NaNoWriMo: Posted November 3 @10:43p
Bayta’s red hair dragged. It crawled in the sand with her body. Her tongue felt swollen. Her saliva thick. The corners of her eyes cracked and bled. At least those wounds were natural consequences of her failed escape. The mirage confused her, twisted her direction and turned her fate. The curse of the mirage was only a myth in Lo. What was left of sweat and tears drizzled from Bayta’s body, causing her red tendrils of hair to become sand-encrusted because although she wore her hair barely longer than her shoulders, she no longer had the strength to lift her head from the land.
“It could have been bandits,” Mahdi, the caravan’s guide suggested. He watched the same slim figure as Nom did. A woman, judging by the curves of her waistline, trudged through the last of the desert and fell to her knees where the sand gave way to the more solid rock of Port el’Reathsen. Nom wasn’t sure if it was good thing or a bad thing to have bandits attack. Nom had heard stories of bandit attacks. It was not typical to leave a victim alive. At the same time, it was not typical to walk through the Lynthian desert to Port el’Reathsen. Mahdi interrupted Nom’s thoughts.
“Should we help her?”
He knew it wasn’t his choice to make. It wasn’t even really his place to suggest helping the woman, but he wasn’t a brute. He wasn’t raised with an understanding in cruelty. If it was his choice – he’d stop to help her. Nom knew this. Mahdi was Samir’s favorite guide. She traveled with him often. They shared a lot of stories with all the distance they traveled together.
What Mahdi didn’t know was that the woman’s step wasn’t a mere stumble…she didn’t simply misstep on the changing landscape. Whoever this was barely lived. Her walk told a story of dehydration. It was a common story of the Lynthian environment. Nom warned Samir about every time he left Ethantine for Lynthia.
Today, Nom’s forehead drew together as she watched the girl more. The carriage continued on its set path. The camels paid no heed to the life form. Overhead, Mitra’s sun sweltered pass the mid-day work point. The cool mist of the Port’s sea air remained at Nom’s back. She could still smell the sea’s salt. As the hours drew on, and they journeyed closer to Lynthia, that would change.
Lynthia’s desert was unforgiving. Fools crossed it. Fools, royalty…and Nom. The herbalist sighed.
This woman – whoever she was…whatever happened to her – she came from that oppressive beast, the monster of sand and desert. Nom was raised with an understanding in cruelty.
Still, she didn’t think of herself as a cruel
“Go to her,” Nom said with a curt nod then climbed over the back of her seat and up to the carriage’s rooftop. Its wobble was more prominent topside probably from the peripheral visualization of the moving land. Nom crawled to her luggage. She felt safer that way. She had never been athletic. Her heavier frame and fuller chest wasn’t conducive sports, but she never idealized having a body like her sister Dop had.
Nom wiped sweat off her forehead into her hairline with the palms of both hand then laced her hair into a hodge podge bun. Her body never lasted long in the Lynthia heat, and the Port’s breeze felt like it was disappearing quickly. Besides, Nom knew her blonde curls would only get in the way of her work. Her makeup already felt like it was melting off.
The camels complained about the route’s change.
Mahdi always did pick the most obstinate ones, Nom thought as she dragged the largest of her bags closer and slipped off her sandals. The sand would be uncomfortable hot. She wanted a shoe that protected her entire foot instead of dealing with the distraction. The caravan slowed as it sunk into the sand and came to a stop. Nom grabbed her herbalist bag, one of the twenty young green coconuts she had wanted to enjoy at home in Ethantine and crawled back to the ladder.
“Mahdi,” Nom hollered before beginning her descent down the caravan. She tossed the coconut down to her guide the instant he looked up. “We’ll need the kukri.” They always kept the inwardly curved blade tucked under the driver’s seat.
She hated the thought of using the coconut’s water to rehydrate this woman, but unless they turned back to Port el’Reathsen their stores were depleted enough. If they took on another body then those stores were even more depleted. Nom lifted her skirts and rounded the caravan, already hearing Mahdi shouting, “Where you attacked?”
As she approached, she judged the girl to look barely fifteen. Her confidence swayed suddenly. Her caravan had to have been attacked. She was fifteen. Why else would a child suffer like this?
Who did she lose?
Nom scanned the horizon. The land played games with the human eye, but she’d take a fake image over a surprise attack any day.
Mahdi shouted again, “Girl, were you attacked?”
He knew she’d never answer. If they hadn’t stopped, she mere hours before she died.
The tall, thin man lowered his body to a squat, hunching his shoulders and wrapping his elbows around his knees for support. Nom watched his head cocked to the side in final examination of the woman’s condition before he lifted a hand slowly to the girl’s sand-crusted red hair and carefully brushed it aside.
The girl’s eye were closed. Her body barely breathed. She practically suffocated, her muscles too weak to lift its own weight. “She’s Lorian,” Mahdi called, looking up to Nom and pointing to the child’s extended ears.
As Nom approached, her mouth turned downward in a thin line. “What is she doing here? The village of Lo is on the other side of the Port’s waters.”
“Walking home? Maybe she was part of a traders group, returning home from Lynthia.”
It was Sunday. The Lynthian Bazaar was always held on Thursday with various market tradesmen invited to a royal dinner on Friday evening. The travel from Lynthia took a day.
“I don’t think she’s been crawling to safety all that time,” Nom said, kneeling down on the sand and tilting her head to the side. The millions of small granules burning her skin, even through her skirt’s cloth, like miniature pokers, but that was nothing compared to the girl’s face.
“The poor thing,” Nom whispered.
The girl had a gaping laceration across the middle of her forehead. Most of the blood that seeped from it had caked dry from the arid temperature. Nom wasn’t sure if the wound had scabbed over or crusted with sand. Her lips were swollen, the bottom lip surprisingly smooth while the upper lip was cracked in seven places. Only one black eye was visible, and it too had more blood caked over the skin.
Nom’s eyes squeezed shut for a moment and pressed her hand to her abdomen. “Let’s get her into the carriage,” she muttered.
Mahdi carefully pieced the girl up, swaddling her thin frame across the shoulders and wrapping her to protect her neck then slipped his other hand under her thighs. The girl groaned but didn’t stir. Nom sucked in a series of deep breaths. She was used to bug bites, broken bones, sunburns…accidents that happened to active individuals. Pregnancies and child birth.
Not beaten children.
“Put her in the caravan,” Nom ordered and ran ahead of Mahdi to open the carriage’s door. Mahdi stepped cautiously into the small room, ducking to get through the small low door frame. He laid the child on the plush Ethantinian rug then tucked a flat pillow under her head. Nom handed him the green coconut.
“Open that, please.”
Mahdi nodded, squeezing pass Nom to again exit into the desert air. Nom made herself comfortable on the floor and loosened the girl’s clothing. She wore the traditional long, rectangular clothing of the Lorian people, adorned about her body in a draped, folded fashion. Nom struggled to untie the belt that secured the entire mass together. Brittle sand caked the knot closed like glue.
“Nom,” Mahdi whispered, popping his head back into the caravan with the now opened coconut.
Nom wiggled her fingers underneath the girl’s head and lifted it enough to dribble some coconut water into her mouth.
“Start back to the Port—”
“Ma’am,” Mahdi started in protest.
Nom shook her head. “We have to go back. She needs shade and cool air. This carriage is a death trap, we’ll cook in here if we continue on our way.”
Mahdi avoided eye contact but retreated to his seat without additional protest, leaving Nom to handle the girl on her own.
The child said her first words as Nom searched the carriage’s bathing compartment for a small washcloth.
“It feels like I’m breathing living fire.”
“Hmm,” Nom started, unfolding the square cloth and dipping it into the coconut’s water. She hoped the delayed response was enough to keep the girl quiet while she wiped the water across the girl’s neck and swabbed her head. “It’ll pass,” she assured the girl. “We’re taking you to the Port. When I get you more stabilized I’ll climb to the top of the carriage and get water.”
The girl’s eyes flashed open, large circles of alarm. Her hand shot up, gripping Nom’s wrist. There wasn’t much pressure, but her knuckles were white. Nom frowned and used her free hand to slowly remove the girl’s hand from her skin. “What’s your name?” Nom asked.
The girl either let go or didn’t have the strength to resist. Her eyes blinked multiple times but never fully closed. “Bayta,” she finally said. “He can’t find me at the Port.”
Nom moved blindly as she struggled to cool the girl’s overheated body. “Who?”
Nom’s eyes widened, transfixed with a horror and hope that she misheard.
“Are you old enough to have a husband?”
“My mom sold me.”
“So you’re not old enough then.”
“Age doesn’t matter.”
“It didn’t matter how old I was, only that I was a virgin.”
What mother sells her own child’s virginity? How does one put a price on that?
“Why don’t you rest,” Nom said. She felt uncertain in her help. When they stopped she just wanted to make sure the girl got some water, rehydrated, then went on her way. Now…now what? “I’m going to get you some water.”
WORD COUNT: 1754
I’m finally starting to feel ready to get to Nom’s real story. As I research, it’s amazing to me the issues that surround domestic violence.
Yep – Lorians are named after someone; my sister’s pup LO.
Also, consider looking up the meaning is Mahdi’s name 🙂
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