Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XV

I was sorry. This wasn’t the Flats, to be sure, and these weren’t my people, but anyone who didn’t aid in the Green’s pursuit – and there would surely be a few by the time of night and the number of people in the district – anyone who defied the Greens would be subject to their harassment for weeks or months or years, depending upon how long the particular guards remembered it. All for not doing anything particularly respectful for a gang of mercenary thugs pursuing an anonymous trespasser through their rooftop gardens in the dead of the night.

Not that I was going to go turn myself in. This was not, to be sure, the first time I had eluded capture, though to be honest my opponents had more often been the Whites. They’re the ones who deal with most of the market business and tariffs there, and the ones who always war with the smugglers. It’s the Greens who deal with vice and addicts and courtesans, though tonight they weren’t about to give up a good detention.

We urchins always did say there was nothing more dangerous than a bored officer.
Fortunately I still wore the farmer’s dun-colored clothes and had almost immediately removed my shoes to avoid the unnecessary noise. I scampered across the rooftops like a nocturnal version of a monkey, some of whom I actually did pass, asleep in their rooftop cages. Most roofs, too, have a low barrier for pleasant sitting on those summer nights when a breeze is too cool, or for when some aspiring neighbor hires porters from the river to haul water up to build a rooftop pool – a real luxury in Ariel.

But such barriers hid my flight from the increasing number of guards, who fanned out in the blocks below. I heard them knock on several doors.
But there are shops and booths up where I was, too, of the personal kinds that wouldn’t operate if they had to pay market taxes. I flitted beneath their awnings and was gone. Urchins call the rooftops the city above the city for good reason. They always feel at home up there, and I am no different.

All the while I had angled my flight south and east, away from the soft-roofed market with its open and empty streets, where I would be caught for sure. This part of the city was called the Edge, and it was where the Temple’s endless supply of scribes and teachers kept quarter, a prosperous neighborhood of some education and much thwarted ambition. Everyone in Ariel has reason to distrust the Temple. Just as everyone has had their reasons to bow down and let its hindrance fall across their shoulders like a yoke. The Edge was Ariel in kind if not proportion, yet another smallish quadrant of the city taught to assume the Temple was the only option for their own continuation.

By the time I reached the actual edge of the plateau all sounds of my pursuit had stopped. I paced along the top, looking for a cache of that rope which smugglers find so necessary. I still hurried; Adlasola’s position among the Blooded was not yet necessarily guaranteed. It was from my perspective almost certain that the Well of the Dead would not open for her, who had not been called, and it would take much longer for the Blooded to decide to force the issue. It goes against everything the Blood of History itself stands for. Still, by the time I found the pertinent broken crate and tied off the end of the rope to its grommet hidden behind a nearby post, another quarter of an hour had passed and I was cursing myself and the fate that had sent me to her so late.

Most of all, I was cursing Ryn Batyst.

I reached the bottom and ran into wooded darkness. I knew of only three Wells of the Dead within the area, and if she was not at any of those I would never find her. The Blood of History itself was not calling me, and our valley is not so small that you can see a third of it in a day, let alone a section of it thick with copses of woods in the few short hours of darkness that remained. As it stood, the three potential Wells I had in mind were an hour’s walk apart, and in the darkness I could not run, but had to settle for an enraged and stumbling trot. Despite myself I shouted periodically.

I found her, lingering graces of the Profusion all be praised, at the last of the potential Wells within half an hour of the sunrise. It is then that the Wells of the Dead would close no matter where they were – at precisely the moment that the sun would rise in the valley were it not shadowed by the mountains, and allowing variance for the time of year. How the Wells of the Dead should know such complex information, Ryn Batyst has of course promised I will learn.

But she was standing quite alone in the middle of a clearing, though she was surrounded by the sprawled and mostly naked forms of the Blooded who had undergone the ritual. One or two still sat near the edge of the softer grass that marked the entrance to the Well, over toward the eastern trees. They pointed at her occasionally as I approached; or perhaps they pointed at me, I never of course will know.
She stood in the open as though she were the only tree in the middle of a field, in a kind of forlorn but stubborn way that endeared her to me instantly. She was wearing a long heavy shrift the color of evergreen so that her paler face and hands were thrown into sharp relief. She had been looking at the ground but glanced up as I approached, for all the world like a startled forest dryad about to sprint away into the nocturnal mist.

Unhappily, I was so taken with her appearance like something out of twilight reverie that I tangled my feet and fell. She cried out in that womanly sound that is both alarm and laughter, and I loved her all over again as she stepped quickly over to where I lay. She offered me her hand, standing over me illumined like some statue of an exultant clad in living moss.

“You do not have to bow to me, Del,” she said, and her voice flowed like the tributary stream that ran nearby, “I admit I am already flattered. ”

“Haven’t you heard the parable,” I said, my head swimming with the fatigue of healing and walking and running all through the night, “the young man, caught in hell with his beloved, offers himself up to eternal torment on her behalf, if only the demons will let her go. ‘Well now you have my attention,’ she says.”

Adlasola Oso laughed again, and there was no alarm this time, and I was glad that I had run. “But you I think are exhausted,” she said. “Ryn Batyst told me that you were sick, after the guards chased all of us into the river. He wouldn’t tell me where you were. Perhaps he told you where I was instead, and you ran all through the night to find me.”

I grabbed her hand at the wrist, and felt for a moment her pulse, that gentle throb that marks all our life. She helped me up. “Be serious,” I said, standing and brushing the dirt off of my clothes. “It’s more complicated. He told me they’re going to force you if the Well won’t let you in. They’re going to make you drink –”

“Ryn Batyst perhaps is concerned about my loyalty. I did lead the guard to your festival, though I do not think I knew it.”

“That doesn’t make it right. Adlasola, this is all wrong. The Blood of History is wrong. It’s broken or twisted, I don’t know. But it kills people! And the rest of us – there’s no going back because it makes you understand this world so differently. You can’t – it’s so sad, just unremitting, neverending grief. The ancient dead, Adlasola, what they don’t tell you about the Ancient dead is that they’re so pissed! They’re still mad about their dying and they still want control so they–”

She reached and took my cheeks in her hands I stopped talking. “Del,” she said, “I’m glad that you are here. But perhaps I do not know what you are talking about. You are I think still sick.”

Weakly, I shook my head. “No,” I said, “no, no. Those men over there are plotting. Batyst told them to take you if you didn’t do it yourself because the Blood of History assures your loyalty. No one ever goes back except –”

“Who, Del? Who goes back?”

“Come with me, Adlasola! The Blood is wrong and the Blooded will just, they’ll be just like the Historians. But not me, not me – I’m quitting the Blood. I’ll be sick. I might die. But anything, anything is better than going back in one of those Wells again. Don’t become like this, Adlasola. You’re better, I know you’re better. This will kill you, so don’t – they’ll make you drink.”

She shook her own head now, but her touch on my face was soft. “But Del,” she said. “Don’t you understand? They gave me a choice after the first few Blooded came back out. Perhaps they took it from someone’s throat. But then they held their vial out to me. It was why I came here anyway, so I took it. Del, I drank. I think I too am Blooded now.”

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