IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Volume VI: The Rift
Care for the Sick
Sunday, December 20,
(Have I acted so terribly,
compared to you? You broke her heart,
(“Have I acted so
terribly?” Belen whispers, I’m not sure whether to me or someone else, as she
tosses fitfully in her bed while I try to change the sheets; it’s obvious, by
touch and scent, that though they have given her cursory scrubs, nobody has
changed this rich woman's bedding in a long time.
“No, no,” I soothe the
prisoner in her own home. “You only
wanted to make good cookies.”)
“We’re home, Deirdre. You can set me down, now.” I rouse from sleeping on my feet at Lufti’s
whisper in my ear. I ease his slide from
my back, blinking, trying to focus on the activity around me while tugging at
the suffocating scarf around my neck.
(She tugs her blanket back up onto her, the sweat sparkling on her
over the hectic luminescence freckled under her skin, even as the snow falls
Nishka takes a look at me,
then calls for Tanjin. “I think her
fever’s on her again–see the flush in her cheeks? See her shivering?” I just stand there and let them regard me,
mist blowing through my mind.
(Then suddenly I feel Belen’s pressure in my mind. She’s trying to tell me something that she
can’t put into words. I sit down beside
her bed, holding her damp hand.)
Tanjin raises his good hand
to my cheek–a lovely, cooling touch. “I
can’t tell,” he says. “Maybe she’s just
overdressed.” Yet I suddenly feel so
chill that I wrap the scarf onto me again.
“Deirdre, how do you feel?”
I blink at him. Not at all, I want to say. The rain has numbed me to the soul. Images crowd the fog within my head, of
bodies contorted in unending slumber and I feel some kinship with them. My legs quiver under me so much that they
threaten not to hold me up much longer.
(She contorts before me, panting with the effort. And kicks off the blankets again, radiating
heat and light.)
“It’s the fever,” he says,
and leads me by the arm to a shelter someone made while I stood there. I find that I have to lean on him, his flannel
cuff gone soggy with the rain.
(“Are you in pain?” I
ask. “I can…”
“I’m dying!” She
snaps. “Don’t interrupt me!” And she goes back to trying to push something
into my brain. Yet she interrupts
herself to say, “You’re my heir, Zanne.
You’re in charge now.”)
Nishka asks Tanjin, “Are
you in charge now, till she comes back to us?”
“Me? No. In
charge of her, yes, but not the band. I
can’t do both.”
Lufti pipes up, “Kiril’s in
Dosh starts to laugh, but
Nishka says, “No, that makes sense.
Kiril’s been a rebel at least as long as Deirdre, and we all know how
cunning she is, how well she can think on her feet. She’s proven herself a dozen times.”
Kiril stares, eyes and
mouth round in her round face, so comical that I wish I had the energy to
laugh. But I can barely help Tanjin lay
me down, my fingers fumbling after the edges of the stultifying scarf,
frustrated until he finishes the job for me.
At last the chubby girl
finds her voice. “Only till Deirdre
comes back to herself, hopefully by morning.”
Then she goes about ordering the positioning of the cookfire according
to the wind, and makes sure that the burro gets proper shelter, too.
And then...I’m not
there. I heave with giving birth, birth
to something sealed off within me, pushing out through my forehead without
orifice to release it—I scream with pain!
(Belen screams, arching in her bed, the insistent memory ramming
against the blockage, tearing through her brain until at last it rips out and
hurtles into me!)
Are you with us, Deirdre?” I gasp
as the headache lapses to a normal fever throb, but I still shudder, the bushes
rattle with my shuddering. I nod to him,
and then say “Yes. Yes, I’m sorry. It just…for a minute there, it hurt soooo bad.”
Tanjin says, “It’s okay,
nobody heard. We’re too far…” but I slip
away before I can hear the rest.
(And then it’s okay. The
pain subsides. I hold, cradled in my
mind, the way into the dome within the tower.
A delicious sense of peace settles onto me. It’s all going to be okay.
Till I open my eye and see the dead woman twisted on the bed. Yet a smile curves the cracked old lips. She died well. She burst her heart tearing through to give
her final gift to me. And her last
words. I’m in charge, now. More than ever.
I stand up. I want to
arrange her limbs and pull the sheets over her, but none must know that I’ve
been here, save for my own.
No, that’s silly. If they
haven’t noticed all we’ve done for Belen so far, they won’t notice this. Nobody even cared when she screamed. So I give her some posture of dignity, and
then quietly I leave, wishing that the Gates of Knowledge taught prayers for
I stand before Cyran...no,
someone who looks like Cyran.
(You broke her heart,
Cyran, following his path. How could you
even think to become a rebel after what he did?)
Too buxom, definitely
female, this woman, not Cyran at all, though with the same intense blue gaze in
an olive face.
(She weeps for you, Cici. Do you think she ever weeps for me?)
Or is it the gaze of Merrill? Built more like Zanne, yet brown like me, and
with my odd feet...a compendium of all of us?
Delirium. My phantom of delirium.
(Down the well-worn road I
go, to yet another poor soul under your delusion. Look at all the footprints–could Zofia be
more obvious? How many women will you
bring to weep, Cyran? And how many men
to curse? And how many must I hurt to
excise the cancer that you’ve become, O monster neither man nor woman, who cannot
truly feel for either?)
Yet, knowing her for a delusion,
my heart goes out to her anyway, the pain in her gaze upon me, her pleading for
me not to be there, even as I plead for her to be there.
(I hesitate at the door,
then put on my role. My rifle-butt
smashes the old wood around the lock easily enough. I slam the door open, loud for the effect,
and I stand there, her nightmare right in her doorway, my purple mantle
rippling in the draft that I let in.
“Zofia Tocarin, you are under arrest for giving aid and comfort to the
And even knowing that it
hurts her, knowing that somehow I have done this before in many a forgotten
dream, and will again in many more, I say, “Remember me. Remember me.”
(“Zofia Jubail, now,” she
says with a smile, holding up a finger wound with a crude wire ring. “Kurmal died this morning, but I shall always
be Zofia Jubail. Remember me.” Her eyes glitter crazily over a triumphant
smile. Then, before I can stop her, she takes a scalpel from her apron pocket
and slashes her own throat. I stand
there and watch the blood rush out, stepping back from its spread across the
floor–I couldn’t possibly save her life from a direct hit to the carotid
artery; I would only stain my shirt trying.)
And then I wake, hurrying
to dash down notes on my dream while I get ready for school, knowing that
someday, someday I’ll have to write it all down into books, all of the
dreams and nightmares of Deirdre Evelynne Keller, no matter how horrible, no
matter what people think of me for imagining such things, because I promised, night
after night I’ve promise to remember her, since before I could even write my
(So I leave that
place. Nothing to interrogate,
there. The wreckage in the beds no doubt
have become too inured to pain to respond readily to torture. Maybe I fail in my duty, yet I remember Aron
and I shudder)
Maybe once I get all the
stories written down, the nightmares then will cease.
(Instead, I set fire to the
flimsy door. Then, for good measure. I
go out to the shed in back, stand some distance away, load the tracer into the
chamber, and then shoot the tank of hydrogen peroxide. The fireball reaches the makeshift hospital,
yet it doesn’t quite reach me. I walk
away, screams and the fire’s roar behind me, my shadow long before me,
silhouetted in orange light against the overbeaten road.
Oh, Cyran, what evil you
have unleashed upon this land!)
And then I wake, scrambling
people all around me where I lie, gunfire searing through the tarps and
blankets. Tanjin grabs me and rolls me
over him, just out of death’s reach.
“Get her up on the burro!”
Kiril cries. “She’s worth all of us ten
times over once she comes to her wits again!”
Hands shove me up onto an animal’s bare back, then someone swats the
beast and away it runs, while I hold on by instinct to the fur, no time for
saddle or bridle, fire lighting up the forest and casting tiger-stripes of tawny
light and shadow on the world before me.
I choke on smoke and tears. I can
hear the gunfire go both ways as others cover my retreat, but I can’t turn my
mount around, I have no reins to pull and my tugging tells it nothing that it
wants to heed.
Foolish, foolish escapist
dream, to fancy myself an innocent schoolgirl and all my life a nightmare to
wake up from!
The motion and the fever
make me want to retch, but I hold it back, fighting to clear my head. Kiril shouldn’t have...but no, nothing so sentimental
as love motivated the girl. She’s got a
sharp, cold wit, that one. Government
soldiers fear the Tilián witch. I might
well be the best propaganda that Cyran ever stole.
night wears on, but I can't tell whether it grows colder or hotter; sometimes
it seems like both. The donkey slows,
then stops, head hanging low. I shudder
endlessly without any blanket, they have burned up all the blankets. And I feel alone, no one around me but the
trees, and maybe it’s better that way; my presence won’t kill trees. No, come to think of it, that fire must have
caught on more than just our camp. Damn