I worked on this chapter and this whole book a lot, because it requires a lot of research, I will be slow in putting up chapters. Still working on Darkest Light 3.
1. Sand Test
Geography, Grade 11, Chapter 12: Frontiers (Excerpts)-
…Nahshon is popularly regarded the hottest inhabited area, lying a few kilometers south of the Uni Desert, on the left of the Desert Highway… Temperatures sometimes reach record peaks in summer and plummet in winter… Nahshon is mostly unfertile and the basic occupation of its population of approx. 1000 is working in the nearby Frontier gold mine …Nahshon also trades traditional handicrafts like sand-paintings and dried flowers… and makes gold jewelry in smiths…Nearest City: Nesta, 23 kilometer…Nearest Town: Tozile, 14 kilometer…
What was best associated with Nahshon village was flatness.
Hard packed dirt grounds, punishingly blistering undulating dunes of sand, plane fields, and dreariness in the river beds dried to dehydration by relentless summer. The heat comes down around at seven in the morning and stays till midnight. Sometimes there is rain- but not enough, never enough to fill the dried out ponds or the parched throats of a population of near thousand.
They say- or rather they teach us in school under Geography and Climatology- that Nahshon is the hottest in the whole of the Tri-city Civilization frontiers. But I wouldn’t know. I have never left Nahshon in my seventeen years of life. All I know is that we are almost frightfully too close to the Uni Desert, close enough that the sand grit from the desert storms makes it impossible to venture out in the peak of summer. But it is home to us and we make the best of it.
My mother is a prime example of making the best of it. She is a painter, who doesn’t need brushes or expensive colors that come in bottles. All she needs is sand and indigo and orchil to make pretty things the Frontier Traders buy from her at bloody low prices and sell to Power City. No one from the City ever comes out here- there is not much to see in a hot frontier town. But it is an odd feeling knowing that the picture of our purple flowers, created by my mother Shale’s hands while my little brother Whin and I watched over her shoulders, lies in a house in the City, marveled at by many.
What use do I make of sand?
Sand is competition. Sand is the villain in the cruel game we adolescents of Nahshon invented. Sand is the flaming hot furnace of fire licking at my blistering back through my thin flax blouse.
‘Ahhh!’ moans Yute, and then he’s out of the game, scrambling up and howling in misery and shame and pain. The refracted light from the gold nugget that Mesusah holds in his deft brown fingers glints off Yute’s nut brown eyes and there is unmistakable humiliation in his eyes, hurt pride showing through his disdainful façade.
And even though my throat is parched, even though my eyes are gritty and my lips so dry that they are bleeding, I manage to smile. Yute has lost. I am one step closer to getting my hands on that gold nugget. My gold nugget, I correct myself. Because Hala Rosagne Knawel never loses.
Yute sees my cocky grin and snarls incoherently.
‘Half-breed, save that pretty skin will you?’ he leers, tossing sand of his bright blond hair. He looks like a giant wet dog shaking off water, but I don’t tell him that. ‘, Or else your Mom will find you a City boy toy too’
The rest of the boys hoot and howl with laughter. Here in Nahshon, City men are considered spineless. That the insult is not at me, but at my parentage, smarts at me, and I consider getting into a fight with him (as was usual). Then I remember the competition and the gold nugget.
‘With a mouth like that, Yute, maybe you’ll pass for a City boy’ I retort, smiling sweetly at him. ‘, Maybe if this competition involved using that mouth, you’d have put in a better showing’
Yute growls wordlessly, his neck muscles showing tense above his bare shoulders. I have just about destroyed his pride, taking a jibe at him for losing to a girl. Smart-mouth or not, he can’t deny that I had outlasted him in the sand test.
Joze is next to jump up, screaming his head off, making the rest of us laugh. Two of the watching boys have to dump a whole bucket of water over his scorched back before he calms down enough that we can all hope to regain our hearing one day in the future.
Now I’m really grinning. It is a pretty big nugget of gold I’m vying for. It is enough for a ring, maybe even a thin chain. I could use it for mine own uses or sell it after I make something out of it at my smithy. I smile at the prospect, but then my smile fades because I can feel the burning pain on my back beginning to numb a little.
That can’t be good.
I drift a little, slightly fuzzy. Heat is worming into my brain, making me feel stupid and heavy, and I lie there smiling like an idiot. Sweat trickles down my forehead uncomfortably. I keep my eyes on Mesusah and the nugget, dreaming of it as I drift.
Herbe is suddenly up, staring down at me, his deep coal black eyes not betraying the pain he is in. Silent boy, that one…
That means…that means something but I can’t think straight.
‘Well. Half-breed Knawel wins’ announces Mesusah, in a bored voice. I smile at him, knowing that this is his way of saying you win, dear, congrats. Mesusah isn’t great with compliments. In fact, none of the boys are. Some of them are over-cocky, some of them sweet, even moody…but they aren’t good with compliments or shows of affection. Here in Nahshon, we are defined mostly by what we can do, and not by the praise we get for doing it.
He leans down and places the nugget in my fingers. I acknowledge my hard-earned victory with a nod and a hysterical little laugh, and then feel stupid.
I definitely can’t think straight. The gold nugget grows hot in my hands as Mesusah says ‘Hala…we’re leaving’.
‘Go on’, I say, in a dreamy voice ‘, Give me a minute, okay?’
I hear their muffled footsteps as their feet move through the shifting sand. My back feels numb but I am too tired to get up right then, so I open my eyes to the evening sky rich with its palette of colors from silky reds to liquid lilacs all streaming from the magnificent ochre globe in the west. There must be sea there, I think, vaguely.
“Sea” is an alien concept to me. We have seen pictures of course, on television. We have smelt sea air and heard the waves crashing in the Simulation Chambers at school…but the rise and fall of the waves, the water stretching to the other side of the world…that seems alien. A different world. A different planet.
Alesan once made a model of the sea- a working model- for my science project, a rising and falling sphere of water inside a transparent glass ball complete with the moon and tidal waves and my recorded tinny-sounding voice explaining high tide and low tide and pretty beaches. Like I knew any beaches. At least I got an A for that one.
Alesan is worried, I realize, as the sun dips into that far-off, invisible, alien sea. It is sunset, and I’m not home. He is probably worried.
This is an annoying discovery, I think, because this means I’ll have to get up and trudge through the rapidly cooling desert to reach home.
The cutting wind bites against my sand tortured back as I stand up shakily, slightly dizzy. There seems to be some kind of weird fuzz in my brain- like static on radio- everything is obscure. I clench my gold nugget and walk two steps before I stumble.
‘A bad case of sunstroke’ I imitate the village doctor’s pompous City accent and burst into hysterical laughter. I am still rolling on the floor, laughing and crying, when Alesan’s face appears above me.
His eyebrows bush together in bewilderment and the effect is so funny against his fawn brown skin and serious inky black eyes that I laugh harder. They have a liquid luminosity, I notice suddenly. His eyes, that is.
I gaze confusedly at him. The angles and planes of his face are familiar to me. Every aspect of his face- from his high cheekbones to the small black mole above his lips- everything is as by-heart to me as my own face. I know him well- the result of being best friends
More soon…plus the latest chapter of Darkest Light…