Gray and her brothers briefly encounter an unfriendly face while trying to help their mother and get permission for Rune's experiments.
We didn’t wait for mom to wake up before we left.
“If we leave now, we can stop by the food-house and get food for everyone here so that mom doesn’t have to worry about it later,” Storm said as he tried to convince Rune to get up, which he was not happy about. His tail was still tangled and the fur on and around his ears looked even more unkempt than before.
“Think they’ll have any meat?” Rune asked.
“Probably not, but we can ask,” I said. There had been too much dust. Any of the animals close enough to the village to hunt were too likely to be contaminated. But at the same time, I always craved meat, and so did Storm (and, to a lesser extent, Rune) so the women who ran the food-house would know that we were going to ask if they had any.
We left the house wearing long-sleeved shirts, thick pants, and boots. We didn’t have out facemasks or cloaks on; they weren’t necessary in the village, and we didn’t plan on leaving any time soon.
We could always smell the food-house before we saw it. The scents of sweet oats and sweet rice, and bread with fruits baked into them, and cinnamon, and herbs that were much more potent and spicy than the ones that mom usually kept out in the open. (She kept them in tightly locked jars, so that the scents couldn’t interfere with her work and wouldn’t worsen any illnesses that happened.) The women who ran the food-house, Torchlight and Dew, were very good at baking and cooking, and everyone in the village knew that if they needed any food at all, even if they were wounded or otherwise couldn’t help around the village much, they could just ask.
The house itself was one of the largest two-story houses in the village. The first floor, however, was completely taken up by their food storage. There was a large window in the first floor that they could talk to people through and give them food through; it also had shutters that they could close when they were both asleep or in the event that there was a significant amount of dust in the village itself. The second floor was the one that they and their children slept on, though their children stayed on the first floor with them during the day.
As we approached the food-house, we saw a muscular man with white hair and a large scar over one eye approach the food-house carrying a large basket full of berries. The three of us stopped, watching him closely. He glanced over us and didn’t react to our presence; only turned to the window, where Dew could be seen, though Torchlight made her presence known in an instant.
“Snitch, what are you doing here?” I heard Torchlight yell, closely followed by heavy stomps and her face appearing behind Dew’s. Dew moved to the side to let Torchlight face Snitch. Her orange hair fell in clumps over her shoulder, and her red eyes looked bored and irritated with the man.
“Bringing what I was able to gather last time I left the village,” the man said, keeping his voice even and without any inflection.
“Then I don’t want them. We don’t need them right now. There’s too much dust out there for us to want those.”
“But I cleaned them myself,” Snitch said, walking up to the window and putting his hand on the ledge between the inside of the food-house and the outside. He put the basket down and took one of the berries out and popped it into his mouth before shrugging.
“Might as well have cleaned them with the dust itself then,” Torchlight growled under her breath. Dew had slowly disappeared further and further into the food-house, but when Torchlight said that, she came to stand next to her and softly, but firmly, put her hand on Torchlight’s arm in what seemed like a silent warning.
“All of the rice that is here comes from farms outside of the village,” Snitch growled.
“Yes,” Dew said softly, “but it comes from closer to the ocean. There’s not as much dust near the ocean. So as long as it’s in a sealed container, it’s okay.” Dew put her hands on the edge of the basket, picking up a handful and inspecting them. “But if you still intend to let us have these, we’d be grateful.”
“That’s what I thought,” Snitch said, a corner of his mouth lifting in a smile.
“I’m putting these berries separate from the others,” Torchlight growled. “And Snitch? My eyes are going to be trained on you, and if you get sick from these berries, I swear that you’re the only person who’s going to be eating them.”
“I can accept that,” Snitch said with a nod before turning away from the food-house. His green eyes met mine for a brief second, but he didn’t acknowledge us beyond that look. When he was gone, the three of us walked up to their window, where Torchlight and Dew had noticed us and were waiting with smiles.
“It’s good to see you three out and about for once,” Torchlight said.
“It’s good to have free time to do this,” I responded, returning her smile. “We felt like surprising our mom today- she’s been busy lately. Do you have any meat here right now?”
“Nope,” Torchlight said. “And we won’t have any until after this dust storm eases up, I’m afraid.”
“That’s fine,” I said.
“I’ll start getting a package of food ready,” Dew said. “Is Silk eating real food yet?”
“A little bit, but not enough. Mom has been slowly trying to get her to eat more, though.”
“I’ll put in some softer foods in that case,” Dew said, tapping the windowsill and smiling with a nod, her short blue hair bobbing up and down with her head. “And some that can be mashed easily.”
“The roots you sent worked well. Silk seemed to like them more than other foods we’ve tried.”
“I’ll give you extras of those, then.”
We watched as Dew and Torchlight got out some plain oat bread, some bread with blackberries mixed in, root vegetables, some potatoes and peas, and finally some mashed blackberries and mashed potatoes in small jars. They took out a clean brown cloth and wrapped all of the food in it, tying it so that the knot made a handle to carry the package with. Then, they took a large bottle of water and tied a leather strip around it to make it easier to carry as well. They brought both packages over to us and handed them to us through the window. “Anything else?”
“I think that’ll be it,” I said. “Thank you.”
“How are your own children doing?” Storm asked.
“Misbehaving even more every time we turn our backs,” Torchlight muttered. Dew smiled.
“But they’ll grow up to be strong,” Dew said with a proud nod. “I’m sure of that.”
“And that’s what is important,” Storm said. “Have a nice day.”
“Are you going straight back home?” Torchlight asked.
“No,” Rune said. “We’re going to talk to Sentinel.”
The women blinked in surprise. “For anything in particular?” Torchlight asked.
“Rune wants to figure out if there’s a way to get rid of the dust,” Storm said, putting his wing around Rune’s shoulders. Rune’s ears flattened against his head and he glared at Storm. “Gray and I are going to protect him. It’ll… be dangerous.”
“That’s a very lofty goal,” Torchlight said, narrowing her eyes.
“But it’s an honorable one, if nothing else,” Dew said. “Divines be with you all.”
The three of us nodded, a little confused by her last comment as the women turned away from us, and we left. When we were out of the range that the women would hear us, Rune looked up at Storm and I with big eyes.
“You guys are just as confused as me about who those ‘divines’ some of the adults talk about are, huh?”
“Seems like it,” I muttered.
“People mention them in the books, too. Cry out to the sky for protection from them, stuff like that. I asked mom about it and she just told me to never rely on them, or any other things books talk about. I wonder if they’re real.”
“Maybe we’ll see when the dust is gone?”
“Maybe,” Rune said, perking up a little bit. “Maybe they’ll greet us when it disappears!”
“I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were you,” I said. I didn’t say anything about it, but I’d heard Mom talking to some people about the divines before. I had no clue who they were- just that mom and many others felt they didn’t care about us. Some others, like Dew and Torchlight, were eager to deny that.
Soon after, we had arrived at Sentinel’s house, the largest building in the village. We walked into the entry room, which was a large, open room with an open floor on part of the second floor, letting people on the second floor see the entrance. Sentinel himself was sitting on that balcony, and stood up when we walked in.
“Welcome,” he said. “Come upstairs and sit with me, you three. It’s been a while since I’ve spoken to anyone from your family.”