Amid the Green Corn: Part Four

by Cooper Young

“What a whore.”

“How do you mean?” Mercury Rising had hoped to get through this without interruption, and he had come so close to achieving it that he almost jumped when forced to fail.

“She offered to bed down with any man who could guess her name.”

“No, she offered to marry a man who knew her name. Think of what that would mean. Think of why we hid our names.” The boy stared at him blankly. “She was looking for someone, you tit.

“We all were back then,” he continued. “That was what gave Soulnames their power. Time and distance and hardship came between people so often that sometimes you’d run into someone you used to love and only know them because they knew your name. I didn’t know Simon by his face when we met up again after the bond, but  he knew me. What did I ask him? “What’s my name?” He told me, and from then on I never questioned it.

East was scared, we all were.  That’s the other side of the issue; if someone like Triumph Justly Warring, who, believe me, was even scarier twenty years ago, says to tell her her name or you’re dead, it takes about ten seconds to give her a good, hard look over and realize that it’s time to make peace with your god. Either you know or you don’t. So East says “How long do I have to guess?”

She says “Take your time.”

So while the rest of us are standing there, staring up into the barrels of about two score of Rilikan rifles and deciding what random female name was going to feel the best as the last word we ever got to speak, East decides to buy a little time. He asks her–I still can’t believe he said this–“We came out here to hang a man. Do you mind if we take care of that first? Because odds are no one here knows your name.”

She laughed and swung down off her horse. She wasn’t as short as she looked, not by a mile. Even now, old as she is, she hasn’t shrunk much. She was built like an Amazon back then, and all that thick, silver hair of hers was still blue-black as a winter morning two hours before dawn. “And what if one man does?” she asked. “Is it worth sending this fellow to hell ten minutes before you get there?”

“Yes ma’am.” She snorted, said it seemed a bit silly, and agreed. Just crossed her arms and settled in to watch.

Three men dragged Simon upright. He was covered in mud from kneeling on the edge of the field, just caked in it up to his eyes, and he let gravity fight them for him. He was too tired to do it himself. Didn’t even open his eyes. Triumph asked if he’d been tried in any fashion; East said he hadn’t been and wouldn’t live to be. A couple of the others started rigging a rope over a branch at the edge of the clearing. Triumph asked what he’d done.

East didn’t answer that one so wittily. Nobody answered it, and she looked around, smirking, waiting for someone to say. Nobody looked at her. She said “What, did he cuckold every man of you?”

So I spoke up and said “No ma’am, only the men with wives.” Triumph and all the Rilikan started laughing. East on Horseback and most of the others shot me a look that would’ve made the sun blush. I didn’t care. If they were going to hang my little brother they were at least going to admit to why.

I thought about charging at the men holding him then. I don’t know why, but up until that point it had never really entered my head to do anything to stop any of them. Other than talk, of course. I’d talked until they were about to string me up with him just to shut me up, but I never thought to help him plan an escape. I’d never thought to fight them. Maybe it was because I believed back then in doing things for the reason Fire in the Field does them now: to keep the clan together at all costs. Part of me thought they were right to hang him after all the hurt he’d caused.

I have to say, though, that even if I knew then what I know now, that the story ends with me telling this to a bunch of boys who ought to be playing warriors instead of being them, I don’t think I’d be any more alright with them killing Simon. You can judge for yourselves, I guess.

East asked to borrow Triumph’s horse, and that much she said no to. Really, she said she wouldn’t have the blood of a man she didn’t know on her hands or her horse. We’d been hunting on foot, knowing he couldn’t outrun us, so they grabbed me and whichever young guy was closest, shoved us over, and told us each to grab a leg.

Simon opened his eyes then, just as I was about to refuse. He looked at me, saw me fighting down the panic, shook his head, and smiled. Full-on smiled. I thought he’d gone nuts, but damn me if he didn’t have things in order. “Madam,” he says to Triumph Justly Warring, “may I guess first?”

She smirked again. “You think you know it?”

“That’s not the question. If I forgot every word I’d ever known but one, that one would be your name.”

Triumph cocked her head to one side, and I could see she half-believed him and didn’t want to. “Then what’s the question?”

“If I whisper that name in your ear, must you still kill them all? They won’t know your name, and as for this whole debacle…well, we all make mistakes.”


A Note: I’m sure those of you who know where I am and what I’m doing at the moment are surprised I bothered with this, but I feel I used up my vacation time by taking a sick day last week when I had some sort of Screaming Horror Death Food Poisoning. So, tada! I made it happen.

Also, I hope those of you who celebrate it had a merry Chirstmas, and those of you who don’t had an exceptionally lovely Tuesday.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three