Thursday, 27 August 2009

Mist - page 5

< go to page 1

< go to page 2

< go to page 3

< go to page 4


In the hard edged darkness, the passage waited, silent. They had to remove their plate armour to step into the corridor. Torches and firearms at the ready, every step brought them closer to the Shilapa territory. There was no shouting, no clang of sword against armour, no decisive stamping on the earth. Instead there was stealth and a rushed expectation. The long corridor inside the rock transformed them into quiet thieves, into careful explorers.

Darkness ahead and darkness behind, on and on the passage went, long beyond what they had expected. The wall of rock on each side tightened high above their heads until only a sliver of stars remained of the outside world.

Smoke. A scent of burning. General Diego knew very well what that meant. ‘We must hurry, they are on the run,’ he said in a half whisper, and raced deeper into the passage, fast even when his sides banged and scraped against the sharp rock.

* * *

Her father had once told her that everyone is alone in the world, and that to believe otherwise is to trust an illusion.

Those were the last words she heard him say, and after that she was captured by another tribe. Kihlanni, princess of the moon, dew gatherer and golden daughter of pillis, had been stolen when she was eight years old. Being of noble birth, she had not been made into a slave, but had nevertheless led a life of eternal captivity and isolation. When Uksmar had visited her host tribe, and fallen in love with the beautiful, solemn young woman, a trade had been made and she had been glad for it.

She had ended living with the Shilapa, and had been grateful for it at the time. But years went by, and for all her weaving, singing and poetry transcriptions into bark codices, she was still a foreigner and still felt utterly alone. In this tribe of magic makers hidden away from the world, she had replaced one form of captivity for another. She felt trapped. She couldn't see the world and the big changes she suspected were taking place in the ruling classes of the main tribes. But the worst thing was that she was no longer princess of the moon, dew gatherer and golden daughter of pillis, she was only plain Kihlanni, the adopted one, the one without magic. She was, as her father had said, alone in the world.

And that was why, when she heard Uksmar talk to the guards outside her tent, and after she realised they had all left, she remained inside. She wore her silk dress and her jade and silver earrings, and she waited for the new world that was coming to find her.

* * *

‘It's time for us to leave,’ said Uksmar to his tribe. They were all in the clearing. The children had sleepy faces as they had been woken up for the gathering. Completely still, they watched him. A fire blazed bright in the middle of the circle they formed. Above them the pale night, the stars weaker now as the sun made its way to the edge of the earth. There was no wind. ‘We must go before sunrise,’ he added. ‘They are already in the path inside the rock and soon they will be here.’

They burnt the sacred books of chants and their scrolls of poetry, the flower and the song. Carrying small bundles of their belongings, music instruments, carvings, dry herbs, they left their settlement.

Mehk, wearing his battle face paint, walked tall by his leader's side. The rest of the tribe followed closely, flanked by the warriors. Bansha held her grandfather's hand, picking her way carefully in the uneven ground in light sandalled steps.

Uksmar lead following the slope down. He turned neither north to follow the rock toward the second passage, nor to the southern trail, but went on into the dense vegetation leading to the river. They crossed the thickest part of the rainforest under broad leaves and cricket songs, treading softly on increasingly damp soil under the shade of lush canopy. When they stepped out of the dense forest and into the rocks surrounding the cliffs, the wind picked up, dampening their faces and clothes with humid morning.

In the cold light of the early hours, bird song showered the earth. The Shilapa walked on, side by side, mothers and sons, warriors and artisans. Between her mother and grandfather, Bansha walked, her muddy hands inside theirs. She had insisted on planting the last of her mother's medicinal herbs before leaving.

They reached the edge of the cliff cold under their cotton cloaks. Silently they stood, those who arrived later gathering behind the first. Above them the sky begun to warm up to daylight, and around them the buffeting wind cried. Far below the river sparkled like their jewels, ever flowing and free.

A woman standing too close to the edge slipped on a loose rock and had to be helped up by those near her. Bansha took in a sharp breath and gripped her grandfather's hand tightly.

Uksmar and his warriors were the first. They jumped into the gap, into the vast basin of wind and mist that separated them from the river. Others followed, and all around them Bansha heard the wind whispering secret words she could almost understand. Her mother's hand holding hers hesitated briefly, like a butterfly, but finally her grip became soft and sure, and as she took the last step, she said ‘come with us, Bansha.’

No comments: