Flight in the Clouds
Darvin treasured the quiet moments of dawn. He was crouched among the rocks on the shore, and anyone looking would mistake him for another rock. Cold from the rocks and sea spray seeped into him. As the dwarvish do, he embraced the chill after a night of warm dreams.
As the sun rose higher, the yellow sky was garlanded by purple and orange blossoms. Some dwarvish cousins spend their lives underground never seeing a sunrise, but Darvin’s Mountain Clan live above ground. Darvin could not imagine life without sunrises to center him.
His father, Wizen, lay gravely ill. The peacefulness of the sunrise helped Darvin face his fear. If his father did not pull through, his childhood would be over. He would be Laird of the Mountain Clan. He was only 16. All the responsibility would be his. He told himself to breathe, just breathe. He let the cold bring him back to himself, then he headed home, climbing far up Clan Mountain.
His family longhouse was made of stone, blending seamlessly into the mountain. His uncle Forst was sitting on a boulder plucking a chicken.
“Your mother is making broth again. I am so tired of broth,” Forst grumped.
“Maybe you can visit Imelia. I heard pounding from her longhouse, and I’m guessing she’s grinding corn for bread.”
“Imelia,” Forst tasted the word, savoring the thought of the widow with the thick braids and thin waist. He held the fowl up and checked for missed pin feathers.
“When will Big Boy be back?” Forst wanted to know, a bit anxiously.
“His name is Gregori. I don’t know when he will be back. I will scry after I talk to my father.”
He missed his foster brother, Gregori. Every once in a while, the race of dwarves spits out a giant, and his foster brother was one of these. He had been rejected by his birth parents. Darvin’s father, Mountain Clan Laird, a shaman, recognized Gregori’s magic, and welcomed him. Gregori soon outgrew the dwarvish beds, and now he slept with the sheep and mustangs in a valley down the mountain. Gregori charmed animals, and he could blend with the giants on the flatlands, but he could not hide in the rocks like Darvin. He lost all their games of hide-and-seek growing up. He had left yesterday, alone on a long journey, taking their Clan’s fine metalwork to market with the help of a clan mustang, FarStrider. No giant would think Gregori was a dwarf, for he was tall even for flatlanders. The dwarvish were often set on by flatlander giants, who prized their metalwork and gold, but had a contempt for them as humans.
Uncle Forst had lost his wife young, when she was killed by flatlanders. Uncle Forst and Aunt Edna used to take the metalwork to market. They would giggle, and talk about liking to sleep out away from the others, but after Aunt Edna was killed, all the adventure had gone out of Uncle Forst. Since then, the traveling had shifted to Gregori, and Uncle Forst had taken his anger out on the world, but especially on Gregori. Recently Imelia had been softening his edges, but the habit of unkindness to Gregori had persisted for far too long.
Gregori’s trip was more even vital than usual because he was making a side trip to Doctor Rumald. The doctor was born from giants, but he had been abandoned on the mountain. A childless dwarvish couple had seen a young giantess, still a child herself, weeping huge tears, leaving the boy. The couple, Madda and Farch, friends of Darvin’s mom, took in the baby, and named him Rumald. He was interested in healing, but the dwarvish ways of healing with crystals, hands and herbs did not work for him. Eventually, the couple encouraged him to return to his people, where he studied and became a doctor. Doctor Rumald took long hiking trips into the mountains regularly bringing giant medicine and spending time with the parents and people of his heart. He wasn’t due for another month, and the Laird had a festering wound on his leg. Yoli, the healer and Darvin’s mother, said his leg was infected and needed antibiotics – giant medicine.
Darvin went in to see his father. “When had his hair become so gray?” Darvin wondered to himself silently. “Dad,” he said softly, to see if Wizen was awake. Wizen’s eyes opened, but only half way. His face was bathed with sweat. Yoli bustled in. “Darvin, your father and I want to talk to you. I’m glad you are here. We need you to scry for Gregori, and make sure he is not slowed by anything. And after that, we are calling a meeting of the elders, and your father wants you to represent him. You must convince them to stop smelting at all hours.”
Darvin hadn’t noticed Sillette in the corner. She had her eyes on the floor, but just then she looked up, straight at Darvin. Her eyes were so green, Darvin thought his heart would stop.
She said: “Eventually the smoke will bring giants, and that will be a disaster. They need to stick to the schedule of smelting at night when the smoke is not visible on the giant’s satellites. As soon as they heard your father was sick, they started smelting at all hours.” Sillette was talking fast, and moving her delicate hands emphatically. Her rounded chest heaved. She was the top student in dwarvish history and a brilliant stone carver. Her father was one of the first to break the rules, and she was always arguing with him. Darvin’s thoughts scattered, and he realized the silence was stretching too long, and everyone was looking at him, his mother with a knowing light in her eyes.
“I was planning to scry for Gregori.” Darvin said, his words tumbling out, as if released from a dam. “The morning light always helps. I’ll go now. Dad, can I borrow your scrying bowl?”
“Of course,” said Wizen weakly before drifting back to sleep. Yoli gazed down at him, with worry in her eyes, then she slipped quietly out. “I’ll see to calling the meeting,” she whispered as she passed Darvin, taking Sillette with her.
Darvin was alone with his dad, although his dad was far away from him and unable to help. Darvin breathed. Just breathed. He picked up his father’s glass scrying bowl carefully, and nudged his way out through the door backwards. He carried it up to the loft and out onto the low roof above the side annex. Potted ginger and foxglove plants flourished in the sunshine, his mother’s magic touch working with plants as well as humans. He collected some spring water splashing down the mountainside, just as the light filled it with radiance. He settled the bowl onto a specially hollowed boulder, careful not to spill the water. Then he held his hands at the edges of the bowl, thumbs down and fingers raised to the sky, palms stretched toward infinity.
He found worry creeping into his mind, so he flicked his fingers away, imagining the worry as water droplets, flung away from him. He concentrated on his breath, settling his hands again. He opened his mind to the air currents. Light filled the water. Water in the air condensed into the bowl. Water in the bowl evaporated. He moved his mind into the water, and flowed along its path, through the air, the water forming a bridge, particle to particle, for him to follow. He lost touch with his arms, still suspended at the edges of the bowl. He no longer worried, he breathed, still as a statute.
Sillette had come quietly out onto the roof when he was collecting the water, and she hid in a corner among Yoli’s petunias. She had watched over him since they were children. She had been bigger, as girls often are. Recently, he had shot up, and now was at least an inch taller than her smaller stature. His shoulders had broadened as well, but habits die hard. She crouched down, as small as she could, and tried not to disturb him. When a dwarf tries to hide, they become like large stones, and even another dwarf may not see them, despite the hider being in plain view.
Darvin sensed her breath, through the water, but because she was often there, he had learned to chant his goal and not be distracted.
Darvin cast his mind toward Gregori, calling him quietly. Soon he was in the clouds, gliding down the mountain, over other mountains, and across foothills. He saw the grass and fields of grain as the cloud does, from high above, indifferent. He focused on his call, “Gregori, Gregori, Gregori,” he chanted, and he did not lose himself in the cloud.
Down beside a river, Gregori was camping with FarStrider, the mustang. Gregori was still rolled into his bedding, even though the sun had been up an hour. Even FarStrider’s head drooped, as if his equine thoughts were dreaming. From his vantage in the clouds, Darvin could see dark figures behind bushes. They had weapons. They were moving closer to Gregori. Darvin tried to speak a warning, but a cloud cannot speak. Darvin’s anger and fear built, drawing more and more water toward him as the air pressure dropped. Clouds covered the sun, but the shadowy giants below did not notice.
FarStrider threw up his head and whinnied a warning. Gregori rolled out of his blankets to his feet, looking all around. One of the flatlander giants rushed him, four more boiling out of the underbrush. Gregori, though bigger, could not fight them all off. One grabbed the pack, which would be where the medicine was stored.
Darvin’s rage grew, and all the heaving cloud-water crashed together, making a deafening boom. Lightning hit the man with the pack. He screamed like a crow chasing a hawk, dropped the pack and fell backward into the river.
“Wizard!” One of the men holding Gregori shouted, and clouted him over the head. Gregori fell to the ground, out cold. One of the men ran away from the fight, losing his nerve.
“Jackal, come back! The wizard is out cold, and he can’t hurt us now. We need to help Phillin and get the pack! Jackal!” One of the other men approached the pack, but Darvin again crashed the clouds together and sent lightning down. This time he hit the giant yelling orders, and he screamed like an eagle that missed its prey. The remaining robbers, picked up Phillin and the leader, and ran off. They left the pack and Gregori behind.
Darvin, in his relief, let the air pressure drop more. Great droplets of water mixed with hail began to fall, pelting the robbers. A big piece also hit Gregori who yelped, saddled up FarStrider, secured the pack, and started riding for the mountain with a blanket held over their heads to hold off the hail. Darvin drifted in the clouds, peppering the robbers with more hail until they took shelter in a cabin, cursing and looking back over their shoulders fearfully.
Copyright 2013 Brenda Davis Harsham
Note: Top photograph by the very talented Vit Peyr.