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Travel Journal: An Expedition to the Southfold

Author: Saffiya an'Winari, famed explorer, archaeologist, and leading historian on the Northern Crusaders. c. 4132 CE    

Entering the Badlands, 14 Haidirat.
  I didn’t realize it’d get so damn hot here. Sure, I’ve heard loads about this place, and nothing good. The Badlands are supposed to be quite dry and barren; they are supposed to have precious few sources of fresh water; its denizens are known to be a dour and unfriendly folk. But the heat. I assumed this far south of the Sea, the weather ought to have cooled down considerably, but now it seems more like this place just faces greater extremes of weather. I was warned not to embark on my journey in the winter, for those conditions would hardly be survivable, but if my guides had told me how little cover there was from the sun here, I would’ve reconsidered a summer arrival as well.   Most everything else that has been said about this place seems to be true so far, unfortunately. Still, I did not sign myself up for an easy life; far from it, the work I’ve always found the most meaning in is delving into near-unreachable places like these and uncovering more of our history. The Crusade and the Reconquest reshaped the human experience on a fundamental level, as far as I’m concerned, yet we know so little about those who did the crusading.   It sounds as if I may find answers here. While the Tahwame people of the forests and the Bounds have their copper-touched skin and their proud, slender faces and their shamanistic ways, I’ve been told by them that out in these Badlands are a pale, unfriendly, fervently religious people of pastoral animal-herders. Even with only a terse description provided by people who prefer not to deal with them at all, I am immediately left wondering whether these herders could be distant relations—close relations, even?—of those people who landed on the shores of Takhet and launched the tribulations of the Internecine Era. Thus, here I am, on what I hope will be a fruitful and survivable expedition.

16 Haidirat.
  First encounter. Wow. That was fairly quick given when I set out from the last known indigenous Tahwame lands, but I suppose since these people are herders, they’re likely to be found in a wide range of places. I don’t blame them for roaming about, either: There is scant little vegetation in any stretch of these blasted lands, never minds problems with access to water and even shade. Did I mention the lack of shade already? Anyway, small wonder they move themselves and their livestock so often. Oh, and with these Badlands being as wide open as they are, it’s pretty easy to spot smoke from afar or stumble upon the remains of a days-old campsite.   They were not friendly, that much is certain. If anything, they are clearly a miserly and possibly paranoid people, so far as this troupe I’ve met represents the rest. I suppose I can’t blame them, given the scarcity of resources here, though the hostility could also have to do with their poor relations with the Tahwame peoples—seemingly all of them.   I am beyond fortunate that the smatterings of Kraesprauch I have studied proved useful for communicating with them! Roughly half of them seemed pleasantly surprised when I greeted them successfully—despite the fact that I still haven’t quite grasped the meaning of “Faus vilheist vaen daeyer,” which from what I gather is a traditional greeting—yet others gave me some nasty scowls. Did they think I had intentions to spy on them or harm them because I could speak a few words of their language? Frankly, who would want to come all the way out here and spy on them anyway?   Unfortunately, communication is a two-way road, and I’ve found the other way more or less impassible so far. I’m almost convinced that they’re speaking words similar to the ones I’ve studied in all those records, yet their pronunciation and even their cadence are so foreign to me I might as well be trying to read Shadrusun script.   I wonder whether they would take issue if I mentioned the Shadrusun to them. That’s one quick, if potentially dangerous, way to test my pet theory about them.   Despite the considerable language barrier in place, I did manage to trade a few of my supplies with them for what appears to be some kind of dried meat and, surprisingly, some small ingots of iron seemingly ready to be worked into something useful. Not sure how they found the metal all the way out here. The trade was a real success for me, too, given that they don’t seem eager to offer free food and shelter to strangers. It’s a world of difference from Andaen, where they’ll burden you with gifts and hospitality if they think in doing so they can demonstrate that they’re wealthier than you.   I wonder how much they’re hurting for resources out here. This group does have a curious wagon covered in stretched pelts, and it sure looks to be in working shape. Looks like it’s mainly pine, which makes sense given where the nearest lumber would be from. On the other hand, aside from iron to spare and a probably functioning wagon, their lives seem rather meager. I’ve hardly caught a hint of discernible personal adornment, and the variety of food I’ve seen them eating is low considering they spend a fair amount of their time hunting and gathering. I have to wonder what first drove their ancestors all the way out here. Nothing good, I imagine.

20 Haidirat.
  Another encounter since last time, a few more surprised words (theirs being largely incomprehensible to me), and another trade for iron, this time a knife of decent quality. The iron is dark and varies somewhat in make, which makes me suspect that they’re not buying it from foreign merchants. I suppose that makes sense—who would come out here thinking they could make a profit?   Unless one is looking specifically for dried meat, cheese curds, or pelts. These herders have plenty of those on hand; their handcrafts overall are of decent make, too, even if everything seems held together with tendon-based twines. I suppose in a dry place like this, these products are reasonably durable. Probably not so much in the wet pine forests far to the west of here.   They mainly raise goats and sheep here. That makes a good amount of sense: Goats thrive in the foothills and mountains of my homeland, too, where vegetation is either scarce or simply tough to eat. The function of the sheep is obvious, too, though sheepskin with the wool still attached seems much more commonplace than woven wool products. I suppose it’s difficult to find the means and time to weave a proper fabric out here. What’s curious is that both herder groups—families? clans?—I’ve encountered keep a few head of cattle among their herds. I wonder how much there really is for the cattle to eat, and I can’t imagine they fare well in the winter. Back when I was making my way through the Bounds, the herders complained that if snow ever fell, cattle were incapable of browsing through the snow and finding the grasses underneath. Virtually all their livestock were sheep and goats. Nonetheless, I’m fairly certain that one batch of dried meat I’ve traded for here is beef. Better, at least, than who knows what grade or quality of meat from who knows what they catch out in these parts.   The going is slow and difficult. Encounters with the locals have been uncomfortable so far, not to mention they find it bizarre if I take notes while conversing with them. The few expressions I’m picking up, I’m writing mostly from memory later in the day. It’s better than nothing, I suppose.

1 Haniin-Qal.
  It’s been some time since I really got around to writing. Two days or so after that second encounter, I found another troupe who was more interested in my skills and the goods I had on hand. It helped that one of them had been as far as the Bounds and was quite capable with languages: We conversed in an eclectic smattering of the herders’ local language, Bounds Tahwame, and even a bit of Haifatmizti.   I also managed not to look confused when he introduced himself as Handers. It almost didn’t register as a name to me. There wasn’t anything beyond Handers, either, no “son of so-and-so” and no discernible placename before or after the given name. Come to think of it, I suppose family names aren’t so necessary when your social world is no larger than thirty or so people. Handers’ total contacts could be double that, as far as I’ve guessed.   Managed to pick up a few phrases from Handers, not to mention get a better hang of the pronunciation. Even still, trying to comprehend their language is a lot like trying to look at something through a reed mat. Occasionally a hint of something peeks through, perhaps only by chance, but the bulk is still completely incomprehensible to me.   Some notes on common-use vocabulary in the herders' language:
gjarther 'Tent' in most contexts. Conventionally translated as 'enclosure' in texts on the Crusaders, but for these herders it has taken on a different meaning.
heimas 'Household,' but sometimes 'clan' in reference to kinship. When women marry into another clan, this refers to the wife’s new clan.
fether 'To move about with purpose.' Other scholars have translated this as 'wander,' but here I have heard it specifically in reference to moving one’s flock to a new pasture.

5 Haniin-Qal.
  They appear to be smelting their own iron. Yes, out here, in these blasted wastes, not far outside their tents. They dig these pits, then stuff them with pre-prepared charcoal and other flammables. Flammables are scarce out here, surely, but these people seem to greatly value their independence from the rest of the world. As per Handers, the trades they’ve made with me were probably less for practical purposes and more for demonstrating that they didn’t see me as an outright threat. That’s lovely, I suppose.   Anyway, iron. They didn’t especially like having me around watching their process, but it’s evident that they know which rocks are rich in iron and are able and willing to put in the work necessary to make something of them. I even caught sight of a hunter with iron arrowheads when this camp got visited by another group of herders. Arrowheads! They are not hurting for lack of metal, then.   The issue may be more with the quality of their metal. The iron is rather dark, much more so than what we have in Andaen and its surroundings, and Handers has privately complained to me that the stuff is brittle compared to the Haifatnehti stuff he’s seen. I doubt the herders out can really do much better, though, not without settlements and basic industry. I, for one, am rather impressed with the way they’ve managed to eke out a life out here. I am more than content with just a couple of months.   The phrasebook is expanding rapidly as this clan has accepted by presence, at least as much as any of these people might. I’m still expected to bring my own food to dinner, however—or if they’re willing to accommodate me, I dare not ask—so I do spend quite a bit of my time out here doing my own hunting and gathering! Quite fortunate that I’ve learned from the locals how to identify a few tubers sticking out of the ground here, or I’d probably go hungry. I’ve also traded away a few trinkets from my past travels to supplement my own supplies.   I’ve stayed close enough to the forging sites to take note of their singing and chanting while they’re hard at work. I was more than a bit surprised when I first heard it, to be honest; these people don’t seem the types to entertain any sort of jovial behavior. Song lyrics are even more difficult to decipher than conversational language, so no luck there, but I can’t help but notice there’s a distinct rhythm to their work-cants. I’m reminded more of marching music than what one would play in a tavern.   I’m greatly tempted to make the case that these work-cants are passed down from old Crusader army tunes. That could be confirmation bias getting to me, though; I’ve been out here for what feels like a long while, wondering whether I could even survive the fall here, never mind the winter. For all this trouble, I understand I may be too motivated to glean some specific research insights from this expedition. That said, I do think my progress with the language is unignorable at this point; I have to conclude that their speech is at least related to Kraesprauch, though whether they adopted it from their subjugators or directly from their own ancestors is not yet clear.   They are rather pale, though, and some of them even have those long curls in their hair, not Takheti coils but the sorts of appearances one hears about in the Crusade and Reconquest fables.

10 Haanin-Qal.
  I think I’ve lingered out in the Badlands for about as long as I can afford to. For all my progress out here, I don’t think I’ll miss the place, either.   Perhaps more importantly, there’s been a development that I think truly demands my attention. On my route to meet that other clan Handers pointed me to, I caught eye of what I suspected was a ruin or even some sort of fortification up in the foothills of the Bounds. I confirmed it with this next clan I met, but they were keen on warning me away from it. I imagine these herders are a superstitious bunch, not to mention paranoid, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Still, they are not particularly talkative with new faces around, so their effuse warnings about the ruin perhaps should be heeded.   On the other hand… Imagine finding a large, highly intact ruin out here. I didn’t see any evidence of habitation from afar, so I think as long as I scout the place out with due prudence, I may soon find myself exploring an overlooked historic site. Assuming I’m oriented properly, this old fort didn’t show up on any maps of the Bounds.   -----   After nearly a half day’s travel, I’ve started skirting the ruins. It’s definitely old brick construction, neither Haifatnehti nor Tahwame architecture. I’m impressed with how much is intact. I’m given some pause on account of how quiet it is around here. The surroundings are no more animated than any expanse of the Badlands I’ve trapsed around in, yet there are plenty of trees for animals to perch in, not to mention protective nooks and crannies in the rocky surroundings. I really think I should have a look anyway. I’ve got my knife and my good hatchet on me, and this would be far from the first time I’ve delved into a ruin. Some of my past haunts have even had brigands waiting for passerby to get too close. And I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t admit to the Badlands making me much more resourceful than before. I suppose I’m reminding myself of all this because, yes, there is something eerie about the place. I also can’t ignore that, when I insisted on my decision to strike out and have a look at this place, one of my new friends back at camp shared a new phrase with me.
  Seghen buhl haust, pall-seineh upfathen.   It sounds obscure even compared to the rest of their language, like it could be an archaic saying. From what I’ve worked out, it best translates as “hold fast ‘til dawn breaks.” Unsure how much it’s a blessing versus a warning. Do they think I’m venturing into the darkness?

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Cover image: Badlands by Unknown


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