The burden of living became lighter through the distraction of work.
There is nothing that destroys the Lifewill of a Waterwanderer more than grubbing through the dirt in pursuit of metals.
The only reason I survived was by letting the Waterwanderer die.
Born anew as a metalgrubber, I poured my energy into the task. The shells were obedient and fearless, but they were also stupid. They did not know a seam of metals when they saw one, and they would not follow one when it opened to them.
Upon seeing my changed attitude and eagerness for food, the overseers set me to directing the shells. Whenever it became complicated, I would take over.
I do not know the amount, but I think that the camp produced several times the amount of metals as before. This was good for the overseers, who got praise for this from their overseers in the new hierarchy surrounding Aflatan. They in turn rewarded me.
Many passages turned into cycles of Gaal, though I never kept track. I recovered my strength and perfected my abilities. In all that time, I never saw one of my Folkin working among the shells.
Then one passage working a seam on the lower arm of the mine, a part of the mine I rarely ventured, I did see what appeared to be two Long Northerners.
It was Brendar and Kut. Both were shells, slowly, clumsily acting upon the stones, grunting like the other host of shells I had come to know so well.
I cannot easily describe the feelings seeing them again brought to me. It was like waking from a very long dream. The Waterwanderer, Jonderen Bloodbather, rose up from the dead then, seeking vengeance.
But I was careful not to let any of this show. I dove straight into my task, directing a confusing cross seam of Gold and the heavy-metal known in the Long South as Sinkermetal and among us as Lead.
As I had hoped, the overseers failed to notice my fellow Folkin enter into the hole behind me. There, deep in the dark, I came near to my fellows and spoke softly, offering the water and breadfruit I had brought with me.
–Thank you.—said Brendar, upon drinking the sack dry.
I looked at him with amazement. I had never heard one of the shells utter intelligible speech before.
–Brendar!—I said.—You are not…–
–I am not.—he replied softly and hoarsely.—but in the pretending I very nearly became so.—
We clasped and wept like little children then for the joy of it.
With the shells working tirelessly on the cross seam, Brendar and I continued to talk. It did not take long for us to hatch a plan of escape, though it took much longer to act upon it.
Upon capturing him, the Gaalians had attempted to make Brendar a shell. He spoke of the room in Tu’Vrahadith filled to choking with weed-smoke, the dancers that held him in place while a Gaalian female stuffed Brendar’s mouth with the powder of the purple weed.
And yet, to Brendar’s joyfilled astonishment, nothing happened. Brendar was mysteriously immune to the effects of the plant, be it the protection of the Authorities, or the strange complexion of his body.
However, Brendar knew that, to save his life, he must pretend to be under the weed’s influence. So he became a great actor, as great as any Songweaver, keeping his secret light burning through austerities that mindful ones would not have been able to endure, for the shells require little in the way of rest or nourishment.
Fortunately for him the overseers chained him to Kut, who had become a mumbling shell, his eyes unseeing and his ears unhearing. When not watched, he would speak to Kut, hoping to get a response from some deep part of him that remained intact. He spoke of the Long North, of the Authorities, he shared the tales of our Folkin and Karkin, of the great battles lost and won.
It is my belief that this activity saved Brendar from madness. There is something powerful in remembering stories, something that guides the inner spark just as the lights of Gaal’s absence guide a Waterwanderer.
Having seen Brendar once, I dared not return to him in the presence of the overseers. So for another octave or so of passages, I collected spare scraps of food and drink. I kept these in a spare work bag the overseers had let me keep near my sleeping place.
On the eighth passage, I committed myself to the escape. Deep within a mining chasm, I took the pick off of a shell and spent the entire passage working it into two pieces. I very nearly failed to break it before the overseers horns sounded. But it snapped with a great crack, the shells watching impassively. On our way out of that horrible, narrow place I pushed the shell whose tool I had taken, he slipped and dragged the entire chain of shells with him. A great shouting was heard everywhere, and I emerged at the end of the chain to help haul the survivors up.
We succeeded in bringing half of them up out of pit alive, but in the chaos, the overseers did not look for missing tools.
I was given an early rest, having saved half of an entire octave of shells. And so I built up my strength and waited.
When Gaal’s absence had grown to its’ deepest point, and the overseers were lost in their weed infused revelries, I made my escape. The broken pick made a magnificent lever that detached my chains and like a treecrawler I advanced rapidly where most sane ones would not dare to go, towards the lower arm of the mine where Brendar waited with the other shells.
Finding him was not difficult, though the shells grew excited upon seeing me.
In two deft strokes I snapped Brendar’s chains, giving him some of my extra stores to eat and drink.
–we cannot leave him.—said Brendar, looking sadly at the swaying form of Kut, the shell.
–if we do not leave now, his sacrifice would have been for nothing.—I replied.—the real Kut would have wished it so.—
Brendar nodded and turned to clasp his companion through fire and water, leaving tears, the best gift a Waterwanderer knows to give, upon Kut’s stained brow.
We said the words of departing then and without another look back, made our escape…