The Melpaso and The Baby
The sky like soot where it met the sea; water the color of slate washing upon the shore and swirling against the dun sands. All so colorless, so devoid of vitality, so far from home.
Melpaso perched on the boulder, staring at the meandering path of his footprints winding along the beach. He strained to follow their marks beyond where they disappeared in the distance. He had come far this time, further than previous walks, his calf muscles still twanging their offense.
Contemplate the path already worn; then look ahead to the path yet to be.
The Sea of Sorondor smelled of ash, of bitter fish and swamp gasses. An unpleasant scent that curled Melpaso´s nose. Far to the north, beyond the Sea, the Koras Dund stretched away to the edges of Carhiv, the vast worldcity. The taint of that city infused the Sea - brought its poisons even here.
Melpaso hated the Sea.
Do not Hate, but Love, for Hatred can only poison the hater
The spirits were filled with mocking wisdom today.
Growing weary of his perch, Melpaso vaulted from the boulder, landing lightly in the sand, stinging his toes. He considered his rumpled boots, still tied and dangling from his neck. His journey was nearly done, but the boots were in sorry shape, disintegrating from overuse. The walk from Omarrinket had worn them beyond repair, beyond their life span.
Barefoot, he turned again east and began to walk.
The beach along the Muradian Coastal Wash was tangled with brambly driftwood and flinty, jagged stones, the detritus of the Sea. Fallen trees knotted together in vast piles that rose like monolithic skeletons from the sallow sand, rattling in the wind, stripped bare of bark and bleached to grim gray by the murky seawater. He did his best to avoid these dead beasts of the beach, but more than once he was forced to scramble over as best he could, listening to the entire pile shift and creak precariously as he disturbed it. It was slow progress, but better than trying to wade through the razor-edged grasses above the washplain.
Somewhere above, beyond the clouds, the sun rose rapidly in the sky, and the day grew steadily warmer until a muggy, oppressive heat soaked the air. Melpaso´s robes moistened with sweat, becoming a hindrance until he removed the top layer, knotting it around his waist. At noon he stopped, and used the robe as a blanket while he ate his lunch.
He was weary of walking. Somewhere to the east, Gel-Avalgarn waited, but his desire to reach the city had waned during the weeks of hard journey. Perhaps the Sea of Sorondor sapped his strength, his vitality, the way it had sucked the vitality from the shore.
The whole world has lost its vitality
, the spirits told him. Gel-Avalgarn is polluted, gasping its last breaths
The spirits had kept him company on the journey, their silent voices in his head like errant thoughts. He was still coming to know them, to adjust to their voices murmuring strange memories and shifting insights. Melpaso was a spirit talker, a piece of the dead world.
Some had chosen the role of spirit-talker, he knew. The priests in Omarrinket received devotees daily, embracing those who sought the dead world. They came for countless reasons, desiring wisdom or the chance to speak with lost loved ones. Melpaso had chuckled at them, those poor lonesome people who thought that touching the dead world was like conversation in a tavern.
The truth was nothing like it.
Once you have touched the dead world, you cannot return to the land of the living.
Melpaso would be forever tethered to the dead.
It had happened a year before, an accident. A night in the House of Nine Vapors, with too much drink and too much smoke, and Melpaso had fallen with two sublimely fleshed girls into a haze of exotic pleasures. In the midst of it, the first of the dead had touched his too-opened mind. Like a smoky fingerling, it had hooked him to the dead world, and the spirits had come, drawn like flies to a corpse.
Melpaso had no choice.
You opened yourself
I was opened by drug, by pleasure
Over and over, this same argument with the spirits. Melpaso no longer truly cared; the argument was irrelevant. The dead had come, and he was theirs. A spirit talker relinquished freedom, relinquished life for the knowledge of the dead.
As he packed his things and retied his robe around his waist, Melpaso suddenly reeled. His head was a cacophony of silent hollering as the spirits called to him. They were agitated, insistent, and the pressure in his head was unbearable. He felt himself falling to the sand, realized that he could not see.
Shut up shut up shut up shut up
He heard it then; a faint mewling cry carried on the wind. Distant, or weak.
The dead inside his head jabbered with renewed fury and Melpaso could only cup his head in agony.
Long minutes stretched into infinity as he curled on the sand, willing the spirits to quiet themselves. His eyes had gone black, but he could still hear crying on the wind, a constant backdrop to the raging in his head. He pushed against them, battered them with his thoughts in hopes of regaining control.
At last, they relented, quieting to a low roar, and he blinked his eyes while sight crept in through the darkness.
What was that about
? He wondered, half to himself, half to the spirits.
Pulling himself to his knees, he swayed drunkenly for control of equilibrium, found it and righted himself. The crying had faded to an occasional burst, and he twisted in a circle, searching for its source. The motion made him dizzy, and he swayed again, staggering to a tangle of driftwood. He found a stout branch to use as a brace, and compelled by the murmuring dead he managed to start walking back along the shore, retracing his steps.
The crying drew him on, muffled and indistinct. Inside his head, the spirits fell quiet, and he quickly regained his strength until he was using his branch to poke about rather than for support.
And there it was.
It lay cradled in a sort of nest formed of matted reeds and driftwood, pieces of leaves and grasses all stamped down beneath an overturned tree. Melpaso dropped to his knees, just as the little thing opened its mouth and let out another plaintive wail.
He pushed bits of flotsam aside, clearing a space.
It was a baby.
Naked and withered, it lay there squirming feebly in its nest, tiny twig-like legs slowly kicking as it mewled in dismay.
A baby. Here.
Pick him up
, the dead urged.
Moving slowly, unsure, Melpaso reached beneath the tree, blindly groping until his fingers touched papery flesh. With painstaking care, he drew the little body out from its nest, feeling it wriggling futilely against his grip. It cried its discontent, a croak that tore suddenly at his heart, and he pulled it quick against his body, cradling the tiny form against his stomach.
A baby. Here.
He looked down in awe at the tiny figure. A boy, no larger than his own forearm, legs and one arm as thin as reeds themselves. The little baby´s left arm was missing, just a tiny nub of a stump below the shoulder, smooth and unblemished, clearly born without. The baby´s skin was pink and mottled, splotched by sunburn and exposure, his tiny lips puffed and raw. And his eyes, bright blue beneath heavy droopy lids, staring up at him with naked curiosity.
"A baby!" Melpaso blurted. "Here!"
You must care for it
, the spirits purred. Sustenance. He is starving, drying up
"I don´t know how," he told them, told the baby.
The little boy gurgled a response, his one hand curling against Melpaso´s arm in a weak grasp.
Melpaso slumped to the sand, holding the boy close against him.