They found the flock of geese not far away. They had, in fact, landed in a body of water: an abandoned, half-filled in-ground swimming pool, with dead leaves and water plants visible on its murky surface. Chess peered at the geese from around the corner of a house, while, behind him, Sariel knelt on the ground, rummaging through her bag.
She pulled out a long skirt and handed it to him. “I can bring one down,” she explained, “but I might not kill it. You must be ready to keep it down if it is stunned but still moving. Be careful and cover it with this.” She frowned at him. “Do not allow it to hurt you.”
Obediently, Chess took the skirt and followed her at a distance. He kept his gaze fixed on the geese which, unconcerned, floated in the pool or ambled along the cracked cement apron. Ahead of him, Sariel assumed her usual stance with the throwing stick, curling her arms over one shoulder and advancing slowly toward the geese until she was within range. Chess saw her lean back, about to throw -- and then he stepped into a low spot that was filled with old dry leaves.
The crackling noise alerted the geese and they began to move instantly. Sariel, looking back over her shoulder, sent Chess a murderous glare, and then let the stick fly. It caught one of the geese still at ground-level, but the shot was off its mark. The goose fell and began flopping around wildly, hurt and panicked. Ashamed, and hoping to salvage dinner, Chess ran at the bird as fast as he could.
He was at the pool side and falling on top of the animal, the skirt outstretched, before he heard Sariel shrieking at him to stop. Breathing hard and employing all his strength, Chess managed to hold the kicking goose until Sariel reached him and quieted the animal. Then, bruised and shaking, he looked up at her face, in a wash of sunlight, and smiled proudly.
But she did not seem to share his feeling of elation. Casting the goose aside, she grabbed both of Chess’s arms, cursing loudly as she inspected the cuts in his skin. Then she sighed and frowned at him. “The stew will have to wait a while,” she said.
Still sighing and rolling her eyes, Sariel pronounced Chess not badly hurt, and she treated his scratches with salve from one of the tubes brought from Razor’s kitchen. Chess thoroughly enjoyed the attention. Ileana, Sariel sent off with instructions for gathering some plants, including more like the ones that they had found in the garden. Then, she set about preparing the goose.
Ileana came back after a while, a satisfied expression on her face, and her arms full of greenery. But once she deposited her findings, she hovered around, seeming unsure. Finally, Sariel, deep in stew preparations, snapped at her, “If you wish to help, go bury the goose carcass.”
Chess had been kneeling on the ground close by, intent on trying to assemble a campfire in the precise way that Sariel had taught him. He glanced up as Ileana, holding the small bundle, was disappearing around the corner of the house they had chosen for their night’s shelter. He noticed that Sariel also watched her go, and then, after a few minutes, Sariel laid down her knife and followed Ileana.
Feeling vaguely concerned, Chess rose and trailed after the two of them. He was afraid that Sariel was about to berate Ileana for something, and he wanted to be there to mitigate, if he could. He caught up to Sariel before she reached the place where Ileana was digging, and put a hand on her arm.
Sariel shrugged off his concern. “I only wanted to remind her to be sure to --” And then she stopped and raised her head, looking wide-eyed.
Chess listened intently and realized that, as Ileana was burying the remains of the goose, she was singing softly.
The two of them stood, still meters away from Ileana and not wanting to disturb her, and observed. It was not Sariel’s song; it was some tune that Chess thought he recognized from childhood. But it was an attempt at honoring Sariel’s beliefs -- a discreet attempt -- and Sariel appeared stunned.
Without a glance at Chess, she turned and went silently back the way they had come. Chess, also trying to be quiet, moved more slowly and took longer getting back to the camp.
Continued next page...
It is really wonderful how much resilience there is in human nature. Let any obstructing cause, no matter what, be removed in any way--even by death--and we fly back to first principles of hope and enjoyment.
- Dracula by Bram Stoker
Not long before I wrote this part of the story, I happened to be in my front yard, just about to enter the house one November afternoon, when I heard a haunting noise: echoing and far-off, but growing louder. The sounds grew recognizable as the cries of many geese, as I stood on my front steps and looked up at the tops of the trees across the street. Within another minute, a huge v of geese appeared over the tree line, and the leader at the point of the v flew directly overhead. Enthralled, I watched until the end of the line disappeared over the rooftop and the cries died away. I don’t know where they were going, but I guess it was to their winter home.
After doing a bit of research on geese, I am doubtful that they would choose to land in an old in-ground pool even if it was full of water. Apparently, they only land in fresh water that is consistently circulated by springs, not standing, stagnant water. However, with the amount of rain that is now so common to the area in which Chess is traveling, they might find pool water fresh enough to stop over for a quick rest.
Funny enough, most of these scenes were originally imagined in deep wilderness or near rivers and ponds: the sort of landscape where Lord of the Rings is set. But I had to keep reminding myself that my characters are walking through what is essentially a trash heap of former civilization. So, the wild geese land in a swimming pool, and the chat and haircut with Ileana, originally set on a sunny riverbank, became a chat on the weedy back patio of an abandoned house.
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