another year in stories: three

The third Guo story is here. This one has a bit more direction but is still rather meditative.

We’ll see if I can ever write a story with more forward momentum.

That being said, I really like this one. It’s about love.

We Belong to the Mountain

The first time I saw her was years ago. Only a child then, the snow falling all around forming swirling haloes in the air. The stood out, as she always does. Her white hair, her dark eyes and dark skin. Those teeth. And then there was the missing hand and the way she spoke.

She came when my grandmother’s dreams began slipping out her head and entering the real world.

What’s to be done, Sifu? My grandfather’s voice fell from his mouth like snow on the mountain.

She smiled in that way she does, Let me see what I can do.

That’s all I remember from that day. Too young to hold memories in my head properly, everything was fleeting. She appeared like tattered parchment in my brain and existed in that way, her features faded at the edges, until she returned some years later.

But the dreams of my grandmother brought more than only things to life. They took lives.

The life of her daughter. My mother. And with it the comfort of family, for we all fell with my mother, even after grandmother was healed.

I see it still when I close my eyes.

The screams woke me. Through the condensation of my breath, I saw a strange darkness over my mother. My father stood to fight it but it knocked him through the wall, spilling him into the quiet snow. As if made of wood, it moved in a jerking motion, its great dark limbs crushing my mother.

Beside me, grandmother convulsed in her sleep. So small and weak, I only watched, my eyes flashing between my grandmother and my mother.

The sound of her spine snapping will never leave me. It was as if the very night shattered and split.

My mother’s limp body hanging from the monster’s limbs soaked in blood. It approached me and then memory fades or twists away, like snow. Like summer days from long ago.

She returned often, the woman with slanted eyes, with white hair, with animal teeth. She told us all stories from far away.

Sifu, the name we called her. It means only her here. It’s a word and title she carries from far to the southeast.

We mostly called her Lumi, because she came always with the snow.

Uncle Lumi, I said when I was only reaching her waist, Why do you come so far to see us?

She smiled in her way and tousled my hair beneath my hood, Let’s find a fire to sit by and I’ll tell you.

She held my hand as we walked through the blizzard. Blinded, I ran to meet her when I heard she had arrived and it surprises me still that I didn’t lose myself in the mountains, taken by the wolves or bears. Though I saw nothing, the warmth of her hand brought me places far away. I saw the deserts of Soare, the forests of the southern lands, and even the elkmen so far south we could reach them by going north.

We entered the tavern and the bartender only stared at us as we came in.

Uncle, she said, Bring me something hot.

Her accent was thick but easy to understand. It had a strange music to it, as if her tongue and lips wrestled so long with our sounds that the wrestling became a dance and the dance turned to lovemaking. It was beautiful and I hung on the words as they condensed in the air.

Uncle Sven brought us tea and I sipped whenever she did, sighed the way she did, my eyes never leaving her face.

What did you want to know, little one?

I’m not little, I said.

She smiled and drummed the table, Of course not. Little ones don’t run into blizzards. That’s the work of true adventurers!

Are you an adventurer?

She laughed, No, more of a wanderer. Or a collector.

What do you collect from us?

She leaned back and sipped her tea, That’s a good question. What do I collect here? Stories, mostly. Stories about your world up here.

I like your stories, I said.

I like telling them. But that’s not the only reason I come here. No, I come here to learn.

But you know so much! None here know so much as you.

She laughed and her sharp teeth peered from behind her lips, Knowledgeable is something no one’s ever said to describe me. But I’ll tell you a bit about why your land is of such interest to me.

By this point I was riveted to my seat. Her words were all that existed. Her words and her strange features.

Imagine the rest of the world as summer. What is summer missing?

Snow?

Exactly! And cold. Summer is boring because it’s missing these elements. It’s plain. The rest of the world, as grand and beautiful and mysterious as it is pales in comparison to here.

I wish I could go with you away from here.

She heard the sorrow in my voice and must’ve remembered the mangled body of my mother because she stretched an arm around me and pulled me close. She whispered, The world is beautiful wherever you go because you live. Life is beautiful. Even more beautiful where it must try hardest to shine. Cherish it. Cherish this land of yours.

And I aged. Grew into a boy and then a man. She returned often to tell us stories of the world. Of the great forest that covered most of the continent. Of dragons. Of the childgod dreaming reality and her Deathwalkers. Or the Angels and Calabanians and Ariel and a thousand other creatures, a thousand other civilisations. She told us about places that had never seen snow, of places where summer never ended, of fruit the size of our heads. She told us of places where women ruled and other gods lived, of places without mountains, of war and disaster and magic.

My father fell into drink after my mother’s Death and passed out in a blizzard. We didn’t find him until the spring thaw.

No Deathwalkers came and he saw no infinite shore, but she returned.

I was all that remained of our family, and the family trade had long disappeared. No one taught me to weave the patterns my family made famous. My family gave me nothing and so I learnt to hunt with the others. I learnt to cut and gather wood and build homes to last the winters. I had nothing of my family to hold onto when she returned except Death and bad memories.

I had no funeral for my father. I didn’t drag his body to the mountain screaming. I didn’t cut my hair or beard to start anew as so many would eventually.

There was no new beginning. My life began when Lumi appeared.

She came to me the night the snows returned in the house I built long before the Death of my father. Her ageless face, her white hair, her sharp teeth, her full lips, smiling. She brought southern wine and we finished it quickly.

I touched her face as we fell into drunkenly into the tapestries woven by my ancestors.

You’re beautiful, I said.

You’re drunk, she said but she smiled. That smile.

How is it you don’t age? My grandfather told stories of you from when he was the age I am now.

You’re still but a child, Aamu.

None are children when all their parents are dead.

Her eyebrows drooped, I’m very sorry. I wish I could have helped.

You only help with the mystical, but never with the realities of our life.

She smiled, You don’t even know what that means.

But I do! You speak to Eaddji. You cured the floating women and the girl with horns. You taught us what the singing mountains were. You told us what the gods of this land needed. You deal only with gods and all that’s beyond the world we must live in.

She sighed and touched my face, This land is a land full of what wiser humans call magic and what other humans call gods. This land is like no other. That’s why I come here so often. To learn. But you’re right. I looked to high and too far off. You here, you Sami, I often forget your needs. But it’s also not my place to change your world.

Then why come at all, if only to fetishise our land?

Her smile disappeared and her expression hardened, You don’t know what you say, so I’ll forgive you. But this land is a land like no other. You Sami never even wonder why food grows here at all or why the suns give you summer even when all the lands surrounding here are barren. You live in the mountains, away from fertile lands. The snow lasts for lifetimes and the only magic you see is the kind that disturbs you.

Why should we wonder? It has always been this way. We live here and the gods give us life.

She rolled away from me, her voice rolling soft, Maybe you’re right. It’s not for you to wonder why you live at all. That’s a road to nowhere and nothingness. Better to accept and cherish.

I met Eaddji once.

She faced me with a smile, What did he tell you?

The heat rose in my face and the words bottled in my chest, He didn’t speak to me.

Her smile broadened and the heat of her melted the ice from my bones, He rarely speaks to anyone. Few have ever seen him.

Not anymore, I said. We see him often now.

Her forehead furrowed, Yeah?

I nodded, He no longer hides himself in the mountains. He watches over us when we hunt and gather there. He gives us when we ask and we leave when he doesn’t approve of our request. He’s more active than he’s ever been before.

How does he approve your requests?

Her darkeyes swallowed me and my body steams, my skin twisting and my head reeling like the suns. I wanted to touch her again, to hold her, to feel her always against me.

I said, He nods to us and then turns to where the hunt ran.

She blinked and then rolled over laughing.

I crossed my arms, my face hot, No need to mock us. You may be familiar with hundreds of gods, but we know only of Eaddji, and he is an enigmatic god.

She wiped her eyes, I’m sorry Aamu. I didn’t mean to laugh at you. It’s just funny to me.

For a long time she stared at the roof and I watched her. She fingered a tiny flute and played notes sporadically.

We slept near one another but not touching. My body ached but I feared approaching her. Even through the drunken sludge of my brain, I restrained myself, though all I could think of all night was how I wanted her to devour me. How I wanted to devour her.

As years have gone by Eaddji has come more and more into our lives.

As the years have gone by, I have become more and more solitary.

Dozens of marriages refused, I built a new home at the base of the mountain, on the path Lumi usually takes to us. My people look at me as a stranger, as a ghost of the ancient Sami. A mountain dweller. A child of snow, rather than one of the suns.

Lumi returns every couple years, young as the first time I saw her, though my bones have grown brittle and frozen. For many years we shared a type of love.

She told me so many things.

So very many things.

And I have only the mountain to tell.

But the mountain never learns. It always knows.

Eaddji laughs when I speak to him now. He never responds but he finds it all quite amusing.

Take me with you, I said when I was still young enough.

Lumi only shook her head and touched my face, You can’t go where I go.

But I can.

She kissed me then and all the words and desires I had melted away. I wept at the tenderness and she took me inside her, comforting me.

She told me I belonged to the mountain.

And so I have never left.

I only wait for her return. For another kiss. Another night of bliss.

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