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Dustless | Volume 5 | The Dwellings [ii]

The sun is hot, and the fields are wide.
I walk, head bowed, towards my village.
The path is hard, the earth is dry.
There is dust on the road, but no horses.
I am thirsty, but the well is far away.
The plains stretch on towards the horizon,
where my way goes.
This is all there is –
and all there is, they say,
fits in a hawk’s eye.

All places, it is said among the Pure, are places of TanZo. Yet, if you are not Pure, what might you think of a place?

For a civilised person, the Endless Plains are famously empty. The air is polluted, the climate extreme – ferociously hot in summer, gnawingly cold in winter.

A civilised person, in a civilised place, may enjoy many aspects of life, but for those condemned for a time to dwell in the Endless Plains, life may well dwindle down to one master wish, a single, essential aim: survival.

A RoMayZine general once looked down at the pitiful remnants of a barbarian force, taken prisoner near the BisMarian Mountains. “They have survived – but what has survived?” he said.

“A human being plots a course between the animals and the angels”, an old ZirCong philosopher once said. And in a SurGaKu amendment: “A human being is a contract between an animal and an angel”.

What might happen, should that ‘contract’ be broken? What might a human being then become?


Cradle, hearth and towers gone,
the road will be our home for now,
for now, tomorrow, the years to come,
the years to come our lives to pass,
to pass bearing our heavy load

we are born and die upon the road
our whole lives upon the road

So, traveller, as you ride the road,
ride the road, look down and see,
see the work that we have done,
have done to make your journey free:
free, we lay down our bodies’ load

we are born and die upon the road
our whole lives upon the road

We worked that you could travel free.
Your road is made of our bodies.
Look down as you ride on home.
Your way is made from our bones.
From ourselves is your road made.
All people are people of the Way.
All people are people of the Way…

The tanzo-vaccara road gangs hold a special place in the culture of O. Roads — tanzo — are seen as physical manifestations of TanZo, the pure Way. The empire is vast, and keeping the way open — often in remote regions, with hostile climate and terrain — is considered a task that combines sacred duty with harsh, unremitting, physical labour.

Over the centuries, the members of the tanzo-vaccara have become an enclosed, semi-religious group of people — predominantly men, but with a sprinkling of women, too. Their numbers include ex-convicts, returned from exile, who consider their sentences insufficient penalty for the crimes they’ve committed. They see in the hard work and difficult conditions of the life of the vaccara a form of expiation. Sometimes, too, people following the Way join the vaccara for a certain set period, and use the time in the community to train their bodies and spirits to respect and transcend the world of matter: for these people, the vaccara is a kind of endless pilgrimage.

The core of the vaccara is formed by people who devote their entire life to the repair and maintenance of the empire’s roads. In come cases, they literally work themselves to death.


River, river, take your time.
In winter, skates and flocks of geese;
and in summer, dragonflies.
Armies ride by the riverside,
armies rise and armies fail;
and lovers walk by the riverside,
mothers with sons, and merchants to sail
down to the city with white wool in bails,
the old with their troubles,
the young with their pride —
but the river does not care
whose figures flicker in the water there,
flicker and are gone:
the river flows on.

River, river, take your time.
In spring, pussy willow and tinkers with knives,
and in autumn, dun oak leaves.
Nobles ride by the riverside,
greatness in bright show of gold;
and beggars trudge by the riverside,
fathers with daughters, and monks who hold
a  treasure of emptiness in their hollow bowls,
the sick with their boils,
the contented with lies —
but the river does not care
whose figures flicker in the water there,
flicker and are gone:
the river flows on.

River, river, take your time.
The singer with songs, the poet with rhymes;
the toothless with laughter, the children with tears:
but the river does not hear
whose voices call by the water there,
call and are gone:
the river flows on.

The river flows on.

Dustless is one of the longest novels ever written, and creates a densely imagined world, and a society with a richly realised culture.

This song comes from Volume 20, The Lover in the Snow [v]. The resonance of the song is amplified by the context in which it is sung: on a pleasure barge, in the mist of a cold winter’s day, on the Siloso — the circular river, in the capital city, Shar.

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Dustless | Volume 1

Dustless | Volume 1 is approximately 20 pp./a5

status | published 11 02 2013

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ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) | B00BEZL4ZU