It's been too long since we all visited the world of the windborn, the lakeborn, and the magically-talented fireborn.
For my new friends (and anyone who's lost track) the story starts here and the chapters are listed here. But now, back to the story:
Black Berries and Butterfish
Orchid dreamed she was traveling with her mother, sleeping on a beach and waking in the silent twilight before dawn to eat berries from a bowlful they’d gathered the night before. Mist, who was very young, just a teenager, was crying for a little boy in a distant town, who’d been killed because he was fireborn, and the grownups around him feared him, and attacked him. Even little children fight back when cornered, though the effort is doomed.
The weeping embarrassed Orchid; it seemed too private to intrude on, so she pretended she didn’t hear the sobs and very quietly ate the berries to calm her stomach. As she ate, she noticed the bowl was a shell of some sort. It looked very bright on the dark sand, and slightly blue, the berries inside like black stones. Somehow she knew black stones were safe, at least this week.
That didn’t make sense, but she didn’t want to disturb Mist, whose sobs were quieter, exhausted. Orchid ate all the little black stones, so they wouldn’t become dangerous, and let her eyes droop. If she left her eyes barely open, she could watch the sunrise, without alerting Mist that she’d heard her crying.
When Orchid woke again, bathed in sunlight and cradled in hot sand, she was surrounded by wonderful cooking smells. Eggs, she thought, and more crabs wrapped in seaweed, and some other things—some kind of vegetables? It smelled like something cooked in oil, but where would Dragon get oil?
Her stomach rumbled, and she turned her face away from the sun and cracked her eyes open. Out over the water, some kind of gold-colored fish were leaping up, to splash prettily, again and again.
From behind, Dragon said, “good afternoon.”
“Your face. Haven’t you ever slept past mid-day before?”
She pulled up her legs and wrapped her wings around herself with dignity. “Never.”
Her stomach growled, and she reached for the seashell in the sand next to her, then stopped. It was the shell from her dream, and was full of the small dark berries. She shivered as she remembered the image of dangerous black stones.
Dragon stopped laughing. “Are you all right?”
She picked up a berry, considering it. It was purple, not black, and smelled really good, even though her mouth already tasted of berries. “I dreamed the bowl—the shell—was full of black stones, stones that meant danger, soon—in a week.”
“No, in a week. The black stones mean safety right now.” She felt certain of that.
“Is this, like, one of those spooky fireborn things?”
She shook her head, then considered. There were stories of fireborns who knew things that were happening far away, or that hadn’t even happened yet. But they had regular dreams too, didn’t they? How did fireborns know which was which? “I guess I really don’t know. Remember, I thought the colors I was seeing were just from being sick.”
“Well, if it is, then your mother should be safe for at least a week, right?”
She ate the berry and reached for more. “Maybe. If it is—what do they call it? Farsight? Foresight?”
He spread his hands.
“If it is a spooky fireborn thing, I’m probably not doing it properly anyway. I’m not going to trust my mother’s safety to a reassuring dream. Besides, it wasn’t.” She put the berries into her mouth.
He waited until she swallowed. When she didn’t go on he asked, “Wasn’t what?”
“Wasn’t reassuring. It was weird and creepy and sad.” She pushed herself to her feet. “We’ve got to get going.”
“What, and leave all this food here for the gulls?”
Her stomach rumbled and she sat down again. The hot sand felt good under her fur. “I guess that would be dumb.”
“Very dumb indeed.” He turned back to the glowing coals, and carefully, touching it only with his nails, picked up one of the blackened shells there and placed it in front of her on the sand. “We have clams with onions, garlic, and marsh beans and, in just a moment,” he scrutinized another shell over coals that were glowing more brightly, “gull eggs with jack root and butterfish.”
“Yeah, they’re an ugly little fish, but very oily, and so long as you’re careful not to burn the oil, very tasty.”
“I’ve never heard of a butterfish.” The carved bone spoon she’d been using the night before was still in the sand, and she picked it up and used it to scoop up some of the hot food in the shell.
“I’m pretty sure they have another name. But I don’t know it; everyone just calls them butterfish.”
By that time, Orchid had some of the food to her mouth, and she had no more questions until the first shells were empty. The food tasted wonderful, and distracted her quite thoroughly. “Does everyone in your family cook this well?”
He smiled, obviously pleased, and, Orchid thought, a little embarrassed. “Well, I like to eat—and Lotus doesn’t go on any of the longer hunting swims. Unless I wanted to eat nothing but dry-roasted clams and seared fish, I had to learn.”
“Would you be willing to teach me?” She yawned, and laughed, “assuming I can ever manage to stay awake long enough?”
“Sure, once you’re sure your Mom is safe.”
“And your family too.”
Dragon’s shoulders stiffened. “Eel wouldn’t hurt anyone in our village! He’s more than a little extreme about protecting us, you know.”
She looked away from the food, to watch his face. “Even if he thought they were fireborn?”
“There’s no fireborns in my family.”
“How do you know? I didn’t know I was—“ she realized she still wasn’t comfortable saying it aloud, even to Dragon, “until … well, until I dug those clams up out of the sand for you.”
Dragon frowned. “Eat. Then we’ll see how close we can get to the school before you’re too tired to fly safely.”
“I feel much better. I’m sure I can get all the way to Spiney Cove.”
“And be in shape to fly again right away if you need to?”
“I have to get to my Mom!”
“Look, if you’re in danger there, she won’t leave. Would she? My grandma wouldn’t.”
Orchid glared at him.
“But if you’re sick or hurt, waiting nearby, she’ll fly right to you, won’t she?”
She nodded. “That makes sense.”
“So, we’ll get as close as we can, I’ll make sure you’ve got enough food, and then I’ll go in and get her, right?”
“All right.” She turned to the food, eating as fast as she could. Somehow it didn’t taste as good as it had before.
She was just reaching full when he pulled a net bag of cooked crabs down from where it had been hanging in a tree. “Here. Hang these from your belt. If you need to eat suddenly, you’ll have something with you.”
Touched, she stood up to hug him, which made him blush. “Thank you.”
He blushed harder. “Let’s get going.”
The next chapter is one of Dragon's: Homecoming, with Tea
Thank you all for your patience and support! I hope you'll take a moment to let me know you were here.