The Torcher’s Tale
By Leonard C Suskin
We finally left Wothan to continue on the great wheel through the desert, now laden with finished metal goods and a sharp spiced rum in place of the barrels of peppers, raw cloth, and dried leaves we’d carried from the land we called Dawn, far to the desert’s eastern edge. The Roi merchant was proud to be generous in the quantity of goods he was able to sell to us for our load of spices, and promised that even with the extra cost of governing Wothan and educating desert travelers the Roi could afford to be generous. When we reached the trading post Tsul in the land of Night, however, we found that many of the goods were of inferior quality and our total haul was worth less than it had in previous years. It was with light wagons that we continued the wheel. On the next circuits we avoided Wothanand sought cities still under control of the Aleph-ya. As the wheels turned those places became harder to find and were increasingly the meanest and poorest places on the sea-side of the wheel.
Every child knew the Great Wheel: spice from the dawn, steel from the sea, stones from the night, salt from the south. We, of course, would keep enough steel to keep our carts and tools in good order, enough spices and salts to season our food, and even precious stones to decorate the tent of an important man like Uncle Kahn. As we grew older, we recognized the great wheel in the tea ceremony we’d have with Uncle Kahn at the end of a day’s travel. He heated the polished metal pot over a fire, tossed dried leaves and powders into it while speaking, “Spice from the dawn, leaves from the night, salt from the south sea in steel from the north sea,” he tossed a pinch of sand into the water, “the skin of the desert, and the kiss of the ifrit”, he said the last, an invocation of the spirits of desert fire, as he touched the pot to the hot embers. He then poured it into fine-grained wooden cups. All the elements that went into making a pleasant cup of tea were together because we, the Walkers, walked the desert to bring them together. They would be nothing, though, without the Ifrit to bring them to life with the kiss of flame.
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