There would be wounded monks, he told himself, there would be furious knobs. As he ran he made a mental note of what he had on him that he might turn into bandages. But when he emerged onto the small, flat plain at the top of the ridge it was not monks he saw but a traffic accident. A large dark gray sedan had veered off the narrow road. He reached the car gasping, leaning on the fender by the open drivers door to catch his breath, realizing the car had not hit anything, had been pulled onto the shoulder by a grove of short, gnarled juniper trees. Watching for soldiers, he walked warily around the car and froze.
The two women leaning against boulders appeared at first to be having a quiet conversation, the middle-aged Chinese woman in a white silk blouse gazing inquisitively at the younger woman with close-cropped blond hair, her hands on her belly as if she had indigestion. But the older womans hands were covered with blood. Shan knelt, his fingers on her neck, finding no pulse. She was dead, though her flesh was still warm.
The blond woman gazed toward the horizon with a lifeless expression. But then he saw the fingers of one hand move, trembling, as if gesturing for him. She had been shot twice, in the chest. Blood stained her red nylon windbreaker and the pale blue shirt underneath, blood bubbled at one corner of her mouth. His heart wrenched as she turned to him, her eyes confused and pleading. He sat beside her, put an arm around her shoulder, wiping away a bloodstain on her temple.
"Stay still," he whispered in Chinese, then repeated himself in English, stroking her crown. Run! a frantic voice inside shouted. He had to flee, had to help the monks if he could. But he could not leave the dying woman.
"Who did this?" he whispered.
The womans lips opened and shut. "The raven," she whispered in English, and her hand found his, gripping hard as she looked back at the sky. Not the sky, Shan realized, not a bird, but the tall, fierce mountain to the south. She was gazing at Everest. She glanced at him with an apologetic, lopsided grin. "Is it me . . ." she began in the thinnest of voices, then more blood flowed out of her mouth, choking her words. She raised her hand, touching the blood at her mouth, smearing it on her cheek as she coughed.
"Help will come," he said, his own voice hoarse now. "You will be fine." When the soldiers came he would ask them to run back to the bus, where there would be a first-aid kit and a radio to call an ambulance.
Her weak grin returned, as if she had caught him in a joke, then she lowered her head onto his shoulder like an old friend resting a moment. With what seemed to be great effort she raised her free hand and touched an ornate box that hung from her neck, pulled out from under her shirt. A gau, a traditional Tibetan prayer box. She pushed it toward him, as if to show him, then her hand fell away. He stroked the dirty blond hair on her crown and whispered more words of comfort as the strength ebbed from the hand that held his and her frail, labored breathing gradually ceased. He watched as if from a distance as his hand kept stroking her head, her lifeless eyes still aimed at the mother mountain, hearing his voice whispering desolate, useless assurance as he pushed the gau back inside her shirt. Too late he saw the shadow beside him, too late he noticed the gray uniformed leg at his side. The electric prod touched his hand, his neck, his spine, and he watched from an even greater distance as his body convulsed, pulling the dead Westerner on top of him, her blood smearing onto his face and chest. Then something slammed into his skull and he knew no more.
Excerpted from The Lord of Death by Eliot Pattison Copyright © 2009 by Eliot Pattison. Excerpted by permission of Soho Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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