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Beads in the Ashes   1520.06.05  
Creators: Deirdre / Wyld_Dandelyon (Writer)
It is a healer's duty to certify deaths, whenever possible. Kalitelm and Dlameda enter Itadesh to identify and tend to the bodies left by the fire.
Posted: 12/01/10     Updated: 12/02/10 [1 Comment] ~ 931 words.

The smell was terrible, even through the felted scarf tied around her face. Ashes rose into the air with every step. Kalitelm's feet already hurt, from walking on tip-toe without the support of her special boots, but the felt that made walking comfortable would absorb the ash and--her thoughts shied away from identifying the rest. She didn't think she could bear to smell this all winter. She swept the ground with her staff before each step, then placed it solidly on the ground before carefully moving her feet, which were protected only by old felt slippers.

In front of her, Dlameda's shoulders were bowed, until she could imagine that his head was no higher than hers. A fanciful notion, of course, but it was easier to think about such things than the village, their beautiful homes and their winter clothing and the stores of healing herbs stored under the bunks of her own house, right there, where Arefii and Benaru were starting to lift the charred roof beams. Once they finished, she'd have to climb down into the remains of the house, see what was still useful, and get it packed to go to Itrelir--

"This is the first one." Dlameda's voice was harsh with grief.

Kalitelm's mind was brought back to the real reason she was limping through the ruins of Itadesh. Somebody else could salvage herbs and clothes and boots, if anything was salvageable. But the healers had to check the victims of the fire. It was tradition, for a healer to examine the body and make a formal pronouncement of death.

The body was badly burnt and curled around on itself. Dlameda knelt in the ashes and touched its shoulder apologetically, before turning it over so they could try to identify it.

Inside the curl of the body there was just enough flesh to tell it had been a woman. But who? The necklace and clothing were completely burnt away. Gently he brushed away the ashes underneath the body, looking for her beads.

Kalitelm reached into the bag she carried, pulling out a scarf to fold the remains into.

Wordlessly, Dlameda held up a scorched bell, an ancient relic that had been surfaced in bright purple and green. Whatever ancient process had imparted color to the metal had not survived being burnt, but the bell identified the body.

"Laisesu." Kalitelm put the plain scarf back in her bag, and pulled out a gaudy one that the dyer had traded her for some medicinal herbs that had gone past their safe storage period. Laisesu had been excited to get them; they were hard to find, and made a beautiful pink dye, but people's lives came first. Kalitelm laid the bright colors over the body, tucking the corners of the scarf underneath it to hold it in place. "That's probably all you'll find--most of her beads were ashakaarg or painted wood."

Her mentor nodded, his face drawn. Kalitelm knew he'd treated everyone in the village for years as the only fully trained healer available before she earned that position, allowing him to return to the ranger's life he loved. She had watched all summer as his stride grew longer, his smiles and laughter more ready. He had taken a lover from Itakith, and she remembered her relief that he had not chosen to stay the winter there. Now, looking at his drawn face, she wished he had. Ikatha could have helped her do this duty; she didn't have Amukiiron, but she understood, as Kalitelm always had, that life was hard, and very, very temporary.

"Over here." Arefii's voice came from the house where she'd lived since becomimg an adult, and Dlameda stood, automatically turning to see if Kalitelm needed help to clamber over debris. This body was lying crushed under several mostly-burnt roof beams, and was less badly burnt. She could identify it from the clothing--it was Tarlikii, a pregnant young woman who had chosen to summer in Itadesh after her first pregnancy had ended in a miscarriage the previous summer. Acting on Kalitelm's advice, she had stayed in Itadesh, hoping that a peaceful summer would allow her to keep this baby.

Suddenly, Kalitelm found herself sobbing, and Dlameda's arms wrapped her in a rough hug. Her mind raced forward, planning which scarf to use to cover poor Tarlikii's smashed and burnt face. These beads, at least, were mostly salvageable. They would be a comfort to Tarlikii's family and friends. Even as she sobbed, she reached into the sack at her belt and pulled out a pouch, and then reached to pick up a stone bead, carved into a rough fish shape. Under it, scorched but whole, was a delicate two-layered bone bead, the inside another fish, swimming freely inside stylized waves. It was the bead Tarlikii had worn to signify her pregnancy.

If she had not advised Tarlikii against travel, the younger woman might still be alive, might still give be giving birth to a child in the fall. Her breath catching in her throat, Kalitelm slid the bead into the pouch and reached blindly for the next round shape in the ashes.

Still hugging her with one arm, Dlameda reached for the beads she could not reach with her short arms, and together they gathered the dead woman's soot-stained memories into the pouch and covered her face with a makeshift death shroud. His sad eyes met hers before he stood again, and she realized that he understood all too well about the frailty of life.

Then, holding hands like little children, they moved on to the next body.

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Characters Featured:
Kalitelm, Dlameda,

Story collections:
Leaves in a Bitter Wind
Itadesh Fire
Laisesu's Blues
Leaves in a Bitter Wind
All Northern Stories and Art
Laisesu's Blues

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