…‘But I met this man in great Maril, a traveller, and he showed me those seeds, and told me they were a special kind – “late-sowing wheat”, he said.’

‘Oh, late-sowing wheat’ Bor Gero said, straight-faced. ‘Ah, sai: late-sowing wheat.’

‘Early-dying wheat, more like it’ Ezel Meru grunted.

‘And there! That was a madcap thing, going running off to Maril’ Eppen Agur murmured. ‘That’s no place for a farmer like you, Elgen Ibur. Stick close to the earth, my beauty – that’s what you should do. The earth – that’s our place, and no one else’s. Same as Maril is for town folk, and flash men – and travellers.’

‘Oh, I just wanted to see it. It’s a very great place!’ Elgen floated out in a reverie: Zy could picture Elgen, wandering around in a great – well, in whatever kind of a place MarilSan was…

‘Well, now you’ve seen it, and now you know. That’s enough wild footsteps to last a lifetime. Red Rock born, Red Rock bred: Red Rock living and Red Rock dead – that’s us, or it should be. Just as the rhyme has it. The earth for us – for me, at least.’

‘Ay, and me, Eppen – and me’ Ezel Meru agreed.

Sai, sai – and me. Village life is best: let me alone here, in RotaBerl, that’s all I ask’ Affen Zema joined in, his deep, sonorous voice lilting out his words.

‘I have never seen Maril, nor want to, neither’ Eppen said with conviction. ‘My old dad, he said to me, he said: “Eppensodur, there are only three things in life that a farmer can trust: earth, family, friends. And you can’t trust your friends or your family”.’

Eppen delivered this last piece of wisdom with a flourish: there were smiles, nods and laughter, but something about the way in which Eppen’s remark was greeted suggested to Zy that these neighbours had heard it many, many times before, and that their pleasure lay in its familiarity, in a kind of rhythmic, seasonal quality to the expression, rather than in the plain significance of the words themselves.

‘AyYi, he was a wise old fox, old Dursojay was’ Affen Zema commented.

Sai – he was a good man, and a good farmer’ Eppen acknowledged with a dour pride. ‘Of course, he was joshing a bit. But he loved the soil, did my old man. Often talked about it. Same as his old man, my granda. “Trust the earth”, they both used to say – “the earth can’t let you down”. What do you stand on? Earth. What’s there for you when you fall down? Earth. And where do you go when you lay out your dusts? What holds you when the living is over? Earth. YiYi: it stays put, the old earth. It doesn’t go running off. Sai. Trust the earth, that’s what we jahzigs have always done. Feel it breathe on a summer’s night after the rain – mm: fresh! Feel it under your boots baked with two months’ drought: hard as iron, solid, strong. Yah! And I know, there are them that think we jahzigs are just topohir, potatoes – I’ve heard it said, and I remember. But I tell you, my boys, this old earth will be here long after other things have gone down to the nothingness – and there’s many a thing a man puts his trust in will flitter away or melt like ice – but the earth, never! That’s my feeling. Yi! This old earth will still be here – and we jahzigs will still be standing on it. Always have, and always will. Trust the earth.’

‘Ung! Wise, wise words, Eppen Agur’ Ezel Meru remarked after a long pause in which this speech of Eppen’s was absorbed by his neighbours.

Sai, Eppen – never better said. Well done’ Affen Zema agreed. ‘Yah!…’ he sighed, and murmured, ‘Wise, wise words.’…

Excerpt from Mask [iii], Volume 11 of Dustless

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Dustless | Volume 9