Thursday, 19 November 2015

The River of Drowned Queens

The Virid is a big river, slower than a sleeping snake say some.

It's always hard to cross. At its origins, spewing from the karst of the Sifir, the black cracked desert of the Caliphate of Holes, it rockets forth crook-necking its way through angular steep-sided canyons of unstable scree. The stones slip-slide under the foot at forty-five degrees and though the jagging of the canyon shifts each month, and tonnes of stone must fall into the rocketing spume, the river never fills.

Even here the faint murk of its dark green water hazes up into a sun-reflecting fog that blurs the daylight into splinters but lets through the light of stars

For a thousand miles it runs, widens, deepens, heating up and slowing down. The dank intensifies. On summer days the river casts its smog-self like a skin, or the green ghost of a snake tracking it from the sky.

At its mouth the snake is wide enough across that silty islands in its midst have grown their own ecosystems, which crash together in slow motion over years as the flow deposits and picks up wuth unpredictable lick.

Some have been the base of micro-kingdoms.

Although these kingdoms do not go on very long, because the Virid drowns all Queens that cross its banks.

You can still here them there, moaning in the silt, and see the glimmering glitter of their crowns and gems turning and tumbling in the tangling ooze.

Its bad to cross the river in the day. Even if the day is cold, it might suddenly heat up and should the Virid's virid murk rise up it will shatter the rays of the sun into kaleidoscopic fragments, sending prickles of frustrating gleam networking back and forth, the river so slow by now its impossible to tell which way it runs. You could be trapped for hours there till the night, listening to the sad cries of the drowned queens from under the water, hearing their tales of the kingdoms they once ruled, of their great castles, great beauty, of their dynasties long passed.

The Queens don't come up above the surface of the water. Probably. There is always the feeling that they could if they wished. Nobody dives for the gems in the silt or for the tarnished crowns.

Sometimes the fishing people on the Virid's banks find a single gem inside the belly of a fish or trapped in the claws of a crab. It is always always thrown back in without delay, with apologies. Refusing to obey this rule is one of the few things that can enrage these tribes, in every other respect, despite their differences in race and language, they are extremely egalitarian people. There is no possibility of a King amongst them, and definitely not a Queen. Not even a homecoming Queen or a Harvest Queen.

They tend not to use nets. The fat flatfish with the wrinkled eyes and the pearly crabs for which the river is known, all tangle and intermingle with the bones of the drowned Queens and it is rude and frightening to disturb them and to pull them up out of the silty beds in which they cannot sleep, but only wait, looking at the shadows of the fishing boats on the surface of the water and waiting and whispering their tales.

For the same reason, lobster pots and eel traps above a certain size are never used, a fisherman might return to their trap  in the night and find a Queen in it and that could be frightening and embarrassing.

Crossing at night is better, if the sky is clear. It's cold and the haze is low and, for some reason, it does not blur starlight. Even the Queens are more quiet, they whisper to the fishers of their lost loves and the great romances they had before they were dead, and again they speak of their lost beauty.

There are a lot of Queens in the Virid, almost every dynasty in this Uncertain World has lost one or more to its waters. It's not clear how this happens since its always been called "The River of Drowned Queens" and one would think they might avoid it, but circumstances tend to conspire; pursuing armies or vengeful suitors or parents, act of madness, wild and dangerous hubris, sometimes the drowned girl does not know she is a Queen. Once a Princess crossed the Virid at midnight and never reached tho other side. Later it was discovered that her entire family had been killed on that very same night thousands of miles away. As the only remaining heir she had become a Queen in the middle of the river and it took her then and dragged her down into its bright green heart.

It's always green in the centre of the Virid where the water is deep, tendrils of veridian weed dance and curl in the murk beneath the keels of the boats.

Despite the large number of Queens recorded to be lost, the river seems almost over-full. There are a lot of Queens down there. Some suggest they were washed out of the Sifir when the great temple fell. Others say the Virid runs through many worlds and that all drowned Queens, wherever they are sunk, wash inevitably into its waters.

Legend says that if one Queen ever crosses the Virid, or navigates it from source to sea, the spell and curse upon it will be broken and the bones of the drowned old Queens will be released and a mighty flood will wash them all into Jukai bay, forming a shoal of bone, broken sceptres and murky jewels.

A tempting and interesting idea to the rulers of Jukai, and the tribes of the Melanic Moors, though both decry any belief in the legend.

The Queens beneath the surface know it though and they cry out for the shadow of that one who will come to touch the rivers banks.

She has not come yet.