Posted by: kshayes513 | February 26, 2009

Adventures in Research: Serendipity

Serendipity: a fortuitous discovery made by accident while you are looking for something else.

This is an older definition, closer to the origins of the word from the fairy tale,  The Three Princes of Serendip ( if you enjoy word origins, do a metasearch on this; its good for at least a half hour of entertainment). I find this older meaning especially apt to the process of worldbuilding. When I’ve been working and thinking about Khasran, almost any new piece of information may sprout a whole new aspect of the world. The latest serendipity gave me a the setting for the holiday story. And I wasn’t even looking, because I thought I had one.

Step 1:  I love to watch all kinds of cultural and historical documentaries in any time and place other than the one I live in. So I was watching PBS’s  “The Story of India” which breezes through thousands of years of the subcontinent’s history of empires and the mingling of cultures-with frequent stops along the way to show how many of these cultures survive in bits and pieces right down into modern India. Some of the most fascinating bits: ancient books written on palm leaves (humans use the materials most readily available); a medicinal garden that’s been tended by the same family for generations; brass sculptors working in the same spot and with the same lost wax techniques that have been used by their own direct ancestors for over a thousand years.

All fun and fascinating, but not particularly relevant to my current worldbuilding. Then the narrator walked through an Indian souk and described a lost empire, built on the riches of the silk route, which brought together people of all cultures in a flourishing melting pot of trade and artistry. And I thought: “Trade! Why did I never think about that before? Of course Khasran’s world has trade.”

Step 2. That of course jump starts all the questions and speculations: Many Khasrani are nomadic, so they lead the trade caravans that traverse the grasslands carrying goods to the civilizations on both sides. And the boat people traffic on the rivers and the ocean, and the great cities of Rikkat to the south have their huge markets and fleets and caravans coming to supply them. Maybe the city of Khasran itself was built on that spot originally because it’s the highest navigable point on the river, so it has a port where goods are transferred from barges to caravans.

What do they trade? I started coming up with lists of trade goods: glassware from Shunnar, pearls from the south seas, the rare wild garlic from the deep grasslands, the finest Khasrani bows and arrows. And horses. Of course, horses, the Khasrani breed the best in the world.

Step 3. Go back some years, to when I was reading extensively about Irish history and culture. Among other things, I learned a little about the Irish horse fairs,  where people came from all over (and maybe still do) to buy and sell horses of all kinds.

“Horse fair” collided with my ideas about Khasrani trade, and serendipity exploded in my brain like a fireworks display.

I had been imagining a small nomadic camp beside a creek as the setting for the holiday story. Here’s a little glimpse of the new setting:

“When the clans come to the horse fair at Half Wheel Lake, you can stand on your pony’s back and turn a full circle, and see tents and wagons and herds of horses stretching to the hem of the sky in every direction. Banners strung from pole to pole snap in the spring breeze, and the clan banners rise on poles higher than the rest, in every color with their long tails swirling around the poles.

Everyone who has anything to sell lines their wagons along the main gallops, and they’re selling anything you could want, anything you could think of. New bows, arrows, quivers; coats and boots and hats in styles from every clan; beaded hair laces, bridles, saddles harnesses, tent poles, blankets, lutes and flutes and drums and bells, and kargat sets made of rare stones from the far west and the south over the mountains.

At the Flood Moon fair you can get food from all over the world. Flatbreads, apricots and tangerines and honey wines and cheese curd; dried strips of red fish and strange fruits with purple flesh or spiky skin, cocoa paste like strange coffee, and shaggy nuts as big as a baby’s head.

And the horses. Most of all, the horses. Thousands and thousands, bay, brown, black or gray, spotted, dappled, piebald, or roan, all sizes from the great draft horses that pull the wagons, to the coursers that can race an arrow, and herders that can turn quicker than a nimble colt. If it were summer, the dust from a herd so big would rise higher than a thundercloud. But it’s Flood Moon and spring, so the river and the Half Wheel are brimming, and the grass on the prairie is so thick and green that even the trampling of thousands of hooves can only mash it down a little.”

For a child of Khasran, the horse fair is Christmas, Disneyland, a cosmopolitan city, and a trip around the world, all rolled into one week on one patch of ground. This is where my holiday story takes place.

Serendipity. Nothing sweeter!


  1. I love it! And I want to know about the smells: spices, coffees, herbs (what herbs do they know?), perfumes, sweat, dung, the fragance of the grasses as they’re trampled, the smell of water after dryness……

  2. Wow! Great description! I hadn’t even gotten to thinking about the smells yet. So much to discover here–and given the requisite length of a short story, I’ll probably have to leave most of it out. But there’ll be other stories about these characters. And I’m pretty sure there are other big fairs.

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