APOLOGIES TO ALL AND SUNDRY for the lacunae in posts. I have been pondering much about the story and much of it has taken shape in recent days in my mind. This is to the good. For me, this is as much a revisiting of the earlier portions of work. If you missed earlier posts and want to catch up, click on the link at right to The Origin Conjecture, where all these posts will be gathered together on one page. One of the matters I think has been pretty well settled for me is the book’s title. I think The Original Protocols is what I shall call it.
The Gabrielle Dolly
“So,” the dolly said with greater energy. “Your father?”
Pete sighed. “Yeah. OK. Begin at the beginning. Um… I was born in 1978, by the Christian calendar, in the Pamir mountains of eastern Tajikistan, which was then a part of the old Soviet Union.”
To the dolly, this was about as dark and mysterious as a faraway place could get. “Wow!” she said.
“I do not remember it. All of this I know from being told by my relatives.” Her voice took on a more formal tone than her everyday speech, as though she had rehearsed the story.
“My parents were members of a nomadic tribe which subsisted in the remotest parts of the Pamirs by herding goats and sheep as they had done from time immemorial. They kept to themselves and were incredibly shy of outsiders, as all of the People always have been. Their whole lives were encircled by the limits of a couple of mountains and the valleys in between and around them, little more than that. They knew there was a wider world beyond the mountains, but they cared little for it, for the most part.
“But my parents were aging, and the life was hard. I was the youngest of fifteen children born to them. My mother took sick in birthing me and, although she recovered, she was never strong after that.
They had to rely on my older brothers and sisters to care for me. And for my mother. Her care was an incredible drain on the resources of the tribe and was the cause of a great deal of resentment and friction.
“Then one day, a traveling tifel passed through the mountains–“
“A Tifel Pasu?”
“No!” Pete said sharply. “Where did you hear that word?”
The dolly froze and the color drained from her cheeks.
“I… I’m sorry!” she stammered. The terror in her expression took Pete aback. A vast affection for the spirit that animated the little toy flooded her being with remorse, and slowly the Troll calmed herself.
“Forgive me, little one,” she said. “I did not mean that to… to frighten you. It just startled me to hear the word come from… you.”
“From a frell, you mean,” the dolly said bitterly.
“Um… yeah,” Pete admitted. She winced and couldn’t meet the dolly’s eyes right away. “Sorry?”
“Hey, what the fuck!” the dolly said, suddenly magnanimous, mollified by Pete’s contrition. “I suppose if my people had been treated the way yours were and are, I’d be paranoid of strangers, too. No big.”
Pete breathed a little easier after that, and in a moment, she was able to go on.
“Anyway… No. It was just an ordinary tifel… you might call her a good witch, a healer woman. Her tribe had been scoured out of the area around Communism Peak, about a hundred and fifty miles as the crow flies to the northwest of my parents’ home. Coming from that distance, she might as well have just landed from the moon, so small was my tribe’s world, so narrow their view of it. Most of her tribe had been killed, the rest scattered. For all she knew, she was the lone survivor.
Of Matter Geopolitical
The Gabrielle Dolly
In quarters, Pete wore what the dolly took to be the Pasu mercenary version of an undress uniform. Most, if not all, of the frekun ang Guard troopers did. It consisted of a pair of soft leather leggings — buttery doeskin, you might find in the camp of American red Indians; a loose, half-sleeved sark, called a billilaal sark, and moccasins decorated with patterns of tiny shell beads.
The clothing patterns and customs arose, of course, in the Trollish sanctuaries of Central Asia, and, as such, took their cue from their neighbors. In the outfit as a whole, one could perceive echoes of the casual wear of Tibet. Except the thing was that most of their neighbors in places like the Hindu Kush and the Kunlun Shan mountains of China were so dirt poor that they couldn’t afford to have special leisure wear — mostly they were lucky to have one outfit that they wore all the time, in any weather and for any activity, including wading in muddy rice paddies during the planting season. So the Trolls, having become suddenly gold-rich in the 13th Century from selling their services as soldiers to Upothesa could afford to dress well, with special items and outfits of clothing for different weather conditions and activities.
And, when they selected those items, they naturally made their first selections from what was around them, only later seeking exotic things. The styles and fabrics were those easily obtained in the markets, bazaars, and souks of Asia, or available naturally, though the effort involved in obtaining and working — for example — chamois skin for the comfortable (and, it could be said, sensual) leggings soon became burdensome for the increasingly bourgeois Trolls.
Current terms and practices within the Guard section of Troll society had been set in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, when Hephaestus’s Olympia Company was headquartered in England, and so the terms for things were couched in the vernacular of the time. The use of the word sark for a shirt was borrowed from Scots, which was not then recognized as a separate tongue from English. That the Trolls wore such garments in billilaal — a situation roughly similar to the concept of in harem in Moslem households, albeit not entirely equivalent — was known and yet not known, as frells were not permitted to the billilaal and the secrets thereof most jealously guarded, the shirt came to be called a billilaal sark long in advance of the knowledge of it becoming currency in, as it was said then and there, Upothesa.
This time, Pete wore the sark and the leggings and a red bandana as a neckerchief and sat cross-legged on the bunk, displaying a flexibility of limb that belied her bulk.
“At that time,” she continued her narration. “The Red Army was preparing to invade Afghanistan, although the civilian population of Tajikistan didn’t know that until much later — after it was all said and done. At the time, the soldiers were searching for spies who might betray their preparations, and it was assumed that, among the Muslim tribes and villages in the region there were many potential spies, agitators, and fifth columnists.
“Of course, we Trolls never have anything to do with mannish political matters, but the Soviets didn’t know that… didn’t even know that there were non-humans living in the area. Nor would they have given credence to reports of the existence of sapient hominids in the region had they word of us. The legends of the wild men of the mountains — the Almas, they call them — were scorned by the Bolsheviks as children’s tales.
“To them, we looked just the same as the Tajiks, with the occasional throwback to Greek and even Norse invaders from centuries past. It never occurred to them to connect reports of the Almas to the madmen and social outcasts of a non-human race. All over the world, Man scientists make the same mistake. They hear tell of a Sasquatch or a Yeti and they assume that the individuals reported must represent some kind of a norm. They never think that the ones they see in that state could be homeless, miserable creatures scavenging their livings on the margins of society. They never connect the sightings with groups or individuals actually living among them.
“So they look for us in all the wrong places. For which we are eternally grateful.
“But the maps showed the part of the region where the People lived to be uninhabited, and therefore we had no business being there. The Soviets started up near Gorno-Badakhshan in the north, on the border with Kyrgyzstan, and worked their way south and east, clearing out every subsistence farmer and goat herder they found. They didn’t care where they went or how they lived once they got there, they just… wanted them gone.
“The tifel told my father that he should take his family and head south. She told him about Jirhum Ra, how in a cove in the mountains there was a city of the People, a mighty civilization, that was protected by great magics from the outside, how the People lived there in peace and plenty. He spat and said that was an old wives’ tale, told to comfort frightened children and to provide a dose of nostalgia for old men, that there was no such place as Jirhum Ra, that he would die before he would leave the land where his father and his grandfathers had lived and tended their flocks going back to the beginning of time.”
Pete sighed. “Years before, his two younger sisters had gone off in search of Jirhum Ra, never to be heard from again. I’m told it was forbidden to speak of them in his presence.” She fell silent for a long time. Then, as if she had forgotten where she was and what she was doing for a time, she shook herself and went on.
“When you study history and folk lore, you’ll come across the same story time and time again. Ordinary, innocent people trampled underfoot of a technologically superior civilization. In one way or another, the primitives always lose. They might have survived, or even thrived, if only they had the sense to get out of the way. But their pride and the righteousness of their cause makes them stubborn.
“I wasn’t even two summers old when the Red Army came and scoured our tribe out of the valley and chased us down the road to Afghanistan.
“Now, Jirhum Ra, as you may know, is in the Karakoram Range, some four hundred miles to the East and North of Kabul. So, if my parents wanted to go there from eastern Tajikistan, they should have traveled South and East, as the tifel had gone, crossing the Vakhan North-to-South at Baroghil Pass and entering Kashmir at Misgar or through the Khunjerab Pass between Sinkiang and Kashmir.
“There are settlements of the People in all the mountains thereabouts — in the Kunlun Shan between China and Tibet, the Ladakh Range and the Karakoram Range, south to the Himalayas and east to the endless and impenetrable ranges that give rise to the headwaters of all the great rivers of Asia: the Indus, the Bramaputra, the Irrawaddy, the Salween, the Chao Phrya, the Mekong, the Hong, the Si-kiang, the Yangtze…” Pete’s voice trailed off and the two of them sat for awhile in silence, thinking different thoughts. Then Pete took up her tale again.
“If they had only turned eastward at the start, they would have been fleeing into the bosom of their people. But Soviets didn’t know or care where a group of people they didn’t know or cared existed wanted to go. They drove everyone westward out of Tajikistan and into Afghanistan across the upper gorges of the Amu Darya. As a result, in the fall of 1979, my parents found themselves, along with the rest of their tribe, a part of a flood of refugees forced out of a place that had been their whole world for a thousand generations, caught up in events they never would have paid any mind, and on the roads of Tajikistan, being herded toward the border with Afghanistan.
“It should give you some notion of the evil of those people that they would use their own citizens as human shields, sending unarmed primitives ahead of an invading army, not caring for their survival, only to cause consternation to the enemy.
“Life on the road is never pleasant, but under those conditions — extreme cold, no food or water, incredible filth… the camps were hotbeds of disease… And, of course, there were predators, both the four-legged and the two-legged kind. An adult Troll doesn’t have anything to be afraid of in a confrontation with a Man, but there were children with the tribe, of course, and they were easy pickings for the scum that would try to sell them into slavery in Dushanbe or Tashkent. None of ours were taken, I’m told. Our adults kept a close watch over the little ones and brought them through. But there were many mothers among the Men in the camps wailing for their lost children, taken by the slavers… the jackals who preyed on the misfortunate ones.”
Pete sighed. “I was lucky, I suppose, to be too young to remember this more than dimly,” she said softly and was quiet for another while before she started up again.
“We crossed the Amu Darya into Badakhshan on the festival of Bulu Lao. They say it was a hard crossing, that just there, the river lies in deep gorges and there are no safe road crossings for a hundred miles or more downstream and none upstream at all until the end of the gorges where the river turns east toward its source. And, as if they were done with us once we crossed the border, the Soviets left us alone after that. We wintered in a valley near Bar Panj. It was harsh, they say, but we survived, even my mother, until the next spring. That would have been 1980. Far away to the West, the communists invaded Afghanistan that winter on the eve of the Christians’ feast for the birth of their Messiah. But it was of little account to the Pasu, who never cared for the political affairs of Men in the best of times and who were, just then, more concerned with their own survival than anything.”
“When the spring melts began, our tribe set out on the road again. Over the winter, they had held many councils and had argued themselves hoarse. They had hammered out a consensus. The tribe would trek south, then East, following the course of the Amu Darya into the Vakhan, that little arm of Afghanistan that interposes itself between Tajikistan and Kashmir and reaches out to touch China as with a fingertip. At the eastern mouth of the Baroghil Pass, they would find their way South into the Karakoram Range and, eventually, to Jirhum Ra.
“In peacetime, it might have been possible. After all, the legendary Silk Road followed a like path for four thousand years. But the communists’ invasion of Afghanistan had made all of the other governments in the region nervous. The Chinese have always been suspicious of the Russian Bear, as have the Indians. Pakistan, of course, was playing host to American CIA operatives who were fueling the mujahedin resistance movement. That narrow corridor between the Pamirs and the Karakoram Range, in the valley where the headwaters of the Amu Darya fall from the continental divide and begin their long trek to the Aral Sea, was probably the most watched region on earth that year. The armies of five nations and the spies of a dozen more were concerned with everything that went on in that valley. That summer, a family of field mice could not have traveled up the river unnoticed, let alone a tribe of thirty Troll families… Some six hundred of us all told there were.”
Pete stopped. She caught up her right knee in her hands and pulled it toward her chest, rocking back and forth on the edge of the bed, her jaw clenched tight. When she spoke again, it was with the soggy sound of tears sniffled away and an ache in the throat.
“Out of the six hundred and more of the People who entered the valley of Vakhan in April of ’80, two made it to Jirhum Ra in August that year. Two: My father. And me.” She wiped tears out of her eyes with a forefinger and looked up at the ceiling.