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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Feasting and dancing…Mal and Inara show each other the stars.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1730 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Follows ONE MAN’S TRASH (08). Precedes TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10).
The series so far:
A LION’S MOUTH (01)
ADVENTURES IN SITTING (02)
SPARKS FLY (03)
BREAK OUT (05)
THE TRIAL (06)
ONE MAN’S TRASH (08)
Feasting and dancing…Mal and Inara show each other the stars.
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* * *
Mamadou closely observed the Captain and Inara over the course of the day. He spoke to his wife, and Nana agreed with his conclusion. What his cousin Juju had said was true. It was clear as daylight that the Captain was in love, and that the lady returned his regard. Over the course of the day, the two indicated in hundreds of subtle ways how close, how intimate they were. Mamadou caught them in several tender gestures—nothing unfitting, oh, no—but the kind of touches exchanged in public only by people who are physically intimate in private. He concluded that they were newlyweds, and although disappointed of a Bandiagaran wedding, he thought a Bandiagaran celebration was in order.
* * *
Nana spread the large mat on the ground. White fish benachin was a very festive dish, and she’d spent a good part of the day preparing it. The freshly caught fish was cleaned and gutted, then she’d stuffed it with spices and prepared the cassava, pumpkin, cabbage and bitter tomato to accompany the fish. She softened the dried tamarind, and boiled some bissap leaves. The bissap she ground in a mortar, with spices. The tamarind was added to onions, pepper and garlic, and pasted into another sauce. She set out the colorful platter in the middle of the mat and covered it with a mountain of cooked rice. She seated her guests around it, then presented the cooked fish with a flourish, distributing the fish and vegetables equitably, adding bissap paste and crunchy rice from the bottom of the cooking pot to garnish the dish, and drizzling the tamarind sauce over the whole.
“Enjoy,” she said to her guests, with a big smile. “Bon appétit.”
“Thank you for your hospitality, Nana, Mamadou,” Mal said on behalf of the whole crew, as he dug into the dish in front of him with his right hand. “I washed it,” he whispered to Inara.
She nudged him in the ribs, then reached in with her own right hand. She’d washed it, too, of course, and she sincerely hoped all the others sharing this platter had done so. Especially Jayne. She watched with contained amusement as Ip searched in vain for an eating utensil of some sort and did a double take when he realized there was none and that he was expected to eat with his hands. The young man’s Core upbringing (and Inara had to admit, hers as well) had not prepared him for a situation like this and he nearly committed a social faux pas when he reached toward the platter with his left hand. Inara watched as River intercepted Ip’s hand and wordlessly directed him to a more socially acceptable solution. Inara realized Mal shared her quiet amusement, and looked at him.
“Hardly seems fair,” he said in a low voice. “Dr Ip’s left-handed, now he’s got to eat gracefully with the wrong—that is to say, the right—hand.”
“I’m lucky I’m right-handed,” Inara replied, also low. “My schooling didn’t cover how to eat a formal dinner politely with your hands. I’ve been improvising.”
“Your schooling clearly covered how to pick up on social cues, Inara,” Mal returned. “You’re as graceful in eating with your hands as in everything you do.” He saw that their hostess was closely watching their exchange, and turned his attention back to Nana. “What is the name of this delicious dish?”
“White fish benachin,” she answered. “It’s my specialty.”
“My Nana makes the best benachin in Fajara,” Mamadou boasted.
“Best I’ve ever tasted,” Mal answered with a wink, and everyone laughed. “What kind of fish is this?”
“It’s a local river fish,” Nana replied.
“River. Fish,” River stated abruptly. “Fish, River!” She began to titter. “Captain cooked in a sauce.”
“What is it called?” Mal asked quickly, to distract from River’s odd behavior. Shut up, Albatross.
“Capitaine grillé.” Nana thankfully had not noticed, or chose to ignore, River’s stifled giggles.
Mal directed a blank look at Inara, but it was Ip who translated the strange language for him. “It means ‘Grilled Captain’.”
“I hate to tell Jayne, but bissap ain’t alcoholic.”
Dinner was over, and the celebration had carried on into the dark evening, with the village griot—a storyteller, praise-singer and historian all rolled into one—and a band of traditional musicians coming to brighten the festivities, which took place around a flickering fire in one of the village gathering spaces.
“What is it, then?” Inara asked. She sipped her own glass of the beverage, but it was unlike anything she’d ever tasted. Floral and spicy and exotic. She leaned back contentedly against Mal’s solid body.
“Hibiscus flower tea, with a few other things thrown in. They don’t do alcoholic beverages here in Fajara.” Mal looked over at Jayne, who was getting increasingly uninhibited as the evening wore on. “Hate to spoil his fun.”
“He seems to be getting drunk on the placebo effect,” Simon observed.
“Oh, he’s just havin’ a good time bonding with the guys.” Kaylee had her own suspicions, having grown up in a much less sheltered way than Simon, and—she realized with surprise—the Captain, who’d been a good boy on a puritan world before the war, and even Inara, whose Academy training, though wide-ranging, was all about refinement and good taste, and likely didn’t involve lessons in how to sneak illicit liquor past the noses of authority. She didn’t know how they’d done it, but she reckoned those fellas—and there seemed to be fellas like that anywhere—had found themselves some kinda way to brew some hooch, despite the no-alcohol culture of the village. She was as near certain as 牛屎 niú shǐ their pitcher of bissap was spiked. No wonder Jayne had gravitated their direction. ’Course, it was still funny, ’cause Jayne had no idea the village was dry, and he was assuming everyone else’s juice cocktails were high-test as well.
Zoe leaned back and sipped the fancy drink out of a tall glass. It was a multi-hued orange and red concoction with swirling layers that mixed like the colors of sunrise. All it needed was a little pink umbrella sticking up out of the glass and she could imagine she was reclining at a resort spa—say, on Rio Beach.
“The hell, Zoe, thought you wasn’t s’posed to drink that stuff when you’re all knocked up,” Jayne slurred at her, swaying pleasantly to the music.
“The hell, Jayne,” she returned, downing her drink. She wasn’t about to tell him that it was mango and pomegranate juice, artfully presented. Let him imagine it was exotic liquor. Zoe requested another drink, this one dangerous green in color. She knew the principle ingredient of this one was ditah juice.
Jayne stretched his eyes. “Should tell the Cap’n, I should,” Jayne said. “You’ll stunt the child’s growth.”
“I know how to kill you with my pinky finger,” Zoe replied, gesturing menacingly with said digit but otherwise not moving a muscle.
Jayne threw in the towel. “The hell is that, anyhow? Absinthe or somethin’? Can I get one?”
River fashioned a tiny pink umbrella out of folded paper, and set it in the edge of her glass. The musicians kept up a steady, infinitely varied rhythm with djembe, dumbek, and shakera, while the kora player worked a musical pattern on his strings, a kind of riff with variants prescribed and improvised, over which lay the melodic rhythm of the susa, a stick-fiddle with a resonant gourd, played with a bow. The singer—the griot—improvised verses over all of it, verses whose words River didn’t comprehend. They were in Wolof, the local language, and she hadn’t yet heard enough of it to decipher much. The words “Serenity” and “Reynolds” featured prominently in the griot’s song, and River knew he was telling the story of the ship’s arrival and the treasures in her hold. She didn’t comprehend. She understood.
There is a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
Time to dance.
She handed her drink to a surprised Ip, and got up to join a small group of dancers around the fire. River began to move, her complete understanding of the local style evident in her movements, as she used her body to express exactly what the music was saying. Ip watched her, mesmerized.
Mal held Inara close and they swayed in time to the fascinating rhythms of the music. It was the nearest they’d come to dancing since that shindig on Persephone—the one that ended with the punching, that led to the stabbing with swords. There were others dancing around in the firelight, but they were the only two dancing as a couple. There was nothing awkward about it—Mal had a feeling, he couldn’t say why, that Nana and Mamadou approved. Why that should make a difference, he couldn’t comprehend, but it was good to know that he wasn’t causing trouble or offending local sensibilities by standing up with Inara.
Even as he held Inara and breathed in her scent, the captain-y part of him automatically registered the presence and well-being of every one of his crew. Zoe was sitting comfortably in the firelight, sipping yet another exotic-looking juice cocktail, her hand ghosting her belly and her gaze directed inward.
Simon and Kaylee were sitting hand-in-hand and shoulder to shoulder, near Zoe but in their own world, talking quietly to each other and communing in ways unspoken.
Jayne had gravitated towards the musicians and looked like to burst into song himself at any moment, ’cept he didn’t know the words.
River, she was dancing like she was born to it, in perfect harmony with the music, and Mal was surprised to see that Ip had joined her, and danced by her side, looking less like a fish out of water—or a Core boy on a Rim world—than Mal ever could have imagined. He seemed to have caught River’s rhythm, and moved in concert with her. As Mal watched, they gravitated towards the edge of the dance, into the flickering shadows, and kissed.
Mal was just beginning to think what he should oughtta do about that when Inara reclaimed his wandering attention, brought him back to their dance, and he lost sight of everything else but her, and him, and the black starry sky above them both.
As the celebration began to wind down, Mamadou guided the couples of Serenity to their nighttime accommodations. Jayne was still going strong, sitting by the fireside, singing along with the griot, bonding with the local guys and downing bissap like it wouldn’t cause him a hangover. River was still dancing, with her head thrown back, taking in the stars, an expression of joy on her face. Ip watched her, entranced. Zoe, pulled down by the intense sleepiness of early pregnancy, had long since retired to bed.
Mamadou led them through the narrow alleyways of the village, discreetly pointing out the directions to the “long drop” in case they should need to use the facilities. At length he stopped by the wall of one of the larger mud brick constructions, where a sturdy wooden ladder rested against the wall. “Dr Tam and your intended bride here please,” he said. Simon blushed, but Kaylee smiled and whispered, “I told him we were engaged to be married, Simon, so there wouldn’t be no fuss about them having to scare up more accommodations than we need.” Simon gave Kaylee a gentle squeeze of the hand, and merely said, “Thank you, Elder Mamadou. I’m sure we’ll be comfortable.” He helped Kaylee mount the ladder, and scrambled up after her.
Mamadou turned to Mal and Inara, and led them around one more corner to another ladder, this one made of two long poles polished smooth by the rubbing of many hands, with rungs lashed in place with sturdy ropes. “Our best guest quarters, Captain, for you and your wife.” Mamadou finished with a small polite bow to Inara, which is why he missed Mal’s start of surprise. “May you sleep well.”
“We, uh—” began Mal uncomfortably, hands rising in a fidgety gesture.
“We thank you for your gracious hospitality, Elder Mamadou,” Inara broke in, smoothly capturing one of Mal’s flapping arms and using it to propel herself up the ladder. Mal simply nodded at Mamadou and followed Inara up the ladder.
The top of the mud brick building was smooth, with a low smooth wall around it. In the flickering light of the lantern, Inara could see a mattress of soft batting, like a futon. Two cylindrical pillows and a quilt completed the furnishings. It was simple, but inviting. The searing heat of the day had long since dissipated, and the breeze that gently tousled Inara’s hair was cool. Mal climbed over the top rung of the ladder and stood on the rooftop, taking in the accommodations with a somewhat stunned look on his face. The sleeveless gown Inara wore no longer felt adequate, and she shivered in the breeze. She quickly removed it and crawled under the quilt. “Please, Mal, keep me warm.”
She was sure he was blushing, but in the flickering light of the lantern it was impossible to tell. He walked to the far side of the bed, folded himself down onto the low wall, and removed his boots. He leaned over and snuffed the lantern, and in the anonymity of the newly found darkness, he removed the rest of his clothing and lay down under the quilt next to Inara. She slid over just enough to feel the warmth of his body next to hers but did not initiate any other contact. He stared up at the brilliantly starry sky, and so did Inara.
It was stunning, actually. Inara had grown up on Sihnon, the Jewel of the Core. She loved her home world, with its gracious urban spaces dotted with emerald parks and their carefully sculpted natural beauty. At night, Sihnon was an ocean of light—sparkling city lights with a magical beauty unrivaled in the Core. She had never noticed the stars. Here in Bandiagara, the lack of reliable electric power meant that nothing got in the way of the brilliance of the night sky. Inara had never seen so many stars in such an overwhelming array. Despite spending so much time “in the Black,” she realized how little time she actually spent looking at the stars, and when she did, she only took in the small slice of sky that was visible through any given window. Here, with stars stretching from horizon to horizon, and no urban lights to wash them to insignificance, the stars dazzled her. Arching high overhead, the two spiral arms of the galaxy spread like spilled diamond dust, with countless millions of faint stars glittering distantly. Next to her, Mal drew breath and she was sure he was about to—
A bright white streak shot across the sky, starting midway up the dome of the sky in the direction of Inara’s feet and streaking off toward the horizon to her right, where it winked out. A moment later a fizzing sound reached her ears. “仁慈的佛 Réncí de Fó,” she exclaimed. “Was that a ship?”
“Meteor,” Mal answered. “We’ve arrived just in time for the peak of the Wolofid Meteor Shower, and we got prime seats.” He arranged his arm around Inara’s shoulders. “You never seen one before?” he asked.
She hadn’t. And before they knew it, he was talking easily of his boyhood on Shadow, about the time he and his friends had lain out in sleeping bags on the slope of a hill to watch the Airgead Meteor Shower in late October. It was a cold time of year to be camping out-of-doors on the Northside of Shadow, and the friends had all doubled up in the bags for warmth. (Inara burrowed closer in to Mal’s shoulder.) They’d watched the sky to the northeast, shot the breeze, and enjoyed the natural show. After a few hours, they’d come back inside to warm up with hot cider and headed off to bed. Other times, they’d lain out watching the aurora borealis. Mal’s boyhood had corresponded with a period of peak sunspot activity, and his Northside home lay in a latitude northerly enough to make auroras a frequent occurrence. Inara had never seen an aurora and she drank in his descriptions of the shimmering, shifting curtains of colored light. She massaged the palm of his hand as it lay on her stomach.
“Can you show me the constellations, Mal?” she asked. She admired Mal’s skills at navigating by the stars—something she’d never realized was so important until they’d lost their navsats out of Beaumonde a few months ago.
“I s’pose I can, Inara,” he answered. “I never been on Bandiagara before, so let me just get oriented here. The landmarks just ain’t the same.” He scanned the night sky for the familiar polar constellations. He’d grown so accustomed to the view from space that for the moment he was disoriented, unsure if it was the northern or southern polar constellations he was looking for, and trying to visualize the correction for the tilt of Bandiagara’s axis. His recollections of star-gazing on Shadow all involved knowing which way was north based on the mountain peaks surrounding his ma’s ranch. “Now, if we were on Shadow, I could—” He stopped. He’d been reminiscing so easily about Shadow, he’d forgotten momentarily that his home was no more. The burden of loss started descending again, and the pain that was never completely absent moved back towards the center of his mind.
Inara was about to speak—what words could she say to comfort him for the loss of his world?—when the most spectacular meteor of the night shot across the sky, from low on the horizon over Mal’s left knee, right across the high arc of the sky, til it fizzled out over Inara’s right shoulder. The fizzling sound reached them moments later.
She gave his hand a squeeze, then flipped over onto Mal’s chest. Kissing him, she said in a low voice, “Now let me show you the stars.”
牛屎 niú shǐ [(cow) shit]
仁慈的佛 Réncí de Fó [Merciful Buddha]
Monday, November 28, 2011 12:25 PM
Monday, November 28, 2011 1:03 PM
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Tuesday, November 29, 2011 3:42 PM
Wednesday, November 30, 2011 6:21 AM
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