While discovered in the 19th century, and first excavated in the early 20th, the civilization that grew up between India and the Middle East was a cipher to history. It left no monumental architecture, and little text on stone or clay. Indeed, there was more than a little argument over the nature of the script, and the possibility that it was a proto-literate, or pre-historical ideographic system rather than a developed syllabary or other form of writing. This changed with the discovery in the far north of a cache of papyrus scrolls, which are now known as Rupar I, for the site there were located near. As importantly, at Rupar II, an interlingual was found, allowing the first reasonable decipherment of the later script. This interlingual was, at first, confusing, since it seemed to have the Indus script twice, and a later script which, while an obscure variation of old Chinese seal script, was readable. It was only at this point that the first of many mysteries became revealed: the script had encoded many different languages, and the interlingual was the key between an Indo-European tongue, closely allied with Sanskrit, and another, which was a language isolate, though somewhat connected with older Dravidian languages, and perhaps Sumerian.
For twenty years Rupar I and Rupar II were hidden from the scholarly community, as explained by Rao and Himmelberg, because of the politics of the discovery, which can be left aside for the present commentary...
The Rupar Texts and Their Significance Wei Huang Li, Journal of Mathematical Linguistics, April 2041, Vol 9, No. 8 pg. 897
The Banner of The White Tiger
There is something new under the sun. That sun which streams now through the portal to the courtyard, the hear leaves of ivy tied with bits of twine to a trellis, the shapes decorating the edges of the shadow on the floor. The shutter swings slightly back and forth in the cooling breeze that is the distant touch of the season of storms, which the people to the east call, the Monsoon.
I was born in the same place of the sun, with that same breath of cool dryness retreating from warm wetness, where the touch of the air was arid, and the weight of the air held a smell like clothes left damp in the corner. I was called 6th moon daughter on my birth, and so they left me with the nurse, a woman who had had so many children of her own that she numbered them. It was not until I was five that I was given even a use name, so much like a clay pot on a shelf is a young daughter who may or may not be beautiful or useful.
So when the time came for me to have something more useful than 9th Moon, my father began calling me after that name, Monsoon. It was a word with a foreign sound, and as a merchant of Deslapur, he knew that people of that moment had a mania for all things foreign, just as they had a mania for the very soft beyond soft wool that came floating down the river in flat bottomed barges, moved by pole or oar, or simple sail, and which was spun into cloth as fine as gold. As a man of means, he had the luxury of naming his children, and only selling them in marriage when they would fetch a good price.
I suppose I should set more of my tale. The name he gave me then clings to me only in the darker nights an corners of my life, when passion overtakes me or my lover, or when I think back to those days of weaving and learning to trace the symbols that showed what was in a jar, or was bound up in a sack. The stick figures that chase each other, and were then the signs of wealth and trade.
Trade, my father's favorite word. Everything was trade. From a sweet lump of honey, to the task of the day, to moments of his affection, everything was in trade. So he set me to taking stylus and tracing lines in clay, which was then fired, to show what had been packed. The other merchant's scribe would do the same, and the two were placed together. I would read the scribe's, always "his," manifest, and he would read mine.
Those running figures, well they would be more valuable than almost any trade I would make with anyone, and certainly with him.
So here I sit, in a warmed stone room, a beige sandstone, and I am dragging a feather sharpened with a bronze knife to a point. In the shaft of the feather, there is a dark rich black fluid, that is ink. As you read this, remember, that ink is the blood of civilization, it flows, it bleeds, it dries. Its formation is life, and where it grows, it is life.
I have written now more words than many people will read in a day, and by the end of this manuscript, I will have written more words than many people will read in a life time. You will have read more than most people will ever know, or have known since the beginning of beginnings, which, even now, stretch back farther than anyone can know or remember.
This is new under the sun. Before memory was in the mouth, with rhapsodes reciting, and reciting, and filling in where their minds failed, with wit and skill weaving a tapestry before the ears of the audience. I know these rhapsodes, because here, where is here? A yes, another thing that is new under the sun, we call it Chancery House, and in it all that is to be done is written, all that has been done is recorded. We few in our hands copy out the rules, writs, and laws, words I know that may be new to you in the form we mean them here, and by doing so, set on inexpensive papyrus, they are carried out by horse and runner to the edges and bones of this, our empire.
Empire! Heavens what a word it is, so foreign in the mouth that we must spell it out rather than using compact signs. It is a foreign idea, a foreign word, and it was foreign to us when I first walked the warmed earth as a child. We heard of empire only as stories from traders from the west, or traders from the east. Shorter folk, but fatter folk, who gleamed with scented oils and glowed with tied beards.
But so it is, our empire. And you, because you are reading this, are advanced far in the service of that empire. You know my name, you have probably heard it, but that of course, is not the name I sign this with, because I write this as the hand of the goddess, who is moved by the will of the Sun God, Ramathan. More on this in its due course.
So realize, as you attempt to add flourishes and touches to the speech you set down, that it will be sealed into a bone, or stripped around a Sumer stick. Then it will be carried. It will be received by some official, who will in turn carry it to the person it is intended for. That man may be drunk, tired, or just having finished exerting himself with his wife, his boy servant, or his goat. In this condition he will go to the Chancery of the village, town or city, and the writing will be handed to a reader. She, almost always she, will be your sister, and she will read what you have written, though, of course, she may be tempted to improve what you write.
Have pity on her, because she is not your equal. If she were, she would be here. Have pity on her also, because she will have to explain what is written to the annoyed official, and he will be annoyed, and this man whose knowledge of signs goes no farther than where to shit, who is still sweating with lust and is afraid in his bowels that this means his death, for how often is he called? And for what? To almost no good purpose. You do not scribe joyous news often.
If you are here, in this place, you have also spent some time fucking with the priests, and perhaps whiling away pleasant time with your sisters in passionate embraces. Do not ever scribe in this state, because, even if carried to the remotest land of Sutakegn, she will smell it on your papyrus, that scent on our fingers from intimate touch of a man or woman. She will know, and will regard you badly. Her eyes will peer through the parchment at you. She does not have your face, and will be jealous of your scented baths, and soft linen robes, and worked leather sandals, and tied locks of hair, and adornments of the flesh.
It is not wise to place your life in the hands of such a sister.
Have pity her and develop your hand carefully, and embellish not for the sake of it. Only write such things to others who will appreciate them, and the moment of their reading. Everything you write for others, is fiction, and it is also true. If you write that it is decreed that such a man must die, then he must die. If you write that Third Plow Tiller owes a dram of silver for 10 drams of tea, then he does. Everything you write for this inner place, among us, is fact, it is also false, because it must never leave this place, as certain secrets must be clenched in your thighs, or a touch of amber is held by an old woman as she dies.
So sister, having spent time evolving to the state where you can not merely scribe, but write, and not merely recite, but read, these pages gift you a thing that you have not seen outside of this house.
What is this book about? It is about what I know and saw, it is of the founding, and of the Chaos Wars, and of the men, and women, and gendery, who made it so. It is of people who have no names to the public mob, but who are more precious than the yellow saffron spice. In the Theogony, you will learn about the birth of gods and goddesses, and when they come, and what hours are appointed to them. But here you will learn of the birth of cities, and how this place came to be.
I look out now, and the sun has fallen to kiss the mountains over the slow wide river that is south of the holy city. Mehragrah, may your name be remembered. And if not, remembered, felt as a soft rustle on the tips of fingers of scribes until the moon eats the sun, and we all return to the shapes of animals in the darkness.
Remember, your sister Monsoon loves you, and from this love she gives you this book, the book. The forbidden book of the garden.
From the vast vault of night, from his throne behind the moon came Ravidarin, the messenger of Ramathon. He slipped silently over the gates and came down to the hall with the vast hearth. Seated around it were the kings of men. He bore a box, and in the box was the voice of Ramathon. When he entered, he was seen, cloaked in silver. All fell in awe and were silent.
Wordlessly Ravidarin opened the box, and boomed the voice of the God of Gods. The voice was heard to say: "In the city of the Harakine, they have fallen from the ways, and fallen from the sky like a punished star. I bless you now. On my rising, in the fields, go take the staff that the moon's lord, my messenger, gives you.
And Janmathsani took hold of the staff, still in Ravidarin's hands, and grasped it. And the light flooded over him, and he wrested the staff from the grip of the Moon's god. On its cap were the horns of the ram. And they all bowed before it, and Janamthsani became annointed king. They drank and ate that night, and sacrificed a virgin ewe. They slept, and in the morning marched out to the field before the Great City, Harakine.
Up was set the ram's horn's standard. Up was flew the bright red cloth, soaked in berries and bright to the eye. There might grew the warriors of the God of Gods, Sun of Suns. There shown the polished light of their glittered shields. Row upon row, rank upon rank, day upon day. Behind the walls of cold stone the defenders shook. They were very afraid, at the sound of the roar of the horns, and the bleat of the drums, and the whistle of the flutes like arrows. And they shook in terror. Then the great God, the God of Gods, Sun of Suns, spoked. The air reverberated with his warmth. Lo his warriors charged, and all was cleansed of the city that was unclean, and all the darkness illuminated.
As I said before, all you scribe is fiction, and all you scribe is true. This is the truth, because it is set down, and read through out the land where ever, and when ever, people are gathered to celebrate the Great God Ramathon. Except that is not the way it happened. We did not worship Ramathon, or any likeness of him. The ram's horn standard came later. And if you think that the great city fell to a charge of might warriors once, then you do not know war. I hope you do not know war.
We didn't either, not until that time. We got to the very walls of the city, and still did not know war. How then did we get there? Why was I with the army? Because it was not an army, and it was not, until that day, a war. And it is a good deal farther than a morning's march from the city that the story speaks of. You know it as Rajatharin, the King's Stand. It was not known as that, because at that time it did not have a king, did not want a king, and wouldn't have thought to anoint one. As for the celebration? We did not sacrifice a virgin ewe. Maybe virginities were sacrificed, but the only things unsheathed were firmly attached to pelvises. There are more things wrong than this, but too many to simply list.
Instead let me tell the tail as best that I can. First I must write of the lay of the lands. At that time in the south, was the island bounded by the Run of Kutch, and the broad bay of Hakra. The two arms embraced three cities: Deslapur, Surkatoda, and on a small island off the coast, set deep in the bay, Dholayaira. The city you know as Rajasthra, the King's Stand, was then called Kaliban, and it was far up the river. My father had been elected to negotiate a treaty, not of war, but of trade. There were dozens of small issues, the most important being the wool of that region being barred from being spun or woven by our laws, and they, in retaliation, would not allow wrought metal goods beyond their city at the point of where the river Harkra breaks up into many rivers. There were excuses on both sides, about this and that. But the reality was that this was a negotiation over power.
My father also had secret instructions, which I would only know of later. It weighed heavily on his mind. Our journey took the third moon of that year, slowed by the rapid flow of waters from the far north's melting snows. I remember eating little and feeling ill, and spending the days under the tent in the middle of the boat, spending hours practicing my hand on a slate with chalk, spinning, and embroidering. The men working the oars smiled at me constantly, until my father's glare made them start to look away. My clothing was modest in the extreme this time, because the strengthening sun was harsh on my skin.
After this slow progress, looking out over lands, both tilled and fallow, wild and tamed, we saw in the distance a low hill, and populated on it clumps of low buildings, loosely scattered like a child's blocks. Before the city was a bridge, whose dark timbers were worn of paint that clung to the edges near the banks of the river. The spindly legs of the bridge grew thicker in the center, and it looked like some great centipede stretched out over the river, which here was narrow and fast moving, a rich orange color with the silt from the mountains. There were white swirls in the water that I watched obsessively, trying to stay away. The long journey had left me listless. It was at this point that the owner of the boat, a thin man with a long nose and almost hollowed out cheek bones came to me.
"Miss will want some." He offered a cup of liquid that was pale green, and had an acrid reek to it.
"It is medicine?" I looked directly at him and felt the vapors of it rise into my nostrils. It was pungent, but smelled leafy, like the aurora of a tree captured in a cup.
"It will cure what ails the miss. I promise."
Having heard many stories of offered medicines, it would have been foolish to take it, except that my father was an important enough person that it would have been unwise to attempt any such thing with me. For a moment I had a vision of myself as being drowsier and drowsier, and then, something, happening. My understanding of sex was not clear. I had seen people moving together under covers, and I had seen animals having sex, but connecting this to my own body and what it would mean had not happened. I knew the owner wanted sex with me, because his eyes had been all over me the entire journey.
I took the cup. I drank it back swiftly. I felt nothing, and continued to loll in the swiftly setting sun. It's orange bloated spider body clambering to the horizon. But as the day prepared to sleep, I found more and more energy, my eyes opened, as did my mind. I resumed scatching on the slate, and began to play with poetic phrases that I had heard, rather than just scribing exercises. At last I could remember one song I had heard sung several times, and set it down on the slate. I brushed it clear with the sleeve of my cloak.
At this point my father looked down on me and beckoned me to stand. My mind and sight had taken on a peculiar clarity that they had never had before, and even though the light had grown trickier, the details were finer to my sight.
We passed under the great wood bridge, the river narrowed, and the sides rose, seemingly carved out of the stone, and rising higher than the mast of a sea boat. The sun was setting and behind us, with the cups and shapes of the sheer cliff face having dark and deep rims and rings the sucked in the light like the holes in a skull. One place in the river turned and two such round shapes stared back, in a lopsided face. I was standing, in a brown traveling cloak, held by a clasp made of bronze with a leave shape over the pin. Beneath this I had a heavy wool over tunic, and beneath that my linen dress, now grey from use. I wore boots made of worked leather, that my father had made for me. I had travelled with him before, and my feet had been cold. He was not a man to suffer the same problem twice. My father was more richly dressed, with layers of cloth and wool, and a cloak that was heavier than all of the clothes I wore together. He had a girth that had grown with the prosperity of years, and a roundness of face in which was set two shining eyes. He was prone to smile, and had wrinkles at the corners of his mouth from it. His hair was now cut short in straight lines, because he was too busy to have it carefully done. It fell straight and dark. He was tallish, but no taller than I, a fact that made others stare at me, because women are seldom my height at all.
He stared up the river, his features clearly darkening in thought. He turned to me and began to speak:
"Monsoon, I will need you to scribe for me on this. The people here need to learn to set on papyrus the agreements, so that when I return, there will be proof that we have made the bargains that we set out to make. And proof that they are to be held to. Do you think you can do this?"
As usual, he offered no preamble to his statements. I replied as I usually did.
"And what have you to offer me?" It was almost a ritual phrase among merchants, because people would point to what they wanted, and, if they did not show what they wanted to give in return. needed prompting by gestures and questions. So it is in trade when people do not speak common languages.
He first turned his head, but then, gripping the rail of the boat, rotated his body fully around to look at me. He drew breath, thought for a moment, and then spoke again.
Sprawled out before us was a single division in the river, that spread out like fingers of a hand grasping. Along both banks were cluttered low buildings, blocky, and encompassing of courtyards, from which could be seen growing flowering trees. In the prow of the peninsula itself, taller buildings, surrounded by a wall with ramparts. Stone, not brick, decorated with colored banners. The tallest of which was one I did not know, a green banner with a white tiger. I pointed to this and looked at my father quizzically, but he did not know, and shrugged. Clearly change was a foot here.
The boat lazily slowed, and reached stones that were set out into the current of the water. The wall loomed above us. Set into the wall was a great heavy gate, worn by many years, and dented. Behind it were wooden doors, studded with huge nails that looked as if only a giant could pound them in. Even though it was dusk, torches had been lit and there was business loading and unloading. I smelled the smell of the liquid, and saw sacks of green leaves, dried and curled up, and some fresh. I saw the sign on the side of them, and copied it several times on to my slate, and in the air with my finger.
I followed my father, who, despite his bulk, was adept at weaving through men scurrying about their business. There were some leers at me, perhaps thinking that any woman with painted eyes must be a prostitute, since this was not the more ceremonial dock. I wondered why we chose to arrive here, or perhaps not, my father was glancing in all directions, carefully noting the signs, jars, boxes, bags, piles and urns. He would stop and take a deep draught of the air from time to time, soaking in the flavors that hung here. Noting the colors. I could only follow his glances and understand, after he had laid them, why that particular thing had found its way to his attention.
We passed between the open jaws of the gate, and between the swung inward doors. They felt of dampness, and there were stains of dirt, blood, oil, and smears of grease on them. The handle was black, darker black than at first, I thought could be naked metal, but so it was. The city had had many battles, it was clear, and I hoped that I would get a chance to hear some of the story tellers, not for the battle stories, but because almost all such stories featured some romance and bits of poetry which, if properly recited, could transport the listener into a waking dream.
We began cutting our way through the street, the fronts of the houses and buildings were simply stone built up, occasionally carved with figures. Only doors. Nothing opened on to the street. The street itself was of carefully fit together larger stones, each three or four times as far across as my feet. In this were set proper drains, to snake away the water. The sides curved so the middle was higher than the edges, and the edges had steps up from the general lay of the stones. My home town did not bother much with streets, but had channels and walk ways slung between buildings. But they are no more, or would be no more soon.
Up the slowly inclined street, which ran parallel to the eastern river, the Gungaria, as it was then called. We finally reached the point where we were higher than the wall, and below was a clutter of square within square roofs: the centers being courtyards. Within them I could see circular terraces and bowed trees, from which budded flowers. We halted before a thick non-descript door, my father halted, presented an inlaid ivory token, which clearly gained him admission, and then pointed at me and presented another. We walked in through this door, twice as wide as that of an ordinary house, and into a low darkened room. A slab of wood was set across two stones, and behind it a person sat on a round stone with a square of filled cloth. I guessed it to be some kind of pillow, though it was very plain compared to the embroidered ones I was used to.
The door slammed closed behind us, and we were pointed to a hall, set into which were drape covered entry ways. Behind us two men carried our baggage. We entered in, and the room was empty. My father never slept in other people's beds if he could help it. We brought rolls to sleep on, reed mats and sheets, with two blankets each. I was, however, too aroused by the effects of the medicine to sleep, and was happily checking characters and set myself on finishing another row of embroidery. My father, by contrast, was snoring within minutes, his hand clutched around a short blade. It was deep into the night before sleep took me, and I listened carefully to the goings on, the shufflings, the arrivals, the sounds of conversation, distantly grunting exertions, I did not know of what kind, and the laughter of women, I think playing sticks with some men.
But then I fell into the dream world, and I will, in the next scroll, recount what happened there.