Reunion in the Ruins
By Dolores J. Nurss
I can do
this. I'm a big, bad agent, after all,
exquisitely trained above and beyond the sacred powers that I stole from the
Gates of Knowledge. I'm Papa's Little
Bad Girl. I'm...I don't know what I am,
black. It does not suit me, but it does
suit the shadows in which I skulk, slipping into the ruins where no one ever
goes, walking easily through illusory clouds of dullness, nothing to see,
here. Even my hair I've muffled in a
long, black scarf, lest the moonlight betray those platinum locks that
everybody in the village used to envy.
Oh but I was the princess, wasn't I?
Back in the day?
streetlights burn out here. Of course
not. I didn't even know what a
streetlight was till I left. I find the
stopped-up arch, with the hole high at the top where the cement has crumbled
from the aggregate. It looks like a
great bother to climb up there. I
bother. I wear tough yet stretchy
clothing made for climbing, made for slipping into holes and out again to the
Yes. There sits the old trolley, rusting right
where we left it, but the moonlight makes it look like silver. Should I crank it up, I wonder, and ride it
home in style? No, for it would clatter
loudly on the tracks. It would draw attention.
For once in my life I do not want attention. Except from one.
I walk along
the tracks in the dark, tense, in enemy territory, uneasy about the faint shush
of the weeds that I wade through. I am a
criminal, here. Oh why dodge the
obvious? I am a criminal everywhere;
they just know about it here. The
Shaman's Wayward Daughter. Do they make
up tales about me? Do they say that I
came to a bad end? Of course they do—how
else to discourage the young and gullible from following my example? And maybe I will, and maybe I won't. I haven't finished writing my own story, yet.
waste my time. Alroy said he'd died of a
broken heart, that he had refused all food.
Alroy lied about many things, but he'd also said that his magic depended
on this one thing being true.
So? Whose word do I have for that? I don't know a thing about magic—and maybe he
counted on that.
I leave the
tracks when I reach the boundaries of the village. Only so far could we go. I used to touch my toes to the very line,
that crack in the pavement that every child understood defined the limits of
our territory. I used to laugh at my
shocked playmates. When nobody looked I
even used to pass it, just a quick hop over, and quickly back again.
But only for
seconds. I remember how my heart would
thump for doing that. The Bad People
might get me. The ones we opposed in the
Full Moon Rebellion, it's all in the history books, they might catch me and
perform hideous experiments upon my tender flesh. But I didn't need the
villains in the history books—I did that to myself.
So now I
slink from shadow to shadow, edge of wall, bower of the olive tree, I know this
territory like none I ever infiltrated before in my profession as an agent, for
I lived here, I grew up here, I once thought it the entire world.
Kendra by the well, over there? With a
baby on her back? It's been too
long! The last I knew of Kendra she
still had not decided whether she would ever kiss a boy. Well, she must have done something! But my snickers die unborn as I cower in the
silence, afraid that Kendra might call the angry villagers to apprehend
me. In their place a sudden well of
grief threatens to overpower me, make me betray myself with a sob. I can never know Kendra's story, how she fell
in love, how she felt about becoming a mother, what latest antics of the baby
most delight her to share with others. I
slammed the door to every single aspect of this life years ago, and cannot have
it back. I never thought I'd want
it back; I tried to forget the good parts.
I make my
way through an alley as softly as I can, the soles of my shoes designed for
quiet steps. I don't run into anyone
else. It's not like the True Tili�n have
what one might call a “night life”. I
never even heard the term before I emerged into the larger world, where I could
laugh and drink and rollick with the Bad People.
There. Our home.
His home, not mine anymore. The
light still burns, candles flickering behind the goathair curtain. Oh thanks be to Truth! This is real!
mean some altogether different truth.
Someone else might live there, now.
smell that abominably sweet bean dish that he used to love, baked in honey and
bacon. He can serve it any time he
wants, now, no fear of displeasing his daughter's finicky palette. He can eat it every night of the week if he
desires. Maybe he does, for all I know.
himself to death? Ha!
it. I take a deep breath. I did not feel this much fear in Alroy's Isle
of Curses. He's just an old man. I know all of his Shaman tricks, I have
tapped into the same abilities that used to awe me so, and added to it the
finest training that Til Institute has to offer. Even if he raises the alarm against me, I can
escape him as easily as I did the last time.
Easier. I'm older and craftier
I have no
reason to fear him, my shaman, my...father.
I steal to
the doorway. I slip past the curtain,
hardly stirring it. I don't find him in
this room. Hardly daring to breathe,
walking as softly as I can, I head towards the light in the back room. Maybe all I need is a glimpse of him. Maybe if I could just see him again,
everything in me will resolve and I can go home, and he will never know.
Suzie! About time you arrived.”
I stop dead
in my tracks, terrified and at the same time glad, so glad to hear his living
come in, dear. Don't fear me. Oh my
love, I never meant you harm.”
I pull aside
the back room curtain and step in, and then I stand there, staring, feeling
about five years old and in trouble, feeling old and tired, feeling most of all
a yearning that overpowers my fear.
“Papa?” Oh how some might laugh
to hear my voice crack! “Papa? I've come home.”
in! Oh my heart, come in!” He lumbers up from the cushions by the table,
seven years more arthritic than before, he limps over to me and gives me a
crushing hug and I embarrass myself by crying and crying and crying, holding
him so tight, so tight, smelling that ocean scent of him, remembering
sit down. Have you eaten? I have some bread and cheese, you don't have
to eat my nasty old beans if you don't want to.”
I gasp for
air, then laugh, saying, “It's all right, Papa.
I've eaten. I'm fine. I haven't exactly starved in the wide world.”
you haven't,” he says, and I blush, being just a tiny bit on the plump side,
now. But when I look at him he smiles
warmly. So I nestle down beside him and
he puts an arm around me, just like old times, while his other hand pours wine
for him and me, which is not like old times, but that's okay, this will go all
right, everything surely must get better, now.
And he, too, feels a little softer, looks a little bit less lean. Oh Alroy, you wretched liar!
me to hand me the glass, and to gently trace some lines upon my face. “You look older. Of course.
It's been years. But...they've
been hard years, haven't they?”
quickly and regain my composure, and make myself laugh. “It's the black outfit. Black is not my color.”
He nods, but
dubiously, his eyes watering. “Oh
Suzie...” He gulps some wine and says,
“Suzie, I am so, so glad that you found your way back to me! After all these years.”
I was scared to death you'd have me killed!”
sacrilege?” He smiles and gently shakes
his head. “The punishment is banishment,
Sue. You took care of that yourself.”
“But I came
back. Just for this one night, I came
For a moment
he looks on me so sadly that I might as well have shown up for my own
funeral. “You cannot spend the
night. You know that. You must slink out the way you came before
anybody ever finds out you've been here.”
stupid tears begin to well up in my eyes again, but I forbid them; I hold my
head up as haughtily as possible. “It
doesn't matter,” I say. “The outside
world is wonderful—amazing. I have
everything I want, and more than I'd imagined.”
Then my posture falters. “Except
an errant tear from my cheek, smiling sadly.
“My daughter, my jewel, all good fathers must let go of their daughters,
let them find a new life elsewhere, with a new man in their lives.” And he gives me a questioning look that needs
no translation between us.
through my tears. “Yes, I married
Merrill Ambrey, in front of witnesses and everything, all up-front and
proper.” I show him my wedding ring, a
blue topaz like a piece of frozen sky, and then I bring out my wedding-picture
from my pocket. I show him how to
activate it into three dimensions, and he turns it around and around in his
hands with pleasure.
“Ah, what a
lovely bride you made! I wish your
mother could have seen this.” Then he
glances shyly over at me. “Yet no
did...no. I've been too busy for
children.” Of course. He can put together a thousand clues—the same
as I can.
his head and hands the picture-cube back to me, and I flatten it again. “That's too busy, Suzie. Nobody should work too hard for family. I never did.
Nobody here does.”
don't live here anymore!” I snap, a little too testily, perhaps because a
sudden longing wells up in me, for the simple life that used to bore me half to
you live for adventure now, and glorious missions, and have acquitted yourself
so well that Archives can't get enough of you.”
His face sours and he turns for a sip of wine, and the candlelight shows
every wrinkle on him. “But beware of
her, Suzanne. Her selflessness is more insatiable
than the most selfish tyrant living. She
will use you up and fete your memory even as you rot, a living, burnt-out
shell, in the hovels of Rhallunn. I have
seen it all, time and time again.”
wryly and blushes. “Well, since you are
an outlaw and cannot reveal your secrets to the village, I might as well let
you know something.” He hesitates, bites
his lip, then stares far from me. “The
Shaman of the True Tili�n, you see, and he alone, has the password to the
fullness of Archives. We pass it on to
our successors in the transition, deep within The Rock.” He looks my way again and says, “I can
override the information-screening programs that keep the rest of the community
safely quarantined from the outside world.
I must. For their safety, you
see, I have to update my knowledge every so often.” He smiles softly at me and refills the glass
that I unaccountably seem to have gulped down in one shocked swallow. “You have made quite a career for yourself,
my dear. I do respect you, you
know. You have put your crime to good
done my best.”
young man, Merrill Ambrey, too. And all
of those he pulled into this affair, all of Fireheart Friendclan. Except, of course, for Jesse.”
a minute. How much do you know?”
cryptically, village shaman through and through. “I could not resist,” he says. “I had to follow the career of my daughter.”
up. “How much do you know?”
“Quiet!” He grabs me by the wrist and drags me back
down to the cushions. “If anyone should
hear you, they will come and drive you out, grabbing up whatever tools most
look like weapons to them—the penalty may be banishment, but if you die in the
process they won't care nearly as much as I would!”
I hiss at
him, “You sneak! Nobody should read
confidential journals until twenty-five years after a person dies—that's the
lawbreaker. But the True Tili�n
rebelled, remember? We founded our
community on breaking outside laws. And
so, in setting us up, here, our founders bypassed all the barriers in
programming before they became too complicated for almost anyone to break
my...almost? Wait. What do you mean by almost?”
helped take down the most notable exception. Alroy Thrakiakis.” His eyes grow dark. “Oh yes, Suzie, I knew all about him, long
before you did. I, and the shamans
before me, considered him part of the illness of the outside world. We took steps to make sure that he overlooked
us in his desire to take the Tili�n down.
But we had our mission, to preserve this oasis of innocence, and left it
to the Other Tili�n to deal with their own.”
His hand grips the glass so hard that the wine inside it splashes. “I never imagined that someday that would include
I free my
hair from the scarf and fluff it into place, just to do something. “Well, I didn't do too badly, you know. We took him down—that's one less thing you
and future shamans have to worry about.”
for you, Suzie, from the sidelines.” He
twists to face me. “I didn't know how to
help you, even if my own laws didn't forbid me from abandoning my post here.”
know how!” He grips my arms. “I would have broken every rule in the book
had I known how!” His eyes look wide in
the candlelight mingled with the moonlight spilling through the window. “Oh my Suzie, he could have killed you, or
worse! He had so many kinds of worse to
inflict upon his enemies.”
I smile at
him, tipping up my chin. “Well, I
survived, didn't I? Silly to worry about
something that never happened.” He lets
go and I refill his glass for him, and take a long, cool sip from my own. “Now, about the matter of you prying into my
you'd come here tonight, Zanne. And I
know why.” He takes a sip of his own,
then sets down his glass and gazes on me.
“You have doubts about your marriage.
You have accepted a mission without Merrill. You wonder whether or not to go back to him
when you finish. Both of you have gotten
too busy for family.”
that,” I protest. “It's...well, it's
more me than him, really.” I knot my
fingers in my scarf, afraid of what I'll say next. “I keep wanting to hurt him. To punish him.”
made your dreams come true? Because they
didn't turn out the way you thought?”
“Oh, I know
it sounds childish...”
“I should go
away for good, protect him from me.”
says, tracing a line in the condensation on the table where the glass had
rested, “you could change yourself, become someone who doesn't need to torment
“Could I?” I
find myself asking, faintly. “I am
Zanne. I am...I have made what I
am. I don't know how to unmake it
without destroying myself.”
sighs, leaning back against the cushions.
“And there is the matter of the affairs.
All for the good of the mission.
At least that's what you told yourselves.” I glare at him, but he calmly accepts my
glare. “Both of you. But you first.”
shudder. “You nosy, filthy sneak.”
realize the real reason that you both did this thing? Each to punish the other for putting your
I rise to my
feet before I realize it. “This was a
mistake,” I say. “I never should have
“Zanne! My name is Zanne.”
name he gave you. You still love him,
I sit. And I mutter, “I don't know what I
feel.” I don't expect him to hear me,
but he does.
you, too, you know. It wouldn't have
hurt him so much if he didn't.”
can I do? I've signed up for the Vanikke
mission already, and he's off for Holumbria.
We might not see each other again for years.”
“Take him up
on his offer.”
pack me off to Darvinia to find his replacement?” I toss my head, laughing at the thought.
“To go with him to Darvinia. That's what he
really wants. And so, being him, he
decided to mortify his own desire and offer it to you alone.”
despite myself. “Yes, that's Merrill all
“What is it,
a three day train ride from Naugren station?
Some of your excursions take months just to get there. You've earned this much vacation, haven't
you? Ah, but I forget. The Other Tili�n frown on anybody actually
collecting on their vacations.”
that, Papa.” I lean against his breast,
just like I did as a little girl, except I'm sipping wine. “Darvinia is such a silly place. Goofy.
An entire economy built on staging romance for the tourist trade.”
grins. “And you don't think your mother
and I ever got goofy together? Silliness
helps keep a marriage alive, Su...Zanne.
It's one of the essential nutrients.”
know. How could I know?”
girl,” he says. “It must have been
horrible to grow up without a mother.”
He looks down at me, where I snuggle, wishing I could turn back the
clock, really be the little girl whose Papa could solve everything. “You really came back more for her than for
me, didn't you?”
“How do you
me to tell you about her. About us. About how to keep a marriage alive.”
seems possible.” I roll my glass between
my fingers, looking at it, not him.
“I...Papa, I know so many things that mystify other people, I travel all
over the world to serve with my great, big, fat knowledge, but I don't know
something that the simplest stone-age bride must know!” I think of Kendra, who had looked so happy,
drawing water for her family with her baby on her back.
you? You never saw a marriage up close,
with your mother passed and all. And how
could Merrill know, raised up in a comorran?
Oh, the marriage statistics in the rest of Til are not good, I'm
afraid.” He sits up and tweaks my nose,
just as he used to do when I worried too much.
“But you know what? You are a
very, very clever young lady, Suzanne.
You can learn anything you put your mind to.”
I sit up and
can't help but grin, too. Only he can
make me grin like that, completely unabashed about appearing less than cool,
around him alone. “Maybe Darvinia won't
be so bad.”
“It will be
wonderful, even at this time of year,” he says.
right—it's winter there.” Then I look at
him. “I thought you never even knew
about Darvinia—Papa, it's a scandalous place!”
laughs. “I know! Your mother would have loved it!” Then he plays with a red and green earring
that I forgot to take off. “But it will
also be Christmas. I know how much you
like that holiday, Christmas. Only there
they celebrate it as Lannat, and give the same motifs different meanings.”
“You sneak!” But this time I feel myself grin saying it,
swatting him playfully. “Well,
then! Since you seem to know every move
I've made over the past seven years, you will just have to catch me up on your
own doings.” And I raise my glass as in
a toast to him.
much ever changes around here. You know
that.” But he suddenly looks shy, toying
with his own glass, trying for some reason to suppress a smile.
yet...?” I prompt.
wine and pours us both some more. With a
husky voice he says, “Machelle Constanzia has been a widow for five years,
now...” and he stops, and his smile slips out of his control and spreads all
over his face.
love!” I exclaim, laughing.
sidelong at me. “You don't disapprove?”
I hug him. “Why should I disapprove?”
mother...yet I have hid too long from facing the truth of her death,
Suzanne. And, well, Machelle came to me,
seeking wisdom, to help encompass the truth of her own husband's death, and in
the year of her mourning I stayed strictly hands-off, as a shaman should, make no mistake on that! Yet the more we spoke, the more I realized
how much my own words applied to me...and, well, it's been five years for her,
now, and much longer than that for me, and...when we meet now, it's not for
that, we've done with counseling long ago.”
He grinned suddenly. “It's quite
awhile since I knew the language of these things, Sue, but I think we are
“But this is
wonderful!' And I give him a big, sloppy
hug again, and I think I might be just a little drunk, but that's okay, my
father's happy, and has still more happiness ahead of him! “Oh, Papa, I had so many fears! I wondered if you'd died! Alroy told me that you starved from grief for
me!” And all my laughter turns suddenly
to tears, and I don't even try to hold them back.
enough to dry my tears again, shaking his head.
“No, I am quite alive, I assure you, and all too far from starved.” More seriously he says, “I mourned you, Suzie, but my mourning had
its day, and then I accepted the truth of your departure.” Then he looks sadly on me, and brushes my
hair out of my face. “Oh, darling! Have you lived so long with such a terrible
untruth? Oh, my poor, poor daughter!” And he holds me close, rocking me a little,
and I rest my head against his shoulder, and nothing has felt this safe, this
cozy, for seven years.
releases me at last I reach for more wine but he stays my hand.
Suzanne. You must leave yourself capable
of stealth. Go now. Return to your husband while you still have
like that, all my smiles flee. He's right, of course. In the long run he has always been right,
even when he's been wrong. So I nod, and
rise, even as he does. And then we hug
for one last time, and I try to hold back the tears, but he sobs openly, so
that it becomes impossible.
Zanne,” he says. “ Thank you for the truth of this reunion. I will treasure it for the rest of my life.”
speak. I stand on tiptoes to kiss him on
the cheek, then muffle my too-bright hair in its black confines once more, and
slip out the door while the village still sleeps.
[This is not so much a dream as a spin-off
from one. In the original dream, in the
2000’s, Don proudly offered me a ride by plane to Novo Durango, where I could
then catch the shuttle to my next destination.
I felt so glad for him, that he had finally conquered his fear of flying
and renewed his pilot’s license. I felt
conflicted about where to go, though; I hadn’t yet decided. On the verge of waking, I felt an
overwhelming grief, and a desire to see my father one last time. As I opened my eyes I realized that I’d been