IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE

by

Dolores J. Nurss


Volume I: Welcome to The Charadoc!


Chapter 36

Political Dilemmas


Tuesday, April 7, 2708

You know, Diary, Cici is absolutely hopeless when it comes to comprehending political science, like most of her class.  Today she went on and on about a "Police Riot"  over in Noveskey Village.  And typically, she got it all wrong.

I heard about it, too; I'm still an agent, I listen when people think I'm too far gone to care.  Didn't Cici realize that the peasants threw bricks and bottles at the police, that they actually endangered lives by setting fires?  She seems to think that the police set the fires, but she wouldn't say where she got her "information".  As if they'd have any reason to.

I've heard of incidents like this before.  I told Cici about a decent young man I'd met through Soskia: a straightforward kind of guy with a wife and kids, who used to be a cop till a brick struck him blind.  He spoke at one of Soskia's fundraisers for policemen injured in the line of duty, and came to her Chinese New Year’s Party on account of that.  But no amount of funds will ever enable him to see his little daughter's face on her wedding-day, nor someday show him the smiles on his grandchildren's faces, nor ever again count the colors in a Sargeddohl sunset.  That's the thing--he hasn't just been robbed of today's wage, of something precious for now but soon replaced, he has been robbed of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, like a kind of little murder, the part of him with sight forever killed.

But Cici just rode on, sulking on her mule and trailing wisps of that obnoxious smoke of hers, the sun and leaf-shadow shifting across her face.  That kid just had a job to do, I told her, just wanted to keep the peace!  No word from Cici about that, just the sullen clop, clop, clop of her mule's hooves on the overpounded mud, and the whine of mosquitoes all around us.  And the heat beat down, and the bites oppressed me, and my head hurt like I'd taken that brick myself, and Diary, I couldn't possibly wait till noon.

* * *

At least the honey sweetens the air as I daub some onto the crisscross of inflamed abrasions, then move on to the next wound.  With the mats so close together and so low I find it easiest to follow Rashid's example and move from patient to patient on my knees.  It also blessedly takes the weight off my infected feet.  It wore at my knees at first, even with the towel that I tucked under them to slide along with me, but I think I've already begun to develop calluses on them. 

Some of my patients begin to rally.  I had asked if any roses grew nearby.  Rashid slapped his forehead and demanded how he could forget something so basic.  Well, no sooner mentioned than a dozen cracking voices clamored about a feral rose garden not too far from here, still struggling to reach higher than the weeds, but all of them bobbing with rose hips, some as big as walnuts, at least half of them ripened to a scarlet-bright perfection even as new roses bud and bloom, all seasons being equal, here.

So now we have rose hip tea to give our charges, so rich in vitamin C you can practically see their faces bloom with every sip of the tangy stuff.  I take a sip myself, when we have enough to spare, so that now I have some hope that my feet might begin to heal a little.

Alysha says she'll dispatch some gardeners to cultivate the roses; she hadn't realized that they served any purpose besides ornament.  When Cyran returns she'll suggest that every troop who can should carry a bag of rose-hips for treating the sick and wounded. 

What does that mean, precisely, in terms of my soul?  Have I given aid and comfort to the enemy?  Have I influenced rebel policy?  Or have I acted as a good Tilan should, spreading medical knowledge?  No one's going to blow up any bridges with a handful of rose hips, surely!

But these are my captors--I wear a chain among them!  Yet here in the infirmary Rashid always clicks it off and hangs it up on the wall so that it won't drag across our patients.  Alysha posts guards at the door, each half my size, but they spend the day playing jacks or pick-up-sticks, hours and hours hunched over their games, hardly ever looking at me.  I am by no means ill-treated for a prisoner, certainly not as badly as these poor creatures that I try to nurse back from the brink of death.

"Ow!" I cry as hands grab my foot behind me.  Then I recognize Rashid's clean and probing fingers.

"They're better," he says after some examination, "but they need protection to heal the rest of the way.  Guards," he summons, "take Deirdre to the cobbler."  He helps me to my feet and I hobble over to my chain where he snaps it on under my chin.  "Tell them to make sandals tailored to fit her, not just give her standard issue."  He glances down at my feet and I suddenly want to hide one beneath the other, conceal the silly duck-shape of them.  "She's a full size smaller in the heel than the toe."




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