Characters: Dunstan Kordieh, Karvos
When Kordieh had finished his story, Karvos smiled and patted him on the shoulder. “Ah my friend,” he said, “now I think I understand why Sech Nelier chose me as your escort.”
“I’m not sure I do,” Kordieh said.
“Look at my face,” the Brakiri said. “Lean in close, look very carefully.”
Kordieh pulled his lower lip between his teeth to silence a reply, and did as Karvos asked. As the light from the lamp over their heads fell full on the Brakiri’s face, he could see: the color of his skin was not uniform. With a careful search, Kordieh could make out patterns of paler tones, slightly differing textures than the surrounding flesh.
“What is that?” he asked, leaning back.
“There are many poor people on my world,” Karvos said. “Poor people with no hope of a better future. About the only way many can escape is to join the criminal syndicates, as I did when my parents died. It was that or allow my sister and I to starve.
“We are marked by tattooing on the face, so none can mistake us. I made a living, but it wasn’t enough … to help her …” He reached over and seized the book of poetry from Kordieh’s lap, and rapidly leafed through the pages. When he found the one he wanted, he thrust the open book back into Kordieh’s hands.
The pages were headed, “William Wordsworth.”
She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways She dwelt among the untrodden ways Beside the springs of Dove. A Maid whom there were none to praise And very few to love; A violet by a mossy stone Half hidden from the eye! -- Fair as a star, when only one Is shining in the sky. She lived unknown, and few could know When Lucy ceased to be; But she is in her grave, and, oh, The difference to me!
“A disease,” Karvos said as Kordieh looked up from the book. “Not uncommon, but expensive to treat. I couldn’t afford it, unless I took up … even uglier work than what I was already doing, and she wouldn’t allow it. She was just a child, but I couldn’t bring myself to defy that wish.
“Not long after she died, I learned that the Anla’shok would allow Brakiri to join. I realized that perhaps there, I could find a way to bring hope for my people. And so I fled the syndicates, had the tattoos removed, and came here.”
“It must have been hard,” Kordieh said, wishing he knew something more profound to say.
“When I joined the Anla’shok, I had to face my shame,” the Brakiri said. “My shame in having been a part of the gangs and the crimes I committed; my shame in even considering becoming a murderer to save my sister’s life; my guilt in letting her die. Facing all that, yes, that was hard. But if I learn and serve well, if even one other person does not have to go through what I did … then it’ll be worth it.”
“I hope … they will take me back, someday.”
Karvos took a long look at Kordieh, then smiled. “I hope so too.”
© 1999 Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.