Often, I fling open the windows of my villa not only to partake of the scents and sights of the city, but to hear the questions on the streets. Equally often, I hear asked aloud: what to make of these outsiders, these Oseram, who are suddenly our allies or even neighbors? Why do they eat as they do, argue as they do? What is the matter of their heady scent? Why are they always drinking?
Like a ray of the Sun amid the darkness, a question is best followed to its source. So, for the benefit of the inquisitive, I contrived to join a trading caravan to the Claim, at least as far as the closest village beyond the Breakwalls.
The Claim. It is a muted land, where fire-smoke hangs heavy in the air among the tall, thin trees. Where the ground has not been dug up in the Oseram's ceaseless search for metal, it is cased in frost, and beneath the frost, yet more frost, before stony soil. And worse, soot. Everywhere, soot, all-pervading. Though I had worn my sturdiest travel silks, keeping them unsoiled proved impossible. Noticing my discomfort, some Oseram washer-women offered their services, but seeing the shade of the water in their tubs I declined.
Indeed, regard for cleanliness is not an Oseram virtue. Despite its protective walls of piled slate and slouched round stone huts, the village struck me as overly exposed to the elements-- the chief elements in the Claim being a cold, oily rain, and hoarfrost. Even so, the open fires hissed and spat and burned on, and the mood was bustling and lively... much as you might find in an outbuilding for livestock, for example. (What I will endure to bring the light of knowledge to the folk of my tribe.)
The Oseram have no priests or kings, and spit at the mention of such titles, but they defer to the counsel of their wise men, the village 'ealdormen'. It seems each settlement elects such men for the purpose of unceasing argument. From dawn until long into the night, they shout over each other on matters of policy and taxation. Come the next morning, a line of villagers will already have formed for the privilege of arguing back.
I joined such a line for several hours while children squealed, birds squawked and hammering-- accursed, endless hammering-- echoed over the trampled straw and rain-filled cart ruts. Finally, I was permitted to face the three ealdormen and deliver my question. I asked for their opinion on the peace between our tribes, and Sun-King Avad's offer of welcome in Meridian itself.
Readers, I say asked, but the matter was not so simple, as the Oseram erupted into insults and arguments even before the words had finished leaving my lips. I found myself talked over, shouted down, subjected to seemingly unconnected abuse, and it was only when I raised my voice in return-- an invigorating experience-- that I was grudgingly answered.
Their opinions are muddled and mixed, to say the least, and I will not profane this parchment by transcribing the words used to express them. Suffice it to say that they see the benefit of free trade between our tribes, and indeed have flourished from it, after long years of war. However, it seems few Oseram that trade outside the Claim return their taxes, or even return at all-- the ealdormen believe they are stolen away by a manner of living that is "downright Carja." A phrase they punctuate by spitting on the floor.
In return, I suggested that their mistrust and fear of a civilized way of life was positively Oseram (I could not bring myself to spit indoors.) This caused great commotion, after which I was bodily carried from the building upon the shoulders of my hosts, and deposited in the midst of a coming-of-age celebration-- not for a man, but for some new manner of device.
I awoke on a cart arriving at Pitchcliff. My throat was hoarse, my arms numbed from accepting countless challenges to wrestle, and the taste of an alcohol much like machine oil was still on my tongue. My head ached as if split down the center. Truly, I had risked my life in search of an answer: is there more to the Oseram character than brawling, drinking, and shouting?
Simply put, dear reader, there is not-- but let us hope that the ealdormen's fears will be proven true, and in time the Sun's light and Meridian's glory can temper these rough-hewn folk.