"It's better..." she croaked, trying to rise between them.
They ignored the shabby perjury, the cordon of fait accompli closing in an arc as she was forced back down, Sachiin taking her head and shoulders into his lap until the stripe of silver in Edward's hand became a knifeblade and she cried out, scrambling from torpor into desperate rigor and kicking out. Her feet caught a hold on Edward's trousers and shoved him backward, surprising him with the strength that was left to her. He reached across and seized her left arm, using it to drag her toward him and secure her head in the crook of an elbow while he pinned her flailing legs with one of his own.
"Get off me, you... fucking sadistic mental case!" she snarled, still twisting in his grasp; his hold tightened until she conceded and lay stiffly, breathing hard and shying from the hand he laid against her cheek. It found the buried heat and brought his fingers to the broken premolar directly despite the clenching of her jaw, a measure she was compelled to give up as blood poured from her gums. Susan screwed her eyes closed. "Don't let him do it... not him, please... I don't trust him..." she sobbed. Sachiin glanced up at his brother as she lapsed into despond between them, tears pooling in the hand he slid beneath her cheek. Edward loosed his hold, settling her head on his thigh and stowing her hair behind her ear.
"Prends ton courage á deux mains." he told her. Blinking up at him slowly, she looked to Sachiin, who closed his hands around hers. Edward slid back her lip with the side of his thumb and in his free hand flipped the knife, swung the horn stock downward and struck the dead tooth loose. While she coughed out a cry he tore it free and Sachiin spat a wad of bark into his hand, watching the new blood well and flush the wound before applying his palliative chemistry, taking her in both arms and speaking again into her ear. The task discharged, Edward drew the face cloth from the pail and dropped the extracted tooth into the water.
Susan was grateful to be able to lie on her side in the darkness, carefully tonguing the smooth new vacancy between her teeth and wishing the scent of the needles padding her repose had proved more soporific. Beside her on his naked back lay Sachiin, arms strewn beneath his head and a rifle set between him and the dark legs of the painted horse, as indifferent as ever to exposure in his somnolence. Her restive gaze wandered across his softly glowing pallor until his arm slid out around her seemingly of its own volition; she shrugged it off and spread her sleeping bag across him, sighing as it sloughed away. The wind had dropped and settled stasis on the gorge, allowing her the sounds conveyed beneath its auspices; fluting south-bound trains of migrant birds, the tiny, squeaking-wood cries of bats hawking across the colonnade and the languid repeat of her companion's breathing. That he would never be conscious of the beauty he wore in repose was a notion that added to the mass that held sleep so steadfastly at bay.
Between her own slow breaths came a distant, concerted strike or clatter, strangely repetitious and insistent; she sighed, sat up and eased her feet into her boots. He handed her the rifle without opening his eyes, which she accepted and then abandoned by the door.
The zip tab beneath her chin chimed as she climbed down the outer steps, her hand against the cold wall of the hillside. Low clouds leant the night its sequestered nature and pallid reflet, loosing harbinger flakes that dissolved against her outline as they drifted earthward, under no apparent duress from gravity. At the bottom of the flight she sat down and pushed off the landing stone with both hands, onto the broken suggestion of a path that skirted the base of the pile toward what might once have been its kitchen gardens, the stretch of half-leveled slope upon which the alujha had stood to issue their complaint. Blocks of toppled parapet lay strewn across its width like pieces swept from an enormous chess board and stamped into the ground, casting little shadow.
Edward stood amongst them beside a great cache of windfall timber. He swung skyward then hurled down the head of an axe dragged from a store in the bowels of the ruin; the ancient implement sectioned the limbs with little aid from its dull edge, driven deeply into the wood with a force that shuddered through his daunting frame. His pullover hung from a waiting branch like the upper half of a form he had abandoned. The crack of the blows flew back at him from the wall then away into the encroaching forest, the trees standing as though they had climbed the slope to satisfy a morbid curiosity. Susan stood hoping for an acknowledgment, but he did not pause to look at her and she sat down on a cap stone in a hunch against the cold, her mood settling around her like the sleeping bag, imposing its dense black presence between her spine and lungs.
Within the fixed frame of her stare and its own mechanized trajectory, his shape suffered shade-like alterations so fluid and persistent that she was forced to blink them away before they became too disturbing. They led her to ponder what he battered so unceasingly when the wood began to blur; through his eyes, she saw so much lie down beneath the blade that she ceased to wonder at his dedication and began to make her own grim offerings, throwing the aborted shapes of spite and insufficiency under the steel. The snow did not melt on his shoulders as he worked, but lay in narrow drifts until it slid away along his back under its own weight. Susan could not bring herself to examine the disfeatured archives on his arms, her stare falling instead to the naked foot with which he pinned the branches and its narrow adjacency to the point where the blade cleaved them. That she minded its atrocious potential more than he did seemed a thing of inexplicit poignancy, referring again to their dispirited impasse until clarity urged her to her feet.
He had set down the heavy haft and stooped to toss the cut wood over the wall, where it cleared the parapet and clattered audibly on the floor of the yard. Her careful navigation of the slope toward him caused him finally to pause, albeit with an expression that should have halted the intrusion. Frowning to herself as she stepped over the branches, Susan encircled him with both arms, turning her head against him.
“We do love you, Kala'amātya.” she sighed. “Please don’t be so sad.”
He smelled of the night and green fir balsam and stood completely still, feeling so much like and yet unlike his brother that she suffered a moment of baffling agnosis, meeting reserve where Sachiin wore invitation, a desolate parity with the granite of the ruin and the snow that fell around them so that she might not have distinguished him from either.
“Let me go.” he said, almost in resignation.
“Make me.” she replied, frowning in the expectation that he might. “Thank you... for my tooth, and... everything.”
“Tout le plaisir est pour moi.” he assured her. Susan released him, but grasped the arm he offered as she stumbled backward over unseen timber. She stooped to pick up one of the lengths, shuffling a small way down the slope and wheeling her arm in a circle before letting the piece fly in the hope it would clear the parapet, which it did not, hitting the wall and bouncing back at them. He put out a hand and caught it before it could strike her, committing it to the yard himself and shaking his head faintly at the smile she turned to him. Her gaze followed him to the edge of the cut wood, where he began to sort the pieces too large to throw.
"Do you mind... being called Kala'amātya?"
"Not any more." he admitted. She was led toward her few coherent notions of Helaine de Marchand, imagining her voice as the analgesic agency that had cleansed the word of its pernicious connotations. She bowed her head and blew warmth against her hands.
"I am sorry, for calling you a sadist..."
Dragging another branch from the pile, he shrugged in a brief concession.
"Never apologize to one." The set of her mouth changed with her appreciation of the remark as he took up the axe again. The first log flew in two directions across the snow; Susan watched him halve another dozen lengths. “You look cold.” he added with his back to her, and she smiled at the unsubtle denotation; the crack and buffet of the wood proved so sapid that she was loath to leave it, but he looked to her and changed his grasp upon the weapon, and she shuffled off in the direction she had come.
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce