Here are the first two of six installments of the novel Mud.
They call me Mud, but don’t be fooled. It is a greater insult than it seems.
The word is Wauk and its symbol is embossed on one of the counters of the runeboard. As it is from the Godtongue, it has entered every language. In the Inner Kingdom, so a traveler once told me, it means the basic stuff from which all the world is made. Not so in my city.
In Renth, mud is that stuff into which all foul things come to rest. Blood and feces, urine and menses, all come back to the earth at last. A Renthian merchant will not say the words for those things – he hardly admits that his body produces them – and so he says wauk, thus staining a good word.
My people are Renthian, but outcasts. We are the Chamarana, who live in the swamp, and carry away those unpleasant things that the nobles will not speak of. I was born in the mud and of the mud. The smell of the mud was the first thing in my nostrils. My mother smelled of mud; most of my siblings died of the mud’s contagion.
The Chamarana breed freely and die early. It is a joke to the merchants. But those of us who survive, grow strong. And angry.
The river Renal curves sharply just as it nears the Inner Sea. Renth is built on the high right bank between the river and the sea. Overflowing waters in spring cover the lowlands off the left bank, forming a vast inland swamp. We Chamarana live at the edge of the swamp, and enter Renth only to do our work.
Every morning the tichan are driven out of their pens down the main avenue of the town to the swamp to graze. Every night they return to the safety of the pens, and twice a day we Chamarana with our crusted buckets and wooden scoops go out to clean the road after their passing. Dumped onto the fields at the edge of the swamp, and composted carefully into the stronger waste from the merchants cesspools, it fertilizes the crops we raise to feed Chamrana and merchant alike.
When I was five years old, I was given a scooop and put to work alongside my mother. When I was eight, and could lift a bucket, I began to work alone. But no one works the day round, not even a Chamarana. My mother had only enough energy for her work and to care for my little sister. She had none left for me, so I was free when my work ended to head for the common.
The land which stood above the highest floods was packed tight with warehouses, dwellings, barracks, and shops belonging to the merchants. On the land which flooded yearly, we planted our crops. Above the fields, we built our temporary huts, and rebuilt them every time the Renal rose higher than ususal. Between merchant’s houses and Chamarana huts lay the common.