The River Whisper
There are five "Silent Rivers" which flow from east to west through the Silent Kingdoms. From north to south these are the Dark Stream, the Delk River, the Mortal River, the River Whisper and the Kloon Stream. The most remarkable feature, affecting all of them for part of their course, is the curse of silence which completely muffles every natural and unnatural sound inside the region bounded by the Silent Kingdoms. The River Whisper is the greatest of the Silent Rivers, seen in the image at the head of the article at the point where it leaves the lower slopes of the Spine Mountains and enters the Silent Kingdoms. Even here, so close to its source, it is too wide and deep to ford without a little swimming. The current is strong and very few will attempt the crossing this far downstream unless they are desperate and travelling light. After she had escaped the tyrant in the cavern city of Carafon, Yvessu boarded a ship on the quays at Spinegate and sailed down the River Whisper into the Silent Kingdoms on the next stage of her fateful journey.
The River Whisper drains much of the rainfall from the central belt of the Spine Mountains, fed by numerous streams which rapidly converge into a single flow heading for the west coast. Where it enters the Silent Kingdoms, it first forms the border between North and South Kloon. Further east it becomes the border separating North and South Quilx. The four capital cities which take the name of their respective kingdoms all lie on the banks of the river. The Whisper's most significant tributary is the Kloon Stream, which joins the river a little way to the east of the city of South Kloon and almost doubles the volume of water flowing downstream to the Quilx Fall, a significant drop over the Quilx escarpment edge where the cascade of tumbling water casts a permanent white mist over the land. In order to navigate the river, upstream and downstream, ships must traverse the Quilx Canal, a twin streamed waterway originally built in ancient times for higher volumes of traffic than it ever sees these days. This passes through the southern kingdoms via a series of twelve locks in a deep cutting flanked by two great stairways. After the river leaves the Silent Kingdoms, the land flattens out into the Whisper Floodplain. Whilst the main channel is deep as far as the town of Singstones, this is the limit of safe downstream navigation for large boats. Further west, the course of the river is less well defined, often changing channels and the whole area, known as the Unclaimed Marches, is marshy and difficult to travel. The Ocean Hills act as a final barrier in the west which prevents west bound waterways from gaining direct access to the sea. All of the Silent Rivers eventually flow into the Mortal Pond, a great lake which spills slowly into a series of marginally lower ones, each further south than the last and a little lower until a final channel called the Great Escape, lets them drain at last to the Amity Ocean. Here on the coast there is a tiny fishing community called Bogberth, built in the ruins of a much larger harbour and port. In ancient times, there was once a canal, now simply known as the Broken Canal, which started at Singstones and led south and west away from the main course of the river, cutting through higher ground and allowing shipping to reach the ocean via the Great Escape without having to risk the dangerous vagaries of the channels through the Mortal Pond. It was utterly destroyed a long age ago, perhaps by earthquakes or perhaps in the war that brought the curse of silence, no one is quite certain which, but it is dry in sections and eroded in others with its lock gates corroded and no longer usable. There is no safe route through the Unclaimed Marches now.
The animals, plants and fish that live on the River Whisper and the other Silent Rivers, have begun some limited evolutionary adaptation to the curse of silence. It should be understood that the curse has not been in effect for a long time in terms of the necessary number of generations for biological adaptation to make significant changes in higher organisms. The more mobile animals will also likely spend some time in locations where an ability to detect and understand sound is still useful, thus diluting evolutionary trends that might otherwise cause them to lose their hearing. Nevertheless careful ecological studies have revealed hints of some interesting modifications, particularly in sessile and slow moving creatures within the Silent Kingdoms. Blue Cottlebottoms are a species of bottom feeding fish found in the upper waters of all the Silent Rivers, but they are particularly plentiful in the River Whisper upstream of North Kloon. Their eggs are carried between the rivers on the feet of birds, allowing them to spread locally but they are not found outside the Silent Kingdoms, perhaps because other fish outcompete them elsewhere. These fish have lost all sense of hearing but seem to have grown strange additional light sensitive patches which cannot quite be described as eyes but might be taking up the neural connections no longer needed to process sound. Blue Cottlebottoms make good eating and there is a thriving fishing industry based in North and South Kloon, which uses drag nets to catch them. Far downstream, in the watery miasma of the Unclaimed Marches, a distant relative of the Blue Cottlebottoms known as the Blood Fish, lives in the still, murky waters all around the Mortal Pond. Blood fish normally feed on smaller aquatic life, but they are capable of killing any large animal that is unlucky enough to sink into the swamp waters where they live. This has certainly included some unlucky travellers who made a fatal mistake trying to reach the ocean.
All of the Silent Rivers, including the River Whisper are affected by the curse of silence that lies over the entire region of the Silent Kingdoms. From the place where they enter it in the east to the point where they leave it in the west, the natural sounds of water can no longer be heard and there is only a profound and total quiet, such that anyone who was unaware of the nature of this part of the world might assume that they had become deaf.
It is widely believed that the entire region now known as the Silent Kingdoms was once the heart of a unified mighty empire, the capital of which spanned the Whisper River and occupied both banks over the whole area between the modern cities of North and South Quilx. Enough ruins remain to lend credence to this theory, suggesting that the contemporary settlements were once part of a much larger city. It is said, that during the final battles of the war that destroyed the empire, rainbow bombs smashed into the land, smearing great stripes of colour which have left permanent residues where disconcerting effects sometimes manifest even today. This was all before the final curse of silence. Here we see the modern city of South Quilx, which has spread onto some of the islands in a region of rapids and small waterfalls where the land slopes away relatively steeply to the west and the river flows more swiftly than at any point since the Quilx Falls. A system of small canals, both north and south of the river ensure it is still navigable here. The tedious struggles between the Silent Kingdoms in the modern era are nowhere more futile than the occasional fights across the River Whisper, since its implacable natural barrier clearly presents an undeniable constraint for any gradualistic invasion, short of a complete takeover of one side by the other, an enterprise far beyond the exhausted little kingdoms. In truth, there is more chance that North Quilx and North Kloon or South Quilx and South Kloon might be unified before there was any merger of kingdoms across the river and there is precious little chance of even that happening in the near future.
The small independent town of Singstones sits on a low hill encircled by a ring of standing stones on the banks of the River Whisper at the western limits of navigation, before the river splits, fades and reforms into the numerous channels of the dangerous marsh lands east of the Mortal Pool. Here, on the five days that follow the spring equinox they hold the Festival of Voice. Revellers come from all of the Silent Kingdoms, but most especially the ones upstream on the banks of the Whisper. The Festival is an occasion for singing, dancing and making music and even noise of all kinds. It is a secular excuse for drinking and merrymaking but it also has a profound spiritual dimension, because almost all of the people who journey there normally live under the curse of silence. The opportunity to sing, shout, give voice to their joys and sorrows and to hear and be heard in turn might only come for some few of them once a year at this festival. Grown men and women often openly weep as the ships bringing them to Singstones emerge from the permanent suffocating silence of the Silent Kingdoms into this land of water, wind and birdsong and their sense of hearing once again serves a purpose. The Festival of Voice is perhaps the most important of the rare opportunities many natives of the Silent Kingdoms have to exercise their stunted capacity for speech and hearing which can sometimes atrophy through lack of use.
Although clearly a much beloved experience for the locals, I am forced to confess that on my one and only visit to the Festival of Voice, I understood for the first time what that popular phrase, "as bad as a Singstones Song" really meant!