IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Volume I: Welcome to The Charadoc!
March 13, 2708
keeps me tossing and turning. I can feel
the hours crawl by; my aching body knows that we have passed midnight by, and
yet my foolish stomach keeps me awake with its demands.
finally weariness takes over, and at last I can get some sleep, I can feel it
coming. I lie in my hammock, gradually
slipping into dream...(...lie in my
hammock, gradually surfacing from a blood-dark pool of unconsciousness. Hell?
Heaven? Neither? Does Hell smell like Akhbar's Iodine Ox
Ointment? I move my lips to ask and AI!
The PAIN! My face goes up in flame all
No it doesn't. It just feels that way. I'm going to live. Bandages make it hard to open my eyes, the
adhesive keeps one mostly closed but thank God I can see through it, I can see
the vigas and the palm thatch roof, and the quirky flight of flies overhead
that lazily sway and then suddenly dart, sway and dart, here and there like
they have no idea where they want to go they just go anyway just like this
stupid revolution, don't really know where we want to go just anywhere but
My hand steals up, I touch the thick pad
of rags upon my face. Clean, someone
changes it regularly. Someone has
carried me to safety—to Cyran's hideaway?
No, that lair has plastered walls and ceilings, I don’t know where I’ve
wound up, just someplace on the way, probably.
My enemy must’ve slipped--the gun in my
mouth fired through the cheek. I can
live. Oh thank you Jesus I can
live! And not even maimed, not even
hindered in much of any way, only scarred.
Only hideously, grotesquely, permanently scarred.
Then the tears start, the pain and the
weakness and the dread of what the mirror will have to show me sooner or later,
the inescapable fact of something changed forever and it just starts with the
face, it just freakin' starts with the face but the wound goes through and
I can live with that.)
gentle stirring wakes me up before the dawn, hands trying to unlock my chain
without disturbing my sleep. The moment
my eyes open Alysha puts her knife against my throat. "I have no intention of setting you
free," she hisses, "but you'll make better time if we put you on a
lighter chain. We have a cache nearby
for this one."
for pity's sake," I groan.
"Alysha, can't you understand?
I have absolutely no options at this point but to stick with the only
human beings that I have access to in a completely unfamiliar wilderness."
supposed to take your word for that?"
And she snaps a new chain on my collar.
My limbs she leaves unimpeded.
That's something, anyway.
"Now, get some sleep while you can; we march again after breakfast. The troop has rested long enough."
by a spoon clanging on a pan as the dawn streaks through the trunks of trees,
we wake to a terrific breakfast that Alysha has fixed, herself, before the
light. The steaming bowl weighs heavy in
her hands; she sets it down with a clunk and a splash. Colors mottle her misshapen face.
your mothers tell you, always start the day's work with the best meal that you
can?" The snares we set yesterday
trapped some birds and a lizard; now every scrap of meat has gone into our
unsweetened morning porridge, mingling their gravy with the turnippy gruel,
along with herbs that Rashid has gathered on Alysha's orders--the best food
I've eaten since Jee's place at the refinery-town.
kids dive in, their eyes all gleaming, their giggles of delight almost a
song. I have to admit that I don't hold
myself back, either; I've tried to tell myself that the starvation rations we
share don't mean that much to a trained agent, but it's gone on for days, maybe
weeks, and hunger gnaws me more than I dare let myself know.
just when we've all had our fill she brings out the surprise--dessert?
How in the name of all the saints did Alysha come up with dessert? Well, full or not, we just have to dive in
all over again. She has baked more
catawlba into little pies of rubyberries, bird-fat, and honey.
Honey? For some reason my eyes travel to Damien, a
dark Mountainfolk boy who speaks earnestly now with Kanarik, hunger in his
verge-of-adolescent eyes that has nothing to do with food. Swellings mark his bare feet, dabbed with mud
to draw the poison. That's where it came
asks with his mouth full, "I don't suppose you have any honey left over
after cooking, do you?"
Alysha says as she passes Marduk some more pie.
"Used every last drop of it.
that it's about the best wound dressing that money can't buy. Next time you run across some, let me
catches me by surprise when my stomach begins to hurt. I have never before eaten until my stomach
hurt; I once got very, very full on eclairs, but never more than that. Of course, my stomach has probably shrunk by
now. I look at my fingers, sticky with
honey and crumbs. Moving very carefully,
I turn and look at the glazed-eyed satiation all around me, and then at Alysha,
who watches over us with a certain grim and weary satisfaction. "What are you up to?" I ask.
will all go back to sleep for an hour, maybe two, before we hit the road.” Road!
I almost laugh at the colloquialism in these miles of vegetation. “Soon we ascend to the High Country. The terrain ahead has little food in it to
forage, and it will burn up anybody ill-prepared. Why else do you think I have rested you all