Are they playing hockey? If it's a snowy day, I presume it's some winter sport.
Excerpt for the Day
Bjorn tilted his head back as he ran his gaze up the city wall of Wasepata. He held a hand over his blue eyes to shield them from the white plaster's burning glow. Not even two elephants stacked up together could match the mudbrick structure's inhuman height, which exceeded every other manmade building Bjorn ever saw. Only the rows of woody thorns sprouting from the wall's front side, no doubt for support, convinced him that humans rather than gods built it. And this wasn't even supposed to be the grandest or most famous example of Nubadian architecture.
If the wall would have choked the words out of any Northman, it seemed even more staggering to Bjorn after countless days of wandering through the wilds. Sweat beaded his sun-reddened brow and stained his fur tunic dark while dust coated his trousers. An oily yellow tangle of hair itched all over his face. Every time he breathed, his throat dried like the savanna behind him. Not even Bjorn's naturally stocky, muscular frame could hide his stomach's aching emptiness.
He reached into his pocket to clutch the warm ball of gold inside. Only the gods' fickle mercy, or perhaps dumb luck, had led him to this nugget out in the desert just north of Nubadi. In fact most Northmen would have brushed it off as simply another desert stone, but in his travels Bjorn had picked up on the southern races' strange love for the flimsy yellow metal. Bouncing the nugget off his hand's palm, he smirked. One fistful of this stuff could feed him for over a moon.
"You down there, what are you doing?"
Bjorn cocked his head back up. Atop the wall's gatehouse stood the tiny figures of two Nubadian bowmen, although he could only make out their outlines after squinting.
"Oh, I was just admiring your wall," Bjorn said. "It's quite a feast for the eyes, isn't it?"
"You must be new to Nubadi, then," one of the guard said. "You sure look the part. Now who are you, strange one?"
"I am Bjorn, a Northman from the village of Wolfheart...well, before it got razed to the ground. Now I live as a vagrant, and I seek rest and food in your fine city. I'll not stay longer than a few days."
“Northman, huh?” There was a pause. “It’s not common for your kind to come this far south, and this far inland. You must have really worn yourself out! Wait, what’s that glinting from behind your back?”
“Oh, this?” Bjorn slid his broadsword out from its scabbard. “A man’s got protect himself when he’s out alone in the bush, doesn’t he? Trust me, I mean no harm.”
The wind whistled and the savanna insects buzzed.
“All right, you’ll be in a crowded place anyway,” the guard said. “But if you cause the slightest trouble, piss-mane, odds are you’ll find yourself headless in no time. Let him in!”
As the great wooden doors opened, their grinding battered Bjorn’s eardrums. He stormed through the entrance with his face burning even redder than before. Southerners may have called his kind “piss-manes” many times before, yet the slur’s sting never wore off. Especially not since his father’s killer first growled it out among the roars of Wolfheart’s flames…
No, Bjorn could not relive that bloody winter yet again. He tightened his grip on the gold nugget. Whatever may have happened in his youth, the rest of his life still lay ahead of him. Better to enjoy what time he had left than dwell on what he left behind.
Not that he could slip slick into Wasepata’s population, if they would let him at all. They certainly wouldn’t now, for the crowds which bustled over the dirt streets always parted to make a wide berth for Bjorn. All the Nubadians he passed turned their heads to gawk or glare at him. Glaring men pulled their women back from him, and the women in turn shielded their children with their arms. The buzzing and chatter of daily gossip gave way to gasps and nervous murmurs. Bjorn drooped his head and sighed. Not even the world’s oldest and largest civilization could protect him from crushing loneliness.
Yet for all the Nubadians’ incredulity towards him, Bjorn found them every bit as alien to himself. By and large these black-skinned people stretched tall and lean, the opposite of his husky white Northfolk. Many had woven their frizzy hair in braids or sculpted it into elaborate crests. Bright warm colors dazzled on the Nubadians’ skirts, and gold and beads gleamed all over their necks and limbs. The richest jarl in all the Northlands could never adorn himself as these Nubadian commoners did.
Perhaps Bjorn had erred in bringing one little nugget to this urban gold mine.
The city itself glowed with the same radiance as the people who filled it. The mudbrick houses alone would dwarf any Northman’s stick hovel, to say nothing of the limestone obelisks, colossi, and temples that reached for the sky. Whether built from mud or rock, all these monuments wore murals and inscribed hieroglyphs all over their plaster. From the distant horizon rose the gold-capped peaks of bygone rulers’ tombs. The Great Hall of Bjorn’s gods would disappear into insignificance if placed within Wasepata.
Nothing could brutalize a Northman’s cultural pride more than this.
Wasepata’s main road opened into a bazaar choked up with even more citizenry than the rest of the city. The aromas of fruits, spices, and bread mingled with the stenches of fish and meats. Merchants’ shouting from their stalls fought with the street musicians’ throbbing drums and twanging kora.
One man actually ran out from his fruit stall to Bjorn and knelt at his feet. “Please, for the love of Nzambimun, give Djadao’s produce a chance!” he sobbed, holding his hands up together.
Bjorn groaned. “How much do you really depend on it, my good man?”
“Why, nothing less than my life is at stake. I shall starve to death by the day’s end if you don’t help!” Djadao rubbed his bulging belly.
“Sure you will, judging by that figure.” Bjorn suppressed a snicker. “Speaking of starving, looks like someone else really is hungry today!”
A naked little boy plucked a couple of figs off Djadao’s stall. The merchant spun around and lunged at the child, who scurried away in an eye’s blink.
“Stop that thief, why don’t you?” Djadao roared. “Bring me his hand!”
Bjorn burst after the boy, but the bazaar’s forest of humanity slowed his initial sprint down. He found himself having to shove and squeeze his way through the townspeople. The urchin, on the other hand, could weave his way around them like a snake zipping through grass. Bjorn could never catch up to him, not unless he could somehow climb over everyone else.
Maybe he didn’t need to climb.
After squatting as far back down as he could, Bjorn thrust upward and vaulted over the next wall of Nubadians. He landed a foot behind the boy and snatched onto his shoulders.
“Got you!” Bjorn turned the child to face him. “What would your mother have to say about this?”
The scrawny little child said nothing. His eyes shone with tears which leaked down his cheeks. Bjorn’s heart melted.
“You don’t have a mother, do you?” Bjorn pulled out his gold nugget. For all the things it could buy him, none of those he needed as much as this boy needed to survive. “Give the seller this gold, and he won’t let you go hungry for a long time.”
Once Bjorn let him go, the boy skipped back towards the fruit-seller with both figs and nugget. Bjorn strutted away with a cozy warmth soothing his soul. He could always find some line of work in a city as big as Wasepata anyway.
A hand lunged out and dragged him into an alley.
edited 6th Mar '13 8:34:51 AM by Jabrosky