's 


IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE

by

Dolores J. Nurss


Volume I: Welcome to The Charadoc!



Chapter 20

INNOCENCE AND REALISM


Thursday, March 12, 2708

I sit very still, doing my level best not to flinch.  The chains have nothing to do with that; I won't give them the satisfaction.  (Wow!  Just look at all those bees buzzing up there.  All around that hole in the trunk.  You know what that means!)

"Such wonderful long hair," Kanarik says as she plucks strand after strand of mine out, minute little stings like all the other indignities that I put up with these days.  “I’ve never seen anyone grow it so long.”  Her own scruffy head, sheared to the sort of cut that's supposed to need little care, gets none at all from her, obviously. (I can do it.  I can climb that high.  Future mighty generals take great risks.)  But she does have a sweet smile, in a buck-toothed sort of way, and big, soft eyes.  (I'd better wrap my extra shirt around my face, though; I can see through the weave.  Better put on my winter jacket and my gloves, too, then climb in a swelter of heat.  Alysha will be so proud of me!  And Kanarik--I really want to see Kanarik's face when she tastes that honey!)  Dexterously she braids and knots my hair into snares and hands them over to the other children; she has a certain gift for it, I hear.  Then the children will burrow into the underbrush to set snares for creatures smaller than themselves.  (The higher I get, the louder the bees, the buzzing becomes a roar, the very sound of menace.  Oh, what would the taletellers of my village recite about my raid, if any still lived to sing my deeds?)

At least I remember now that insect-repellent herb.  I'll have to keep an eye out for it.  For some reason I keep thinking of stinging insects, rubbing my arms like I could brush off something that doesn't really crawl there.  (Ow!  Be brave, be brave.  What do stings matter, neither bullet nor blade?  Ow!  Another!  Why'd I have to forget my stupid feet?  Dumb, dumb, dumb!  A curse upon the growth-spurt that made my shoes pinch too hard to wear, that drew my pants up from my ankles.  The bee-venom throbs and burns in my feet, throbs till the flesh swells up with it.  But just then I reach the honey, bees crawl on my gloves but I scoop out comb after sticky, drippy comb, as deep as I can reach.)  I'll have to keep an eye out for a delicate little ground-hugging herb, with fronds that extend upward here and there, somewhat ruddy in color, red pigments mingled with the green.  It has globelike little leaves, like baby-tears.  Rub this this herb all over your skin, and the vermin cease to find you attractive anymore.  (I feel them crawling on the cloth around my face.  Can they sting through?  Of course they can!  Do they know this?  Oh sweet God above I hope not!)

Kanarik hands over the last snare, and Branko crawls off under the brush to catch meat.  I listen to a warbling bird overhead, and the rustling of some little furry thing nearby, and I despise my own sentimentality, the fantasy of feeding them nuts from my hand.  These children hear such sounds and their mouths water at prey just out of reach; they would gobble up the nuts, themselves, and then the animals.  No room in this world for anything soft or sweet.  (With a mighty leap I fall, my legs jarred to the hip, my stinging feet sunk deep into the moss and cooling mud.  Then I run as fast as I can hobble till the bees lose interest.  Oh Kanarik, will you love me when you taste the honey that I bring?  Will your eyes at least light up?)

 

The transcriptionist cussed when she saw the next entry in the diary.  They expected her to read that scrawl?  Those agents had no consideration whatsoever!  She spat out her toothpick and reached for a fresh one--cinnamon again, nice and hot and distracting.  If she had to work this hard to decipher the material, she stood in serious danger of paying too much attention.  Grimly she smoothed out the crumbly paper, softened by the weather of the Charadoc, and squinted to her work.

 

Thursday, March 12, 2708

I did it!  I succeeded in my mission.  I am absolutely, perfectly, sublimely drunk.  It feels just like a carnival ride, all loopily uplifted in the air, like being a kid again, happy to have absolutely no responsibilities, just hanging on, enjoying the ride.  How could such a childlike pleasure earn such terrible condemnation?

Because I am not an innocent child.  I am a very guilty man--but drunk enough it doesn't matter anymore.  And why should it?  Do any walk among us whom life has never tortured?  Do I not then move in accordance with the order of the universe?  Should we not thus grasp whatever solace we can find in life's fermenting spoil?

Ah, but I feel poetic tonight!  As I write this I sprawl upon a bed, a real honest-to-god bed as soft beneath me as the dream-soft quilt of alcohol around my heart, and the stars twinkle just outside the window of this cozy little hovel, stars as pleased as myself, sharp little twinkles like the points of distant knives.  I toast them with my glass even as I write this, toast the danger in them, in me, in us all.  What terrible deeds I could do, if rising up had not become a problem!

We did good work today.  We found an old lady, Roseanne or Rosa or something rosy, whom Sanzio says knows Cyran quite well.  Between bribes and threats she talked for us; Sanzio only had to hit her once when she got too greedy, to get across that she had the choice, take what we offered or take pain instead, we'd have the same information.  Later on the grotesque creature even dared to flirt with me!

And what made Sanzio so merciful?  "We have a past together," he said at last.  He actually flinched at my surprise.  "She's not as old as she looks," he said in his defense, straightening up the shirt that had gotten so strangely rumpled after they'd spoken privately together.  "Once you yourself would've knelt before her beauty."  He moved to go out, walk in the night air, but he paused; over his shoulder he gave me an evil look and said, "She's younger than you are.  She just took to drink." And then he left.

So after that we just had to share the bottle, Rosa and I, she nestled in my lap like a child, kissing my neck like a fiend.  And I enjoyed the attention, and she enjoyed the pretense of respect.  Nothing else happened between us--the chaummin saw to that.  My liquid friend, that keeps me out of trouble, guards my chastity, weakens the hands that could break a poor man's back, makes a jolly fellow out of one who has no other cause to smile.

She drinks out there still.  She can have the rest of my bottle; I can afford more, but I doubt she can.  I have her bed, and it smells like chaummin, but the grimy sheets feel cleaner than sleeping on the ground.  If she doesn't pass out outside I can make room for her, or she can push me over if I sleep.  They made this bed for one, but she wouldn't take up much room.





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