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Mara and dann mad 1, p.1

Mara and Dann mad-1, page 1

 part  #1 of  Mara and Dann Series


Mara and Dann mad-1

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Mara and Dann mad-1

  Mara and Dann

  ( Mara and Dann - 1 )

  Doris Lessing Little Dorrit



  HarperCollins e-books


  Map v

  Author's Note vii


  The scene that the child, then the girl, then the... 1


  On the low hill overlooking the village was a tall... 55


  It was almost dark in the room, because the door... 64


  The two stood at the door and looked into the... 82


  She walked away from the house, and never in her... 115


  Now they began walking down a steep slope of chalky. 134


  Now Mara spent her days in the fields with Meryx... 153


  Mara set off for the centre of Chelops watched by... 176


  In the running chair, Mara held her sack, Dann his,... 204


  This wide river did not have the force of its. 229


  Most evenings Shabis was not there; on reconnaissance, he said,. 254


  Mara had not seen much more than what immediately... 262


  At first they marched through grasslands broken by clumps of. 271


  Then, unexpectedly, since no one had believed the rumours, a… 277


  Mara and Dann, each with a sack over a shoulder,. 284


  It was past midnight when the girl gasped, "Here it... 290


  In the street a couple of men strode fast towards. 300


  Mara was falling asleep, and she was thinking, not of. 325


  On this last night before the river, Daulis said they. 356


  It was only just light. They were walking east, returning... 386

  About the Author


  Author's Note

  One day last autumn my son Peter Lessing came in to say that he had just been listening, on the radio, to a tale about an orphaned brother and sister who had all kinds of adventures, suffered a hundred vicissitudes, and ended up living happily ever after. This was the oldest story in Europe. "Why don't you write something like that?" he suggested. "Oddly enough," I replied, "that is exactly what I am writing and I have nearly finished it."

  This kind of thing happens in families, but perhaps not so often in laboratories.

  Mara and Dann is a reworking of a very old tale, and it is found not only in Europe but in most cultures in the world.

  It is set in the future, in Africa, called Ifrik because of how often we may hear how the short a becomes a short i.

  An Ice Age covers all the northern hemisphere.

  I cannot be the only person who, hearing that the most common condition for the northern parts of the world is to be under — sometimes — miles of ice, shivers, not because of imagined cold winds, since every one of us is equipped with that potent talisman for survival, It can't happen to me, making it impossible for us to weaken ourselves by brooding on possible calamities, but from the thought that one day, thousands of years in the future, our descendants might be saying, "In the 12,000-year interval between one thrust of the Ice Age and the next, there flourished a whole story of human development, from savagery and barbarism to high culture" — and all our civilisations and languages, and cities and skills and inventions, our farms and gardens and forests, and the birds and the beasts we try so hard to protect against our depredations, will amount to a sentence or a paragraph in a long history. But perhaps it will be a 15,000-year interregnum, or less or more, for our experts say that the next Ice Age, already overdue, may begin in a year's time or in a thousand years.

  Mara and Dann is an attempt to imagine what some of the consequences might be when the ice returns and life must retreat to the middle and southern latitudes. Our past experiences help to picture the future. During the hardest of previous periods of ice, the Mediterranean was dry. During warmer intervals, when the ice withdrew for a while, the Neanderthals returned from exile in the south to take up life again in their still chilly valleys. If they did not see their sojourns south as exile, why did they always return?

  Perhaps it is the Neanderthals who will turn out to have been our truest ancestors, having bequeathed to us our amazing diversity, our ability to live in any clime or condition and, above all, our endurance. I like to imagine them, with their great experience of ice, posting a watch for the advancing white mountains.

  April 1998



  The scene that the child, then the girl, then the young woman tried so hard to remember was clear enough in its beginnings. She had been hustled — sometimes carried, sometimes pulled along by the hand — through a dark night, nothing to be seen but stars, and then she was pushed into a room and told, Keep quiet, and the people who had brought her disappeared. She had not taken notice of their faces, what they were, she was too frightened, but they were her people, the People, she knew that. The room was nothing she had known. It was a square, built of large blocks of rock. She was inside one of the rock houses. She had seen them all her life. The rock houses were where they lived, the Rock People, not her people, who despised them. She had often seen the Rock People walking along the roads, getting quickly out of the way when they saw the People; but a dislike of them that she had been taught made it hard to look much at them. She was afraid of them, and thought them ugly.

  She was alone in the big, bare rock room. It was water she was looking for — surely there must be water somewhere? But the room was empty. In the middle of it was a square made of the rock blocks, which she supposed must be a table; but there was nothing on it except a candle stuck in its grease, and burning low... it would soon go out. By now she was thinking, But where is he, where is my little brother? He, too, had been rushed through the dark. She had called out to him, right at the beginning, when they were snatched away from home — rescued, she now knew — and a hand had come down over her mouth, "Quiet." And she had heard him cry out to her, and the sudden silence told her a hand had stopped his cry in the same way.

  She was in a fever, hot and dry over her whole body, but it was hard to distinguish the discomfort of this from her anxiety over her brother.

  She went to the place in the wall where she had been thrust in, and tried to push a rock that was a door to one side. It moved in a groove, and was only another slab of rock; but just as she was giving up, because it was too heavy for her, it slid aside, and her brother rushed at her with a great howl that made her suddenly cold with terror and her hair prickle. He flung himself at her, and her arms went around him while she was looking at the doorway, where a man was mouthing at her and pointing to the child, Quiet, quiet. In her turn she put her hand over his open, howling mouth and felt his teeth in her palm. She did not cry out or pull away, but staggered back against a wall to support his weight; and she put her arms tight around him, whispering, "Hush, shhh, you must be quiet." And then, using a threat that frightened her too, "Quiet, or that bad man will come." And he at once went quiet, and trembled as he clutched her. The man who had brought in the little boy had not gone away. He was whispering with someone out in the darkness. And then this someone came in, and she almost screamed, for she thought this was the bad man she had threatened her brother with; but then she saw that no, this man was not the same but only looked like him. She had in fact begun to scream, but slammed her own free hand across her mouth,
the hand that was not pressing her brother's head into her chest. "I thought you were... that you were." she stammered; and he said, "No, that was my brother, Garth." He was wearing the same clothes as the other one, a black tunic, with red on it, and he was already stripping it off. Now he was naked, as she had seen her father and his brothers, but on ceremonial occasions, when they were decorated with all kinds of bracelets and pendants and anklets, in gold, so that they did not seem naked. But this man was as tired and dusty as she and her brother were; and on his back, as he turned it to put on the other tunic he had with him, were slashes from whips, weals where the blood was oozing even now, though some had dried. He pulled over his head a brown tunic, like a long sack, and she again nearly cried out, for this was what the Rock People wore. He stood in front of her, belting this garment with the same brown stuff, and looking hard at her and then at the little boy, who chose this moment to lift his head; and when he saw the man standing there, he let out another howl, just like their dog when he howled at the moon; and again she put her hand over his mouth — not the one he had bitten, which was bleeding — but let him stare over it while she said, "It's not the same man. It's his brother. It's not the bad one."

  But she could feel the child trembling, in great fits, and she was afraid he would convulse and even die; and she forced his head around, back into her, and cradled it with her two arms.

  For days, but she did not know how long, the two children had been in a room in their own home while the other one, who looked like this man, questioned them. The other one, the bad man, and others in the room, men and women, wore the long black tunics, with red. The two children were the centre of the scene. All the questions had been asked by the bad man, whose face even now seemed to burn there, inside her eyes, so that she had to keep blinking to force it away, and see the face of this man whom she could see was a friend. The bad one kept asking her over and over again about her close family, not the Family, and in the beginning she had answered because she had not known they were enemies; but then the bad man had taken up a whip and said that if they did not answer he would beat them. At this, one woman and then another protested, but he had made them be quiet, with an angry look and a thrust of the whip at them. But the trouble was, she did not know the answers to the questions. It was she who had to answer, because the little boy had screamed at the sight of the whip, and had begun his clinging to her, as he was doing now, his face pressed into her. These bad people, who she was beginning to see were probably relatives, though not her own family — she seemed to remember faces — were asking who came to their house, who slept there, what their parents talked about with them, what their plans were. None of this she knew. Ever since she could remember anything, there had been people coming and going; and then there were the servants, who were like friends. Once, during the questioning, there was a confused, angry moment when she had answered a question with something about the man who ran the house and took orders from her mother; but the bad man had not meant him at all, and he leaned right down and shouted at her, the face (so like the face she was looking at now) so close to hers she could smell his sour breath and see the vein in his forehead throbbing; and she was so frightened that for a moment her mind was dark, and was dark for so long that, when she saw again, she was looking up at the man staring down at her; and they were all alarmed and silent, and he was too. She could not speak after that: her tongue had gone stiff and, besides, she was so thirsty. There was a jar of water on the table, and she pointed at it and said, "Please, water," using the politeness she had been taught; and then the bad man was pleased at the new good idea he had, and began pouring water into a cup, and then back again, making the water splash, so that her whole dry body yearned for it; but he did not give her any. And all that went on, the whip sometimes in the man's hand, sometimes lying on the table where she could see it, the water being splashed, and the man pouring it deliberately and drinking it, mouthful by mouthful, and asking, asking, asking the questions she did not know the answers to. And then there was a great noise outside of voices and quarrelling. The people in the room had exclaimed, and looked at each other, and then they ran off, fast, through the door into the storerooms, leaving the two children alone; and she had been just about to reach for the water when a whole crowd had rushed into the room. She thought at first they were Rock People because they wore the brown sack things, but then saw that no, they were People, her people, being tall, and thin, and nice looking. Then she and the little boy were lifted up and told, Quiet, be quiet, and they had travelled for hours through the dark, while the stars jogged overhead; and then she had been thrust into this room, the rock room, alone.

  Now she said to this man, "I'm so thirsty"; and at this his face had a look as if he wanted to laugh, the way you laugh when something impossible is asked for. She knew exactly what he was thinking; her mind was so clear then, and she could look back afterwards and see that face of his, the good one — like her parents', kind — but on it that smile, Oh no, it's not possible, because everything was so dangerous and more important than water. But that was the end of the clear part, the end of what she remembered.

  He said, "Wait." And went to where the room slab had been slid to shut out the night, full of enemies, pushed it along in its groove, and in a low voice said something which must be about water. How many people were out there? He came back with a cup of water. "Be careful," he said, "there isn't much." And now the little boy tore himself out of her arms and grabbed the cup and began gulping and snuffling the water down, and then... the cup slipped, and what was left splashed on the rock of the floor. He wailed, and she put her hand on his mouth again and turned his face into her. She had not had even one mouthful but the man hadn't noticed. This was because he had turned away at the moment the boy was drinking to make sure the door slab was in place. Her mouth was burning, her eyes burned, because she wanted to cry and there were no tears there, her whole being was so dry, she burned with dryness. And now the man squatted in front of her and began talking.

  And this was the part she tried to remember afterwards, for years, as she was growing up, for what he told her she most desperately wanted to know.

  The beginning she did take in. She knew — didn't she? — that things had been pretty bad for a long time, everything getting worse... she must know that. Yes, she did, her parents talked about it, and she did know, as this man kept saying, that the weather was changing. It was getting drier but not in any regular way: sometimes it rained in the way it should and sometimes not at all or very little; and there was a lot of trouble with the Rock People, and there was a war going on between the different big families, and even inside the families — because, as she could see, his brother and he were on different sides and.

  Her little brother seemed to be asleep, slumped there against her. She knew he was not asleep but had fainted, or gone into some kind of fit of not knowing, because he could not bear any more; and the few mouthfuls of water had been enough to relax him into a temporary quiet, though he jerked and trembled as he clung heavily to her, limp, his arms heavy and dragging. She felt she would fall. She had been like this for days, in that other place, her own home, where the child had clung and shivered and cried, noisily, then silently, when the bad man hit him to keep quiet. And now he was still there, against her, and she was staring over his head into the face of the man which, she could see because it was so close to her, was thin and bony because he was hungry, and full of pain too, for his back must be hurting. He was talking, fast, straight into her face; his mouth was moving and she could not stop looking at it: it was as if every word were being rolled around inside his mouth and forced out. He was tired, he was so tired it was hard for him to talk, and to explain all these things. It was about his brother, Garth, the bad one, and his friends. It was about her parents, who had gone away somewhere because the bad ones had wanted to kill them. And she must be careful to look after the little boy. She thought she was going to fall. She tried to speak but found her mouth was gumm
ed up, there was only a thick gum in her mouth, and she looked into this man's face, the man who was saving her and her brother — she knew that much — and she saw a greying scum on his lips. That was why it was hard for him to talk. He was thirsty, like her. And now he grabbed her by both shoulders, and looked close into her face, and was demanding an answer — but this time not frighteningly, like the other one, but a kind of Yes from her, meaning she had understood; but she hadn't, she was thinking about water. It seemed that the sounds of water were everywhere, splashing on the rock roof and the rocks outside, but she knew she imagined it; and suddenly she saw from the dark, exhausted face so close to hers that he had understood. And she managed to lift a hand and point to her mouth. He looked for the cup and saw it lying on its side on the floor, and the stain of spilt water. He picked up the cup and got up, slowly, went slowly to the door, because he was stiff now from the wounds on his back, pushed the door along, said something, while he supported himself on the wall with one hand. A long wait. Then the cup was handed back in. He brought it to her. It was only half full. She said to herself that she would not gulp and guzzle as her brother had, but she couldn't help herself, and bent her head to the cup, hastily, greedily; but she did not spill any, not a drop, and as she drank the precious mouthfuls she saw the mouth next to hers moving, as his eyes watched every little movement of swallowing. He was thirsty, was desperate for water, but had given her those mouthfuls. And now he took the cup from her, slid it inside his tunic where the belt was, put big strong hands on either side of her, pressed her gently, and then gathered her, together with her little brother, into his arms and held them there a few moments. Never would she forget how she felt then, protected, safe, and she wanted never to move away from those kind arms. Then he gently released her and, squatting in front of her, as he had before, asked, "What is your name?" And as she told him, she saw his face change into a weariness and disappointment with her that made her want to clutch him and say, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry" — but she did not know what for. He put his face close, so that she could see a little mesh of red veins in his eyes and the grime in the pores of his face, and he said, "Mara. I told you: Mara. I've just told you." And now she did remember that, yes, it was one of the things he had been telling her during the time she couldn't listen. He had told her to forget her name, her real name, and that now she was called Mara. "Mara," she repeated, obedient, feeling that the sound had nothing to do with her. "Again," he said, stern, and she knew he did not believe she would remember, because she hadn't, until now. "Mara. My name is Mara." "Good — and this child here.?" But she could not remember what he had said. He saw from her desperate face that she did not know. "His name is Dann now. He must forget his name." And he went to the door, very stiff and slow, and there he turned and looked at her, a long look, and she said, "Mara. I'm Mara." He went out and this time the rock door was not slid back. Outside she could see the dark of the night and the dark shapes of people. Now she let her brother go loose and he woke. "That was a good man," she told him. "He is our friend. He is helping us. The one you are frightened of, he's the bad one. Do you understand? They are brothers." He was staring up at her, trying to understand: she was taller, because he was three years younger, four years old, and he was her little brother whom she had protected and cared for since he was born. She said it all again. This one was good. The other was bad. And her name was Mara now and he must forget her real name. And his name was a moment's panic: had she forgotten it? No. "Your name is Dann." "No it isn't, that's not my name." "Yes, it is. You must forget your real name, it's dangerous." And her voice shook, she heard it become a sob, and the little boy put up his hand to stroke her face. This made her want to howl and weep, because she felt he had come back to her, her beloved little brother, after a horrible time when some sort of changeling had been attached to her. She did not know if he had understood, but now he said, "Poor Mara," and she clutched him and kissed him, and they were crying and clutching when two people came in, in the clothes of the Rock People, but they were not Rock People. They had bundles of the brown tunics under their arms and they took two, one for her and one for Dann. She hated the feel of the tunic, slippery and thin, going down over her head, and the little boy said, "Do I have to wear this?"

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