Wherein: The Settlers Are Faced With Their Mistakes; Liny Bids Insnar Goodbye
When Sillith stopped by to drop off some baking she’d done for Ethete, Ethete thanked her, watching her carefully, and as she began to leave, Ethete said, “Wait, just a moment, Sillith.”
Sillith turned and waited.
“I wanted to talk to you about your young man.”
“My young man!” Sillith laughed. “Do you mean to say you’re calling Liny Leggith my young man! How formal!”
“He is your young man, isn’t he?” Ethete smiled at her. “He is courting you, isn’t he?”
“Courting me? I’d say I’ve been courting him more likely.”
“Sillith!” Ethete blushed and her mouth drew tight. “I’ve never heard you be so unladylike.”
“I like Liny Leggith more than I’ve ever liked just about anyone. I mean, not including you or Maynard or Paramon, and I don’t mind saying so. He’s got so many ideas about things. Wasn’t it like that when you and Maynard started out? I know Maynard must have seemed a fine fellow.”
Ethete stared at Sillith, taken aback. She wiped her hands on her apron and then crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, Sillith, now that you mention it, I don’t know as Maynard and I talked that much. I mean, we talked at social engagements, but he wasn’t, as you can imagine, all that interested in social engagements, and he certainly didn’t talk about his work. It wasn’t, well, it wasn’t proper.”
Sillith cocked her head at Ethete. “Then how did you know you liked each other?”
“Well,” Ethete blushed again. “We just knew.”
“However it happened, it turned out well for you both.” Sillith uncharacteristically kissed Ethete’s damp cheek and turned to go.
Ethete put her hand to her cheek, touched, and said, “But Sillith. Will you be married?”
Sillith turned and looked at her quizzically. “Under what law would we marry? Under what religion? Winder and Rular were married by Elder, but wasn’t that just for ceremony? I don’t know that we have to marry. I’m not going to leave Paramon, and I don’t know as Liny would ever want to live in his own proper house. He says he’s leaving, anyhow, Ethete. What would be the point of marrying if he’s only to leave?”
Ethete was scarlet in the face. “But Sillith!”
“We are children of this island, Ethete. Doesn’t that give us license?”
“License to what?”
Sillith laughed and said with amusement, “Don’t worry, Ethete. There’s nothing to worry about. We must enjoy happiness when it comes to us.” She jumped off the last step and strolled out into the clearing, her long curls bouncing on her back.
“Well,” Ethete whispered to herself, watching Sillith go, “well. Now we’ve gone and done it for sure.”
The boys arrived in the camp for the meeting, carrying all of the supplies they’d gathered or filched, as Insnar had instructed them and as Lup and May had bullied them into over the weeks. They had sacks and pitch and long splinters for fires. There was excitement among them, and fear of what they were to do. This fear was silenced by the heat of finally doing something, anything at all, that was different from what had come before.
May lurked at the edges of camp, increasingly volatile and unpredictable, as if the excitement they all felt broke a wall in him that had barely been held in restraint anyhow. By mid-morning, he’d snapped at Klek, kicked Locar, and cursed them all for stupidity. They were annoyed with him but they all felt it, the boredom cracking loose and unleashing something wild in each of them. It was a dangerous feeling that none of them entirely disliked.
After they’d gathered and the goods had been counted, Insnar warned them that the settlers might pay a visit, since May had fought openly with Maynard and Paramon.
“What do you mean? You never told us what happened.” Locar said.
May told the story briefly, of rummaging for supplies at their house, Paramon and Maynard trying to stop him. “Fools,” he said.
When the boys heard, they were all dismayed.
“This is what you meant, then? When you said Paramon had showed his hand? He was only protecting father!” Locar was furious.
Torthin said, “Now we’re really in for it.”
The twins exchanged looks. Realization came over them all. The settlers knew, then. The boys were not just boys anymore. They were outsiders, dangerous. They could not go back, they were involved, and their parents knew it.
Lup shouted at May, “Arse! They’ll be all over us.”
Insnar was calm. He said, “No, Lup, he’s done us a favor. We want them to get a whiff of our power, and it sounds like May did that well. Now we’ll need to get these supplies hidden away for their visit.”
When they heard the footsteps of the founders of the island approaching them shortly afterward, Insnar merely grinned at the boys and said, “Calm and deliberate, boys.” He nodded for them to move. In silence, they shoved their goods into the lean-tos around camp and prepared to face their fathers.
The approaching men were nervous, though none knew exactly why. They could not admit that it was not just what their sons might be doing that they were afraid of, but the sons themselves. They were afraid of acknowledging that something sweet was over, and a darker phase of settlement life had begun.
When the fathers of the settlement entered the clearing, there was silence. No one spoke as the men stepped into the sandy clearing and stood in line to face the boys, who pretended to lounge in a circle, uncertain and looking to Insnar for instruction.
Hubter broke the silence by barking at Insnar, “Is this your doing?”
Insnar said, “Is what my doing?” If he was hurt by his uncle’s obvious distaste for him, his lean face did not show it. His lips held a half-smile.
Hubter didn’t answer. The men stood and looked around at the boy’s camp which was littered with bones, fish gut twine and the rumpled evidence that they’d been sleeping under nothing but blankets on hard ground.
The twins and Torthin were rashy with bug bites all over their necks and arms, scratched open and bleeding in spots. These three stood sullenly looking at the ground.
Onan took a step toward his twins and exclaimed, “Boys, look at the bites all over you! Good sight your mother can’t see you. She would have a fit. Isn’t there something we could do for you?” He lowered his voice, saying, “We miss you at home.”
May snorted loudly. Noner and Lert didn’t look up. They kept their eyes on the ground. Noner picked nervously at his trouser leg.
Onan, distressed, turned and addressed the rest of group. “Boys, your gestures of anger or. . .your desire for change is clear. We’ve come to. . .hear you out. Perhaps we should have come sooner. But this island was founded on a desire for open speech and shared equality, and,” Onan cleared his throat, “as you’ve come into manhood, we are here to listen to your grievances. To give you audience.”
Paramon watched the boys warily.
The silence was again broken by Hubter, who said, “Klek, you and Lup get back home and help me out with the fishing. Summer isn’t going to be the season forever, and your mother is nigh up to here with all of this. . .”
He stopped because Insnar was laughing. Insnar shook his head, raised his hands to the sky in a mock plea for reason, and said, “We don’t care, you see, if you want to come offer us ‘audience.’ We don’t care about chores, or about stocking up your larders for the winter. We’re not working for you anymore. Your rule over us is finished, you see?” He stood straight and spread his arms in a gesture that was both grand and hard, for it encircled only the boys and not the men, “We don’t need you. Though we’ll agree to the notion of equality and say that each man has a right to do as he pleases.”
The boys watched Insnar, and taking their cue from him, they deadened their faces and looked at the men this way. Even the Shith twins, who had been freckled imps their whole lives, when they looked up, wore a matching set of expressionless, blue eyes.
Maynard said, “May, I don’t know what you’ve got your brother into, but I’m sure we could work out our differences. The whole settlement is family to us, not just our own. . .”
May lifted his head and snickered an eerie noise, saying, “Locar came on his own.”
Paramon stepped out into the circle, saying, “Insnar, Lup, boys, what could be your grievances against us, that you would desire to break from us?” They stood on the dappled shadows of the leaves, which trembled slightly above their heads in the afternoon breeze.
Insnar said, “We are already broken from you. We are not you. We are not settlers. We won’t tolerate any newcomers to our island, nor will we allow the ones that have come to stay. There is a long history of revolt in the world, and we are part of that history. Insurrection? Are you familiar with the term? Rebellion? Uprising? Call it what you will. We are the natives of this island. We are our own settlement, now. ”
“Your own settlement?” Maynard’s voice was disbelieving.
“A long history?” Paramon stepped forward and addressed Insnar personally. “Insurrection? This is Mithic’s talk.” He turned to Onan and Maynard, gesturing with frustration, “Mithic’s talk!” He turned back to the boys, his slender fingers spread wide in a plea, “Insnar, Mithic speaks eloquently, but he lacks vision. If you’ve studied these violent revolts, you know, in all of those instances, many people died for their cause. There was often deadly, bloody violence. Are you prepared for this? Umar and his men will not be forgiving. Please, come with us and let’s talk this over as men. I don’t know what your plan is, but I beg you to abandon it. We will work together.”
Elder, who had maintained a glowering silence burst out, “You’re nothing but a pack of stupid boys. You don’t know enough to piss on a skeeter if it bites you. What a bunch of stupid, foolhardy. . .where did you get such notions! When I was a boy all I wanted to do was help my father, and here you are, good for nothing. . .”
Insnar pointed in Paramon’s direction. “You insult our teacher.”
Paramon said sternly, “This is not my teaching. I didn’t teach you to turn on those who love you. I never taught you that. Division among us is the worst thing right now! Yes, we’ve made mistakes, but we believe in the nature of the experiment, and in that hope, we might find that Umar and his people are good for the island. You need him. You, of all of us, need them. We are hoping that expansion of the populace.” He faltered there because Insnar was shaking his head, no, no, no.
Insnar said, “We learned our lesson well, Paramon. Experiments are the rule. We’ve built our own experiment. We’ve learned what is needed and what is not. If you don’t mind, we’re finished talking, and this is our camp you’re standing in.”
Liny left with little warning. He said goodbye to Paramon, to Maynard. He ate a last meal with Hubter and Ulgo, but did not tell them that it was the last. He passed Torthin in the woods and asked him to tell Insnar he was looking for him.
That afternoon, Liny was surprised to find Insnar alone, without any boys, waiting for him in the cove. Insnar rose when he saw Liny coming, his body tall and thin and hard under his blond hair.
Insnar spoke immediately, “I’ve come to extract a promise from you.”
“What?” Liny paused on the path, a few feet from his brother.
“We know you’re leaving. And I’m sure the settlers don’t know enough to ask this, so I’ve come to ask it on behalf of the boys.”
“You aren’t a settler yourself?” Liny asked this with a small smile, his head cocked.
Insnar colored. Postures he took with the boys and the men did not feel as easy with Liny. “No. I don’t consider myself to be. We’re natives now that Umar’s here. We’re going to protect what is ours.”
“You’re not a native, you moved here. Hell, Sillith and the younguns are the only natives here and even that. . .”
“I didn’t come to debate philosophy with you.”
“No,” said Liny, “you’re here for extraction.”
Insnar flushed again, proud of his brother’s quick wit, but equally angry that Liny was teasing him. None of the other boys was as smart as Liny. He remembered that Liny was really leaving. Leaving him!
“I want a promise.”
“You will keep our vow of secrecy. That you won’t, like our father did, tell anyone about the island.”
“Pa sent us Tislar.”
“Umar, too, perhaps,” Insnar snapped.
Liny burst out laughing. “Surely you don’t believe that.”
Insnar was flustered, but he remembered who he had become, the leader of boys, and he took a breath. “I want you to promise.”
“I don’t know.” Insnar felt fury building in him. Liny could never say yes. Could never just give you one simple thing. Liny continued, “What if I found an island of beautiful ladies who were desperate for a new place to live? Or what if I’m in a bind and need to send for help?”
“You refuse, then? Your refuse your brother this small thing.”
“Not a refusal, no. But a promise with exceptions. Be fair.”
Insnar could barely even see his brother’s face for the red fury that exploded in his breast. He leapt the few feet to Liny and had his hands around his brother’s throat in an instant. He shook him, choked him, satisfied by the bulging, glazed look that emerged in those normally serene eyes. He could hear his own voice, screaming, “Stop mocking me! Stop mocking me!” A gurgle escaped Liny’s throat and Insnar saw, with horror, that he could kill his brother. He shoved Liny to the ground and leapt past him, running into the swamp.