Wherein: The Settlement Grieves; Mithic Has a Dream
Sillith could not believe she was walking down the hill with the Leggith boys, on what was a beautifully clear morning after the storm. She could hardly remember what had brought her there. She was shocked to wake beside them in an earthen hole. Now she felt close to the Leggith boys, as though they all knew each other perfectly, completely. As they walked, they pointed out broken trees, and shimmering swatches of water down where it should have been land. When they saw the clearing, they could see it was flooded, and they began to run, running down the hill and straight into the cold water, at their ankles, their knees, their waists, thrashing through it. The flooded clearing was still, the water flat and calm, reflecting the trees and cottages as if it had always been there. Sillith splashed to her cottage, and her father slowly walked out to the porch, as if he was afraid of what he might find. When he saw her, he gasped. He reached down and grabbed her, pulled her up, squeezed her so hard she felt her bones would crack. The Leggith boys moved on, past them, to the Leggith’s cottage, where she heard a whoop of relief.
“Tislar saved us,” she told her father, “I was walking in my sleep. I was saved twice, once by the Leggith boys, and then all of three of us by Tislar,”
Paramon held her, speechless, his mouth slack with relief, and he rubbed a thumb lovingly down her temple. Tears welled up in his eyes as he told her, “We couldn’t do the same for him.”
They heard a scream, and there was Liny, splashing into the water, headed across the settlement. He screamed, “I’ll kill him! I’ll kill him!” It took his brother, his cousins, and his uncle to restrain him. They wrestled him back into the Leggith house where his screams were muffled but ongoing.
Sillith and Paramon held each other and Paramon whispered quickly the details of the night to her, while Sillith wept and groaned, her own heart breaking four times, once for her own sorrow, once for Liny’s, once for Insnar’s, and once for Tislar himself, who was beloved, betrayed, and lost.
A Sea of Wild Emotion
They say it tore the community apart. The storm and the violence. Specifically, they say, the two boys, Insnar and Liny, abandoned the clearing, and afterwards were only seen fishing or passing, silent, on the paths. They say that Sillith did not speak for many months after the storm, until Paramon promised her that neither Hostt Bouck or Bearnt would set foot in their cottage again.
Similarly, Wen Bouck would not speak to her husband, and he and Bearnt spent all their time together, drunk and complaining bitterly of the cowards on the island. Wen brought Annak to live with her after Annak’s shed flooded and half-collapsed in the storm, and as the cool autumn months progressed, the strangeness of the relationships became more familiar. Hostt slept in Bearnt’s cottage. The Shiths’ youngest, a toddler, had wandered out and drowned in the storm’s aftermath, making that sad morning further incomprehensible. It seemed, too, as if the violence invoked by Hostt created the chaos that let the child wander out into death. No one said it, but they held Hostt and Bearnt responsible for two deaths.
Time was marked by the sound of sawing and hammering, as sheds, boats, and parts of cottages were rebuilt. There was thirst among them, and they had to dig for new wells, since everything on the island had drunk the oceanic salt. The stores they’d set aside in the icehouse were ruined, washed out or drenched, and the ice itself was a last lump of icy white, listing in a great puddle of salt water.
The men, at the insistence of Maynard, met one night, an impromptu gathering which excluded Hostt and Bearnt. Paramon, Onan, Maynard, Elder, and Winder gathered in silence in Maynard’s cottage. The settlers did not know how to address the attack on Tislar. They all felt attacked by Hostt Bouck’s knife. They all felt wounded and raw. The community was divided. They had been so careful to avoid setting unfair rules that the governance of the island had been left as an understood promise, because who among them, all of them fleeing something, would have broken the trust?
A few moments after the men had gathered, Ulgo entered with Fearn, Wen, Annak and Ethete. The women stood, defiantly, at the edge of the room. Svan followed, slipping in a moment later.
When Hubter asked, “Ulgo, what is it?”
Ulgo replied said, “We have a say in this.”
“We’re having a meeting.”
“And we’ve come to it.”
Elder Shith said, “Women don’t attend.”
Ulgo, chin up, said, “Elder, that may have been how it was back in the lowland, but things are different now. Tislar may be dead. Something has to be done about this and all of us are involved. Not just you six men, but all of us, all of our children. Paramon always called this an experiment, and experiments, as I have come to understand, need new elements to make them experimental.” The high red of her face was mirrored by all the women with her, but they stood beside her, unmoving. It was the first time grieving Fearn had left her children, left her cottage, since their youngest had been found floating against the twisted trunk of a pine tree. She stared at her husband as if to challenge him to make her leave.
Maynard said quietly, “Ethete. I don’t want you to hear any harsh words here.”
Ethete, nervous and flustered, looked at Ulgo and said, “Maynard, what’s ugly is what has happened before all of our eyes in that clearing. Nothing in this room could be more shocking than that.” Her voice was unsteady.
Annak said, “We’ve all lost something. We all want to find a way to make things better.”
“Women have never before attended a meeting.” Elder said, his face bunched in worry.
Svan said, “You told me netting was never made of silk before, but you’ve said yourself the one I made worked beautifully.”
Elder looked at her, and surprising everyone, said, “That’s a fair point.” He gave her a small, approving nod.
“Ulgo is right about the nature of experiments,” said Paramon, standing. He began to move around the room, pulling out a bench, a chair, gesturing until the women sat. As they seated themselves, Paramon said, “since there’s not one of us impartial to the event in discussion, we’ll take a vote on things as they come up. Unanimous vote takes it, everyone votes.” He looked around at the men, who stared at him in dismay, and Paramon Wharsh shrugged and said, “Give me a good reason why they shouldn’t have a say in what happens to their settlement, the settlement of their children, and their homes.”
The door opened and Mithic stood there. He said, “What’s this?”
“We’re having a meeting,” Paramon said with a sigh.
“With women?” Mithic sneered, stepping in and taking a chair.
Paramon looked at him pointedly, and said, “They came of their own accord.”
“Women don’t have the capacity for logic,” Mithic said.
“You weren’t invited either, for that very reason,” Onan muttered.
Paramon, irritated, slammed his palm on the table. “Was it logical that we never made a single rule of governance for all of us to live by? Was it logic that led Hostt to attack Tislar? What logic have we set for our standard? Don’t forget, Mithic, that my wife is dead, due to my superior logic, my belief that this experiment was the best choice for my family. She had her doubts, and maybe if I’d listened better to her, maybe if we’d had the women help us with planning from the beginning, had that many more voices and senses of reason, maybe things would not be the way they are right now.” His voice rose over them all and hung in the air above them. All of the settlers sat under his rage, his first rage among them, and they shifted uncomfortably.
Svan said, “You are free to leave, though, Mithic.” He glared at her but she only smiled thinly and looked away.
“You needed a leader,” sniffed Mithic, “and I offered, and look where it’s gotten us.”
Hubter rose without a word, grabbed Mithic by the elbow, pushed him to the door and shoved him out, “As you care for no one but yourself, you don’t belong at this meeting.” He slammed the door and strode across the room to his chair.
Maynard looked at Svan as if to intercede, but was stopped by the approving smile she was giving Hubter. She noticed Maynard’s concern and lifted her hand to stay him. She said, “Thank you, Hubter,” and turned to the others, “There are men, and I’m married to one, who are not worthy of our communal efforts. But this must be true of all communities, no? We aren’t the first community to find ourselves with lesser men in the midst, so what do we do?”
They say, in the end, they were not able to answer the question. They saw that they had failed because there was no accountability other than mutual trust. They simply had not imagined that one of them would harm another. Not after so many years. It was laughable, their trust, their optimism, and yet it was hard for them to relinquish.
No one spoke to Hostt Bouck about the incident, but no one spoke to Hostt about anything else, either. Bearnt continued to take care of the livestock and slaughtering for the settlement, but Hostt Bouck, as one of the best fishermen on the island, only caught fish for himself and Bearnt thereafter.
Mithic began to have a recurring dream. The dream took place in Mithic’s university office. Wizener Smallac stepped through the door holding a map. The second he set foot in Mithic’s office, he became his most animated self, overjoyed to be in Mithic’s presence, talking about what he loved, which was maps, charts, the idea of the sea, and Mithic himself. In the dream, Smallac unrolled the map, more like a bundle of wet clothes then a map. The clothes had been stitched together in a kind of map, but they were rags, and the stitches wouldn’t hold, and every side that Mithic tried to hold up came off in his hand. He looked up at Smallac and back at the map, because the water-worn, disintegrating clothing of the map is the clothing that Smallac wore in the office, new and whole. Mithic shouted at Smallac then, demanding, where did you get this? Smallac sat before him, dismayed, repeating, Isn’t this what you wanted me to do?
Mithic awoke, sweating and frightened, reminded again of what he’d done. He remembered the months of waiting for Smallac to come back from the first exploration, months Mithic spent in doubt of his own abilities. He was certain that the boy would come back and tell him he was right. Other days, he was just as certain that he would come back and tell him he’d been terribly wrong. Mithic checked his maps and his sources again and again, trying to prove to himself that the shoal he intuited must have created an island. He grew thin waiting.
The evening Wizener Smallac came back, holding a bundle of scrolls in one hand, he wore a thick beard stinking of adventure, having become what he was, a man with insight and courage enough to be the next major explorer. He’d found the island! He described it to Mithic in such detail, with such lust for it, that Mithic felt swept away, felt himself in the presence of something bigger and better than he’d ever be, and just as he was stunned by Wizener and loved him, he also hated him. He let Wizener stash the maps in his office, knowing he would have to stop the boy from outsmarting, outgrowing, outliving him. The island that Smallac had seen with his own eyes and Mithic had not, did not, regardless, belong to Wizener Smallac. It belonged to Mithic Tallo, and this was a knowledge so clear and certain inside of him that it felt divinely inspired.
Years later, with the entire settlement against him, Mithic mournfully wondered if Svan was right, and he had, indeed, been cursed before he ever left the city.