Response: Azure: Part Two Continued
The well was in a clearing that was a recent result of the logging. The spreading labor and demand for more workers necessitated the creation and upkeep of a multitude of wells. The well that they had just finished worked better than most of those that had been recently created. As they came into the clearing, however, and saw their father's expression Selim knew the current well was nothing more than a glorified mud hole. He looked angry and tired; he merely grunted when Namen gave him the coil of rope.
Their father's expression made it easy to believe the rumors, the stories that flitted about the area, of the trees and woodland things taking revenge on the King that had chopped up their little ones by filling his precious water supply with cursed mud.
Selim pushed all of her daydreams - both of trees and men - from her mind as she was lowered into the dark, slippery shaft. Wells were dangerous - especially these wells that, she knew, had been rejected by the forest. These wells that existed only to please the unpleasable King. Selim would need her wits about her. Only three days previously the youngest in the family - little Henry - had been trapped in a partially collapsed well. They had listened to his pleading sobs for hours, trying to pull him from the sticky mud with no success, until he had lost consciousness. It had been several exhausting hours more before Henry's pained, labored breathing had finally ceased.
In the dark pit Selim tried not to think of Henry's body, not properly buried, sinking deeper into the mud. She could see his hands, still reaching out, even in death, reaching out to the freedom of the azure sky. She feel the mud sliding over his lifeless form and she shuddered. She moved over as Namen joined her. The look he gave her made her sure that he was having the same doubts as she - remembering the tiny hands of their younger brother as he was consumed, just as she was.
The work was slow monotony. The even tedium made it impossible to focus - there was simply not enough work to possibly occupy one's mind.
It was heavy in the shaft - the thin air was filled with mud, making it hot and nearly impossible to breathe. The water - just beyond the fragile, ever-moving mud walls waiting to be tapped into - was almost audible. It gave the feeling that they were surrounded by a rushing torrent - a smothering feeling of confinement.
Selim thought of the trees as she worked. She thought of patches of blue sky seen through green leaves - of meadows bedazzled with purple blooms - of knights sparring teasingly down on the field - reaching hands in sucking mud.
"No!" Selim muttered, pressing a cold muddy hand to her temple, trying to stifle the thought.
"Selim?" Namen was watching her with a concerned expression - an expression he seemed to have been wearing almost constantly since Henry's death.
"I am all right." Using the back of her wrist to clean the worst of the mud from her face Selim banished the thought of cold, unblessed graves and dead children.
"Get to work!" Mortimer's voice sounded harsh even though the well shaft made it distant. When Selim looked up she could see their older brother peering over the edge of the pit. He looked so angry - he looked just like their father.
Selim watched her hands in the mud. She could vaguely remember what Father's smile looked like, but she had no memory of Mother ever really expressing any happiness. What little happiness she had learned was learned watching the other children at the Keep, watching the squires and knights and scullery maids laugh with each other, by listening to the singsong sound of the trees moving in the wind. All Selim knew about happiness seemed to have condemned her never to possess it: the very poor were only happy when they were young, the very rich were never happy though they seemed convinced that each new possession would make them happier, and those in madly in love were always happy no matter what was happening. Selim examined the semi-permanent dark line beneath her fingernails. She was poor and getting to old to ever be happy again.
The only chance I would have, she thought sourly, is if I was beautiful like Katty - then I might fall in love one day.
Selim breathed out a half-laugh. She knew from her father that she was not beautiful, but even if he had never pointed it out, the way none of the boys looked at her would have tipped her off.
Feeling sentimental and pathetic, Selim brushed a hair away from her face. A shadow fell over the shaft. When she looked up, she expected to see her father looking down, but it was just a bird circling overhead.
Namen shook the mud from his hands. "Pull me up," he called.
Selim bit her cheek. Her teeth sank disgustingly into the raw flesh. Namen always asked to be pulled up several times to relieve himself though she knew that he was really just claustrophobic. It frustrated her that he used time to alleviate his own discomfort while she suffered constantly without complaint, but she would never deprive her brother of his only break no matter how jealous it made her.
Mortimer lowered at rope. Selim kept her head down as he pulled Namen up so that the falling mud wouldn't get in her eyes.
It made her even more nervous to be alone in the dark hole. Clouds were rolling in and the sunlight fluctuated over the opening. Selim looked up at the sky. A storm was coming. She could see herself trapped in the pit as it filled with water, sinking into the mud like Henry but no one would hear her screams. They would all be seeking shelter.
Shivering, Selim tried once again to focus on her work. She concentrated so hard that she did not even notice that the hawk she had seen circling had landed next to the well and was looking down at her, its head cocked to one side.