Home thoughts from abroad. Or abroad thoughts from Home. Or something.

Chapter sixteen: The boring bit in between desert and jungle.

Being a series of letters and postcards to Ankh-Morpork from two recent school-leavers on a gap year touring the Howondalandian (or Klatchian – it depends where you're standing) continent.

Carrying on the story, more or less, from the Discworld Tarot short "The Princess of Wands". In which two "Princesses" of the correct airy/fiery disposition go travelling. There will be descriptions of Discworld nations and peoples here which in the best Pratchett tradition will be taken Up Past Eleven and which may have odd echoes of places on Earth. I leave it to my readers to make up their own minds as to which parts of the general African region may or may not be getting the treatment here.

Mariella and Rivka have crossed the Mountains of the Moon from Klatch into Ymitury. And with extreme reluctance, ended up riding shotgun on the Hippie Trail, asking exactly how much they've got in common with other people of the same age on their Gap Year of backpacking and are noew heading Rimwards. Some incidental information, but not much, gleaned from The Compleat Discworld Atlas. so there's a long interlude back in Ankh-Morpork to cover the boring miles and miles of camel travel with not much happening and our girls yearning for action of some kind. They will soon get it. But not in this chapter, which is just clocking up the miles.

Now read on….

At the International Hostel for Youth of all Nations, Re'durat, Ymitury.

May 8th, The Year of the Bewildered Raccoon.

Dear Johanna.

We are preparing for the next leg of our trek deeper into Howondaland, where hopefully we will be leaving the Klatchian end of the continent behind us and moving in a more Rimwards direction towards Howondaland proper. It does rather seem as if so far we have been moving along rather than Down the continent and have spent seven months travelling without going all that far in the desired Rimwards direction. (Cenotia to Klatch to Ymitury.)

From here there are several possible interesting routes.

We can pass through Laotan and Syrrit which opens up a route to what the Mapps and gazetteers vaguely call "The Kingdoms of Howondaland". This involves crossing the Central Howondalandian Plains, which the guidebooks call "The Prairies" but which to all intents and purposes we would recognise as Savannah and Veldt. This will be a home from Home and achingly familiar to me.

Laotan and Syrrit are described, geographically, as "Sub-Neffian", which is a geographer's term for "place where the desert fails and arid semi-scrub begins". These are, in economic and social terms, "marginal economies" where only a few nomadic and semi-settled people live, making a bare living from sheep, goats, camels and some primary economic activities, ie mines of various sorts. They do not sound especially promising or interesting (although the possibility is there that we could find things of surprise or interest there!) and we do not propose to linger for too long on our way to the Plains. Certainly, no major country considers it worthwhile to base Embassies there, although we are informed that Ankh-Morpork maintains a Consulate which is not fixed but mobile, travelling between the nomadic tribal conferences such as the interestingly-named Whistlestop. Apparently, these are the nearest things both nations have to capital cities, albeit peripatetic ones.

The Central Plains, by long treaty and right of victory in war,(1) are the province of the Confederated Red Indian Tribes. As these parallel a similar tribal society in Aceria and the Great Outdoors, it is a mystery to anthropology as to how the Indians got to Howondaland in the first place.(2) From what we have read, they seem to have age-old confused legends of a Trail of Tears in a widdershins direction across two continents. Tribes like the Apache will point out it wasn't them who shed the tears along the trail. We are trying to avoid meeting Apaches. I do recall the senior student whose only given name was Miss Starhawk. Even Rivka considers that she was truly a Scary Mary. And she was, by all accounts, only part-Apache. You will, of course, have known her better, having taught her.

Rivka also points out that the Indians are the only people on the Disc who have conclusively and decisively beaten we Vondalaanders in battle. Which, in her opinion, makes them extremely Badass. I point out that the General who led our people to defeat was called Rjuster. How a man with a name and an ancestry like that achieved high rank in our Army is anybody's guess.

And we are taught that our defeat was brought about by the Klatchians placing every pressure on us, short of an actual war, to withdraw from the Central Plains. We were at the time not strong enough to withstand a joint Klatchian/Zulu invasion. And that Ankh-Morpork, still smarting at their utter defeat in the War of Independence, cunningly and underhandedly assisted the Indians by sending them an extremely powerful Wizard who foully used magic to confound and defeat our Army.

And yes, I do recall when Ponder took the time to explain to both of us, in a way that was diplomatic, gentle and above all careful, that this wasn't the complete truth. He even introduced us to the Wizzard involved. (All down to one of those magical accidents you get at the University. Although Ponder speculates about History Monks being involved too.) (3)

The Indian tribes, or most of them (Apaches excepted!) are these days relaxed about legitimate travellers, so long as they travel and do not settle permanently. They are careful to enforce this. I understand Lord Vetinari has remarked to the Indian Tribes Ambassador to Ankh-Morpork, Chief Spotted Skunk, that this is a happy state of affairs that should be allowed to persist and he sees no reason to seek change. So we have no great fears about travelling among them. Indeed, the Indian peoples permit only two towns on their land, in the sense of permanent buildings populated by a static people. There is the settlement of Sprained Ankle, which functions as a diplomatic and trading centre where Embassies of all the major states of the Disc may be found, and then there is Port Smith-Rhodes on the coast.

I am interested in visiting Port Smith-Rhodes.

I understand Rimwards Howondaland ceded any territorial claim on the Central Plains and it was agreed, during the peace conference, that Fort Smith-Rhodes should be demilitarised and allowed to remain as a sort of Free State allowing the Indian tribes to have a "window on the world". Today it is a sort of Zemphis on the Howondalandian coast, and the two places in fact have a common ethos and an informal "twined town" arrangement.

We will take care there to be vigilant at all times, and to go armed and attentively. Besides, our Family still maintains significant interests there and Uncle Charles has a local presence.

After Laotan/Smyrrit, I can see our journey will become very interesting again.

Bekki loves the gifts she received from Miriam and you have written to thank her for her generosity, which took you somewhat by surprise. I'm pleased. And you now have new family pets following Ponder and Bekki returning from Lancre? I'm so pleased his trip to Slice was so productive, from an academical viewpoint, and that HEX is now processing the data. And that Mrs Ogg will be following Bekki's career with interest and is there to give you professional advice on how aspects of her upbringing should be dealt with. This is perhaps advisable. Mrs Ogg, when she visits, will be lodging with Madame Emmanuelle?

I am amused, as was Mrs Ogg, by Madame saying that she intends to die peacefully in bed aged around eighty – the bed belonging to a much younger lover. It is possible they have much in common and have much to talk about.

Mrs Ogg's observation that Lady Assassins and Witches have a lot in common was thought-provoking. That the same fundamental twist in the head is there, and if twisted in one direction makes a Witch, while if twisted in another it makes an Assassin. Through her genetics, Bekki may have both twists at once. Which is something to watch for!

I look forward to meeting the interesting new housepets. I'm sure you can cope. You run a Zoo, after all.

With love

Sister and aunt

Mariella


Interlude: At 18 Spa Lane, Nap Hill, Ankh-Morpork.

Doctor Johanna Smith-Rhodes took a deep breath and allowed her lips to unpurse. Her husband, Professor Ponder Stibbons, relaxed perceptibly. Caught between the conflicting demands of wife and daughter, he really hadn't been sure how this one was going to play out.

Regard Johanna and Ponder in their middle thirties, a settled and comfortable married couple now working out the demands of being two professional people who are managing a household and raising children. Johanna has filled out slightly from the person she was prior to motherhood, but cannot be called "matronly" or in any way "fat". Her hips have irreversibly widened a little after two daughters and her bosom is a little larger, but hard work, good diet and the sort of fitness regime that the Guild of Assassins informally demands of its teaching staff means that she is still both physically fit and somewhat attractive. She can no longer pass for a girl ten years younger – it is obvious she is a mother in her thirties – but maturity is becoming to her. Ponder privately thinks she has never been more beautiful. And motherhood changes women. "Serenity" is probably the wrong word for Johanna, as she has never been serene, and has no intention of starting now. But she is certainly content and comfortable in her skin, as the Quirmians say.

Ponder, meanwhile, has filled out a little and is, in fact, uncomfortably aware of the onset of a little middle-aged spread; fellow Wizards have amicably remarked that married life must agree with you, young Stibbons, you're beginning to look like a proper wizard now! Give it another ten years of good regular dinners, eh, Stibbons? Shame you still can't grow a decent beard, but you can't have everything, eh?

And, after scientific investigation of the Slice Phenomenon, after interviewing people and preparing a report, and after taking time to show his daughter around Lancre, a town he first saw many years before and has revisited at irregular intervals, he is home again. The fact the Rail Ways out of Ankh-Morpork now stretch as far as Hot Dang, a logging town some miles away from Lancre Town, means it takes less than a day to travel between both. To Ponder, this beats broomsticks. Johanna, by express command, prohibited him from flying their daughter there. She is concerned about Bekki and broomsticks and doesn't want her daughter getting ideas, for eg about borrowing Ponder's broom from where it lives above the fireplace and going for a joyride. Not yet, anyway.

Ponder's broom is now padlocked to its mountings by a secure chain. You cannot, as Johanna is discovering almost daily, be too careful around Bekki. Who is indeed an adventurous and inquisitive young lady. Her sister Famke, now at the toddling and stumbling stage, also shows clear signs of being independently minded and inquisitive.

The two new family pets, who Johanna has reluctantly accepted will be part of the domestic setup at Eighteen Spa Lane, are currently taking the first steps towards investigating their new environment. Baby animals tend to get love and affection from all around them. Even Claude the family butler has been moved to discreetly pet and stroke them, in a dignified butlerian sort of way. Annaliese the nanny and the other servants were also delighted by them. The house-goblins had grasped that they were pets and not to be viewed, in any way at all, as a food resource. Besides, in a few months time even the hungriest goblin would decide he wasn't that hungry. Bekki is in love with them.

"So there is a breeding farm in Lencre." Johanna said. "Where the farmer end his wife breed pedigree exemples of these creatures, es pert of the Fency."

Even after nearly seventeen years in Ankh-Morpork, Johanna had lost little of her Rimwards Howondalandian accent. In any case, her household was multi-lingual. Even Ponder had learnt to speak a form of Vondalaans. (4)

Ponder nodded, slightly shame-faced. He hadn't intended to buy the new pets. But there is one of those iron laws of parenting which operate when a father of a young daughter is witnessing the first tremble of the lower lip, a crestfallen expression, and a hint of a tear in the eye, which express a fear, on the part of said daughter, that Daddy is going to say "no". The result is usually a foregone conclusion. (Mothers are usually made of sterner stuff, possibly remembering a time when they pulled this one on their own fathers.)

"I couldn't say "no", Johanna." Ponder admitted. This was a sort of daughter-to-father magic against which he had no defence. Johanna nodded, understanding.

"Go into my study, Ponder." she told him. "On the bookshelves where I keep my own ecademic texts. Third shelf down, there is a work by the Enkh-Morpork Ailurophiles End Breeders Essociation. It lists pedigree types end breeds. Look under the heading of Ecerian Maine Coon. I will wait for you while you do so."

Ponder quickly found the handbook and brought it back. He noted it was divided into four sections.

"Towards the beck, Ponder." Johanna said, with the sort of extreme patience he had learnt to be very wary of.

He quickly moved through the four sections, headed Domestic Breeds, Semi-Domesticated Breeds, More Feral Breeds, and Only For The Experienced Handler.(5)

"Oh." he said, after a while. He looked to where Bekki was happily engrossed in playing with the kittens. Child and kittens seemed to be mutually in love.

Johanna nodded.

Ponder added "I thought they looked a bit larger than usual."

Johanna relented slightly. She patted his shoulder.

"End when the breeder said to you thet he was prepared to sell you a couple of the kittens cheaply, and he was glad to move them on, es Mrs Ogg comes round end gets emphetic et eny suggestion of the brick-end-a-seck method of disposing of unwanted kittens. Thet these were not quite up to breed stenderd, es the father was a mongrel tomcet with no pedigree. Did this not sound eny little elerm bells in your head?"

Ponder looked worried. Johanna then summed up the salient points concerning the Maine Coon cat. They are big. They come from a part of Aceria where for some reason there were few dogs, and some sort of creature needed to be bred for hunting and guard purposes. This cat had evolved to fill the niche, helped along by selective breeding. The Maine Coon, therefore, could grow to four feet long and nearly two feet tall at the shoulder. Not quite as big as a Ridgeback but appreciably so. Easily the largest domestic cat species on the Disc and bigger than, say, a typical lynx. Needing much food and specialised handling. And training. (6)

Oh, and that little detail about a tomcat of no pedigree being either the father or the grandfather. Now think carefully about the nature of cats in Lancre and make an educated guess? At the very least, both these cats are going to be neutered. No argument. I note we have a male and a female. Best done while they are small. We have facilities for such operations at the Zoo.

Bekki smiled. Mummy was going to let her keep the kitties, then.

Johanna turned to Claude, a dignified black man in later middle age.

"Ebout the name, Claude." she said, uncertainly. "No offence is intended."

Her butler smiled a butlerian smile.

"No offence is taken, madam." he reassured her. "I understand the name "coon" is a diminutive of raccoon, a creature found in Aceria who these cats are said to resemble, when fully grown, and indeed who they take pleasure in hunting. There is no confusion with a derogatory term for people with black skins."

"Thenk you, Claude." she said.

"I would suggest Madam should acquire baskets and other accessories, such as ablutions facilities for the new domestic pets, as soon as she can." Claude said, deferentially. "But given your skills and interests, this should be straightforward."

Johanna sighed. It would need some big litter trays. And lots of litter.

"Mummy! I've thought of names!" Bekki said, excited. A little of her mind was reasoning that just in case Mummy changed her mind, it would be a good thing to have names for her kitties. Kitties with names would be harder to dispose of.

"Go on then," Mummy said. She was remembering a time when she had adopted and successfully reared a lion cub.(7) She reflected that her daughter took after her, and felt a sort of warm maternal pride.

"From that song you sing. Belowe pyn en smart." Bekki said. "This one is Pyn and this one is Smart."

Johanna considered this and smiled. Her daughter was equally fluent in Vondalaans. Or at least a Vondalaans tinged with Phlegmish and Kerrigian.

"Ja. Eny mouse or rat intruding on this house end stalking our veldt is indeed promised pain and hurt." she agreed. She put aside the uneasy thought that this might well extend to the human inhabitants and the choice of names might be asking for trouble.

"Pyn en Smart it is, then."

And about time we had new pets, Johanna thought. A house is emptier without them. And Mariella was right. This time, something different to Ridgebacks so they start with a new clean slate and are not compared to the ones who were here before. Although they'll grow to much the same size as Ridgies. And I was negotiating for new dogs. Should I still get the puppies, see if they can grow amicably alongside the Maine Coons? If puppies and kittens are socialised together from the beginning, it is possible… and I can re-open the dog-walking rota with School pupils. I'll talk to Gillian about Raven House girls volunteering for a rota. Good for everyone. Especially if they get contact with the cats too.

Johanna wondered about how Mariella and Rivka were faring. She felt her sister and her travelling companion were going to want to move on from Ymitury soon. Apart from undeniably distinctive food and occasional visits to the Pasha, there really wasn't very much there to interest Assassins. Acting as camp counsellors to tourists was, she thought, something they'd very soon want to move on from. The next letters would be interesting, she thought.


From the journal of miss Rivka ben- Devorah (Black Widow House) Licenced Assassin. A traveller in Klatch and now in Ymitury.

Hi Johanna!

There wasn't really all that much more to Ymitury after we had the official reception at the Pasha's Palace. (report for Guild attention attached).

We were introduced to the Pasha, a little fat man who twitched a lot, by the Howondalandian Ambassador. I was offered the opportunity to become a concubine. I think that equates to an offer of marriage. I am getting lots of practice in politely and elegantly declining such offers. No such offer was made to Mariella. I suspect if in the future there is a contract on the current Pasha, it might interest an Assassin who was trained by Madame Emanuelle to accept a marriage proposal, or at least one of concubinage, as a method of getting close to the client. It is worth considering.

There is no Cenotian Embassy in this place, although there is a Trade Delegation. A gentleman called Benjamin, who we last met in Cenotia, was present. We caught up on my adventures since, which Benjamin was interested in hearing about, and he asked many perceptive questions.

We will be moving on soon.

Some of our fellow travelers have been moved to ask, out of curiosity, which school Mariella and I lately attended prior to our Gap Year. They sense we are somehow different.

So we told them.

There was much nervousness and people discreetly moving away from us.

As this sort of thing gets back to the Pasha, we are warned, and he is nervous about Assassins, we are not going to linger. We ride for Laotan tomorrow. Another day, another border.

Rivka.


May 11th, The Year of the Bewildered Raccoon. In transit.

Dear Johanna

Laotan is indeed a benighted pit. We do not intend to stay here very long.

The land is fairly rugged and is heaped with the desolate spoil from the tin-mines. Nothing destroys a landscape more than indiscriminate mining by humans, who are not anything like as good at it as Dwarfs.

Incredibly, there is an emigrant community of Llamedosians here, no doubt drawn by the mining. We could swear we are in Pant-y Gyrdl or similar. The Klatchian/Howondalandian night is enlivened by voices raised in local song. Admittedly the song is Men of Pant-y-Gyrdl or else the one about the greyhound or the one about the little saucepan. Very surreal.

Where there are not mines, there are goats and goat-herders, who communicate via whistles. All very strange.

A short letter, as there really isn't very much here to write a longer letter about.

Love to Bekki and Famke

Sister and aunt

Mariella

May 15th, The Year of the Bewildered Raccoon. In transit.

Still in bloody Laotan.

May 18th, The Year of the Bewildered Raccoon. In transit.

Still in bloody Laotan.

May 20th, The Year of the Bewildered Raccoon. In transit.

Still in bloody Laotan. A goat spat at me. The camel spat back, more accurately.

May 22nd , The Year of the Bewildered Raccoon. In transit.

Dear Johanna.

Laotan was a dump. Smyrrit scarcely much better.

Our almost-trusty camels continue to carry us. Rivka thinks as we get nearer to the Plains, it may be wiser to part-exchange them for horses. You can almost get to like camels after a while. Almost. It may almost be a wrench to part with them. Almost. But I agree. Horses might be a better choice. This country, by the way, is a slightly more interesting place than Laotan, but not by very much. And more visually appealing, though not by very much.

When we get to a place where mail may be sent, I will have a parcel to post. It will be a large one, but will still weigh light for Post Office purposes. You will see why when you receive it. There is one interesting fact about this land. You will understand when you open the parcel. It will interest Ponder, I think.

Another week or so will see us at the border with the Great Plains. We intend, as far as is possible, to go straight across, due Rimwards. The next step after the Plains/Prairie/Savannah/Veldt is problematical – to navigate the Rimwards forest, which thickens to true jungle, and if our direction is right, to come out in Smith-Rhodesia. If our direction is wrong, we land in one of the "Kingdoms of Howondaland", which for obvious reasons of ethnicity, nationality, and name, I would prefer to avoid. There is only one country on the other side of the jungle where anyone called Smith-Rhodes is assured of a good welcome. And I freely admit it will be a strange experience. It's funny that with our name, neither you nor I have ever been to Smith-Rhodesia!

But first we have another set of mountains to cross and the Plains/Prairie/Savannah/Hubwards Veldt (and its people) to encounter.

There must be a town somewhere around here. Settlements are depressingly thin on the ground in this country. All we see, from time to time, are the local herdsmen, who for inescapable reasons appear to have their heads in the clouds. The name of the land translates as Land of the Honest People.(8) So you cannot say you have not been warned.

Apparently, something called the Rug Road, a trading route across the continent, passes through Smyrrit (alternatively Syrrit) but we have yet to see it. There is a depressing lack of long stately caravans, consisting of hundreds of camels and pack-beasts laden with exotic wares – and food other than couscous, rice, dried dates and falafel – coming this way. You'd see something that big from several miles away.

Ah well. Ever onwards.

Love to Bekki and Famke,

Sister and aunt,

Mariella

To be continued….


Notes Dump:

Random out-of-sequence ideas and possibly cryptic explanations of references in the text. Somewhere in the text but not necessarily here. They may relate to a chapter of this work which is not this immediate one or represent one existing in potential L-Space which is yet to be written. They may even be random jottings and ideas to inspire other stories. Time and L-Space are not linear. Strange things happen.

Nope. got nothing on Sub-Saharan Africa that's even remotely Discworld-relevant. In our world much of it was French colonies. But I doubt the Quirmians ever got this far. Or wanted to. Lots of footnotes, though.

(1) Shameless plug: to my story Rincewind Among the Redskins, in which the hapless Wizzard is forced into a situation not unlike Dustin Hoffman.s character in "Little Big Man".

(2) A peril of the mobile and ever-evolving canonical Discworld. In Reaper Man, the Red Indian One-Man-Bucket is introduced as a gag character, parodying the spiritualist mediums' universal belief that Red Indians represent a spiritually evolved Noble Savage who are more than pleased to spend their Afterlives as guides to mediums (or Smalls) such as Mrs Evadne Cake. They apparently have nothing else to do in the Happy Hunting Grounds other than to break off their happy hunting and be benevolent dispensers of Eternal Wisdom. As Mrs Cake discovers, Bucket is anything but. He also bemoans being deprived of his birthright, which would have been to roam the plains of Central Howondaland with his tribe. Which conclusively pointed to Discworld Native "Americans" being in the Discworld "Africa", fighting for space with "Arabs", "Moors", Black Howondalandians, and, as several scattered and tantalising hints suggest, a legacy of colonialism who might be described as "Afrikaaners". This fitted Terry's oft-stated decree that no part of the Discworld should resemble in any way at all any part of North America. But this sort of got chipped away at. With Genua being a sort of Deep South Delta, Tezuma being a sort of Mexico, et c. And at least some of Terry's notes on the Disc were posthumously presented as The Compleat Discworld Atlas (although embellished by co-creators). He seems to have relented on the America thing by creating "The Great Outdoors", a place with a suspiciously Wild West/ USA vibe, occupying a hitherto empty void on the Mapp. Which stretches from the Hub to Genua and - joys – fits the place where I tentatively put my Aceria. (originally an Up To Eleven "Canada, Eh" but now expanding to take in Lower Acerian States like, er, Californicatia). And this may have Indians too. And to make it even more fun, the CDA hints at a Holland-like place called "The Neverlands" – a long way away from Sto Kerrig…. A different origin story, ultimately, for Johanna and Mariella. These things are sent to try the hard-working fanfic writer….

(3) The full story is in Rincewind Among The Redskins.

(4) Johanna and Mariella were interested in the phenomenon of a native Ankh-Morporkian learning their first language. Usually it was the other way around. They found their language, spoken by an Ankh-Morporkian, developed an interesting accent. Both sisters agreed Ponder was quite good at it, and put it down to a wizard having to, by profession, grasp a lot of languages both quickly and more importantly accurately, for grimoire and spellcasting purposes. But they were in agreement that Ankh-Morporkians just could not get the hang, at all, of the rhotic-R which characterised Vondalaander speech. And the guttural G was a problem too. But he was making a creditable attempt. Even f it sounded strange and jarring.

(5) Read as You're Asking For Trouble with This One, Matey. A fifth section involved lots of red ink and double underlinings for emphasis and was headed Lancre Greebos.

(6) I know. This differs from the official description of the Maine Coon. But hey, Rule of Funny.

(7) it's in The Discworld Tarot somewhere.

(8) The literal meaning of the Sub-Saharan country name Burkino Faso.