THE CLIMB BEGINS

Scene 10  1560 4D

Derizan blurted out, “You said we didn’t want to take the High Pass.”

“Yes, I did,” said Inkurisar.”And we don’t want to, but now there’s no other way to go.”

Selech erupted. “We got this far! Can’t we find some way past the troops? We got away from them and got here, didn’t we?”

Inkurisar raised both hands as the others gathered around him. The wolves played in the snow, yipping and tossing gobs of flakes at each other. “Listen, all of you. I’ve been doing this through one reloc after another. I’ve seen whole coll families die when they didn’t listen. Here’s how that happens.”

He glanced up at the clear sky, and then he glared at Selech. “This is how it happens. You know that column you were walking in, with the military escort? You didn’t have to walk, but they don’t tell you that. There’s a rail line one valley away between the City and the North Mines, same direction you were going, and it stops in Burunisil, halfway. But the orders from the City are to make everyone walk, because it drains away any energy and hope of attacking the troops and forcing a way for themselves. And some die on the way.”

Silence. As Inkurisar glanced up again, Derizan followed his gaze. A huge black tononnsar, a carrion-bird of the high peaks, circled placidly above them on a mountain updraft.

Inkurisar went on. “Even if you rode the trains and got to Burunisil, you’d find nothing there but more soldiers. And after that, the mines and a life as short as an andro. Most folks don’t even last five years. That’s your relocation.”

“See that big filthy eater of the dead drifting around up there, that tononnsar? That one grew his twelve-foot wingspan off the flesh of City people just like you. And he has friends and family up here. So when I tell you to follow me and the wolves, you listen and do it. Does anyone have any questions?”

Silence.

“All right. Let’s go.”

Derizan walked through the snow alongside Inkurisar. “Do we have enough for the wolves?”

“Oh, they finished off that carcass from our hunt. They’ll last right on over the Pass if we make decent time." He scanned the sky; some long cirrus streaks were growing where wind was coming to them from the west. “I don’t think this lovely day will last when night comes.”

The stronger men, with Inkurisar’s wife Nakiran and Munizkara, beat down the snow they faced, easing the way for the others. They were high in thin air, often panting and gasping; they stopped frequently, and Mentrianos and Daryuz helped Tellina, supporting her arms, as she trudged heavily onward.

The wolves ranged now around them and ahead. The brilliant sun passed noon, starting to draw up shadows of the crags to their northwest. They stopped, exhausted, puffing, chilled, and hungry. At this height all but the most tenacious of the forevergreens were gone, but Inkurisar managed to kindle one in place, its tarry resin catching flame from the small beamer he carried.

As the fire reluctantly built into full heat, Derizan warmed and massaged his hands, huddling with his father and others with backs to the cold wind. He watched Inkurisar and his wife and sister-in-law busily getting meat cooked over the flames, wondering how they withstood this relentless, frigid height of the world. Anxiously he surveyed the young couple that had joined the party as they drew closer to the fire. How long would it be before the woman would go into labor and try to deliver her baby? The family he had lost earlier came to mind again, and the memory brought him pain.

Alumaras coughed. He had been slowing as the climb went on, and now his brown face seemed gray, his beard’s pale stubble seeming almost to blend into his skin. Derizan had never seen his father like this.

“Father, how can I help you? You look wasted away.”

Alumaras closed his eyes and said nothing. Derizan took his arm and shook it a little. “Father?” He turned to see Munizkara approaching them.

“Let me close to him,” she said, in a tone that made Derizan get out of the way without question. The woman straddled Alumaras as he sat, pulled open his wrap, opened her coat and underlayers, and pressed her two ample breasts against his cold, bare skin, wrapping her arms around him. “This will bring him back,” she said, “and it should help even more once he’s had food and warmer water.”

Alumaras stiffened; his eyes opened wide; he seemed to straighten; his mouth opened, gulping air; finally he rasped, “I’ll be all right.”

Munizkara held him for many heartbeats, finally letting him go, closing up his wrap and her clothing, saying over her shoulder to Inkurisar, “Get him the first food. When there’s enough heat, some tea.” She turned to Derizan. “Keep him from the wind. Stay with him.” As Derizan brought his father closer, she rummaged in her pack for a tin and the tea.

While all this unfolded, Nakiran left off helping Inkurisar with the fire and went to the pregnant Tellina and her husband, gathering both in her arms inside her outer coat, making a huddle of three with Tellina’s unborn in the center. She held them, swaying the huddle back and forth slowly, as Inkurisar, Astina, and the others worked to cook the meat, heat water, and offer some of the meat to their wolf escorts.

Derizan got up and approached Inkurisar, who had stepped away to stare and scan down the route they were taking. “What do you see?”

Inkurisar pointed ahead. “Once we’ve rested, its down toward a village I know. The going should be much better.”

As if called by their thoughts, the biggest of the wolves came to the two men, faced them, and gazed first into Inkurisar’s eyes, then into Derizan’s. An image, a sense of emptiness came to Derizan. He blurted out, “You are leaving us?”

Inkurisar nodded. “You sense well. Their range ends here. We will have to fend for ourselves on the descent to Fornonck – that’s the village we’re trying to reach.”

“More wolves?”

“Possibly. I’m not as well-acquainted with the ones on the way down. Keep your eyes open and stay calm.”

Astina called to them. Finally closing into a tight group around the flickering wood fire, facing away from the wind as much as they were able, they ate, drank, warmed themselves and each other, and rested at last.

 

Next scene.

 

Last Updated Friday, June 21 2024 @ 02:41 pm  24 Hits   
Comments are closed