IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
The Laying of Traps
Saturday, June 6, 2708
"I understand the plan," Ambrette says, "But what will we use for rope?"
"No rope," I say. "See those vines over there--the ones with the heart-shaped leaves? They're as tough as rope, and stay that way if we don't cut them and let 'em dry." I reach out to the plant, feel its hairy, pliant strength. We the wild, wanton vine...
"But if we don't cut them..."
"Simple. We make the traps where they grow. We'll have to check them every day to make sure they haven't moved or sent down roots, but it's better this way. The soldiers won't see anything unusual to catch their attention.”
She dimples like a doll when she says, “I hope I’m here to hear them scream. I’ve heard enough women scream--I’d like to hear it from a man.”
Sunday, June 7, 2708
(Tonight? Again? Oh, insatiable little one! Must I? Yes, yes, of course. I hear you, even through the teacher’s droning, as though he snores his words at us: history of Toulin but with noticeable chunks cut out—does anyone but me catch the jolts, the breaks in continuity that most of them can't think through, only around?
Your voice, little one, your dry little voice whispers to me through the cracks in their attention. I have trained long and hard to hear you, G...G...Gita. They cannot even speak your name.
But not with the knife, you say? This time the blood must stay all in one place. I understand. You want him.
I hear you, dear one. We must crush one of the stones, and mix it in the drink. It powders so easily, this great and fearful mineral, though it looks as tough as bloodied diamond. And we must otherwise change the recipe, as well, add too much of a certain herb, more than a body so young can handle, so that he dies in visions, terrible and wise, surfeited with the overpowering truths that break through the spell upon this school. Only then could he fully see you, know you, love you. I envy the child.
But it’s all right. We have a different relationship, you my sweet and fragile deity, and I, your tender slave. Whatsoever you desire pleases me. Yes. I will make this sacrifice to you. Yes.
It will take some time to prepare, though. Can you wait, my little one? You must!
A special ritual, just him and me. And he will feel honored. And he will be honored. You shall have your husband, Gita dear, right here in this strange place without husbands and without w…without wives. You and he shall couple right under old Weatherbent’s nose, and him none the wiser!
Right here in this school. They will bury him here, in this very school. And nobody will realize how they bring him straight to you.
Oh fearsome little one!)
I wake up missing Father Man in the worst kind of way. I ought to go back to sleep, and save my energy for tonight's business, but...Sunday morning, with no priest, no bread, no wine. The woods around seem dark, even with the early sun's thin rays shooting through the trunks. The waking birds sound sinister; I can't shake this mood. Somebody somewhere does terrible things.
Of course. In this village, where a child died of torture, how can I not sense the horror? A land can suffer trauma, too. Even where it doesn't grow into crystals big enough to mine, a dust of magentine pervades every corner of this world, and keeps its record of the things we think, and do, and feel. And the Charadoc does have outcroppings of the crystals here and there, though few among us understand their worth.
This land knows. This land drank Aron's blood. This land remembers. This land cannot forget.
(But oh Gita! What they did to you! I will do anything, anything my love, to make it up to you, to give you all that they deprived you of, those holy hypocrites, when they cut you off so young, so horribly! Nothing I could do in comparison could count as sin.)
(Oh Layne, Layne, Layne, these latest orders! Already I wish I can forget them, and I have not even begun to follow them. Confidential, for my eyes only. Can I bring myself to become your accomplice in such a thing?
The paper feels so dry, so thin and matter-of-fact in my hands, leaving no room for argument or interpretation. There it all lies, in precise black ink, the chiseled font typed onto crisp, formal stationary, like her crisp, formal self, but signed with a hand too lush for the military, unconscious of the curls and loops long since bred into her signature in all the finest schools. Such a lovely hand should not sign such cold statements.
Clever girl, though. You know exactly how to dovetail this…horror…with what I do already. Perhaps I should never have written of it to you. But who else would understand?
Oh my country, do you ask even this of me? Do you have any idea what I sacrifice for you?
No. Of course not. You don’t want to know, and well you shouldn’t. You pay me well to hide what I do in your name.
For the common good, though—how can I call it sin, if it serves the common good? It doesn’t matter if anyone understands. I have my orders. And General Aliso has my back. But who has hers?
And why not here? Why not this hardhearted village that raised a boy to worship Cyran the Misbegotten?
The scent of beef braised in wine stirs me from my reading. I look up to the approaching plate…and beyond, at the monster in his cage, glowering at my feasting troops, his gross cheeks flushed, his bristles greasy with sweat, his eyes intent and feverish. There are worse men than myself.)
* * *
Having finished my sabotage for the night, I steal back to our camp with pockets barely a quarter full of what food the villagers could spare for us: a few hard rinds of cheese, a stale rock of bread, a handful of nuts, a couple potatoes. The soldiers take everything; the stores lie empty before the coming winter's gotten past its testing nips and taken its first real bite.
Ah well--more room for pilfered bullets and bomb-primers in the other pockets. I found a goodly cache of phosphorus-charges, too--tracers. Could prove useful.
My stomach growls, uninterested in any loot it can't digest. We have not managed to scavenge much, when Cumencians scavenge before us, knowing the land and its local growing things better than we do. Birds don't call as frequently as they did, and fewer animals rustle in the brush; hunters scout everywhere and we all tread warily for fear of snares. We roast bugs a lot over the coals, crunchy little bits of nutrition. Yet as the weather chills, more and more of them dig deep, bury themselves and wait just this side of death for a change of days. And still we watch for Fatima's return.