Of all the peoples in Fyrkat, it was the Leaping People Calvin found most fascinating. Mainly because they were so different. The Farming People looked like, well, people, even if they were green, or blue, or red. In fact, they didn’t look much different than that green-skinned Orion Space Babe from the Star Trek reboot. Hunting People had cat-like ears and tails, but to be honest, he’d seen booth babes at anime cons who looked much the same (although the average female Hunting Person looked far hotter than your average anime con booth babe.) But the Leaping People....
For starters the Leaping People weren’t human. Oh, they were humanoid in their general physical makeup, but they didn’t look like someone in a fursuit. They were pure modern CGI special effects in the flesh, and truth be told, they were kind of awesome. He’d already filled pages of his sketchbook with drawings, featuring anything from Mister Grimm smoking his pipe after a day in the fields, to Authfríthr proving exactly how human Leaping People actually looked under their clothes (far more than he first thought, that was for sure.)
Calvin looked up from the plank he was scribing to realize Herger had been talking to him. The village carpenter, Herger had been another one of his frequent sketching subjects, mainly due his heavily braided hair. It was his wife’s work, Herger had said, the first time Calvin had drawn him. She worked glass beads and metal rings into his hair, and tended to mix things up periodically. The end result was fairly impressive, and made the gentle-natured woodworker look positively fierce.
“What was that?”
Herger nodded to the workshop’s entrance, “Put down your knife, Little Brother, it’s time for lunch.”
And there was Hildigunnr (Heger’s aforementioned wife), with Authfríthr in tow (man, were Fyrkat names a mouthful), carrying in a wide wooden platter loaded with food. Leaping People, heck, the entire village Calvin had noted, ate everything. There was meat (usually game brought in by the Hunting People), fish, birds, fruit (such as apples, pears, and berries), vegetables (including carrots, potatoes, and corn), grains, and leafy greens. There was also loaves of coarse bread (Wonderbread would have been a miracle to the villagers) as well as cheeses, butter, and honey. Nothing was wasted, and leftovers often went into the stewpot. Any leftovers after that went into the compost pile. And the funny thing was... it also tasted fantastic. Duncan had said it was because the food was fresh—often right from the fields, and hadn’t suffered any of the taste-leaching processes used to prepare modern canned and frozen foods.
Authfríthr handed Calvin a plate with a quick smile. She was an oddity in the village, having almost gunmetal gray fur and black hair, which was so unlike the rest of the Leaping People’s gray, silver, and white. Her mother Hildigunnr was also somewhat unique, as she possessed a curvy build more akin to the Farming People’s than the leaner physiques of the Leaping People. She also wore her hair long, waist-length at least, since she apparently didn’t trust anyone else but herself to cut it (she was the closest thing the village had to a barber.) Calvin had drawn her portrait, but felt trying to get her to pose like Authfríthr did was pushing his luck.
Lunch was thick slices of bread with butter and honey, cold meat, and wedges of cheese, washed down with cold water from the cellar storage. Simple, yet it beat any fast food he’d ever had. And best yet, lunch allowed time for questions. And today’s subject was the village’s religious customs and observations.
Picking a bit of meat out of his teeth with one clawed finger (Leaping People had claws, not fingernails, but they were too small and short to really be dangerous... unlike Hunting People’s claws... which Billy Jo apparently found out the hard way,) Herger examined the wood-shop's ceiling. “We don’t have ‘gods’ like you describe them,” he said at last. “But we do give thanks to the earth and water every harvest.”
“And planting,” Hildigunnr added.
“Aye, and planting.” Herger took a swallow of water and then continued. “You see, when it comes time to plant a field, we offer our thanks to the earth for giving us crops, to the sun for shining up them so they’ll grow, and the rain for bringing us water.”
“And when harvest comes,” Hildigunnr took up the narrative, “we give thanks for the food we are about to gather. Harvest is also a time of plenty, with feasts, games of skill and chance, and sporting contests.”
As an answer Herger causally flipped a knife into length of scrap wood. “Archery, spear throwing, knife throwing, foot races, dice games, tafl games, and so on. Traders usually come around harvest time, to trade cloth and glass for tobacco, hides, antlers, and crops.”
“It’s also when craftsmen show off their best work.” Now it was Authfríthr’s turn. She nodded to Herger. “Father always has a new chest to present, Vidar has fine spears, and there will be new cloaks and clothes.”
Hildigunnr was next. “We offer thanks for a harvest taken by holding feasts and setting aside a share of the crop. When we offer thanks before a planting we do so by returning the shares set aside to the earth. We also let the earth rest between plantings, and feed it with the remains of our meals.”
Of course. That explained some of what Marcus had talked about. The villagers rotated their crops between fields, letting some set for a season. They also collected manure (as well as the contents of the village latrines) and spread that over the fields periodically. Nothing in the village went to waste. Ragged clothes became rags, broken tools were either repaired or reforged into new items. Leather goods went into the compost heap. To simply throw something away was apparently unthinkable.
Now Herger spoke again. “We honor the earth, the sun, and the rain, for they bring us food for life.” He gestured at his shop, “They also bring us wood and metal for tools, feed for the goats and sheep, which gives us clothes, and light to see by, warmth during the day, and water to drink.”
“What about the air?”
There was a long moment of silence. Herger and Hildigunnr glanced knowingly at each other. Finally, coming to an unspoken agreement, Herger nodded to his wife.
“Little Brother, I tell this you only because you’re a stranger here,” Hildigunnr said. “We’ve heard stories about evil spirits of the air. Terrible beings who fly across the sky on roof beams and raid villages. They come in the night to steal away people, much like the Giant People do. But unlike the Giant People, they also pillage and burn, and leave only ruins behind.”
Authfríthr shuddered. “Night People are bad enough, but people from the sky? Mother used to threaten me with them when I was little and didn’t want to go to bed.”
“I told her they’d come and take her away unless she was safely abed,” Hildigunnr explained.
Much like the bogeyman. Except after seeing real, live, mermaid, I’m not so sure about laughing off stories of people who fly around at night and attack villages.
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