"That's what makes it fun. Otherwise, it's just like walking along the railroad track. You slip off, it doesn't matter. I said you were afraid of the danger, and you've just admitted it."
"I am not afraid," he said, very red in the face, as he started to climb up next to Rashel.
Dismé screamed at him. "Roger. Don't get up there!" Then, when he paid no attention, she ran as fast as she could after Father, to get him to make Roger and Rashel stop.
"They're what?" cried Father, heading back down the pat. "I thought Roger had better sense than that."
Call-Her-Mother sat down on a stump and shook her head in exasperation.
Dismé halted, biting her lip, not knowing which way to go. She was still vacillating when Father's great shout came echoing up the hillside, sending her scrambling down the hill, suddenly frantic. There was Rashel, leaning over the rail, father half over the rail at her side, reaching out. There was Call-Her-Mother, suddenly white in the face, looking at Rashel with pure panic, and Roger nowhere to be seen.
"He fell," Rashel cried. "He just suddenly fell!" She wept into the hem of her skirt, wailing as though in an outburst of grief. Dismé couldn't make a sound. Her eyes were dry and hot with horror and disbelief, and she could not take them from the foam-slathered darkness of the torrent.
People searched. Men from the Department of Death Prevnetion went up and down the banks on both sides, during the flood and afterward. No one was allowed to die all at once in the Regine. Father searched, silently, sorrow strangled, but Roger was never found. Dismé had bad dreams about dying all at once, but Father held her and told her Roger had gone to some other place where things were lovely for him.
"Shall we go see him the bottle wall, Father?"
"No, Dismé. Roger has escaped the bottle wall. Thank God."
"Didn't you want him in the bottle wll, Father?"
"No, love. No one I love should ever be in the bottle wall. But that must be a secret, just between us. Like our other special secret, you remember?"
"About the Latimer book the ping asked me about."
He paled and grew tense. "A ping? When? Where?"
"One morning when I was out watching birds, I forget exactly when. It was a long time ago. I saw the ping first, then demons, then ouphs, then something awful watched me, and there was a voice and a sign "
"Dismé, slowly. You saw what?"
"Demons, coming through the city wall. And ouphs."
"What are ouphs?"
She remembered, just in time, that ouphs were secret. "Just pretend, Father. Mother and I had a pretend. And the something awful was only a feeling. But the voice and the sign were real."
"What voice? What sign?"
"A voice that told me to be still "
Her father smiled, "As any people have."
"And a sign, like an eight lying on its side. Glowing, sort of." She gestured, making the curving loop, out and back, crossing in the middle.
"The Guardians' sign," he said, smiling. "Tamlar's and Elnith's."
"Who are they, Father?"
"You're remember a story your mother used to tell you when you were tiny. Tamlar was the Guardian of the fires of life who will call the other Guardians back into your life, to help us, and they will all wear that sign. You mother named you after one of the Guardians."
"What was she guardian of, Father?"
"I don't remember what she was guardian of. Maybe she was Dismé of the dust bins." He laughed. "What did you tell the ping?"
She shrugged. "I couldn't tell it much."
"You do remember where the book is? And you remember, if anything happens to me, you must hide it?"
"Nothing's going to happen to you, Father."
"I hope not, Dismé. Still, one has to think of all possibilities. Like Bahibra going away." And he shook his head slowly, tears in his eyes. Dismé knew he was wondering why mother didn't tell him she was going but did tell Dismé. Dismé couldn't explain it because it was one of the many things she didn't know.
Copyright 2002 Sherri S Tepper. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher HarperCollins.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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