Jebedaiah's Memory of His Brother
Jebedaiah Bateman lay on his side, comfortable atop his clothes-nest despite the firmness of the cavern ground beneath it. The air, once frigid, was now almost toasty thanks to Him. Still, Jebedaiah kept his blanket draped around himself all the same, mostly to keep all his Hennifers in the dark so they could rest. These last few days up the mountain had been brutal. He could see the weariness in his companions, too. Toshi Ryoko worked diligently in the center of the cave at crafting another drajule, but his eyes looked glazed and unfocused in Limey’s soft light. Brick didn’t even make his usual joke about eating chicken for dinner.. he just ate a few handfuls of his rations and rolled over, his back to the group. And poor Rasputia. She hadn’t moved in over an hour. She’d struggled desperately through the battle at the summit, the wind and ice taking their toll on her body, sapping her of her consciousness. They’d all had to carry her back here together. But Nieve Powell….. Jebedaiah’s gaze came to rest on her as she rested on her newly caught behemoth, it’s great scaly body supporting her head, it’s crimson wing enfolding her. What a show she’d put on up there. Her commanding presence. The way that enormous lizard had submitted to her every desire. He tried to find the words, but they escaped him…. Suddenly, her mouth moved - “What are you looking at, Jebedaiah?” - and annoyance spread across her contented features. Her “companion,” reacting to her agitation, raising it’s head slightly and pinning it’s stare on the bite-sized morsel laying beneath his blanket. “N-nothin’,” Jebedaiah stammered. How long had he been watching her? And how long had that one eye of hers been open anyhow?? By The Moons, Jebedaiah Bateman, you are dumber than a bunnigloo in a slitherscorch pit! he thought to himself. “Well there’s a whole lot of ‘n-nothin’’ on the walls, you can look at those.” The monster punctuated her recommendation with a snort, lowering its head back to the ground before closing both sets of eyelids on it's visible eye. Toshi glanced back at the exchange, then hunched his shoulders and scrutinized his half made drajule with a slight air of awkwardness. “It’s just.. Ya just remind me of someone,” Jebedaiah breathed, waiting for a reaction from her. “My mama,” he continued. Jebedaiah didn’t notice Toshi’s shoulders tense, his eyes too trained on the dangerous creature and her pet. But if Nieve felt anything, she hid it well. “I reckon I don’t talk about her much. Or any of my family, ‘side from maybe my daddy on occasion. But she was a really sweet and kind woman, Betsy-Ann Bateman was. Probably the nicest lady I’d ever met. I don’t remember her too well, on account of daddy and me havin’ to leave when I was four or five. But she looooved to tell me some bedtime stories.” Nieve still lay with her eyes closed. He wasn’t sure if she was ignoring him or not, but at least she wasn’t threatening him. “She was married once before, did you know? Well.. I dunno if she was married, but she had a baby with another man before she done met my daddy. A man she called Nai-Long. He was a binder, too. Met him when he came to Wrustrun. Apparently he gone an’ saved the whole town from getting de-molished by some big-ol’-thing, and when he went to leave, my mama packed up an’ went with him, just like that. They fell deep in love and they traveled the whole of the world, end to end, sailing on the back of a wingless snake. She was always sayin', “Jebedaiah, I must tell you, there ain’t no feeling in the world like tunneling through the clouds the way a worm does through dirt.” That always made me wonder what it would look like. Clouds with holes in ‘em, poop falling to the ground below, makin’ fog. Anyways, when she got pregnant with Qi'xuan, she wanted to go back home to have him, settle down, live a simple life. But Nai-Long didn’t care to stop traveling. He just set her on back down in Wrustrun an’ waved good-bye. Least that’s how mama tells it. When I was little, I always felt bad for my brother… only thing he had from his daddy was a last name. Qi'xuan Nailong. That’s it .... least ‘til he found out mama’d been keepin’ somethin’ hidden away.” Nieve remained motionless in the lizard-creature’s embrace, her soft breathing and slack face almost making it seem like she was sleeping… “Qi’xuan’s daddy had left him something. I remember Qi’xuan yellin’ at mama. I couldn’t’a been more than three or four, so Qi’xuan was probably close to 17. An’ he just kept sayin’ how could she keep somethin’ like that from him? I saw him storm away with a wooden box an’ I could hear mama cryin’ and then his door SLAMMED shut so loud. I don’t know why I didn’t go to my mama.. But it was like a magnet was pullin’ me to go to Qi’xuan. To see. To know. I crept up to his door an’ peeked in through the crack under it. I could see him, sittin’ on the floor with this real de-co-rated wooden box, must’ve taken weeks and months to whittle. An’ he opens the lid an’ reaches inside an’ pulls a note and reads it with a face like he’s seein’ a sunrise for the first time, an’ then he’s reaching in again and brings out this deep purple crystal rod, half a foot at least. It’s got this beautiful silver serpent coiled along the outside of it, it’s mouth devouring the top of the crystal, it’s tail encircling the bottom, and a heavy chain around it’s neck lookin’ like it was made to be worn like a necklace. Maybe Qi’xuan just knew what to do with it, or maybe it reacted to him touchin’ it, but that dark crystal done glowed so loud, I couldn’t barely look at it no more. An’ when it stopped, Qi’xuan stood there with a lavender snake no bigger than a cat, face almost like a lion and a feathered mane all the colors of the rainbow. They looked each other in the eyes an’ you could tell they were bonded for life. That day, the day Qi’xuan found out he was a binder, it changed him. I left pretty soon after, an’ he and mama wasn’t screaming at each other every day or nothin’, but somethin’ was differn’t. Somethin’ was differn’t.” Brick startled, choking on a snore and turning over with a grumble. Then the soft scraping of Toshi’s tools against mineral was the only sound. Nieve still hadn’t moved. Jebedaiah fixed his sight on Toshi’s turned back, watching him work for a moment the way he had watched his own father work to craft drajules countless times on countless nights in places just like this. He rolled over, turning away from his memories. “Don’t stay up too late, Tosh, ya need sleep like the rest of us.” If Toshi responded, he didn’t hear it before sleep swallowed him, too.