Saturday, November 22, 2014

NaNoWriMo 1K-A-Day: Day 22

Thirty paces from where we had stood, I found a basket discarded on the forest floor. The bright-red berries it had once contained were scattered among the leaves and mud. A little beyond that, the ground gave way to a steep drop into a small hollow where a young girl sprawled. Both her dress and her skin were covered in dirt—and I really didn’t think her short sleeves were appropriate for the cooling season, as summer was fast leading into harvest-time. She had a deep gash on her leg, which rapidly stained everything around it with the red blood. I could see the deep tracks in the mud just below us where she had stumbled.
“Oh gracious,” I carefully picked my way down the side to get to her.

She raised her tear-stained face as we approached.
“I didn’t think anyone would hear me,” she whimpered softly as Belak moved to sit her up out of the muck. I had the satchel with me, and—true to form—I reached in and immediately pulled out some cloth scraps that would be perfect for binding her wound. I wiped the blood off the best I could with some wet leaves from a nearby bush.
I tried making conversation as I worked, in the hopes of taking her mind off the pain.
“My name is Shereya, and this is my friend Belak; we were just walking through the forest when we heard you calling,” I explained. “What’s your name?”
“Margo,” she said, raising a grimy hand to push a lock of her short, uneven fiery-red hair out of her face. “My village is just down the way. I was out picking berries for our breakfast when I—“ she sniffed and wiped her nose with her sleeve, “I fell.” Her face tightened in a grimace and tears formed in her eyes. “I dropped the basket,” she mourned as Belak lifted her frail form easily in his strong arms, “and now we won’t have anything else to eat!”
The three of us made our way back up to the top of the hollow, where Larryn and Greyna were waiting for us. They had packed up the tent and everything else from our little camp already.
“Never fear,” Larryn spoke up. She had caught Margo’s last lament. She glanced at me, and I offered her the satchel.
“We have plenty of food,” my kind-hearted friend announced to the little wounded girl. She tucked a small bun into the girl’s slack hand. “We would be glad to share.”
Margo’s eyes lit up as she stared at the roll. Once she got over her shock, she immediately attempted to stuff the entire thing in her mouth, as if she was afraid we would snatch it away after the first bite.
“Whoa,” said Greyna, ruffling Margo’s hair, “slow down! There’s plenty more where that came from!”
Margo gulped down the chunk of roll and carefully peeled the remainder from her mouth to better be able to swallow. “Y’mean you carry fresh bread with you wherever you go? My sister Terzah has not been able to make bread for ages! You have no idea how good this is!”
Belak glanced at me without speaking, but his expression spoke volumes.

Very soon, we came to a part of the forest where the trees stopped briefly, revealing a small village, just as Margo had said. About twenty or thirty cottages huddled in the clearing, facing a sort of “square” at the center with the communal well in the middle.
Margo raised a white finger. “That’s my house,” she indicated a small apartment at the edge.
Discarded farming equipment lay strewn about the yard. A ragged mongrel of a dog rooted through a pile of trash leaning against the house. I glanced back over my shoulder to the few villagers milling about and conducting normal business, visiting pleasantly enough with each other. Each time I chanced to notice one of them glancing in our direction, their conversation would immediately shift to whispers. Not one of them approached us, though we were strangers in town.
The mongrel saw us and bayed, which opened the door of the house.
“Sakes alive!” a high, girlish voice hissed, “Margo!” A pale face emerged from the shadows, but the person it belonged to seemed reluctant to leave the safety of her home.
“Get her inside, quickly!”

Belak quickened his step, and we landed safely over the threshold before the other girl closed the door behind us. She was no bigger than Larryn, and had the same bright-red mop of hair.
Before I could guess that the two girls were sisters, Margo reached out for her and cried, “Terzah!”
Terzah took her sister into her arms, cradling her like a baby, even though Margo was not much smaller. “Oh Margo! We were so worried! I was about to send Geryon out looking for you!” She set Margo on the nearest available surface—which happened to be the table, while the rest of us could only stand and watch them. “What happened?” Terzah asked.
Margo sniffed and pointed to her leg. “I fell and hurt my leg, and I was calling for help, and these nice people found me!” She pointed around to all of us, and Terzah glanced at all of our faces with that same haunted, glazed stare. When she looked back at Margo, the little girl was holding out the remainder of the bun Larryn had given her. “Here,” she said, “they have lots of fresh bread, and they gave me one, but I saved some for you.”
Terzah gasped when she saw it—in fact, several times, and her breath was ragged and uneven. I could see her collarbone standing out underneath her skin, just above the neckline of her dress. Her hands trembled, but she didn’t reach for it till Margo offered it a second time. “Here,” said Margo, much more at ease now, “take it.”
In a lightning-fast movement, Terzah snatched the bread and stuffed it in her mouth in almost the same instant.

A boot thudded to the floorboards behind us, and I heard the clicking of a rifle.