Chapter 3: Two Stones With One Bird
He remembered when the chaos first began. He didn’t understand why it had mattered at the time though. To know that violence had erupted in another place that he’d never heard of, let alone seen, was to worry over the weather from nine days ago.
He didn’t understand the domino effect.
Though life had been harsh, it seemed functional. They’d had little and less. His parents had not been well off, his days were less academic and more ardor as he worked to maintain their house where his parents were often absent in their pursuit of necessities.
So when he’d heard that a city had fallen, that a great lord had been killed, that the city had plunged itself into chaos…he didn’t understand.
He didn’t understand that, below the skin of existence, an infection had been boiling. That ire and anger were grouping like little pinpricks – piercing over and over again. He didn’t understand that a million little sores can become something serious. That eventually the limb begins to fester and rot. That sometimes, to save the patient, you have to cut off the arm or the leg.
Sometimes, to save the patient, you have to kill it.
Where turmoil grew, people had lamented the carnage. So many had wondered how it had all happened. What had the lords done to finally bring about their own destruction? What sins were they being punished for? What tarnish lurked beneath their crowns of gold and silver?
He remembered being marched away from a burning city that choked his lungs with the acrid smell of burning flesh and garbage. Figures cloaked and veiled on strange creatures that both galloped and slithered, and yet did neither one completely. The sound of whips pushing them forward mingled with the sounds of crying – some from lamentation of a city lost, some from the pain of the lash. The strange, guttural sound from the creatures that sounded like a wet, crackling inhale had been merged with a low-tuned whistle and several dozen rocks tumbling together in an oblong cylinder of nails and wooden blocks.
It was a moment that haunted his dreams even now.
Rus paced at the front of the room that housed those in Gy’s cete while they sat cross-legged on the floor, parchment before them, quills and inkwells set at the top right of the paper.
A sharp scream broke the metronomic rhythm of Rus’s feet. Gy looked up to see that Rus stood before a young girl, his foot upon her hand.
“What is right?” Rus said calmly.
Gy could hear the sound of her tears tapping on the floor like a soft rain.
“What is left…” the girl said in labored breaths.
Gy craned his neck to try to see, fearful of moving too much…too far. He could barely make out the girl pulling her hand close to her when Rus finally stepped away.
She’d been writing with her right hand.
“We are…” Rus said.
“Clay!” the room said as one.
“We must be…”
“Stand,” Rus said to the girl who did as commanded, her sore hand hanging at her side in a proper stance.
Rus walked away toward a small, wooden desk at the far wall and plucked a single feather from a jar that held many. He offered it to the girl and bid her toss it up and behind her.
Gy watched the feather rise slightly before it shifted and turned sideways. It floated and spiraled. Everyone watched. Gy felt certain that no one was breathing. When it landed before his parchment, he began to shake.
“Stand,” Rus said.
Gy placed his quill to the side and stood, straining hard to make his eyes meet Rus’s.
“When we fail ourselves…”
“We fail each other,” Gy said.
“When we fail each other…”
“We fail ourselves.”
Rus pulled his knife free of its little leather sheath as he beckoned Gy to approach.
In his small bed that was little more than a single, thin blanket set upon the stone floor, Gy tried to sleep that night. The sound of breathing and snoring from the others played like a sad symphony.
He closed his eyes and tried to sleep. He tried not to think about it, not to worry about it.
He rolled over and felt the weight shift and touch his arm. The cold dead flesh of Rioh’s finger tied to a string.
A punishment for one. A warning for all.