IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE

by

Dolores J. Nurss


Volume IV: Sharing Insanity


Chapter 34

Beliefs and Traditions


Sunday, October 4, 2708s

(“Would you like some appleberry jam on your waffles, Zanne?”

“Thank you.”  But then I just stare at the globs of pink chaos mounded onto the tidy waffle grid.  They go together, chaos and order, the flavors of them call to one another, they most desperately need each other...and then I plunge in my fork and forget what I just thought.

I look at Cybil.  “Why do I feel so weird?” I ask.

“You’ve been through a lot, Hon.  I hurt just looking at you.”)

(Why do I hurt so?  Old bones; I must have slept wrong.  But why do I ache inside?  We have everything in hand now; I brought in agents from the Tilián to bring the situation back under control, so it rests in their hands, now.  I have nothing more to worry about.  And the past...well, it’s past, isn’t it?

I look out the window, for the reassurance of my school, my beautiful, well-ordered, perfect school...and I see the tumbled majesty, the terrible chaotic beauty, of the incoming stormclouds overhead.  And the air in my room smells so stuffy that I feel as though I will die if I don’t dress fast enough to get out there, even if it’s only for the short walk between my quarters and the chapel.)

(I tell Cybil, “No, it’s not that.  I think I felt something even before the assault.  I’ve handled violence before, my dear, dusted myself off and tidied up my make-up.  I just didn’t notice, till now, this...strangeness.  Or I tried not to.”

Cybil stares at me a moment, lays down her fork and says, “Me, too.”  Then she blushes.  “Now that you mention it, it’s sort of crept up on me.  I feel, I don’t know, edgy all the time, like reality shifts and crackles when I’m not looking, not listening.  And then I turn, and nothing’s changed.  But I feel as if it has.”

Then, embarrassed, she stands up to busily clean up and fetch her coat and purse.  “I have to go, Zanne, or I’ll be late for church.”  She stops suddenly.  “Will you come with me?”

“I think I’d best lie low for awhile, all things considered.”

“Will you be all right?  All by yourself, here?”

I smile at her.  “I’m still an agent, am I not?”)

(Mass in the Charadocian Army feels weird.  Their chaplain makes more sense than ours, and yet less.  He speaks sensibly of things that are not true.  He turns things upside down, says that God blesses the government soldier, that they fight for the people and the cause of righteousness.  How can we and they both fight for the people and the cause of righteousness?  It makes my head hurt.

Every Sunday I commune with these men, who slaughter my comrades in arms, who starved my family.  Every Sunday I bow my head with them, kneel beside them, and the responses that they murmur sound as sincere as mine.  And every Sunday I eat the body of Jesus with them.  Jesus comes to them as flavorless little white wafers, not as He comes to us, in hunks of whatever bread we can scrounge, rich and substantial, full of nourishment even if He sometimes seems a little stale.)

(Sunday.  Toulinians are nominally Christian, but…oh, be fair, Randy!  They are Christians. They just have a really, really dry practice, more concerned with following a list of social rules than building a passionate relationship with a God that seems merely allegorical or theoretical to a minister who looks hung-over every time I see him.  Even now he drones on about how we must take the Disciples’ habit of sharing all things in common as symbolic of the Commonality of Man, rather than as an economic model, without really going into what “commonality of man” means.

But somewhere somebody must teach a more passionate doctrine.  Just last night I heard someone cry out in his sleep, “We’re all going to hell!”

Hell sounds nice right about now.  Warm.  Even in their gloves and slippers my hands and feet ache with the cold.  The minister’s voice sounds dry and painful, and if he really believed in any promise of Heaven he wouldn’t have such a rumblossom of a nose.)

(Sunday.  What a bore.  Here goes the dance again.  I pose myself to look attentive and demure throughout the sermon, while my mind goes over strategies.

I, personally, would not have chosen to distribute the tanks that way.  Men always like to put on showy displays of power; women know the wisdom of invisibility until the crucial moment.  Yet I have only one star on my shoulders, not my superior’s three.  It’s my job to make somebody else’s idiocy succeed.  Hasn’t that always been women’s work?

I stifle a sigh.  I’d have done better in the rebel ranks, I think.  At least Cyran is half a woman.

Trim off that thought!  I like the privileges that my family earned; hir kind does not.  I fight where I belong.

Rise for the creed, Layne, and recite the memorized old nonsense.  At least it doesn’t take much attention, anymore.)

            Sunday.  The kids want an agape feast, in the absence of a priest, like they always do.  So I must dole out bits of bread and sips of wine, when I would happily never see another alcoholic drink in my life.  Hangovers do last longer in the higher elevations, but I’m no longer hung over, of course, just wary of the horse that threw me.  Just how well did they reward my singing Friday night, anyway?  The tunes still jar my poor, sore head.

            Good, rich bread, not so good wine, but it could be worse, I’ve seen that well enough.  I should count my blessings while I have them, before resuming the work of war.

 

Monday, October 5, 2708

I hear the clop of hooves, the groan of cartwheels.  “Everybody down,” I hiss, and children dive into the underbrush with hardly a crackle of sound.  Raised on my elbows on the cold, damp ground, I feel the gun cold in my arms as I peer between twigs for whoever dares the road below.

 

“The second bold son of our brave Meni Jhien,

He inquired after the first;

Having found the red hand, he felt pretty mean;

His machete began to thirst.”

 

The young cart-driver sings one of Damien’s songs, while his old Dad strums on a homemade guitar, no guile on either face, just the stolid melancholy of people who know their place but don’t much like it.  I breathe again, but give no signal to move just yet.  And my children, my good, good children, stay as motionless as fawns, awaiting my permission.  Not everyone who sings rebel songs sympathizes enough to let us go unremarked—especially with ransoms on several of our heads.  But it feels good to know that the songs travel well; our bard has kept busy in our absence.

 

Tuesday, October 6, 2708

No mistaking it anymore; even at this altitude, spring wafts in the air.  (The scent of autumn in the air just gets more and more delicious.)  New leaves open, fueled on the warming sun and the melted snow, as an overnight explosion of blossoming scents the breeze.  (Leaves keep falling, splashing color onto the grass faster than the gardeners can snatch them up again.)  Even the wounded hearten; Tanjin joins me at the supply pick-up that Kiril whistled about, smiling wanly.  His arm rests in a sling but the rest of him functions okay, almost, as he watches my back, a pistol in his good hand.

(The leaves look like splashes of blood.)

I feel disappointed to not find her there, waiting for us, by the boxes hidden in a hollow tree.  But she has delivered the goods like she said she would—food, ammunition, even medical supplies!  (I see George slip Don something, so I hurry up, grinning.  “Little brother’s privilege, I whisper as he reluctantly gives me half.)  And what’s this?  Some kind of nut roll candy bar?  Oh, you little angel!  (A maple nut bar!  Oh, that little devil!)  She seems to have wrapped the soldiers around her finger.  If the others didn’t know why I valued Kiril so much before, they must surely love her now.  (George charms the teachers as well as the students.  He could get away with murder!)

But I have much to think about besides spring and purloined food.  (But I have much to think about besides stolen candy.)  We’ve been too long out of the loop in the larger war; I need to find out what’s happening.  (We seem to have won George Winsall’s favor, yet it’s taking too long to infiltrate his inner circle—and I do believe it’s his circle—we need to learn more.)  I keep feeling that something’s up, but Kiril cannot read the dispatches that come in, nor put it all in whistles if she could.  (He keeps calling us special, but nobody ever talks about what, exactly, he has in mind for us.)  And speaking of the whistle code, I need to deal with its unsafety.  It’s time I sent out a messenger back to Cyran, maybe doing some spying on the side.  (It’s time we press the point.)  And the point man needs to read and write.

Soon.  Not yet.  Please.

I have an excuse.  Let a little time pass since the latest battles.  And Lyanfa’s not that far away, either.  I mustn’t act hastily, must I?

(Not yet, though, please God.  No hurry, really.  Let me play at being a kid a little longer.)

Kiril has proven one thing that I always knew but didn’t want to face.  The youngest among us will always make the best infiltrators.  No matter how much the government comes to distrust children, it goes against the instincts of the common man to believe that rebels come in such small packages.

Back at camp again, I look at Lufti, eagerly reading labels off for the other soldiers.  He scrounges books whenever he can, and devours them in the swift moments between a halt and the failing of the light.,  How I wish to God I’d never taught him how to read!

            (Soon.  Not yet.  Please.)



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