Nanashi the Null [ Chapter 6 ]

Nanashi the Null
Günter Oakenheart was as amiable a fellow as he had appeared when first he had sat down at Nanashi’s table.

He was all belly laughter and incredible tales of the hunt and his life down in the North. No doubt did he have a whole arsenal of stories to tell the moth herder if he so required. Nanashi herself had never told stories to anyone, so she was worried her performance would come on rather bleak when held up against Günter: he truly made every single tale come alive.

Nanashi almost felt as if she was there in the icy cold, surrounded by snow and by frost wolves and the like as Günter made their trip through the Yamato mountain paths a most enjoyable one where it should have been only cold and tiring.

They slowly advanced away from the village, traveling along the eastern mountain paths, the slowly expanding Yamato Valley to their left in the west as they went northward in the direction of Yamaseki. Nanashi had packed what little things she had and Günter only had a small backpack and his large sword, so departure had been on the time table right after a good lunch. Now the wind blew fierce oft as not and made Nanashi’s wide robes flap around like a flag. They were moody winds, coming and going, blowing from here, then from there, never quite decided; and with them they carried moth dust every now and again. It made Nanashi think of her long forgotten childhood, climbing around the cliffs and crevasses that were about Yamaseki.

Yamaseki was the capital of the Yamato Kingdom and built in lofty heights just as most of the cities and villages of the kingdom that had been built around former castles and fortifications, erected in large parts during the Age of Heroes. The wealthier cities and the old capital lay in the Yamato Valley, which was protected from wind and war and blessed with fertile soil. The new capital stood tall above any other settlement or fortress, looking down on the southern cities of the valley, and only a few monasteries were on higher summits still.

Notable was also that Yamaseki was not just grafted onto a plateau, it was half surrounded by a mountain’s rock face that had been hollowed to house the ‘Uramachi’ as the citizens had taken to calling it: ‘the city behind the city’.

“How far must we go, Günter Oakenheart?” Nanashi asked the tall Kaltani with her gaze fixed upon the distance.

He shrugged with a muffled grunt and looked ahead as well. “I couldn’t say fer sure, fair Null, I only heard the way described, ain’t been there maself yet, no. And call me Günter ifn ya please. Ye’ sound like ya addressin’ some… ah, I don’t know, but ma first name will be fine.”

Nanashi sighed. “Very well, Günter. And I would prefer you called me Nanashi. I’m a Null, but that is hardly my name.”

He gave her another of his belly laughs. “Fair Nanashi it is,” he said merrily.

Nanashi blushed slightly but no one would know that since her hood was up again to protect her from the winds, “J-just Nanashi will be fine!” she said emphatically.

Günter just laughed to that. And so they continued onward through the mountain paths. Here and there they could see some goats making skilled and brave climbs to graze on the shishisô grass that grew in these heights. Some murasaki moths also flapped by here and there, but scarcely in the beginning. Only when dusk came and the winds calmed down a bit, did more show themselves, also trying to eat of the shishisô. The so-called ‘four-fingered grass’ grew at many places around the Yamato Mountain Range. It had juicy green leaves, which the goats liked to chew on, and four long wispy stems covered in strange lilac fur. It was that fur that the moths liked the best and they feasted on it every night and the Yamato folk too harvested the grass to make clothes from it; purple garb was relatively common here. In a fortnight or two, the smaller murasaki moths would withdraw deeper into the mountain range, hiding in the protective confines of the valley where the harshening winds of autumn would be broken by the tall mountains.

The two wanderers passed the mark of first daylight on their journey to the moth herder, and one more before their destination came into sight. In the nights they shared Günter’s tent, settling into protective overhangs where they could. Nanashi’s mind was too disciplined to show how cold she was at times, and Günter either had similar strength of mind or was simply used to the cold from his frigid homelands.

When they saw the home of the moth herder, it was not the admittedly sizable mountain shack of the rumored man that caught their gazes first; rather it was the tree that grew to its side. In these heights trees grew smaller than downhill: little nantama trees would grow up here; a little scarce perhaps but everywhere if one went into the opposite direction, further up south. They carried juicy fruit even now, though it would not keep on their branches much longer. These fruits were a prized food source for the yarenma moths, a very dangerous breed, and Nanashi was glad that the nantama didn’t cover the mountainside here save for one or two trees every now and then because of that. The tree that they could glimpse from afar though that grew besides the moth herder’s shack was grand, almost like a mighty oak tree that had grown unchallenged for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Its leaves were broad as a man’s bosom and waving elegantly in the wind. There also were many colored specks amidst those leafs, though Nanashi and Günter were too far away to make out what those were.

“How can a tree grow so tall in these heights?” she asked in disbelief.

Günter shrugged: “Why shouldn’t it? Trees grow tall, if ya let them: tis the way of the world.”

But Nanashi shook her head. “Not up high,” she insisted. Of course Günter wouldn’t know. There were three great mountain ranges on the face of Aqualon and few Nordmen lived at what remnants of them poked all the way past the Snowzone. “Look,” she said and pointed at other trees that had drilled their roots into the rock face or settled graciously in little holes and crevasses around them. “The trees grow smaller the higher they are, and we are very high up here, over two thousand meters by my reckoning, so they grow very small. It is because the air here is very thin, and the temperature stays fairly low throughout the year. Surely you have noticed how tasks that would normally not faze you are more tiring than you are accustomed to.”

Günter scratched his head, “Now that ya say it… I do not normally grow tired of walking so quickly. And when I climbed up the mountains, I got sick fer a day after; had ter rest in that inn where we met. And the other trees here are small, it’s true! Hum, so the moth herder has a big magic tree, sweetens the story when we tell it our children,” he mused.

Our children?” Nanashi asked incredulous.

Now Günter let himself shake in laughter again. “Well I wasn’t speaking of it that way,” he said, which made Nanashi blush again and curse her tongue that had spoken faster than thought.

“Of course, I misunderstood,” she said, trying to sound blithe.

Being around this emotional man made her forget her training, which irked her to say the least. She took a few deep breaths to calm her heart and mind and reached into the void within, where there was tranquility, where there was peace.

Midday turned to dusk before they stood in front of the small plateau onto which the great tree and the shack where settled. The tree had long, thick vines hanging from its bark that tangled and grafted themselves upon the rock, creeping down the mountainside so far that they could not see their end, as if they were the true roots of the tree and reaching down to the mountain’s very foot. The shack was old but well-constructed and three kinds of steam and smoke were escaping from separate chimneys, one to each side and one on the midst of the roof. A big waterwheel was turning slowly with the force of a mountain spring that streamed down from the rock face behind the shack. There was also a big tarpaulin of fur that seemed to cover something, perhaps firewood. The tree was the most impressive thing here though, for it was larger than most trees on ground-level and carried dozens of different fruits, fruits even that Nanashi knew to be growing on different trees. Indeed there was the furry, yellow, perfectly round nantama fruit that grew on the trees around these parts.

“It’s like a tree bearing the fruit of many trees!” Günter said with childlike delight. “What a magnificent sight, this one is so practical I don’t understand why we don’t grow it everywhere!”

Nanashi nodded. “Why not indeed?” she asked with a suspicious undertone. She laid her hand on the trees bark and retracted it again with an incredulous, even shocked expression on her face: “There is no bit of magic in this tree! How can such a tree exist here without something supernatural at work?!” she demanded to know.

Günter didn’t seem to have an answer to that, but someone else did as the voice that had suddenly emerged from behind them came to prove: “My, my, how observant of you, young girl.” It was the voice of a very old man, older than a hundred or a hundred and fifty even. “And there is no magic in this tree to be sure, it is my very own creation. I constructed its seed and planted it some two hundred years ago.”

Günter turned his head in surprise and Nanashi spun around. “Two hundred… What do you mean, you constructed its seed? How can anyone construct the seed of a plant!?” She was completely at a loss. There was no magic here she could sense, so it seemed illogical to believe that this man was well over two hundred years old. Even the oldest mortal men usually didn’t grow older than two hundred and such age was extreme, only the most powerful mages were able to live unnaturally long lives by the power of their souls. The average human lifespan was one hundred and seventy years, going by census reports Nanashi had read in the Black Sanctum’s library.

The old man gave that a dry laugh. He was shrunken down and his walk was shaky but supported by a worn out cane. Around his wispy haired head he wore the brim of a not present hat. “Why, with technology of course you silly little girl.” His eyes were gleaming with a strange charisma that almost made Nanashi shiver.

“Before you stands Sagamund Greenhorn: the exiled, the hatless, the last technocrat survivor of the Age of Heroes. Though nowadays, people know me as the moth herder of Yamato.”

Nanashi felt her jaw drop and barely heard the hearty laughter of Günter Oakenheart who gave the old man a wide grin: “Thisun’s got more life in him than a few younguns I could tell ye of,“ he roared, “a man who likes to wear his names where people can see them, ha! And lots and lots there are, haha!”

Nanashi herself didn’t feel like laughing at all though. If there was even some truth to this old geezer’s claim, he was old, very old; perhaps the oldest man alive next to the northern Gods and without magic that was impossible. It was… wasn’t it?

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