Here is a special fiction feature by Ian Tamoran. We hope it will be a continuing series. -Ed.
[Translation of a single folio manuscript found in a bag near an apparently Berber campsite near the Canadian border. There were many unusual words in the original, which we have endeavoured to elucidate through careful dictionary search. We are unable to identify “multileggular oogloids”, and have left this term as we found it in the original.]
And here is the other story.
Marico walked by day – cautiously, and not whistling incessantly – one of the many things that so annoyed his brother Ahmed. Well, his soon-to-be late brother Ahmed, as he had often hoped. No, a real Berber – I mean a really, real Berber – one who can praise the flag, recite the poetry of Naroh’mat and sing the interminable dirge of M’lookay – that kind of real Berber does not do harm to his brother. Speak harm, yes. Stupid, limping swine who never appreciated his beakers.
But the lake. Yes, the lake. What was on the other side? Marico could see that there was another side – but how to get across without, as it were, going across it? Walk round it, of course. Knucklehead Ahmed would never have thought of that. It was easy going – flat land, only slightly wooded. There were the creatures to worry about – hence no whistling. He didn’t actually see any frightening creatures, though. Yes, there were big cow-like things that were so stupid it was easy to bring one down for food. There were birds nearly impossible to catch – why bother? meat is better – and by staying near the lake, on his right as he walked, he could always manage to get a fish or two.
Marico talked to himself. He was feeling rather alone, and began to wonder whether Ahmed’s inanity would have been better than enforced silence. No – check that thought – he had plans. Ahmed would just spoil them, the unimaginative dolt. Keep on, Marico, keep on going.
Ahmed wondered about Marico (good riddance!) and about Moffad (where was he?) and about beaker-making (why couldn’t that stupid Marico get it right?). But mostly he wondered about what Moffad would say and do when (if?) he eventually returned. Over the days, Ahmed grew more concerned. Perhaps Marico had been right (perish the thought!)? Perhaps he too, Ahmed, the clever one, should copy his quarrelsome, moronic brother and move away from the camp? Yes. I mean, No. I mean – oh, what do I mean (thought Ahmed)? Going South, was he? Well, I can go North, and be sure to never meet him again.
Ahmed checked his hunting equipment, purloined as many clothes as he could comfortably wear and carry, and – after a last look round the camp – set off North, towards the river. He had seen islands just before they landed – perhaps it was possible to cross it there, and then follow the lakeside. Eating? Multileggular oogloids were less repulsive than (ugh!) cows, and Ahmed worried about food. Best keep close to the water: fish were a novelty – you don’t get many of them in the Berber desert – and there was such variety of them here.
Cold, was it? No – it was even colder than cold. Ahmed was dismayed to find that water goes hard when it is cold enough. And white stuff fell from the sky – not nice. Ahmed, making a protective mound, dug into...
[There is a gap in the manuscript as this point – the bottom of the first folio appears to have been burnt. We continue with the reverse side of this folio.]
...now that there were leaves on the trees once more. He had kept the lake on his right on his right as he walked, and some time back it swung away so that now he was walking West, the morning sun behind him, not South.
Crossing the river had frightened him. The local people treated him well. He had seen them in small boats – tiny boats – far too small (he thought) for two people. He wondered whether they had larger vessels, ships, boats, barques – Marico tried as many Berber words for ships as he knew. The local red people looked at him with polite uncertainty – clearly he was mad, but the mad bring messages from the gods. A young man slapped him on the back, led him down to the water’s edge, and persuaded him by signs into a (shudder!) minute two-man canoe. Marico felt a pang of sympathy for brother Ahmed’s fear of water, and kept his eyes closed through the turbulent crossing.
On the other side, the young man saluted him with raised hand. He frowned in thought, then said something completely incomprehensible to Marico: “Raeks, Ratkahthos, Rahron:kas, Raterennotha’ - Í:laks, La:kΛhe’, Lothu:té , Tehalihwa′khwa’ ...” and then he added “Rahtentyes – LahtΛtyehse’” . Marico was impressed – puzzled, but impressed. “Azul”, he said, and “Txusca” - it was the best he could do. What was the strange red man talking about? The strange red man knew these were important words from the traveller (but what was the mad pale alien talking about?), and he took them back to his people to be shared.
Marico knew that he was special. He had been treated with kindness by these strangers – well, apart from the sickening canoe ride – but he had kind of asked for that himself. But these words spoken to him – what were they? Marico hadn’t understood anything that these tent-dwellers had said. These last words to him, though, were special. He took up his bundle of clothes and spears and walked on, away from the river back, he thought, towards the lake. “Rex, Ratkoth...something, Raron kas, what was the next bit? Ratter in notha, ...can’t remember the next few sounds... Lake, Lothu...thingy, Tay hali wa...whatsit. Oh dear.” And that final goodbye “Retain yes, Late yes. Hmm.”
Marico did not reach the lakeside that day, but set out again in the dull morning. His sense of direction was, well, dubious; but Marico could not admit that to himself. He was, let it be known, a king amongst men and if he felt that that was the direction, then that was the direction. Just as he saw the lake ahead of him the sun finally came out. But it was forward, and to his left, not to his right, not behind him. Marico stood thinking.
Which way to go? Morning sun at back? Morning sun ahead? Lake to the right – which it always was – or lake to the left. It couldn’t be both. It had to be decided – this was a mark of fate so...
[Again, this is the burnt patch of the folio. No more of this manuscript was found in the buffalo-hide bag. The text finishes here. It is to be hoped that other finds will reveal more of this epic.]