The Rogue Verbumancer – Jun 2012 A Place in the Country

The airship Substantive by Proxy trundled lazily through the air, breaching through the thin and wispy clouds of early summer. Madelyn sat curled up in her chair, her feet tucked up beneath her legs. Newspapers, sandwiches and books were strewn across her table, discard. She was restless and she was bored. An endless patchwork of fields stretched out as far as the eye could see, Madelyn had lost herself to this view, the hypnotic swatches of green tones sliding past her eyes. From grass pastures, to meadows, to fields of ripening wheat they were all laid out before her, irregular, haphazard, an enforced order that was almost organic from this height. Uninterrupted for miles save for the odd clump of trees and the silver pale snake of the long river making its way down from the hills towards the sea and the city she had left the previous night. Madelyn was heading home to see her father. It was not a journey being made by a dutiful daughter, the give company to a lonely an ageing man, nor was it out of any sense of familial duty, she was heading home because it was what she did. It was a thing. A habit. June arrived, summer bloomed and she took an airship from the city to see her father.

The soft and silty landscape of the plains was forever in flux. Filed boundaries shifted with the years as ancient drystone fell, was moved or cannibalised for other purposes. Trees grew and were felled, the hues revolved with the seasons and the years both. Great swathes of land were cut through by a winding river that despite its lassitude, was forever hungry. And that was all before you considered the cruel sculpting that war had visited upon it in years gone by. The land was changed even in the year she had been away from it. But within these ever seething cauldron of geography remained one solid and immutable constant. The Mound. A place which had once been home.

 Home…

 It still felt a little weird for Madelyn to think of The Mound as home. She had left it behind her what seemed like such a long time ago. It had become a chapter in her life that had been very much closed. It was now just a place she visited, it wasn’t really home, but yet in a way it still was. She had moved on to pastures which were if not greener, then at least different. Her father was a different matter. Forty years ago when the entire landscape had been rendered in grey hues of charcoal and ash and speckled with bright stars of orange fire her father had come to The Mound. A bright-eyed young soldier with a rifle and dreams of glory, the innocence and naivete not yet beaten out of him by the horrors of war. He had come to The Mound to defend it. For his troubles he had taken an eighteen inch steel spike through the shoulder and he hadn’t left since.

It resolved slowly at first, out beyond the nose of the airship. From a featureless silhouette, nothing more than a grey blob on the horizon. Then came the hints of colours, a muddled riot of brick reds and coppery greens. Moving towards The Mound head on it looked like nothing more than a tightly packed town on a hill. It wasn’t until the airship swung out to make its final approach that you saw the eyes and the nose. The Mound was a singular town in that it was built atop the crown of a colossal stone head, hewn out of a granite outcropping. It was a higgledy-piggledy sort of place, a place of maddeningly nonsensical side streets and meandering alleyways; buildings stacked on top of other buildings; the lower reaches of the town which clustered around the back of the giant head were perennially festooned with great meshes of scaffolding and struts, buttressing the weight of walls and roofs. It was a strangely organic type of place, a well tousled bed-hair for the pale head on which it sat. It was insufferably quaint.

The airship slid slowly into the tight confines of the dock, a grey banded hole above the head’s ear. Roofs and walls sat perilously close to the flight path. On more than one occasion Madelyn has heard the metal of the gondola scrape across the ceramic tiles of the nearby buildings, he father told her that once an airship had knocked over a chimney.

Madelyn’s father was waiting for her when she arrived just like always. He sat on the same bench, hands clasped over his lap, and his walking stick clamped between his knees. As she alighted he seemed to be quite intently cleaning his ear canal with the tip of a finger. As ever he wore a motley assortment of clothes. Mismatched shoes, odd socks, a tailcoat over dungarees. He removed his finger and peered at the fruits of his excavation, before his eyes drifted upwards towards the airship he had plainly failed to notice arriving and then to Madelyn. Unceremoniously wiping his finger on a lapel and made his unsteady way to his feet.

“Maddie!” he shouted, staggering over to his daughter and embracing he in a bony hug.

Madelyn gazed down at her tiny, crooked father

“What are we going to do with you Dad? You’re a mess” she replied, tugging and wild and errant clumps of sparse white hair.

“Phah!” he father replied with a dismissive wave of his hand “You’re just like your mother.” He sucked at his gums “How is she by the way?”

“The doctors say she’ll be able to make it back by the harvest festival. She send was going to send her love but then she thought you’d prefer some jam”

“Well she’d be right there, love is nice and all but it lacks the nutritious practicality that jam offers a man with very few teeth.”

Madelyn sighed

“You should be more respectful, you are after all in the presence of the mayor” her father replied

“They actually re-elected you? Truly I do despair for democracy.”

“Less of your lip young lady.” He father laughed “Now let’s be getting home. I told the cook to have a pot of tea ready for when I got back. I am also led to believe that there will be biscuits, and cake.”


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