Black Sun – The Days We Lost
February 22, 2011 § 1 Comment
Tsarn son of Koth and her mate Stell was born healthy. He was an unremarkable child, typically sallow of skin and squalling. His mother and father were unaccustomed to how loud infants can be To their credit, they learned to cope, Stell often rising in the night to bring the child to his mother’s breast.
Both of their families were long dwellers, generations spent living in the valley between the iron mountains and the crack in the ground where the old war had rent the land apart. Others of their people had long since left, but they remained, managing to scratch life out of soil that had never been accustomed to anything growing in it. Sand, fused glass, even chunks of volcanic debris littered the thin layer of soil that owed its very existence to year upon year of their persistence. Still, they had managed to make it fertile enough to support them, and while their lives were hard and short, spent squatting in the seething ochre light that baked the ground they were content enough. They were conquerors, forcing life out of dust and grime and burning sun.
Water came infrequently. Koth told her son that the water was brought to them, and would likely have explained more had he cared, but he did not. His was a world of catching small insects under relentless waves of light and heat, then a world of carving trenches for planting hour after hour.
He was eight years when it changed. He did not actually know this. Years meant little to long dwellers. The valley had only one season, days never grew longer nor shorter, it did not rain. It was never truly night, even when the seething ochre mass settled below the horizon the many moons of the world threw much of the light down upon them, the largest often the color of a cherry-hot ember over half the sky. It seethed, itself orbited by many objects themselves all shimmering. Some of the objects were made by those that brought water, Koth told her son. She would point out objects in the indigo sky, her dark brown hand dotted by white semicircles and crescents of puckered skin from a life spent clawing at the uncooperative soil, and Tsarn tried to make himself seem interested for her sake.
He was not, and she knew he was not, but he tried anyway, and the effort was enough to encourage her to keep pointing and talking. He liked her voice. She had spoken to him when she first found herself carrying him inside, and the sound of her talking had become a part of him. It was in his bones, that low rumble of a voice from a throat nearly ruined by sand and grit. Even Stell laughed at times that his mate’s voice was so much deeper than his own, but Stell chewed fungus, and that caused voices to pitch upwards. Koth had never acquired a taste for the nasty purple caps that grew by some stagnant ponds and under rocks near the edges of the valley. She knew Stell’s family had at least a few fungus growers, and struggled to keep the boy away from them.
Tsarn had no interest in the purple flesh of the fungus, however. He didn’t seek to escape because he had no idea there was anything to escape from. Stell had seen life out of the valley, had served a term as a Returner under the Tislath. Once, while laying dazed in the darkest part of the day where only the largest moon shed bloody light upon them, chewing a thumb-sized chunk of stalk and staring up at the sky Stell told the boy that he’d spent time on a glittering yellow dot in the sky, and had pointed at it.
Tsarn had been entirely too busy trying to lure a segmented eight limbed creature with a mass of seventeen eyes out from under their home. He’d intended to trap it in a sleeve of wax and pin it to his bed. If he had listened, instead of growing ever more frustrated with the small creature, he might have spent more years trying to make the ground foster seedlings. Cutting shallow divots in it and dumping what little water they could spare on the ground once it was turned over.
The thing that was not an insect would not come out, and Tsarn grew ever more irritated with it. Stell kept chewing his rubbery stalk and staring up at the sky and pointing.
“They just packed us in and gave us what we needed to know to hold the ground. Just put it right in here.” He touched his forehead, scratching at an old and never fully healed scab that he would make worse as he grew more detached. It was already raw and jagged around the edge where his dirty fingernail was picking. “Bedamned if I can remember how to work one now, though. Not like I have much call for it. Where they sent us was colors, like the leaves but bigger, and everywhere. It’s all so big, you know, so much bigger than you can see from here.”
Tsarn hated it when Stell talked with his mouth full of purple mushroom and his thoughts emptied by it. He didn’t hate Stell. The man had owned up to his responsibilities and raised him when Koth presented him with the child, and had even helped teach him how to work the cracked, dessicated soil with the red quartz sand mixed with it, how to carve down to richer dirt, how to use the water and where. Even with his scars and his tendency to forget to eat when eating fungus Stell was far larger and stronger than either of them, and did the work that wasn’t done by the lumpy, tusked snorl that served as burden and as food when water grew too scarce.
This wasn’t often, as the valley itself provided some protection from the daily heat and water always seemed to come when it was needed, filling the large stony cisterns where the desert met the cliff edges. The smell of the snorl and their deep, moaning snorts and wheezes were associated to him with the water because without two of them yoked to a skiff Tsarn could never have brought it back. Often Stell would go with him and would talk with the men or women from other families about things Tsarn neither knew nor cared about.
Then Tsarn’s eighth year came, and with it started the changes.
He was always hungry. There was never enough food and his belly crawled along itself, always aching. The heat of the day, the chill in his very bones under the reflected red light of the great moon, nothing could distract him from it. He found himself eating roots he pulled up with his hands from the base of the valley walls. Once he shared one of these roots with one of the snorls and it bleated and groaned and was off grazing entirely for days. They didn’t seem to bother Tsarn, though.
He grew uncomfortable around Koth and Stell. They seemed smaller, and Koth’s plain and apparent devotion to him became tangled up in dreams and hopes and thoughts he didn’t understand about the future, thoughts he didn’t know why he knew. Stell, for his part, was a cracked pot filled with memories of limbs burning and screams and Tsarn was almost relieved when the man ate mushrooms because it made him easier to be around, stripped away the horrible current normally ever under every word he said. Seeing his own limbs grow darker from constant sunlight, an almost golden sheen to his skin, Tsarn tried to hide it by constantly being dirty. He did not want to change.
He could not hide the glow from Koth, however. He could hide his growing understanding of what she thought and felt, could hide his face under caked on grime, but could not hide his eyes. They went from a slightly sallow humor and a dark dirty brown, not much different from her own, to a slightly emerald iris that began to glow faintly like the pools the violet fungus seemed happiest to grow near. It clearly terrified her, and confused her, and she talked more about the water bringers and how he had to stay inside. Stell, clearly not understanding her fear, just said that the boy needed to bring them the water on days he couldn’t.
So it was that Tsarn was leading the reeking, rank and wheezing snorls up the hill to the edge of the valley, where the sunlight strikes the sand so hard it seethes, to find the cisterns and fill several leathery bags with precious water. So it was that he arrived earlier than he ever had, with the ochre sun high in the sky and the faint white-blue sun crowning it. and saw the water bearer.
Had he known what was to happen next, he might have run. He would not have escaped.