Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Worlds within Worlds #8.5

'I'm not eating raw eggs!'
'They are the turtle's gift; why do you refuse them?'
Maak-em-ay-are-see has made himself a nest, up here in the bier. He sits in a corner of the room half-hidden by strips of old bark and hunks of half-wound twine. Two bags have been stuffed with dead leaves from the thatch above us: I think I will enjoy telling him the leather's source, but not just yet.
'We need to make a fire.'
'The wind is warm enough.'
His stare is aggressive, but I know he is not fit to fight.
'What about clothes? I need some clothes.'
'We can search for clothes when you have some strength in your legs, yes?'
'I could wear your cloak. At least let me cover myself up!'
'A Cloak is a gift between brothers,' which is not true. 'You are not my brother.'
We stare at each other for several breaths – his faster than mine. When he looks away, I feel like I've won an important victory. The man may have tried to make this bier his home, but he is no woman to command me.
'This isn't how it's supposed to be!'
I turn my back on him, settle into a crouch over my net of roots and fruits. The ruby brelfruit are particularly large, almost to the point of splitting their skin. I grab hold of a clay bowl and push the fruit into it, letting their juices escape before taking my knife to the flesh. Above me, herb pouches hang from a beam; I reach up and grab one, pull open its neck to sniff at the contents. The tart aroma of rash-herb picks at my nostrils – the leaves are old and dry, but maybe they still hold some healing properties in their crinkle. I shrug my shoulders, pour half of the leaves into the pot and stir it all together with my finger.
I straighten up and stride back to the man. I have to wave the food in front of his face before he reaches out to grab it.
'This is good fruit,' I say, 'with some healing powders. No need for fires to make it fit for the eating.'
He picks out a lump and carefully sniffs at it, then sticks out his tongue tip to poke the flesh. When he doesn't collapse – which was a possibility, I suppose, as I have no great understanding of medicinal herbs – he clenches courage in his jaws and pops the lump into his mouth, eyes squeezed shut.
'Tell me about your world.'
Perhaps he is too busy stuffing the bowl's contents into his mouth to hear my question. But when he lifts it to drain the last juice, I can see from his glance that he has been considering answers.
'Quid pro quo.'
'Quid pro quo. You tell me about this world, and I'll tell you about mine.'
'I have no urge to help you.'
'Then piss off!'
'Piss off. Go away. I don't need your help.'
The offer almost overwhelms me: without knowing it, Maak-em-ay-are-see releases me from my obligation. But, I realise, I am not obligated to him: it is the guardian who set me this task, and my need for answers is too urgent to risk upsetting it just yet.
'Do you know where to find brelfruit, or the bark to make a cloak like mine?' My tone is harsh with resignation. 'Do you know how to make a fire? Which fish is good for the eating, and which is good at killing you?'
Again we engage in a battle of stares. Again, I win. This time he slumps his body deep into the corner. 'I don't know what to do. Where's Sam?'
'I do not know where your brother is ...'
'Is he dead?'
'Did you die? I do not know if he is still breathing, or if he has returned to the healing pools.'
'We can look for him?'
I shrug.
'You will help me look for him? Please?'
'Is your need for revenge that desperate? Let him be, for a while at least, yes?'
'I don't understand ... I need him. I need to be with him.'
I did not expect this answer. I can feel my eyes widen to show my surprise.
'I ... I love him ...'
I take a moment to reach into my net for another brelfruit, quickly sniffing it for threadworms before passing it to him. 'Where did you meet him?'
He doesn't hesitate to bite into the fruit. 'London,' he says as the juices run down his chin. 'It's a city ... in the place I come from.'
'Tell me about cities.'
His confusion is written in the lines across his forehead. Yet I know what I'm doing. Many times a woman has confused me into confessing a thing simply by asking an unexpected question when my mind is elsewhere.
'Tell me ... please.'
'They're places. Places where people live. Millions of people, all living together.
Strangely, I understand the word millions – a thousand thousand steps, my Inner Voice tells me.
'They must cover the world,' I say.
'No – we all live close together. Sam and I have – had – a flat together. Flats are like stone houses all stacked together into a tower,' he adds, anticipating my next question. 'Do you have stone houses here? I remember looking, but I never found anything. Never thought to look in the trees.'
'I know of stone houses. I have heard of a place where many stone houses are together in one place – but we never called that place a "city".'
My words seem to rouse Maak-em-ay-are-see. He straightens his spine and leans towards me. 'Maybe we can go there? Maybe that's where Sam has gone already. He never liked the countryside ...'
 'Maybe,' I agree, though I shake my head. Walking into the caldera – no man has ever walked into that place. Carried, maybe, or dragged. Never walk. 'But first you must gather your strength. Try a turtle fruit: I'll show you how to eat it.'

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