Chapter Twenty Five

Chapter Twenty Five

Getting to Mt. Yenin wasn’t really that difficult. They were all heading inside, so she was able to make it to the Twin Peaks without being seen pretty easily. It was the hike around Mt. Yenin that was going to take too much time. She had picked her way around boulders and it had taken her about two hours. The sun was already down and it was going to get dark and cold very quickly.

She could see right above her a fairly large cliff. She thought that it might be flatter on top of it if she could get up there. It would be a steep climb, but if it really was easier walking above it, it could shave off some time. Anyway, she didn’t relish a tedious and slow hike around the bulk of the mountain.

It’s lucky I don’t have anything to carry, she thought. Just after that her stomach growled and she had to exercise a lot of self-restraint to keep from eating snow, she was so thirsty. Probably there was nothing wrong with the snow on the top, which had likely just fallen, but all her life she’d been taught to not eat snow, and she wasn’t going to start now.

By the time she reached the top, it was almost completely dark. So much for getting home by dinner time. I hope Petto isn’t too worried. Without light she couldn’t really see the details of the ground, but it did seem flatter than the terrain lower down. She found it quiet smooth as she walked forward.

She kept to the inside, away from the ledge, and it was there that she felt the foliage. He hand touched grasses of the kind that grew in the prairie around the colony. She hadn’t heard of any brush growing on the mountain. Gingerly she ran her hand over it. She followed it up to about her chest, where it ended, right up against the snowy rock, but it didn’t seem right. She pushed on the grass, and it gave way.

As her hand hit the empty air beyond what must have been some kind of shield or wall, she lost her balance entirely. The ground had become quite slanted, tilting inward, which was fine for keeping away from the edge of the cliff, but it was also very rocky, as if the snow had been swept away, and so there was nothing to dig her feet into. Caught so suddenly by the breakthrough of the grasses, she fell rather painfully and slid on her side through the brush screen.

She screamed as she rolled and fell down a bumpy, steep rock wall. She scrabbled at the rock face as she fell, but it did nothing. She landed on a packed snow floor, on her back with her head raised just enough to see the fire pit she skidded into, pushing kindling and old ashes into the lap of the girl about to light the fire.

She had long blonde hair and she stared at Nora with wide eyes.

Another girl lunged forward and pulled the first one away by the shoulder. At the same time, Nora scrambled to her feet, feeling all the places she’d be bruised later on. Between that and the fact that most of the words running through her head were ones she would never say aloud in front of her sister, she wasn’t thinking about diplomacy or her role on the Council. She was just sore and confused. “WHO are YOU?”

No one spoke. Nora looked more closely at the people clustered against the far wall of the cave. There were three adults and four children. The oldest three looked about her own age and one was younger, maybe eleven or twelve. It was she who answered Nora’s urgent question.

“Tanga.” She was skinny and had cropped mousy brown hair.

“Hush.” The girl who had pulled the blonde girl away from Nora said. She advanced toward Nora, chin in the air. “Go back where you come from.”

Nora self-consciously brushed off her clothes. “Who are you?” she repeated.

“Trish.” She said, short and harsh.

“Trish,” Nora repeated. Trish had black hair tied back. She had a narrow face and quick-moving eyes. Nora was deeply reminded of Sheen. “I’m Nora.” She held her hand back.

Trish slapped it away. “Go back! You didn’t take this mountain. It’s ours! You have yours!”

Nora held up her hands defensively. “Hey, I don’t want the mountain! I don’t even know who you are.”

Trish leapt at her and shoved her to the ground. Instantly, one of the two men seized her and pulled her away from Nora, who wondered how many times she would end up on the ground.

The man asked Trish something in another language. Nora became even more lost as to who she might have stumbled upon.

After a brief but heated discussion in which she had clearly not gotten her way, Trish turned back to Nora. “Do you need anything?” she spat.

“Answers. I didn’t come here on purpose, but I’m part of the Council in the colony, and I can’t ignore people living in the mountain.”

Trish laughed. “You’re in charge?”

“There was no one else,” Nora said defensively.

Now Trish was curious. “Why?”

“Tell me who you are first.”

Trish looked around at the others. The man she’d spoken to—who had the same narrow face—nodded and waved her forward. The other adults and children watched with big eyes.

“Is he your father?” Nora asked.

“Uncle. You killed my father.”

“No…I didn’t.”

“Your people did.”

“No we didn’t. Not the colony.”

Trish talked furiously to the man in the strange language again. He only had a single-word answer for her. With a sigh, Trish pulled Nora roughly by the arm to sit on the ground by the wall opposite of the one where the others still stood. They watched them for a minute and then dispersed, continuing the chores they’d been in the middle of when Nora had crashed into the fire pit. The youngest girl came and crouched next to Nora. She held out her hand, timidly. “Tanga.”

Nora shook her hand, gently.

“Jerwesty, Onie,” Trish said. The girl retreated a few feet. Trish glared at her a bit and then apparently decided to let her be. She took a deep breath and focused her gaze onto Nora. “So. We came before you.”

“Where?”

“No interruptions!”

“Ok, sorry.”

“Ok, sorry,” Trish mocked. “We came because you hated us. Didn’t like to live with us. We found these mountains. I was just a little child. I had parents. We lived in the snow, where your colony is. And you decided you wanted the land.”

“Wait, how many of you were there?”

“I don’t know. Maybe fifty. But you didn’t care. Many of us were children. You knew you wanted the land. So you put us in a building and smashed our homes. Most were snow, but some had wood in them. You tried to take us away. We wouldn’t let you. So you sent us a visitor.”

“A visitor?”

“A man. He was sick. Not that they told us that. Probably thought that we wouldn’t understand. They tried to teach us their language before they left us with the visitor. I was the only one who learned.”

“How old were you?”

“About five. How old were you when you came here?”

“Eleven. Who was the visitor?”

“I don’t know. A sick man. I forgot his name. He had brown skin. The men who brought him here called him an elf, but not in a nice way.”

“No, they wouldn’t,” Nora said.

“Well, he got us sick.”

“All of you?”

“Not me or my uncle. Or Mapi.”

Nora decided that it was not a good time to ask who Mapi was. “What happened?”

“Everyone died.”

Nora was shocked, although she felt that she should have seen it coming. “Everyone died?”

“Except us. They came back to get the bodies and we were still there. So they let us go.”

“Why? I thought they wanted you off.”

“They did. They figured out that I could understand them and they told us to stay on the mountain, out of sight, and they would let us. They tested us and we weren’t sick. Uncle and Mapi and I had never had it and the others fought it off. So they let us free to this mountain. They said you wouldn’t use it. I don’t think they were doing what they were told. But they were sick of us, and you were coming soon.” Done with her story, her mood shifted. “Now you know. And I still don’t want you here. We paid our price in death for this land.

“They never told us any of that!” Nora wasn’t sure whether she was angry at herself or Trish or both. “It was probably the army. They mess everything up.”

“You don’t know it was their idea. It might have been your leaders. Or maybe your parents even know.”

“It was the army,” Nora said with certainty, temper rising, “they came and took all the adults away about a month ago to be soldiers.”

Trish looked at her sharply. “All the adults?”

“I told you I was on the Council. Anyone fifteen to seventeen is a grown up now,” Nora said, glad she had some hardship of her own to share.

“My parents died when I was five,” Trish said flatly.

Nora was a little unsure what to say. Fortunately Trish had plenty of questions.

“But your leadership isn’t going very well, is it?”

“Well, we’re working on it,” was Nora’s immediate answer, “where did you get that idea?”

“The group of people who all walked over the mountain a few days ago and are living over on the other range gave me an idea. Having trouble holding it together?”

“A bit,” Nora admitted. She felt like telling Trish about just how much her life currently sucked, and then decided that Sheen and Zena would simultaneously kill her if she dumped the secrets of how dysfunctional the Council was to a complete stranger. “I’d like for you to come meet the rest of the Council.”

“We are not part of your colony and we do not want to be.”

“I’m not asking you to move in, but I’ll tell them about you anyway, so you might come talk to them.”

“Are you sure you didn’t come here on purpose?”

“Positive.”

“So why did you fall through the roof?”

“It’s dark outside. I was walking over the mountain.”

“Why?”

Nora was struck with a sudden idea. “I was on a diplomatic mission. Talking to the group that left.”

“Trying to get them to come back.”

“Not exactly. Trying to make sure the relations stay good. We were thinking of maybe setting up a trading system.”

“Don’t you get everything from those people who come all the time?”

“The supply cart comes once a month, but lately it’s only food, nothing else. The Kenazians picked a spot with some resources we could use.”

Trish studied her face, probably deciding if she was lying or not. Nora felt a little guilty, but justified it by promising that she’d offer to actually take on negotiations once she got back to the colony. “Are there only the seven of you here?”

“Yes. There’s Uncle and me. We’re the leaders. Kyri and Hesh are the parents of Shayish, the one you ran into,” he tone turned slightly accusatory at this, “and Onie here. Mapi’s an orphan.” She pointed at the tall boy doing something with reed plants of the kind that Nora had crashed through.

“You all live in this cave?”

“We didn’t use to. You changed all that.”

“Right. I should go to get home. Are you willing to meet the Council?”

Trish looked around at the other members of her family. Most of them were watching her and Nora out of the corner of their eyes. “Yes. But,” she said, emphasizing the but, “Only because you would tell them of us. You could still agree to keep our secret.”

Nora shook her head. “If there’s one thing the leaving has taught us, it’s that cooperation is the best thing.”

“Tell me more about this leaving.”

“The Kenazians were the smallest area. Their religion is very strict and different from the rest of us, especially one which has hated them for years. We were trying to encourage tolerance, but the leader of the Kenazians wasn’t always on board. Then he apparently decided that it was hopeless and took his group off to live by themselves.”

“I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

“If he had talked about it with us, there wouldn’t be, but he didn’t and now we don’t really know what to do about it, or what to tell the rest of the colony.”

“So you’re saying you want me to come talk about things between us so that we all know what’s going on.”

“Yeah!” Nora was thrilled she got it, “so we’re all on the same page.”

“I don’t see anything wrong with it,” Trish said cautiously, “but we aren’t friends.”

“How does allies sound?”

“I don’t really know what it means,” she said sheepishly.

“Not enemies.”

“Maybe. We’ll see how nice the rest of you are.”

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