Dolores J. Nurss

Volume VIII: The Final Conflagration

Chapter 14

On the Road Again



Tuesday, May 6, 2709, continued

       Alysha returns looking a thousand times better, her wet hair neatly braided and coiled on top of her head, pinned in place with yancha thorns. She looks a bit abashed, so I welcome her back warmly, coaxing a faint smile back from her. Then I look to the doorway, but nobody else enters behind her.
       "Where's Lufti?"
       "Oh, he ran off."
       "He what?"
       Weakly Cyran says from hir mat, "Isn't it obvious? He follows the same rules that Father Man used to. We have no authority over him anymore." Cyran looks pale and sweaty, slipping back into fever. I take hir pulse and find it faint but rapid. E groans, "I wish I'd listened to him when I'd had the chance."
       I feel hir brow. "Hir fever's up again," I say to Alysha. "E won't get well in this stuffy place. You're so used to the smell that it doesn't register for you anymore, but it's unsanitary here, and we don't have everything we need to take care of hir. E needs to heal in Koboros."
       She frowns, fingering her chin in thought. "E could die on the road. We won't have much there, either."
       "It won't take long for us to deplete every source of food within hunting and gathering range if we stay put. On the move we can at least provide for hir. And e needs food to heal. Did Lufti take the horse?"
       "No, he left on foot."
       "Good--we'll need it for Cyran."
       "When did Lufti stop fearing horses, anyway?"
       "When we needed him to."
       (We reach Bishya Kibeho in the early afternoon. Miss Julie gave us a patchwork flag in red, green and black to wave on our arrival, to show that we're under her protection, so now Ozwald waves it out the window, looking like he expects someone to shoot his arm off at any minute, his eye wide and his teeth clenched, but he does it anyway. Spring wheat glows green to either side of the dirt road; this slope seems to have largely escaped the unseasonable snow. An old man comes walking to us between the rows, wearing loose clothing in a brightly-colored geometric pattern and a matching cylindrical cap. I stop the car. He comes right up to the window, peers intently in at me, even though I can see that cataracts have long since sealed away the sight from both his eyes, and says, "It's about time you showed up. I've been waiting for you.")

Wednesday, May 7, 2709

       Alysha lifts Cyran up into my waiting arms on the horse's back. My hand's still sore, but no longer infected; anyway, I can hold hir up in the crook of my arm. I can feel hir fever against me where e curls up with hir head nestled into my shoulder. E feels so bony and small that I half-fear hir shivers could make hir fall apart.
       "Let's go, then," Alysha says, and leads the horse out on foot. I find something reassuring about the rhythms of her firm strides ahead of us, the swishing of her skirt to left and right, and Pearl's docile clopping along behind her, rocking my fears to sleep.
       "I take it you know the way?" I ask as she follows a path that I can hardly discern.
       "I made the way. Me and Cyran, years ago. You have nothing to worry about. I'll get you both to Rashid."
       "I think I'm better, actually."
       "I'll let Rashid be the judge of that,"
       I feel more than hear Cyran chuckling against me. "What's so funny?" I ask hir.
       "You. You've never been the best judge of what's good for you."
       "Better luck for you," I mutter and scan the woods for foes.
       (Somewhere my star glimmers, shaded by the groaning trees above trees above tangles like her dirty golden rays of hair, all intricate entwining all around me but not in the flesh, not yet, not till I find her, drawn helplessly to her radiance as the sight of Pearl's hoofprints drew her, till all prints mushed together on the road and she sat down and cried, I feel the heaving of her sobs deep in my breast so I know that I can find her as she tries to find me, my guiding light, my shimmer in the skin, my blazing hot fire encased in cold space all around her that I alone can fully breach, though Deirdre revolves around her, feeling her radiance a little. Me it immolates! And illuminates. She is all beautiful and dangerous words.)
       I haven't quite gotten over my own fever, yet, and losing sleep didn't help. Cyran's heat compounds my own. I bear it as long as I can, but my dizziness and queasiness soars. The scenery starts to look ripply, like the wind got into things it shouldn't. "Alysha, hurry. Take hir before I…"
       Jake catches me as I fall off the horse. But he's not quite right, himself; he shudders like a flame.
       Jake didn't catch me, the thick forest humus did, when Alysha caught Cyran. And yet Jake still holds me, but I feel too hot to endure holding. I cling to the cool, cool grass, seeing patches of snow here and there, fading in and out of sight.
       Alysha cusses, lays Cyran down and positions my redislocated arm per my instructions. WHOA! that hurts when she does exactly what I tell her to do.
       And here the three of us sprawl in the grass, while Pearl calms down after the moment's excitement and starts to nibble the greenery. Alysha continuing to swear through her tears doesn't make any of this mess go away, but it helps her feel better.
       "How does this help?" she growls at me. "How does this freakin' help to be just as stuck as before but without shelter?"
       And then a miracle happens. Cyran starts chuckling. And then I start chuckling. And then Alysha just has to join in, and soon all three of us are hooting and guffawing and gasping for air, and only two of us can use delirium as any kind of excuse. Until finally, when we've exhausted all the laughter in us, except for brief snorts and giggles when we remember just how ludicrous it is for us to laugh at all, we lay there in the grass, watching patches of sky twinkle between the leaves above us, when Cyran says, "Let's just take a nap and try again later."
       (Finn doesn't want to let go of me when I hug him goodbye. "It's okay, darling. These are good people. They'll protect you and teach you how to use your fire for the community."
       Someone says behind us, "I'd ask who'd protect us, but he can't tell the difference between kinds. I guess we're safe enough taking him in." I start to turn, then realize that I didn't actually hear that. My shields must be slipping again.
       Finn can't even speak. He just sobs loudly, trembling, and holds on tighter.
       Ozwald keeps patting him on the shoulder, saying, "It's okay, man, it really is okay. Look, we've taken care of you so far, right? We wouldn't just dump you. Anselmo and Zanne checked these folks out with their, uh, not-witchy power, and they're cool. They won't hurt you."
       Anselmo adds, "You need a stable home, Mijo. Someplace where your feet and hands can learn your way around. You can't thrive on the road with us. There's a lot you can do in a place like this."
       The blind oracle gently tugs Finn from my arms and wraps his own around the boy's tall shoulders. "You'll do fine, young man. I studied in Til in my youth. I understand what you need." Finn takes in one last gasping sob, lets it out in a sigh, wipes his nose and surrenders to the old man's lead.
       "Well, then," I say, smiling brightly beneath brimming eyes. "It's been a pleasure, folks, but there's others who need to learn this remedy…
       "You're not leaving without supplies for the road, though," says several bright-turbaned women holding generous baskets. I can smell the delectable sweetness of ibihaza.
       "You're too kind!" I protest. "That must have taken the last of your pumpkins!"
       They laugh. "The last indeed--it would've gone bad if we hadn't cooked it. But we have the seeds. We'll grow more." Anselmo gratefully takes the basket full of the pumpkin and beans dish, and Ozwald takes the other two, heavy with their various contents. I pick up Tshura and we head back for the truck.)

       Alysha performs a wound inspection, following my instructions, but she won't let me stand up. She insisted when she saw the new red blood on Cyran's shirt. E asks, faintly yet conversationally, "Why do they say that intense laughter can 'put you in stitches' when it feels like it tore mine out?"
       "We need to find shelter," Alysha says, "Somewhere safe to light a fire so we can make more of that dressing of yours, Deirdre. E really did tear stitches."
       "And it was so worth it," Cyran sighs.



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