Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spring in Wermspittle I

Ides & Tides
Mid to late March brings the early thaws and first floods. The snow goes out, the trees begin to green-up, and the Plow-Grubs begin to stir from their dormancy. Barricades are torn down. Windows are thrown open. The worst bits of Winter Debris are burned in great bonfires. Mirrors are covered with lace and the thresholds are washed and repainted. The first riders set out to examine the roads and trails. Fields are inspected, drainage trenches cut into the mud, and the first few children strike out from the only homes they've ever known, to make their way to Wermspittle.

Childsplay
Some are no bigger than the hounds who follow them, many are wide-eyed and carrying all that they own in this world strapped to their backs, not one of them has reached puberty, for to do so in the Low Lands would be to court sterility, madness and death. Those who come of age within these lands rarely survive the experience. Something in the soil, the water, the air or perhaps themselves strikes them down, twisting the very cells of their bodies in horrific ways. The least outcome is infertility, but few get by that simply or easily. No parent, not even the sponsor of a Cuckoo, adopter of a Chrysalli or the cultivator of a Cabochean, mandrake or gynaiad will hold their children, offspring or spawn back from the Spring Procession. To do so is too terrible to contemplate for most. It is a sad thing, to watch these children leave their homes, but the alternative is far more horrific. So each family does what it can to give the children what means they have saved-up, scraped together, or salvaged from the Winter. A weapon, a pair of plow-leather boots, some homespun clothes, a stuffed doll made from rags, a favorite toy carved from hand-carved wood, the first meager shoots from the trellises or a handful of speckled-fungi freshly dug-up from the cold black mud of the early field; each one brings what they can, what little they have. The families give each child what they can spare, they bless them, hug them and cry tears over them and then they send them on their way. It is spring and the children deemed old enough, or strong enough or for whom it is no longer safe to remain behind must begin their journeys, even as their families need to busy themselves tapping trees for sap, clearing the fields, hunting the copses and groves for various still-dormant grubs. There is a lot of work to do and few children ever return. In some ways they are a crop. Some more so than others.

One by One...
One child meets another, and they join-up with two more. In time they are part of a group and their group merges with other groups until dozens become hundreds and more. A tide of children make their way to Wermspittle. Each one shares its meager rations with their fellows. They sing songs, tell stories, and talk of lofty ambitions, their hopes, dreams and cherished notions. How many of these children are the Solstice-delivered gift-kids of the Midwives; Cuckoos or some other not-quite-fully human thing no one knows, no one asks, no one cares. It is enough that they exist--that the terrible barrenness afflicting the Low Lands is slowly, but steadily pushed back and the infectious sterility of those who linger overlong past the first onset of adolescence does not claim another generation. Life must go on.


So the Low Land families (and others) send their children to Wermspittle every Spring, hoping for the best and dreading the worst.

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