Methven - Day Fifteen - Part Six
Pith's stash is potent stuff. I frankly don't remember a thing we talked about--but I do remember that we spent most of what was left of the night laughing together.
That was good. I needed to laugh.
Sometime toward the wee hours of the morning, I got Pith to help me drink one last cup of water and headed down the hall to my cell. After I worked out how to use the thunder mug without spraying the room--I had to kneel on all fours--I sacked out in my clothes and let the revelations of the day whirl around in my head like a load of tee shirts and blue jeans in a laundromat dryer.
Eventually, I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew, Pith was shaking me awake.
I seriously considered just turning over and pulling the comforter of unconsciousness back over my throbbing head. I was still tired as a bastard and I'd've been hard pressed to hold my own in a fight with a paralyzed kitten.
On the other hand, I really needed to pee.
So, I forced myself to climb out of my nice, warm bed and perform my ablutions and then it was too late to insist I needed more sleep. Five minutes later, we were on the path up the mountain to Mahatna's shack.
I didn't fall down much at all.
I could and did stop to rest along the way, though. I didn't really have a lot of choice in the matter, because I got winded every few hundred feet. Since Pith had done the same thing a day earlier, I didn't feel too much like a wuss, but it took us a while to get there.
We found Mahatna sitting outside, waiting for us.
"Good hunting, Mr. Pith. Good hunting, Mr. Drew."
"Good huntin', Mr. Mahatna."
"Good..whew..good hunting, Mr. Mahatna."
He pointed to the doorway and rose to his feet with the aid of his staff.
"Please, enter my home and be welcome."
We took our accustomed seats at his table and Mahatna poured our libations. Pith got a cup full to the brim. I got half a cup.
I assumed that, rather than having any symbolic importance, the smaller portion was merely a concession to my Elixir-induced tremors and generally poor coordination. For better or worse, I was set on a road from which there could be no turning back and Mahatna's fondness for using portion control as some kind of cryptic object lesson couldn't change that.
Pith managed to swallow his drink without spilling it. His hands were rock-steady.
I figured that meant there was hope for me yet.
"You are feeling better today, Mr. Drew."
As usual, it was an observation, not a question.
"That is good, Mr. Drew. I was concerned."
Now that was news.
"About what, Mr. Mahatna?"
He ignored me.
"You are feeling much better, Mr. Pith."
"Are you ready to begin learning to See, Mr. Pith."
"'S th'dance I'm here t'learn."
"Then let us begin your lessons, Mr. Pith. Come."
Mahatna turned his blind eyes toward me.
"If you are thirsty, you may take as much water as you need, Mr. Drew. Should you need sleep, you may use my bed as your own. Please touch nothing else in my home while I am gone. I shall return later. Come, Mr. Pith."
They were already gone.
It occurred to me that I was tired. Very, very tired.
So, I drank another half-cup of water from the barrel by the door, then tumbled into Mahatna's fur-strewn bed. The light streaming through the doorway bothered my eyes. I put my arm across them to block it out..
. . .
When I opened my eyes again it was well past noon. I knew that immediately, because the light that had stung my eyes was no longer streaming through the doorway. Instead, the shadow of Mahatna's cabin stood guard between his doorway and daylight.
That wasn't what waked me.
The delicious aroma of a meaty stew Mahatna was stirring over the fire had my full attention. I was painfully aware that my backbone and my empty gut had been dancing cheek-to-cheek since..
Come to think of it, I hadn't eaten in almost two days. No wonder I was so weak!
"That smells wonderful, Mr. Mahatna."
He looked over his shoulder at me, while he continued stirring the pot.
"Would you like to taste it, Mr. Drew?"
I nodded. It's so easy to forget the guy is blind.
"Yes, Mr. Mahatna. Very much."
He waved in the general direction of his table.
"Then sit and I will serve you, Mr. Drew."
They say hunger is the best condiment and there's certainly truth in that, but I think I'd've enjoyed Mahatna's stew even if I weren't hungrier than a pack of wolves. Which I was. It was a meaty brew--filled with vegetables and nuts and chunks of savory sabat, all swimming in a thick, spicy green sauce--and so tasty my salivary glands ached with pleasure at every bite.
I ate three bowls of it.
Mahatna had one. He took as long finishing it as I did eating three--and appeared to enjoy his meal as much as I did mine. Finally, I pushed myself back from my empty bowl and sighed in contentment.
"Whew! Thank you, Mr. Mahatna--that was excellent."
"I could tell that you enjoyed it, Mr. Drew."
"I hope I didn't make a.."
I groped the Methven equivalent of a pig.
"..an iteri of myself, Mr. Mahatna. I didn't realize I was so hungry."
"It was to be expected, Mr. Drew. Even iteri must eat."
It was my turn to smile.
"Well, this iteri is well-stuffed, Mr. Mahatna."
That got a surprisingly big laugh out of him.
I didn't ask him to explain the joke--although I made a mental note to ask Bruno about it later. Instead, I took advantage of his good humor to ask what might have been an unwelcome question.
"Earlier today you mentioned that you were concerned about me, Mr. Mahatna. Would you please explain why?"
He nodded, still smiling faintly.
"It can do no harm to tell you, Mr. Drew. When I looked into your head last night, I saw that your inner eye was developing without discipline. I told it how to grow properly, but I was not sure that it listened to me until today."
"Is that why you were so tired last night?"
"What if it hadn't listened to you?"
"In time, it would have killed you, Mr. Drew."
"And you're sure it's all right now?"
He nodded again.
"Yes, Mr. Drew. While you were asleep, I again looked into your head. Your inner eye is growing swiftly, but properly."
"Well, that's a relief. What about Pith, Mr. Mahatna? Is his inner eye..?"
"I did not have to tell Mr. Pith's inner eye how to grow, Mr. Drew."
"So, he was never in danger?"
"That is correct, Mr. Drew."
"Has he learned how to See?"
Mahatna shook his grizzled head.
"Not yet, Mr. Drew."
I was glad to hear that. Not that I wanted to stand in Pith's way--I just wanted to be the first one to See.
"Will you teach me to See?"
He shook his head again.
"You are not yet ready, Mr. Drew."
"Why not, Mr. Mahatna?"
"Your inner eye is still too young, Mr. Drew."
"Will it be old enough tomorrow?"
He stood up and picked up his empty bowl.
"You ask many useless questions, Mr. Drew."
I stood up, too, but I left my bowl sit--I knew better than to assume my help in clearing the table would be welcome.
"I ask them because I want to learn, Mr. Mahatna."
He shook his head dismissively and turned away.
"You ask them because you lack patience, Mr. Drew."
"I think both things are true, Mr. Mahatna."
He looked back over his shoulder at me and I'd swear his milk-white eyes twinkled.
"Perhaps you will learn to see, after all, Mr. Drew--but it will not happen today."
"Then I should probably go now, Mr. Mahatna."
"Yes, Mr. Drew. And do not worry too much about when you will See or if you will See. You will See when it is time..or you will not."
. . .
It was a lot easier getting down the mountain than it had been going up.
Heck, I didn't fall down even once.
. . .
The rest of the crew was practicing archery. I joined them for a little while.
Unfortunately, I couldn't keep my hands steady. I missed the target entirely with my first bolt. And with my second. The third one somehow managed to avoid even the backstop--it wound up buried in the front wall of the Clanhome's main structure.
"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, after all."
Looking up at the evidence of my marksmanship protruding from the wall, Læ nodded.
So Bruno put my weapon away before someone got hurt and, for the rest of the afternoon, I played spectator, instead.
Of the bunch of them, I was most struck by the accuracy of Bill's shooting. He'd been practicing for just two weeks, but you wouldn't know it from his placement. Damned near every shot was a bull. That surprised me, because he'd been so bad at it back when we'd first begun practicing. Unlike Pith--who picked it up right away--Bill then was almost as terrible a bowman as I am now.
He'd improved spectacularly. I told him so.
"As it turns out, the mechanics are straightforward, Drew. Beyond experience, the keys are one's equipment, one's equilibrium and an appreciation of the effects of the current wind direction on the projectile's path."
Unfortunately, Tong appears not to have made the same discoveries. Blandy is as patient with him as Læ has been with me, but Tong still lets fly before he's properly set and he has an unfortunate habit of jerking the bow to his left that he hasn't figured out how to compensate for.
The fact is, aside from my residual tremor, I'm a better archer than Tong, any day.
That realization made me feel good. Tong can mop the floor with me in hand-to-hand and he's already a much better swordsman than me, but I'm not the class dunce in everything.
. . .
Toward the tail end of the afternoon, I got a chance to speak to Læ privately, while everyone else was watching Carleton and Blandy attack each other with blunted sabers.
"What's the word on Mantami?"
She glanced quickly around before answering.
"Frankly, I have become quite concerned about his prospects, Mr. Wilde."
"Oh? How come?"
"Over the past few hours, several delegations of Mothers from other Clanhomes have arrived here. That, in itself, is unusual. Those I recognize are, to a woman, the most xenophobic leaders the Vomisa possess. I find that disquieting. And--most worrisome of all--the public celebration that would normally attend their arrival has been completely absent."
"I believe the Mothers of Khasim Clanhome have called a grand conclave of all the Clanhomes. And--if that is the case--they are attempting to conceal the fact from us."
"I don't understand. What does that mean for Mantami?"
"I am not certain that I understand it, either, Mr. Wilde. But, it cannot be to his advantage."
. . .
With that, Læ put thirty to the afternoon's martial activities and the bunch of us headed for dinner.
Mahatna's stew was still stuck firmly to my ribs, so I settled for a little bread, a little fruit and some s'lyme with dessert. Afterward, Læ and Carleton disappeared upstairs and Bruno and the rest of the mob headed off to his room for their nightly poker game.
After my little nap in Mahatna's cabin, I wasn't the slightest bit sleepy, but I don't have much interest in playing cards, so I begged off in favor of catching up on this journal.
Before I headed off to my cell, I buttonholed Bruno about why Mahatna found the notion of a stuffed iteri so amusing.
"Iteri eat garbage, Drewski. They're scavengers. Nobody in his right mind would eat one of them."
(Copyright© 1997, 1998 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)