(You can find the original publication and podcast here.)
To find the Sherd, you will follow the path through the moorlands until you find the Quivering Peaks. At the entrance of her domain a megalith rises into the sky, balanced impossibly. Three slabs rest atop one central pillar. They jut out in three directions. One toward the peaks, one toward the moor, and one toward the vast sea. Though the earth may quake and stones tumble, this configuration remains upright as if lashed by unseen bindings. Glyphs and runes inlaid into the stone may offer you guidance but you will not understand this right away.
Stoneshaper, Earthhewer, Mud Queen, Geomancer, Dirtweaver, Lithomancer, Pebble Reader, Dung Slinger — these names mean nothing to her for they are given from the tongue not the earth. If you call for the Sherd, you will find her. Those who ask her for gifts will be rebuked and those who ask for hexes will be scorned. It is said she can bury entire kingdoms as easily as she can raise new ones from rock and earth. You must proceed cautiously. Those who seek her teachings or share their own knowledge with her will be welcomed into her dust-cloaked arms.
As you study with her you might notice markings beneath the mud and clay that coats her body and mats her hair. Her body shares inscriptions similar to the ones on the monolith. If you press her, she’ll explain that they welcome friends and warn her enemies. She’ll point to a crest or stitcher’s name on your own garb, saying it is no different in essence, it’s simply a matter of what you want to project into the world.
You’ll see men and women carved from stone and slurry, bent, raw, and languishing in various corners and crevices of her sanctum. Some may be half-birthed from a pit of clay, while others may appear seated as if they’d only stopped to collect their thoughts. If you ask if they moved on their own accord she’ll simply wink and ask in return, how do you think they got there? This will do little calm your apprehension, but she will laugh with such honest delight that you’ll forget all about the question. The mischievous twist of her lips and the gleam in her eye will spur you to sculpt your own figures and spin your own tales.
Eventually you will ask about her name. She will explain that a Sherd is simply a word that’s fallen out of favor. It’s only a fragment of a larger whole. It is the result of entropy.Destruction and creation simply being two ways to characterize an exchange of energy. You can call it history, if you like, she will say. You can measure temper, glaze, and form to understand where a fragment came from and how it was made, but this is only an approximation. You will never truly know.
One day you will uncover a figure that looks like her among her own collection of baked-mud figures Something about this figure is unsettling. The copy is rigid and unmoving, eyes frozen in permanent awe of the world around her, but it’s not the lack of movement that surprises you. The figure shares the contours of her brow, the bowing of her hips, and the swell of her breasts. These are only parts of her. They are not her. There’s a frailty in this figure. If you pushed her over she might break into a hundred pieces and turn to dust. In this mimic you see cracks, clay flaking away, but in her creator you see someone invincible and limitless and impossible to replicate.
You will carry this troubling feeling with you as you continue to learn from her. You’ll search for ways to explain what you feel when you look at her, but you will find words clumsy and opaque. You’ll say the wrong thing, half of what you meant will remain unsaid, or emphasized in all the wrong ways. Inevitably, you’ll grow apart.
You will share what she taught you with everyone you meet and you’ll know that she will continue to create wonders within her sanctum of stone, but you will always wonder if that’s where she must remain. Are there not other sanctums? Other stones? Seas and sand? The vastness between.
One day you’ll realize that everything you learned from her had little to do with earth or clay and you will carry these lessons with you for the rest of your travels.