ARGOS CITY: capital of the Argosian state, seat of the Priest’s Council and largest city in the Central Canopy. Adelard Ferny, the missionary priest bringing his flock of converts to Argos by dirigible, experiences the approach to the city in the following terms:
Below them, perhaps half a mile from the ship, the towers and turrets of Argos city could just be seen through the thinning mist. The celebrated capitol was built in the crux of a branch extending at an angle from the trunk-wall. Four of the town’s five tiers clung to the slope of the limb, spreading down in ever widening circles to a valley-like trench where the branch joined the trunk. As if in answer to the sun, bells pealed out from the peaked roofs of the seminary in the topmost tier, sending another shiver through Adelard Ferny. He assumed it was nostalgia.
History: Official church doctrine as well as popular legend state that Argos city was founded by Saint Loa. The Saint sailed out from the Eastern Canopy after receiving a vision from the Tree Herself, showing him a place where he and his followers might live and practice their faith in peace. The legend does not indicate if there were any native inhabitants in the area before the Nurian priests arrived. Some (subsequently discredited) historians have argued that there are carvings around the exterior of the Divine Mouth that predate Saint Loa’s time, and that the location of the city beside a natural air-harbour would mark it out as a prime site for habitation. They also maintained that local inhabitants might have intermarried with the original settlers from the East. Their studies were however declared heretical by the Priest’s Council in the Year of the Bole, 1052 and pre-Loan history has since been discontinued as a separate discipline at the seminary.
BARK: main construction material used by the inhabitants of the Tree. The bark of the World Tree is a durable and infinitely malleable substance that is used for everything from roofing, furniture and building material to source fibre for paper, certain types of cloth and window screens. It is quarried or carved out of the surface of the Tree, the better quality and fine-grained material typically being found underneath the outer layers.
Bark-brick: dense sections of high quality Tree bark cut to form building blocks and used for durable housing or roads.
Bark-fibre: low quality Tree bark pounded into long strips and used to make rough paper, clothing etc.
BARLEYVINE: a grain crop grown in the Central Canopy. The ears grow on flexible stalks, either mounted on frames like grapes or else hanging down off the sides of branches in vertical plantations accessible by ladder or dirigible rafts.
Barley-mushroom: mildly hallucinogenic fungus infecting barley-vine.
Barley-bread: coarse black bread made from the barley-grain, a staple food in Argos.
Blast-poison: semi-mythical explosive substance said to unleash a ball of fire so destructive it can reduce buildings to rubble and gouge sections out of the World Tree. Outlawed for many generations, the secret formula is known to a handful of scholars.
Bound-boy: recipient of the seminary’s charity. Typically a boy from the poorer sectors of Argosian society, officially adopted by the Priests’ Council and expected to pay off his masters’ investment over a period of indenture.
Bread-Giving: traditional charity event occurring before the spring festival in Argos. Intended to demonstrate seminary’s generosity to the less fortunate.
The sky was overcast as Tymon trudged down the front temple stairs in the company of Father Mossing, lugging a heavy basket of rusks. Though the Bread-Giving took place in the town at the foot of the public approach to the temple, tradition indicated that the seminary’s largess was to come, like the Tree’s green grace, from on high. Tymon was required to heave his oversized basket all the way up the back stairs from the College to the temple buttress, only to haul it down the main stairwell again and into the street, an exercise in futility.
Under the hood…
If the agricultural products of the Tree – barleyvine, frogapple – seem like strangely hybrid concepts (whoever heard of a grain growing on a vine? Why is an apple in any way like a frog?) it’s worth noting that much of what the Tree dwellers call heresy is actually science, and much of what they once had in the way of scientific knowledge has since been declared heresy.
CANOPY: The spreading islands of branches, twigs and leaves of the World Tree grow four main sections, corresponding roughly to points of the compass: north, west/central, south and east. If one were to take a cross-section of the Tree, the North Canopy would be the highest, growing slightly north and east of the heart of the Central Canopy but much higher, in altitudes locked for a great part of the year in frost and snow. The Eastern Canopy is only marginally smaller than the Central one, but the term reflects the mindset of the Argosian cartographers who changed the name from West to Central about five hundred years ago. The South Canopy grows as the name indicates to the south and about a mile lower than the Central Canopy.
Treeography and climate: Altitude plays a major role in the climate of the Tree. The North Canopy is frost-bound for most of the year and has lost most of its leaves. The Central Canopy enjoys good rainfall and a temperate climate with cold winters and warm summers. The South Canopy is semi-tropical, with fewer fluctuations in temperature and a humid climate.
The climate in the east has been the most changeable over time. Though the Eastern Canopy is now arid and leafless, this was not always the case: in the heyday of the Nurian empire, more than a thousand years ago, that side of the Tree was by all accounts blessed by a warm dry climate offset by shady leaf-forests and sufficient rainfall in winter. Gradually, however, that situation began to change. Whether through a natural process, through human over-exploitation of sap wells or by some combination of factors, the leaf-forests of the canopy began to wither away and its sap to run dry. Five hundred years after Saint Loa sailed west, the branches of the Eastern Canopy had become entirely leafless.
To make matters worse for the Nurians, levels of rainfall also began to lessen at about the same time. For a few centuries rain was sufficient to carry on the old vine-farming techniques. But two hundred years before the events in ‘Tymon’s Flight’ weather patterns changed, rainfall decreased dramatically and the ancient Nurian irrigation system became useless. The inhabitants took to dew-farming, but the yield was pitiful and impossible to exploit on any large scale. This was the death-knell for the Nurian empire and the area quickly descended into chaos, splitting into several warring principalities which then lost their sovereignty to the rising power of the Argosian state.
Politics: The physical area of the Central Canopy defines the borders of the nation state of Argos. The duchy of Lantria extends over the whole South Canopy. The North Canopy is divided into several feudal ‘fifes’ and the Eastern Canopy is currently parceled up into Argosian and Lantrian colonies, as well as some remaining Nurian ‘freeholds’. A large part of the Eastern Canopy, specifically the Eastern Fringes, is gripped by drought and unfit for habitation.
Council [the, or Priest's] : supreme governing body of Argos, an authority in all religious and secular matters. Father Fallow, Dean of the College, is currently head of the Council and its most influential member. In times past the Dean did not hold such a position of authority, but Fallow has gradually whittled away the political and religious safeguards that kept power in Argos from falling into the hands of one man.
DIRIGIBLE: flying craft equipped with flotation sacks of buoyant Tree-ether, a common means of transport in the Central Canopy (though not in the East, where ether is scarce.) Argosian dirigibles use sails to navigate seasonal trade winds and air-currents between different areas of the Tree. They can be steered with poles out of harbour and slowed down with parachute-like cloth breaks or directional streams of compressed gas.
The ‘Stargazer’ was built more like a floating fortress than a vehicle. From the tip of her prow to the high towers on her stern, she was bolstered against the world’s winds by a tough, resilient shell of bark. Her masts were of the strongest hardwood harvested from Lantrian Tree-mines, her sails great sections of heavy leaf-canvas. Three large reinforced balloons assured her buoyancy; directional ether jets could be released from barrels at her stern and a squadron of smaller sacks inflated and emptied, as needed, for vertical movement. A complete set of spares hung at her sides, ready to replace a torn or missing sack at a moment’s notice. The whole effect was one of a huge, stately dowager in gathered skirts, moving through the sky with surprising speed. Tymon had never seen such a quantity of polished hardwood and billowing sackcloth, and it seemed as if he was going to have to clean every inch of it.
Under the hood…
For me, it was not enough to have the Argosians harness Tree-ether and launch their floating ships into the skies. This was a people in the grip of ancient ideas and superstitions. They distrusted science. They used only certain approved forms of air-travel. Their ruling priestly classes paid a great deal of lip-service to the idea of the Natural Law, while in secret making use of forgotten technologies as they saw fit. A dirigible was not supposed to travel faster than weather dictated: sails were acceptable, but steam-driven propellers were not. Ether jets might be used for direction change and special air-currents harnessed for speed, but the idea of a machine that flouted such concerns and went without the wind would stir up a deep uneasiness in the Argosian soul. Somewhere deep down a collective memory existed, the confused sense that when one allowed a machine to just do anything, one was inevitably trafficking with demons…
Divine Mother: name given by Argosians to the World Tree, which they consider to be Creator and creation combined. According to legend, the Divine Mother gave birth to all the plants and animals in the Storm, including human beings. Seeing that they needed the sun to live she stretched her arms and head above the clouds, lifting her children into the light.
Divine Mouth: name of a deep cleft or ‘Tree-rift’ in the trunk above Argos city. The Mouth is the site of an annual spring sacrifice in which a man is driven into the hollow chasm as an offering to appease the wrath of the World Tree.
Argosian myth of creation
In the beginning, there was darkness. God was alone, and the Storm raged around Her. God longed for the company of living things and shed Her leaves in sadness. But where the leaves fell they turned into all the plants and animals. God was so happy that She burst into flower: the sun and the moon appeared in Her branches. Then the Storm was vanquished and chased away to the bottom of the world.
Under the hood…
Where do myths come from? I’m convinced there is always a grain of truth at the bottom of every story, however fantastical. The truth can be literal, psychological, even historical – generally a mix of all three, liberally peppered with invention. In devising the myths for the world of the Tree, I tried to find stories that had several interlocking meanings. There is a historical truth, naturally buried and distorted by time. There is certainly a psychological truth, to do with the needs and desires of the people telling the stories. And in the case of this particular fantasy story, there is even a literal truth hidden away at the heart of the myth, stranger than any fiction…
EASTERN DOCTRINE: name given by Argosians to the religion practiced by Nurians, as opposed to ‘proper Tree worship’. Argosians consider the Eastern Doctrine a heresy, particularly in its modern form. Though the two schools of thought actually originate in the same belief system, there have been radical departures in dogma on both sides. Nurians do not believe in the divinity of the World Tree. Instead, they maintain there is a divine and invisible Tree of Being, a source of the mystic Sap that gives life to all things. Nurians also believe that the art of Grafting, or prophecy, is still practiced in the world today, while Argosians claim that prophecy came to an end with Saint Loa (after which the Tree stopped speaking directly to Her disciples.) The ‘Treatise on False Belief’ in the seminary archives describes the Eastern Doctrine in the following terms:
The heretics do not worship God Herself, but venerate an imaginary construct they call ‘the Sap.’ This they say is the ineffable force that gives rise to all life. Of course no one has seen this ‘Sap’ except the converts themselves, who are known to take hallucinogens during their rites. The perversity of these cultists extends to a stubborn belief in their own divinity, for they all claim to be at least minor prophets and make pronouncements as to future events.
This vision of the Eastern Doctrine is of course wildly exaggerated. Though it is true that Nurians do not accept the divinity of the World Tree, they do acknowledge a link with the Western tradition of saints and prophets and maintain that worship of the World Tree is a distortion of belief in their own ‘Tree of Being’. Only the ‘Grafters’, shamanistic leaders, are said to have the gift of divination, and to communicate with the Sap itself. Even then these soothsayers are in no way venerated to the level of the Argosian Saints. In fact, the Grafters often fail to persuade their own skeptical compatriots to heed their predictions.
The element of the Eastern Doctrine guaranteed to annoy the Argosian Fathers is that there is no established priesthood. In fact there are no dedicated religious personnel at all apart from the shanti, literally “singers” or wise ones who call the faithful to prayer. There is a long oral tradition of philosophy in the East, and as many divergent schools of thought as there have been Grafters and shantis down the ages.
-Argosian children’s rhyme
END TIMES: Eschatological period of reckoning foretold by prophets from both the Nurian and Argosian traditions. How the End Times are described generally reflects the preoccupations and aspirations of those making the predictions: Argosians look forward to being rewarded for faithful belief, whereas Nurians look forward to being freed of Argosian rule. According to most of the legends, wrongs will be made right and an enigmatic figure called the Green Lord will appear to rule the Four Canopies, judging between the faithful and the damned. It is said that five Signs herald the advent of the End Times. See also ‘Year of Fire.’
Explorer Sect: a faction of Argosian scientists and priests who were interested in exploring beneath the Storm. They were disbanded a hundred years ago after being proven (by their counter-faction in the Council) to be demon-worshippers practicing human sacrifice. Their theories have since been declared heretical and any travel beneath the clouds at the base of the Tree banned.
Under the hood…
Why do people look forward to the end of the world? It seems worthy of a Darwin award, really, and yet so many of them do. As I am personally both fascinated and appalled by eschatological doctrines (the most appalling part for me being the idea of choosing between the faithful and the damned) I decided to approach the whole cliched idea of the end of the world from a slightly different angle in this series. This isn’t so apparent until the close of the third book, however, so I won’t indulge in spoilers. I will say one thing though: those looking for neat solutions will be sorely disappointed.
FESTIVAL: there are three main festivals in the Argosian year, corresponding to seasonal events. The first occurs in late spring and culminates in a supposedly voluntary human Sacrifice (see ‘Divine Mouth’.) This is also the time when Argosian boys celebrate their official initiation into adulthood (see ‘Green Rites’.) The second is a harvest festival in late summer, centered around an agricultural fair. The third is the Tree festival, a mid-winter holiday celebrating the demise of the old year and the beginning of the new. This is the most important and lasts three days. It includes both religious and secular elements, parades, theatrical plays and dances.
Fireflax: vine plant with chafing thorns, used by Argosians to perform self-mutilation or boiled and peeled to make scrubbing brushes for the bathhouse. During the Tree Festival it is common to find ad-hoc processions of men in the streets of Argos city, whipping themselves bloody with switches of fireflax. Women generally watch and cheer them on.
First Tongue: language predating both Nurian and Argosian and giving rise to both. Argosian names often have a root in the First Tongue (such as ‘timon’ for ‘Tymon,’ meaning navigator.) The First Tongue is also used in some Nurian Grafting rituals, though it is not believed to have any intrinsic magical qualities.
Fly-fever: infectious sickness resulting in high fevers and death in infants or those who are physically weak.
Focals: name given to the five chief practitioners of Grafting in the Eastern Canopy.
Freehold: fortified villages, remnants of independent states in the Eastern Canopy. The Freeholds have peace treaties with the Priest’s Council, however this does not stop the Argosians from conducting periodic raids or some Freeholders from planning rebellions.
Under the hood…
I’m interested as a general rule in complexity in secondary worlds, rather than simplicity. I want to find shades of grey in surprising places. I’d rather not just tell the story of the good guys versus the evil empire; I want to know about the guys who wind up being part of the evil empire because they think they’re doing good, and the good guys who commit evil actions as a result of stubbornness, personal suffering or sheer bad luck. Even the Argosians were not always as they are now: their civilisation passed through a period of growth and flowering just like that of the Nurians. They only gradually became intolerant and power-hungry.
If someone were to say, “so, in your story the Nurians are the good guys, right? Focals and Freeholds vs the imperial power of Argos?” I’d have to disagree. On the surface of it, the Nurians are the underdogs here. They’re the slaves who rebel, the victims of repression. But a thousand years ago, they had the most powerful empire in the Tree. And they didn’t behave much better than the Argosians.
I’ve tried to create over the course of these three books a sense of a complex world containing no easy solutions. Whether I’ve succeeded or not is for readers to decide, but I did enjoy the process!
GAP [the]: region of empty air between the Central and Eastern Canopies where no branches are visible above the Storm, and only clouds stretch out to the horizon. The Gap takes between three hours and half a day to cross by dirigible greatship. Most Treeologists accept that the trunk uniting the canopies continues here under the clouds, although a faction of scholars at the seminary called Centralists deny there is any connection at all between the East and West, holding that the Eastern Canopy is an inferior offshoot or sapling of the original Tree.
GRAFTER: a seer or prophet supposedly able to foretell the future from visions gained in a trance. The Grafters of legend were said to communicate with a mystic force known as the Sap, literally the voice of God according to Argosian tradition. Nurian tradition holds that the Sap is a life-giving energy flowing through the universe (See ‘The Sight’ and ‘Tree of Being’.)
“The Argosian priests know something about the Sight. They think they are Grafters. They think they are doing good, using their power for good. They think that Grafting is about forming, training, forcing the world to follow their own desires; for the good, they tell themselves, always for the good. But I tell you that Grafting is giving, listening, allowing yourself to be trained. The Sap is sometimes a terrible thing, frightening. It is not ‘good’ in the sense you think, of always going your own way, the way you want. It contains all Wants. It contains all Ways. It is ‘good’ for the greatest number. But what does that mean for you? Maybe the thing for you is to be small and powerless, to watch your loved ones die and be unable to save them. On the other hand it might be your lot to grow strong and powerful and help the whole world. Maybe. Who knows?”
- saying attributed to Matrya, the first Oracle of Nur
Green Rites: initiation ceremony taking place during an Argosian boy’s fifteenth year and conferring the rights and responsibilities of full citizenship. Those who have not been to their Rites in Argos may not hold high positions in government or in the trade and artisan guilds. All applicants for entry to the Priests’ College must have completed their Rites. No women or foreigners are eligible. These ceremonies take place in the ‘Divine Mouth’ and witness the death of a Nurian tithe-pilgrim.
Guild Fair: event organised by the various Argosian guilds in order to interest students at the seminary in an apprenticeship with their organisation. Entry to the Guild Fair is only available to those students completing their Green Rites, or those with families rich enough to buy them a ticket.
Under the hood…
In a rigidly patriarchal and hierarchy-bound society with a ‘male’ God, you almost always find women at the bottom of the heap. They don’t enjoy many rights or protections and sometimes aren’t even considered fully human. Perhaps more surprisingly, the exact same thing happens in societies paying lip service to the feminine divine. An overwhelmingly male priesthood prays to a goddess while still considering ordinary women to be second class citizens. It occurs so often and across so many cultures that I suppose the reaction must be hard-wired inside us to a degree. But that doesn’t mean it can’t change. I have some hope for the Argosians in this regard! As the old story goes:
One day, the Buddha passed a woman working in a field. To the surprise of his disciples he bowed low before her. When asked why he had bowed before a mere woman, he responded: “Why should I not bow before the one who brought me into the world?”
Hardwood: a type of very dense wood mined from the inner sections of the World Tree’s trunk.
Hell: a mythical region at the foot of the Tree, sometimes referred to as the eternal Maelstrom. This whirlwind gives birth to the Storm clouds. The shrieking winds are said to be inhabited by demons who torment the souls of the damned with flaming broomsticks.
Under the hood…
Flaming broomsticks? Really? Yes, really. Strange as it may sound. The idea behind creating that piece of ridiculous folklore was that stories can sometimes have, or had when they were first told, a tenuous basis in reality. What people actually see is translated into what they expect to see, or are conditioned by their brain chemistry to see. So dinosaur bones become the remains of celestial dragons, the bodies of saints are said never to decay and visions of the Virgin appear mysteriously over a fountain. In most cases, in the real world, we’ll probably never know what truly happened. But the joy of writing fantasy is that you can find out, or guess, where the stories might have come from.
Or else, you can accept the magic at face value and not worry about it at all.
IMPURE/Impurity: Argosian concept associated with spiritual worth. Some activities are ritually unclean and must be avoided while engaged in particularly holy activities, such as preparing for the Green Rites. Whole segments of society are considered Impure in Argos, including women, foreigners, vagabonds and travelling entertainers called Jays. Even touching such a person might incur a penalty for someone preparing their Green Rites, for example, and entail special rituals of cleansing.
Under the hood…
The idea of ritual impurity associated with certain peoples or sectors of society is for me one of the most noxious creations of the human imagination. It is an ancient idea but still persists to this day, and not just where you’d think. It’s frightening to me not only because of the suffering it causes, but because of what such habits of mind do to those who think of themselves as ‘Pure’ – and how twisted their notions of self-worth must become.
Can you imagine actually worrying whether seating your child next to another ‘impure’ child at school will affect your own kid’s spiritual well-being?
Can you imagine worrying about the fact that saying a certain word will defile your mouth?
Can you accept that these questions are being asked by people now, in 2011, in ‘civilized’ corners of the world, as they tweet news to friends and downloads apps onto their iphones?
Jar-weed: mildly stimulant herb cultivated in the Four Canopies both for medicinal and recreational purposes. It is usually smoked, though some tribes in the North Canopy are reported to boil and reduce it to a gum which is then chewed. Side-effects with long-term use include lung or gum disease and various other ailments.
Jay: a travelling actor or entertainer, outcast from settled Argosian society. Jays often live in extended family groups with a strong sense of internal identity. They travel the Central Canopy in dirigible convoys and generally convene once a year in Argos city during the Tree festival, when rules of Impurity are relaxed. They specialise in dances involving episodes from Argosian myth, and have a strong oral tradition.
A figure in white had appeared on the Jays’ moving tower and passed through the wheel of arms to reach the top of the Tree. Tymon recognized Jocaste. Dressed in her feathered cloak she was the graceful bird on the summit of creation. She moved in the opposite direction to the rest of the dancers, jumping nimbly from one acrobat’s shoulders to the next without concern for the space beneath her feet. All at once she raised her arms and dropped through the hollow centre of the Tree. She was caught by her colleagues just before she hit the floor; the audience burst into applause. The Jays slipped with pliant ease off each other’s shoulders, alighting in the sawdust ring to deafening cheers.
JUNO AND LYLA: on one level, this is a tale of star-crossed lovers. Lyla is a beautiful maiden and Juno her young suitor. Lyla’s family refuses the match and forbids her to see Juno, shutting her away in a high tower. Driven mad by grief, Juno wanders the canopy, looking for his love.
According to the tale people find Juno prostrate one day in his madness, sifting through the dust. When they ask him what he is doing he says he is looking for Lyla. When they ridicule him for seeking beauty in the dust and dross, he tells them that he is simply looking in every possible location – that way he will be sure of never missing her.
The tale is generally accepted to be a parable about truth (in the Eastern tradition) or divinity (in the Western tradition.) A seeker after truth (or God) will search in everywhere for the object of his desire, no matter how unlikely the location. In his search he will brave the ridicule of those around him, for he no longer cares about conventional wisdom. More subversive traditions indicate that Juno’s tormentors are priests or figures of authority who think they are in the know, but actually understand nothing about either truth or love.
The story is beloved in both the Argosian and Nurian literary traditions, adapted in poetic form as well as in drama and song, particularly by the Jay troupes. There are epic sagas, operettas, scholarly treatises, religious homilies and even tavern ditties based on it. One of the popular versions in Argos runs as follows:
What are you doing, kneeling in the dust,
Juno, oh Juno?
I kneel here only because I must:
I seek my Lyla, wherever she roams.
Why do you look for her in such a place,
Juno, oh Juno?
I only wish for a glimpse of her face:
I seek my Lyla, wherever she goes.
You won’t find her here, you poor lost soul.
Your love is sublime, this isn’t her home.
How could I live if I knew I’d missed her?
How could I bear to overlook her?
Even the mud can mirror a face.
Even the dust may carry a trace
Under the hood…
I have directly adapted the Persian Sufi tale of Laili and Majnun in this story. It’s one of the traditional tales I grew up with and like most Sufi stories, it contains a wealth of philosophy in very pared down form.
KION: title of the Nurian monarch, once a constitutional ruler of the Nurian Empire. Though the monarchy still exists it has been outlawed by the Priests’ Council, forcing members of the royal family into hiding.
According to the history books at the seminary, the Nurian monarchy had become corrupt and ineffective by the times of Saint Loa. Kings were nothing but pampered playboys and the government run by shadowy counsellors and grand viziers behind the scenes. Barely fifty years after the departure of the Saint and his followers, the Empire had already collapsed and the Eastern Canopy shattered into several bickering states. All nominally owed their allegiance to the king who continued to live in the ancient capitol of old Nur, but in practice the Kion had little power beyond that of a figurehead. In the centuries that followed, political instability combined with environmental factors conspired to further weaken the monarchy. By the time the first Argosian colonists arrived in the East, a hundred years before the events in ‘Tymon’s Flight’, they found a group of petty nations so disorganised and a leadership so ineffective that within a quarter of a century they had managed to install themselves in all positions of influence. A further twenty-five and they were openly running the Eastern Canopy, using a system of governance far more despotic and corrupt than the monarchy had ever been and bringing in their own soldiers to enforce it. What little wealth remained in the East was drained away into Argosian pockets; from being weak-willed playboys, the outlawed Nurian royal family became, more or less in spite of themselves, symbols of a nascent rebellion.
Kush: strong liquor distilled from tubers and bark and found primarily in the Eastern Canopy.
Flustered, the priest gathered himself into a semi-sitting position, his bare toes searching the floor in vain for the missing slipper.
“Who… who the devil are you, creeping up on me like that? Didn’t anyone tell you it was rude to play jokes on a priest, you damned Nurry?” He stared blearily at Tymon, and paused. “You’re no Nurry.”
“In the beauty, Father. My name is Tymon and I’m here on my mission service. Sorry to have woken you.” Tymon looked down, furiously fighting the urge to smile.
“Ah, the indentured student,” yawned the priest. “You certainly do know how to make an entrance! I’m Verlain. No need for ‘beauties’, or ‘fathers’, or any such like. We’re at the rotten rear end of the world and there’s no point in standing on ceremony. But you’ll soon learn that…” He heaved himself up with a resigned grunt and salvaged the remaining green slipper from under the couch.
“Would you like to see my papers, sir?” Tymon couldn’t bring himself to do without an honorific altogether. He held out his travel pass to the priest, who waved it away impatiently.
“None of that, no need. Why bother? They sent you to this hole, that’s good enough for me.”
He lumbered off towards a room opening onto the courtyard, motioning the boy to follow him. Inside the stale smell of jar-weed hung in the air, as well as another cloying odour Tymon could not identify. The room was furnished with a crude table, two chairs and a rickety cabinet. The fat priest rummaged in this last item, retrieving a stoppered cask and two bowls which he brought to the table. He squeezed himself into one of the chairs, wheezing heavily, and indicated that Tymon should join him. Then he opened the cask and poured a clear, pungent liquid into the bowls.
“To Argos city!” he announced, raising his bowl in a toast. “And the mean-spirited bastards who live there!”
Tymon stared at his companion in shock. The other shrugged his ample shoulders, gulped down the contents of the bowl in one go and poured himself another.
“To Argos city,” he said again. “May they rot in their own damn rainfall.”
Down went the priest’s second bowl: a third was poured. Tymon sipped his portion of the acrid liquid in an attempt at courtesy. He was barely able to swallow a mouthful.
“To Argosh city,” said the priest, more blurrily, “love of my life.”
Lantria (Duchy of): a nation extending over the entire South Canopy and possessing a colony in the Eastern Canopy, the city of Cherk Harbour. Lantria is the second most powerful state in the Tree, as economically influential if not more so than Argos. Lantrians specialize in ship-building, mining for hardwood and corewood, and the trade of captured Nurian slaves.
Leaf-forests: stands of twigs and leaves, often growing so densely out of the top of a branch that the space at their base becomes a knotty lump. In this way a pedestrian might cross parts of the canopy without the need of a dirigible, using roads that wind up and down the branches and through the twigs, spanning gaps between the leaf-forests on suspended bridges.
Leaf-line: the horizon as seen from the confines of the World Tree.
LEAF LETTERS: divinatory language associated with the Tree of Being and used by Nurian Grafters. Argosian sources do not generally mention the Leaf Letters.
Nurian Grafters believe that space and time may be represented by a tree (ref. ‘Tree of Being’.) They claim to ‘See’ this representation of the universe during their trances, and therefore to be able to ‘Read’ future outcomes and possibilities in the different branchings. These growth shapes – branches, leaves and offshoots combined – are called Leaf Letters and have been codified into a system of nineteen recognisable symbols. Each Letter has divinatory significance and together they are said to signify the will of ‘the Sap’ (the closest existing Nurian concept to a divine will; see ‘Sap’.)
The art of Reading the Leaf Letters includes a willingness to let go of preconceived notions and personal desires, which tend to muddy a vision. A true Reading is not conducted from a safe distance but plunges the Grafter straight into an overwhelming experience which includes emotional and sensory information. A Nurian Grafter therefore is not a coldly analytical person, exploring future possibilities from a distance: he or she must connect fully with the Tree of Being in order to be able to See in this manner. Those who refuse to give up their sense of self sufficiently to explore the Tree tend to become sorcerers, like the Argosian priests.
Lightwood: a less durable wood than hardwood, mined from outer reaches of the trunk or from certain branches.
Loss: one of the Leaf-Letters, and probably the most difficult for many Grafters to accept.
Remember, my love. There is no triumph without loss, no power without weakness. My life has been the exact opposite of a hero’s. A hero spends his time fighting for victory and making his mark on the world. I fall, and fail, and will be forgotten, at least for a while. If you wish to see me again, do not fear darkness and defeat. Do not fear Loss. If you can do that – if you can unbind yourself from wanting and winning – then we will meet again at the heart of the world, where all divisions cease.
MARAK: colonial city situated on the western fringes of the Eastern Canopy. It is a relatively recent settlement, established over the last fifty years, with a mixed population of Argosians and Nurians. Grave tensions persist between the colonists, the native inhabitants and their Argosian rulers at ‘home’. Marak colonials are mostly merchants dealing in Treespice, the one plentiful natural resource in the Eastern Canopy. The entry in the seminary encyclopedia under ‘Marak’ reads as follows:
When the first Argosian traders crossed the Gap and settled on the west fringes of the Domains in the Year of Green Grace, 1131, they found the former Empire of Nur in disarray. The Eastern Canopy was prey to bandits, the degenerate Nurian chieftains unable to maintain the rule of law and order. Superstition and unbelief were rife among the population. The Priest’s Council in its infinite mercy sent soldiers to guarantee the traders’ security and missions to spiritually guide the natives. If the colonists subsequently found themselves in positions of power and influence it was only due to sound business practices, moral rectitude and the guiding will of God.
For a few years, the colonies prospered under their rule, Nurians and Argosians alike responding to the revivifying power of righteous rule. The Domains paid their tithes in Tree-spice to the Mother Canopy and in return, Argosian money developed the mines and transport systems that ensured their prosperity. The early Argosian missions set up schools, hospitals and libraries for the local population, helping to bring the backward Nurians into the twelfth century. Alas, even in the early years these well-meaning efforts were met with graceless dissent, and once an open riot in Marak that led to the imposition of martial rule. Ultimately, however, it was not revolution that saw the downturn of our fortunes in the colonies. It was the weather.
Though the Eastern Canopy had been barren of its leaf-forests for at least three centuries before our colonists arrived, the native inhabitants cursed for their unbelief by the All-Father himself, rainfall had always been enough to carry on the old vine-farming techniques. But within a generation of the establishment of Marak a lasting drought hit the region, caused some maintain by the stubborn refusal of Nurians to practice true Tree worship, despite the seminary’s efforts. They took to dew-farming but the yield was pitiful and impossible to exploit on any large scale. Businesses began to suffer, even our own. Tree-spice was the one resource left in the canopy that guaranteed a decent living. It was harvested from the dry sap wells and used in a wide variety of medicines and foodstuffs. The spice trade continues to this day and motivates all Guild presence in Marak.
Margoose: flightless bird raised for eggs and meat in Argos. Margeese lack feathers on much of their bodies and have a scaly, leathery hide.
Mora: stifling season before the onset of the autumn rains in the Eastern Canopy. Temperatures soar and the weather is oppressive and overcast. The word is a Nurian one, of course, co-opted by the colonists.
NUR/Nurian: Name of a nation and people native to the Eastern Canopy, and a once powerful empire which flourished a thousand years before the events in ‘Tymon’s Flight’.
Tymon only grunted in answer, mesmerized by the blue line on the horizon. The infamous Gap, the airspace between the Central and Eastern Canopies, was both a natural barrier and a great cultural divide. The atlases he remembered from the seminary showed the vast expanse beyond it split into a multitude of vassal states, coloured green on the map to indicate that they were Argosian colonies. But the empire that had stretched across the length and breadth of the Eastern Canopy in days gone by was millennia old before the first monk set foot in Argos city. The Kingdom of Nur, light of the ancient world! Half the parables in the novices’ readers had mentioned it. Until today, Tymon had not directly associated these narratives with everyday people and places in the Tree. The humdrum eastern colonies with their tithes and pilgrims had borne no relation in his mind to the Nur of the old stories. Now, the tales hovered against a backdrop of sudden reality. The East was just beyond the horizon. The blue line grew into a long jagged smudge under his dreaming gaze; he stood in silence by the prow until the Captain emerged onto the forecastle, roaring in fury at the crew’s idleness.
Under the hood…
The Nurian language incorporates some words from an existing language: Persian (Farsi.) Places names, given names and anything involving the First Tongue (Grafter rituals, the names of the Leaf Letters and so on) all draw on that language for inspiration. ‘Nur’ for example means ‘light’. When the empire of Nur is called ‘the Kingdom of Light’, this is a direct translation from the Persian. There is actually a city and a county in modern-day Iran called Noor, in the Mazandaran province, on the Caspian coast.
Why Persian? Simply because it was a language I was passably familiar with, and the music of it has been in my ears since infancy. There aren’t many fantasy languages drawing on Middle Eastern tongues for inspiration and Tolkien had already nabbed Finnish.
Old Ones: first humans to settle the Tree, said to be both great Grafters and prolific inventors. They were the first to use dirigible technology and mine for hardwood, as well as obtain the mysterious shining orah, which adorned their houses and became a hallmark of their civilization.
Orah: generally thought to be a type of magical hardwood mined from the heart of the Tree. The secret of obtaining it has been lost along with much of the knowledge possessed by the Old Ones.
Jedda plucked the cord and the rod from Tymon’s outstretched fingers, and held it up to the moonlight welling through the shutters. There were no panes of hardened sap in the windows of the inn: a slight breeze stirred her hair as she swung the pendant in the light.
“They say all the orah in existence was mined by the Old Ones, from the heart of the Tree,” she said. “But I for one don’t believe it. Do you know what I think?”
“What?” His answer was distracted. He itched to hide away the bright sliver.
“I don’t think it comes from our world at all.” She glanced sidelong at him. “I think it comes from another.”
“Why do you say that?” he asked, taken aback.
She shrugged, the pale locks of hair sliding down her arms. “Because it isn’t like anything here. Think about it. Everything in our world is related. Birds, plants, animals, the Tree itself: you can see they belong to the same family. They’re natural. None of them have strange powers. Nothing behaves like this.” She jiggled the pendant again, rather disrespectfully in Tymon’s opinion. “This is as cold as ice, or as hot as fire. It shines like hardened Treesap but doesn’t break or melt. It helps a Grafter focus his ability. What else does that? I think the Old Ones brought the orah from another place, a magic place. And I think something we Grafters do makes it remember its old home.”
Under the hood…
Jedda is absolutely right. The ancient civilization predating that of the Tree-dwellers was technologically advanced, so advanced that their tools and processes allowed them to explore parallel worlds. The artifacts they left behind seem to Tymon’s contemporaries to be magical. But as the adage goes, magic is simply a kind of technology we haven’t understood yet; it may also be technology we were once familiar with and have now forgotten.
ORACLE: Who is the Oracle of Nur? Few people have met her, and fewer still know her for who she truly is. One thing appears certain: she changes form, appearing in different guises at different times, speaking through various hosts using the Grafter discipline of ‘exchange’. No one has seen her real body. There are some who maintain she doesn’t have one.
Sayings of the Oracle: Grafters studying with the Oracle of Nur have passed down a collection of sayings attributed to their teacher. Whether or not they are fully authentic is debatable; the Oracle herself has neither officially rejected nor accepted them. Widely quoted sayings include the following:
Good and evil are not what you decide they are. There is only the Sap. To speak of evil as if it were a thing – even that is misleading. Evil is no-thing, a lack of life, hungriness. Evil is striving against the Sap, against the natural balance. At most one might say a branch is rotten, or the leaves blighted, or a vine chokes the Tree, thinking only of its own growing.
Such opinions, though they deal with philosophical issues rather than the practical application of morality, have caused real problems for the Oracle with the colonial authorities and alienated her in the imagination of her own people. The Nurians now say their Oracle is hard to understand, far removed from reality and interested only in her peculiar branch of abstruse philosophy. Some, impatient with the old Grafter ways and touting new and rapid solutions to their problems, go so far as to shrug off the Oracle’s ‘ramblings’ as madness. Few are left to seek out what used to be called her wisdom: few look beyond the surface detail of what she says to find a deeper meaning.
Path [of Sacrifice]: high ledge on the trunk-wall leading out of Argos city and up towards the Divine Mouth. During the Green Rites in spring, a volunteer is escorted up the Path before the eyes of the whole city and taken into the Tree-rift, where he will supposedly give his life in willing sacrifice.
Penta: Nurian word for ‘Fifth,’ one of the five senior Grafters, or Focals, in the Eastern Canopy. Each Focal has a particular role to play in the group depending on how he or she transmits the energy of the Sap, linking his mind with the others to create a type of ‘consensus-entity’. Traditionally it was thought that a range of human relationships ought to be represented in a Focal group to facilitate this process. Couples, siblings and parent/child relationships were prized. Unfortunately the number of practicing Grafters has dwindled to such an extent in the Eastern Canopy that such pairings are not always possible.
Pesh and Amran: two Grafters and prophets in the Argosian tradition. Pesh and Amran were missionaries who sought to convert barbarian tribes in the North Canopy, a hundred years after Saint Loa crossed the Gap.
Pon: worthless paper currency printed by the Governor of Marak.
Putar: pejorative term used by Nurians to refer to Argosians.
READING: name given to the Grafter’s trance, in which the practitioner sees visions of the past or future, or enters the ‘world of the Sap’ and witnesses the Tree of Being and the Leaf Letters. It is also possible to contact other Grafters by means of a Reading.
The trance is a complete experience, involving all the Grafter’s senses. It is not without its dangers, especially when conducted by a student or ‘fledgling’ Grafter: it attracts the notice of creatures living in shadow-worlds along the edge of our own, and opens the mind of inexperienced Grafters to attack.
Tymon peered nervously into the shadows. If this was the world of the Grafter’s trance then he did not like it in the least. He had expected to enjoy the bright, subtle play of the Sap, to experience again the sense of certainty and purpose which had been briefly his during the vision on board the Envoy’s ship. Instead, the Reading was all darkness and confusion. The space he was in did not even resemble the mine hall any longer, being more spherical and perfectly formed, carved with smooth exactitude into the bark. He was in a domed chamber without entrance or exit. The blocked tunnels and the draughty door had vanished. The fire remained, a glowing bed of coals, but the upturned cart had disappeared. The darkness was alive with rasping movement. Long, sinuous forms darted just on the edge of Tymon’s vision, just beyond the circle of firelight.
“What are those things?” he asked the Oracle suspiciously.
“Don’t worry about them. We’re interested in what’s going on inside, not outside.”
She stepped up to him, scrutinizing his face, as if she were seeing him for the first time. “A bit wild and overgrown, aren’t you?” she remarked. “I should have been allowed to teach you years ago. You’re running rampant.”
“Excuse me?” he said, nonplussed.
The Oracle was if possible more troubling in her adult form than she had been as a child. Her eyes not only stripped his soul bare, but looked beyond it, past it, to something else. She was gazing at him in that way now, appraising him critically from head to toe.
“Your growth.” She rapped him smartly on the chest with her index finger. “It hasn’t been pruned at all. You’re all over the place.”
He was opening his mouth to protest that he had no idea what she meant, when he felt an itching sensation over his heart, where she had touched him. The itch became a burning pain. He ripped open the buttons of his tunic and surveyed his chest in shock. There was a lump under the skin, a budding cyst. Had he caught the Slow Death after all? But this was a dream, he reminded himself, a vision. Besides, there was nothing slow about the growth on his chest. It pushed outwards at an alarming rate, coming to a point even as he watched. He gasped as the tip broke through his skin. The lump beneath was the bright, light colour of new vegetation.
“What’s going on? What have you done to me?” he cried in horror, retreating from the Oracle.
“Me? Nothing.” But there was a twitch of satisfaction at the corner of her mouth. “They’ve always been there. You just never Saw.”
And felt the burning points on his back, legs, stomach, in answer. He cried out with pain and terror, reeling backwards as the bright shoots erupted from his body in swift succession, ripping through his breeches and tunic. The first growth on his chest had produced a delicate spray of leaves. He tried desperately to pull it off but it was firmly attached, sprouting out of him.
“Get them off me!” he shouted.
SAINT: A religious figure venerated by Argosians, the equivalent of a well-known Focal or Grafter in Nur. Saints are not always recognised in their time. Though they are occasionally venerated like Saint Loa, they are more often ignored, rejected or even executed like Saint Usala. Some are only canonised centuries after they have lived, when the scandals and furors they provoked have died down. They are always said to have the Sight. Some celebrated Argosian saints are:
Saint Loa: referred to as the Father of Argos or the All-Father, Loa was a Nurian prophet who preached a renewal of doctrine and criticized the corrupt and decadent rulers of the Empire. When his movement was banned in Nur he crossed the Gap with his followers to establish a new ‘Kingdom of Light’ in the then-Western Canopy. He went on to found Argos city and the Priests’ College. All Argosians claim to be descended from one of Saint Loa’s twelve wives, but it is more likely that they are a mix of local tribespeople already in the region and Nurian settlers. Nothing is now known of the culture or language of the original inhabitants of the Western Canopy.
Saint Usala the Green: a prophetess living about five hundred years after Saint Loa. Saint Usala defied many of the conventions of Argosian society, not least the tradition that true Grafting had come to an end with the All-Father. She set up Focal groups and insisted on teaching young people her art. She was finally declared a heretic by the Council and put to death. About twenty years afterwards the priests were forced to retract their ruling when it was discovered that many of her predictions had come true. She is still however considered to be one of the last Grafters.
Saint Dorit (the Elder): Saint Dorit lived about a hundred years after the times of Saint Loa. He was primarily a poet and musician, known for his liturgies and choral arrangements. He is sometimes confused with his namesake, Dorit the Younger (the name Dorit is used by both men and women in Argos.)
Saint Dorit (the Younger): Separated in time from her namesake by more than two centuries, Saint Dorit the Younger was a nun living in the north fringes of the Central Canopy. She was a historian but is remembered for her famous challenge to the Priest’s Council to amend the legal status of women in Argos to ‘human’. Her challenge was overthrown on a technicality and women, slaves and foreigners remain in the same category as chattel in Argosian law to this day.
Saint Yan of the Wood: a contemporary of Saint Loa, chiefly remembered for his navigational skills and somewhat bizarre assertion that the Tree orbits the sun, rather than the other way around.
SAP: mystic energy which the Argosians claim is the will of their God and Nurians call the source of all life. Grafters are said to commune with it in the Tree of Being. Religious traditions of both the East and the West credit the Sap with something resembling independent intelligence, though Argosian sorcerers reject this interpretation, maintaining that the Sap is a brute force that must be brought under the control of the practitioner.
The Sap appears in many Grafter accounts as a smokeless fire. It may be glimpsed the waking world or in a vision of the Tree of Being. A Grafter’s response to the Sap – reactions that include everything from exhilaration to pain – vary with the individual.
“Do you feel the Sap?” said the Oracle. Her eyes were bird-bright. She reminded Tymon of Amu Bibi.
“I feel it,” he gasped. “But why… why does it have to be like this? Last time it just flowed. There were no branches. It wasn’t hot.”
“I don’t believe in coddling my students.” She shrugged. “Right now, you’re Seeing a little of what I See, and feeling a fraction of what I feel. That might be hard for you but then life is hard. You might as well get used to it.”
But her touch was gentle as she ran her hands over his branches, tracing their growth. He felt her caress through the Tree; the sensation contrasted oddly with his general state of discomfort. The leaves above his head quivered in response.
“A questing mind and a refusal to blindly follow those gone before,” she said, half-closing her eyes. “That’s good. Some temper and self-indulgence, but nothing that can’t be trimmed.”
She circled him and emerged on his other side as a young girl, lithe and light, a curtain of black hair falling about her face. She passed her hand down another of his branches, her eyes still closed.
“This is not so good. Loyalty to the point of stubbornness. A tendency to be ruled by emotion. Do you think you know what’s best for your loved ones, Tymon? I assure you, you do not.”
He only groaned in answer. She was Reading him, of course. That was what the Oracle’s trance was all about – not Laska, not the future. He had been right to be wary of her. The last thing he wanted to hear at the moment was a dissection of his character. He felt utterly dissected himself. The Sap appeared to be agitated by the Oracle’s touch. The branches of the Tree throbbed with fire and every pulse sent a burning stab through him.
“What about Laska?” he demanded. “You promised I’d See him.” All this would be worth the effort, he told himself, if he could only help the captain.
“You’ll have your vision,” she said. She felt her way along his right arm. “Your friend is a part of you. His fate is connected with yours, bound up with your own. Aha, found you, my beauty.” She extracted a single tendril from the tangle sprouting out of him and held it up. “All of them are twined with you, as a matter of fact. That’s what makes you so useful.”
“All of who?” huffed Tymon, wincing. And then bellowed out in pain.
The heat inside the branches had abruptly increased. The Sap was breaking free of its channels. Fire spilled into him, over and through him. This time it was no mere display of lights but a flaming torrent that flowed from the crown of his head to the tip of his toes. The certainty that he was dreaming slipped away. The pain was too present, too persistent. His flesh as well as the wood of the Tree grew incandescent. The substance of both began to melt and break apart.
“What’s happening to me?” he cried.
“Don’t fight the Sap, Tymon. It’ll take you where you need to go.”
There was no escape. What was left of his body, of his sense of self, was melting, engulfed in the Sap. It seemed to draw him towards the tendril in the Oracle’s hand. The blazing current pulled him apart until he surrendered. For an instant there was only light, then he was gone. All pain ceased.
SEEMING: illusion called into being by a Grafter which acquires reality if many people believe strongly enough in it. This is really a case of mass hypnosis, but can have physical effects.
Seven Hypocrites of Mung: Mung was a city in the Eastern Canopy. The Hyprocrites were followers of Saint Loa, who after swearing fealty to him in Argos rescinded their decision and wished to return home.
Shanti: person calling the faithful to prayer at a Nurian temple. The shanti also leads some rituals. Practitioners of the Eastern Doctrine have no formal priesthood and look to the Focals for spiritual guidance. However some of the shanti (literally ‘temple singer’) have been known to give sermons and exhort their fellow citizens like Argosian priests.
Shillee: herd-dwelling mammal with small cloven feet that allow it to climb steep areas of the Tree with relative ease. Shillees eat moss and other plants and are kept by herders for their meat, milk and pelts.
Shortwheat: a type of barley-vine grown in the Eastern Canopy, drought resistant.
Sight [the]: the raw capacity or talent to be a Grafter. Someone with the Sight may experience premonitory dreams or visions.
Silesian bellweed: a hallucinogenic plant found in the North Fringes, toxic in high doses.
Som: a sedative made from purified Treespice, smoked to produce a lethargic state and vivid dreams. Highly addictive.
Sorceress of Nur: a Grafter who opposed Saint Loa in the Eastern Canopy. Her name has not been preserved but her machinations are legendary. She appears in so many different stories and over such an extended period that some scholars maintain the character is a composite.
STORM: cloud-cover wrapped about the base of the Tree. The Storm is a repository for legendary horrors, and a final border beyond which present-day Argosians do not dare to go. As well as demons and the souls of the damned, strange beasts are said to inhabit the clouds, nesting in the lower regions of the Tree. Dirigibles sailing near the Fringes have reported sighting giant flying snakes and tribes of winged monkeys.
Storm Ventures: The Storm was not always held to be impassable. A hundred years before events in ‘Tymon’s Flight’, the Explorer Sect organised a series of Ventures into the Storm, sending their best dirigibles to find out what lay below. They claimed that Hell had physical mass and wanted to map the area at the foot of the Tree. According to seminary history books no one ever returned from the Ventures. The sect was outlawed and its activities declared heretical. (See ‘Explorer Sect’.)
Under the hood… About Seemings:
One of the themes I’ve touched on in passing in these stories is the ‘maya’ concept prevalent in Buddhism and in other religious philosophies. According to this theory the world is a collective illusion without actual permanence or reality. Without going so far as to ‘control the Matrix’, as it were, Grafters and sorcerers may influence the world-illusion to a degree, most particularly if they have the help of a great many other people. In other words, the more people believe in your personal illusion, the more it has a chance of crossing over into the larger ‘reality’ illusion shared by all. This shared creation may not last for long, but while enough spectators are held in its grip it acquires physical ramifications (enough people believing in Grafter fire may find for a brief moment that it burns.)
Though it’s certainly fun to play with such concepts in the physical world – Grafter fire, distracting Grafter ‘webs’, illusions and so on – the real danger associated with this power is its psychological, societal application. A clever tyrant adept in such sorcery might manipulate his people into believing in his version of what the world should be – and they, duped by his subtle Seeming, would help make it real. So dreams of empire, religious purity, racial superiority and other illusions are born… and stay with us, at least for a while.
Tree-rift : natural chasm or opening in the World Tree.
Tree-cat: a medium-sized feral feline found in the Central and North Canopies.
Tree-ether: a gas naturally occurring in pockets in the World Tree, tapped and harvested for use in dirigibles. May be distilled into a liquid.
Tree-gall: dregs left behind when Treesap is distilled and purified. Very flammable.
Tree-mines: man-made shafts sunk into the World Tree in order to extract certain products such as hardwood. Work in the Tree-mines is notoriously difficult and dangerous, and often accomplished by slave labour.
Treeology: a study of the layout, composition and characteristics of the World Tree, including climate, flora and fauna. Treeology courses for students at the seminary also include rudimentary navigation skills. Professors in Applied Treeology focus on plotting the movement of celestial spheres, alchemy and climatology.
Treesap: life-giving sap running through the branches of the Central, North and South Canopies, tapped and used by humans for a multitude of purposes. It is treated and hardened to make panes for windows, used for cooking, in preparations like glue and fermented to make alcoholic beverages. In the Eastern Canopy the Treesap has largely dried up, leaving behind a powdery residue called Tree-spice which is used in medicines and drugs.
Tree-water: naturally occurring reservoirs of rainwater caught in the World Tree. Some originate in the ice and snow of the Upper Fringes, creating quasi-permanent torrents through hollow channels in the Tree.
Tree-worship: Nurian term for Argosian religious doctrine. Nurians practicing the Eastern Doctrine maintain that Argosian priests have forgotten or twisted the original teachings of Saint Loa, substituting the ordinary World Tree for the divine Tree of Being.
TREE OF BEING: According to the Eastern Doctrine, the Tree of Being is a representation of the universe, containing and connecting all things. The physical world of space and time is “folded up” inside this construct somehow. It is unclear whether the Grafters See the Tree of Being as they do because of their own biases, or whether this meta-world is really like a tree (it’s hard to know without asking visitors from another universe!) The Tree of Being can only be accessed by Grafters in their trance, and allows them to See visions of the past or future (cf. ‘Leaf Letters’.) The Sap flows through the branches of the Tree of Being and gives life to all within it.
A Grafter may learn to navigate the Tree by allowing his ‘trance-form’, a residual mental body based on his memories of physicality, to be broken down and swept away by the Sap.
There was no question this time that the Reading had worked. In his eagerness to launch the trance, Tymon had forgotten how painful the experience could be. He gasped as the white-hot branches of the Tree erupted from his body in sudden profusion. Adana, the house-cart, all his surroundings were overwhelmed by budding tendrils. The branches twined on through a shining void without end. Although the Oracle too seemed to have vanished, he felt that she was near, hidden somewhere in the rustling vegetation. He sensed her familiar presence like a smell.
“What now?” he wondered aloud, grimacing as tiny tendrils searched their way out of the corners of his mouth and poked into his nostrils. Would the Reading always be this uncomfortable?
“That depends on you,” said the Oracle, a disembodied breath in his ear. He did not know whether she had answered his spoken question or his unspoken one.
“Where are the Letters?” he asked her. “How do I get to Samiha, Ama?” He was caught, transpersed. There was no way he could loosen himself from the branches meshed together with his flesh, let alone Read them all.
“The Letters are everywhere, at your fingertips. But you’ll need to use different senses to find them and different means of getting about than the ones you’re used to. Forget your body. It’s only a memory. Instead of using what you think of as your arms and legs, listen to the Sap. Move with it. It connects you to Samiha. Find her, reach out to her through the Tree.”
Well of Worlds : an area along the southern Fringes of the Eastern Canopy where the Storm clouds are thin. According to reports it is possible to see another canopy beneath the clouds, leading to the ‘many canopies’ theory of existence.
West Chasm: region of open air near Argos city. Unlike the Gap, branches are always visible on three sides of the Chasm. The Storm clouds are obscured by those below.
White-neck: An Argosian born in the Eastern Domains. These colonials are looked down on by inhabitants of the Central Canopy, and look down themselves on the Eastern natives they despise.
Wind-wells : windmill-like devices used by ancient Nurians to extract Treesap from deep shafts. According to some sources, it was this over-exploitation of the Eastern Canopy that led to the sap-wells drying up and the loss of the canopy’s leaves. Other (Argosian) sources claim that Nurians lost their Treesap through wrong belief.
YEAR OF FIRE: an eschatological period referred to in the religious scripture of both East and West and roughly equivalent to the so-called ‘End Times.’ This is the moment all Grafting prophecy has been leading up to, the time apparently when the ‘Green Lord’ will appear to rule the Four Canopies and choose between the faithful and the damned. Five prophetic ‘Signs of the Sap’ mark the start of the Year of Fire, from the death of certain flora and fauna in the Tree to the doomed reign of the twelfth Kion, under whom all Nur will be enslaved. Some Grafter sources describe the Year of Fire as being the permanent mystic birth and rebirth of the world, but that interpretation has largely been sidelined in favour of more apocalyptic prophecies. See also ‘End Times’.
Under the hood…
Apocalyptic scenarios are a dime a dozen in epic fantasy. There must be something attractive about the end of the world; the story-which-ends-all-stories has been done well, done badly, and done and done again. When I realised that the people of the Tree would also look forward to a moment their world ‘ended’ – were obliged to, because of their mindset and culture – I knew I’d set myself a difficult task. I would be approaching that aspect of the story from a standpoint of disbelief. Essentially, I’d have to write about people whom I would personally consider deluded if I met them in real life, and ideas I simply did not agree with. I don’t think the world ever ends, not really. Not if you consider ‘the world’ to be greater than your particular region, culture, corner of the galaxy. All that ends is a certain way of being, at a certain time, in a certain place. And when it does end, it certainly won’t be in the way we imagine it will, with the righteous separated from the damned and everything neatly tied up with a bow!
So here I was, with a story that demanded I tackle a concept I inherently disliked. The people of the Tree, both East and West, had prophetic traditions that spoke of days of judgment and figures of judgment and generally were very judgmental. There were deep beliefs here, real magic and fervent feelings, and I had to respect those things. (It’s false to think an author controls his or her creations – it’s the other way around, I assure you.) At the same time, I refused – adamantly, stubbornly – to judge, separate the righteous and damned, or do any of thethings my characters were clamouring for me to do. That’s not why I write stories.
I decided to approach the whole vexed question of endings in the most open way I could manage. I wrote about what Ursula Le Guin calls ‘an eschatological moment’, that is a moment of great change in a society, a sort of local apocalypse. It doesn’t mean the entire universe comes to a grinding halt, the Dark Lord disappears forever or that all that was wrong shall be put right, in an instant. It simply means there is a great change for the people concerned. The important thing is that it is a Year of Fire for those who live through it – a year of tests and wonders. The miracle exists for the ones who witness it.
The others simply hear a good tale by the fire of an evening, and nod to each other, and call for another round…
Saint Usala answered, ‘This I believe.
The End is within. The Beginning is always.
We call up Jury, Judge and Witness
And play executioner to ourselves.’