In a Snowy Valley
Cho emerges from the light brown tent.
White skies. A good omen, supposedly. You take advantage of white skies.
Deng turns, standing, hands on hips, packed herself, ready to leave.
-still too ill.
Deng turns back around and looks at the mountains cruelly laid out before them.
-can't be helped now. We have to go.
-see that peak? Deng points in the distance and doesn't seem to care whether Cho can pick one out from the dozens, we need to reach its base by nightfall. We won't have weather this good again.
-the weather doesn't matter, Cho replied.
Deng turns and studies Cho. Trying to see through Cho. Trying to make him feel insignificant, wrong, weak. Then Deng turns back to observe the mountains. Hands behind her back proudly.
-it's all that matter, she tells the world in front of her and Cho listening helplessly behind.
-he'll be tied down.
-that's not reassuring.
-if we go now we may die. If we stay here we definitely will.
-you don't know that.
Deng's wants to sigh in exasperation but her position keeps her airs in front.
-and what do you know?
-what he told me.
-you said he was delirious.
-he is not of sound body. But he is of extremely sound mind.
This time Deng lets her sigh out loudly and angrily. She knows that Cho thinks she doesn't believe. And that's partly true. But Deng was given instructions to deliver the boy safely to the village and that’s what she is going to do.
Let the elders and the generals debate his merits as a present bargaining chip or future leader.
Deng's only concern is what she promised to her superiors.
And Cho's becoming hostile towards that adherence. Evidence has been mounting. She has been mentally cataloguing all the small but not insignificant ways that he has been jeopardizing the speed and safety of this mission to cater to the needs of the boy. Longer breaks, splitting the rations unevenly, taking longer to set up and take down camp, always discussing the matter at hand as if the boy had an equal say in how to proceed.
No more of that. These near-treasonous actions were going to get all three of them killed. If we wait any longer we'll get caught in the storm and then we'll all likely perish. Not only that, but they would probably send out an extravagant search party, and they'd be lost, too.
So much death because of Cho's reluctance.
-and what does his sound mind say? Deng asks, finally responding to Cho's assertion.
-go and speak to him yourself and hear.
Deng dredges up scenarios. Arguments, accusations, maybe physical conflict. More wasting of time and resources, the success of the mission even further away.
Go and talk then. One more peace offering.
So she turns and without glancing at Cho undoes the flaps and enters the tent and closes them again.
It's too hot in here. And the smoke was incredibly thick, almost choking. She alters her dialect just so and finds her words clipping oddly as they talk. His voice doesn't suit his body. She explains the situation and as soon as the boy make a direct reply to it she turns around, undoes the flaps and steps out of the tent and marches right to Cho.
-he says he wants to go!
-do you know why he does? Did he tell you?
-what's that matter?
-go and ask him. And if you sill want to go right now after he tells you why, then I'll agree to.
Deng didn't expect this sort of arrangement. Her heads quickly deconstructs reasons and searches for hidden meanings.
I'm bending too much with this, agreeing to go inside the first time. And now again? He's manipulating me. They are working together. I should ask Cho to explain himself fully now.
But instead she just gives him a look twice as cold as the air and goes back towards the tent.
Cho watches her disappear between the flaps and waits to make sure the inner notches are hooked back up to keep the cold out. They were. At least Deng wasn't so rash as to forget the point of this mission.
Deng wants to get the boy there and get the credit and the respect.
A celebration of her dutiful nature is in order. She has brought great honour to her family.
But all this is shortsighted.
Deng doesn't realize what is actually happening here. She is seeing...what? Months in advance? Years?
He knows the next seven sons.
The flaps are pulled apart less violently this time. Deng steps through once again and immediately looks up. The skies were darkening to grey.
-he told you?
-he told me.
-and you still want to go.
-he's delirious. It doesn't matter why he wants to go. We go.
-you have a death wish.
Deng lowers her head and looks to Cho.
-I don't believe him.
And then she walks past him.
Cho watches Deng begin to set up the sled. Soon she would ask him to get the boy out of the tent so she can take it down and place it on the sled, and the boy on top of it. As if he was just another supply.
It had to be now. She was clearly upset and wanted to move forward. Her guard would be down. No better time than this moment. It would just be him and the boy. That's all that would be needed.
Deng was ready. You had to be ready for people like Cho. People whose weakness is revealed slowly. Broken down by the harsh exterior or rotten interior.
The footsteps muffled nothing. His approach was not of a person here to assist in preparing for departure.
She sidestepped Cho's attack effortlessly.
But to his credit he recovered quick, although not nearly quick enough.
Cho didn't even know she had her knife ready. He thought her hand was going for his throat and he steeled himself to feel her fingers try to cut off his breathing, planning to eventually overpower her with his own strength.
Instead the blade cut his throat like paper. And his neck felt very warm and wet as he became very tired and dizzy and failed feebly to grab hold of Deng, who shrugged him off like an old coat.
No time to watch him die. No time for proper burial rites. She muttered a quick prayer as she made space on the sled for the tent she was about to collapse, which held the boy who recently told her that only two of the three people at this camp would make it back to the village alive.
|nothing is ever over and most things barely begin.|