THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
VIII: The Final Conflagration
Chervil and Chives
The pain faded rapidly with the dying of the last tinkling notes. The complete absence of the normalized aches and shakiness left Deirdre almost dizzy with the contrast...because that wasn't the muras affecting her, not anymore. She let go of the magentine handle and gazed out the window. Twilight cooled the summer seascape, the last traces of sunset already fading.
"Give yourself a few minutes to reorient before getting up," Justín said kindly. "You've been through quite a bit." He undid the band about his brow, mopped up the sweat under it with a yellow kerchief, and then rose and gave her a hand up, trying not to wince at her touch, keeping his smile fixed. "Your appetite should return by the time we get to the lunch court."
"A little late for lunch isn't it?"
"I have something special planned for dinner." She froze for a moment, then relaxed. A man who found touching others painful could hardly have ulterior motives.
"Okay, I'll play along." To her surprise she found herself smiling at the unexpected change of pace. He picked up a backpack and led her down the hall into the twilit lunch court, now unoccupied except for them. Justín pulled out of his pack a lot of little candles, the sort of cheap votives that you can buy in bulk. With almost boyish delight he lit them and arranged them around the table, the light shivering yet warm on his sallow face.
While he went to fetch their food she stared at her left hand that trembled ever so faintly. Most people just assumed that the slightly curled-in outer fingers could straighten if she wanted them to, but in fact they no longer extended completely. Rashid, it turned out, didn't have the skill to do anything as complex as rebreaking and mending a shattered hand, and dared not even try, since she could still use the inner fingers well enough for bandage-tying and the like. It still hurt sometimes, especially right before a rain, and the usable fingers got tired quickly.
She would have to make an appointment with a Til specialist to get the full use of her hand back. Bones needed rebroken, tendons surgically repaired. She didn't relish the thought. And of course a doctor would have questions about the now-permanent, completely unrelated tremor.
But then she looked up and saw that the stars had come out, softened with a brush of sea-mist to glow down kindly. She thought of Lufti. Stars would always remind her of Lufti, now. "Where do battle ghosts go," she whispered to herself, "When all the fighting's over?" Oddly, though, she felt better, thinking about Lufti dancing up there, afraid no longer, beaming down on her. "Spare some light for your son, too," she murmured, and she knew that he would.
Justín came back proudly carrying a tray. Oh dear, she thought, the same gruel that she'd been eating here all along. But then, suddenly grinning, Deirdre asked, "Are those salt and pepper shakers that I see?" They looked like little porcelain lambs, one black, one white.
"You betcha. I brought a couple from home. And I had a little extra something added to the food."
Deirdre's eyes widened at the flecks of green in her porridge. She picked one out and tasted it; her eyes lit up immediately. "Chervil! It grows feral all over the highlands of the Charadoc, but where did you find any here? It doesn't like this climate."
"Oh, I have friends here and there about town. One owns a salad bar with a coolshack in the back and he grows it for his customers."
Deirdre looked at him sideways. "Tell me you didn't spend money on me."
"Oh, not at all," he lied. "The guy owed me a favor. Oh, and sorry I couldn't get what the Charadocians call wild onions, but garlic chives come close." He laughed. "It took me awhile to reconstruct, but by now I've eaten so many of Kiril's field-cooked meals--through you--that I could probably reconstruct half her recipes."
"Nobody can," she sighed, "Nobody else can cook like her." Then saw his fallen face. "But just to have somebody try, for me, means a lot to me." She quickly spooned up a serving and ate it with a pleased expression. "It's worth showing up just to eat chervil again--I love the stuff!"
Justín smiled back, glad to see that his trick worked. Now she'd have to finish the whole meal just to show him that she liked it. He really did hope, though, that she actually did.
She ate in silence for a moment, then dimpled. "Do you remember," she asked, "when all of this started, how you sarcastically said that it would be fun to retrieve the memory of when I got the scar on my leg? Well, does falling into a flower in a muras trip count as fun?"
He nearly choked on his food with a sudden laugh. "That was nice, yes, a pleasant change of pace. Yet I'm like you--I've tried muras, but usually all it does is ambush me with a crazy-quilt of images from all of the minds that I've shared--especially the most intense moments, bang, bang, bang, one after another like shots from an automatic. It's even worse than going in unsedated."
She winced in sympathy. "That sounds horrible."
"Now, pink trumpet wildflowers, that I can get along with--thank you for the experience."
"I got lucky, that one time. Yet there have been some good moments, haven't there?"
"Oh yes--tumbled mountain landscapes, the embrace of friends, Damien singing by the campfire...oh. I'm sorry."
She made herself smile. "That's all right. All a bard ever wants is to be remembered." She got up. "I think it's time I went back to the hostel."
He pulled out her chair for her, an antique gesture that some folks from the farther reaches of Alonzo Valley still practiced. It felt awkward to her, yet also touching. "Thank you for the date," she said with an ironic grin, and he nodded back in the same spirit. Then he walked her to the gate out and watched her disappearing into the dark, and he yearned with all his heart for the ability to hug someone.
The night felt warm; she needed no wrap. On the way back to the hostel she suddenly wondered where the sweater came from, from the night before. Stars shone overhead as she walked, though not as bright as in the Mountains of Fire. They seemed friendlier, less accusing. Lufti must have calmed them, she thought sleepily, as she went in to the bright yellow office to renew her stay for another night.