The Courtesans of God: Chapter Five

The river which God thickened with mud to slow the advance of time

Time, the muscle that ripples from the shoulder of God, was flexing once more, pulling them away from this place.

Literati

As promised, here is chapter five of my completed novel, The Courtesans of God. Each Monday, a new installment. Also promised: to include you in my expedition to find an agent.  Of sixty customized queries sent out, I have received only one response that leads me to think the chapters I sent were not even read.  Though a rejection, I appreciate that someone actually took the time to read what I had sent.  Here is her response:

Dear Thornton,

Thank you so much for letting me consider your work.

There is an awful lot I like about it. However, I am afraid in the current tough market I do have to be completely bowled over by something to take it on and I’m afraid I didn’t feel quite this strongly about your work.

I know you will continue to approach agents and publishers and I’m sorry that it’s been a near miss for me.  Good luck with your future approaches.

With all best wishes,

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My faith is undiminished.  Just do a search for the title, and pull up chapters one through four. Here is

 

Chapter Five

 

Joseph had not slept at all, fear and mosquitoes gnawing upon him as he curled up in the knuckled roots of the trunk. He imagined every sound he heard was the footfall of a Japanese soldier, or the growl of a tiger, and the patter of rain was the hiss of a snake.

And yet he did not hear at four in the morning that jungle woman make her descent, pass lightly over him, and make her way back to the escarpment that stood between them and the Japanese. The blue-black sky was beginning to age gray, though darkness still prowled in obscurity beneath the canopy.

Miri concealed herself between two boulders near the peak, and watched for signs from the Japanese camp, distant and below her. What’s wrong with them, she thought, to be sleeping so late? She had planned to remain until she could see if they were being pursued, and she waited for a tell-tale flight of birds or panic in the upper branches as monkeys scattered. But when the color that had gone to ground during the night began returning to the tops of the trees, turning the gray to green, Miri decided it was best to waste no more time.

She returned to find that Joseph had at last fallen asleep. “Good morning, sir!” said Miri, thinking to impress him with her best English. Joseph snapped from his sleep as if caught in sin, at once fearful and alert.

“OH! Good morning.” It was the first time he had heard the woman speak other than in whisper.

Miri spent little time with him–her mind was on the older brother still aloft. She scaled the tree to retrieve her pack and her spear, and to see how Eric had fared during the night. She brushed termites from his skin, and this awakened him. She helped him down.

“Are you thirsty?”

“Yes. Terribly.”

They huddled on the ground, the three of them, and from the pack that seemed to contain the all the wonders of the world Miri pulled out a segment of bamboo, stoppered

at one end and containing fresh water. She held it to their lips, rationing out just a sip for each of them. Joseph said nothing, but noticed that she seemed to show a bit of favoritism towards his brother. It angered him, but like the prick of a mosquito it did not really irritate him until a few moments after the sting.

Miri pulled out another bamboo stalk the length of her forearm, and this one she chopped in two lengthwise. It had been filled with dry rice and even a few herbs, saturated with water and laid at the edge of a fire to boil and steam from within. The meal was rounded off with a cooked yam from her village–these things intended as her lunch the day before.

Time, the muscle that ripples from the shoulder of God, was flexing once more, pulling them away from this place. They were on the move again, this time with light blossoming everywhere, showing them the way. They had not gone far before they came across a run slightly worn by wild boar. Perfect, thought Miri, it leads in the right direction. The traveling was easy and they made good time. Rain and sun shared the same sky, and multiple rainbows arched and throbbed with color.

As they worked their way into higher country the underbrush thinned out, and streams, several of them, moved swiftly enough to be free of algae and mosquitoes. Miri replenished her bamboo canteen, and allowed her wards the luxury of bathing a few moments. Still, she was cautious. Each stream provided a new opportunity to obscure their trail. The prudent daughter of Jon the Poet had them wade alternately up stream or down stream before making any imprint on the opposite bank. She continued to believe that the Japanese could follow a trail, but as the day wore on, she allowed that it was possible that they either lacked the skill or inclination to do so. But the day was not over, nor their escape complete.

Eric himself began to doubt that they were being followed. He and his brother were neither white nor officers, and therefore too insignificant to bother with, he reasoned. On the other hand, the Japanese could be exploding with humiliation, and driven to vengeance. He thought of the convoluted course by which they had come. They can’t possibly find us. No one could.  Even so, fear had lit bonfires to his logic and he could not re-assure himself by mid-day, when Miri sat them down to rest in a stand of trees. A more subtle fear began to stalk Eric, and displaced his thoughts about the Japanese. The course they were taking, if his sense of direction still functioned, led them deeper into the interior, further from the coast and security of his regiment. “We rest here,” Miri said. But where was ‘here’?

As she had so often, Miri went aloft once more, this time to gather fruit, rambutans and mangoes. At times she would shift from one tree to the next without coming down. Eric and Joseph followed beneath her to catch what she would drop. She spied a durian, her favorite fruit, and with a quick chop of her parang it fell. Eric was so tired that for a moment he poised to catch that, too, forgetting that durian were heavy and spiked. It hit the ground at his feet and hardly rolled.

Miri dropped to the ground to join them for a while. They were high enough up the slopes to see the entire valley. They sat close together, facing each other, their knees almost touching.  Even as they picked at the small mound of fruit between them, Miri was watchful, her eyes roving the valley below. But she did notice how tired the brothers were, and she noticed also, much to her amusement, that the boys kept staring at her breasts, and this puzzled her greatly.

Eric remembered when their mother caught him along with his brother spying once on their sister, Joyce, while bathing herself in her room. Their mother beat them severely, and then, to make certain they would never do it again, she beat their sister, too, with a rattan cane that left welts that stayed for weeks. Although Joyce had been oblivious to their voyeurism, Sarafina reasoned that no doubt their sister deserved the beating, too, for feeling impulses just barely beyond her reach on the adult side of childhood.

The event had left all three of them certain they were going to Hell. But Sarafina Madrigal D’Cruz was not here to beat them now, and the sweet juice of a ripe mango was dripping down the perfect breast of a girl who was not their sister, and each move she made brought them agony.

Joseph squirmed behind his brother, hiding the evidence of his thoughts, and Eric raised his knees to his chest as they sat. Miri tossed her hair behind her head and stretched her arms towards the sky as if yawning, just to see the boys react. She thought to herself, as she had thought earlier, I hope my father does not kill you. She had a wonderful smile.

She patted the ground, once. “Tidor di sini.” Sleep here. She herself had no intention of sleeping, and chose a tree. Her ascent was swift and nimble, and once aloft she made herself as comfortable as she had been the day before, when she had waited passively for the appearance of her prey of choice.

Sunlight warmed her body, and she felt very good indeed. It was not until late afternoon that she came down from her tower, satisfied at last that they had not been followed. She had seen a flock of birds sporadically take flight in the distance, but there was no pattern to their eruptions, which were more likely provoked by a tiger or other cat. It had been several hours since she had seen any outburst at all.

She dropped lightly to the ground. Her two soldiers—boys, really—not much older than she was, were as deeply lost in their sleep as they were in the jungle. She was absolutely fascinated with them, and it was some time before she chose to wake them.

She took a leaf with a long stem and landed it like a mosquito under Eric’s chin, and let it dance a moment, pulling it away as he swiped at it in his sleep. Again, she tickled his chin and, once again, in a stupor he brushed it away. She played with him for some time, this way, happily amused.

She liked his features. He was so unlike the men from her tribe, or even the Malays who lived at the delta. And he was tall! He was very, very tall. Much more so than his brother. He was as tall as the British soldier who fell to earth tugging on the strings to his own cloud. And he was so handsome! She slid her hand under his singlet and felt the hard muscle of his chest, firm even as he slept. He did not stir. She allowed her hand to linger long enough to absorb his warmth, and she dipped her face to feel his breath upon her brow, and to fill her nostrils with his scent.

Her curiosity, for the moment, had been satisfied, and she withdrew her hand. Then she shook him abruptly by the shoulder, startling him into wakefulness. “It’s time to move.”

It took the boys a few moments to realize where they were, and recall the exhausting horror of the last twenty-four hours. How could this woman seem so calm and indifferent to it all?

They took a bit of water before standing and stretching, and Miri shouldered her pack and pulled her spear from the ground. She started to walk, almost marching, and did not bother to look back to see if the boys were following. Of course they will follow, she thought, what choice do they have? She picked up the pace.

The boys fell in behind her. The quickness of her step amplified their fear. She was jogging now, as if on a hunt, and oblivious to all else. “Ask her!” insisted Joseph. “Ask her now!”

“Miri, wait!” shouted Eric, who needed no urging from his brother. “We need to talk!”

All the immediate dangers—the Japanese, the snakes, the darkness—were behind them now, gone, but in that void a more subtle dagger slipped from its sheath. Where were they? Where were they going? Nothing they had seen even remotely suggested the coast or the way they had come with the Japanese after they had been captured.

“Miri, Miri! …Wait!”

But Miri remained indifferent to them, demanding they keep pace with her.

“MIRI! WHERE ARE WE GOING!”

At this she stopped and turned, on the small rise, now ten yards ahead of the boys struggling to overtake her. As they caught up with her, as they caught their breath, she pointed proudly with her spear. “There.”

They had slept the last four hours a mere two hundred yards from the village of Jon the Poet, the man who slid his blade upon a whetting stone as he waited for the return of his long over-due daughter.