Jo Clayton: The Burning Ground

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Jo Clayton The Burning Ground
  • Название:
    The Burning Ground
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  • Жанр:
    Боевая фантастика / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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The Burning Ground: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Jo Clayton


The Burning Ground

1


Chapter 1

1. In the city Khokuhl

And now, for all you lovers out there, Bashar’s Lament.

Isaho leaned her head against the radio so that her father’s voice vibrated in the bone. Thann looked up from the sweater xe was knitting as xe’s thinta picked up the child’s reaction. Isaho didn’t fuss, but since she’d seen her brother Keleen die, shot through the head by a sniper’s pellet, she’d gone very quiet and clingy, worrying every time one of her parents went out without her. Hearing her father announcing the music assured her that he was still alive.

“Love in the daylight is sad, Ammery

Oiling our passions when our anya is gone

It is done, it is done, Ammery

Where has xe run, our gold Amizad?

Love in the darkness is sad, Ammety…”

When a shell from one of the mountain guns crashed through the hulk next door, Bazekiyl started and pricked her finger, jerking it away from the shirt she was sewing so the blood wouldn’t stain the cloth.

Thann dropped the sweater and hurried to Isaho, taking her hand, whistling soft encouragement to her. To xe’s fembond xe signed with her free hand using abbreviated gestures, +It didn’t hit anyone this time.+

Bazekiyl shivered, wrapped her finger in a strip of rag. “You’re sure, Thanny? Sometimes squatters…”

+I’m sure.+ Xe brushed the hair off Isaho’s wide brow, sighed as the femlit cuddled against her. Xe’d been so frightened for so long, xe felt only a vague relief that the shell had missed their building, could barely sense a reaction in xe’s family to the eerie whistle of the shells and the blast when they exploded.

There was a second crash-boom, a third, then silence and a plume of dust drifting past the window, past glass miraculously uncracked after years of near misses.

In the middle of the new silence there was a rhythmic rattle at the door. Isaho pulled away from Thann and rushed to push the bar out of its hooks. She jumped back as her father’s shoulder shoved it open.

Mandall came in quickly, staggering under the weight of the sack he was carrying.

Thann shoved the door quickly shut, slapped the bar home, then turned and signed to Isaho to bring her father the homecoming water. Xe snugged against xe’s malbond, basking in the waves of well-being that rolled off Mandall, the sudden burst of joy from Isaho, the quieter pleasure from Bazekiyl as she set the shirt aside and came to give Mandall a welcoming nuzzle. So much better. For the moment the war was pushed back and the family was almost whole again.

Isaho came from the room they’d set up as a kitchen, walking slowly, eyes intent on the glass she held with both hands. It had an inch of water in it, clear water without sediment, drawn carefully from the top of the cistern Mandall and his cousin had built from scraps of tin, salvaged lumber, and pipe when the water plant had fallen to the mountain guns and every drop had to be carried from the city springs.

“A glass for coming home, Baba.” She glanced toward

Thann, who signed xe’s approval, then smiled shyly up at her father.

He bowed with grave courtesy, sipped at the water. “Water shared is water blessed.” He handed the glass to Bazekiyl.

“Water shared makes a home though there be no roof on it.” She sipped, handed the glass to Thann.

Thann signed, +Water shared is a bond given by God.+ Xe passed the glass to Isaho.

The child drank the swallow left. “Water shared makes the circle whole.”

Isaho sidled up to her Baba and leaned against him as he worked the knot loose and opened the sack. He patted her absently, went on talking as he worked. “Juwallan’s oldest mallit Luzh stumbled across a way into an old grocery store when he was digging around for wood. Didn’t want it to get out, so that’s why Juwallan said it was a wood hunt when he called me at work. We got most of the food cleared out and stowed away before a scout from the Zendida Clan spotted us. More than food, too. I got some spools of thread and some needles for you, Bazhy, hammer and nails for me. Ahh, that does it.”

He spread the mouth of the sack open, began taking out cans of fruit and vegetables, setting them on the floor. “Thann, if you and Shashi can trot these into the pan-

Bazekiyl knelt, helped Isaho fill her arms. ‘.’That’s enough for now, Shashi, you know where they go. Dall, the Zendidas… was there trouble?”

“No. We had the best of what was there already, so we left and let them have it.” He grinned. “And I got this just for you, Bazhy.”

Thann saw her face change as Mandall reached into the bag and pulled out a wide ribbon, so soft and smooth it seemed to cling to her fingers. It was a pale blue the exact shade of her eyes.

Xe touched the egg in xe’s pouch, felt the babbit squirming and shifting about inside the leathery shell.

Maybe there’d be another to keep it company. Xe liked the thought of that. The egg was nearly ready for hatching; which meant that all too soon xe’d lose the pouch bond and the comfort of that wriggling weight. Just as Isaho clung to her father now, so Thann saw xeself clinging to the egg and the suckling that would live in xe’s pouch for another year, a tiny piece of joy and sanity in the chaos their lives had become. Xe watched and listened, one hand on the tiny bulge at xe’s middle.

The moment shattered as a shell crashed outside, closer than the others. The floor and walls shook when it blew.

Isaho came running from the pantry and flung herself against her father. Bazekiyl reached out to draw Thann closer, and the four of them huddled in a tight knot waiting for the next shell.

The silence went on as the light coming through the still unbroken window panes darkened and the room filled with shadows. The mountain guns were mostly silent at night.

Bazekiyl stirred. “I think that’s all for a while.” She eased herself free from her bondmates, crawled to the window, and pulled down the blackout curtain. “They must have gotten a new supply of shells from the smugglers.” She tugged the blind fight, clicked the hooks at the lower corners through the eyes screwed into the wood of the wall, then groped about for the candle lamp. “You know how wasteful they are when that happens.” A flare from a match lit her face from below, then the candle was burning. She fitted the chimney down around it. “Shashi, bring me the other lamps, will you? Then we’ll start fixing dinner.”


***

Thann gestured, and Isaho pushed her chair back as quietly as she could manage and stood to sing grace for the meal.

Before she was ready, a nightbird, a weh-weleh, sang its three note courting song. It was a good omen. Bazekiyl laughed and snapped thumb against forefinger, Mandall clapped his hands, and Thann whistled a soft breathy appreciation.

Isaho giggled. Then she crossed her hands over her heart and sang, “Part of the stream of all that lives/Part of the bounty the Living God gives/We come from earth, to earth we go/From God to God our lives do flow.” She had a strong true voice that sounded older than her small count of years, eleven almost twelve.

Bazekiyl closed her hand tight about Thann’s. Xe returned the pressure and swallowed a sigh at this reminder of what might have been before this God-cursed war began. If Isaho were trained, they both knew she would be one of the great singers. There was no chance of that. Not now. No teachers, no theaters, only the radio and maybe a chance of clandestine songwires passed from hand to hand, the promise in the voice, but unfulfilled. Back when Isaho was still in shell, they’d had a lot of dreams for her. No more. Staying alive was about all there was.

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