Orchid went over the names of the lakeborn girls in her mind as she picked berries. Fin, with her high-finned fish tattoo. Pebble, who was Fin’s sister, as Orchid had guessed. The girl with brown skin and seaweed tattooed across her shoulder was called Tide, and a green-skinned girl a little older than Pebble was Seaweed.
She frowned. She’d gotten laughed at when she called Tide ‘Seaweed’, which rankled, even though Tide had smiled and explained that her tattoo was the picture for high tide, rendered in water plants. She was determined to get their names straight. She popped a berry into her mouth. There was one more—she looked around.
Mud and Pebble were scrambling for berries in the lowest part of the bushes, and getting quite dirty.
Fin, Cirrus, and Tide were picking berries and talking about boys in between mouthfuls.
Seaweed and Frog were sitting behind the older girls, playing some kind of game on the ground with rocks, with the last girl, who had pale brown skin, brown eyes and no tattoos yet, and was confusingly called Blue Sky. “She daydreams.” Pebble had announced solemnly, and that was the only explanation she’d been given.
Fin looked up, past Orchid, and waved. “Hi Lily! Your Mom let you off tadpole duty?” Orchid turned to see another blue-skinned girl, Orchid’s age or a little older. Her skin was very dark, and she had no tattoos.
The girl smiled, “Finally! But only after Loricaria arrived. Are there any berries left for me?”
Mud stuffed a handful of berries into her mouth dramatically. “Not many!”
The girl’s face fell, and Orchid walked over, reaching into her pouch. “I’ve been picking some for my Mom, but there’s enough to share?” She offered them to the girl—Lily, she reminded herself. “I’m Orchid.”
Fin smiled, “And this is Cirrus, and that’s Frog.”
“That sounds like a lakeborn name!” She took the berries. “Thanks, Orchid.” Lily ate a few berries, then walked over to Frog. “Hi. I’m Lily. Are your parents lakeborn?”
Frog looked away and shook her head, her brown curls trailing to hide her face.
“She doesn’t like to talk about it!” Cirrus patted her on the shoulder, getting some mud on her blue-white fur, which she tried to wipe off on Frog’s other shoulder.
“’S Ok, Orchid can tell.” Frog mumbled.
The girls gathered around Orchid, and looked at her expectantly, and she sat down, to tell the story properly. “It was a dark and stormy night—“
“That’s a line from a story!” Tide objected.
“Orchid is a good storyteller!” Mud stood up for emphasis, realized there were berries near her head, and started picking and eating them.
“It’s true.” Frog glared at Tide.
“Ok, Ok!” Tide spread her hands, and Pebble grabbed some berries she had been holding. “Hey!”
Orchid clapped her hands. “Do you want to hear the story or not?”
There was a chorus of mumbled apologies, and silence.
So, it was night, and there was a storm—“
“It sounded better the other way!” Mud spoke, then clapped her hands over her mouth.
“—And Rainbow had traveled to visit her mother, thinking it was weeks before her baby was due. She was flying home, well ahead of the storm, when she started to feel her belly ripple. Now, it’s not safe for women in labor to be flying about, the muscle movements interfere with flying.”
The girls all nodded, as if this was common wisdom, though Orchid knew that even among windborns, it was news to many expectant mothers.
“So Rainbow had to land, though she was not yet near home, or any town. She landed and started walking, hoping that the baby would wait. But her baby was in a hurry, and soon Rainbow had to stop walking every few minutes. Finally, cold and wet, she stopped by a small lake, under a huge willow tree, which sheltered her some from the wind.”
“Was Frog born there?” Fin asked.
“No. Not yet. It takes a while for a baby to come into the world.”
Lily nodded. “Remember how long the women were with Loricaria? When she had Daisy?”
The lakeborn girls nodded.
“So Rainbow was laying there in the dark, waiting, and trying to help her baby be born.”
“Yes, all alone, for hours, in the cold and the rain. She started to feel sick and weak.”
Frog looked up. “But then the woman came.”
“Yes, then a lakeborn woman came up out of the lake and found her.”
“And she built a fire!” Cirrus added.
“Yes, she built a fire, and she took her big, round webbed hands and slapped the surface of the lake, and another lakeborn woman came, towing a raft, and they set up a shelter, moved Rainbow under it, and wrapped her in blankets. And then that first lakeborn woman sat with Rainbow until the baby finally came.”
“What was her name?”
“She was called Pond. But the thing Rainbow remembered best about her was this cheerful frog tattooed on her arm, where she could see it smiling at her. She felt it gave her strength, and if it were a real creature, would have shared her joy.”
“Oh, so that’s why Frog.” Mud clapped her hands, and Pebble joined in.
Lily reached and put her finger under Frog’s chin, and Frog let her raise her face up. “You were named for someone’s tattoo—among our people, that’s a great honor.”
Frog’s eyes widened. “Really?”
The lakeborn girls all nodded.
Fin smiled. “That makes you practically an honorary lakeborn. You’re Pond’s Frog, as well as Rainbow’s Frog.”
“I don’t have two Moms!” Frog looked upset.
“No, you have a Mom and a Namesake, and that’s special. If you knew her, she would teach you things and give you presents.” Fin smiled.
“And you’d give her a present on your birthday!” Tide added.
Frog still looked confused, so Orchid hugged her. “How about this, Frog. I’ll find out about this Namesake stuff, and tell you the story later?”
Fin popped a berry in her mouth, and looked pointedly at her empty hands. “Berries aren’t enough.” She glanced at the windborns, and blushed. “They’re very good, of course, and we appreciate you sharing, but I’m still hungry.” She looked at Lily, “Do you think they’ll have lunch ready yet?”
“I wouldn’t go back right now. My father’s stomping all the mud up and making the water cloudy, because the healer burned all the nofiera.” She looked pained, and upon hearing her news the girls, even the youngest, looked worried.
Orchid frowned. That wasn’t any of the herbs her mother used, or had taught her about. “Nofiera?”
“That’s the plant they use to make fireborns too sick to do magic.” Fin looked solemn.
“Fireborns? I don’t—“ Orchid wasn’t even sure what to ask. She’d never met a fireborn, though of course she’d heard stories.
“There’s a fireborn in town.” Fin’s voice was hushed. “Mayor Eel says we have to find out who he is before he hurts someone.”
Cirrus looked up with wide eyes. “Really? A fireborn? Who is it?”
“We don’t know who it is. I just said that.” Fin pulled a green berry off the bush and threw it at Cirrus.
Orchid leaned forward, plucking the ripe berry Cirrus started to throw at Fin from her hand. “But then how do you know there’s a fireborn in your town?”
“Gravel saw colored lights.” Mud grabbed the berry from Orchid’s hand and ate it.
“Stingray saw fish swimming all weird and stiff, making pictures in the water.” Tide waved her hands, “Like a dragon, or a volcano.”
“Morning Glory had a blinding headache.” Seaweed added.
“Morning Glory always has headaches,” several of them chimed, making Seaweed duck her head. Lily shook her head and moved away from the group, searching high in the bushes for berries the others had missed or couldn’t reach.
Orchid let them natter on, about sudden weather and rumors they’d heard. Might it all be just stories? Maybe a teenager trying to scare the younger kids? True or fake, they could be used in her storytelling. She listened carefully.
And, Orchid reflected, she should tell her mother about this. Which reminded her of her resolve to take berries back to Mist. So, still listening, she rose to her wings and picked more berries with her toes.
The story continues here.