Walking on sticks – A new friend – No going home – Looking at each other waving spears – There will be blood
Jocelyn Vale reporting
Dear Readers, I am writing to you from the opulent luxury of Radclyffe Hall, where we will stay during the rifle tournament. Due to Carrie StJohn’s unfortunate accident, it falls to us, Jocelyn Vale, Florence Albrecht, and Nigel Arterton, to defend the honour of Algernon U. I assure you, we will do our very best not to embarrass Carrie or Miss Tennant. We have completed the first round, giving us the chance to check out the competition. There are several strong teams from London, and teams from Cambridge, Oxford, and Manchester. Maybe they will be able to beat us in a target shooting contest, but I’m sure we would win a shootout.
We were put in a pool with teams from Folkestone itself, Glasgow, and Dublin, the only foreign entry in the tournament. I am proud to say that we crushed them, leading by fifteen points or so, with a combined score of two hundred and eighty two out of a possible three hundred. Our Browning sniper rifles have served us well.
Dr. Pike has treated us all to a nutritious dinner away from the hotel, in a seaside tavern he knows from his youth before the last Franco-Prussian wars. They serve mostly fish, and the only vegetarian option appears to be “Fruit-de-mer”, which I can tell you now is not fruit. We were joined by a gentleman named Mr. Quentin, who knows Dr. Pike from his army days, and told us the most outrageous lies about Dr. Pike’s exploits.
We are turning in early tonight, to prepare for the quarter finals tomorrow. Our rifles are cleaned and oiled, our eyes are open, and our hands are steady. We will be victorious!
My friend Alex was taken by bad people. They hurt her knees to make her tell them things. They wanted to kill her, but Carl came and killed the bad woman who was hurting Alex. He took her head. In my land, only the worst people take the heads of other men, but when I look at Alex, I see why he did it. Alex cannot stand up. I see her try and I see how she hides the pain in her face. Philip came and gave her the sticks he used when he lost his leg. He does not need them anymore.
Alex moves from her bed to the table, and the kitchen. She cooks breakfast for all of us. I do not tell her that I can cook breakfast, because Alex wants to know she can do it. I stand behind her and catch her when she falls. She tells me she can stand, but I know that is not so. Carl gave her a stool to sit on while she cooks. She waited for him to go away and then sat down on it.
When Alex is in the kitchen, I sit with her and give Raage the breast. I will not leave her alone with her pain and her fear and her anger. I sleep in her room now, and Raage sleeps with Carl. I wake when she does, and sing away her pain, like the women in my tribe sang away my pain when Raage came. She tells me I do not have to do this, she has a drink to help her sleep. She does not tell me to go away, even though I can tell she wants me to.
I don’t understand the English. Even when they are with their tribe, they are alone. I want to give her my heart, take in her pain, and share it. It is better to carry things together. Tents. Food. Firewood. Joy. Pain. She has shared so many things with me. Helped me understand things. Why will she not let me help her?
I am afraid for her spirit. When she doesn’t see me looking at her, I see the anger in her face. When she sees me, she hides her anger, but still I can see it.
My friend Alex is strong. Her knees will heal. She will stand at Lady I‘s helm and steer her through the clouds.
But will she smile again when she does it?
We have a new friend. Her name is Brenda Lee, and she was a fighter for the bad people who took the men from the tower. I do not think she is a bad woman, but she has done bad things. When the bad people were hurting Alex, Brenda gave her water, but she did not stop the bad people, because she was afraid to be hurt or killed herself. Her waters run dark, and the taste is bitter. The first morning after Alex came back, she was at our door when I came out to make tea for Alex. She asked me if she could see Alex. Her voice was quiet, as one who stalks the forest and does not know if there are lions. When I let her in, her voice became loud, as one who does not want people to know she is afraid of the lions.
Brenda brought cloths for Alex, to wrap round her knees. Her legs do not look good. You can still see where the ropes were. Her skin still has dark marks. The small round wound in her leg has closed. Alex sat on the bed with her foot on a chair, and Brenda wrapped the cloth round her knees. I can see that she has done this often. She told Alex that she would be all right. That it looks ugly now, but that Alex will be running again soon. I can see that Brenda doesn’t believe it, and that Alex doesn’t believe it. Wrapping Alex’ knees adds fresh water to Brenda’s cup, and believing her adds fresh water to Alex’ cup. With her knees bound in cloth, Alex can stand with Philip’s sticks. She tries not to show the pain, but I see it. I think Brenda sees it, too. I want to hold Alex and sing to her, but with Brenda and Alex both being like there is no pain, I can’t.
Carl told me that he does not understand how we can sing away pain, even when children come. Maybe Alex and Brenda are singing away her pain, but in a way that I do not know.
Maybe I am starting to understand the English.
We had an all hands today. That is Philip’s word for when we all sit at the table, and let Lady I do what she wants, and talk about what we must do. Carl wants to take Alex home, so that a doctor can heal her knees. Riley says that we still need to find out things about the bad people who took the scientists from the Tower. Philip says that we are too few to hunt inside the mountain. Brenda knows all about what is going on in the mountain, but Riley does not think she is our friend. He said that we should hurt Brenda like the bad people hurt Alex, but I don’t think he really thinks so. Brenda said she would rip off Riley’s leg and beat him with it, but I don’t believe that either. There were people in my tribe who always fought like that. They made a baby later. Riley said we need to know what the scientists are making, and if it can hurt us. Brenda said they were making engines like Lady I has, but without steam, and without coal. Riley wants to know more. He also wants to know what Nazeem is doing. Brenda thinks he is dead, but she does not know Nazeem like we do.
The only one quiet was Alex. She drank tea, and looked far away, and did not listen. I touched her arm, and she looked at me and smiled. The drink that makes the pain go away also makes her sleepy. I wish her knees would heal and she would not need the drink anymore. I want my friend Alex back. I want to hear her laugh again.
Philip heard all of our words, and then said that we would fly back to the mountain to find Nazeem and the scientists. Nobody was happy, but we do not leave tribesmen behind.
I was at the helm to fly us back to the mountain. Lady I was as high as she could go, where the air is cold, and she has to work hard to go slow. Philip was on the chair, and Carl and Riley looked down the telescope. Philip said to go down, and I made Lady I breathe out and sink. Lady I is very good when I need her, so I let her play when she wants to. Carl and Riley looked down. Philip said to make Lady I stay between the sun and the mountain so the people inside could not see us, like the hunters stay down wind of the kudu so they can’t smell them. I saw Lady I‘s shadow in my head and made her go forward until it was on the mountain.
Riley said a bad word. Carl said people were shooting at us. There was a loud bang next to us, and a black cloud of smoke. Philip told me to go up, and I made Lady I breathe in and rise as fast as she could.
Sometimes, the kudu smells you even if you do everything right.
Alex came to the bridge with her sticks and asked Philip what happened. Philip said that nothing happened, and Alex should go back to bed. Before she went to the mountain, Alex would have told him to get stuffed. Now, she just turned round and went away. I looked at Philip. He looked back at me, and smiled, and said Alex would be all right. I said yes.
Alex will be all right.
We waited until night, and tried again. We sailed all the way round to the East, and flew high above them, with all the lights turned off. They still saw Lady I, and shot fire at us. They missed. Carl went to the gun deck and fired our guns, but he missed too.
Our tribes sometimes make war. The men go to a field and make a lot of noise. They show the other tribe how strong they are, waving their spears. Sometimes they throw them when they know they are too far away. Then they turn their backs to show they are not afraid and walk away. Sometimes, the Elders meet and drink together, and all is well. Sometimes, hunters come to our camp at night and try to kill us. Our men do not sleep, and they are strong.
We do not stay long in a place where there has been a war. Bad spirits go there and tell the men to do bad things. Elder Hanad is wise, and leaves the spirits to talk to each other, and breaks camp. Sometimes we meet that tribe again somewhere else, and we laugh, and some of their men sleep with our women, and some of our men sleep with their women, and all is well.
Sometimes, there is blood.
We had another all hands. We cannot get into the mountain. Riley said that we could walk to the mountain and crawl in through the side. Carl said that we have tried that, and we will die if we try again. He also said that we have only eight good legs for six people. Raage can’t walk yet. Brenda will not go back.
Philip heard us all. He said that we will go to Kodok and send word home. I think that is good, because Alex needs a doctor. Carl set the course, and I sent Lady I through the clouds.
I think of Nazeem. I hope that his Spirits protect him.
Nobody is happy on board, except Raage. Alex is in the chair on the bridge with Raage on her lap. He asks her, but she has no milk. I will give him the breast when Alex feels better.
The wind is behind us. We will be in Kodok soon.