Monday, June 03, 2013

Canyon Town, part three

In total, I believe we spent a day or two in the canyons. Perhaps three. Surrounded by so many centuries, it was easy to lose track of a few days.

We had grown accustomed to the sunlight coming only from above, filtering down through the narrow tops of the canyons to glisten on leaks from the raised aqueduct and cast shadows from the plants sprouting along its walls. When we finally turned a corner and found sunlight spilling through a doorway, it took us a moment to realize what it was.

We had reached an exit. Instead of another empty house, the arch before us was full of sunlit desert.

We approached the narrow opening slowly, half-disbelieving, like sleepers waking from a dream. We found ourselves strangely reluctant to leave - and not just because of the contrast between the cool canyon streets and the dry, sun-blasted dunes outside. The town had been home to many people once. Perhaps it was only my imagination, but I thought I felt a hint of sadness from the abandoned walls around us. The town couldn't have gotten guests often, and now we were preparing to leave.

Does a town grow lonely when no one lives in it? I don't know. If we had had a longer supply of food, though, I wonder if this one would have let us go so soon.

At the top of the arch was another statue, its features worn away by weather long ago. It might have been a bird of some sort. The words carved below the statue had lasted better, sheltered by its feet or talons, and Mirenza was able to read them.

"Is old poem of goodbye," she said, tracing the faded characters with one claw. "May wind stay at your back, water rise where you step, and such. Every place in Desert has same poem, little different."

It made sense for such a poem to be carved at the door to the desert, but it still felt eerily as if the town was saying goodbye to us.

When we walked out into the sun, Garnet fell behind for a moment. The small woman had barely said a dozen words since we'd become separated from the caravan. It took me a moment to notice she was gone. I looked back, worrying that we had lost her as well, and saw her whispering something to the stones of the archway. Perhaps she had felt that same sense of loneliness I had, and was giving the town a few comforting words. I don't know. I couldn't hear her, even if I had been rude enough to listen.

Far above her head, a stray breeze plucked a single peach-colored flower from one of the aqueduct plants. It drifted slowly down to land in Garnet's hand. She gave the sandstone wall a kiss and turned to catch up with us.

None of us spoke for several hours. I was quite content to be left alone with my thoughts, and extended the same courtesy to the others. We didn't say a word until the sun set and we set up a rudimentary camp for the night. A rocky outcropping provided shelter, as well as some prehistoric graffiti for Mirenza to read, and Karlishek identified a nearby stand of fat cacti as edible. They were a little like cucumbers that had grown already pickled. I made myself useful by building a fire, a task with which I have some experience, though working with the handful of miserly twigs we were able to find took all of my skill and a good deal of luck. Garnet took out a knife that looked about large enough to peel carrots - potatoes might have been a stretch - and vanished into the darkness, returning a while later to surprise the rest of us with a stringy desert hare and some kind of edible lizard. We ate, for the most part, in silence.

The flower could, of course, have only been chance. 


In my dreams, I heard the whistling of wind through narrow windows and doors, the trickling of water, and the sound of laughter so faint it was only a dream of a memory. The stillness had a measure of sadness to it - but there was hope there, too. More than anything, there was patience. A town is meant for people. A town carved in stone can afford to wait until the day when they finally come back.

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