In Time, Morrity Hangs D’Averc and Smokes the Ambrosia*
Morrity sat in the back of a wagon.
“Jangle,” he said, “some coconut slush.”
The slave brought it to him. “Is it much longer?”
“Mountains are to the right.”
The wagon bounced. The heat made the wood smell, like an oil or a tar. Morrity wished for his lab, and his informer to tell him what was happening with the world. He wished for the trip to be over, that he could leave the wagon and walk to a stream, where the slaves could clean him. He wished for snow, but there was none here. All he could do was play with a wooden toy, or read a book when the road permitted.
In time, Morrity had eaten the elephant and now weighed over five hundred pounds. In a book by Marteuse Lapaste, the crazed monk of Punjab, he had read that the virtues of consuming elephant flesh extended to immortality, but at this point the viability of the theory had not been tested. In total, Morrity had derived a meagre set of benefits from the exercise: memories of the squealing of the elephant as the slaves had killed it, and afterwards, of the taste of its flesh, that density and ingrained fat that could not be overcome by any marinate, spread or basting.
“Lord, people on the road.”
“What kind of people, Jangle?”
“Bad ones, Lord.”
“What do they want?”
“Bad things, Lord.”
Morrity shifted his bulk until he could look out the window.
Most of the slaves were killed in the first rush, their bodies pocked by arrows or cut apart by steel. The horses bolted as their strappings were hacked, but arrows did for them too. The wagon was pushed down the embankment on the other side of the mountains, and rolled several times on its way to the edge of the river.
“Jangle, are you there?”
“Where are the others?”
“All dead, Lord.”
“Not a good showing for them, was it?”
“Speak well on the dead, Lord. They merit it.”
“Can you help me up?”
“Used to carry you everywhere, Lord. Now some difficulty.”
“Jangle, someone is coming towards us. Look.”
“They do not look happy.”
“They are barbarians, Lord. Of the merritt people.”
“The merritt? We are undone!”
“Already undone, Lord. Let me hide behind you, Lord.”
“Jangle, get out of there – come help me! Jangle! Slave!”
The merritt were a hundred-strong. They had descended the embankment with bows drawn and spears at the ready, and Morrity could see the glint of steel everywhere. But then they had seen him, and as one they had dropped to a knee.
Morrity sat cross-legged before them. “What do you want? Why are you kneeling?”
The leader of the merritt rose and clucked some words.
“They honour you, Lord,” said Jangle, from behind. “You are sweating and glistening and wearing jewels, and though your body is large, you look the child that you are. They think you are a god.”
“But they are godless folk!”
“Not anymore, Lord. Look at them praying to you.”
The water from the river was pooling around Morrity where he made a depression in the rocks. The liquid was grey with mountain silt, and cold. He raised his voice. “I am looking for a man named D’Averc. He is a hermit, do you understand me? I must meet this man!”
“Might be they ate him, Lord,” muttered Jangle. “They look very hungry.”
“They are godless, not savages,” returned Morrity. Then to the merritt, “He is of the Sorority of Credence, a scientific institution that conducts experiments in your mountains. You must have heard of D’Averc’s success in bringing snow to your mountains two summers ago – it was a machine that did the deed, powered by heat taken from your thermal springs. I am not given to science, but must find this D’Averc, for he has a knowledge I require.”
The puzzled expressions of the merritt led him to continue, “It is a question of morbidity, you see. I consumed an elephant. Every part of it, in hopes of growing old slowly. But it has not worked out, as you can see!”
“They worship elephants here, Lord,” whispered Jangle. “Do not tell them more of this story.”
“Jangle, you are the worst slave I have ever owned. When we return to the City, I am going to sell you to a horsemonger who will no doubt have you whipped daily.”
“Be gentle to your servant, Lord!” pleaded Jangle. “Look, they stir!”
Morrity gulped. “You see, this D’Averc has developed a simple procedure for those in my condition. He heats the flesh to mobilize the fat, then inseminates it with a concoction of mercury and salt that renders it soluble in water. After that, some alcohol is used to dissolve the excess flesh. I have tried the procedure myself, but it is complicated, and the mishaps have been unpleasant. I must seek D’Averc’s assistance.”
“They ate him, Lord!” insisted Jangle. “Merritt don’t like snow!”
“Shut up, Jangle.” To the merritt, “In exchange for your help, I sell you my slave. You may do with him as you please.” But despite Jangle’s whimpering, which they surely must have heard, they did not respond to the offer. Rather, they came to the water’s edge and put hands upon Morrity, and began to undress him. Soon, next to the river, Morrity sat cross-legged and naked before the mountains.
In the village, Morrity resided in a hut on a bed of acacia leaves and hill cones, as braziers burnt a nutty substance that somehow kept the air cool.
“They cannot understand us,” he admitted to Jangle, who lay chained at the other side of the hut.
“Lord, they will eat Jangle. They will eat your slave.”
“I’m sorry for that, Jangle. But slaves never come to good endings. I am more worried about my condition. This D’Averc may indeed be dead, thanks to these barbarians. And while I am happy enough to have brought some religion to their lives via my godhood, it is not the end I was searching for either.”
“They will tear Jangle’s limbs from him while he lives, and cook them. They will feast on Jangle.” The chains rustled.
“I’m afraid I must admit that I will eat some of you if it is offered, Jangle. One must respect the local customs. I have not eaten in hours, and am very hungry. And there is still a chance that the merritt can take me to D’Averc, so I must not ruin that chance. Imagine that, Jangle. The merritt carrying me through the mountains as a god, and D’Averc in his laboratory studying his transfusions and splices and electrics, coming out to see what the row is about!”
But the chains just kept rustling.
“Am. Brush. Sha.” The leader of the merritt was speaking.
“I don’t understand your speech,” said Morrity, sparing a glance for Jangle, whose meat was being prepared with herbs and spices by four naked merritt girls. He was not enjoying the attention.
Morrity pointed to his blubber. “This. Look. Must remove it. Too much me. Take away. I am child. Nine years. Two years since millennium, and nothing to show for it. Tried to make gold from rock. Not worked. Ate elephant – I’m sorry if offends you, but was bad elephant. Now must be child again. Too big. Too big.”
The merritt leader was bald and darker-skinned than the others. He studied Morrity’s flesh, the flaps and folds that Morrity was showing him in the hopes of having him understand the problem. He clucked at one of the girls working Jangle’s flesh. She was maybe fifteen, long-haired and beautiful as she sat beside Morrity and applied a blue substance to an area of his waist.
“What is it?” cried Morrity. “My flesh is numb!” But this was nothing compared to his alarm when the girl took a knife and sliced a pat of flesh from the affected area. Morrity felt nothing. “Why, it is a local anaesthetic! Remarkable! And the flesh is hardly bleeding, it seems the substance has cauterized the wound somehow…”
“Gold. Am. Brush. Sha,” said the leader again.
“Did you say gold? It is not gold I seek, but the means of making it. Now what are you doing?” Morrity’s slice of flesh was in an iron pan sizzling with heat. The meat was soon cooked. When the leader bit into it, he grimaced.
“Lord,” gasped Jangle. “They are eating you.”
But Morrity didn’t answer, for the girls had directed all their attention to him now, and were smothering him in the blue substance. He imagined that it must be called: am brush sha. He did not object to the knifes, the morris swords, the sylvan pokers used to hold his flesh in the sizzling pot. Absurdly, the only part of the process to which he did object was the look on the faces of the people who ate him, for they seemed to hardly enjoy the flavour.
“Well I’m sorry for that,” explained Morrity. “My diet has always has been somewhat exotic. Last year, I ate a unicorn’s horn softened with eagle’s egg gravy. There have been some other such meals…”
“Lord,” whispered Jangle. “They are going to eat you thin again?”
“That appears to be the plan, slave.”
“Then we stop looking for the frenchman?”
“This seems a pleasant enough solution to my problem.”
“And Jangle has been saved because the merritt will eat you instead?”
Morrity shrugged. A girl was licking her fingers to absorb grease from a hunk of his right thigh.
He leaned back into the thistle netting of his chair and let himself enjoy the experience. Somewhere in the mountains, D’Averc was working at his laboratory, delving into mysteries of science that would yield him nothing at all, for here was a real secret of life, contained in this blue fluorescence on Morrity’s skin, the colour that ate his nerves and let the knives have their play. There was no sweeter ending.
And at that, the leader returned the next day and presented an orange gel to Morrity. It had been arranged on a flat of palm leaves, ringed with little heated stones that smoked. “Am. Brush. Sha,” he said, bowing before Morrity. “Am. Brush. Sha.”
“Not yet,” said Morrity, eyeing the gel. “Make me small first. A child.”
And Morrity dwelled in the mountains of the merritt for a year and a half, until he was indeed small again. After that, he climbed the reaches and through the unforgiving passes in his search for D’Averc, intent on but one thing: he had not properly honoured the millennium that had just gone by, but he would surely not miss those that were to come. Of that, he would be sure.