Fiyah Magazine posted a challenge on Twitter: “Your protagonist lifts the chin of the character they just realized they’ll end the whole world for. What song sets the mood?” We’d been thinking what Kaila’s song for Ymke would be, then found it listening to Jocelyn Pook’s 2001 album Untold Things.
I looked up the name of the track; Upon This Rock. “Well, that makes sense. That’d be the Otasfaust, that giant rock on which the city of Otasring perches.” It’s where Kaila and Ymke first meet, in the story The Return of the Uncomplaining Child, in The Red Man and Others. They’re both strangers there. Ymke is the scribe who comes from the wet north, and Kaila earns a living with her sword. She’s from further away; transposed to our own world it’d be somewhere in the Middle East.
The fictional world of our Sword & Sorcery stories is freely based on our own earth, which allows us to take shortcuts in our worldbuilding, much like Robert E Howard did in his Conan stories: he’d use existing geography and history as a template, so he didn’t have to spend too much time setting the scene, and could get on with the story. We figure that Kaila would’ve come from something like the Assyrian empire, and roughly the area between the Mediterranean, Black and Caspian Sea, and the Persian Gulf.
Kaila is fiery and physical, brave and -at times- brutal. Like so many immigrants and refugees, she’s left behind her previous existence, and has to fight hard to become who she is destined to be. Currently I’m writing about the journey she took in her teens through the mountain range that separated her old life from her new one, and which eventually brough her to the Otasfaust, upon this rock, and to Ymke. And when Kaila lifts the chin of Ymke, realising she’ll end the world for her, I have no doubt the music she hears is the music from her childhood.
Upon This Rock is a fusion of Jocelyn Pook’s string instruments with the Eastern kanoun and Persian lyrics. First we hear Bahram Sadeghian’s Avaz-e Nahoft, as sampled from his 1995 album Dastgah Nava. Then Parvin Cox sings, and her lyrics are from the 10th century Persian Sufi and poet Abu Saeed Abu al-Khair:
ای شاه، درویشت منم، درویش دل ریشت منم
بیگانه و خویشت منم، دارم هوای عاشقی
“Oh King, I am your dervish, your fragile Dervish
I am both a stranger and I am myself. I am in love.”
Without calling Ymke her King, Kaila could well have whispered the rest of these words, deep in the night. It’d be quite a confession for her, and opening a door that could not be closed again.