Mistry in her own words
I think I am still a goat herder at heart
Mistry Jinx is one of the main characters in the Dirt Fantasy books. In this article, she tells us of her life in her own words.
I was born in a tiny cottage in a small village in Tharkness, in the shadow of the Black Hills. This was a very conservative world, with very fixed views about women and young girls. They were not my views at all and not those of my dad, either. Most girls would be married off at sixteen to some lecherous man chosen by her father, and women were not allowed to own land or property. Sadly, that still exists in many parts of Dirt, even now.
My mother died when giving birth to me, and I was brought up by my father who feared me becoming sixteen. We had a very small patch of land that we rented consisting of two paddocks, our cottage and a shed. Dad cured pork and goat for a living, and I bred goats and made cheese from the age of ten.
I was very close to my dad, but not my older brothers. They were much, much older than I, and my mother was rather older when she had me. They had already left and married when I was born, even though they themselves were young, and blamed me for her death. I had little to do with them and felt no love for them.
When I was ten, my father decided I should learn to drive a wagon and horses. For several months each year, we would travel across Bind to the slave market in Jerr-Vone. We would sell our cured meats and cheeses both during the trip and at the market, and on the way back, we would trade for whatever goods we needed for ourselves.
If we could drive two carts, we could trade better and, with any luck, we would save up enough to move from Tharkness to somewhere that did not see women as nothing more than housemaids. Epinod was the place my father would have liked to have lived. They grow tea in Epinod, and he liked tea. My father was a very special man.
Travelling to Jerr-Vone was a very long and hard journey, but I loved the travelling even if I hated the weeks at the market itself. I don't know what those we met thought of this little brat driving a cart; I have always been small, and I must have looked silly perched up on that hard wooden seat.
I love horses, you see. Yes, I know, people say I am obsessive about them and tease me constantly, even now, but I really do love horses, and I can't help it. Sitting up on a wagon seat with four huge Bekon Brown draught horses in front of me is wonderful. Now, we couldn't afford such beautiful beasts when I was young, and my little team of nags was not properly matched, but they did what they told, I kept them pretty and fit, and they suited me perfectly.
When we were out on the road with our old, tatty, unfinished wagons, trundling along, raising the dust, the oppression and harsh life of our village just faded away.
Our little cottage was a bit like that as when we shut the rickety door the world was left behind. The cottage was tiny, only two rooms, but my father had built a ceiling so that I could sleep up in the attic and have a little privacy when I grew older. You couldn't stand up in there, but that just made it cosy. When I went to bed, he used to scramble up there and tell me stories of travelling and strange tales of made up places. I still love storytelling.
A home is very important to me, but though I hated the village where I grew up, I still miss that cottage and the attic. If I cannot feel at home, I would rather be on the road; working, travelling, and driving my horses. Is that so bad?
When my life changed so dramatically, and I met Johnson Farthing, I had to reassess who and what I should be. I am a great believer that people should always choose what they do, and even when I felt forced into a situation, I tried to make it a choice. It didn't always work, and my life seems to be a long list of what we often called Magician's Choice - two bad choices, but you have to choose one of them.
I will say that I am rather good at being in strange situations, or those that confuse me. One of the oddest was coming across a group of starving deserters. They were hoping to find our army as they were so sick of their own. They were wounded and lost, and when we found them, they hadn't eaten for days.
And yet, just ten paces behind the trees where they had camped, was a little stream full of baby browns. You know, those little fish you can catch with your hands? I know they don't taste fantastic and are bony as anything, but when you are hungry, who cares? Starving when in a desert I understand. Starving when surrounded by food? I don't get that at all!
I was not always the most patient of people, but I have tried to learn from those I think are honest and have something to give. Eafa taught me more than anyone. You may know him as Weasel.
I don't know what it is about that bloke, but he just gets me. I think it is because he is a wanderer too. I know I can be mad, and I know Mab-Onin and I took ridiculous risks at times, but I got fed up with everyone constantly worrying about me and getting annoyed that I did my own thing and made my contribution in my own way. Eafa didn't. Oh, I think he worried, but he was not going to stop me. He knew why I did it, and the bloke had so much knowledge based on all those long years, he knew what I had to do. What I did was vital; not just for Farthing and the rest, but for me too.
Eafa saw right through my young stupidity and saw my heart and my need. And he gave me space and support to sort myself out.
Farthing was a great influence on me. After the war and the terrible tragedies, we found each other again and could take huge comfort because we had shared so much grief. But he and I were two very different people and Farthing had a steadiness about him that I don't, even now. Eofin once said that he would prefer to have Farthing in charge and not me, and he was right. Even in the war, when we were all so very young, Farthing could step back and make a choice that made sense, almost instinctively.
I couldn't do that. I would most likely just react, which could be a bad thing. That is why Mab-Onin and I used to plan so much and why I kept so many records. It forced us to think, forced us to be sensible, and probably stopped us from getting ourselves killed though it nearly didn't work.
There is a part of me that is rather shy; I admit that even though I can be confident to the point arrogance when working. Much to some of my friends amusement, I am even prudish. When I was young, it was probably because of how I was brought up. Later it was the amount of scars I had picked up. You might like to boast about your cuts and bruises, I would rather not.
Clothing, when I was young, was long skirts for women and girls with rough shirts and thick, long jackets. Since we all made our clothes, you would have thought there would be some variation, but actually, everybody just copied each other. Apart from me, that is. I hated skirts and still do. Because I am shy and short, I get no joy out of trying to be prettier than I am and when I was taking the goats up the hill to the common pasture, skirts just got in the way. You ever tried herding goats while your long skirts are dragging through the mud? It can be wet on the flanks of the Black Hills! So, as soon as I could sew at eight or nine years of age, I started making myself trousers. My father really didn't care, but some of the male neighbours and even some of the women complained that I didn't know my place. I ignored them.
When I was older, what I wore most were rider's leathers. When you are a few thousand feet up in the air on some idiot draig (got to love them) it can be bloody cold and your hair can get in a right mess. So, us riders are nose to toes leathers with our hair tied up or braided.
Riders leathers are funny things. They are certainly not revealing and they are too tough and practical to be sexy, but you kind of grow into them; so much so that you feel really odd if you are not wearing them. They are just so easy and practical though mine always were pretty tatty if I am honest.
When not in leathers, I often revert to the shirts and trousers of my childhood, plus a silly hat. I am a little dark skinned, sort of, and my father thinks my mother had a bit of Pharsil-Hin, the plains nomads, in her, but despite that, I do burn quite quickly. So, I have worn big floppy hats since I was a little kid. All these years later? I still wear them even on a dragon, though I have to tie it on tightly!
One of the offshoots of having spent so much time travelling is that I am very fond of my food. I eat loads, given a chance, but when you are working all the daylight hours, day after day, you really do burn it up. Pies and Beer are both a favourite of mine.
I am not very good at handling a lot of beer. Farthing reckoned it was my small body, but I can't keep up with that big, blond bloke. But I do love it. I sometimes um and err between stout and wheat beer, but I generally think I prefer the big frothy beers that they used to sell up in Sarn-Tailin. Oh, the Jipperson's stout was special, but there was something about the huge, clay pots that you get in Bind with the froth right around your nose that is sublime.
On the pie front, a good goat pie gets me every time. Thankfully, lots of taverns sell pies, and Dirt has goats has everywhere, so I am often happy!
When I look back, I realise how little I have changed since I first took the reigns of a wagon when I was ten. I have learned a lot and done many things that I am not proud of, but know were necessary. But every time I settle somewhere, my mind just reverts to sourcing some goats and making cheese. I think if I was meant to be anything, it was a goat girl. All the rest has been a necessity and despite trying to fool myself sometimes, I have had few choices. When it comes to breeding tough little goats and making my cheeses, it has always been a choice, and it has always been the times when I have been happiest.