Three

Sadruk and the Lady
Pinea

Outside, in the gathering darkness, a light, late snow had begun to fall.  Since the winter was more than half over, the ground was often almost bare.  Just when it would seem as though the snow in the woods was about all melted and the ice soft enough to chew, along would come another dusting such as this, and we were plunged into several more days of waiting.  Spring would be late, people said.  Even so, I appreciated the change from winters past in my more northern homeland.

I found the mare and made her a meal of some grain and shriveled roots that I had stored.  She wouldn’t wander far, of that I was now certain.  Yet I couldn’t contemplate keeping a horse for myself during these times.  I knew little enough about these creatures, and she would eat the same food I had put by for myself, and ten times as much at that.

I left her to her own devices for the night, half hoping she would leave, but half dreading it also, for where she turned up next there would surely be questions.  I then went around the house and, without even looking to see whether she had returned, I ducked under the roof of Yomo’s enclosure and began patching the loose corner of her pen.

She was there, of course.  She snorted at me, a threat perhaps, as I drew two sides of her pen together and bound them with a thick braid of dampened reed.  Of course this pig would hate me.  Until a month ago she spent winter evenings inside by the stove, indulged in this and many other ways by her companion and my master, Sadruk, but now that I was fully in charge of the home and the master forever gone, she learned that I was not fond of having a pig in the house.  When I had finished binding the rails, I climbed out and stared at the stinking swine.

It was then that my procrastination fully struck me: I had been uncertain what to do with the nobleman’s body, the wreckage, the horse, even the lady, whom by now I should have summoned back to consciousness.  Here was one thing I could do.  I could be decisive and at the same time solve two of my current problems.  I would kill the pig.

As I returned inside for the instrument of my desire, a slender, sharpened iron pike the length of my forearm, I congratulated myself on the simplicity of this one act, even as a lump formed in my throat.  Yomo was a young sow, not well-fattened, but as fat as she would be until another autumn.  If I didn’t spend considerable time this very night repairing her pen even more than I had just done, she almost certainly would be gone again within a day or two in retribution for the beating and scare she had suffered at my hand this day.  That was one of the problems I could solve.  And, especially with a sufferer sorely in need of good food, (the second problem), and I unable to hunt for a time due to the lady’s need for attention, as I perceived things, the only sensible course to take was to butcher the sow.  The meat would keep for many days, and to wait much longer would mean losing that advantage to the warming weather.

Once again, I half circled the rickety pen and climbed inside, right next to the sprawled creature.  Again she groaned where she lay but was predictably unwilling to make room for my foot, as I pretended for a moment to fuss with the enclosure.  Since losing her indoor privileges she lay with her back to the warmest wall of the house, close against the earthen stove just inside the wall, which gave her some comfort on these cold nights.

In truth I loosed the rail a bit to aid my escape.  Then, casually, as if I did it often, as indeed I had done in years gone by, I slowly placed one foot against the nape of the sow’s neck so that her lunge would help propel me, and I plunged the pike into the side of her slackening throat as she exhaled.

The iron rod began on one end with a long, long point as sharp as a sewing needle.  It grew wider toward the fat end, where it was capped in a thick, wide leather grip.  It penetrated her windpipe instantly and sank deeper into the mud than I had expected, which nearly pitched me over her and onto her flailing feet.  But, due to my own sudden panic, I recovered quickly.  The iron rod pinned her neck to the earth for an extra second, and then I was hurled through the side of the enclosure as she leaped to her feet and crashed out of the pigpen, still skewered.  My foot found the hollowed-log barrel it sought and from there I sprang to the low, bark-covered roof of the house to lie and watch.

For a horrible moment I tried to recall whether I had left the door ajar on the opposite side of the house, for if I had, Yomo could have been drawn toward the light of the cooking fire in her effort to breath.  But her struggle was mercifully brief.  With the fatal rod through her neck, she ran for the woods behind the house, but collapsed halfway across the distance.  Where she fell I was determined to leave her for the night, although a proper butchering would not have waited for morning.

When she was down and clearly no more a threat, I slit her in the throat and the haunches to help the blood to drain, and then circled the house to go inside.  I must have been hurrying, because my forehead, as it had often done before, met the low lintel over the door and snapped my head back.  My butt landed somewhere within the dim interior of my cottage and the back of my head slammed against the mercifully rotted threshold.  I think I slept there, stunned, for a brief spell, for my chest had a dusting of snow upon it by the time I looked myself over and pondered which way was up.  For the rest of this night I would surge in and out of pain deep inside my head.

At last I lighted a large wax ball candle that we physicians would use to heat ingredients and sat it on an upturned log next to the bed.  As I was about to light another my eye caught a dark red stain on the deerskin bedding, matching the color of the lady’s garment.  I brought my face close in order to see well and suspected I had discovered the source, a wound at the tender spot I had noticed earlier in her right ribs.  Once again I spoke to the lady and carefully fingered her ribs.  She tried to draw her knees up in response, but did not regain consciousness.  I lifted her and shifted her a little onto her left side to let her curl her body and to place the wound at better advantage for the work I would surely be doing soon.  Then I stood back and regarded the bed and lamented that it lay so near the floor.  A bench nearer my own waist height would have served much better.

The master’s bed — called such both for its unusual and innovative design: a wide, padded platform raised a hand’s span above the floor, and because my own master had slept there until recently — stood just to the left as one entered my house.  Most every other peasant has his bed spread upon the large earthen stove that dominates every house, or on an earthen shelf molded into the side of the stove, and the family sleeps anywhere on these surfaces, for it is made with that in mind.  But mine was a master’s bed, stuffed with pine needles and all manner of loose hair, covered with deerskin, furs, and woolen blankets — haven to insects, it is true.  It sat near enough to the stove to know the warmth on most nights, and was protected from the out-of-doors by being behind the door as one opened it.  What’s more, the door, like that in a rich home, was sealed against drafts by having strips of fur tacked along the four edges to cover all the cracks around it, and the outside, in deepest winter, could be covered with layers of skins.

As the lady lay, her head right behind the door, my mind raced to discern the proper way to proceed.  I stroked a large icicle that I had brought inside, in order to wet my palm, and pressed my hand against her cheek.  I commanded her to awaken, but she did not.  Her breathing seemed slowed, her face without a trace of color next to my hand, which itself was not greatly darkened.

With her black hair and angular but pleasant features I would have assumed her a Turk, but for her manner of dress and the paleness of her face and hands.  She had wide eyelids that wrapped around to the sides of her face and rims of lashes lining her eyes in black.  Her long hair was pulled back and collected in some type of tie, exposing her ears.  I had seldom looked closely or long at a woman’s ears.  There was a cord in her neck that bulged at the base of her ear and I wanted to touch it.  Her nose looked to be longer than necessary and projected blade-like before her face.  Her nostrils were wide, and yet this formidable nose did not detract from her femininity.  She was likely younger than the dead nobleman, who himself couldn’t have been in his twentieth year.

And, if I continued to procrastinate upon what I knew I must do, she would never become twenty herself.  I looked for the proper way to open the front of her garment — a sort one-piece, body-length caftan — in order to expose her injury, but however the clothing was fastened was unclear to me.  I didn’t want to convulse her further by turning her torso over to search for fasteners at her back.  So, with great care but deft action, using a shearing device my master had devised by pinning two like blades at a pivot, I slit the garment from her neck to her navel and then cut it toward me at the waist.  I cut her sleeve free and pulled it from her arm, then peeled the rest of the rich cloth carefully to the bed.  I fully expected to reveal a protruding rib-bone, and that anticipation gave me some fear, for I had never yet succeeded in removing a loose bone and keeping the sufferer alive afterward.

I sprinkled water onto her skin to soften the thickening blood, thus to aid in peeling away the fine and expensive cloth.  I had to use the ragged edge of my thicker thumbnail to scrape and separate the cloth from her skin right next to the wound itself.  Would she be angry with me for destroying her clothing?  This question set me to worrying.  Yet her blood had ruined it already, or so I consoled myself.

Soon I had bared before me a long, deep gash like one that might have been made if a corner of a heavy box had struck her with extreme force.  Somehow, indeed, I concluded, she had been driven against her clothing box, or else against a part of the interior of her carriage that had had that same shape and effect.

For many minutes I daubed and soaked up blood and perhaps other vital fluids, intent upon exploring the cavity to search for bone fragments or other unseen damage.

I looked at her face often, during this process, for any sign of consciousness of pain.  There was none.  Still, blood came forth in tiny rivulets, therefore I remained hopeful.  Cautiously I reached a finger into the opening, and beside it another, releasing suddenly a faster flow of warm, sticky fluid.  I knew that in this part of the body I could encounter the entrails, or a punctured bubbling lung, or a dark organ.  My probing told me nothing, though, but that I had done enough; I neither touched nor saw any of these possibilities, and her bones felt to be whole, although perhaps cracked.  I unwrapped a pack of implements and found a needle of ivory which I quickly strung with a waxed woolen thread.  I had observed many times before how skin will shrink away from a wound, but most people I had sewn in my apprenticeship to the master had skin both tough and pliable.  Lately Sadruk had taught me to sniff the skin to be sewn, for the odor of the flesh can indicate its strength.  This lady’s chest smelled sweet and even retained the essence of her wet woolen garment.

Promising odor aside, the lady’s skin was thin and tore easily as I stitched.  Unlike the skin on a creature’s or a person’s back, the skin on one’s flank can be fragile.  My master’s method had been first to soak rags in a tea of borage and lay these over the wound to help the edges of skin glue themselves back together, then to remove the rags and lay one flap of skin over the other.  He would then line up a row of stitches through the overlapping layers.  I had some dried leaves of borage and so I boiled them and applied the tea-soaked rags.  But my master’s stitching method I could not use on the lady’s tender chest.  I resorted instead to individual knots to bring together the delicate edges of her wound.  In all I broke only two needles doing this.

There were other methods, of course.  Older physicians or medicine women might salt the entire wound to soften it all around, then pack it with powdery clay to dry it.  They obtained better results at times by smearing a wound with vulture grease or with the pulverized entrails of certain animals, mixed with clay.  If the victim’s station in life were of little enough consequence, they might do nothing more than to wrap the open wound tightly with strong linen and wait for the skin to grow together once more.  If the wound failed to close, or if the sufferer died, then this was taken to signify that the person was guilty of some past crime.  Frequently the first person in the villages near where I grew up, injured by any means after an unsolved crime had occurred, was watched for this very sign of guilt.

Sadruk had taught me to make a paste of crushed coriander seeds, whose aroma offended the nose — not by its fragrance but by its strength.  This paste should be spread over the stitched skin.  Also, if I wanted to take the time, I had one of the best coverings for such a great cut right behind my house, for the intestines of a pig, unrolled, scraped, and stretched, would cling tightly over the wound and form a seal very much like skin itself.  But on this young sufferer I seemed to have straight edges along the gash with which to work and I know that the skin of most sufferers heals well when sewn by my method.  I was not concerned whether this lady were guilty of anything or not.  What’s more, I was eager to impress this stranger with my attentions and skill.  After sewing her closed, therefore, I applied a poultice of comfrey, rather than the coriander paste, to encourage the knitting of any broken rib bones, covered her as best I could with my blanket and also with my master’s fur covering, and sat back on my stool now fully perplexed.  I would explain to her that, in a few weeks’ time she should be able to gather the narrow leaves of fresh philanthropos to press against the wound, if it were still not fully healed, but such plants had not yet sprouted.

My master had said I would make a fine physician, and perhaps he was right to trust in my intelligence, for I believe I learn well and judge wisely.  But I grow anxious when I am unsure of myself, and I sat staring now at this soon-to-be cadaver and furiously gnawed on my beard.

+ + +

In my youth I had expected to be a hunter.  Before the tragedy which claimed my brother’s life and drove me from my mother’s home I was proving quite skillful.  A year after Latchek, my brother, drowned I was taken into the hunters.  Gradually, though, others were seeing and killing food where I saw none.  I realized at last that I was afflicted with a kind of blindness which I found disappointing, but not to be feared.  No farther than a hand-span from my face I can see sharply.  Beyond that, men and animals can move and can see one another and me clearly, but not I them.  I may see vague forms and colors moving in the distance but that is all.

I understood that if hunting were the only way for me to survive I would quickly have died in my youth, as indeed no doubt many had died before me who through the ages suffered only from poor vision.  As a hunter who couldn’t see, I would starve.  And while I would be slowly starving some creature of guile, either man or beast, would have crept up on me and I, unable to see until too late, would have perished.  Indeed, this very possibility haunts me even the more today.

My mother, who came from the Lithuanian people near the shores of the great Sea of Balta, would have told me that I had earned a curse from one of her gods.  Or worse, she would have blamed my curse onto something she had done herself, for she too had poor eyes.  But I never returned to my home town of Perenemansk after my expulsion from my hunting group, and so my poor mother never had the chance to trouble me about it.  And I never had to trouble myself further with her bewildering assortment of gods and spirits.  She especially would disapprove my present occupation of physician, for by her reckoning all serious illness comes from the spirit world, and my worsening eyesight would be an affliction that the spirits had caused in me.  This reasoning holds no fascination for me.  For physicians such as my master, and now I (his former apprentice), discredit the notion of spirit-caused illness.  While my mother would argue that the spirits are displeased with me for attempting to heal those justly cursed, I find that even people I know to be guilty or nasty-tempered heal as quickly as those who are demonstrably pure in heart.

Fortunately, in these present times, there are many things other than hunting that a man can do which require seeing only close-in, and thus, my fortunes turned me toward the art of healing with medicine.

+ + +

As the candle flame whipped about, tossed by feeble, unseen influences, I regarded the lady before me and judged that she could only be uncomfortable the way she lay.  The skirt she wore over the lower portion of her caftan — a lap robe of sorts, integral to the garment, was so voluminous and bunched behind her that her legs could not lie flat upon the bed.  I also said inside myself that, while I had found one serious injury, I had examined her no more thoroughly than that.  Yet there was no evidence of another bloody wound, so I procrastinated on checking her further.

Something inside me, in spite of my fear of losing her to death, jumped with glee as I thought of the opportunity that her death would pose.  Outside I had a male cadaver, an uncommon find for any student of medicine not handy to a battle.  Inside I might soon have a female.  The only good female cadavers I had heard of were scarce and expensive, if one could afford to pay anything at all.

Cadavers are usually derived of four sources, if one doesn’t count a battlefield.  The worst, to my thinking, are bodies of people killed by plagues.  They are never fresh and much to be avoided, my master had said.  My only opportunity to examine a female body had involved one of these, and, while from outside the house of the physician who owned the cadaver I saw the body briefly and can summon full recall of its stench even today, I declined the chance to join those who had gathered from afar to get their hands on the organs or probe the bones with knives.

Unguarded graves are the second source.  Many bodies, both of men and of women, are taken from graves and sold under the pretense that they have been obtained by other means, although those who trade in these carcasses usually make no attempt to remove the tell-tale soil.  These can also be identified by their price.  While victims of a plague generally command virtually no price at all, exhumed corpses bring whatever price the buyer is willing to pay, since those who rob graves are desperate men after easy silver and the bodies must be moved along quickly even if frozen, before discovery of the open grave.

I can recall my mother’s admonitions not to play at night near the burial ring of our village, and indeed, it is a rule that children everywhere seem to have in common.  I understand now that, although we were warned that it would offend the spirits of our dead ancestors to play among them, it was more surely a mother’s fear that I, her child, would fall into a recently-raided grave and suffer an injury, or that I would chance upon grave robbers who would steal me as well.

If I merely happened to trip and fall into one, the injury would be minor, though.  Plundered graves are more frightening than damaging, especially to children.  The burial ring in nearby Pinea might not prove damaging at all.  It is more sophisticated than the ones I knew in my childhood.  In Pinea, for example, the ground is scraped flat and a slight depression is made for each body.  Logs are placed alongside and over the corpse, which itself is covered with rocks, to thwart scavenging animals.  The mound is then covered with debris — leaves, twigs, brush, and the removed soil.  There is not much of a hole to stand as a hazard, but more a pile of heavy and therefore unyielding debris.

The third source of cadavers, and the best if most onerous ones to be had for study, with prices to match, are generally known to be the bodies of pretty wenches abducted from the streets of larger towns and cities, mutilated somewhat to feign accidental death, and sold soon after in the country.  But even though the desire for these is high, the demand is not — who can pay the prices?  What’s more, no city, where an anonymous abduction could take place, was within a hundred versts of Sadruk’s house, so this source was useless to us.

Slaves provide the last source, and an easy source wherever slaves are common.  They were not common in these deep woods, for the people who could afford to own slaves were few — mainly the Prince himself and an occasional town magistrate.  A pair of slaves had been delivered to Sadruk the previous autumn, draped across the back of a horse.  They belonged to the prince of some region to our south, and had taken suddenly and violently ill during a trading mission to Drizha.  By the time they arrived at our house, accompanied by a twitchy little guard and a large, mean woman who apparently served as their traveling cook, they were dead.  Sadruk had been relieved to receive them in this condition, for had they still been alive, the cook, as supervisor, would have proved troublesome and meddlesome during their treatment and recovery.

And yet, the cook remained furious about the distance they had traveled to find this house, when they had been told it was only a short distance into the forest.  She would tell it all around the countryside how Sadruk and I had mistreated her poor slaves and killed them both.  Sadruk coolly struck a deal with her, though, whereby the cook could claim that she had sold him a pair of living, sickly slaves, which made it legal and absolved her of responsibility for losing them to illness; and to Sadruk’s mind, he had obtained a pair of inexpensive cadavers.

The dead slaves were both lean, powerfully-built young men of unclear origin — Sadruk thought they were Greeks — and they provided invaluable lessons in anatomy for the next several days.  We compared the position and color and size of their parts, one with the other, and dissected eyes, hands, genitals, and even peered into the brain of one.  We buried their remains after Sadruk had removed certain organs and muscles for later study.  These reserved parts even now were carefully wrapped in linen, marked as to which man they had belonged to, and lay frozen on the roof, protected from ravens by a cage of woven saplings.

Almost never, I was sure, did a student of medical arts obtain a female cadaver as I felt sure I was about to do: A complete stranger would die on my bed and leave no one to claim her corpse.  Could I simply bury her — the decent thing to do?  Yet for all its simplicity there was supreme risk in keeping her for study.  Surely somewhere, within days I judged, these two would be missed.  People would come searching.  How soon?  Were they to rendezvous within hours of their passing here?  Was there another, accompanying carriage before theirs, or behind?  I had seen none, but I had been busy!  With what I had on my hands at this point, I was already guilty of some crime, I was certain, for without a doubt I would be expected to report the accidental death of a nobleman, and merely not to do that was a crime.  And in reporting such, I could be sure, I would be viewed with suspicion.  And, should the lady survive and recall the incident, my pig would be brought to account, and I to account for the pig.  And yet, not my own pig but my master’s, and then, worst of all I would be brought to account for the disappearance of my master.

Then a plausible explanation for the lady’s presence in my house came to mind, should she begin to recover, but only if I could rid myself of all trace of the carriage, the nobleman, his clothes, and the horse.  I could not bury the evidence, for, even if I could penetrate the ground, determined searchers would surely unearth a shred of clothing or an iron carriage strap.  As it were, my master’s own body would also be discovered, since it was frozen and poorly covered by loose stones in a sandy embankment nearby.

I slid back the covering over my door’s peephole and stared into the darkness in the direction of the brush pile that covered the debris from the accident.  What I must do was easy to deduce.  I even caught the sound of my own voice saying: “Of course!”   Snow still fell, lightly and from a low sky that would obscure any sign of flame or smoke.  My house was an uncommon half day’s brisk walk from the nearest village, Pinea, and a quarter day’s walk from the next dwelling.

I gathered embers from the stove into a leather pouch lined with sand and carried the fire starter to the brush pile.  I had cleared enough land the previous autumn to expand the root garden my master had always kept for marketable produce.  (If I were to carry on my apprenticed art in this place I needed to offer more than my mere services in exchange for my own needs of food, instruments, and condiments.)  The brush, if it would burn, surely could not ignite the frozen forest, so to start a fire here would be safe and virtually undetected from afar.

Within minutes, with last autumn’s partially-dried branches as starter fuel, I had a willing and intense blaze.  But it had been a mistake to ignite the fuel first; now I had to find a way to place the nobleman onto the hottest part of the fire.  I pulled the  young man’s corpse upright and struggled against its willowy complacency in a macabre dance that nearly landed me in the flames as well.  I stood by for a short while.  As soon as it — the body — was ignited I began to smell the oddly pleasing but, of course, hideous odor of sizzling human flesh.

With a rush of panic my head automatically jerked toward the house.  What if she had seen?  Was that the lady leaning out the doorway, watching, silently accusing?  I kept my useless, cloudy gaze on the house and strolled toward it.  The figure in the door didn’t move.  It turned out to be nothing more than the bracing and rags that have been added over the years to help the door do its job.  But other images of disaster flitted into my mind, and for hours I expected them to come true.  Predators on four legs would smell the cooking meat and lunge from the forest to drag a sizzling leg from the fire’s edge.  The smoke would whisper into the nose of a neighbor, many versts distant; he would imagine the house on fire and rush to help, (or to be the first to loot the charred remains that he expected to find).

All through the night I returned to the house, then to the fire, and back to each again.  Outside I often heard my thoughts rendered in my own voice — I was nervously talking to myself as I carried out the complicated tasks!  At the site of the blaze I heaped on more fuel and raked in the embers to assure that the nobleman’s body and the carriage would burn completely.

At the house I began cooking a stew and tended further to the lady — and I pondered the problem of the horse.  Such a carcass as that of a horse I could not incinerate as I was doing the nobleman’s, for I doubted that I would succeed in roasting even half its meat, much less making it vanish.  I had no way to destroy the horse without a trace.

But the willing beast helped me in my decision by lingering near the house and by allowing me to bob its tail in the manner common to our Volynian neighbors to the west and to clip its mane.  The hair I was glad to have for surgical thread and bedding.  For the time being I included it in the bed’s stuffing near the lady’s feet.  I removed its iron shoes and filed its hooves in order to assure no identification of it by that means.  After a thorough examination I was sure that it bore no artificial mark of ownership.  Thus, come daybreak, I could drive it from my house and onto the road.  There I could persuade it — scare it actually, by means of whipping or shouting, to flee toward the village or into the woods.

The fire consumed enormous quantities of fuel.  The small trees, branches, and shrubs that I had saved on the hillside were disappearing quickly, and the opportunity to dispose of one more body would soon pass.  I had been reluctant — reluctant to look at Sadruk once more and to see how he had decayed; reluctant more to remove every trace of him from the face of the earth.  Yes, that was it!  The source of my procrastination had a name, and having a name, it was vulnerable.  I could face it, identify it, deal with it.  If I gave him to the fire, he would be as gone as if eaten by a great omnivorous beast.  It would be as if Sadruk of Pinea had never existed.  It was too horrible a thing to do, without his assent, to one I had loved.  My vision further obscured by tears, I removed my rigid master from his shallow grave, however reverently he had been committed to rest, and refilled the hole.  Without looking full at him — I feared to see him staring up at me — I incinerated his carcass too, right after I had reluctantly flung the nobleman’s clothes and sack — a piece at a time — onto the inferno.

Inside the house I checked the lady obsessively, but she slept on, and more peacefully, I imagined.

With the clouds low and thick, daylight penetrated later than usual, and still the snow fell softly.  Flakes were now piling up on the ashes at the edges of my bonfire.  I raked through the coals and dragged out what I could find of metal and bones.  One particularly large, hot piece of iron gave me a thought, and, gripping it in a sizzling willow fork, I walked to the horse and poked the poor beast full in the flesh below its brief tail.  The mare’s hind hooves sprayed me with clumps of icy earth as she charged away toward the road without a backward glance.  (She may not have known that it was I who lightly burned her rump.)

At the fire I completed my work of raking the coals and destroying the evidence by grinding the brittle skulls, pelvises, and femurs between two large rocks and scattering the fragments back onto the center of the fire.  Exhausted, but still cheerfully talking to myself, I worked down every bone that I could in this fashion, and pieces that were too hard to break down I set aside into a pile as I did the metal.  I longed to retain some bone powder for use in my medicines, but dared not do so for the uncertainty that rose in me — supposing the dust of Sadruk or the other might have the power to call out from the jar to anyone who would peer inside.

This tedious work gave me much time drowsily to talk to myself about the things my master had taught me as I sought to apply them to the lady inside my house — and not so much the details of medicine but the truths of the world.  For instance, he brought me to understand, as the ancient teacher Aristotle taught, that all matter is composed of four elements: earth, water, fire, and air.  As I worked before the light of the embers these elements were all present, and indeed only these in their many forms.  All material bodies have four properties, and these, too, were evident as I ground the bones and sorted the refuse: the hot and the moist, and their contraries, the cold and the dry.  Even as I watched the occasional snowflake strike a glowing coal, I saw the evidence of this: the cold dry water crystals transmuted into the hot wet air.  There is much more beyond these truths that people will probably never know, for example, how one form of matter gives rise to things with different properties: how trees make leaves, how logs becomes ashes, how water becomes ice.  I didn’t seriously concern myself with these problems, but they were sufficiently intriguing to draw my thoughts from my master’s immolation and my lady’s mutilation.

At last I was satisfied with my work.  Late in the dawn I gathered the piles of larger bones and metal and visited the stream across the road.  In truth I traveled down the stream for some distance before I found a spot I deemed deep enough to contain, beyond reach, the iron, including the horse’s shoes.  From the sack of bone fragments I dropped pieces all about, both in the water and out, but not so that anyone who might find one piece in the winter forest would be likely to find another.

Returning to my house I saw that my footprints leading to the stream were quickly being obliterated by the snow that had now come up heavy and cold and windblown.  At the site of the fire I scooped up spadefuls of embers and flung them into the crop garden and beyond, and I dragged more unburned branches into a circle to surround the hissing ashes.  Within hours there would be nothing left to observe there but a much-reduced brush pile with snow upon, within, and beneath it.

<Table of Contents> <Two> <Four>  <People and Places>

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  1. Pingback: Two | Maine Yankee

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