Jul 23, 2019 3:43 PM
a story of the second age
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This is a long stretch of beautiful countryside, rolling hills and ancient tall trees and deer and rabbits and babbling brooks and everything.

 

Its most distinctive feature is a road. The road is the width of two wagons, laid with neat cobblestones, heavily trafficked - one can see six wagons on it right now, going in both directions - but not worn down in the slightest anywhere. Every hundred and twenty human paces there's a marker with an inscription in three languages. 

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Whatever just happened did not exactly knock the wind out of May but it seems psychologically similar enough that she's gonna... sit here and see if anybody hops out of a wagon to see if she's all right, before she gets up and starts walking.

She's less confident in this decision but simultaneously less confident in all other possible decisions after inspecting the three languages and not recognizing any of them.

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A wagon stops after a couple of minutes. 

The person who jumps out is - very short, and very very hairy, and wearing clothing made out of more metal than there's really a case for putting in clothing if you are not about to have a medieval battle. It's possible they're in fact about to have a medieval battle -- they're armed -- but the body language is friendly.

Unintelligible question?

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"Hi, do you speak English?"

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- unintelligible question in a different language?

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"Parlez-vous Français?"

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Nope. Gesture one way down the road, then the other way down the road?

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Is "helpless shrug" a useful answer?

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From his - their? - the person's reaction it is perhaps not the most useful of answers.

 

They hesitate a minute, then pull out a notebook and draw a map. It's not a very well-drawn map. It has mountains on one end and a big elaborate city under the mountains and a scribbly city at the entrance to the mountains. It has a road. It has an ocean at the other corner.

Mountain? Ocean?

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Headshake. Does that even translate?

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Someone else comes out of the wagon. They have a quick conversation that involves some gesturing at Mabel.

Mabel, wagon?

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Her prospects of surviving in this strange place without engaging with civilization at all are not great and this seems like a friendly enough example of civilization so far. Mabel wagon, yes.

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They seem cheerful about this. The back of their wagon is big enough for a human, even though the seating area at the front is really not. It's carrying barrels of probably-fish-by-the-smell. They appear to be normal barrels but they're somehow cold to the touch.

 

They make no particular effort to talk to her.

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That is reasonable, since they do not share a language. She will find someone more interested in being a language tutor sooner or later. Maybe the barrels are magic; these people could be some sort of critter. Doesn't explain where she is, though.

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Her wagon is quicker-travelling than most of the wagons and pulls up to a little rest stop on the side of the road about half an hour later. 

There are three other people here. They look much closer to human, but not all the way there; taller, more symmetrical, elaborately dressed. They're singing an elaborate three-part song while some short hairy people swap out their horses.

The riders in Mabel's wagon walk up to one and ask a question. They turn and stare at Mabel intently.

 

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"...hi. Do you speak English?"

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They look disappointed. One of them says something to the short hairy people. Whatever it is, it delights them - one claps.

 

They know a couple more not-English languages they can try on her?

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Nope. Sorry tall pretty people. She will attempt "parlez-vous Français" again but without much optimism.

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Nope.

 

Everyone seems bemused by this but not especially alarmed.

 

Horses are swapped out and her wagon keeps on going.

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Okay then!

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It's a very idyllic countryside. Her hosts play a dice game, with unfamiliar metal coins as stakes. 

It's apparent after a little while that they're headed up towards the mountains. It's apparent a little while after that that there's a city at the end of the road, full of grey stone towers.

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Pretty.

She's not sure she'd describe it as unearthly per se, but it does seem - less than Earthish.

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The wagon stops outside the walls of the city, which are very elaborately artistic up close and clearly don't serve much of a purpose beyond that, as they're easy to hop over and some children can be noticed doing it. Other hairy bearded people come to unload the barrels of fish. There's some pointing at Mabel. There is fetching of a local tall-person, and then - a fair bit of haggling and pointing at Mabel.

Eventually the tall-person is persuaded to pay quite a few of the unfamiliar metal coins.

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...May is going to very charitably assume that she has not just been sold, what with the general lack of coercion she has experienced here, but she does eye this transaction dubiously.

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Smiling tall person thinks that she should come with him!

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Surrrrre, smiling tall we're-going-to-assume-not-a-slave-trader.

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