An Island in Hand

Ben, this is another gaming entry. And I’m playing hooky from school dinner.

”Mama, what’s Môna like? We hardly ever see any of it but the road and the village and the fields. Where is everything else? What’s the rest of the island like?

“You know all of this already.”

“Teach me again anyway.”

“You’re getting old for this. Hold out your hand. Not that one, you goof. The other one, your right hand. So… Môna is kind of shaped like your right hand, but with the thumb pointed north, and really thick, like that.”

“And our village is here.”

“That’s right. Now, Darra Town is down here at the wrist, and the causeway across the marsh, and the bridge to Kymris, run along your forearm, like this.”

“Stop that, that tickles!”

“Sorry. Here’s Mount Aran, on the pad of your palm beside your thumb. That’s where the dwarves live. Up here between the thumb and forefinger is where the four towns of the Jarls are, more on the thumb and less on the finger.”

“And here’s where Skellig Salintar is, where the healers train.”

“That’s right. You’re good at this; I’ll ask the questions now, and we’ll test you. Where’s the great forest of the Alfar?”

“Here in the middle of my palm, all ringed by mountains, except for the Rodas and Darra Valleys. Those are here; they cross through the middle of my palm, from pinky to the base of my thumb.”

“Good. Where’s the Garden Coast?”

“Here, on the bottom edge of my hand. Castle Surf is here, at the bottom of my pinky.”

“You’ve got this one…. Which is the Sunward Coast?”

“Here, along the outside edge of my thumb. Castle Rising at the last joint of my thumb.”

And where is Skellig Ivar?”

“The school for magicians? It’s out at the end of my second finger, isn’t it?”

“Ring finger, dearie. Ring finger. What about Grey Island?”

“Oh, right. Where the ruins of the Witch’s fortress are, right? That’s my second finger, isn’t it? And Holy Island is at the end of my forefinger. That’s where the Archimandrite lives, isn’t it? And that’s where all the shrines were, before the Jarls looted and burned them.”

“That’s right dear. Don’t resent it too much; it all happened a long time ago.”

“Yeah… and Raven Rock, where the princes of Môna were made…that’s here somewhere, between my forefinger and second finger, isn’t it? And Castle Rock, the home of the rangers, is here between my ring finger and my pinky.”

“You remember your lessons well.”

“Mama, how far is it from Raven Rock to Darra Town?”

“I’m not sure, sweetie. Sixty miles, I think, maybe seventy, maybe ninety. Not less than fifty, for sure. Grandpa marched that way once, and it took him eight days of walking to go up the Rodas Valley and down the Darra Valley.”

“And where are the Barrow Hills? I heard you talking to the smith about them, on market day. He sounded worried. What’s happening up there?”

“Oh, they’re here. Down the center of your big fat thumb. And the smith is a talkative gossip. He passes on rumors like they were trivets or handles — one with every mended kettle.”

“What’s happening up there?”

“It’s not really your concern, young man.”


Well… all right. Master Waines said that the Jarls have burned a ship. They used to do that in the old days, when one of their great warriors died. They’d load it full of beautiful things, and put it in the harbor, and put the dead man in it. Then they’d put up the sail, and send a flaming arrow into it. Sometimes they put a beautiful woman into the boat, to burn with the corpse, and be his wife in the next world. That’s how they’d send their great heroes to the gods, and that’s how a new lord would settle things with the spirit world.”

“So why is that big news?”

“I don’t want to worry you, sweetheart.”

“I’m eight. I’m not afraid.”

“I suppose you’re not. Well, if they burned a ship, it means that they’ve given up all sorts of treasure to send one of the old Jarls into the Underworld, or into their miserable excuse for a Heaven. You know they converted to the veneration of the Sages, right?”

“And that everyone always suspected that was a lie? Yeah. I get it, mom. So they burned the ship, and that means they’re not followers of the Sages. That they might go back to being pirates and raiders.”

“That’s what everyone fears, yes.”

“And if the Jarls burned a ship full of treasure, they’ll all want and need more treasure, for their own burials, and for their sons to inherit. Master Waines is afraid they’ll come looking for treasure here. And the Jarls don’t much like peace anyway, do they?”

“Their old religion says that boys become men through battle, and men become gods through war. No matter what the sages taught, or what the clerics preach in shrine, that’s what everyone fears the Jarls still believe. Have you fed the sheep yet? Then it’s bed time.”

Update: OK, OK, I’m really supposed to be calculating grades, and reading and correcting papers. I’m on it, really.

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