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Lightness (part 3)

This story appeared in Warp & Weave, a literary magazine published by Utah Valley University, in spring of 2018. It is about 5000 words. It is about a lost toy, among other things.
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  1. Soon after coming out of the Narrows, they reached the fields around Parmeshvi, and about a mile from town a farmer came out of a nearby house and asked if they’d like a lift into town. When Irla echoed Zholeg’s thanks the farmer looked more closely at him and grinned.

    “Where are you from?” he asked in the Corrol language. Irla’s language! The man’s horses were the biggest Irla had ever seen, the tips of their ears almost coming to his shoulders, and their winter coats were long and thick, well brushed. Zholeg expressed admiration for them, in passable Corrol, and the farmer laughed.

    “I don’t often have business in town this time of the evening, but I see you poor devils tromping past twice a week and I figure I might as well.”

    Irla found himself more willing to talk than usual as the sled whisked through the snow toward the town. He told the man about his home and his family and his brother at war, earning approving grunts.

    “Your hosts this evening, old Zík, was a Ferret in his day—did you know that? Tsss! ask him to tell some stories and you won’t get him to stop.”

    They reached Parmeshvi at sundown, parted ways with the farmer (who had never given his own name), and made for their lodgings through streets decidedly empty. The house they went to looked even smaller than the one they had stayed in back in Kossiekh, but it had the same round-cornered, earthen construction. Geese in a little pen to the side raised a racket as the Jackrabbit and his companion approached. A couple answered the door together, their wrinkled pink faces breaking into wide smiles.

    They reached Parmeshvi at sundown, parted ways with the farmer (who had never given his own name), and made for their lodgings through streets decidedly empty. The house they went to looked even smaller than the one they had stayed in back in Kossiekh, but it had the same round-cornered, earthen construction. Geese in a little pen to the side raised a racket as the Jackrabbit and his companion approached. A couple answered the door together, their wrinkled pink faces breaking into wide smiles.

    “Hey,” the woman said, also in Corrol, “who’s this who came along? And where’s Tib? Come in!”

    As Zík went outside to see to their camel, his wife, who introduced herself as Somnüd, ushered them to a spot by the stove—this house was divided in half, at least, in comparison to the Kossiekh home. Zholeg explained to her why Irla was there; it was the second time Irla had heard him speak Irla’s native language. He listened to his pronunciation and almost missed the questions that the woman asked him.

    As soon as Zík had joined them he wanted to know all about Irla’s family.

    “Irlangt, is it?” he said as he drew up a chair. “A noble name.”

    “I go by Irla.” He ducked his head.

    “Very good. And you’re from Útíma? Has your family been there long?” Zík winked at Somnüd.

    “I’m going to see if I can guess the surname. Arnavi? No? How about Ümbüdezh? Well, let me think.”

    “Oh, stop it,” said Somnüd. “Just tell him dear, or we’ll never eat. Iriazsush will get here at any moment.”

    “Iteskis.”

    “Iteskis? Really! Yes dear, but . . . all right you two, go get washed up, and then we’ll talk more while we wait.”

    After washing, they sat at the table to wait for the local Jackrabbit. Irla told Zík about his brother. Zík cracked his knuckles. “You must be proud of Fersak.”

    “I am!” Irla blinked and looked away from Zík’s eyes. He must not embarrass himself.

    “Well now, young Master Iteskis, how well do you know your family roots?”

    Irla said slowly, “I don’t know.”

    Zík tilted his head and squinted. “Well stop me if I tell you what you already knew, but our families were two of the nine that settled our old hometown together.”

    “When was that?” asked Zholeg.

    “In 65,” said Somnüd. “Right at the end of the Big Move. Everyone said it was a pretty spot, but nobody wanted to settle there because it was out of the way. All the good farmland that the dissidents left behind had been claimed already, and here was this spot: here were nine families, the last ones to come down, and folks wondering if they could make a living there. But they did.” She shook her head. “Oh, hear those silly fowl again. That’ll be our Iriazsush.”

    Iriazsush wore a blue coat like Zholeg’s with Jackrabbits embroidered on the sleeves, a blue stocking cap on his head. His beard was lighter in color than Zík’s and longer.

    Zík ushered the man to the table, holding him by the elbow. “We have a guest with Zholeg—young Irlangt here, from Útíma.” He raised his brows as if he wanted to say more.

    “I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance,” rumbled Iriazsush.

    “Yes,” said Somnüd. “Dinner’s ready, and you lucky men can help get the table set and then we can dig in.” She went to the oven and drew out a large fragrant meat pie.

    “I see I’m too early,” Iriazsush said. Zík laughed and handed him a stack of plates.

    After they had made some progress on the pie, Zík asked Irla what more he knew about his family and their hometown.

    “I know my great-grandfather was born there. And his father came from Itesco up north.”

    “Ah yes,” said Zík, leaning forward, “do you know the story behind that? Four of the families were from Itesco. When they got down here and took on surnames, they all wanted to take the name Iteskis, but decided that wouldn’t do! So they drew lots, and your great-great grandfather—Bershürmu? Yes, well he got it.”

    “What about the others,” said Iriazsush, “what names did they choose and how?”

    “Well, Terafezh was one of them, of course.”

    “Yes, it all started as a joke,’ said Somnüd. She shook her head, smiling. “The other families started trying to think of names to take on, and one of the men had really calloused hands.”

    Zík told some more stories, reciting more names and dates than Irla could keep straight. But then he leaned back, stroking his beard, and looked more intently at Irla. “So then, your grandfather: is he Lindem or Zhízh?”

    Irla ducked his head. “Iriazsush, actually.”

    “Ha!” A thick hand slapped the table. “Twice well-met then, my boy.”

    Irla looked at Zík, saw the look in his eye, and braced himself. “Well then, your father,” said Zík, “he must be Tísecort!”

    Irla blinked. “Yes.”

    “Well I never. Little Tísecort has a family! And one of them a Cougar, no less!”

    Irla grinned, at the same time feeling a strange tension.

    Zík cracked another knuckle. “How wonderful to hear—especially after what happened to him.”

    Here it was. Irla held his breath.

    Zík peered at Irla and furrowed his brows. “You know the story?”

    Somnüd gaped at her husband and then glared, but Irla met the man’s eyes and shook his head.

    “He only says it was an accident. He’s never talked about it.”

    Zík folded his hands on the table. “I think I’m somewhat surprised by that, but if you want, I’ll tell you.”

    “Now dear, do you really think—”

    “And where do you think you’re going with that pie?”

    “Oh honestly.” Somnüd sat back down. “But don’t say anything that will wound the poor boy.”

    Zík peered at Irla in the golden candlelight. “Do you wish to know?”

    Irla found himself nodding, and though he still wished Taka were with him, he began to feel a lightness that didn’t come from his fearless cougar.

    “All right then.” The room was silent. Zík sipped his small beer and leaned forward.

    “One winter morning, someone from the town’s Deer chapter checked in on the family after some of them were missed at their work. They found everyone lying on the floor, dishes still on the table from supper, and the only one alive was Tísecort. He was only two and couldn’t tell what happened, but finally the answer came in the barrel of pickled vegetables the family had opened for supper: tucked at the bottom were a few sprigs of deadly nightshade.”

    “Just enough to poison them.” Somnüd sighed. “They concluded it was just a mistake—a lack of care in the making.” She offered her wrinkled hand and Irla took it.

    “Is that why”—Irla took a deep breath—“he never eats anything pickled? I thought it was just a matter of taste.”

    “Well,” said Zík, picking at his teeth, “sometimes we Corrols can be a bit too close-mouthed.”

    Somnüd snorted. “Except you.”

    Zík shrugged. “For years my life depended on keeping my mouth shut. When I retired I decided I’d had enough.”

    Somnüd and Iriazsush started to laugh, then caught themselves and both looked at Irla.

    “Are you all right, dear?” she asked.

    He nodded and felt lighter still.

    The next day they walked through another canyon and rode the train home. Irla didn’t know if or when he would tell his father what he had learned, but Zholeg praised him, his father was pleased, and he slept soundly until the Jackrabbits came around again. As promised, they brought Taka, along with a letter from Zík with a detailed chart of his family and other southern settlers. And after everyone had gone to bed that night, Irla sat up on his own as he was used to doing.

    “You know I’ll never be a Cougar like Fersak,” he said.

    “You don’t have to be,” said Taka, lying down next to Irla. “That’s not what our friendship is about.”

    “I know.” Irla stroked the wooden shoulder. “Well, what do you think? Should I become a Jackrabbit in four years?”

    “You might as well,” replied Taka. “Then I can chase you all over creation.”

    Irla laughed, and turned over to sleep.

    [end of story]

    About Author

    studentofrhythm
    I write under the pen name Gerrit Stainer. I am a Utah native, descended from Mormon pioneers, Dutch settlers in Sleepy Hollow, Salem Witch Hunt victims and even some Varangians way way back. Writing since adolescence, I also play drums and make walking sticks.

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