IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Volume I: Welcome to The Charadoc!
Tuesday, March 10, 2708
We rub the still-warm catawlba between coarse cloths, crumbling it into a dust. The turnippy odor permeates whatever we touch, and the powder covers everything. Kiril coughs some, and wheezes, just a little bit, in a worrisome way, but keeps on working.
(Look! Look how pale we become--like powdered ladies of the courts. Look, look how old and wise and dry as ancient pages in a book, our hair turned white, our eyebrows white. This is how we shall look when Cyran wins.)
Now the children unfold leather sacks, the seams stitched over double, in which to store it all. Traces of the last load still linger upon them. As we fill them up Alysha tells me, "You'll have to carry much of it--you're the strongest."
"What about me?" Marduk growls. The teenager ambles over with one black curl over his eye, his hands on his guns like he walks towards a quick-draw.
"You'll carry your share," she says, "Don't worry." Her voice sounds firm but her lip trembles and she doesn't look at him. He looks plenty at her, though, this quivering growth-spurt in combat-boots, fingers twitching on pistols empty of ammunition.
"Why'd Cyran choose you, anyway? Why not me? We're the same age."
Still not looking at him, head held high like she'd impaled it on her dignity, she says, "Because I can read--and I do read. Because you act before you think. Because..."
Growling he grabs her by the hair and hurls her against a tree. I leap up but the chain holds me back. Eyes wide, she shouts, "If you hit me Cyran will think it's a mutiny--I'm the Commander right now!"
"If I hit you it's because you're mine." And he punches her in the face. "Cyran..." punch! "...knows..." punch! "...that..." punch! "...you..." punch! "...are..." punch! "mine!" punch to the stomach, and she sinks against the tree retching, while I keep straining against the chain, shouting, "Stop him! Somebody stop him!" but the children all just stand and stare.
"What's the big deal?" Branko says to me. "Everybody does it."
"If you ever do any girl that way," I growl, "I'll break open your little head myself!" And I rattle my chain at him till he runs away. When I turn again to Alysha and Marduk, she weeps against his breast while he gently cradles her in his arms.
"You've, you've, you've got to fol, follow where I lead," she sobs. "If Cyran ever finds out how you..."
"Cyran is far away," he says reassuringly, stroking her. "Don't worry so much."
"W-will you do as I say?"
"Sure--I know you're smart. You'll get us all out alive. I'm just an ol' bear--you know that." I can watch her face swell even from here, and the blood drip from her lip.
"I'm, I'm sorry I got you all riled up."
"There, there, it's over. Just don't let being smart go to you head, that's all. Here, I'll go fetch some water and we can wash up that pretty face of yours."
Her face already looks like a bloated parody of human. After he leaves she turns to me, drawing herself up, like pride were some garment that she could shrug back on after he'd ripped it off of her. "You have to understand what he's been through," she tells me through broken lips. "He's suffered nothing but brutality his whole life long." Longingly she gazes down the path he took. "After the revolution, he'll change. You'll see."
Wednesday, March 11, 1998
It's no use. I tried, I really tried, but my stomach so recoiled at the first shot of Chaummin, nauseously sweet and painfully strong, that it took me a whole hour to try a second shot and by then it made no difference.
Sanzio smiled at the failure of my experiment. He suspected my intent when he saw me buy that bottle, when he saw my face, I could feel him reading me. And he didn't approve. Who the hell is Sanzio not to approve of anything!
I stormed out of there, and now I write outside the little cottage that we commandeered, by the light spilled out upon me from the window. I gaze out, past this slope-built shack, onto a beautiful, mist-filled valley, barely shimmering in the faintest light of a sliver of moon, a dark mystery. It has waned almost to nothing, now. This is the darkest week, my father would've said, the best time of all to get rid of what you want to lose. I want to lose my memories, or else I'll lose my mind. I will try again tomorrow.
I pull the slipper out of my pocket and stroke its dirty satin. Wide at the toe, narrow at the heel. I took Deirdre to a podiatrist, back when the foot once in this slipper could've fit neatly in the hollow of my palm. He saw no harm in her little oddity, not all that uncommon, to have the front of the foot a different size from the back. He said that it might even give her an edge in hiking. I used to tease her after that; I'd run after her on the beach and snatch her up as she giggled, the sand flying, and I'd tickle her toes and call her “Duck-Feet, Duck-Feet!” and she'd just quack at me till she laughed too hard to continue.
I put the slipper back in my pocket. Damn those rebels! Damn them more than me. I will try again tomorrow night. And again and again and again, till I have it right. The pain in my belly can't hold out for long against so much pain in my soul.
In the dampness of the night I can smell a certain herb, something minty, with a hint of bittersweetness and of cloves. I still know something of this land, even if I no longer understand the people. When last I visited I learned that this herb could calm a skittish stomach. That much at least cannot have changed.
* * *
Sometimes the evenings feel so good, so peaceful, that I can forget my status as a prisoner. (After the revolution, I will open up my own tavern. I will stock the choicest liquors and the fanciest food, and hire the best musicians in all the Charadoc. I will lay out a wide dance floor, and I shall become the Master of Entertainment--my life will become nothing but fun, fun, fun!)
I sway in and out of sleep with every motion of the hammock, turning very carefully, trying not to tangle my chain again in the web. (After the revolution I'm going to grow up to be a ballerina. I will wear costumes with jewels that glitter in the spotlight, and I will leap so, so high!)
Occasionally a drop of rain gets through the leaf canopy that the children and I put up, tickling a nose, surprising an eyelid, but mostly it patters on the thatch, a richer, softer sound than on tile rooftops. (After the revolution all shall applaud me for the role I played. I will ride in parades on a vehicle with no wheels, and the sun shooting off my medals will dazzle every eye that sees me. Girls will faint when I raise my tree-thick arms to wave. And story-tellers all over the country will remember me--it’ll be like the old days, before the bards of my village died.)
An uncounted choir of night creatures blur their buzzing and their piping into one big, sleepy hum. (After the revolution I'm going to have my very own farm, with orchards and wells and things, and my own ox, and a big, big table with lots of sons and daughters all around it, each eating their fill of fresh fruit and steamy-hot bread and cheeses--oh, great big cheeses, and simmering slabs of meat--big, strong sons and daughters, and I suppose I'll have to marry a boy, too, but that won't be too bad if he's kind of like Lufti.)
I could sleep really, really deeply here--if the mosquitoes didn't keep waking me up. (After the revolution I shall become the most brilliant of all scientists. I will know everything about the moon and about what makes the Cacklebird dance in spring. I will read the stars and all their secrets. I will turn water into wine. I will explain the secret hearts of mountains and unearth treasures there. I will learn to read.)
I'll have to review my herblore in the morning; I know that I learned something about an insect-repelling plant in this continent--but does it grow in the jungles or the grasslands? Or maybe higher up the mountains? I forget. (After the revolution I will learn magic. Or maybe become a priest. Or both. Yeah. Why not both?)
Funny, I can remember a moss in the arctic that can turn mosquitoes queasy five meters away. I can practically see the textbook right in front of me. (After the revolution, after I have learned every single way to maim and kill and get back my own, I will track down every person who ever hurt me, and boy, will they be sorry! All of them. Every last one.)I turn over, trying to plant a hypnotic suggestion to remember all the herblore that I'll need when I wake up in the morning, but just then I hear the faintest moan in the hammock next to mine, and I know that Alysha turned over, too, and it hurt when she moved her face. (After the revolution he will change. There will come a gentler time; he will have to change. I will become wise with the coming of peace; I will know how to makes him change.)