Beelo woke in his bed. He dripped sweat and his heart pounded in his chest. He sat up and looked around. He was confused at first, then felt relieved to be safe in his bed. Then came the sadness as Beelo remembered he would never see his brother again. Sadness to think that Tara would never be the cheerful, talkative person she was before that evening’s watch.
Beelo swung his legs over the side of the bed. Kintu snored softly and rolled over, pulling the blanket and sheets to her side of the bed. There would be no more sleep for Beelo tonight. He put on a long shirt and made his way down to the main floor. He decided to make a cup of tea to clear his head. Afterward, maybe he could lie down next to Kintu until it was time to wake up and get ready for the day.
When he reached the living room, Beelo saw that Tara was awake. She stared at him from the rocking chair.
“He is gone,” she said. Those were the only words she said anymore.
“Yes,” Beelo said. “He is gone.”
Beelo put a brass pot with a varnished wooden handle into the wash basin. He reached towards a brass spigot that jutted from a pipe on the wall and lifted a stop valve. Cold, clean water flowed from the tap into the pot. Beelo released the ceramic handle of the stop and the weight of it seated the valve tightly which caused the water to stop. Beelo carried the pot to the stove and placed it on a flat surface next to the flume. He dipped his finger into the water and he felt the icy cold cut through his flesh like a knife. He took a step back to watch the flames dance behind the amber glass set into the front of the stove wile he waited for the water to heat up.
Beelo’s grandfather and great uncle were master craftsman. The two brothers built efficient and beautiful stoves, doors, and sinks. Their metalwork and glazing were the centerpiece of many domas and Beelo’s father often spoke of how proud he was to see grandfather’s handiwork in the homes of people he visited.
Beelo’s father was industrious as well. He specialized in valves and mechanisms powered by springs or pneumatic and hydraulic pressure. The latching mechanism on the main door of Beelo’s doma tree was an example of his father’s command of art and science. Opening the door was nearly effortless because of precision hinges with a pneumatic counterweight hidden in the jamb. Unless the door was held open, it swung shut under power of compressed air. As the door closed, some of the pneumatic power was used to automatically seat a heavy latch. The effect was such that anyone could open the door from inside with little effort and anyone leaving the doma could be confident the people inside were safe.
Another innovation designed by Beelo’s father was a pump that used the heat of the stove and the rising air inside the chimney to feed vaporized sap from the doma tree into the firebox. The stove could be started with a small fire of a few sticks and then would burn indefinitely on the liquid fuel. A small valve controlled how much power was fed into the mechanism from the chimney and could be used to control the temperature. A special pipe fed deep into the trunk of one of the trees that formed the doma supplied enough sap to warm Beelo’s home and to cook in the oven.
The sap from the doma trees was quite flammable when in a liquid form. Beelo inherited his father and grandfather’s ingenuity and had made use of the doma sap to design the powerful incendiary devices used to drive away slinks. The sap was mixed with a liquid made from fermented and distilled grain which formed a sticky gel. This was encased in a thin ceramic ball. A dark gray paste, made from crystals found in nearby caves, was carefully painted on the outside of the ball. This chemical was known to burn at the slightest spark and was covered by a two-piece ceramic shell which was glued together. The outer shell was specially made with minerals that spark when struck. A special paint applied to the outside prevented accidental ignition.
The combination created a portable device that was very stable, light enough to be thrown, but dense enough to have momentum to break on impact. When the outer shell cracked, it created a spark that ignited the chemical painted on the inner shell, which in turn set flame to the gelatinous sap from the inner shell. The resulting fire was hot and burned for a long time. The gel was very sticky and impossible to wipe off. The blaze was the perfect weapon against the slinks and Beelo spent a good part of each summer making them for his own supply and to arm the rest of his tribe.
Beelo’s tribe of tree dwellers called themselves the Téchni. Each family held the responsibility to make something useful for the whole tribe. Someone in need of anything they couldn’t build themselves would find it provided by another member of the tribe. It was the pride of the Téchni that each doma had everything necessary to keep the inhabitants warm, safe, and fed. Summers were spent in collaborative work. Adults would craft or repair with assistance of older children. Some would gather food or raw materials as well as hunt for game. Younger children were looked after and taught by older adults whose fingers or eyes were no longer strong enough for work. The young people learned history, art, and science from their elders and formed a deep connection with their teachers.
A noise broke Beelo from his thoughts and he tore his eyes away from the flames. The pot of water boiled and droplets spattered as they fell onto the hot stove. Beelo took the wooden handle in hand and carried the pot to the counter. He placed the pot on ceramic potholder and dropped two brown spheres into the steaming water. The spheres absorbed the water and expanded. Two leaves uncurled from the round objects and a small blossom inside opened up like a budding flower. The water took on a light brown color and the scent of the tea was carried into the air.
Beelo closed his eyes and took a deep breath through his nose. He let the smell of the tea push away the remnants of his nightmare. He opened his eyes and took two ceramic mugs from a cupboard next to the basin. He deftly ladled tea from the pot into each mug, careful so that the leaves and blossoms remained in the pot. He picked up a mug in each hand, and carried one to Tara. She took it without looking and held it near her chest.
Beelo watched as the steam rose past Tara’s face and caused the wisps of hair above her forehead to curl. He turned his eyes back to the fire and drank his tea in silence.
With about an hour left until sunrise, Beelo returned to bed. He curled up behind Kintu and put his hand on her waist. He laid there and listened to the soft noises she made while she slept and and he enjoyed the scent of her hair until sunrise.