A Shandorian Journey, Part Seven

The moon must have risen while he was talking to the Queen, because its light slipped through the tent’s door-flap, picking out the sleepers around him in a pale silver glow. It also glinted on a figure that hadn’t been there before, a figure crouched at the foot of his bedroll, staring straight at him, perfectly still.

Tam started, and was about to shout, but the figure moved faster than he could draw breath, and had a hand over his mouth before he made a sound. He recognized Hashta’s face in the moonlight just as a voice in his head said, “Shh, it’s me.”

He shoved Hashta’s hand away. “What did you want to scare me like that for?” he whispered, and the hiss of his voice was loud, and one of the warriors turned over in his sleep.

Hashta backed off a pace, drums thumping in an offended sort of way. “I wish to speak only to you. Not to these others. I have news.”

“So do I.” Tam didn’t like mind-speaking to someone who was right there. It was awkward just staring at a person and thinking. He stood and pulled on his jacket and boots, and slipped out of the tent. Hashta followed, silently.

Outside, the light of the near-full moon made it easy to see the entire camp surrounding them, and the mountain-peaks looming above. Tam led Hashta off to the edge of camp, away from where the scouts were stationed. “Well?” he asked, turning to face Hashta. When they were eye to eye like this, and not one standing atop a mountain looking down at the other, Tam was a few fingers’-breadths taller. “Did you talk to the Land?”

Hashta nodded. “It has no love for the foreigners. They are not right, and they wound the Land. They blast holes, and build permanent structures.”

“I’ve seen that,” Tam said. “But can you tell, for sure and certain, if what they’re doing with that mine is making poisons?”

“Their presence defiles the Land,” Hashta said. “And yes, poison seeps from their buildings into the water, into the earth. The stones themselves cry out.”

Tam frowned. “Then we really will have to close down their operation. But that’ll be messy, since they’re here with the blessing of the clan chief.”

“He is no man of honor,” Hashta said, scowling back in the direction of the camp.

“Well, maybe not,” Tam said, “but he did sign a contract with the foreigners, and we don’t want to make trouble with Germhacht.”

At that, Hashta looked blank. “Why not? They have made trouble for the Land. If they come on our soil, we will drive them off. As we always do with foreigners.”

Tam didn’t like the way this conversation was headed. “No! We don’t always do. We had plenty of wars in the old days, but now we send ambassadors and suchlike. Besides, it’s the Queen’s business to sort what we’re going to do next. I told her what’s what here, and she and the Amryn can decide.”

Hashta’s drums beat with an ever-increasing intensity. “Am I not the Amryn, as well? And are you not the King?”

“Not yet, not publicly, no.”

“The Land knows us.” Hashta’s eyes glinted in the moonlight. “The Land knows me, and hears my voice, and I will not leave it to the depredations of evil foreigners. Not while I live and protect it.” He nodded firmly, turned, and dashed off, bounding up the mountainside through scrub-brush and tumbled rocks.

Tam groaned. This was becoming a pattern. “Hashta, wait!”

This time, Hashta didn’t even turn. “No. Don’t follow me.”

His figure was rapidly diminishing as he leaped away. He was headed round the side of the mountain, toward the mine. He was going to do something stupid. Tam just knew it. He cursed under his breath, and dashed off after Hashta.

It was hard to follow his Amryn, up this steep pathless slope, and impossible to keep up with him. Tam was winded before he’d gone a few dozen paces, and even the bright moonlight didn’t keep him from catching his foot on unsteady bits of rock. Luckily he didn’t precisely have to keep up, because he knew where Hashta was going. When he found a bit of goat-path he took that instead, since it led in the right direction. Hashta was already out of sight around a stony, shelf-like outcrop. Tam puffed his way up to the outcrop and stood there a moment, hands on his knees, catching his breath.

From here he could see the Bruhman mine, below and to the right. Only one of the buildings had a light inside, some clerk staying up late with his important papers, maybe. All the rest was still and quiet. Tam glanced around and couldn’t see Hashta anywhere. But the sound of him, the drums pounding wild like something out of the oldest stories, rose suddenly strong and fierce all around, permeating the stones themselves with a deep-throated roar. Tam sat down, suddenly dizzy. The sound was making him shake.

No, he realized, looking down on the little huts and the mine entrance, it wasn’t just him that was shaking, and the roar wasn’t just in his mind. The earth rumbled around him and a bit of stone, dislodged from the outcrop, went clattering down into the valley below. It wasn’t the only one. The mountainside above the mine cracked and splintered. Trees shivered and fell, uprooted. The Germhacht buildings were tossing now, like ships in a storm. A man with a lantern ran out of one, and fell to the ground. His lantern went out.

The roar increased. A massive slide of earth and stones came rumbling down from the mountain’s peak, sending rolling dust up to block the moon. The mine was directly in its path. The Color Finders camp, on the other side of the mountain’s arm, would be safe enough, but all the miners and company men were going to be buried. Tam’s outcrop, too, was in danger of being caught by the slide. He looked up the mountain, and saw dust rising there, too.

“Hashta!” he screamed, with his voice and with his mind. “What are you doing? Hashta!”

It was difficult to distinguish Hashta’s mind-voice, now, from the exultant roar all around. “I told you not to follow,” he thought he heard Hashta say, and then he couldn’t hear anything for a time, with mind or with ears, because the rockslide was around him. He crouched down and covered his head with his hands, and every moment he expected to be crushed. But even though he was terrified, at the same time he felt a strange exhilaration. It was like being on fire, but not burning up. It was like putting your head out the window of a train car as you skimmed past lakes and waterfalls. He had never been flying with Doctor Blackfeather, but he thought it must feel a little like this. He didn’t want to feel it, because he knew the landslide was doing awful things, but the bright roar was so strong around him that he couldn’t help himself.

When it was finally quiet, he uncovered his head, and looked around at a landscape, much changed in the moonlight. Dust was still settling, but already he could tell that the Bruhman company buildings were gone. Bits of wreckage stuck out here and there—a twisted metal beam, part of a wheelbarrow, a cracked wooden door. Tam could feel, on the other side of the mountain, the people in Color Finders waking, stirring, coming out of their tents to see what damage the earthquake had caused. He could feel the deep concern rising in the Healer’s usually calm notes, feel Tava’s sudden panic as she dashed wildly about.

What he couldn’t feel was any sign of life from the men buried in the slide. Since they were foreigners, he wouldn’t know if some of them were hanging on, waiting to be rescued. He couldn’t listen and find them. But he had to do something, had to try.

The Healer could Speak. “There’s been a rockslide!” Tam shouted at him. “I’m safe, but the mine is buried. Gather the clan, quick, so we can dig for survivors!”

The Healer sent back a quick, worried affirmative, and Tam felt the people of the clan start to move. Tam himself slid carefully off the side of the outcrop, and made his way on all fours across the precarious scree.

“Don’t go out there,” Hashta’s voice said, in his mind. “It’s still unstable, and I may not be able to protect you again.”

Tam looked up, and saw a tiny figure silhouetted against the moonlight at the very peak of the mountain, above the origin of the slide. “You did this!” he screamed at Hashta, and he didn’t care if he was shouting with mind or lungs. “Why? If you wanted to collapse the mine, you could at least have given them some warning. They’re dead, because of you.”

Hashta’s flutes trilled a careless string of notes. “Did you feel them die?”

“No, but they’re dead, all the same. They’re people, too, even if they’re not my people.”

“The Land doesn’t feel them. They weren’t of the Land, so their deaths make no mark here. They mean nothing. It will take time for the poison to disperse, but it will. The Land will heal, and be clean again.”

Tam turned away from the moonlit peak, and the Amryn there, and kept crawling toward the rubble. “Go away. Unless you want to help shift any of this rubble. And I don’t think I would trust you to do that. Just go away.”

Hashta sounded hurt. “I kept you safe. I kept the clan safe. Even those of them who have forsaken the ways of honor. I would never do anything to harm my King, in any way.”

“Well, you have! And if you can’t figure out how, you’re dimmer even than any foreigner I’ve even met. Go away!”

Hashta’s flutes quavered. “We’ll speak again, Tam Gardner.”

Tam just gritted his teeth. “Go!”

The drums faded into the distance as lantern-light came around the side of the mountain, and Tam reached the broken door and began to dig with his hands.

One thought on “A Shandorian Journey, Part Seven

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *