Amid the Green Corn: Part Fourteen
by V Rose Dahrke
Shick. Shick. Shick.
“I’m not asking what you’d like. I’m telling you what’s going to happen. Is that clear?” The man pursed his lips, but nodded. “I understand your desire for vengeance. I’d venture I feel it more deeply than you.”
“Of course, sir. I never meant…”
“And neither of us can hold a candle to what my mother feels. If I were the Men of March, I’d be grateful that she’s decided to express her grief this way. The farm is a long way from here. She’ll have time to calm down.”
Hunts by Night’s sister snorted. “She’ll have time to wind herself back up, you mean.” Heads nodded around the circle of people gathered inside the home of the Vondergast family. Seven daughters. One daughter-in-law. One remaining son. The three men Triumph Justly Warring referred to as her generals– Eyes to the North, Third Watch, and Knotted Words.
“There is going to be a war, then,” said Third Watch.
“Probably. It wasn’t discussed.”
“And what exactly was?”
“What I told you. She wants to take him back to the farm so he’ll be with Max. She wants me to go with her, no one else. We leave as soon as she finishes certain preparations; I wasn’t told what. That was literally it.”
“Why can’t we come? I always wanted to see the farm.” He tried to silence Sweeter Spring with a glare. “It’s not fair. He was our brother too. You can’t just take him away from us like this.”
“It’s not my decision.”
“Because you’re a push-over! You’re…”
“Do you think I like this? I…”
He swallowed the rest of his sentence as Triumph Justly Warring stepped through the door. He and the generals stood, and Knotted Words offered to take the large bundle of bleached felt she carried. She shook her head with unnecessary violence, her neck muscles missing the weight of her hair. Sometime during her vigil she’d taken a razor to her scalp.
The room was silent as she approached the pot of boiling water that hung over the central fire. Beside the pit she laid the package down and unfolded the white cloth, revealing a pile of still smoking bones. Lumps of charred meat still clung to them in places. Out of respect, they endured the overpowering smell of burnt human flesh and watched rapt as Triumph slid the pieces one by one into the water.
Shick. Shick. Shick.
“You look relieved,” she said to her son when she had finished.
“I wasn’t sure how you intended to transport him.”
“Brother or not, riding that far in the company of a rotting corpse would have been too much for you.” He looked away. “It’s not something to feel guilty about. Putrefaction is an awful thing to watch. This way is clean. Fire is clean. Water is clean. Bones are enough.
“I take it that you think I’m doing wrong,” she continued, addressing the generals. “You won’t say it because you can’t bring yourselves to say a mother shouldn’t bury her son, but you feel frustrated. You think I’m quitting. You girls feel abandoned and excluded. Don’t look at me like I’m psychic. I can hear you out there. These walls are wool for godsakes.” A wave of visible embarrassment swept around the circle.
Shick. Shick. Shhick.
“The only person I’ve yet to hear from on the matter is you.”
At the very back of the room, Mercy Speaking Softly shook his head. He stopped sharpening the knife she had dulled in the hours prior, tested it against his thumb, and then resumed his strokes against the whetstone. “I have nothing to say.”
“When I first came to this clan I often disagreed with your orders. I was never once correct. Sometimes your plans have gone wrong, but I’ve never been able to say ‘if we’d only done this, things would’ve worked’. You know by instinct what should be done, and any problems that arise out of your plans are problems that couldn’t possibly have been predicted. So when you ask me what –after twenty years of being beaten on the head by fate with your inherent correctness–I have to say against you, my answer is ‘nothing’.”
The assembled crowd, none of whom dared to speak, watched his wife stare at him for several long moments. “There’s an armory,” she said at last, speaking to them again, “buried under the old farm house. It was a subterranean missile silo in the wars pre-Bond, and then during the event itself the local government used the facility to stockpile arms they never used. That’s where your grenades came from, and that’s where the things that’ll end this war will come from. Things,” she added, directing a hard look at Sweeter Spring, “which only practiced hands should handle. I had intended to explain that once I was done with this.” She nodded toward the pot. “Do you all feel better now?”
Shick. Shick. Shhhick.
“What are we to do in the meantime?” asked Third Watch, still unsatisfied.
“You obey your king as he’s obeyed me. Learning how should keep you more than busy.”