And here is the last of my introductions to the cast of Resistance. After the more intense introductions, this one is all about booze and fire 🙂 The book is out tomorrow, and I’ve got a busy day. I’ll be over at The Novel Approach taking part in Carole Cummings’ regular Genre Talk column, and I’ll be taking over the DSP Publications twitter feed for a live chat between 6pm and 7pm EST (11pm-Midnight GMT).
With no further ado, here’s Nuray…
Summer 1022, the Gansa Pass, southern Tiallat (two years before Tarnamell’s rising)
“What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever set on fire?” Raif asked dreamily. He was sprawled above Nuray on the hillside, the wine bottle hanging from his hand. He looked as if he was about to melt into dry ground, and she sympathised. Even up here, under the vast wheel of the sky, the rocks were still carrying the heat of the sun. The air was warm against her cheeks, and would be until summer broke apart at the solstice. Despite the heat, though, it felt good to bare her face under the stars.
Nuray took the wine from him before he spilled it, took a swig herself, grimacing at the bitter tang of it, and passed it on. “I’m sure the Dual God doesn’t approve of boys who chase compliments, Raif. We all know you like burning things.”
“The Bright Lord loves fire,” Raif argued, propping himself up on his elbows to squint at her. “And I meant it. I want to know.”
Iskandir, perched cross-legged on a rock and gazing over the moonlit valley, heaved a sigh. “The Bright Lord loves sunshine.”
“The sun burns,” Raif argued.
“I burned my balls once,” Lev said, with a long sigh. “Hurt like fuck.”
There was a short silence as they all absorbed that, and Nuray thought dimly that it was a good thing the Savattin weren’t due through until noon tomorrow because right now they were all too blazing drunk to even stumble towards the fight, let alone pull off a successful ambush.
Raif, who she hadn’t bullied out of primness yet, shot her an agonised glance. Honestly, some men took their time learning to look past the fact she had breasts and treat her as what she was.
Stretching out her leg, she kicked Raif in the side, and said, “How the fuck did you do that, Lev?”
“Had to run out the back of that safehouse in Tirden—the one under the bathhouse, remember?”
Nuray nodded, and Iskandir said, “Hot stones in the basement, and a tight squeeze to get into the escape tunnel. You wouldn’t get through it, Raif. You’re too tall.”
Raif was still looking embarrassed, and Nuray took back her earlier assumption. Maybe it wasn’t just her part in the conversation. Boy might set a pretty fire, but he was a prude. All the same, he cleared his throat and asked hesitantly, “But why were you naked enough for, er, skin contact.”
“Well,” Lev said, his tone making it sound like they were all idiots, “it was a bathhouse.”
They contemplated that for a while and then Nuray said, quite honestly, “I can’t believe you’re not dead yet.”
“I’m lucky,” Lev said, clapping his hand to his chest.
Raif said, grabbing the bottle from him and passing it up to Iskandir, “No, but I hear the Dark God loves a fool.”
“Which is lucky for me,” Lev said comfortably.
Iskandir laughed. “And we are all the Dark God’s children, are we not?”
“God loves us,” Nuray said and leaned back against the rock behind her, crossing her legs. “Pass that bottle back, priest, before you finish it.”
“It’s his holy duty,” Lev said. “Drunkenness is only a breath from holy rapture, you know. And, whatever-whatever, the grape and the silver vine.”
Iskandir winced. “If you’re going to butcher poetry, I’d rather go back to Raif and his fire-starting tendencies.”
“It was beautiful,” Raif said, with a happy sigh. “All those poppies turning into flames. You should ask me to burn more things.”
Nuray laughed as Iskandir turned a dismayed face to them. She said, “If he turns the whole south to ashes, I shall blame you.”
“Like you’ve never burned anything?” Raif said, pouting slightly. They should get him drunk more often, though maybe not when there were any open flames around.
Nuray thought about it and grinned. “Of course I have. We all have.”
“So,” Raif persisted, “what about my question? The strangest thing you’ve ever set on fire. Not a body part, Lev.”
Lev snorted and took the bottle from Iskandir firmly. “A flour store. You wouldn’t believe how they go up. I worried it would just fizzle out, but it took out half the camp. Even set the air on fire, it looked like. Scared the piss out of me.”
Nuray, who had grown up in a small farming village, groaned. City boys, the lot of them. “If you’d known what you were doing, I’d be impressed.”
Lev shrugged and took another swig, grimacing. “This stuff is rough. You sure it’s wine?”
“Black wine,” Nuray said. “It’s a local delicacy. Reckon they usually cellar it longer, though. Hard to keep it long when your cellars might be searched.”
“They’re lucky the Savattin haven’t burned the vines,” Iskandir said grimly.
Raif cut over him. “How do you know that?”
Nuray shrugged. “People talk to me.” She didn’t add the rest of the story, the reason why so many of the resistance’s helpers looked at her and confided their secrets. It was a rare place where she didn’t hear, my sister walked your road, before the Savattin took her, or, I had a cousin once, but he is dead now. They strangled him with his own veil. Even, sometimes, I would have taken your road, in another time.
Dead, vanished, whipped, raped: the women who walked the Man’s Path were no longer safe in Tiallat. Their brothers on the Woman’s Path died too or were forced into an army they hated, to handle weapons that repelled them.
In another time, she would still be in her village. The baker’s daughter would simply have become the baker’s son, and only those who had known her since childhood would have known she was born to another path. Now, though, she wore her difference as proudly as she wore the man’s cap over her shorn hair, and her man’s shirt over her breasts—in another age, she would have bound them, becoming what her heart knew was true, but not now, not in this age where showing your difference to the world was as pure an act of defiance as setting alight a poisonous crop. She wanted them all to see her, and know that the Savattin way was not the only way.
One day, when her country was free, she could rest and simply be the man she carried in her heart, her true face. Not yet, though, not when she could still only bare her face amongst the company of these men, only under the gaze of the moon.
“I burned a bridge once,” Iskandir said, and she shook herself and pulled her attention back to the conversation. Brooding would make no difference, and she could at least enjoy good company tonight, in the company of her sworn brothers.
“Nuray?” Raif asked. “What did you burn?”
“My veil,” she said, smiling at the stars. It was a good memory.
“That’s it?” Lev asked, sounding disappointed.
“Ask her where she burned it,” Iskandir said and she grinned up at him. Of course he knew this story. He had a knack for knowing everything, that one.
“In the village square,” she said, remembering the gleeful crackle of that flame. “Well, on the steps of the Savattin temple, to be precise. On the anniversary of the Fall of Taila, during the Savattin’s festival.”
There was another of those startled silences and she laughed into it, relishing the memory. That had been a good day.
“And you say I’m lucky to be alive,” Lev grumbled.
Nuray shrugged and took the wine again, drinking to the memory of a very good day. “I think we should answer a new question.”
“Oh?” Iskandir sounded amused.
She sat up, grinning at them all. “I ask you this. Forget what we’ve already done. Those are old stories. Tell me instead—what shall we burn next?”
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©Amy Rae Durreson 2015