Early, Lord Akzasosan’s barbarian servant, is applying fat to the boy, Zysoshin, in order to fend off the terrible cold of winter in the Endless Plains…

There is more, and I will tell you.

As for you, you need do little: just relax, and listen to my voice.

I know everything. I spoke with them all – every one of them.

Patience. This very place is the Way.

Early worked with a sure, laconic grace. Something in Zysoshin, perhaps because of his prone position and the requirement of him only that he remain passive, spoke up. Early is like Shinsota, he thought – the way they move, the way they go about things – as if nothing else at this moment matters, nothing else is worth doing, they will both do this one thing now, and then move on to the next task, quickly but without hurry.

Early’s small dark eyes glittered in the light reflected from the snow. A pony snorted from behind them somewhere. The sky was still that peerless pale blue, empty, without birds, or clouds.

Zyso’s face was now evenly smeared in the fat. His ears, which had been vein-blue and stripped, raw pink with the cold, were also attended to, Early having to brush and hold back the tight, streaming ringlets of Zyso’s blond hair. Chin and throat were also fatted, and then Zyso was asked to sit up, and Early applied the protecting substance to the back of the boy’s neck, again having to pull up and clear the long, unruly coils of hair.

Nearing the end of his task, Early returned meditatively to his earlier theme.

‘So, you see, even though I am a barbarian, without name, place, Rank, station: though I am a nothing under great law, still, the Lord told me, I belong to the Way. I become Way. He take me, he teach me. I am a nothing. But you – you are a ghost. Even a barbarian nothing more than you under the great Way. Put goggles back on’ he added, re-covering the pot of fat with its lid of hide, and securing it with string.

Zyso re-fitted his goggles, as did Early. The light blazed across the frozen land around them, smearing it with dazzle.

Zysoshin felt the warmth in his feet, and in his hands. Now, he could face the cold. He could beat it. He was strong.

‘Early,’ he asked, pointing at the pot, ‘is that what Chun-shu wolf troops use when they ride?’

‘This?’ Early replied, pausing and glancing slowly to where Zyso pointed. ‘This is what our women use to keep babies warm.’

‘Oh,’ Zyso said, wrinkling his nose at the stench. ‘Babies.’

Excerpt from Stories in the Falling Snow | Volume 3 of Dustless

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