Wednesday Serial: Farther Part XXX

Anie fire_hand

ANIE

Night arrived slow and lazy. The wagons and carts came to their usual stuttering stops as each one found a spare patch of earth that somehow looked like a good place to lay out for the night to the drivers. They crowded a little closer than usual, the lanes between them shrunk to four or five shoulder widths, while men and women roamed around them.

Wesson picked a flat spread, and turned the cart so that the broad side met the wind. Thea marked out a place for the fire with her foot. Nodding when she pointed to it, Wesson started kicking stones toward her to form the fire circle.

Ma edged out of the cart, and started away in her usual way, winding through the walkers and riders. She called for Mel over her shoulder, who for once wasn’t too far away. Mel came running, and Anie stayed where she was, perched on the cart wall, out of the way and waiting for Thea’s instructions.

“Look what we found,” Chas said, coming in around the corner of the cart. Darien trailed some steps behind him, and between the two, a tall woman strode along, with her red hair tied behind her head in a knot.

Wesson turned his head to look at them, the toe of his boot digging under another stone. “Your long lost sister?” he asked, mouth tilted in a crooked smile. “I knew I couldn’t keep it from you boys much longer.”

Chas ran forward, bending to tackle him around the waist. Wesson stepped to the side, and Chas ran past, stumbled, turn back and gave up with a smile.

“Your father, I’m guessing?” the woman asked Darien.

Darien shook his head a little. “The only one I’ve got, unfortunately.”

“And… sisters?” the woman asked, glancing around the rest of them.

“Friends,” Mel said. She tossed her a smile over her shoulder. “We wouldn’t be their sisters if they paid us every day in diamonds and cake.”

“But if we paid you in pineapples…” Darien said, giving her a slower, clever grin.

She looked away in mock innocence.

The woman laughed at the two of them. “And who do I have to give this to, so that I can buy my way into dinner?” She unhooked something from the string she held over her shoulder and pulled a large feathered bird from behind her back. Anie’s eyes widened at the size of it, and fresh way it bent in her hands.

Darien and Mel pointed to Thea at the same time.

Inside an hour, the bird was crackling and spitting over the fire, juices falling off its plucked skin and hissing in the flames. The smell, half sharp wood fire, half sweet meat, rolled around their camp, until Anie was considering creeping in toward the fire and popping a piece of the crunchy skin into her mouth.

“How did you catch it?” she asked the woman. They were sitting side by side on the ground, waiting, between run-and-fetch orders.

The woman smiled. “Two sticks and a piece of rope,” she said. “And a little patience.”

“Who taught you that?” Anie asked.

The woman hesitated, blinked and held still for just a moment, as if the question surprised her. Then she shrugged her broad shoulders. “It was a long time ago. I don’t really remember.” Turning to Anie, she smiled. “I’m Chezza.”

“Anie,” Anie returned.

“Is that the kind of thing that you’d like to learn?” Chezza asked her.

Anie tried not to answer too quickly. “I think I’d like to learn everything.”

“Is that why you’re out here?” Chezza said. Her dropped her voice a little, as if there was some conspiracy to sitting in this field. She spread one hand, waving her fingers in a dull mimick of the motion that spread warm energy in the air. There was no flame in her fingers, no light, and Anie laughed a little, wondering why she bothered holding it back.

Then Anie nodded.

“Yeah,” Chezza said. “There wasn’t much space for you to learn in the city, I’d bet.”

“And, I just Showed,” Anie told her. “So, there wasn’t time either.”

Chezza paused in her funny way again, then nodded.

Thea looked over her shoulder at both of them as she turned the bird on the wooden spit. Her eyes moved from Anie to Chezza slowly, and Anie gave her a curious look in return. Thea returned her attention to the fire.

“What about you?” Chezza asked Mel with a smile. “Know any neat tricks?”

Mel looked at her in surprise, almost burst into laughter, but turned the breath into a quick, incredulous, “no.”

Chezza looked at the others uncertainly. “Sorry,” she murmured. “Am I not supposed to ask? I know some folk like to keep secrets in family, but me and mine, we thought learning something sweet was the best part of finding another keimon.” She looked at Wesson, at Thea, at Darien, looking for the line she had crossed.

“Mel isn’t a keimon,” Thea told her quietly. Her lips were turned up at the edges.

“Oh,” Chezza said. She almost swallowed the word. Then she pointed a quick finger around the fire. “But the rest of you…”

“Yes,” Thea said. “And we probably don’t have two tricks between us.” She turned to the fire again, edged a burning log back toward the center of the circle. “We’ve been in the city for a long time.”

“Speak for yourself,” Chas murmured.

Wesson took a seat on the ground on Anie’s other side. He moved slowly, knees bent, and laid his arms over top of them. “You came with the folks from the south, didn’t you?” he asked.

Chezza nodded.

“I heard about some trouble you ran into,” he said and looked to her for explanation.

Chezza shrugged. “It’s winter,” she said. “There’s no end to trouble.”

“Winter tends not to bother our kind so much,” he said slyly.

She smiled, nodded, and shrugged again. “We’re still human,” she said.

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