Origins by JJ van der Merwe

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SUMMARY: A historian ends his three-year search for the distant origins of his people.

The monk is standing on the edge of a thousand-foot drop, his feet more than half way balanced on the ancient stones. Stretching back, he lets out a howl that has some salutatory function in his religion, and slaps his bare chest. Frankly, I wonder how he manages without tipping over. Taking note, I will write up this ceremony in my journal later on, so that when I return to Louvania I may publish. Of course, if I do not discover what I came for, it won't be worth returning. This fact leads me to wonder what it would be like to push the monk over the edge and leap after him.

Peoples who do not know where they come from do not know where they are going. Louvanians, positioned as we are on the edge of the great western plains and the rolling heartland of civilisation, suffer more than most for that. A thousand years ago our ancestors rode out of those plains in hordes of hooves whose dust blocked out the sun. We do not know where they came from, or why they came to the east. They weren't the first people to launch a mass-migration in this way, nor were they the last, but they were unique in surviving into the modern era, and bequeathing a culture and civilisation to their descendants.

But this was our curse, for we are trapped. Are we a civilised eastern nation or a wild western one? In our history, we have oscillated between two extremes, dependent perhaps on the character of our rulers and our enemies, who come from both frontiers with alarming regularity. I want to end this buffeting current. I have come here, to the far West, the mountains that rear up along the seaboard. Though their climate is temperate, here at altitude the peaks above are snow-flecked.

The library in this monastery is the largest that I have found. A judicious bribe, using most of my remaining Academy funds, secured me access to its oldest archives, dating back more than a millennium. Here, tended by an ancient monk, may well survive the oldest Louvanian manuscripts in history, dating from before our long-dead ancestors migrated from these mountains to the plains, and thence, over centuries, to the east, and to their destiny.

The monk doesn't understand me well. It doesn't do in a research assistant. I have found it exasperating. I rustle through the shelves of bound scrolls of vellum rendered soft and tangy by time, choking on the dust. He watches me, occasionally points to something that may be of interest.

I look for the words Ushtak, Ushlek and Ushman. In Louvanian they mean "Our People" "Our Tribe" and "Our Land". "Louvanian" is name applied to us by easterners- we call ourselves Ushtakim, our country Ushmanskyr. In the biggest splash of my academic career, I discovered these words mean much the same thing amongst the peoples of the western peaks. Thus I reasoned a common origin. I look also for similar homonyms, and I've found enough to convince me I am right. Their script has evolved over generations, and these books are written in antique characters which I taught myself on the journey. I settle down for a day's study, the ancient prattling away at me in his incomprehensible accent.

Louvania- Ushmanskyr- has done well over the last century.

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