IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Volume I: Welcome to The Charadoc!
THE CHILDREN OF CYRAN
the old woman a cup with which to rinse her mouth, then dodge because of course
with her jaw half-numbed she misses the bucket entirely when she spits. Except that she's not old, not really, no
older than I. A hard life'll do it to
you. And her hair isn’t actually
graying, it’s just lighter than the general run; some Dutch blood in her, if
the squarish bones of her face means anything. You see a lot of that in Hierry
Lufti?" I ask as I dig around in my bag for some analgesics to give her,
for when the lidocaine wears off. "I want to see how his new teeth are
coming in. At his age, they’ll be the
last till he gets his wisdom-teeth."
at me blankly. Her uncle limps up and
says, "There's no one here named Lufti."
just last month..."
has never been anyone here named Lufti," he says with murder in his eyes.
Lufti's mother looks up at me with fear behind that oh-so-carefully constructed
yes. Of course." I pack up my
equipment quickly, not looking at them.
But then the stupid drill-arm just has to pick that moment to fall
apart. Groaning, I bend for it, trying
to manage it so that they don’t get too much of a posterior view, but I
practically pin the man to his wall.
Then I gather up the pieces, trying to tape it together rapidly while my
face burns and they just stare at me.
They do that sometimes, kick the children out,
hoping it’s for their own good. The overseers can't always keep track of the
young ones--so many get born, so many die. They don't count till they're old
enough to do the heavy work. So the kids run off sometimes, they join some
person named Cyran, or at least they go looking for him. Or is it her? The name
fits with either gender. Or is it anyone at all? Maybe they die the miserable
death of runaways, in the brothels of the coastal towns or in the mountain
gathered up in my arms, I pause at the bureau by the door. Sometimes they put a few nuts in there, a
couple hard candies or a stale bit of biscuit, in case they have a visitor
hungrier than themselves. Ashamed to
even think of plundering it when I so obviously have less need than any of
them, I make myself walk past without opening the little drawers, I squeeze
through a hovel door that would pinch a man half my size, and escape as fast as
I decently can.
feel even more ashamed as I climb into the car--I just insulted my hosts, to
not receive some token of their hospitality. I should've at least picked up a
cheap little comb.
I hit the
road, up the dirt way that curves out to pavement surprisingly soon. This
valley lies very near to Alcazar, just the other side of these hills I climb,
so the roads get some attention. Maybe Lufti's hiding out in Alcazar, stealing,
begging, trying to do anything to keep from having to resort to the only
professions actually available to the very young and very poor. Maybe I should
look for him. Oh, if I could adopt everyone I wanted to!
Cyran really exists, and has taken Lufti in. I get that old, familiar sourness
in my throat, while the crazy hunger in me growls like it wants me to throw it
some angry food, wants me to bite off the heads of everyone who has ever
exploited children. From what I hear, this Cyran person takes in kids and
trains them all for soldiers--the ones that even the overseers deem too young
for the tough jobs. I rub my stomach till the grumbling subsides.
fat because I'm fed up. Maybe I just want to bite, and it's not just food that
I could relish sinking my teeth into. Or maybe the rottenness of the world
hollows out such a cavity in me that I can't find the filling big enough to
I won't go
all day without eating today. But I will not touch the food in the trunk.
Instead I will drive to Alcazar and prowl from diner to diner so that nobody
actually sees how much I eat. I will tear things with my teeth, I will gulp
down my anger until at last I can digest it.
winds on ahead, looking sounder and sounder the closer I get to the capital. I'll confess that sometimes I've fantasized
about revolution, myself. But if Cyran
is any kind of representative, I'd sooner starve.)
Of course my
legs hurt, marching uphill after such a dance. The hangover faded some time ago to little
more than a nasty metallic pang, but my muscles have a longer memory. But it's
not so bad--a hiking hobbyist like me can't lose that much tone in a
mere month's idleness. Already my legs recall that they've done this before and
liked it. In fact the slope helps
stretch out the kinks. (Marching
again! When are we gonna fight? At least on the ship I could get off my feet
now and then.)
part, really, is not allowing Cyran the satisfaction of the least sign of
weariness on my part. E did not, after
all, kidnap some rich man's spoiled little princess, whatever e might think. (But now the thought of fighting scares the
marrow out of me--I just imagine all these Purple Mantles coming straight at
me, me alone, with knives and guns and teeth and things.)
"I suppose you're wondering why I brought you here."
I reply. "It would be nice
if you explained yourself." (But
at least I'd like the chance to hurt them back for once.)
Supreme Commander of the Egalitarian Army." E waved around him at the children and the
teenagers. "These are my
Figures. Revolutionaries never have rank and
file--everybody's got a title.
E looks down
at some of the smaller ones. "Of
course, some of them are officers-in-training," e says with a wry smile. "Most." Then hir face brightens as e turns back to me.
"You've heard about us, of
course." (Who hasn't whispered
of Cyran, in between the rows of corn, slave to slave, daring not to move lest
a rustle of the stalks betray us?)
little." Jonathan told me that up
in the hills a few misguided reformers tried to use violence to speed up the
inevitable changes, but he also said that they didn't have popular support. (Who hasn't passed glances in the factory
between the shadows and the glare, a lift of the eyebrows that say
"Cyran!" to those who know?)
calling a halt." Cyran and I and a
dozen weary little "officers" find seats on a fallen log and a couple
mossy boulders. "Rashid, throw
together a lunch for us--but only use the perishables." To me e says, "You'll get breakfast if we
have it, lunch if we're really lucky, but don't expect dinner--we can't afford
a big eater," I say. (I could
eat the moon!) Good--a week or two
of this should be all it takes to work off the flab of a one-month cruise. "You said you'd tell me why you kidnapped
obviously." A boy who looks like a racial
mix of black and white brings us hot sausages wrapped in bread and greens. Cyran smirks at hir sandwich and says,
"Luxury food--don't expect meat at every meal."
eat meat with every meal." Except
on that stupid cruise ship. "So
avarice motivates the Egalitarians?"
E jerks my
chain till I fall off the log, my sandwich in the dirt. "Don't get smart with me. Survival motivates the Egalitarians--our own,
and the nation's. We can't fight for
freedom if we can't buy ammunition."
you don't spend it on the poor." I
push my hair out of my eyes and look up at him defiantly. The hangover made me docile this morning, but
by now it only makes me mean.
the poor. But food we can beg for or
scrounge, usually. Bullets come harder, except the ones they fire at us, and
they don't do us much good."
can't recycle the slugs?"
gathering slugs like spring flowers while soldiers shoot at you. We do loot what we can from the enemy, when
we get the chance—but only when we get the chance" In other words, they don’t see many
victories. Good to know. E kicks my sandwich over to me. "Now eat your lunch--if you faint from
hunger we'll have to drag you, and you won't like that."
I dust it off
as much as I can. "I'm not the
fainting kind," I say with my mouth full. The dirt grits my teeth, but you can't fault
Soskia for the quality of her sausages. "You
know, you've cheered me up considerably--that ransom note'll clear my
"Why? You don't screw sailors? Only studs with blood-lines?"
'screw', period." I tug Alysha's
skirt on me to make sure it doesn't expose too much leg. "I'm a proper Catholic girl."
E looks at me
thoughtfully. "So'm I--after a
manner of speaking."
I swat a
mosquito on my ankle. "Liberation
theologian, huh? You've only got one
pope out of three on your side."
E tucks a bit
of bread away in hir sling and says, "Hey, you're no pacifist
yourself--that mosquito didn't need so much blood from you."
laugh. "I wouldn't mind if they
didn't spit in the wound--wouldn't itch, wouldn't spread disease. Don't tell me you don't kill mosquitoes yourself."
E rises to
hir feet and pulls me to mine by the chain. "Halts over," e declares. "No,
you're right. I kill high-caste
bloodsuckers all the time."