Devastation(4)

By: M.J. Haag


Dressing the game brought back memories of my attempts at cooking with the beast. I smiled as I started a fire and brought out a kettle. I set two of the skinny hares in the pot and filled it with water. Then, determined, I wrapped the other and walked to the market street again.

Everywhere I went, I met censuring eyes. No respectable business would trade with me. Giving up, I turned from the market street and walked toward the less respectable trade district, taverns where women served men in several ways.

Houses of those working that area lined the next street over. I approached the door of one that had a small garden. The woman who answered greeted me with a smile when she heard my offer—the hare for two carrots and a small onion. She assuredly received the better part of the deal. When she hugged me in thanks, I saw two small children behind her. Their large eyes followed the game.

Happy that someone had welcomed the trade, I returned home and added the carrots and onion to the stew and left it to simmer. When the carrots were tender, I placed a portion in a much smaller kettle with a lid and walked to the seamstress where Blye worked. Living in a tiny room above the shop, I couldn’t imagine she ate well.

A bell tinkled above my head when I opened the door. Blye knelt at the feet of a woman, pinning the woman’s hem. When Blye looked up and saw me, her polite expression closed. She murmured to the woman, begging for a moment, before she stood and strode toward me.

“You can’t come in here,” she whispered. With a firm hold on my elbow, she turned me around.

“I just wanted to bring you some stew,” I said as I offered the little kettle.

Her eyes shifted to the woman who watched us with disapproval.

“I can’t accept anything from you. Just go, Benella,” she said in a low, urgent tone. “Associating with you will ruin everything for me.”

Disbelief coursed through me. I turned stiffly and walked out, hiding how her words hurt me. The lure of accomplishment and status had robbed my sisters of basic kindness.

My feet carried me to the houses close to where I’d traded for the vegetables. A thin child played in the dirt outside one of the homes. Inside I could hear moaning and knew her mother’s work. I waved the child over and offered her the food. She nodded eagerly. Since there was no spoon, I wiped her dirty hands on my skirt and watched her use her fingers. After she finished, I showed her how to write her name in the dirt. She smiled brightly as I left her practicing.

I watched the faces of the people I passed and realized something. The pursuit of success and respectability hadn’t just led my sisters astray, but many others as well. It shouldn’t be that way.

* * * *

While I fetched water from the well out back that evening, a knock sounded at the door. I didn’t move to see who it was. No one I knew wanted to speak to me, besides my father. Inside, I heard him move to answer the door. The quiet exchange as I hauled up the bucket had me wondering. When Father called for me to join him, I became even more curious.

Carrying the water inside, I found a young woman standing just inside the door. Dressed in a demure gown, with her dark hair pulled back, she watched me with an unsure smile.

“Hello, Benella,” she said quietly.

She seemed to know me, but I could not recall her.

“Hello.” I looked to my father, but he excused himself and walked out the front door, leaving me alone with her.

“Please, come in,” I said, unsure what else to do.

She smiled once more and stepped in further, so I could close the door. She didn’t move to sit, however. She lingered near the table, her hands tightly clasped before her.

“I wanted to thank you,” she said. “We all wanted to, but we decided I would be the best to speak to you.”

“We?”

“My name is Egrit. I understand if you want me to leave.”

Egrit. The familiar name brought a bittersweet tingle to my nose. I blinked twice to ease the sensation then moved forward and wrapped her in a firm hug. She returned it with a sniffle.

“We weren’t sure if you would be angry with us,” she said, pulling back.

I looked into her bright hazel eyes and saw the nymph still there.

“Not at all. You all tried to help me when you could. I understand that.”