The Heretic – Snippet 14
“Blaskoye over thet hill fartleken,” said Kruso. “Peers out of Cascade comenz they.”
The Blaskoye are coming over the hill. It looks like they’re coming from Cascade.
Abel did not have to ask for a translation from Center. He’d grown up around Scouts and heard enough of the patois to understand it well, and to speak it so that he could make himself understood. It was far easier than Redlandish, which he was working on now. Most Scouts spoke at least some of that language, and he was learning what he could from them.
Scoutish is a true patois of Landish and Redlandish, Center explained. But it is on its way to becoming a creole. Many similar patois have sprouted and died in the three thousand years since the Collapse. You must remember that Redlandish is far from a unified tongue, and that Landish itself did not start off as a single language, but as a mixture of tongues that were as different from one another as Spanish and French were from Catalan.
I think he’s referring to old Earth, lad. That kind of speech was long gone when I was a boy.
True to his word, Joab had permitted the twelve-year-old Abel to go on Rim patrol with the Scouts. It had been a year now that he’d been allowed to accompany them. Abel had spent every moment he could with them. Abel had been worried that the Scouts would hold his age and his relative lack of rank against him, but he’d quickly learned that the Scouts didn’t give a damn about any of that. If you could pull your load and make yourself useful in some way, you were in.
He’d also found out more disquieting things. Things he didn’t know quite what to make of. Like the fact that most of the Scouts were very religious, but religious in a manner that Abel was fairly certain wouldn’t be approved of by any Thursday school teacher he’d ever had. They had a semi-secret cult that worshipped Zentrum’s mother, Irisobrian. She was a figure of veneration to many of the Scouts, and a Scoutish swear word to them all.
According to the cult mystery story, Irisobrian had died in childbirth, but then, miraculously, had nursed the young Zentrum on her breast for fifty days and fifty nights while lying beside the River and herself decaying to bones.
It was Irisobrian’s mystical breast milk that was said to have made Zentrum invisible, so there was a lot of oath making among the Scouts on the bones and mother’s milk of Irisobrian.
Furthermore, there was an Irisobrian dispensation on several Scout items that would otherwise have been declared Stasis proscriptions or even nishterlaub. For instance, instead of employing flint and steel as directed by the Law, the Scouts sometimes needed to light a quick fire with the aid of a lucifer. These were made from powder taken from a broken percussion cap and mixed with glue from a desert cactus that grew near the rim. The lucifers stank of sulfur, but were highly effective for getting fires going. Scouts often carried punk sticks on longer trips, but punk was notorious for burning down and leaving you with not a trace of fire to start with at the end of the day. At such times, the last thing you wanted to do was to spend a quarter watch striking sparks and puffing into tender to get fire going. And sometimes, to do so was perilous.
Kruso had given Abel his own box of matches for emergencies, and Abel carried it in the inside pocket of his tunic, as did most Scouts. Sometimes when he heard the lucifers rattle there, he felt a faint qualm at the almost-nishterlaub feel of possessing them. But mostly, he didn’t think much about carrying them one way or the other.
“Well and secret guard tham. To the civvies showez them is a bad thing,” Kruso had intoned. “Comenz of it a quiver of troubles.”
Kruso was wrinkled and weather-beaten. He was almost as short as Abel, and built like a gnome. He seemed old, but Center had told Abel that Kruso was only thirty-five.
Every evening Kruso placed a wad of Delta tobacco into a clay pipe, pulled a smoking wand from the fire, and puffed away by the evening fire. He never used the pipe during the day, however.
“Hide sign and go to the Lady tomorrow, leave sign and she’ll take you today,” Kruso had once pronounced with his usual dry chuckle.
Abel figured Kruso had given him the matches not so much as an aid, but to draw Abel into the cult. Kruso was quite devout when it came to Irisobrianism. Abel had attended a couple of rites, but, on Center’s advice, had declined to become a full initiate.
You would not like the communion meat they share, Center had said. It must be at least three days old to have achieved sacred status.
After he was permitted to accompany the Scouts, Abel concentrated on finding ways to become useful. At first, this had taken the form of being a simple water carrier. Men who moved fast and light through the Redlands needed to drink a great deal more than Abel had ever imagined. Even though the Scouts were famous for being able to go a very long time without taking a drink, he’d found that this ability was not something they cultivated or celebrated among themselves. On the contrary, it was a constant Scout obsession to have plenty of water along — because one setback, one extension of a mission, would soon mean you didn’t have enough, and had no way of getting more. It was quite possible to die, and to die horribly, in the Redlands if you went too far out without the liquid to take you back.
Over the months, he’d demonstrated his usefulness and abilities to the Scouts in other ways. He’d graduated from water boy to dont keeper, and finally worked himself up to what was, for all intents and purposes, a squad regular. He’d proved his worth several times in that regard. Abel knew himself to be generally dexterous and naturally stealthy, and it didn’t hurt to have Center who could use his quantum computing ability to predict what lay on the other side of a rock, hill or clump of desert plants.
Abel understood in a general way how Center pulled off this feat. He also knew if he requested specifics of any one prediction that he was likely to get a lengthy lecture that left him feeling sorry he’d ever asked.
And as he grew more a part of the group of Scouts and more adept, the deeper into the Redlands his “Rim patrols” had taken him. He wasn’t technically disobeying his father at the moment. The rim, and the Valley below it, was still in sight, several leagues to the west. Well, they would be if you climbed a very tall hill and strained your eyes to make them out. Furthermore, this was not technically a mission — where one expected and planned for battle — but a patrol, where danger had to come to you.