Chapter 59. Head-start, Headstrong, Headache
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“Shouldn’t they come to us, instead?” she asked Domina.

“Yes, they should,” Aikerim put down the looking glass but kept her gaze on the approaching ship, “but I can’t let other Pillars harass them on the way to my Manor.”

Shahin pulled her cloak tighter around her body. “We have our own customs, Yeva. Aikerim Adal would not offend my cousins by coming here in person.”

“I am more concerned that they would see it as a weakness.” Yeva sighed.

The bright red tail swished to the side. “Do not forget why they are coming here. The slaves they are bringing, while numerous and in good condition as far as I can see, are just slaves. I could purchase just as many from the Kishava. And pay with gold, rather than secrets.”

“They would scoff at Erf’s demands,” Shahin mused in return, “or ask exorbitant sums for the effort. This is why Amir is at the helm of this venture and not any of my direct sisters or aunts. She knows what is at stake here and will not bother with inconsequential things.”

Yeva shook her head. “Some Manors care more about the number of available slaves than their quality or skill. Farm Manors often breed their slaves, as well as Dominas who want to flaunt their wealth in public by showing off their slave processions. So other options do exist if we are desperate.”

“You have no need to argue your point with me, Yeva. I was the one who had to convince Erf for this deal and I certainly have no desire to see it fail now.”

“That is exactly why I speak to you rather than wait for your cousin to disembark.” She jerked her head toward the sailors that were busy tying the Esca’s ship to the pier. “This deal is between Erf and you, not Erf and Amir Shirvan-ja. While my husband asked me to stand in his place while he is absent, I do not believe you are willing to let others claim the glory that you rightfully deserve.”

The Esca came in two types of ships. Three heavy-bellied junks were escorted by four nimble and manoeuvrable galleys. Emanai had similar naval galleys with dozens of oars on each side, but the yellow-tarred sails of Emanai merchant longships were dwarfed by the lamuras’ battened wings of red.

The lamura threw a piercing gaze at her. “Subtle, yet moving. But do not think that I will fall for the tricks I taught you myself. Training makes battles easier but it does not replace them. My cousin is shrewd and wilful — but you hold the dice of opportunity in your hand and a sharp mind in your head. She will be a good opponent for you.”

Yeva harrumphed but said nothing.

“Are you sure…” Domina’s ear twitched, a faint smile in the corner of her lips, “…that you are willing to offer your cousin to our Yeva? She isn’t like Erf at all and Amir Shirvan-ja might end up with her tail bitten off before she even realises something is wrong.”

“Then I would personally intervene.” Shahin lifted the tip of her tail and inspected the scales. “Since Yeva made it clear that my word is the final one among my kin.”

“Something tells me that you will do nothing if your cousin gains the upper hand,” Yeva grumbled.

“I might. If you get severely outmatched, that is. While I wish to see my family grow and prosper, this is my glory and the glory of the Esca Manor of Yusuf. I will not let Amir simply claim it for herself.”

Aikerim noticed Yeva’s scowl and the fluffy tail smacked her in the face. “Don’t start frowning now. Most people do not have the fountain of knowledge called Erf so that they could spread their secrets without coming at a loss themselves. The fact that Shahin Esca is doing it makes her quite honourable.”

Shahin bowed slightly to Aikerim. “I do not think that Yeva is planning on becoming an envoy herself, just as she will not be working at the glass kilns despite knowing plenty of its secrets. Yet a better understanding of my work would help her to properly appreciate what I can do.”

“I have two sons, by the way.” Aikerim reminded her.

“And a very capable husband that could teach them just as the teachers and rhetors you keep in your employ. They inherited your intelligence, but they are still young. More teachers would not make one learn faster — if you pour water into a cup too quickly, you will spill it.”

“Indeed,” Domina sighed, “but I feel they lack a good female hand to lead them away from the usual male foolishness.”

She glanced at Yeva.


“Alas, my search continues.”

“Time is your friend, Aikerim Adal.” Shahin smiled at their interaction. “Just as they mature, your Manor grows in power. A decade or two and you will have many Dominas coming to your Manor so that they could join your children’s sadaq-at.”

Aikerim glanced at the ship. “Am I to expect offers from the coming Esca?”

Scales rustled the stone surface as Shahin’s tail lifted her into the air, standing more than five metres tall.

“Perhaps,” she allowed, lowering herself down to her usual stance. “But any possible hopefuls are coming from Shirvan, not Yusuf. I am ambitious, Aikerim Adal, but not desperate. Your power and influence will grow to new heights and so will the influence of your sons. But we both know that it is your daughter that will inherit the heart of that power. As your first daughter and as his wife. I would prefer to wait until Anaise Hilal has children of her own.”

Yeva shook her head but didn’t comment. She was sure that neither Shahin nor her family would simply stay idle and content with the current state of events. Yes, Aikerim’s sons could be seen as ‘dead ends’ when it came to the ‘daimonic’ capital, but that didn’t mean any future marriages were all but assured either. The lamura was likely cautious after witnessing the outcome of Kamshad’s gamble.

“May the warmth never leave your house, Aikerim Adal.” The actual reason for Yeva’s silence approached them. “Your presence here fills my heart with joy.”

Amir Shirvan-ja was just as enormous in her body length as Shahin. Her face was hidden by a veil but the yellow-on-black eyes were similar. There were differences too — Amir’s scales were dull grey with a tint of green compared to Shahin’s black and gold; and a full head of snakes as well.

“And may the warmth never leave your breath, Amir Shirvan-ja.” Aikerim nodded and gestured to the group of slaves and carts standing nearby. “Your trip has been long and a good rest is paramount. Let my people help unload your ships so that you can enjoy my Manor’s welcome as quickly as possible…”

Amir nodded in gratitude, greeted Shahin, and called down another lamura from the ship. A fearful wer slave approached Aikerim, clutching a wooden tablet in front of him like some shield.

The foxy tail twitched. “What?”

“The ships need to be inspected and appropriate fees paid.” He glanced around. “My Domina’s orders.”

“Those are guests of the Kiymetl. Your Domina has the word of Aikerim Kiymetl Adal that all fees will be paid in full by my Manor.” She threw a silver cut and he immediately snatched it in the air. “Observe and record what they unload if you have to, but do not delay their work. And tell others so that I don’t have to repeat myself.”

He bowed and scurried toward a handful of Samat dockworkers standing nearby.

“I hope our offers would be well-repaid,” Amir mused, “despite the absence of the alchemist.”

Yeva felt the lamurian tail nudge her in the back and sighed. She knew what was coming. “Erf has made sure that your generous gifts will be rewarded appropriately.”

Amir glanced down, her good spirits disappearing. “Do you know this girl, Aikerim Adal?”

“I ask the same question to myself sometimes, but yes — I do know her. Yeva will be teaching your glassmakers the new arts.”

“A blind murk?” Amir snakes hissed as she spoke. “Is this some kind of a jest?”

“My husband asked me to stay here rather than follow him, specifically so that I could fulfil his promise to Esca.” Yeva’s reply was curt.

She expected something like this but that didn’t mean she liked it.

“Are you going to let her talk over you, Aikerim Adal?” Amir glanced at Shahin. “What is the meaning of this, cousin?”

Aikerim swished her tail. “With my approval, Shahin Yusuf-ja bartered a deal between herself and my daimon. I did not change my mind once he left, and have entrusted Yeva to handle the tasks he left behind. She will teach you the secrets that you came here for, just as she will be the one to receive the slave families you’ve brought.”


“I trust her knowledge to be more than sufficient and worth every slave you have brought from our families. I am sure that you will agree, once you get to know her more.”

“Once I know her more…” Amir murmured in turn.

Scales crunched pebbles once again, and Yeva’s mind screamed in terror as Amir lunged toward her. She kept her mouth shut and her chin high, taking just a single step backwards to move away from the oppressive face, surrounded by coiling snakes.

“It is said that the eyes are wells of truth,” Amir said as she slowly circled around her. “Tell me, are you really blind yet devising to teach me and mine how to see near and far? Or do you hide them, afraid that others see too much when looking at you? I’ve seen plenty of blind people before — you have no slave to guide you, despite your proclaimed status, and you closely follow my movements, despite the veil on your eyes.”

Yeva felt the other two wermages standing nearby, close yet silent. She gritted her teeth. “Truth doesn’t care whether I look at it or not.”

“Truth is different for everyone.”

“The truth of the world is the same across all of Tana. Or you wouldn’t be here, far from your land, seeking the truth about glass. The truth about light and sight. I do not need to see to tell you that the sun will rise again tomorrow. I know that fire burns and water flows.” Yeva reached into her pouch and flicked a copper coin into the air, easily catching it on the way down. “Just as I do not need to look at the cut I threw to know that it will come back down. Because I know the laws of the world. The laws that Tana herself obeys.”

“You speak of things that every child knows.”

“I speak of things that every child thinks they know. Because they perceive them as the natural way of life without asking why. Why do the Sun, Moon, and eight wandering stars travel across the sky, yet millions of other stars stay firmly stuck to their place in the firmament? And how the trajectory of the cut I just threw is related to those ten.”

“You are going to teach them astrology as well?” Aikerim frowned. “Why?”

“I will teach them some astronomy, yes. While looking glasses can’t see past the horizon, they can observe the stars in the sky with ease. Once they learn the laws behind lens construction, they will be able to craft both looking glasses and telescopes. Whether you are looking far or near…” Yeva paused for a second, then glanced at Amir. “Yes, I will also teach you how to make microscopes and peer into another world right under our eyes.”

“What are…” the lamura jerked away and glared at Shahin. “How much did you tell her, cousin!”

“I can hear your heartbeat, Amir Shirvan-ja.” Yeva calmly stated. “I could hear it while you were still on the ship. I can tell when it beats steady or when it trembles in anticipation, excitement… fear. You say that eyes are wells of truth? I say that the heart is the fountain of emotion. And yours is wide open to my ears.”

“You kept Shahin close to you so that you could spy on her secrets-s?” The sibilant tone further highlighted Amir’s agitation. “Perhaps it is not the slaves that we should send but our warriors — take the plunder from the Kiymetl ships just as you brazenly plundered Esca’s secrets!”

The wermage’s agitation was unnerving, but her words were meant to strike at Aikerim rather than her directly, and that made it a bit easier to handle.

Yeva shook her head. “Should I accuse you of stealing our secrets as you try to unnerve me while watching for my reactions? And Shahin’s heart is calmer than yours or I wouldn’t have bothered with the speech about stars at all. The stone in her chest only flutters when she smells coffee in the air.”

“After spending some time in Aikerim Adal’s Manor, I do not find myself surprised as often anymore,” Shahin nonchalantly agreed.

“Coffee?” Amir glanced at her in confusion.

“This is what she calls kava beans.”

Amir sighed and calmed herself down. Yeva had to give her credit — few had the necessary willpower to control their heart to such an extent. She knew that the snake would be very careful in future interactions, but she preferred to keep her cards open in this case. A calm wermage was the best option available to her. Even if said calmness was a forced one.

“Perhaps we should continue this conversation in a more appropriate venue once our guest has had her rest?” Aikerim suggested.

“Yes, our trip has been rather exhausting. A good rest will help all of us.”

Yeva felt Aikerim’s tail brush against her, but she knew that this was just the beginning. She had to stay strong, however. Not only was Erf depending on her, but the lives of the slaves were at stake. They were here because of Erf’s actions, and that made her feel responsible for them in turn.

So she would remain strong and plunge into the world of wermage politics. No matter how that made her feel.



“Let me make it fucking clear, boy,” Irfan growled once we were alone and on our way to the finger housing. “I hate your kind.”

Permanent forts had a very similar design to marching forts with the main difference being that the buildings were permanent structures and had a few additional amenities we were unlikely to bring with us. Fingers lived together and fought together. On the march and away from Emanai lands, eight warriors and two servants shared a single tent; inside the fort, they had a single barrack instead.

“My kind?” I repeated. I was pretty sure he didn’t mean that Navigators were a common staple of Emanai forces.

“Your kind. Coddled toys that confuse the influence of their patrons with their personal strength. Yapping without fear from under the kaftan of their mistress.”

“How quaint,” I replied without care. Without a proper understanding of my status, his barbs were rather toothless. “You should be a poet.”

“And you should keep your mouth shut. Even the First Spear won’t be able to protect you indefinitely with that attitude. A single word from her, the Manipular, or General herself and my whip will teach you manners. I would have taught you preemptively if not for her orders.”

“That is why she is wise and in the seat of leadership. There is no point in provoking the unknown.”

“Until she learns of your lies and whips you raw herself. Do not confuse her patience with weakness or unwillingness to act — you make a single mistake and you will learn arm justice.”

“If you are plotting to make me fail by skipping over important details, know that I have my own justice. Tell me, Irfan — as a murk yourself, do you have someone to defend your honour?”

“The First Spear will stand in front of me!”

“Even when against the Kiymetl Domina? With the Orb of Truth in her hands?”

“The what?”

“An artefact. A Gift from Catriona Emanai Aethil herself, the goddess of these lands, imbued with the divine power to tell truth apart from lies?”

He scoffed. “What? You have a Domina to do your bidding now?”

“Are you sure you wish to keep digging?” I tapped the Gestr on my neck. “Did you wake up today and feel very lucky for some reason? Hmm?”

“It doesn’t matter.” He looked away. “I will not besmirch the honour of the First Spear by ignoring her orders. You will be told all that is necessary so that you can’t weasel out of your mistakes.”

“Splendid.” That was the only thing I was honestly concerned about. Jeers and disdain were expected, but I had no desire to learn every rule and regulation through personal mistakes.

Irfan grumbled and shoved me through the door. “Don’t idle and get in.”

The room was rather spartan. There were ‘beds’, a cooking stove, and very little else. It was also empty apart from a single boy scrubbing a piece of armour clean. Not surprising — if this was my bedroom, I would have spent all my waking hours outside.

Something that I was likely to be doing anyways from now on.

“Move.” Irfan kicked the boy to the side and turned back to me. “Drop your bag here. From now on this will be your bed. Taqi, you will take the fourth bed on the left instead.”

Judging by his smirk, one of the finger servants had just been promoted to a better ‘bed’. It appeared that I would be punished for my cheek through anything under his control.

I nodded and dropped the bag without question — the other ‘piece of furniture’ did look more like an actual bed rather than the hay-filled bedding on the floor, but both were rather sad-looking anyway. And flea-ridden, based on the rash on the boy’s skin. I felt something tugging on my heart as memories of Chimgen manor reminded me of cold nights and itchy mornings. The spring seasons were the worst as fleas and other bugs emerged from their slumber, ravenous for sustenance, while skin had time to forget the itch of the bites.

My skin was rather tough nowadays and I couldn’t care less if my bed had legs underneath or not. Both were shit.

“Open your bag.”

I raised my eyebrow. “Are you familiar with the seal-“

“I am not a thief, you fool! I will start caring about your collection of dildoes once you start wheezing and puking through the training march. Because I will be the one who has to throw it by the side of the road. With your body, most likely. What I do care about, from this point onward and until you shit yourself dead or get kicked from my finger, is that you have the bare minimum of equipment that each warrior should have. Do you even have proper armour underneath those silks?” His finger stabbed my chest. “That…uh.”

“Steel.” I nodded. “Very good steel at that. The seals that you see attached to my gear aren’t here to protect me from thieves but to remind would-be thieves that their lives are forfeit if they try to steal secrets of the Kiymetl.”

I unbuckled my brigandine and showed him the plates hidden underneath, the ones he tried to pierce with his finger. “Even without runic reinforcement, this armour can stop a werbow arrow fired from ten paces away or a kattar blade in the hands of a wermage. There are only a few handfuls of these made so far by a talented Enoch smith using the secret forging methods of the Kiymetl. Two Pillars joined together to create this piece, and we brought four of them with us. Three and a spare, including a few additional replacement plates. The Lady of the House is wearing one of them, albeit heavily runed for additional protection. And another one was gifted to Kosenya Matriarch herself.”

The slave boy shrivelled in his spot every time I mentioned yet another Pillar name.

“Or so you claim. Tell me, boy, did that ‘talented Enoch smith’ come with you to maintain it, or is she conveniently somewhere else?”

I rolled my eyes, “I didn’t know each finger warrior had to bring their personal smiths as well. I have the tools and knowledge to fix it myself if it ever gets damaged. Or I can pay the arm smith their fee if the damage is too severe. Replac-“

“Can you? Good.” He lifted a pile of rust laying near Taqi and threw it at me. “Get it cleaned by tomorrow and make sure it shines just as yours.”

From what I could tell, this was chain mail a few lifetimes ago. There was even a hint of metal somewhere.

I scoffed. “Do you want me to turn it into gold as well? I can remove the rust but do not think that this excuse for iron can compare to the steel that most swordsmiths would salivate over.”

Irfan smiled. “You just have to try hard enough. Why don’t you use that alchemy of yours?”

I matched his smile. “The goddess herself enjoys creations made by my alchemy. I didn’t know that Kiannika was rich enough to hire me as an alchemist, rather than enjoying my service as a warrior.”

“Did you know that one can be skinned alive for acts of heresy? And not the quick kind, where they rip it from you, feet up, but the slow kind, where they take it sliver by sliver? Just making sure that you know.”

“Thank you for informing me. It is a relief that I have spoken nothing but the truth so far.”

“Well, since you are so honest, and I am the Patriarch of a Pillar Manor, then this finger will be lucky to enjoy your alchemy. Because every warrior does what he is best at in this finger. That’s how we survive! If you came here expecting to do half of the work because of your connections, and then put only half of your effort because of some wording then you should quit now. Or else, I swear by the Three Horns that I will make you leave before we reach the outskirts of the Forest.”

“Expecting half of the work? I came here to serve as a foot soldier. It was the First Spear who assigned me to messenger duty. Putting in half of the effort? Who are you to tell me, an alchemist, about the limits and capabilities of my craft? The chain mail will be clean, that I can promise, but if you want miracles, you better be ready to get me gold for additional tools and ingredients. Because miracles aren’t cheap. And I will not empty out Kiymetl’s coffers just because some finger gave me a flea-ridden bed and demanded that I give all my effort in return.”

“The First Spear warned me not to engage you in rhetorics. Get it clean and shiny by tomorrow, got it?” He grumbled and pointed at the bag. “Open.”

I sighed and started pulling out tools and trinkets. Most of the stuff he accepted with a little grumble, like the hoe and pick that Master Siamak advised me to bring. Other things were dismissed as luxuries and a waste of space and weight. Things like a hand-cranked mill, camping stove, or even personal bedroll. I gave basic arguments that, as an alchemist, I needed tools to carefully prepare my ingredients. Although I was mostly planning to grind flour or coffee and cook dinners.

Cooking was a form of alchemy after all.

The bedroll I ignored altogether. My stuff was simply better, lighter, sturdier, and more comfortable. Not to the magical insanity that Albin procured from time to time, but pretty decent by my standards.

“This?” He pointed at the wrapped and sealed box.

“Gifts for the general. From the Kiymetl Manor. Secret.”


“To assist the general in military duties. Any help they get means fewer of us dying on the field.” I sighed and pulled the last major container. “Living larva, drools alchemical stuff.”

“The fuck!?” Irfan grabbed his sword. “Is that a young Creature!?”

Taqi gasped in fear.

I looked at him nonplussed. “Obviously not. But, if you get your stomach ripped open by a claw or a sword, you will be begging me for healing salves made from its drool. Or maybe you won’t. Either out of stubbornness or because you are already dead. How often do soldiers shit themselves to death?”

“Are you a healer now as well?”

“I am the Alchemist of Kiymetl. Yes, I can make healing concoctions.” I lifted another box. “I’ve brought some tools for emergencies, but what I have is mostly trauma gear. Slashes, cuts, wound infections, and gangrene. Broken bones and amputations too, but reattachments and eviscerations are unlikely. General diseases like bloody flux you keep scaring me with… Murk medicine.”

“You are the first healer with a worm this fat.”

I gaped. “Really? You questioned my every word until I showed you the larva and now you suddenly believe me?”

Irfan scoffed. “The other stuff is a luxury for a spoiled brat. That larva isn’t just ugly but heavy as well. Only a fey-touched would bring something like this without explicit purpose, and even they would struggle to find or grow it this big. I also can recognise the bandages and knives of a healer.”

He scratched a scar on his arm. “Felt a few of them myself.

“A spoiled loudmouth that doesn’t know when to shut up is one thing, but a spoiled loudmouth that can make healing potions is something completely different. Unless you merely think of yourself as a healer — the bandages look too clean and I don’t see any leeches. Then I have to warn you that while anyone can accept your mercies, you will answer for any mistake you make.”

“Bandages have to be as clean as I can get them.” I sighed. “This is how you avoid stupid infections. I also have a large dragonfly, but it is flying somewhere right now.”

That was another headache to ponder about. Chirp might be quick but it was now dangerous for him to swoop into a populated group of armed people. Some archers, or even war mages, might get twitchy.

“Why can’t you use normal leeches to suck blood?”

I rolled my eyes. “I use it to send missives across Emanai. It’s smart and knows where home is just as it can find me on the way back. My Domina can communicate with her daughter and me if she needs to.”

“And the shit has started pouring from your mouth once again.” Irfan groaned and turned toward the door. “Pack up your toys and meet me outside. If you want to keep them all, you will have to show me that you can carry the load yourself. That means running in full gear until I am satisfied.”



Hajar Kishava, the First Spear


“So? What did you find out?” she asked Irfan.

“The boy spews lies like breathing. And weaves them into a conversation just like a weaver three times his age…” Irfan trailed off as another bout of laughter and jeers interrupted their private conversation. “Are you sure he is not a wer?”

The boy in question kept running circles through the field, clanking with every piece of gear he had on him. He was huffing and wheezing, but he was huffing and wheezing ten circles ago, while his stride was just as wide as it was at the start.

The rest of her thumb kept cheering him on and chanting “Mule Boy” over and over.

“He has no Spark.” Hajar pressed her lips. “I don’t like this.”

“He claims to know healing potions and has a worm the size of a baby. Perhaps he brewed a potion of strength?”

“I’ve… spoken to the First Oar. And met the new wermages from Samat. Or, to say it better, they’ve met me instead.” Hajar watched the sack hop across the field once again. That jingle was starting to give her a headache. “Quite a few of them were… curious about the boy.”

“How many Ladies of the House did this twerp manage to fuck!?” Irfan exclaimed. “What do they see in him? The silver eyes? That kithara?”

“Not that kind of curiosity, you dolt. Something happened in Samat, that they all keep quiet about. And this murk is in the centre of it, I am certain. So… did you see anything suspicious?”

“Did I see anything suspicious, indeed… Half of that rattle you are hearing is coming from numerous Kiymetl seals thrown across his things, warning everyone about the ownership and likely consequences if they go missing. There is the Enoch armour that can stop werbow arrows without runes, a bunch of luxuries so his ass doesn’t get sore or his stomach doesn’t rumble. Then there are scalpels, needles, and bandages, along with that worm that he claims can cure wounds with its ichor or something. And a private gift for the General herself.”

The First Spear groaned and rubbed her temples.

“I mean…he is what? Eighteen? Twenty? He still has milk on his lips!”

“Unless he drank a potion of youth?” Hajar argued back. “You tell me he is lying through his teeth, yet every single Enoch smith of our arm is already fighting among themselves just so they can fix and maintain his armour. What should I do when he presents his gift to the General?”

She got up from her chair and paced in front of a silent Irfan. “Any other ridiculous revelations that I should know about?”

“Er… he has some flying creep as his messenger pigeon. From what he said, he uses it to send messages all the way to Samat.”

“Great! Congratulations, Hajar Kishava, on your glorious promotion!” She pulled her ears down. “While others march their trusted warriors or worry about greenhorns learning what side of the spear is actually sharp, I will be protecting Three Horns knows what!”


“What do you think would happen if one of the archers shoots down the ‘beloved bird’ of our murk?”


“Exactly.” She threw herself back into the chair. “Why can’t life be normal once again? The Goddess descends on Emanai and everything is thrown out of order for years! And I was so close to my promotion!”

“The Goddess?” Irfan paled.

Hajar narrowed her eyes. “What? What!?”

“He spoke about the Goddess as if he had met her. Claimed that she enjoyed his alchemy…”

She closed her eyes shut and sunk into her seat, a low groan escaping from her chest.

“But…why him? Is he truly a murk?”

“No. Spark.”

“A fairy of the Forest, perhaps? My ma said-“


“Y-yes, First Spear?”

“Go back to the field. And tell that damned fairy of yours to stop running. Just…just tell him that he completed the task and he can lug around that sack of his anywhere he wants to. He can sleep with it for all I care!”

“At once, First Spear!”

Hajar kept her eyes closed, waiting for the damned sound to disappear. Yet, when it did, the peace didn’t come.

“Oh, Goddess… Why me?”






Chapter was edited by: Xeno Morph and UnknownPlunger.