Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The story of Kerala

Jared and Karl walked through the forest outside their small village, Kerala. They lived in a small community of a dozen farmsteads, about half a days walk from the nearest trading village. Life was quiet, driven by the need to tend to the crops and small herds of livestock, the changing of the seasons and little else. Farms tended to be handed down through families, so the community was extremely close-knit. Sometimes, a few people would move in to the town to follow a life of trading, to become a guard or join the small council which enforced order. They moved quietly. To an outsider, there was something very strange about their passage: none of the animals around were bothered by their presence, as though they were simply part of the natural order of things.

Both of these young men were going through the awakening. Not all Keralans experienced it, and those which did were usually meant for greater things. Bosun the local blacksmith had gone through it, and in addition to farming implements was able to channel his talent into creating some of the finest metalwork for many leagues. He was able to fashion works of high art, or weaponry of stunning precision with no aid other than the basic tools of his trade. It was the gift of magic, running through his veins, sharpening his senses and deepening his understanding of the metal.

Jared was finding that his changes were more physical. He was strong -- stronger than anyone in the village, and just as quick. He could carry a greater load than his father who had worked the land his entire life, and could outrun the dogs which helped to herd the animals. Karl had a subtler gift -- that of influence. Whereas other boys might throw tantrums and scream, Karl was quiet and self-assured. If he spoke, then people listened; and if he chose to be intimidating, he could make anyone feel unsettled and ill-at-ease. Without being a bully or manipulative, Karl could choose to be terrifying or charming. Right now though, he was reaching out to the woodland creatures around him, making them oblivious to their passing.

To be awakened was to be both blessed and cursed. It brought gifts beyond those given to normal men, but branded you an outsider as well. Peasant folk could often be cruel to the awakened, preferring to put their faith into the gods who protected them. The awakened were abandoned by the gods for their nature, and did not usually have an easy existence.

The pair would sometimes come here to the forest to speak of their fate, far away from the ears of the villagers. Jared was excited -- he seemed the younger of the two even though they were equal in years. He delighted in his physical power. Talking quickly, he explained how he dreamed of escaping the town and taking up a role in the army of the country. Glory through battle was his for the taking, and the army was always happy to recruit people like him. Physical awakening was the most common, and its advantages were more welcomed by society. Often towns would hire one or two of this sort to function as guardsmen against invaders. A single awakened fighter could easily hold their own against three men and would stand a good chance against an ogre or small giant.

Karl's gift, as mentioned, was more subtle but more dangerous. Had he known it, the magicians of the great city of Chanduhar would call him a charismat. In the peasant towns however, he was called a masked man. A masked man could wear any face they wanted, and were feared as being duplicitous and controlling. Indeed, in the wrong hands the power to influence others could inflict a great deal of damage on a community. There were many stories of bands of brigands who would come together to serve such an individual, or worse yet dark cultists who would fall under the sway of such a powerful personality then be trapped into the service of devils and dark magic. It did not matter to them that Karl faced the same choices as any other man, it mattered only that he could apparently control their very thoughts, and it made him unwelcome.

Jared did not really understand, although he was Karl's friend. The insults that Karl could just read on the surface of people's minds but did not say were invisible to Jared. Karl shook himself free of such thoughts, choosing instead to wash himself clean with Jared's enthusiastic and hopeful thoughts. It was not difficult to read their vibe, and to let himself get caught up in his joy. Perhaps they really could leave together. Karl might be able to find work for them in the governor's service, or maybe even earn enough to take them to a big city where there could be a real home for them both.

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They talked deep into the evening, caught up in their dreams and ambitions, but both also with misgivings about leaving their homes for good. In many ways, the township life was idyllic. The gods protected them from disease and helped their crops grow, and the people were one with the land. The threat of war or pestilence was a distant threat, since the wide lands of Kerala were under the domain of a kind and benevolent spirit. The people nourished Kerala, and Kerala nourished them back. To travel far enough from their homes to reach the city of Chanduhar meant leaving the protection of Kerala and travelling through the lands of other spirits, perhaps even crossing dangerous territories. Neither were really sure how far away it was, or what lay between. Messages came and went, but they had never paid them heed before. As boys, there was no need. Now, as young men, the rest of the world was becoming real and the tales of the journeying traders was enticing and new.

It was of course Karl who noticed the marching of the hours. Jared had come to rely on him in such matters. This late at night, the spirit of Kerala would give its favours to the beasts and animals who populated the area, and whose minds were not like that of humans. It was risky to be out this late, and the two friends were old enough to know better, but young enough to make mistakes. They turned to head for home.

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