Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Worlds within Worlds #5.1

5. The Flayman

The climb to the top of the bulwark hill, which separates the place of the abandoned longhouse and the next valley downwind, was tough but, from up here on the spine, I can see the clear length of the wide woodlands we have just crossed and the much narrower, meaner vale that we need to tackle next. More ominously, I can spot clouds forming between the land and the skies; soon the wind will lie to us and cold rain will clatter our tired bodies.
Sam lags behind me. The man makes too much use of his stick to help him climb; he should trust the exertion to help toughen his ankles against future sprains. When he finally scrambles close enough, I cast my hand out and grab at his frayed crutch to help haul him up the last few strides to the summit.
'This is a good place for us to eat. Give me your bag.'
He shrugs it from his back and hands it over wordlessly, too busy sucking air into his lungs to argue with me. As I take the kelp net from him, he hunkers down on a rock shelf just below me; once seated, he sets to fussing at his leg, pulling the offending ankle onto his knee so he can prod at it.
'You should leave it alone,' I tell him. 'Pain only works its spite when you make it feel welcome.'
He ignores my advice. From my own bag I fish out a snack: sweet smelling brelfruit – possibly over-ripe. I use the food to bribe his attention away from his injury by holding one of the ruby globes near to his nose. He grasps it quickly, grunts his thanks and bites into the flesh without bothering to check for fretworms.
'You speak English,' he says, finally, his chin smeared with juice. 'How do you know English?'
The question bemuses me. 'I speak words. I share my words with you – do you not like this gift?'
'No. I mean I'm glad you're talking now.' He muffles his voice in the fruit as he takes a second bite. 'It's just that this isn't England, yet you speak English.'
'"Ing Lend" – what is an Ing Lend? What is Ing Lish?'
'England – it's a place.' He looks around at the view from his ledge. 'A big island. It's the place where I come from. In England we speak English.'
I'm sure he means to make sense with his words – I can see no guile in his eyes. I have to shake my head.
'There are many places in this land, but we don't give them names. Names are for people, for gangs and clans. Not for rocks and rivers. Words are precious things.'
'So you don't have a name for any of this?' He waves his fruit wide around him before returning it to his mouth for another bite.
'I have heard my gang brothers call it Fol Huun, for this is Fol Huun's world.'
'Is "Foll Hoon" your chieftain? Your leader? The big man?'
'Fol Huun is ... Fol Huun. She is everywhere.'
'She's your goddess, then. You worship her.'
I can only shake my head again. 'Your words – they make no sense to me. Goddess? Worship?' I consider the ideas for a moment. 'I have worshipped some women in my brighter moments, taking much enjoyment with them before and after we slept ... I would not know how to worship Fol Huun. She is ... she's not a woman.'
'Worshipping isn't fucking,' he says, letting his foot fall from its perch on his knee and leaning back against the rock. 'Worshipping is ... you close your eyes and pray to God, and ask Him for favours and blessings to help you get through the bad times, and you have to thank Him for the good stuff as well ... I suppose. Maybe if I had done more worshipping when I was alive, I wouldn't be here now.'
'Alive. Alive and dead; night and day. Worship and fuck – do all your mystery words come in such pairs?'
'You know what death is: you saw Marc! He's dead now; we burned him.'
I can't argue with an assertion that struggles to make sense to me. Instead I turn my attention to my own fruit. I sniff the rind at several spots, checking for the whiff of worm before taking my knife to slice at the ruddy flesh.
'Why do we have to climb over these hills? Why couldn't we follow that road?'
'You ask too many questions, yes? I told you, the avenues are not safe. Not for us.'
'Yeah. You've got monsters in your woods. Like you've got nasty crabs on the beach that we have to run away from.'
'Listen to your words.' The man tires my ears with his thoughtless questions. 'Everything is dangerous ...'
I glance at his brelfruit and spot a telltale thread weaving its way towards his thumb. Quickly, I reach down and slap the half-eaten snack from his hand as he makes to take another bite: '... Even the little fretworms that are about to feast on your face! Believe me on this.'

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