NaNoWriMo: Posted November 10@7:27pm
“Hafeez,” Chand said, addressing his younger boy. Hafeez proudly shared his extensive bug collection with Liana, who surprisingly seemed interested in it. “Why don’t you take Liana outside and introduce her to your sheep. Not that I’m against this informational exchange, but maybe save it for after dinner when it’s too dark to go outside.”
“Ooo!” The little boy’s eyes sparked, and he scampered from belly up to his hands and knees. His reaction looked like his father’s simple suggestion was the best gift ever received.
“Yeah,” Hafeez said excitedly to Liana, “you can meet Buttlicker!”
Chand quirked an eyebrow in surprise. His mouth opened as if to say something – to say “you allowed him to name our sheep Buttlicker – then thought better of the choice. His eyes narrowed in an amused squint, and he glanced over at his wife from his table chair.
Milani worked to cover up a smirk. She had watched the interaction from over her shoulder as she finished washing the afternoon meal’s dishes in the stone sink. Chand made a mental note to check the drain that connected the sink to the outside before he left again.
Milani’s eyebrows lifted as she reminded her husband of his foolishness. “You told him that he could name the sheep.”
“You did,” Aamin added from his reading chair just to be a pain his father’s side. “I remember.”
“I didn’t think he’d name it Buttlicker,” he insisted, then snapped his fingers at his older boy. “And you, Aamin, either help me out or keep your mouth shut. I’m the one who teaches you how to hunt.”
“Mom feeds me,” Aamin shot back with a snicker.
Milani fell against the sink, trying to keep her laughter in by covering her mouth with her elbow. Her wet hands dripped soapy water everywhere.
“You’re growing to be quite an avasi,” Chand teased with a warm voice.
“I’m trying Dad. I’m trying…learning from the best you know. Mom’s a good teacher.”
Through the entire exchange Aamin didn’t once peek over the edge of his book. He read or appeared to as he went along.
“It doesn’t matter,” Milani interrupted, in control of herself again. “Hafeez specifically asked you, ‘anything? And what did you say?”
Chand’s mouth opened then shut as he thought back to last week. His lips peeled back into a grin that easily read his mistake. “I did tell him ‘anything,’ didn’t I?”
Milani hummed her response. It was her version of “I told you so.”
“The name really is fitting though,” she added. “The little lamb really does follow him around and try to lick his butt.”
“Whatever.” Chand chuckled, lifting his left hand and rubbing the corners of his eyelids with his thumb and middle two fingers. “Liana would you like to meet Buttlicker?”
The little girl giggled into her hand, unsuccessfully trying to keep her enjoyment of the ridiculous exchange hidden. She nodded.
“Go,” Chand ordered his boy, nodding in the direction of the homestead’s door. Then stood and stretched. His muscles ached from the long journey up the mountainside. He really wanted to just slip in his bed with his wife and rest. Life in Thurm didn’t work that way. “I’ll help Aamin pick up all the firewood he dropped.”
The older boy groaned in his chair, dropping his book into his lap with an annoyed snap. Chand triumphantly smiled.
“You’re in trouble now, kid.”
He winked at his son who rolled his eyes in return.
Milani wiped her hands dry on her dishtowel, folded it into thirds and slipped it over a silver rod to dry as much as possible before dinner started the entire process all over.
“Aamin, don’t whine. I’m going out too. The laundry is sitting out there. If you want, we can trade.”
The boy jumped to his feet with a quick “nope” and immediately turned for the door.
Milani shrugged at Chand. “The last time we traded he ended up restacking the wood. Apparently, I didn’t do it right.”
Chand beamed fondly at his wife and held out his hand for hers. He knew she was a tricky one, and he was pretty sure she mastered the skill from teaching all of the settlements’ kids. “Come here,” he said softly, taking her hand and pulling her against him. She ran her fingers through his hair with light feathery touches. He closed his eyes and accepted them selfishly. Then kissed her softly.
Outside in the courtyard, Milani returned to her laundry and watched on while Chand clapped Aamin on the shoulder – probably to congratulate the boy on a job well done – then pointed to the wood stack. Her husband’s finger trailed an invisibly road in the air that ended with Chand pointing to Aamin’s axe.
Aamin affirmed that he understood the instructions – whatever they were – with a nod before walking over to the wood. He picked up a couple of the stack’s larger pieces and joined his father who then continued on with a new set of instructions explaining something to Aamin by spreading his arms out wide at his sides then shortening them. Chand looked like he was pretending to measure something between his palms. Whatever the teaching was about apparently didn’t please Aamin. He picked up his axe with an over exaggerated sigh and began to unbark his first log.
Chand watched on with his hands on his hips.
Milani opened a clothing pin and clipped one of her scarves to the clothing line followed by a pair of Aamin’s sashes. In the courtyard, Hafeez teased Buttlicker with a leftover apple chuck. Milani shook her head. What did that lamb see in Hafeez to put up with such nonsense?
“Hafeez!” Milani warned, calling over the laundry line as she clipped up one a sleeved tunic. The little boy jumped with a start, twirling his head around in this mother’s direction. Buttlicker seized the opportunity and took his prize right out of Hafeez’s hand.
“Do not tease that lamb young man!”
Next to Hafeez, Liana giggled and congratulated the baby sheep by rubbing the little lamb’s head.
Footsteps rustled stone and dead leaves.
“Jaith asked me to bring her here,” Chand said, wrapping his arms over the laundry line and tucking the rope under his armpits. His weight lowered the rope for Milani and allowed her to hang the wash without needing to lift her arms so high. Her shoulders already burned from the work. Normally she would have thanked her husband…if he hadn’t brought up Jaith’s name.
The words came out in a half-spoken, half-questioning clipped tone.
“That’s who you went to see? Please tell me you are not working with him again?”
“He’s not a thief.”
“Fine, he’s con. I see no difference between the two.”
“I’m not asking you to, but you’re not being fair.”
“I think I’m being plenty fair after what he did.”
“Some skills he’s had to master over the years just to get by.”
“I don’t like him Chand.”
“Fine. You don’t have to, but he’s asked me to keep this little girl safe.”
Milani paused mid-clip. She met her husband’s eye then flitted a peek at the girl who appeared at ease with the animals. Milani leaned over the rope and whispered, “Who does she belong to Chand? Who’s is going to come after this family…our family?”
“If we’re lucky? No one. She belonged to a dead mother and an abusive father that killed not only her mother, but Trigger too.”
Milani pulled away, Trigger’s mop of curls blinked in her mind. Her arms dropped to her sides, clean clothing hanging from her hand over the land. “Trigger?”
The man liked his alcohol, but he wasn’t a drunk. Milani wouldn’t even classify him as a drinker, more like an enthusiast. He knew how to calm people, protect people.
“What happened?” Milani whispered.
Chand didn’t hear her. At their back, Aamin tossed his unbarked wood into a pile. The pieces banged together with a solid dull sound. Closer to the house, giggles intermingled with baas and mehs.
“If we’re as unlucky as they come Milani both classes of the Divine Lords will come after us. Liana is the first girl Jaith’s found with Atman. He knows there will be four.”
A shiver coursed through Milani’s body. The first soul. The Divine waited for Atman’s arrival. Jaith’s father Daksh Foresaw it coming. “I thought Daksh said the first soul would belong to one of the Divine?”
“He did. I don’t know what he meant; maybe it was a trick. Perhaps he told the Earthen Lords that as a decoy, a preoccupation so that Daksh and Jaith could search Atala.”
Milani blinked, her facial subconsciously performing its own sort of shrug. If they were unlucky Earthen gods and goddess would meet on this mountainside. The warrior class and the priest class would end the world on their homestead. “The world as we know it will no longer exist,” Milani said aloud, repeated Daksh’s words.
Chand knew what she referred to. She was wrong though. Indra told Chand exactly what girl would end the world as everyone knew it if he failed to protect her. Liana was not that girl, but that didn’t mean her life both on Atala and on Earth was not pivotal to the fight. “Our destiny was shaped long before our bodies existed. We create our destiny; we do not pick it.”
Milani studied her husband. “So…what, she lives with us?” Milani asked, her mind turning over possible ways to rearrange the homestead to accommodate another person.
“What do you think?”
“I think if she has Atman that it is our duty to protect her, and I think we’ll need to build her a bed.”
“Yeah, Aamin won’t be thrilled about that, but we’ll get it done.”
Milani paused examining the homestead, all timber reinforced with unbaked mud brick. Theirs was one of the few built on field stones with an upper story. The problem was that to get to that portion of the house, one needed to climb the ladder in the courtyard. The roof was flat and made with brushwood and mud brick supported by timber beams. They could use the upper course to house Liana, but Milani hated the thought of the girl being alone.
“And she’ll need an instrument, proper books and school supplies.”
Chand sucked in a deep breath. This necessity was slightly more problematic. He’d need to return to Lynthia and attend their Bazaar for a proper one. “Agreed, but perhaps Aamin will allow her to borrow his drums for the time being.”
“We will make this work, I’m just not sure where to put her.”
“The boys could room together.”
Milani’s face drop with an exasperated expression. Chand’s suggestion would not go over well with the boys.
“It might go better than you think,” Chand smiled, his boyish grin winning the argument.
Do you really think her father will stalk her?”
Chand shrugged. “He has nothing left in Lynthia. I’m not sure if Kartan is going to punish him or not. Jaith was going to take her west, but the only suitable home he could find belong to all men. This girl needs a female role model. It might take a while, but maybe she’ll trust again since her playmates are – of all people – my boys.”
Milani snorted. “That’s say a lot.”
“We do a lot of hard work here. She’ll keep busy. I think it’ll be good for her – too tired to think when bedtime rolls around.”
WORD COUNT: 1928
I had so much fun with this one 🙂
Especially writing about naughty children that were not my own HEHE
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