Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
“Is your head deformed in some way?”
I spin left, taking the still-habitual extra step to back off a bit while doing so.
It’s an Uglonos herder, complete with brow spines painted blue. The contrast with his lime green hide is striking, but not as much as the clash with his lurid pink compound eyes.
“No, it’s normal sized, for a human.”
The triple jointed legs stop moving, except for the rear toes. They keep moving, lifting and pressing the ground one after the other, going right to left, then left to right, in a never-ending rhythm, marking this one as a devotee of Namedna the Ever-Walking.
“Then why is your warhead so wide?”
‘Warhead’: Uglonos only wear head coverings to protect their brow spines when in combat. The concept of wearing a helm or hat – sandogasa, in my case – for other purposes is incomprehensible to them. On a planet where sunlight is the strength of a desert afternoon on Earth within an hour of sunrise, most humans choose to remain inside the habitat domes. It’s a shame. All it takes is a little harmless guile and you can spend your life roaming this serene paradise.
“I am under oath to Torlyn of the Lowering Cloud. From the moment I saw the first buds of spring on the foan tree outside my family dome, until I return and see them once again, I am denied the sight of Roanna’s Wheel.”
The herder raps his claws against his forearm ridges to honour my devotion. It’s a shame humans don’t get out here more often. These insectile saurians have a society over nineteen millennia deep in peace. No world-blighting wars, no continent-spanning industrial addictions. Their only weakness is religion. They have over eighty thousand deities. From gods of individual village ponds to goddesses of grey clouds traveling westward, they have them for every occasion and space.
“Namedna walked with Torlyn for a whole two-moon year. To honour that journey, walk with me today. The village ahead has the finest bridges from which wayfarers can watch the shineer dance in the moonlight. They also have a sourblossom broth that is a delight to savour while engaged in that watching.”
There it is. The gods and goddesses of this world fit together like a subtle, complex machine that orchestrates every interaction to maintain a sublimely functional society. It’s uncanny how well it works. Could make a cynic think it’s a brilliant piece of civilisational engineering. Luckily, I’m not one of those anymore. I was looking for a place to make a better percentage on my goods. Instead, I ended up selling my ship along with the goods to buy a permit to stay.
“Then in honour to them both, I shall agree, but would prevail upon you to tell me the tale of their journey while we walk. I have not yet been graced with it.”
I fell in love with their etiquette before the sun set on my first week here. From there, it didn’t take me long to fall for the lifestyles and natural beauty of this place. I’ve become a wanderer, making my home on the endless winding ways.
It’s been nine years. I don’t regret a single step. If more of us took the time to exchange stories with travellers, and sit with strangers to sip sourblossom broth while watching shineer dance, things would be much better all over.
Come walk a new way.