IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Volume I: Welcome to The Charadoc!
MORSELS IN THE DIRT
March 23, 2708
lie very still in my hammock, listening to Marduk and Alysha whisper to each
other, silhouettes in the dim glow before the dawn.
tell you, 'Lysha, that village is ripe for the picking."
"No! Cyran made it very clear to me. We have to get the hostage back to base without
incident." (The alarm, already? But I
forgot. Today is Marcie's birthday.)
fault us for gathering a few supplies along the way."
already got all that we can carry, Marduk.
What's the point?"
don't understand, Alysha! I used to live
in that village.)
"Nothing!" (If I
slip out of bed, very, very quietly, I can get at least half of the housework
done before she even wakes up.) I
hear his footsteps move, then the sound of an empty sack slapping the ground. "Anyway, we don't have all that we can carry, not anymore. We run out faster than you think,
right," she murmurs, almost moans.
"I know. Better than I want
to know. But Marduk, even if we could
raid them, we're supposed to keep the villagers on our side at all costs--we
can't just go around robbing villages and survive."
not talking about the villagers themselves,” he shouts, “I mean the filthy rich
families that lord it over them!"
Then he mutters, "Well, maybe a few of the villagers--the ones who
hear a breath taken, a word not said, then, "Is it because you haven't had
a chance to kill, Marduk? Not since we
me alone! You don't understand
anything!" And he thrashes through
the brush to get away. (My father knew who stole farm-tools to arm
rebels. So they burst in that night,
with our great hog of a master leading. They
overturned the dinner table; all the soup ran steaming across the floor. I watched it sink into the clay, leaving only
slippery vegetables underfoot, and the savory scent of herbs. I remember how my stomach growled, because we
hadn't eaten yet, and we'd had so little, all day long. My stupid, stupid stomach!)
hear Alysha follow Marduk through the foliage to a place even nearer to my
hammock, but a great moonberry bush hides me from them; they have forgotten all
about me. "I'm trying, Marduk--I
want to understand." (After all, even maids should celebrate
their birthdays. And Marcie has done
such wonders with this house--she really has a decorator's eye.) "It's just, you have to understand,
Marduk, we've got new recruits with us; they haven't even had the first
training on how to fight--even if I didn't have orders from Cyran, I couldn't
risk raiding a village with recruits so green."
"Strategy! That's all you can think of, all the
time--Alysha, you've got a machine for a brain."
not true! Hold me close, Marduk, and
I'll show you it's not true." (Then The Hog took mother, right in front of
father, there in the mud that the soup had made of our well-swept floor. I remember a bit of carrot sticking to her
shoulder.) (And what Marcie can do with
carrots, broth, and a handful of herbs!
I swear that woman's a wizard of the kitchen.) "Hold me close...why, Marduk, you're
away from me!" My hammock rocks
when he shoves her into the moonberry-bush.
(And then they tortured her, right
in front of all of us. They tortured her
to death. I cried and cried, but Father
held me back for fear that I'd be next.)
(A maid like that, she deserves a little extra, don't you think? It won't kill me to sweep my own floor once in
awhile.) I listen to Alysha sobbing
in the dark as the first birds of dawn wake up.
I hear a softer, muffled weeping, too, but that couldn't be Marduk,
(And it's not like polishing a mirror is
torture or anything. I rather enjoy
playing housewife on a morning like this.) (Because next they took my eldest
brother, took him just like Mother, and then tortured him, too, till I had no
brother left. And then my eldest sister,
always with The Hog taking first turn, the violence inflaming him so that he
became insatiable, the light of our cookfire burning in his eyes. And then they took Bertilla, the next in
line. And all the time I cried so hard
my throat burned like they’d scalded it, too.) (Oh, I do hope she likes the
lace kerchief I bought for her. She'd
look pretty in it on her way to church.) (I can't forget the screams, I can
never stop hearing all the screams, they went on and on, they go on inside me,
still, they've never stopped.) (The
little embroidered rosebuds suit her perfectly.)
I hear Alysha make herself go rustle among the supplies, getting ready for the
day. She doesn't have to fix breakfast
for us every time we get it, but for her being a commander means becoming a
hard-eyed mother to us all. (When they grabbed my sister, Marcie, when
she looked at him with those big, dark eyes, Father actually wet his
pants. He lost it, lost all control, he
fell to his knees blubbering names like they'd ruptured something in his throat
and he couldn't stop sobbing out names, every rebel-sympathizer in the entire
village--all the people who'd trusted us.)
(She's such a lovely young lady, with that melting gaze of hers, but she
always looks so sad! Maybe I can put the
roses back in her cheeks, you never know.)
mother, indeed. I know as sure as
sunlight that this breakfast will be smaller than yesterday's, as surely as
yesterday's filled less of the plate than the one she’d served the day before. It keeps on going like that, and even if
Marduk's wrong he's also right.
lie there listening to the birds crescendo with the increasing light, a sound
so purely beautiful that it pains me to hear it. My eyes water on the verge of tears--how can
birds still sing in a sinner's world like this?
And why so melancholy over a little lover's spat, or an argument of
generals, or heaven knows whatever it was?
Can anything like that outlast a trill upon the air? (I heard that the others killed
father for a traitor shortly after, the families of those he’d killed by naming
them. I don't know. I didn't stick around long enough to find
out--that's when I ran away, six years old and a rebel already.) (Yes, I think a lace kerchief is just the
thing to brighten her up a bit. She
certainly deserves it.) (I'd heard of some
new guy named Cyran, would take in kids like me. What good are grown-ups, anyway?)
decide that it's time for me to wake up, too, and pretend I didn't hear a
thing. I yawn loudly and stretch, and
tumble out of the hammock as far as the chain permits, to relieve myself
somewhere other than the poisonous moonberry bush. (Alysha
has narrow eyes, but just as dark and with the same long, long lashes, but her
lashes look pale, so that's okay. If her
eyes had black lashes I don't think I could keep myself from gouging them out.)
March 24, 2708
crouch as still as thieves while Rashid examines the fungus in the little scoop
of rock, growing on fallen twigs and conifer-needles; we hush as though he
stalked prey that we might scare off with a sound. We have climbed above the clouds, stretched
thick and pearly over the valleys below--high up enough for the conifers to
take over, but the cones haven't yet opened to release ripe seeds, worse
luck. He pulls up one of the mushrooms:
a club-thick stem in gray-browned white with a little button of a cap. Carefully he sniffs it, and then, even more
carefully he nibbles an edge.
it's not gourmet fare, but it's edible." He gathers more and passes one around. "You won't find these stuffing seafood
in the restaurants of Sargeddohl," he says with a laugh. I
break off a piece of one and nibble at its toughness; it tastes like
wheat paste with an edge of slightly rotten sweetness. "But let me make one thing clear. Don't anybody--anybody--gather mushrooms without me checking them out before you
eat them. Lots of good ones and bad ones
look nearly identical."
need every morsel we can get. The
vegetation dries out up here, even in monsoon season. Kiril has developed a permanent low-grade
wheeze, and I want more air, myself. A
lot more rock than green up here--we climb into hungry land.
Rashid hands the rest of the fungi
over to Alysha, hanging his head as though he took the blame on himself for not
finding better. “Boil it awhile,” he
said. “Sometimes it upsets the stomach
raw, and the fibers need softening, anyway.
And then we should all drink the broth, as well, because some nutrients
go into that, too.”
(After the revolution I will never work
again. I will never march again. I will become rich and have lots and lots of
servants. I may not move, ever
again. I will sit in one place and eat
fine food and grow very, very fat, and listen to musicians play whatever music
I might choose. And no one could say
that I can't.)