When the weather came, she was already there. Wax the Weatherwoman. Renowed across the state. She was the closest thing to an oracle of climate that we had, and we loved her for it. Her arrival five days earlier had produced a spontaneous little festival, the woes of the last seven months suddenly put to one side, so sure were the village elders of what her appearance heralded. I’ll admit, I was sceptical. The world is dry, so damn dry now. If it won’t fall from the sky, it’s bloody work getting it out of the ground instead. Either way, crops die, animals stroke out and people follow suit. It’s bad enough that most villages and towns are migratory now. Ours, Heaven Sent, was a travelling village, but we eventually fetched up against a small hilly range with a ragged system of old mines. There’s a better chance of finding water down there, though bringing it up is dangerous in an abandoned metal mine, and for all we know it’s hopelessly contaminated. We don’t drink it directly, and it doesn’t seem to kill the crops any faster than the sun, so who knows. The mines also give us cool shelter from the sun, vast and brutal in the sky. Few like to sleep in there because those mines go deep and no one’s been all the way along the adits or properly down all the shafts. They say that when the sun swelled, a lot of bad things – things bigger and more dangerous than people – vanished from the world. They might have died out, or they might have just hidden somewhere else. I rarely sat with my back to the rough walls that shielded us from the darkness within.
It had been the worst season in my admittedly short memory, though what I recalled told me only that each season was worse than the last, that surely the next would be the last. The elders still held some hope that the rains would return and the climate would swing back to something they remembered being told about by their grandparents. That and tales of the world where it was constantly wet. I always asked why we didn’t just go there then, and the answering snorts – declarations that it was too far, or that so much rain from the sky would strip the skin from your bones – told me it was as fictional as the stories of great cities and travels through the stars. I was never one for myths. Still, we trudged on, delving ever deeper into the mine shafts, scraping and pooling what water there was down there, all the while gasping for breath. Down deep the air is bad, and if you go deep enough you have to come up slow or it feels like you’re body’s turning outside in.
When Wax showed up I was in the mines, despite my horror of what might be down there. More and more of us were taking turns to dig down and fill our flasks and buckets. At least we had light. The solar lanterns were never low on power, and they lasted all day down in the dark. We’d gotten deep enough into the old mine that it was deadly quiet, and you just followed the sound of dripping water to locate the next cache of sweet liquid. A whole set of shafts and adits had been written off as too dangerous, where braces bent and the rocks trembled, and we were looking at them again to see if they truly were beyond the pale, or if we’d risk venturing down them in search of water. I was not in favour. Instead we’d taken up picks and hammers abandoned in the mine by whoever worked it, generations ago, and were hacking our own painfully slow way, following the tracks where the water dripped down, always down. If it would only flow up… Our crew returned to the surface, filthy and in need of a sand scrub. There we found the atmosphere jubilant, near-hysterical. The rain was coming and for a time, perhaps we’d have no need to mine. Rare caches of alcohol and sugary treats were being uncovered to fete Wax the Weatherworker and toast the resurrection of hope. Very, very faintly, seen only against the setting sun a thin wisp of cloud was distantly visible in the direction from which Wax had come.
The next day Wax established an area to work in. A broad oval drawn in the dust, easily space for a dozen men to stand arms outstretched across it. Radiating out from the centre, Wax laid out an array of charms and tokens, some which I recognised like feathers, knives, oddly shaped and coloured stones, and others I didn’t: twists of fabric, perhaps bone carved into shapes that were uncomfortable to look at. When I went off to the mines later and could look down from above I saw she’d drawn an eye into the ground, the objects making up the iris and herself the pupil. Before I went back underground I saw her begin to dance.
That dance continued for three days as she hauled at the sky, exhorted the clouds to draw nearer. And they were. By the second day the clouds were plainly approaching, thick and fluffy like I hadn’t seen in years. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were coming in this direction anyway. “But why now, why not sooner, why only when Wax arrives first” were thrown back at me in spiteful tones and I gave up my questioning and hid the eye rolling when people I usually regarded as quite sensible spoke of Wax and her powers in ecstatic terms. I did bring her something though, partly to show willing, partly to have a reason to interact with her. The mine had once been for digging ore out of the rock, but there was plenty of other stuff in there too, and while idly rooting through the many heaps of waste and stone I’d found something pretty, that seemed to fit with Wax’s iris of totems. It had probably once been a tool used in the mine, about a foot long and a few inches across, jaggedly narrowing to the tip, but it gleamed with all the colours and the light rolled like oil over its surface. She didn’t dance all day and night, obviously, it was hot out there and even though she barely seemed to drink she paused regularly. No point killing your weatherwoman with heat stroke. During one of these rests, when I’d scrubbed the dirt off from down below, we had a short conversation.
“Madame Wax, may I speak with you a moment?” Always be polite, especially to someone who might be about to save your village. She turned and I hadn’t clocked her eyes before, one golden all the way out, consuming the white of her left eye, and the other normal shaped but for the startling bright green iris. It made me feel lopsided, like I was slowly falling sideways. “Um, I’ve a thing for your, um, eye,” I said, pointing at the radiating lines in the ground.
“Good,” she said, taking the long thin shard of metal from me. “Something that’s been used here before, been used to dig in, to alter the fabric of the world. If it can do that once, it can do it again.” So saying she carefully laid it into her weatherworking and turned her back on me.
The next day the clouds were so close and no one went into the mine. Instead the elders had us constructing the pools that we’d use to capture as much of the rain as we could. They’re light wooden structures, with thick watertight canvas stretched out in them. Once full, they could be drawn tight and we’d hide them away inside the mine entrances. Every vessel would be used. The village was electric with excitement. It was going to rain, we’d have water for months – if we stored it far enough into the mines – and so much would fall from the sky that we’d even wash in it. Wax stood in the middle of her eye and drew the clouds on until they were directly overhead. The sun blocked at last, it was almost cold in the middle of the day and goosebumps rose all over my body. But the clouds began to fade, their threads tearing away and the sun came back through. The clouds had failed – Wax the Weatherworker had failed. The elated mood of the village vanished in an instant and I felt suddenly afraid for the strange woman. So much rested on her success, and failure had never even been considered. Wax though showed no concern, even as the clouds parted and dissipated. She turned instead, towards the mine and took up the odd long knife thing I’d given her, winked at me and with a cry drove it into the ground.
Nothing happened, but the whole village was frozen with the drama of the moment, the fierce flipping of their emotional states, from hope to despair, to anger to hope, to confusion. Our faces must have been a picture. And then came sound. A deep rumbling that shook the ground beneath our feet, a noise that was more force than sound made the hills shudder, and then, erupting out of the mine shafts was water. More than you’d ever get from a mere cloud, this was a cavalcade, a torrent that smashed the structures and stores we’d placed in the mine entrances to shreds as the water poured down the slopes and into us. We were suddenly knee deep in water, being pushed and shoved and tripped by it. The shock gave way to hope and the elders had us redirecting the canvas pools, taking buckets and filling them from the water rushing past. In the excitement I’d missed seeing when Wax packed up her totems – somehow managing it before the oval was erased by the water. But she tapped me on the shoulder as I frantically scooped up water and threw it into a pool. Her touch startled me into stopping, but she only said a single phrase, “never doubt me,” before turning and walking off into the flood.