Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mount Hebron Dead, From That

Yershi smiled over the pile of roots, berries, bark and herbs on the table. “With this, and with what we’ve brought, we have enough to try yet again,” he said. Out of his bag came the cooking-lantern, the mortar and pestle, other oddments of tools he would need.

He set me to drying and grinding. The Lady juiced berries, extracted seeds. Rell watched at the door, ostensibly for intruders, but she watched so much over her shoulder and cried “What are you doing now?” often enough a herd of cattle could have clambered into the ravine and become trapped and bellowing and she would not have noticed it.

At the end, solemnly Yershi took his crucible and lantern and the final ingredients into an alcove hidden by a woven mat. “This is the part where I have failed in the past,” he said. “Betimes the fumes are nearly overpowering. I do this concealed so if something goes amiss, we might not all succumb.” His words spoke fear and caution, but his eyes, his round, moon-like eyes, shone bright. He darted behind the mat.

We heard the clink of glassware, the gentle swish of a stirring rod and then with a clap of light that stopped our ears without sound and seared the eyes without pain, a deep silvery-purple glow sprang from behind the mat and filled the cave. It must have been a sight, the hill punctuated with pinpricks and day-shots of light in the starry gloom.

Yershi emerged, holding the crucible in his hands. The glow was brilliant yet gentle, illuminating his face without obscuring his features. He moved the crucible around slowly in the air, the shadow of his nose darting across his face like the needle on a sundial. “I think,” he said, “it is ready. Now, to test it.” He placed the crucible on the table. From his pocket he pulled, gently, a small brown sparrow, still, lifeless. He placed it reverently next to the crucible. He gently prised the bird’s beak open and, with a bit of the elixir on the end of a stick, coaxed a drop down the dead bird’s throat.

When it touched flesh, the elixir seemed to jump off the stick, leaving no residue behind. A tiny spark, a silvery-purple glow, started, then grew, in the bird’s eyes. The body twitched. A claw clenched and unclenched. Rell gave a startled yelp when the bird flapped one wing, snapping it quickly to its side. Yershi beamed down at the bird on the table like an oak watching an acorn sprout its first leaf. The bird chirped.

Then it leaped.

It leaped into the air, singing. It flapped its wings and took to flight, whirring in circles around the cave ceiling, swooping and dancing through the purple light that seemed to trap the white of the lanterns and candles and the orange of the fire to keep it from leaving so only the silvery-purple could part. Flying faster and faster, chirping more loudly, the bird burst into song and seemed, for a time, that it would explode. Then with a final pump of its wings, it shot out of a hole in the ceiling into the night.

“Yershi,” the Lady said, tears in her eyes. “It seems to have—“

“That is but the first test,” he said. “Now, the next test. He thrust a larger stick into the elixir, stirring it up. The stuff climbed up the stick as he swirled it like honey. He put the stick into the Lady’s hands. “It worked with a bird,” he said. “Now we shall see if it works on human flesh.” He turned to me, a knife suddenly in his hands. With the purple-silver light behind him, I could see but shadow on his face. “Shadow,” he said, “pray.” He thrust the knife into his stomach, yanked it upwards then collapsed, flinging the bloody blade away.
The Lady screamed. Rell screamed, too, and ran from the cave. I moved towards Yershi.

“Stop,” he said. “Do not help me. You saw what I did with the stick, with the bird. When I am dead, you must do the same” he coughed and spat up blood, with more of it dribbling down his chin. “You must do the same for me.”

He slumped to the floor, breathing heavily, a froth of blood at his lips.
“So this,” he said, “is what it is like to be murdered by Yershi the Mild,” he said. The Lady knelt down, cradled his head in her arms. He reached up to pat a hand. “It is more painful than I led myself to believe. Perhaps I am losing my touch. Others have passed – have passed more quickly than this.” He looked at me. “You know what to do, Shadow,” he said. “You must do it. I would prefer if you wait a day, but I understand if you do not.” He breathed more shallowly, his face pale in the purple light. “I understand if you do not. Oh.”



More silence.

“Oh,” he said, his eyes wide. “I see. I see. I see it all.”

His breath ceased.

Silence. The only sound, the light coruscating from the crucible the Lady set on the table, and from the elixir clinging to the end of the stick in my hand.
“He is dead,” the Lady said.

I thrust the stick into his lolling mouth. As with the bird, the elixir leaped from the stick, sloshed into his mouth and disappeared down the dark bloody hole that was his throat.



“It was fast with the bird,” I said. “But he is much larger. And died, perhaps, a more violent death.”

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