Monday, December 28, 2009

Report: Beatriss's night in Jangzy

Beatriss left Khanbaliq in the company of eight soldiers from the house of Mehwa, and the four peasants. Just outside the city, they met two more peasants from Jangze—a young man, handsome and cheerful and a young woman who was more similarly miserable to the other peasants. They travelled together for a good part of a day, Beatriss and the two commanders on horseback, the others walking. Towards afternoon, they reached a ruined temple, and considered making an early camp. The peasant assured them that they could reach Jangze by nightfall and wanted press on. After another hour or so, they reached a ravine, crossable by a footbridge. One of the soldiers stayed behind with the horses while the others crossed the bridge. Here, the topography changed. The ground was softer, and covered with thick forest. As they passed through the forest, they saw large webs, but no spiders. At dusk they reached the village.

The village was deserted. The peasants hurriedly explained that because of the spiders, they had all taken refuge in a cave in the hills. And they needed to be leaving, too. Beatriss protested. The peasants didn’t answer—they just ran away—the four older men and, more reluctantly the young woman. The young man stayed. He invited them to stay in his house, on the edge of the village in a simple, but clean and comfortable hut, shaded by trees. He provided a simple supper of rice and tea, and did his best to create a relaxed atmosphere. Beatriss answerd his questions about her homeland politely, but showed little interest in conversation.

After eating, they set up a watch. But before anyone fell asleep, the noises began—first in the trees, then on the roof, then crawling around on the walls on the outside of the house. The doors and windows were closed, but the long hairy legs started to poke through and thatch started to fall down from the ceiling. And so Beatriss and the soldiers decided to make a move. Bursting out of the doors and windows, they made an aggressive attack. One spider pushed its way into the house and threatened their host, who defended himself with a piece of firewood. Beatriss came to his rescue. Within a few minutes all the spiders—more than a dozen—were dead. Some of the soldiers had been bit—none severely—but enough to fall to the poison. In total, four died. They moved their bodies to an empty hut, and then settled in to exhausted, uneasy sleep, Beatriss rebuffing the host’s suggestion that they should “find a way to celebrate.” Her dreams were strange, and she woke up in a small cramped space, hemmed in between moist earth and wooden planks. She heard the soldiers clomping around on the floorboards above her and called for help.

They found her in some kind of animal’s den beneath the hut. The hut itself looked very different in the morning light— its roof long collapsed, the inside strewn with debris, tree branches poking through the windows. Their host was gone. They returned to the city.

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