by LISA M. GREEN
No one is speaking. No one dares to move. The sirens are now silent.
There is no body. Why is there no body?
“Why is there no body?” I ask aloud, hoping Bhradon can shed light on the mystery.
“Othon set off the alarm, as far as I know. He’s got Seventh Day morning patrol in the southern fields, so I assume that’s where it happened.” His voice belies his calm exterior. Patrolling the outer planting grounds is the most dangerous job among my people. We have been forced to expand our farming beyond the gates in order to feed everyone, but we don’t have enough resources to expand the gates that far into the Unknown. The only ones who even see these fields are those who plant, harvest, or patrol them. And Bhradon is one of those lucky ones. Lucky to still be alive, that is. The Shadows come increasingly more often and closer to our very gates.
Patrols are split up among those who normally work or farm within the gates. Each of our seven days has a morning and a night patrol. These patrols are sent out in teams of two to keep watch over their appointed set of planting grounds. Keeping watch is a poor choice of words, as that does not really describe what they do. But it is what we call it. What would they be keeping watch for? The Shadows? That alone would be a waste of time, as no one can escape the Shadows once they find their target. No, they are there to water and tend the fields for the most part. The ground fights our every move to feed ourselves, and needs constant and pervasive attention morning and night in order to provide us with what we need.
The night patrol in the southern fields on Sixth Day is usually Jocabin and Winslir, but I see Jocabin standing not far off with a blank look on his face. I look to Bhradon, who also notices his presence among the crowd. Just as we are about to nudge our way through the throng to inquire about last night, two Primaries begin a course through the center of the people in single-file. Everyone naturally steps aside to allow them passage to the front, where most everyone seems to be focusing their attention since there is a very noticeable lack of a corpse. Prime Lahreni and Prime Feraldos are two of our eldest Primaries, and are deeply respected and venerated among all. They reach the front and turn to face everyone. Feraldos raises his hands to silence the already hushed crowd.
“Good people! It is with a heavy heart and a bitter sadness that we inform you of the death of another of our own, Winslir. His mate and their three children will need your help and guidance during this dreadful time. Please offer whatever you can in the name of love.” Prime Lahreni’s voice is as soothing as her presence.
However, something is very wrong. What does it all mean? I am tempted to speak up, but in fear I let the words die on my tongue. No one would listen to me, even if they were thinking the same thing.
Bhradon’s voice rings strong and clear in the near dead silence. “Can someone explain what happened?”
My hero. Or else he’s reading my mind again.
The two Primaries look over at us with bewilderment not attributable to the question they had just been asked. “What do you mean by that, Bhradon? You know what happened. It seems to be occurring more and more frequently, so you should be well aware of what has happened to poor Winslir, as with many others.” Prime Feraldos is not as calm as his counterpart was only a moment ago.
“With all due respect, Prime, I am referring to the fact that he seems to be missing from his own burial gathering. You have to admit that seems a little strange to the rest of us. And I am wondering why we haven’t heard anything of Jocabin’s story, seeing as he is standing right over there. What’s going on here?” The muscles around Bhradon’s mouth have tightened into tiny knots. I catch myself staring at his mouth and realize that I am getting distracted.
Several others have begun to express their concerns as well by this point, and the Primaries are futilely attempting to quiet the maelstrom that has seemingly erupted in a matter of seconds. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice Jocabin being forcefully dragged from the proceedings by Prime Julos. As they head toward the small hill where the Hall of the Primaries is located, I place my hand on the side of Bhradon’s face and turn it in their direction. I cannot read the look on his face, but he suddenly looks down at me and nods at the path leading to the building. Oddly enough, I feel myself smile at him as we begin to sneak away from the group at the gates. I like it that he never excludes me or tries to hide me from anything that is going on in town or in his life. We are partners, and we trust each other explicitly.
The fact that I place complete and total blame on him for the incident when the communal fire went out for the first time is beside the point.
The first thing we notice as we step into the Hall is that no one is within sight. This is odd because there is always at least one Prime in the main room of the Hall at all times. That’s kind of a large part of their job: to be available and ready if someone comes in with a problem or dispute to discuss. They are our mentors, our judges, our leaders.
When I look to Bhradon for his response to this, he merely shrugs at me and points in the direction of the back rooms. We aren’t normally allowed in the back rooms, so I find it odd that it seems Jocabin has been taken there at the present. Someone is definitely hiding something. But why? We have no secrets from one another, at least not any important ones. Everyone helps one another out, and people know each other’s business usually because it’s no secret. My relationship with Bhradon is slightly different only because it is such a delicate situation. It’s not that we are hiding it. People just don’t want to talk about it, so we don’t.
Turning the corner, we are immediately bombarded with the frantic whispering of several voices. Several Primaries stand with their backs to us and Jocabin trapped in the corner. My shock quickly wears off but not before the hesitation costs me dearly.
A muscled arm pins me from behind. Unable to move my body, I try to spin my head around to get a glance at my attacker. This doesn’t seem to be working to my advantage, as all I’m doing is twisting my neck painfully. The next thing I know, I’m staring at the tapestry adorning the wall outside the room we had just entered. Jumping up, I feel another arm grab me from behind, but this time I’m ready. I jab my elbow as hard as I can into what I hope is their stomach before they have time to react.
A low, muffled noise emits from the floor behind me. I turn around to face . . . Bhradon. Great.
Well, at least I got him back for the comment from earlier.
“Okay, admittedly I deserved that for my lack of forethought on that one. But I’m going to need a moment here.” I decide that I do, in fact, feel bad. Really bad. And despite the humor of the situation, there is an enormous severity to what just happened. What did just happen anyways?
“What was that all about?” I question the air, the ceiling, the floor. Anyone? No? Fine.
“I’m fairly certain we’ve been thrown out of a very important meeting, Rinni. I recommend we leave as we’ve been so politely asked to do, and come back later when our audience has thinned out a bit.” I love this man. I really, really do.
We make no secret of our exit from the Hall just to be sure that they hear us leaving and assume our prying was at an end. Oh, how little they know of us! Bhradon and I used to sneak into that very building (among others) as children just out of sheer curiosity. More than the inquisitiveness of two precocious children is at stake now.
Something very, very odd is going on.
The early morning air greets us with far too much cheeriness for such a somber set of circumstances. It’s true that I perhaps don’t feel a personal loss at the death of Winslir, but any death in our village evokes a sense of impending doom and empathetic sadness among just about everyone. But this is just plain wrong. What could have happened to him that the Primaries don’t want us to know? And why are they hiding Jocabin? Did he do something bad? That doesn’t really make sense because he would be tried and sentenced in the main room of the Hall, and anyone would be able to attend if they so desired. Besides, that sort of thing rarely ever happens. Most of the judgments handed out are concerned with petty disputes and domestic offenses. I’m certainly not trying to insinuate that my people are perfect, but they are—for the most part—good and decent people just trying to survive.
Determined to put on a sunny display to hide our ulterior motives, Bhradon picks me up once we reach the path leading back down the hill and carries me the rest of the way. Who am I to complain?
“Rinni . . . ” His lips continue to move as if he wants to say more but no sound emerges as we journey soundlessly toward the village center. For a moment, I don’t respond in the hope that he will finish his thought instead of hiding behind that stoic exterior of his. He never hides things from me, but he does have the reputation among the others as being very quiet and thoughtful. Little do they know that he is merely observing them—their words and actions bridging deep windows into their very cores—and storing those revelations away in the back of his mind. Bhradon has an astounding affinity for judging people’s character and can therefore predict with almost uncanny certainty exactly how and when many of our people will act in certain situations.
Still nothing. Why can’t he talk to me?
“What’s wrong?” My trepidation is rising despite the pluckiness of the morning breeze as it brushes my face without fear of retaliation. Hold on a minute. What am I talking about? How exactly does one retaliate against the wind? Am I seriously losing my mind? Despite this self-analysis, there is a bizarre humor behind the idea, and I begin to imagine all sorts of ridiculous scenarios. I don’t realize that I am snickering aloud until I look up, and those thoughts immediately die the second I look at his stricken face.
“What’s wrong? What’s wrong? How can you even say that, Corinne?” Using my birth name. Not a good sign. “After what just happened . . . this isn’t funny! It’s not funny at all. Winslir is . . . well, he’s presumably dead, and Jocabin and the Primaries are hiding something. Or at least some of them are. I don’t know. I don’t know what to think right now. I don’t know what to say. But I’m scared. This isn’t the time for your odd sense of humor, Rinni. Something very strange is happening, and I’m convinced it has something to do with the Shadows. We have to get to Jocabin and find out what happened last night.” He stops awkwardly and abruptly as he releases me to the ground directly beside the waterways that flow down through the middle of town from the Healing Tree.
Our entrance into the village center has attracted a few stares, but the overall lack of disdainful looks among our audience is a positive sign in my opinion. But that’s not really what I should be focusing on right now. I’ve never seen Bhradon like this before. And he called me Corinne. He knows I hate that, especially from him.
“I’m . . . I’m sorry. I . . . I swear I wasn’t laughing about any of this.” Well, I can’t exactly explain what I was laughing about without sounding like a complete idiot. Best to leave my skirmish of retribution against the offending breeze out of this.
Did I really just . . . never mind.
My sigh must be audible to half the center. So much for a light and cheery facade to hide the severity of the situation. Why aren’t any of these people concerned about this morning’s events? Always so involved in each other’s lives, verbally investing themselves in every little detail. No secrets. Yet the second something is out of place, they turn a blind eye. Is there something I’m missing here?
“Bhradon, I’m scared too. What really scares me the most is how everyone else seems to be completely ignoring all of this. They saw, Bhradon. They saw the empty space where his body should have been. And they don’t seem to care. That courtyard was filled with people who had questions, but they refused to voice them.”
Why are they so complacent now when I know they have doubts still lingering in the back of their minds?
His response is silence, and I know that he is trying to formulate an answer to a question that has no easy answer. I understand that now is not the time. Here is not the place. Somewhere where we can be alone. Somewhere where our words are ours, and no one else can judge or condemn us.
The Healing Tree.