IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Joy in the Face of Danger
Sunday, August 2, 2708,
I forage in the canyon.
Winter has reached here after all, more’s the pity. I push through dry and crackling foliage,
falling even as I touch it, a few bitter, hardy evergreens holding on but
offering me nothing digestible, though I might make a tea of the tips. And yet, over here, still lingering on their winter-reddened
cane, the last jagged leaves still framing them, I find a single cluster of
Soft. Most people
wouldn’t eat them, but I have grown less particular. My hand pops them into my mouth before I even
have time to think about what I do.
Frost-kissed sweetness, maybe slightly fermented, but nothing I’d object
to. Crunchy seeds. Flavor goes down riiiich…oh lord that’s good!
I forgot to save any for the children. I could at least slip a few to Kiril and
Lufti, if I don’t find enough for all. I
look around for more. Not another berry
* * *
(No storm lasts forever. By the time the sun begins to set, the
thicker clouds have long since blown away to trouble other waters, leaving just
enough aftermath to blush before us in apology.
The first clear stars swing lightly overhead, and the children of the
great waves that went before play gently with the boat, hastening it forward
like a game, on towards the distant shores of Toulin. Don ends the game, for the moment, by tossing
out sea-anchor, but I can almost feel him promise the waves that they can
resume their sport first thing in the morning.
Weary but elated, I take my quiet moment alone before retiring,
gazing out over the sea. Don and Jake
know why I do this every Sunday, and give me my space. Jake knows what makes it difficult for me,
too, but when did I ever let difficulties get in the way of anything important?
I bow my head,
murmuring, “I just want to thank you Lord, for seeing this poor sinner safely
through another storm. You know how
unready I am to die, and you’ve shown me mercy once again, Lord, and so ever and
always I give you my thanks.
“Now, you know more
than anybody how not perfect I am, but once again I pledge you to do the best,
in my limited mortal capacity, to set right whatever you send me to do in
Toulin, and anything else you have in mind for me there. I won’t be able to handle it all by myself,
and I’ll make plenty of mistakes along the way, all sorts of errors, as you
have seen before and doubtless will see again, but I know that I can count on
you to fill in the gaps, as you always do.
I couldn’t manage it without you, Lord Jesus; I’m the first to admit it.
“And I don’t even
know whether I’ll get my soul in shape for the final hour, whenever that might
be, whatever that might mean, but that doesn’t matter—right now I’m your man,
warts and all. You've never been one to
waste time waiting for a perfect servant to come along. So thanks, from the heart, especially for
* * *
At nightfall Father Man
conducts mass for us in what we have of a church so far, his tatters sewn up
and laundered, a real stole for once flapping in the wind about him, green silk
adorned, by the creative hand of our patroness, in grapevines and in
wheat. He has bathed, his skin pink amid
the baroque tangles of hair and beard.
Streaks of fire from the fallen sun stream over the walls above his
head, full into his face as though it glows, and candles twinkle sheltered at
his feet, their flames rippling in every gust, the white wax puddling glossily.
I pay little heed to the
incoherent stream of words, yet take comfort from it, too, as a child too young
for speech takes comfort from a lullaby.
Perhaps Father Man speaks a language too old for us: the language of
those who have gone beyond.
After a decent interval
Alysha lays a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine before the candles. As usual, he breaks off mid-sentence to
regard them. But this time, instead of
consecrating the host, he claps his paws wildly over his head, a grin splitting
across his face.
On cue a donkey enters
humbly into the not-yet-sacred ground, and on his back sways Kanarik, swathed
all in richly-embroidered white; her veil flutters like moonlight over her face
and all around her body, dancing in the drafts for her. Eyes widening, Damien lays aside the thambriy
and rises to help her off, then halfway holds her up as they stand before the
"Do you both love
God?" he asks them. "Do you
both love Jesus together?"
They nod. He reaches to a crimson chainstitched border
on the edge of Kanarik's veil, snaps it with his two remaining fingers, and
draws the floss out, long, long, he circles around them with the unraveling
silk and binds them to each other, muttering contentedly.
Then he leans into
Kanarik's face and she tries bravely not to recoil from his breath. "Do you love this man enough to take him
as your spouse, through war and plague and famine and death, through anything,
through good times, too, parties and mast and babies and the distractions of
"I do," she says.
"Then give him a
ring." She brings out an
embroidered little cirque of ribbon and slips it onto Damien's finger.
Now he turns to the
groom. "Do you love this woman
enough to take her as your spouse, through good and bad, ugly and beautiful,
fat and skinny, through songs and silence, no matter what happens? Do you love her whether she can dance or not,
do you love her whether you can provide or not?
Do you love her when your pride hurts bad, and also when your pride's
too big to see over?"
"Then give her a
ring." Damien has woven one from a
broken thambriy string, smoothed with a stone for hours, inside and out.
"Do you both love
Jesus together?" he asks again, "As one?"
He stoops to snag the
jug-handle in his finger, then pours wine over them: a pungent, red gush in the
candlelight. Kanarik giggles and Damien
grins as it splashes down on top of them, staining the veil and drenching their
hair, but then Father Man solemnly intones, "May the blood of Christ cover
you and protect you. May it wash away
your sins. May it intoxicate you with
love. May He die instead of
you." He sets the jug down and
says, "I now pronounce you Husband and Wife.”
We all shout for joy as
they embrace in a kiss. They nearly trip
from being bound together, then they untangle themselves from the red
floss. Grinning again, Father raises the
bread up in the air till we quiet and says, "Communion first! Nourish yourselves before the other
celebration, come on all of you, up, up!"
"You haven't consecrated it yet, Father."
"Oh. Oh yeah.
Of course." He zips through
all the proper words in order, but so quickly that only I can keep up with
their sense—I thought nobody outside my friendclan could speak so fast. I'm sure God understands, though; this is one
thing that Father Man never, ever scrambles up.
We share communion among us rebel-style, passing around the jug and
hunks of the Body of Christ, feeding each other in holy revelry.
When the revelry begins to
get a little less than holy, Father Man shouts, "Out! Out!
Out!" and chases us into the open spaces, where Deni and Hara have
left jugs of a more profane nature outside for us. Kanarik shivers in her winesoaked
wedding-gown, but Damien wraps her tenderly in a blanket, before mounting the
donkey. Then Hara lifts her up into her
husband’s arms, and the old folks escort them back on the long road to the
warmth and comfort of their manor. We
toast the departing couple with another cheer, then get serious about
celebrating their union.
Rain to the roots of the
desert-parched tree. Fresh, succulent
fruit to the starving man's lips. A key
left within reach of the prisoner's bars.
Such is any occasion of joy in the camps of revolutionaries. The children sing and dance while Ambrette
plays her flute like a mountain maenad, and the jugs circle 'round and 'round.
Malcolm and I try to stay relatively sober, since others
will need our services in the morning.
Tomorrow will be torture for Cyran and hir troop, I know that. But this should at least help them sleep