused, “wot listen wid or widout name, but name make connection strong strong! Some tink wot no choose name, dat dey wait to ear name it like.”
    Eka hoped it wouldn’t take that long, a fourteen-annum long guessing game did not sound fun. “You’ve got an easy name, isn’t that right Tom-tom?” A finger traced along the soft hairs on its back. The woth went about its business, and joined Ponopo on the table to get some of that sweet plumpkin juice.
    “Tom-Tom?” Lupen said with a laugh, “it looks more like a Pino.”

After an evening of unsuccessful name-guessing Eka and Lupen said goodbye to Nono, who gave them a map with areas marked in red of the desert between Tiputa and Montore. “Dis place. Many floater. Many, many danger. Take care when near, fleshies.”
    They raised their tent in a clear space outside of town. Bou had given Eka an extra length of fabric to extend the size of their shelter. They had sown the two pieces together, and now two and half travelers could lie under it—Hush agreed to laying halfway outside of the tent, so the other two could have room.
    “I would have loved to keep traveling aboard the sandfin,” Lupen said, watching the unnamed woth tracing shapes through the air. They wondered if this was its way of communicating its name, they spent a long time trying to decipher it, but it turned out to be complete gibberish.
    Eka agreed. “They’re wonderful aren’t they? Wish the cabin was taller though, I hit my head on the cross beam too many times during the voyage.”
    Lying in the tent, Lupen thought about name-giving. Verido had their names written on their faces, but this wasn’t true for everyone. “Did you pick your own name?”
    Eka didn’t answer right away, brows furrowing as if in deep thought. “Yes, I’ve had many names though.”
    “Do you remember being grown?”
    “Nope, but I have slept for long periods of time. I imagine being born is like waking up after a long, long sleep.”
    “What about dying? Where do you suppose we go after we’re dead.”
    “Your body stays right here.”
    “What about my mind? Where do you think that goes?”
    “Think about the time before you were grown. That was an okay time wasn’t it?”
    “I guess so. Well, I don’t remember…”
    “We’re all part of the grand sweater that is our universe. We are a single thread, and together we form a complex design, criss-crossed into a variety of patterns. Sometimes these individual patterns unravel, but they’re not lost, they remain part of the grand sweater. Nothing ever disappears entirely,” saying this, Eka began to unravel Lupen’s sweater, tugging on a loose bit of thread.
    Lupen noticed this, and moved closer to help undo it. “I like this analogy.”
    “Analogy? You mean you don’t adhere to the idea of a sweater-verse?”
    Both spent the evening unravelling the isilk sweater until it was back to not being a sweater at all, just a collection of thread.
    Lupen lent Eka a vest to wear, and together they cooked up a pot of bobonion soup. They ate it with some slices of toasted muckwheat bread. Then, they recited poems about the sweater-verse until they fell asleep.
    Lupen did not dream of death, but dreamt of a world where everyone was made of fabric, their skin and clothes knitted together. Children made a game of unravelling each other’s arms, while the adults scolded them. Lupen was in this dream, and there, hanging from the side of everyone’s wrist was a thread, connecting Verido to Aodals, to Finikus, to Terins, to looma roots, to every grain of sand, and to skyrocks too. This thread bound all things, both known and unknown.

The next day, Lupen and Eka spent time with Bou. They had finished their tasks early, so Bou closed the store for the day and introduced them to some of the locals. They ate plenty of muckwheat bread, a local specialty. The bread was served with fermented sagery[^] jam and thin slices of sun-dried totomites[^].
    One of Bou’s friends had Vennec babies and insisted on showing them off. Vennecs were large, humpbacked, furry beasts with thin snouts, large pointy ears and a long slender neck. The vennec babies were asleep in a pile, it was hard to tell where one started and another ended. Soon, the babies were on their feet, and ran circles around them. Eka laughed, stroking their soft hairs. Lupen’s face was buried in the fur of one of the larger cubs.
    “Vennec too young now, but in one annum you come back. Vennec become strong, make good travel companion.” The vennec grower said.
    Having a pup now would be impractical, as they had much travelling to do. Lupen liked the idea of adopting a vennec. “You look like an Aristollo.”
    “Aristollo?” Eka said, eyes wide and glancing over at the Verido. “But that’s the name of a—”
    “Skyrock? Yes, I know that.”
    “No. Well yes. But it’s also the name of an—”
    “Iridi?” Lupen’s mouth curled into a smile, it was nice to appear all-knowing for once, a rarity around someone like Eka.
    “Yes again! Wow! Lupen you know everything!”
    “I know a hundred ways to prepare looma roots,” Lupen began, “but I don’t know the story of Aristollo. I’d like to hear it if you know it.”
    “It’s not my story to tell. We’ll find someone to tell it to you, and on the way, you can tell me of the hundred ways to prepare Looma roots.”
    “I really couldn’t.”
    “Yes, well, the muffled cries of your stomach pairs well enough with my singing,” Eka said.

Back at their camp, Lupen held a hand up, making a landing platform for the woth. They had been gifted a little portable house for their new friend, a round glass ball with a hole on its side to be used as a door. Inside, was a lining of soft banabo fabric, so that the woth could easily find a spot in there and stay hidden. The ball was wrapped in yellow thread and had a permanent attachment to Lupen’s belt. Bou had left the gift hanging at the entrance of their tent.
    “Rest well Duster,” but the woth did not react.
    “Not even a twitch,” Eka said, looking at the sleeping messenger, “it’s a nice name, maybe it didn’t hear me say it?”
    They weren’t sure what the rules were. How would the woth react once it heard its own name? Maybe it would flutter extra harder, or would change colour again? Lupen wished they’d asked Nono more questions, but the Finiku had left after the second sunset for another delivery, both suspected that Gree had something to do with their friend’s hasty departure.

The following morning, even before Eka had time to slip on some day clothes, Orin appeared at the door a bundle in hand. The clothes were ready and the tailor was eager to see them on Eka. Eka changed into the new outfit while Lupen brought the Finiku some herbal tea, served with a slice of lemilim and some grated sweet root. The tailor was unusually quiet, and stared at the Verido.
    The trousers were loose, yet tight in all the right places, reaching up over Eka’s midriff and held there without the need for a belt. The undershirt looked plain to the untrained eye, but it was made of banabo fibres. The stitching was reinforced around the neck and shoulders. Orin even made a scarf with sleeves, large enough to throw over your head for protection from sand storms.
    “You are a true master! These are wonderful!”
    Orin’s face reddened at those words. “Oh it’s nothing, really! It pleases me that you like it.”
    “Like? I love it!” Eka said.
    The tailor had not noticed then, but Lupen had moved to the end of the room. The Verido came back with a large bundle of thread and placed it onto the Finiku’s lap.
    “Vo-vo-vo-lare isilk?” Orin said, voice high with emotion.
    Lupen nodded. The thread of the sweater was re-bundled and bound with a matching blue ribbon.
    “Now you can make something for yourself with it,” the Verido said.
    Just then, Orin began to bawl, fingers curling around the precious bundle of thread. “T-t-this is t-too much,” there was no stopping those tears, “y-you be t-too k-kind.”

  1. Plumpkins A large scaly purple root vegetable. The scales can be peeled off, revealing the bright and soft red flesh underneath.↩︎

Continue to Chapter 7