Mijita Ru 2
I awoke early, gazing up at the pre-dawn sky crowded with stars. My restless thoughts had awoken me before I was ready to rise. Now I will be exhausted today instead of refreshed. I sighed, resigned. I had asked Mater to take me with her, sworn allegiance to her god and people, forsaking my own. But that was not why I was worried. No.
Today is the day we would finally arrive in Bethhaven. I was finally frightened of my choices facing Mater’s home town.
I could not imagine what today would be like, so I let my thoughts roam the familiar territory of the past two months. Leaving Perla had been difficult, but her father had been very generous with us. It is true that he received the chance of a second dowry by accepting her back in his house. He also graciously received all our household items that did not fit on the donkey. And our house. And land.
Mater chastised me for saying he had given us his weakest donkey and scant food for one traveler, let alone two. Alone with the stars, I was free to admit he had been motivated by greed, not kindness. At least he had found us safe passage with this caravan. We could not have traveled so far alone.
I would not miss the daily grime of travel. I smiled up at the stars remembering when my feet hurt so badly at night that I collapsed onto my coverings at night before making the fire. Mater had taken care me and the fire that night, although she was stiff from riding the donkey. My leg muscles burned, my breath had come in gasps and my vision blurred until I had grown accustomed to the exertion. Now I could have walked another twenty days, but I would not miss it. If someone would feed us.
Knowing I would just lie awake until the caravan camp stirred, I crawled out of my bedroll and awakened the glowing coals. I divided the last of our rations into two meager meals. A broth would be most refreshing for Mater. I smiled to myself as I gathered our water skins and my cloak. A broth had been our breakfast most of our traveling days, but it was true that it was the best choice. Mater’s teeth hurt to tear into the dried meat without softening it in water first.
I stepped silently, placing my feet carefully so as not to awaken the other travelers. We always camped on the outer edge of the caravan, so we were always furthest from the water source. I did not dare slip directly through camp, the shortest way to the river. If one of the men saw me at this early hour, they would assume I was coming to their bed to please them. I shuddered, drawing my hooded cloak over my face and hunched over to walk like Mater.
Skirting the camp, I passed between the sleeping forms and the nightly watch. The noise of the river grew as I got closer. I crept a little further from the camp as I pushed through the luscious growth that clung to the river side. I paused to listen as my cloak swished past the tall grass. I could not hear anything with the sound of the river in my ears. Gripping our water skins, I chose speed over stealth and ran the rest of the way.
I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder as I filled our water skins, but I saw only dark shadows. I didn’t feel safe again until I had escaped the noise of the river. It was more difficult to be silent weighed down with water and the armful of grass I had gathered, but easier to hunch over their weight. Thank god we had the donkey, even if he was skin and bones. That’s what I called him to myself. Bones.
Soon I was sitting on my coverings with broth warming on our little fire. The sky was beginning to pale with coming daylight and the cooks had woken around the camp. Restless, I unpacked our few bags. We had brought a few changes of clothes, a few supplies for our house, a very few treasures from our past lives. So little.
I tried to picture what today would be like. If two women had arrived in in my hometown alone with so few belongings, would anyone help them? I knew the answer and it chilled me. We would consider them unlucky and do our utmost to send them away. No one would offer them hearth or home. If they persisted in staying despite being rejected, they would be mistreated. They would be common slaves of the town or worse, ravaged. Were Mater’s people better than mine? I had to hope so, but I had no idea what I was hoping for.
Mater was stirring. My thoughts had wandered and I felt no better for it. Quickly I repacked our things, ignoring just how quickly that was possible. The broth was steaming already. It would be hot very soon. I shook the dust from my bedroll, packing them up tight. I slipped over to the animal coral to find Bones and led her back to our fire with grass I had gathered from the riverside. He always demanded some bribery before cooperating. I had grown accustomed to his grumpy disposition.
With a handful of grass and a tight grip on his halter, I lured him to our campsite to a larger pile of grass. While his nose was buried in it, I hobbled his front legs, having learned the hard way that he would wander off once I started to adjust his loads.
When Mater sat up, I hurried over to give her a cup of broth. Every morning she seemed to move more slowly. Today she did not notice that I gave her most of the meat. “Today is the day, Mater.” I spoke cheerily, trying to smile. I sat close to her on her bedroll with my own cup of broth steaming in my hand.
Mater sighed over her broth. “Follow my lead today, Mijita.”
We sat, staring into the fire without another word, our mugs untouched in our hands.
When the camp began loading their beasts, I finally gulped down my breakfast, now chilled. I helped Mater to her feet, ignoring her attempt to pass me her broth. Quickly I packed her bedroll and arranged everything on Bones. Then there was nothing left but to help Mater up onto him. I pressed her untouched mug back into her hand as she settled in her familiar place.
“Our way lies in that direction,” Mater finally spoke again, her voice low and raspy. I followed line of sight, away from the river, deep into the land.