Wherein: Mithic Behaves Strangely; Insnar Behaves Strangely; Sillith Behaves Strangely
Lutto woke and stretched on the sacking. “I must go,” she said. She’d only dozed a short while, but she was surprised to find Mithic sitting with his back to her, looking into the dark. He’d been drunker than usual when they met in the barn, and she wondered what he was looking at.
“You’ll never do,” he said wistfully.
Lutto pulled her dress over her head and said, “What the hell are you talking about?”
“You’re not fine enough,” Mithic added sadly.
“Ha! Fineness is not something you can judge, sitting with your pants off in a barn with a girl half your age.”
Mithic turned and looked at her in confusion. His eyes seemed unfocused. He stared at her as if he didn’t know her. Lutto shivered and pulled on her boots. She tossed his pants to him. “Put on your pants.”
“Who are you?” asked Mithic, “Where am I?”
“I’m nobody,” snapped Lutto, standing and stamping her feet to shake the dirt from her dress, “and you’re nowhere.” She was irritated with him, but she didn’t really care what he said. His strange behavior was spooking her. “You have to leave,” she said. “Pa can’t find you in here.”
“Oh,” Mithic said, and he rose and put on his pants and shoes. She watched him from the doorway, only the faint white of his shirt visible.
“I can’t see,” he said, facing into the barn.
She strode into the barn, turned him around, and pushed him toward to the moonlight outside. She pointed him in the direction of his cottage and said, “That way.”
She went back into the barn and scattered the dirt that had been pressed down flat under the sacking, and shook out the sacking itself. She took the empty tankard under her arm and went into her own cottage as quietly as possible.
When she saw Mithic the next morning, she could hardly bear to raise her eyes and see if he was still in that strange state. But he sat at the table quietly and ate the breakfast she laid for him. When she did look at him, he gave her a smug smile and thanked her.
All day his questions, Who are you? Where am I? haunted her.
Paramon and Sillith were in the swamp, bent over one of Maynard’s books studying frog eggs, when Insnar crashed out of the woods and stopped short upon seeing them. Paramon stood, alarmed by the look on Insnar’s face. He stepped close to him and said with forced cheer, “Insnar, son, maybe you can tell us why a frog is born with a tail.”
The anguished look on the young man’s face did not change. He slowly, willfully took in Sillith, running his eyes over her curved back, the spread of hair looping down from her sides to touch the weeds at her hips while she scratched notes in the book she held. He swallowed.
Insnar’s hands clenched at his sides. He’d been in the mood to find something to kill, to break necks, crack huge branches against trees so as to hear the splinter and groan. He wanted to make a kind of death, blood oozing from the eyes or nose of some small creature, when he came upon Paramon and Sillith. Sillith’s bent body, the beautiful hair reaching down her back, sent him into a spasm, his whole body pulsed and he became aroused, waited for her to turn and see him, his desire to kill changing into something else, just as blind and demanding.
Paramon said to him, again, “Insnar, son, maybe you can tell us why a frog is born with a tail.”
Insnar dragged his eyes from Sillith, and saw the understanding in Paramon’s face, and part of him wanted to weep. But he didn’t want to be seen by Paramon just then. He felt a flash of red fury. He wanted to punch Paramon, pound his face, knock him down, snap his bones, make him disappear. He wanted Paramon gone, and he wanted to grab Sillith by the back of her head and jerk her towards him. He wanted to force her to bend over him.
Sillith finally turned, frowning, and looked up at him. Her small face, the large eyes, the lack of greeting, infuriated him. Why wouldn’t she see him?
Paramon said, “Some say we were all born with tails. Have you heard that?”
There was a moment of silence and then Insnar said thickly, “Isn’t that blaspheme?”
“No, no,” said Paramon. He took one step closer and clapped his hand on Insnar’s arm, forcing his gaze from Sillith. “It’s just talk, Insnar, and talk should be free, thinking should be free. We all think or say things that maybe we shouldn’t. But it’s human nature. Uncivilized urges. We have them, we do. But not acting on them,” Insnar looked, with shock, into Paramon’s face, “not acting upon them is what makes us noble men.”
Insnar stared at Paramon, frightened by the knowing talk, by the firm grasp on his shoulder, and he felt something crumble inside him, and he nodded with fright. He backed away from Paramon’s grasp, blushing, and turned, stumbled over a snarl of roots, and ran from them into the woods.
Sillith stood and looked at her father. “What just happened, Paramon?”
“Nothing,” Paramon smiled at her and said, “Boy just needs some fathering, that’s all.”
Insnar was surprised to look up and find Mithic Tallo hovering at the edge of his camp. Mithic held a jug in his hand and gestured at a log. “I’m looking for a place to sit and have a drink,” he said with false ease, “would this be the place?”
Insnar nodded slowly, sitting upright and watching the thin man settle himself on a log.
“It’s the middle of the day, and neither of us seem to have any chores or obligations,” Mithic said brightly, “so perhaps we should celebrate.” Without a word, Insnar reached behind him for a cup and held it out.
“I’m in the mood to talk about the history of revolution,” Mithic said, winking at Insnar, “Ever feel that way?”
Sillith is face down, arms splayed, over a shallow and quiet shelf of sand. Beneath her, like a series of lights, a series of sparks, a tiny school of fish flickers in the full sun, breaking light into their hundreds of backs, into their bright blue streaks, into their gills and fins and delicate, winglike tails. They flicker, strike the light out around them, draw it, release it. Sillith stares down at them, their light crackling inside her, deep within, to where the child forms; spine, eyes, fingers, toes.
It was the fall blues run, and the whole settlement was on the dunes, bent over cooking fires, drinking ale. Men hauled nets filled with the enormous fish, some caught with stick and line. There was a silence that prevailed. The men did not talk when they fished, and the women, concerned with food and children and the coming dark, spoke in low hushed voices, which were hurled over the dunes in the wind.
Sillith followed Paramon as he made his greetings, calling on each group at their cookfire, but then she wandered off, up shore, to be alone and look at the sea. She noticed a swimmer, at first mistaking him for a dolph fish until his arms rose from the water, white and long, and she knew it must be Liny Leggith, who was the only one who would swim in such cold water. As the dusk softened the light into blue hues, Sillith followed the swimmer up shore, out past the reach of the firelight, until he swam in a completely dark sea, and Sillith walked a completely dark shore.
Near the north curve of the island, Liny treaded water, staring in at the shore. Finally, he began to swim in, his face breaking the water and becoming clearer as he neared. When he rose from the surf, Sillith saw that he was naked. He hesitated, then flung himself down on the sand and said, “Could you hand me my things? It’s cold out here.” She turned and up on the dunes she found a neat pile of clothes. She brought them to him, and tried not look as he stood again and dressed himself, stealing glances from the corners of her eyes.
He asked, “Why did you follow me?”
Sillith, enormously stirred by his long legs, and long arms, the broad hands, his slenderness and strong swimmer’s chest, could not answer. Sillith hadn’t seen a man naked before, only the infants and small boys, and the sight of him upset her in unfathomable ways.
“I was trying to wear you out,” he said. “I was trying to be modest, but you kept on following.”
Sillith looked down, face burning, as if she had pursued him for this very immodesty. “I just. . .everyone was fishing and I saw you swimming, and I thought I’d. . .”
“Oh,” said Liny, “right, bluefish. I’d forgotten. I wondered what everyone was doing out there.” He pulled on his long pants and pulled the sack shirt over his head where it clung to his wet skin. He sat again, and she sat near him.
“You forgot about it?”
“Yes,” said Liny. “I don’t always know what goes on in the clearing.” He laughed and said, “Paramon tells me I should pay more attention.”
“He says you’re a very good student.”
Liny turned to her, surprised. “He says that?”
“Yes.” Sillith thought a moment and said, “He believes you’ve got an excellent mind. That’s what he told me.” She paused, looking away to the sea, and added, “I heard him talking to Tislar once. They said you could be a leader.”
Liny laughed. “That’s wishful thinking on their part. They know I’m no leader.”
He turned and looked at her, the direct, unveiled blue of his eyes surprising her, as it always had. “I didn’t even know the blues run was going on. Leaders would be concerned with what their people are doing, don’t you think?”
Sillith smiled. She looked at her brown dress and the stained apron covering her legs on the sand. After a minute, she asked, “Well, who do you suppose could be a leader?”
Liny looked at the sky, considering. “Certainly not Mithic, though he had the vision to find this place. Not Onan, though he is an excellent decision maker.” He ran his fingers through the sand, and Sillith watched his hands while he talked. She tried to look away but she couldn’t. She was mesmerized by the way they sought and pulled up mounds of sand, then let it sift back down. He continued, “Not Paramon, though he is the smartest. Not Hubter, though he makes sure everyone is fed. Elder is the oldest but only is interested in practical matters. My aunt Ulgo, actually, could be a leader. She’s smart, and she’s got a way with the others. She looks to the future, in all things. She does. Hub would never let her, though. ” He leaned back on his elbows, and the long stretch of his legs and chest and neck seemed to pulse with strength and youth.
Sillith stared at him, thinking of the way he’d talked, the way he listed all of them, knew them, their strengths or weaknesses, as one who loved them, and she felt a tremendous pull towards him, as if she must physically move closer to him. She leaned in toward him, feeling how strange it was, it looked, her upper body swaying over the sand.
He looked at her and raised his eyebrows. “Sillith? Is everything all right?”
She felt her heart beating streaks of red and blue dusk. She felt the night coming over them, her own desire pushing her, a hand at her back. She leaned further and pressed her lips against his cheek. He sat still, and closed his eyes.
Feeling a sea of wild emotion, Sillith swayed back and put her hands to her breast. “I feel so strange,” she said, finally.
When Liny spoke, he spoke hesitantly and looked out at the ocean. “There are forces in me that I myself don’t understand. There is nothing I want more than to return that kiss. But you are Paramon’s daughter. And you don’t know much about people, their, well, their feelings. I’ve seen you. I don’t even know that you understand much about, well. . .men.”
Sillith laughed breathlessly, dizzy with the way he spoke of her. She said, “What don’t I know about men? I have spent my life with Paramon and Maynard.”
“I’m not talking about fathers.” Liny turned and looked at her, flushed, the expression on his face full, heated. “Sillith, you’re beautiful. You don’t know this at all. You can’t know how. . . lovely. . . you are. I am your father’s student. I don’t know what is expected, you see. I. . .”
To Sillith, the sea seemed to pulse, as if her heart pulled the light from the dark, as if she alone stirred the crests that rolled all the way from the horizon. She couldn’t say this aloud, but she wanted to. She moved her hands to her head. “I’m sorry,” she shook her head, “I don’t know what came over me. Honestly, I feel so odd,” she said. Liny sat up and with one long arm he pulled her into him and held her tightly against his damp chest.
“Let’s just sit here,” he said, “and let the sea talk us calm.”
Sillith looked up at the sea water dripping from the dark hair at the nape of his neck, and murmured, “It is as though I will never be calm again, though,” and he squeezed her tighter to his chest, where she could hear his heart lashing inside him like a storm.