Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Worlds within Worlds #3.1

3. Strangers on the Beach

The wind is stronger, here by the cliffs, much stronger than it was when I hauled myself from the healing pool. Below me the waves play at marauders, each taking its turn to send attacking white caps across the battlefields of broken, jagged rocks to flood and re-flood the craters and canyons tucked like settlements in the rust-black landscape.
The men who hunt among the pools – there's something wrong about them.
One of the men I recognise from the time he staggered into the glade bellowing for harm. He stalks between the rocky outcrops like a cripple, each step tested before he places his weight on the foot. He walks with the aid of a stick – no, it is a pole, about three hands longer than he is and broken to a point at one end. When he arrives at the edge of a new stretch of water he crouches and peers through the disturbed surface before pulling his pole round and stabbing into it, as if he wants to eviscerate it.
It is a fascinating entertainment.
The other man lies on a cast of sand near the base of the cliff, a little upwind of where I crouch. I don't recognise him at all. He is a little shorter than the first man, with a stubble of light hair – almost as bleached as the grits that pile around his fingers. He also has a better build than his companion, broader across the shoulder with a set of stout muscles gathered within his pink hide. He doesn't move much; he seems bruised – his blackened eyes talk of a possible crack to his skull.
'You should help them,' says the part of me that still talks to the air.
Neither of the men wears their tattoos, or any markings beyond the story of scabs carved into their skins. I have met women who chose not to bear the signs of their clan on their bodies, but these two are clearly not women. I remember hearing stories of women who make their homes in the High Domain – in the Great Caldera itself, even – those women were rumoured to keep men as tethered pets. The men in those stories bore no tattoos, for no gang would be stupid enough to claim such unfortunates as their own brothers: why invite the attention of the wise witches?
I cannot help them, I tell my voice. They must carry a curse in their touch.
'They cannot hunt; and they lack the know of gathering.'
The guardians must have marked them as they healed in their pools.
Stories, stories. Our lives revolve around them. When the sky commanded a time of rest and play we would gather in our long cabin, my gang brothers and I, and tell each other stories. Mostly we shared our boasts, of where we had travelled and what we had stolen – or charmed, for not all of my brothers were as short and ugly as me – from the women set in their groves. Or we would relive our most recent Race: the discovery and shaping of our boat; the procession to the competition place; the purification rites and the time of striving itself. And we would whisper our memories of the celebration after, tell each other about the visions we saw in the dance of the flame.
We would talk about Her, and how our leader had performed with Her, and how great a flame he made as he honoured Her during the final consumption.
Geit – he of the happy kick – had been the first (that I remember) to tell me the story of the unmarked men. Maybe he had seen it as a vision gifted by the celebration pyre. Maybe he had been one of the unmarked men himself, a long time before: his knowing of the world was certainly different to that of my gang brothers, or indeed my own.

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