Miriem wanted rest. Not sleep. Rest.
It wasn't the heat, she'd been through droughts before. She opened her eyes. Koorus' friend was hiding behind one of the trees holding her wash. He should be kept away from her sheets. She'd spent all morning walking to the stream. It was too much work. She couldn't think what, but it was too much work. Her eyes closed again. Why drought? Why this punishment? She didn't have to open her eyes to see the tower. It seemed as though there had been nothing but droughts and pestilence since the spike drove itself into the town. No. Don't start that. Too tired. Think about Koorus. Good, strong Koorus. He was yelling now. Maybe a new game. Something about storms. Miriem felt herself being pulled back. She tried to resist, tried to concentrate on Koorus without noticing his voice. Koorus' voice won out.
"Big storm coming."
She opened her eyes. He was pointing back past the house. Miriem didn't look over her shoulder as she raced to the line. Her wash had to be in before the storm. She ripped clothes from the cord, throwing them into the basket. Koorus was there helping her. She wondered irritably why Nabil had not deigned to help, then shut him out so he wouldn't slow her down. When the last of the clothes were in the basket she let herself look at the storm.
Miriem had only seen one storm like that before. She turned, searching for the tower. It was there, half hidden by trees, quietly standing guard over the villagers. It couldn't have anything to do with the hatred piling up on the shoulders of the mountains. She pivoted again. No. Not the tower. The clouds had been black then. These were just normal, pure, white clouds. Thinking too much. Better just get the clothes in. She started for the door with Koorus carrying the far side of the basket. She didn't let herself worry about Nabil.
"Koorus, a fire, would you?" Miriem wheezed as they set the basket on the porch. He didn't bother to answer, just disappeared through the door. She followed, feeling the rising wind chasing her inside.
Miriem paused as she closed the door. Something in her relished the safety of the dark room. The spark caught. Flames reached for her.
Koorus turned to her gasp.
Miriem pulled back on the terror. The fire wasn't going to hurt her. She smiled. "Nnothing, Koorus, just nerves. The storm." She proved it by crossing the room to her chair by the fire, snapping up the socks she was working on for Koorus' father. She didn't look at Koorus as she let her fingers fall into the work. Soon, however, she didn't need to think about it any more. The fire came back. It burned away the safety of the room, but that wasn't right. The fire was good. She looked past her knees to where her son was poking at it with a stick.
He was his father. Miriem loved to watch his face as he stared into the fire, enraptured by the light. His hair glowed red in the light. He had spent most of the winter there, poking with one stick or another, always searching for that perfect form. The shape from which perfect fire would naturally emerge. Failing that, he sat and whittled chips into the fire. Stick after stick would become less and less until it was finally tossed into the flames. She'd felt this same panic then. Damn it. Why did she feel these things. Why wasn't she happy.
Miriem tried to concentrate on the needles. It helped. She began to forget the fire. Nuri would be back soon. He would make everything alright. His strength and lightness could drive away the fire that was forcing its fingers through the room. Miriem didn't notice the storm's twilight through the windows. She was concentrating on the socks.
"Mother? Mother?" Koorus had moved somehow. He was standing next to her now. Miriem tried to remember when she'd fallen asleep. "Nabil." She didn't know why she'd mumbled her darker son's name.
"Do you want me to get 'im?" Koorus' face showed quite clearly that he didn't relish the task.
Miriem wanted to say no. Somehow Nabil was responsible for this. If he came here she wouldn't be able to hold on. "Yes, thank-you, Koorus. He can't be left out in this storm." She couldn't tell if Koorus felt the love she tried to put into the thank-you. "I love you, Koorus." She needed him to know it before he went out in the storm.
Koorus squeezed her shoulder then strode to the door. He seemed to brace himself against the storm for a second before throwing the door open. Miriem felt the wind rush in. It forced her deeper into her chair, pinning her there while something rode the gusts into the room. She tried to yell to Koorus, but there wasn't enough time. She couldn't see it. It was part of the storm shadows, slipping through the room's darkness. Koorus closed the door. Miriem slumped forward in the chair, the pressure had died with the wind. Koorus was brave. Her son of fire was exposed to those demons now. Miriem couldn't help but believe he was their equal.
The fire had invaded all the shadows in the room save one. What would happen when Koorus dragged Nabil back here? Could he live in this clawing light? He was probably safer outside. Sarah was probably with him. Miriem saw them sitting at the window, in the last shadow. They'd sat that way all winter. Sometimes they murmerred to each other, but mostly they sat and stared out the window. It was the farthest from the fire, coldest in the winter. Miriem looked out it now. Just off centre in the frame, the tower caught light from somewhere beyond the storm to gleam at the small woman sitting in her chair. Miriem pulled her eyes back to the socks.
The needles were soft beside the fire. Logs protesting their destruction. From the other side of the room, she heard Sarah get up. She chimed good-bye and slipped out the door. Now Miriem was alone with her dark child. The fire shrank back into itself. The clicking of the needles became too much. She stopped, looking up to where he sat. He didn't look at her. A pen and book were in his hand. She watched as he filled a page. Every page for the woman he held in his arms. Miriem knew Sarah had never seen them.
The men had been helping repair a collapsed roof in the village. Miriem couldn't stop. She'd needed to know. She'd read the stories he'd written.
He rose from the window seat. Obscuring the tower, he became the tower. "Concieved in darkness, I walk in light, mother." He grinned and began walking toward her. True to his word, the window's light made a halo around his silouhette. "What was my father?" His voice didn't rise. As judgement he towered over her, the man she loved come to kill her. Miriem found herself on the floor. There was a burning branch from the fire in her hand. She swung it at his knees. The fire died as it passed through him. She looked up. He smiled raising his fist. She swung with the stick again, trying to erase the smile. It worked. He disappeared.
Some time later the stick was pried from her hand. She opened her eyes. Nabil's face crowded in on her. Miriem screamed. Nabil flinched but didn't draw away. His hands pulled her off the floor, sitting her into her chair. Miriem saw that Sarah was there. Her blond hair looked ragged and unkempt from the wind. Her face broadcast her concern, a strange, motherly look on one so young. Koorus stood at the door, the wind whipping his clothes around him.
"Koorus, close the door." She stopped. She hadn't meant to snap at him, but it had brought him back to himself.
"There's no rain, mother." Nabil said it with his back to Miriem. She could see they were all dry. Nabil wasn't one to comment on the weather.
"So, Bookworm, afraid of carrying a little water." Koorus had become outright hostile during the past few weeks. Verbally razing his younger brother whenever he found the chance. Somehow this comment seemed to embarass the older brother the moment he spoke it.
Nabil didn't turn to his brother. "Mother, I don't want you to go outside today." His voice had lapsed into its habitual whisper, but she heard it.
"What is it? Is it leaving?" She suddenly realized both Nabil and Sarah were blocking her view of the tower.
"No, it's not leaving. The storm's just a bit much." Miriem let herself sink into the chair. As long as it didn't leave everything would be fine. As if to prove the truth of Nabil's words the door burst open behind Koorus.
Nuri walked in, and without bothering to close the door, bounded over to his wife. He ignored the others in the room. Nuri didn't understand his small wife. He couldn't understand why she'd chosen him out of all the men in the village, or how she'd produced two such different children from the same seed, or the dark moods she lapsed into. He did understand that she thought about the tower. He'd seen her, sitting at the window in the middle of the night, staring at it. Nuri didn't understand why, but he knew she cared about it. Nuri didn't understand why Miriem was acting strangely. He did understand that he knew something she would care about now. Miriem had accepted his gifts for years without a glint of thanks. Somehow Nuri felt this would make a difference to her.
"Miriem. There's another tower now, dear. It just came over the mountains pulling the storm with it." Miriem sat quietly, not looking at anything. Nuri began to feel something wrong, but he wouldn't let Miriem miss something she could care about. "It plowed down another path through the forest, just like the first one, but it's white instead of black. I followed it all the way to the edge of town then came to get you."
The lips he loved pulled back into a smile. Something was wrong with her eyes, as if they'd forgotten the trick. Still, her voice didn't have the tense strain it had borne for years. "Another tower. Get my shawl, would you Nuri." Nuri practically jumped. Maybe this would cure her. He grabbed a shawl and rushed back to her. She tied the cloth around her hair purposefully, refusing to look at Nabil or Sarah. They stood quietly a few steps away. She rose and placed her hand in his to lead him out the door. As they were leaving, though, she couldn't shut out the sound of Nabil's whispered "I loved you." The wind and a sudden burst of thunder cut off something that sounded like Sarah crying.
Miriem raised her eyes to find the towers. They stood on the far side of town. The lightning was licking the new spire. Miriem bowed her head and impelled her husband forward.
Koorus didn't move as his parents left. He watched Nabil move to the window seat, watched him pull out his book and inkbox. Koorus watched as he returned to the girl's side. They moved toward the door, Nabil placing himself between the girl and Koorus. Koorus watched. The door closed behind them. Koorus moved to the window. He let his eyes trail across the girl's figure,
He'd studied that body through the entire winter, watching her as she sat in his brother's arms. Watched her waist expand and contract to the rhythm of his knife strokes. It wasn't fair. Nabil didn't deserve a body like that. Koorus' attempt to correct that had failed.
He'd hatched the plan staring into the fire. Grabbing her had been no problem. He'd known her way home from school. She'd struggled then, as if she didn't want him, but he'd been stronger. He'd dragged her to the woods north of the village, knowing Nabil would search for her south of the village first. He should have gagged her. She'd screamed. Koorus had been too engrossed to hear his brother coming. The first thing he'd felt was the ground hitting him. He hadn't felt the blow.
He had watched them walk away, leaving him paralysed on the forest floor. Then, as now, he had been unable to prevent himself from examining the curves of her figure as she walked, enfolded by his brother's arm. He could not have her though, his brother would never let him have her, would never again let him feel those curves beneath him.
Koorus turned to the fire. He picked up a stick and pulled out his knife. Chips flew into the flames, feeding the beast, letting his tension turn to smoke. Koorus' smoke was whipped away from the chimney before it had a chance to pollute the clouds hanging over the villagers. They stood in the town's street at the edge of the deserted sector. It had been abandoned when the first tower appeared. People simply could not live comfortably with the black stone hovering above them.
Nuri and Miriem had lived in one of those now-abandoned houses. Nuri had built their new house outside the town at Miriem's insistence. A number of the others had done likewise, rejecting the convenience for a feeling none of them could explain. Now, however, many were blessing those decisions. The white tower had crushed much of the deserted area as it approached its counterpart. It hovered a few metres from the other building, its lightning lacing the clouds above while shocks made the villagers tremble. The black tower remained impassive.
Miriem hugged Nuri's big arms around her. She bit her lip as the second tower's lightning expanded, became a continuous flare in the twilight.
Nabil placed the book on her lap. Sarah caressed the cover with the tips of her fingers, then twisted away from him. She turned back with her own book. She handed it to him. He held it as glass, setting it on his knees. He turned to the last page first and began reading. His hand found hers as the last flare of lightning flashed into a column of energy. He didn't seem to notice.
Sarah felt him squeeze her hand. She didn't know whether it was to urge her forward or to thank her. She pressed back the cover of his book. She read slowly, savouring each sentance. As she moved her hand to turn the first page another explosive silence rocked the forest. Fingers tightened.
Miriem ran. Nuri didn't remember how she'd escaped. He was rooted as she ran. He couldn't hear her, but he had the impression that she was screaming. She ran straight at the black tower. She shrank as she approached it. She was only as tall as the tower's floating base.
The black stream of power didn't seem to notice his wife's destruction. Nuri didn't move. He stared at the crumpled heap at the bottom of the black tower. He didn't see the two streams of power bending together, arching tighter and tighter until power passed directly between the spikes. He didn't see the mixed powers solidify, didn't notice the newly formed stone arch joining the towers.
The villagers disappeared in the new-found silence, leaving the big man to his grief. He continued staring as the wind blew his wife's ashes away.
Please link, don't copy.
This work is Copyright (c) Mike Fletcher 1993