NaNoWriMo: Posted November 10 @12:32am
Milani pressed the clothing pin’s wooden ends together, releasing its clasp. She slipped the pin’s two inches over wet cloth and secured the first side of her son’s shirt. She shook his shirt twice then she smoothed the damp cloth over the drying line with her hand, clipping the second pin in place when the material looked unwrinkled.
Clothing set out in the afternoons during the fall winds dried ideally.
Milani’s home rested in the heartland of the Thrum plateau, a high altitude sanctuary that separated her people from those at the mountain’s base. The two people separated five years ago when difference in governing the city state splintered the peace.
Thrum summers were dry and hot while the winters were a harsh cold with bitter winds that brought heavy amounts of snow. Trees and timber were plentiful though. As long as the village families planned for the winter properly, enough wood could be gathered to keep the family warm. Her boy Amin worked gathering wood now. If the boys focused, they’d have enough firewood to last the winter by the end of the week. The final months would pass fast. The wood gathering needed to be done so that other needs could be seen to. The crops needed harvesting before the next freeze, and the gutters that carried rain water away from the house needed to be cleaned and prepared as well.
Sheep grazed near the homestead. Their lives were central to the Thurm way of life especially their milk and wool – their meat on a rare occasion, but sheep were too expensive to eat on a regular basis.
It was Hafeez’s job to care for them.
Milani turned in the direction of the homestead’s courtyard expecting to find her boy performing some sort of new trick with his favorite sheep that he was excited to share with her, but Hafeez had disappeared from the courtyard.
She dropped her elder son Aamin’s shirt, second guessing herself, second guessing the way she heard her younger son’s tone. Maybe the boy wasn’t excited; maybe he shouted her name for help.
Blood pounded in her throat. The [name] army always climbed the mountain side this time of year and attacked Milani’s village for food, crops they failed to raise for themselves even though they were an advance city-state. They cared more about taking things that wasn’t theirs, taking things they didn’t work for. They killed without warning or care, paying no mind to age.
It wasn’t always like that.
Milani’s eyes darted manically, scanning the homestead’s land. When she found nothing, she searched in the direction of the cliffside. “Please call again…please call again,” she begged the Divine.
His voice sounded buoyant.
Milani whirled around, turned mountainside. Her mind relaxed. [Name] never attacked from the rear. They didn’t roam the hillside long enough or well enough to discover the secret paths. Milani pressed her palm to her chest. Emerging from the dense forest that protected the backside of her homestead was a man with long black hair. While the majority of the hair was pulled back into a smooth, organized braid, wisps of hairs waved, knocked loose from the wind and tortured from his journey. He’d complain for a week about it.
Milani would savor every minute of it.
Running toward Milani from her husband’s left side, came their young son Hafeez. His five year old legs carried him at full speed, and his cheeks puffed to their fullest baby potential. “Momma, momma! Daddy’s home!”
She loved his voice.
As he ran, she exchanged watching him for another quick glance at her husband. His walked told a story of earned miles, his legs moving more like they hiked than walked. He still had his sunglasses covering his eyes, but his boyish smile was all she needed. Milani’s eyes lit with the inner glow that always freed itself when Chand returned home. She ached to run to him, but she always waited.
At the moment she needed to change her attention back to her boy, who still raced right at her. His fine black hair flew in every direction which made it easier for her to see his twinkling brown eyes.
She bent down and held of her hands expecting to pick him up as he collided into her. Only he veered off at the last second, skipping her completely. His infectious giggles squealed, lagging behind, too slow to keep up. His arms shot out, flailing up and down like in the winter when he made snow angels on the ground. Little trouble maker did that one purpose.
Milani stood, rolling her eyes, and turned back to her approaching husband seeing for the first time the young girl at his side. Judging by her height and figure, Milani estimated her to be nearing his teens. She looked as if she’d seen easier days. The Thrum backwoods could be a rough journey if one’s body was not prepared for it.
Milani noticed that the girl’s hair was a lighter brown than theirs, too light for her to be a local area child but too dark to be a child from the nearby Loches. She hesitated, running her fingers through a chunk of hair, combing out the tangles.
Chand lifted his sunglasses, exposing his perfect shade of brown eyes. Milani’s body warmed like a fever and without thought she took two steps and embraced him, forgetting about the mysterious child. Chand gently kissed the side of Milani’s head. She knew he waited with a well-practiced patience for her to release him, but she just wanted to hold him a minute longer before she pressed her lips against his.
Aamin’s voice finally arrived, perfectly timed, as Milani pulled away from Chand. “Dad!”
She stepped aside and allowed him to replace her for a father and son hug that quickly turned to rough-housing. The young girl stepped back, her legs wobbling like a baby sheep’s. Her arms gathered in front of her with both of her hands taking her bag’s handles, holding them in front of her protectively.
“Do you like stew?” Milani asked the girl.
Her eyes shifted slowly away from Chand and Aamin’s exchange and up to Milani. She nodded, but a smile never cracked the solemn expression on her face. Milani smiled for her.
“Would you mind helping me finish fixing it?”
The girl’s expression and mannerisms remained consistent.
Milani considered offering her hand but figured the exchange wouldn’t go as she wanted. Surprisingly the girl followed her.
“So what’s your name?”
Milani didn’t really expect an answer and didn’t get one. They walked in silence, which didn’t feel awkward for Milani as she found many of the village children tended to do the same, hers included. They passed the laundry. She had only hung a set of Hafeez’s pajamas and that shirt. She still had an entire basket to clip up. The work would have to wait.
Milani stepped on the long slab of stone that rested in front of the house. She stomped her feet twice to knock off and caught dirt or grass then held the homestead’s door open for the child who mimicked her and stomped on the stone as she did. When she was done she looked up at Milani. The girl’s watery blue eyes curiously and cautiously met Milani’s.
“My name’s Liana,” she said softly.
Milani smiled. “I’m Milani.”
The girl dropped her head and stepped inside. Milani took a final glance back at her family. Chand and Aamin looked to be catching up on stories only “men of the house” shared, a titling Milani enjoyed because it gave them a special time to bond in their own particular way. Chand chuckled at something, his face lighting up, before he lifted his head and caught Milani staring at him. They shared the unspoken moment then Chand returned to Aamin. Hafeez squealed in the sheep’s corral, his face too close to a newborn’s. Milani normally would have scolded the boy, but the two had a bond, a trust for one another that forced Milani to worry less.
Before she shut the door, she caught Aamin’s eye and pointed to the laundry. The excitement in his face dropped. Chand noticed his son’s mood change and worked to cheer him up again.
Inside, Liana already poked around in the stew. She mixed the food with a comfort level Milani wasn’t used to with a set of boys. A cucumber rested on the kitchen’s countertop next to a pair of apples. Milani walked over to the fruits, paused to studying Liana’s stirring which really was meant to assure the young girl that her work was performed acceptably, before she turned for the apples. The first apple was turned over once in Milani’s hand to check for imperfections then chopped into thicker chunks to be added to the stew in the final minutes.
Aamin scooped ladles of stew into everyone’s bowl while Chand rearranged the table’s chairs. He picked up his normal table chair and held it for Liana to sit on. When she was settled, he pushed her in. Hafeez kicked his legs back and forth in his own chair unwilling to help with family chores. Chand had yet to explain a thing about Liana yet, but the girl helped with fixing dinner like it was second nature to her.
“Tell us a little bit about yourself Liana,” Milani pressed, hoping for a spark of conversation. Her boys needed little to take over a discussion then somehow morph it into explaining their latest conquests.
“Um,” she started, her voice nearly inaudible. She waited for everyone with her hands folding in her lap, her eyes not meeting anyone else’s but staring at her plate on the table. Most children were all too eager to share. The troubled children were always the ones that found talking difficult. They usually were the ones who needed to conversation the most. Milani waited, allowing Liana to gather her thoughts until waiting for the girl’s answer looked to stress the child out more than necessary.
Milani changed the subject, trying again. “Maybe you could start by telling me who taught you how to cook. You seemed very comfortable in the kitchen, working the stew.”
The girl’s face lit up, flashing a happiness, but only for a second before it fell again and her answer came out depressingly monotone. “My mom.”
WORD COUNT: 1739
Copyright ©2010-2014 by Kristine A. Strauss, Amara SuraShakta. All rights reserved.
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