Packed into an inn, the sign of the Scarecrow, in the remote village of Deer Path, travellers must wait out a snow-storm before continuing their journey through the Sea of Trees…

‘…Ay yi yi! The snow that came that day! They say that in the south of Uchar, even in northern Gon, horses died on the road…’

‘…foolish – that’s just my view, mind!’ ‘Well – I can’t help thinking you’re right, Zubo.’ ‘Great SilVo is a howling distance away.’ ‘So many karsts…’ ‘And they’re strange folk, out of MerZirvora.’ ‘Ay yi, that’s true, true.’ ‘Amaria’s old man, though, he is of SilVo.’ ‘A decent man, they say.’ ‘Oh, I don’t say different, I say no different – but not a man of MerZirvora.’ ‘Uxo – not of MerZirvora.’ ‘Got beyond herself, a little bit, Amaria, some might say.’ ‘Some might.’ ‘With her letters, and all, flitter-flattering off to SilVo…’ ‘Only city folk in SilVo…’

‘…and Somo Kali said, he hadn’t seen a single soul on the road: not a one. Like the whole south was empty!…’

‘…Well, we will find out, we will find out! The ancestors and descendants watch over us!’ ‘Sai, sai, and the Great Father himself: may he watch over his souls’…

Snugly, droopily, Zy listened to these conversations. It was like tending a saucepan of broth – watching the bubbles form in a brown soup, bleb up then slip away. After his more or less sleepless night, he didn’t have the strength to stir the pan. But he listened with a kind of inattentive concentration. He noticed how slowly and carefully the jahzigs went over the ground of their conversations, marking it out, walking it, often going round and round a particular spot, standing still for a while, then starting up again. He liked the way the talk went in circles – as if the people were loathe to move too far from one conversational place, but wished to test the earth of it, press their feet down on it, dig and rake at it, and then dig and rake some more, perfectly content with a few square dedaziles of earth.

The peasants’ talk was like the peasants themselves: solid, dependable, rooted. He felt oddly comforted by their funny ways: whatever might happen to the riders, Zy felt, dreamily, it almost didn’t matter – for as long as the jahzigs went on with their lives, then the world would really always remain the same. Sameness, after all, was the jahzigs’ world: their lives were lived within a small compass, perhaps, but they were lived thoroughly, with strong, obdurate attention to details. Wasn’t this a kind of vigilance? Wasn’t this the Way, too?

Outside, the great snowstorm blew. Zy felt half grateful to it: the wildness of the elements had forced these travellers to gather here, crouched in together, stalled, weathering. An oil lantern, hung from the ceiling beams, giving off a heavy, fishy odour, swung in a draft. The Sign creaked and seemed almost to sway, as if it were a boat and had become unmoored, and were drifting along upon a big river of snow, heading no one knew where, because no one put their heads out of the cabin: everyone was inside, battened down with their bread and their cured meat, their pipes, their babies, their rakono

The Lord’s head had settled forward on his shoulders. He was still sitting cross-legged, SharBason, but he had laid his sword down beside him, folded his hands in his lap, and appeared to be asleep…


Excerpt from Mask [ii], Volume 10 of Dustless

Please lose yourself in…

Dustless | Volume 1 Dustless | Volume 3 •DUSTLESS-FIN5 •DUSTLESS-FIN7 Dustless | Volume 9

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