Monday, January 12, 2015

Chapter Ninety-Eight

We had travelled several miles, following Torm and Kizzie to a small hovel hidden in the lee of a tumble of boulders.  “This is where we stayed before the priests found us.  It is still a likely place.” 

I saw someone scurry away and stiffened but Torm said, “That was a Sister.  She … she was one of the Damned.  But she converted when a river man … one who didn’t follow the ways of the priests … bought her … she’s got an ugly face from an accident that killed her first husband.  Her new man was kind to her as he only wanted some companionship when he was in port and always made sure she was taken care of.  She said she came to believe as he did and when the kind river man took sick he became so worried for her that he took her to the Compassionate Ones and lived with her there until he died.  She decided to stay with them and take up their ways … but she still shies away from most folks.  She’s always welcomed here even if she is an older 'cause she taught us some things and still looks after us from time to time even though we be'nt youngers anymore.” 

The children were still rattled and subdued due to the differences in their surroundings from what they were used to.  They jumped at every little noise.  I shook my head and told them, “Just sit and stop running around like jackthumpers.  You’re doing nothing but scaring each other.” 

Rulie asked, “But what of the great forest cats you told me about.  They could be hiding waiting to pounce.” 

“I am beginning to wish I hadn’t said a word about forest cats or anything else.  Look, no matter where you go there are beasties and men that would see you have a swift end but half the issue of battling them is confidence.  Not over confidence you little tree rat,” I snapped when he stood up and started strutting.  “You look like a pheasant out to find a mate.  Sit down and if you must do something, reach behind you and pull some of that tall dry grass and twist it into a hay log.” 

“What’s a hay log?” 

I showed him and then said, “The whole lot of you might as well take up the task.  I’m going to need quite a few of them if you wish me to cook our meat into something respectable enough to eat.  Unless of course you wish to do the honors Kizzie?” 

She quickly shook her head and looked at Torm in fear that I did not understand but put down to thinking that she continued to worry that I was some nasty bit of something come to drag her back to the miserable slave life that she’d barely escaped. 

While the children twisted grass, and Torm and Kizzie went inside for a moment to ready a sleeping area, I dug out my axe head and looked for a suitable limb to turn into a handle.  The talk of forest cats had me feeling unclothed without my trusty tool. 

Soon enough I had one and while I worked I muttered as the supposed facts I had recently learned floated around making me wonder at them on one hand and then curse them on the other.  The cursing began to win out and my irritation soon had me swishing the newly handled axe around to test its weight and apparently I had also begun to repeat myself. 

“I will not be used in this manner.  If such is the ego of men that they wish to pound on each other until one, the other, or both are dead then so be it but to return to the Days of Destruction and the Chaos because they cannot even have the patience to ascertain the truth …” 

“Ye already said that Lady,” Rulie said on a long suffering sigh.  “Pick another story please will ya?  The work’ll go faster if you come up with sompin’ new to entertain us with.” 

“Rulie!” Torm snapped coming outside to see what the ruckus was about. 

I shook my head and sighed.  “Actually he is correct.  I am sure that my histrionics are getting tiresome.  I simply do not understand any of this.  The status of my status – and isn’t that a ridiculous phrase if ever there was one – should not have led to any kind of war; some other political game must be in play.” 

Torm shook his head.  “I don’t know this politics you speak of but if there is a game it is a dark one.  Word has it that the priests have promised … dark things, unspeakable things … for the people that follow them.  Promised all that will listen that the Dark One will bless them mightily and make them great amongst men.” 

I rolled my eyes.  “Yes, such men often make those promises in hopes of ensnaring enough fools to follow them.” 

“That be the problem Lady.  There be plenty of fools; some of them coming from all over the Borderlands looking to profit however they may.” 

“For example?” 

“Great boats were stranded in both Old and New Paduck by the changing of the river.  They were sunk in the mud and just barely holding onto their cargo.  They’re still sunk in the mud but the cargo that were in New Paduck has now been took by the Priests and their followers.  Much of the cargo that was in Old Paduck was took by the Guardian’s Army and put into safe keeping – or so they say – which didn’t make the Priest-followers over there none too pleased.” 

“Let me guess.  The priests claim their dark lord created the victory in New Paduck to ‘bless them’ so that they could fight for him.  They say their followers in Old Paduck simply must not be as good or haven’t sacrificed enough that they’ve gotten notice.  Now the fools in Old Paduck are out to top the antics of the fools in New Paduck and everyone suffers for their stupidity.” 

"'Nother example.  The changing waters have revealed the bones of old war machines that got piled up there, some say when the river changed the first time.  Not all of the bones be crumbling either."

"By the Saints and Martyrs.  So now the priests are saying that those 'bones' as you call them are to be resurrected and used against those that refuse to bow to himself.  But in reality it is probably just fruitless busy work.  I'm sure the on the other side of it the university archaeologists are screaming at the top of their lungs to put off all the foolishness of war so that they can go in and study the contraptions and the priests are using that as yet one more way to stir people up."

Torm scratched at a pimple on his chin making me want to slap his hand away.  “Ye mayn’t be one of the Damned but you’ve got their pulse right enough.  But it ain’t just the priest-followers and the Damned that be playing in that game.  Like I say, others from the Borderlands are come to see if they can take a slice of Tentuckia for theirself.”

“Hmmm.  I’m not sure I like the insinuation that I know the mindset of the Damned that well, but I will let it go.  According to my cousin who is a Brother in the church, men are men … with a multitude of fallacies and foolishness within each one.  Women are the same too for that matter.  My status is proof that you don’t have to knowingly follow himself down below to still wind up his hand servant if you aren’t careful.” 

Hela said, “You be talking about The Linder.  The one what were your husband.”

“Yes,” I bit out more sharply than I had intended.  Then I sighed.  “He was a sick, old man.  He died a painful death, some of which was from his own foolish choices.  And in the end was afforded no dignity at all.  He and his memory are to be pitied.” 

“Why?” Hela asked.  “He hurt you.  Scarred your heart.” 

I suspected she was thinking of the river man that she had been given to.  I told her, “Because I’ve recently been reminded of lessons I learned as a child at my grandfather’s knee; lessons that in my anger I ignored at my own peril that eventually have led to more pain than had I …”  I stopped and shook my head.  “I’ll likely have to continue to remind myself until something comes along to fill the empty space up but … here it is.  We do not forgive for the sake of others but for our own sake and at the command of our Creator.  None of us are perfect and if we wish … well, you call it The Light.  The Light forgives but to be forgiven we must replicate that gift and forgive others … we must practice it so that we can come to a greater and greater understanding of the place The Light has in this world and in our own hearts.” 

“I still don’t understand.” 

“OK, how’s this?  When we get hurt most people’s instinctual reaction – myself included – is to hold onto the hurt and save it up.  To take it out and look at it and pet it and nurture it so that it grows because somehow that makes us feel like we are in the right and grow more right as time passes.  The problem is once such a thing starts growing it gets out of our control and takes over … we no longer control it but it controls us, takes us directions we may never have wanted to go.  It grows to a size that weighs us down, uses us as fertilizer, so that eventually the only thing left of us, in our life, is pain.  All the good and the Light – all our purpose – fades away.  And without Light, what is left?” 

The children whispered, “The Dark.” 

“Precisely.  Forgiveness is one of the first ways that a person learns to defeat the forces of darkness in their life.  Because as you forgive, that pain can never take hold to grow and conquer you.  Forgiveness is something the dark is not proof against.” 

“You make it sound so easy.” 

“Sometimes it is.  Sometimes it isn’t even when it should be.  Mostly I begin to think it takes practice.  It certainly becomes easier when you realize that the forgiving you do is for your own benefit and peace of mind … makes room for the Light to come in.  And where there is Light, there can be no Darkness.” 

“Some things … some people … are fair hard to forgive.  And I’m not sure I want to.” 

I nodded.  “I agree Hela.  It is a lot easier to forgive some things than others.  And for me the forgiving of The Linder … the one that was my husband … has not been easy.  Strangely enough however, I believe it was the awful walk through the desert wilderness that helped me.  It stripped me of … foolish thoughts, fears, my own arrogance in some respects; gave me time to think in a way that I hadn't given myself before.  Mostly I began to understand things I couldn’t before.  The Linder is dead and putrefied.  I’ve learned more things about him since his death than he ever allowed me to learn while he was alive.” 

Looking off towards the setting sun as I grilled the monkey meat with a few local herbs that I'd found while I'd been swishing my axe I said, “I could have been a good wife.  I tried to be a good wife even when I wasn’t sure what that meant.  He didn’t want a wife, but a … a plaything.  I was never more to him than a pawn in whatever madness had overtaken him long before I was even begat.  And he was sick … both physically and mentally … and I believe spiritually as well.  I’ve had it confirmed by a person that I … trust … there is proof that he was in the end, at least somewhat sorry for some of his actions.  Only now that Linder is gone from this life and cannot make up for the wrong he did and has already answered for it at his Judgment.  And only the Light rules on such things and I’m better off minding my own destiny than worrying about someone that has already met theirs.” 

“But the one I hate … he ain’t dead.  I wish he were.  I wish they all were.  They took Roj.” 

I happened to catch an odd, worried look that passed between Torm and Kizzie but held my tongue.  But Kizzie saw me catch them and she bit her lip and then started crying. 

Hela rushed to her sister and petted her, thinking she’d upset her with her hatred.  “It weren’t your fault Kizzie.” 

“You’ll … you’ll take him,” she said muffled into her shirt sleeve.   

Torm looked sad but seemed resigned when he said, “It’s only right Kizz.  We knew it when the old man gave him to us.” 

“But … but they made it so I can’t begat.  We’ll never …”  She cried all the harder.  And that’s when I heard it.  A tiny cry coming from below the floor.

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