IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Volume I: Welcome to The Charadoc!
Dreams and Visions
Friday, April 17, 2708
I cannot make my rounds today. Yeshu holds my hand too tightly as I help him die. I sponge the sweat as it beads up on his brow. With a foot I drag over an extra pillow to push under his shoulders, to help his heaving breath. His lips move over and over in the same pattern but I cannot make out the prayer.
And then he just breathes. And all the pain smooths away before my eyes, and the breaths sound increasingly like sighs of contentment. I know what it means, and I weep and smile, glad and grieving all at once.
At last the breathing slows and the eyes roll up, the grip upon me slackens. It won't take long now. Only the angels can see any movement to his lips. The sweat beads up again in a final rush of heat, the tension in the muscles melts before his fever and the breathing slows till I think I've heard the last gasp several times before it finally ends.
Quickly I push back the pillows and straighten his limbs before he hardens into a posture difficult to bury. Then, more slowly, I strip the cooling body down and wash it off as gently as if he still could feel, cleaning up the last little mortal indignity left behind before he moved on beyond us. At the last I stroke his hair into place the way his mother would've done, if she'd been here to reach a hand to him. I owe his family that much.
Over on the next mat Cantimar regards me sleepily from the warmth of her own fever. "You're a good woman, Deirdre. I'm glad you're on our side." Then she dozes off again and there I kneel, not knowing what to say, not knowing whether I should say anything. I don't, I just move that long, dark braid of hers out of the way so that I can fan the sweat upon her neck. How many of my patients have ever glanced outside the door of this infirmary to see Kiril clip the chain back on my collar, at the end of my shift? How will they take it when they finally do find out?
Saturday, April 18, 2708
Another night, dreaming of Rhallun. Not flashbacks, just running through the alleys, jumping over junk, ducking under crazy-leaning eaves, looking for my mother, not finding her anywhere. Over and over and over. Sometimes I look for my father, and don’t find him, either. Sometimes, Lord help me, I think I look for myself.
(Nightmares of Rhallunn will not let me be. I toss and turn, trying to reason all of this out before I fall asleep again to still more terrors. I must stay awake, I must sta...
I keep looking for Randy, like that time when he went into Rhallunn and got lost in Alroy's tunnels. Only this time wolves, demonic wolves, keep attacking me, their teeth dripping slather, their claws ripping at my clothes, their howling shivering my spine.
But this time I come lucid. I grab the Alpha and hold him up before me, snapping and yipping, while the rest of the pack stops, then lies down, panting, waiting for the outcome.
“Tell me,” I growl, “Why you won't let me find Randy?”
The wolves all turn to lambs, the one in my hands their bellwether. “He's in your blindspot,” the lamb tells me. “You must leave him there, protecting Deirdre.”
And then I wake. I have not acted on what Incense and Zora told me. Can I ever force myself to do it?)
Sunday, April 19, 2708
On Sundays we go to the Mad Priest. He doesn't live in our compound, quite, but lost in the rainforest nearby. We have worn a clear path to the shelter that he has cobbled together; we aren't the ones who lost him.
He doesn't bathe anymore; he's forgotten how. We bring him food but we have to remind him to eat it. Mostly he sits on a bough above his hovel, soaking in the sun or rain, the wind in his tangled hair along with the leaves and the straw. Sometimes he meditates, his face radiant beneath the grime; sometimes he sobs, an endless trickle of tears running into his beard. Sometimes he seems to do nothing more than bask, trying to recover. He lost his name somewhere along the line, too. He calls himself Father Man.
But on Sundays he walks on the ground like anyone--and he always knows which day is Sunday, without calendar. He drapes around himself a mantle of leaves and grasses that he wove the night before, by way of vestments over his black and stinking rags. It takes him all night long because he doesn't have all his fingers.
They say that he pleaded the case for a village--Tensei--accused of being a hotbed of rebellion. The village had taken refuge in a church, but the soldiers did not recognize sanctuary. They had begun to pile the kindling all around when he'd run out to them. He made a bargain that they would free one person of his choosing for every finger-joint he let them cut from his hands, but he lost his strength before they finished off the last, outer two fingers of his left hand. No one will tell me whether that means he passed out or just couldn't take any more, screamed for them to go ahead and burn the rest, he couldn't stand it anymore. We don't know how he climbs trees with only two fingers left. Or mostly two; the tip has gone from one.
So there he was, with twenty-three children and hardly anything left of hands. Belatedly he realized that he should've saved some of the adults. He couldn't care for them all, so he led them to Cyran. Except he went mad along the way and by the end of it they led him.
Alysha vouches for the truth of this. As we walk she tells me that she made that march, she lived in Tensei once, for a month or two—the wrong months. She says that that's how Cyran got started. They had no real hotbeds of rebellion before then, just disorganized resistance here and there, individuals who simply couldn't take it anymore. They killed off that village for no reason.
But I don't believe her. I've heard too many other accounts, of parents, grandparents, great-grandparents--and Damien's stories and songs go farther back than that. Maybe Cyran has the best shot in this generation, God help them all. Maybe e began all the revolution in the history of Alysha, when she trotted after a mangled priest at the age of four. Who knows what the grown-ups did in Tensei, right over her head, before it came down to this?
So anyway, we all follow along the ritual however Father Man thinks it ought to go; he no longer quite remembers the order, and many of ours never learned it any other way. We kneel when he kneels, rise when he rises, march around him in a circle when he tells us to, with crosses that we tie from twigs and grass, as he makes up rituals to fill in gaps.
We sit at his feet when he maunders on one of his endless and beginningless sermons in his gravelly voice, colliding images of politics and religion and the movements of nature and nightmares and visionary dreams. Sometimes, if you sit back and close your eyes, let the words wash through you, it almost makes sense, but then you snap out of it, like waking up, because you have to stay sane; someone has to take care of Father Man.
When it has gone on for about half an hour Alysha will quietly shove the loaf and bottle before him, and he will forget whatever else he had to say, mid-sentence, and recite the prayers of consecration instead. These alone he hasn't forgotten; indeed his mind always seems to momentarily clear when he recites them, his voice starting out cracked and husky, yet building in strength as he remembers who he is and Whom he serves, till he proclaims like a prophet. When he throws back his mane like that, raising pawlike hands to God, the morning sun glinting in his eyes, he looks more lion than man, and something magnificent shines out through him. Then he breaks the Body for us, fumbling with his two outermost left fingers, the loaf cradled in his other arm. After this he passes around the bottle of God's Blood.
When I receive communion from him, the animal smell of his unwashed body hits me, but the medic in me says "infection-free--comparatively clean". All's relative, I guess. In the meantime, God's Body manifests like good, fresh bread baked for the occasion, and if His Blood tastes more suitable for Rhallunn than church, well, Jesus has a way of making Himself available to any company, and it's not like we're a delicate lot, here.
Then we file back down the dirt path, my chain clinking like a chime for our procession. And then, behind us, Father Man slowly lapses back into his madness.