Into the meeting hall came Theodore, the headman. He was surprisingly small and slender. His eyes, perpetually wide and a deep clear blue, were notoriously poor at seeing, a fact that many miscreant children had taken advantage of. Apart from the eyes he was dark with black hair and skin that looked tanned all the time.
He walked off center, a syncopated lurch that was the result of something breaking in his brain some years before. Even his many enemies refrained from mentioning his ailment, partly through compassion, but mainly to avoid the explosive rage he exhibited whenever it was brought up.
No matter the clothes he wore he always had his grandfathers belt around his waist. A thick strip of leather held in place by leather thongs through holes. Hanging from it, all the way around, were a score or more glossy black feathers and it was this that caused awe in those open to the emotion. Having seen a bird was singular enough. To kill and eat one, to absorb its power, was both wonderful and appalling at the same time.
His family had relied on this awe to maintain their grip on the village for three generations. Whether the bird feathers carried any science was an open question.
"So here is our precious waking dreamer and her latest piece of adornment. Are those spirals what all the young ladies wearing nowadays? I admire the extreme dedication to beauty those tattoos represent but why not use henna, as is more usual for this kind of thing?"
"I need help sir. Please tell me what I can do to rid myself of these marks."
He turned away slightly and in the flickering firelight seemed to be snarling. Then he turned back with a full smile on his face.
"You messed with the bird didn't you? The loops don't like that. They'll push you away from the bird but not before teaching you a lesson. You're lucky they didn't give you a taste of the land of screaming birds. They did that to me and look what happened."
Then Theodore, who refused to allow those around him to even allude to his malady, astonishingly pirouetted, almost stumbling as he dragged his paralysed left leg around.
No-one said a word. Other than the crackle of the fire the hall was completely silent.
"There's an old man with the refugees who's supposed to know about these things. Ask him."
"And how shall I find him sir?"
"My spies tell me he's known as Actor."
Then Theodore turned and walked away through his private door.
Forehead still pulsing with pain Ana made her way to the camp.
A couple of hundred refugees from the now frozen edges of the world had congregated here, instinctively sensing that while the villagers felt sympathy for them, this sympathy didn't go so far as to wanting to live next to them.
Out of guilt, perhaps, the village had given the refugees one of their three cornucopia rings, a loop of dull metal that, fed with raw material one side, produced a bland but nutritious paste from the other.
To feed themselves the refugees fed the ring night and day, the resulting devastation in the meadows and forest becoming a growing source of conflict between village and camp.
The camp sprawled, seeming far larger than it really was. The tents and shelters were varied in material and form. Some were made of oiled fabric; others from sewed furs; others again from glued flame leaves. The sturdiest were carts, covered in planks of wood..
There was a smell of cooked spices in the air, mainly ochre root, thick, heavy, resinous. Over this drifted the smells of paprika, coriander and garlic but the food of the camp looked strange to Ana -- bubbling pots of green lentils with the ubiquitous blue stuff from the cornucopia ring.
Everywhere there were tiny oil lights. Rather than having one large light for each tent the camp residents had chosen to use many small lamps and as a result there was a magical flickering that seemed to have no source but filled the camp with a gentle glow that came from everywhere.
"He's up the hill," the sullen child said, holding out his hand for a reward.
"But no-one goes up the hill!"
"He did. He's been up there for days. Reading the sky, he says."
From his tone and attitude it was clear that the child regarded this as a form of laziness.
Ana gave him a couple of copper pieces. He sneered and ran off into the camp.