Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Settled Dust, Part Twenty

A Continuing Haibun Cycle

Blood erupted from the wound. She was blind in one eye, her hair suddenly sticky. She could feel the blade scrape against the bone of her scalp. Khalid's weight pressed her to the floor, his eyes flashing with hatred and the ecstasy of battle. The pain bloomed, bright and sharp. Her pulse raced, quickening the flow against her face. Valila could wait no longer. She drove her fist into Khalid the Younger's side, targeting his liver.

The air blew out of him, the strength of his limbs suddenly stolen. They rolled once, twice, a third time. The blade dropped from his fist, his hands clamped against the side of his neck, trying to keep the fruit of his veins from spraying against the rug. He was not successful.

Valila rose, stepping over him as he died, the sucking noises of his slashed windpipe subsiding after a few moments. She pulled the sheet from the bed and balled it in her hands, holding it against the steady flow from her own torn flesh. It was done now. Only the matter of escape remained, and that had always relied more on faith than planning.

Of desperate strength
these final throes of madness
in the lion's den

The killing complete
bloodied, we hope to escape
snares we long taunted

*****

The woman, Mima, returned from hiding bodies. Her face hung slack, the shock of seeing death up close surrounding her as a funeral shroud would. Haike understood that he had asked her to do a difficult thing, and that he could be cruel to others without being aware of it. As he had been cruel to this woman. The deed had needed doing, however, and the fatigue clung in his muscles, reaching so deep that he wondered if he would ever be rid of it. Regardless of anything, he had needed the help. He would remember Mima's frailties, however. It wouldn't be fitting to be unnecessarily mean to her. She had suffered enough of that.

"Will the bodies be found?" he asked.

She shook her head, sliding down the wall to sit next to him. She stared at the wall across from them for several minutes. Haike waited. He thought that she would have questions. He had questions of his own, though they were only asked within his own mind. He wondered if he would need to kill her at the end of this. She had asked to be part of this, and the knowledge she'd gained was of a dangerous sort, perhaps deadly.

He hoped he wouldn't have to end her, though that would solve the awful knot of pain he could see in her eyes. If it came to it, he wouldn't tell her. It would be quick. She would be within the Coriyat's grasp before she knew what had happened.

"How is it that you can..." she began to speak, but her mouth wouldn't frame the question. She rested her chin on her chest, not looking at him.

"Kill grown men as I do?"

Mima nodded. "You showed no more emotion than if you'd cut a limb from a tree."

Haike blew air out his nose. "I was born...strange. I do not experience the world as you do."

"Have you never met something that you couldn't stand to kill?"

Haike nodded. "I value things, cherish people. I experience love and sadness, worry and hope. I have no more fear or guilt than an eagle, however. Those are emotions I don't suffer."

"Never?"

Haike shook his head. "Not in the way that normal people do. There are parts of me missing, Mima. I sense that there is a richness, a whole fabric of meaning that I cannot know in this life. For what I lack, I am given this--if it's within my physical capability, I can do it. There are but few deeds from which my mind would recoil."

"So you could, say, slit a woman's throat as she slept?" Her eyes were suddenly full of fire, finally meeting his gaze.

"If it were important that I did so, yes. I know myself to be capable of it. I would, of course, prefer not to."

"Did you kill...everyone in the barracks?"

"To a man."

Mima covered her face, hiding it from Haike's eyes. He could hear her breathing roughen. She wept. From the angle he watched her, the broken bones of her face were hidden, and she was comely. "You didn't cherish any of those louts, did you?"

Her body shook, and her hands clenched against her cheeks. "I hated them all," she whispered. "They..."

Haike understood. It didn't matter, but he understood. He didn't need a salve, didn't require another reasoning behind what he had done. Good men or cruel, they had been in his mistress's way, and their lives had been forfiet. The pain in Mima would not go away because the authors therewith had been sent into the Coriyat. He expected no thanks.

He didn't recoil, however, when she took him in her arms, squeezing him tight. "I hope they died in agony."

Knowledge of myself
this crippled, granitine soul
this chill observer

She, the consequence
the benefit and danger
of our reckoning

*****

Valila grasped the back rails of the chair and tried to keep from screaming. The pain of the styptic powder blasted across her nerves, blood and tears mixing into a pink flow against her cheek. No sound arose from her. The powerful salts slowed the flow of blood from her torn scalp, finally stopping it altogether. It was an effective coagulant, though the pain of it far exceeded that of the original injury. It was of no consequence.

She rose, using a wet cloth to get the worst of gore off of her face. Her legs felt weak underneath her, and the pain of coupling with Khalid thudded steadily at the crux of her legs. Roaring hollowness spun within her spirit. Whispered on this internal wind, the idea that nothing anyone did mattered, that all the pain she had borne and caused was to no great purpose. The tears stood in her eyes once more, but she pushed those poison thoughts away. Those were the voices of exhaustion speaking. She had heard them before.

After several minutes, her hands were steady enough to hold the needle and thread. She stood before the silver mirror and mended the long cut on her head. It started an inch above her left eye and went well into the hairline. It would scar, but it was a straight cut. It would leave a pale line pointing into her dark hair. One among many, but the first to her face. She smiled at her image in the mirror.

"You're eroded away like a sandy hill in the constant wind, aren't you? Best to leave the vanity of your beauty behind, for this life will make a hag of you, if you live it long enough. You'll cease to mean anything, only the whispering remnants of your deeds echoing through the empty rooms of a castle you can no longer inhabit." Now the last, exhausted remnants of her energy spoke their discouraged words with her own lips. She met her own eyes in the mirror and forced all superfluous thought to a halt.

When the stitching was over, she cleaned herself of blood, only to take the clinging mud from the warlord's boots in her fingers and apply an artful amount of filth to her skin. She slipped into the shabbiest of Khalid's clothes, a rough pair of trousers and a stained tunic. The clothes hung on her, hiding her shape. She secreted all the weapons she could lay hands to on her person.

She went to the high, thin window, looking out at the gloom of city as it crouched against the ground like a giant, dead insect. It would be dawn soon, and with dawn, Haike would slip away. The one marvelous thing she'd ever had would dissappear, and she would be captured, tortured, killed. A vast ocean of regret flowed between her ribs, filling her body cavity with its chill and turgid waters.

But that would be the better of two choices, that he go. He would make it on his own. Such was the strength in him that he would find a way. What she truly feared was that he would come for her, his sense of duty trumping what she'd instructed him to do. Even as a boy, he was his own. He followed her way, but only up to the point that it conflicted with his own steel-solid will.

Valila stepped back from the window, looking at the corpse of young Khalid at her feet. This whole dangerous adventure seemed a foolish and unnecessary risk now. She couldn't...couldn't leave it undone, but she hated that part within herself that had been unable to bend, unable to keep her special gift safe.

Her special gift. Haike. The one person who could look into her eyes, encompassing all that she'd done, all she'd seen, and never blink. She had to live, had to find some way to get him away, whole and unmarked.

Within agony
life's sense is lost; purpose fades
faith insubstantial

Chasms of despair
exhaustion digs them below
success tastes like dust

If only for him
I must press ever onward
beyond the nothing

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Seeing another installment on Settled Dust was a real gift. Thank you. Very capivating. M

Anonymous said...

WILL IT BE VALILA OR HAIKE WHO SURVIVES IN THE END? OR BOTH? EACH NEW INSTALLMENT IS LEAVING THE READER IN SUSPENSE AND WAITING FOR THE NEXT CHAPTER TO SEE WHAT THE OUTCOME WILL BE. LOOKING FORWARD TO THE NEXT CHAPTER

SANDY

Patrick M. Tracy said...

Sandy,

Glad you were able to make it over. Look for the new segment. I just posted it.

Thanks for reading, folks!

Anonymous said...

Very exciting. I'm eagerly awaiting the outcome of this quest.
Bobby-T

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