Thursday, December 22, 2016

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learning to burn part 16

 Please read from the beginning.

Ofonode sleeps fitfully. He keeps waking, wondering why no one told him about the danger at the creek. Os seems to be sleeping well. He knows he should be as well. If for no other reason than that he needs to regain his strength. He felt so tired and weak when he laid down.

A little earlier than necessary, Ofonode rises unable to sleep. He leaves the small closet-like room. He's grateful for the private space, but feels cooped up and a bit claustrophobic. Outside, he begins the chores he's been doing since he arrived. He moves through the tasks without focusing on them at all. 

His thoughts are completely focused inwardly until he hears a rustling in the tall grass outside the barn. He knows for sure none of the animals have been released to graze. The barn cats are big enough to make such a sound. What could that be? Ofonode feels like he must go outside to see what he might see, but thinks he should stay in the shelter of the barn. What if the thing making the sound is big enough to do harm to the animals? 
 
His body has already moved him close to the door. And almost as if in answer to his own question, he steps outside. The sky is dark, but light enough so as to walk comfortably. The tall grass is dark, though. He stands at the main door to the barn and stares in the direction he thinks he heard the grasses rustle.

“Is there food and water I might have, here? I am very hungry from traveling.” a thin, fragile looking yet beautiful young lady says as she steps around the corner of the barn that Ofonode is not looking at. In reaction, the boy jumps almost out of his skin as he spins around to face her.

“Wh-where did you come from?”

“Most recently? Or do you mean where was I born?” The young woman looks very weary, but Ofonode doesn't feel able to trust her because of the sudden way she seemed to appear.

“Most recently, I guess.” he says.

“I recently left the area of Overton. Is there anything to drink, at least?” she asks with a sigh in her voice.

“Yeah. Sure. I'll get some water.” He turns away and back into the barn, quickly returning with a canteen.

“Thank you.” she says as she accepts the container of water. She gulps it down greedily. Lots of water spilling onto her neck. 

Ofonode can't help but notice how pale she looks in the still dark of the early morning. He wonders if her coloring will look very different in the light of day. She is very pretty. I wonder if I should… if I can trust her… “What's your name?”

“Does it matter? You don't really want to help me, do you?”

“No. I mean, it's not that I don't want to help you. I-I just don't know. I don't know you and whether you're someone I or we should trust.”

“Well, I guess you can decide to try or not. I'd like to know which, though, because I'd rather avoid the town center if I can. I prefer wide open spaces to crowded streets. But if you're not going to trust me, I'd like to know so I can go to town and try to figure out where I can work until I can continue my journey.”

“Oh… well, I'd still like to know your name. And where are you going?”

“I'm just traveling for the sake of the journey, actually. No particular destination in mind. It's been interesting so far. Enjoyable, even with the hardships I've faced because I've chosen to travel extremely light and alone. Traveling alone for a girl is a bit different than a guy. Have you ever traveled?”

“Yes, actually. I'm only here to earn enough for food to continue my journey.”

“Is that right? Are you traveling alone?”

“No. I have a friend.”

“A girl?”

“No. A guy.”

“Do you have a particular destination in mind?” she looks away like she's trying not be interested, but very much wants to know.

“Yes.”

“I guess you don't really want to tell me. That's okay. I guess if I knew where I was going, I wouldn't tell everyone I met. Anyway, my name is Eminghare.”

“That's a really interesting name. Do you know what it means?”

“Yes.”

“Oh. Okay. Well, if you want to ask Primina and Boarch if they can use your help, I'll introduce you to them.”

Eminghare's face brightens with a smile, “Yes please. Thank you. That's really kind and helpful of you. I really appreciate it!”

Ofonode feels himself blush a little. She's stunningly beautiful when she smiles. She hands him the canteen, which he puts back in its place. When he returns to where she waits outside the door of the barn, she is leaning heavily against the outside wall looking extremely weary and even paler than before. The air around her seems to glow a little, which makes her look even more pale. Maybe that's just because the sun is coming up and I can see what her skin actually looks like.

Realizing he's seen her, Eminghare stands up and smiles a half-smile, “I guess I'm really tired. I didn't realize how exhausted I was when I approached you.”

“Traveling is tiresome. I understand. Let's go to the main house and see if Primina is up. I'm sure she is by now. I'm pretty sure she's usually the first one to rise.” Ofonode is walking and Eminghare follows him, trailing a bit behind.

“Okay.” The sigh is back in her voice.

Ofonode opens the door to the main house, “Primina. Someone arrived this morning. Can you use the help of a girl for a few days?”

Primina bustled out of the kitchen to meet Ofonode and Eminghare on their way in. Primina looks the small girl over, “I don't know. Can she actually work? She looks rather frail.” The lady owner looks to Ofonode to answer her questions.

Ofonode looks at Eminghare. She is standing very straight and as tall as she can manage. Her face is tight with what he imagines is indignation. 

“Well, I don't know her personally, Primina, but she did travel here on her own in the dark. She's got to be pretty capable to do that. I mean, I haven't traveled at night and I have my friend. I can't imagine what it would be like to travel alone. Just based on that, I think she must be pretty capable and definitely strong enough for any of the work the other girls do.”

“I just don't have need for another girl, though. Do you think she can work with you and do any good? That's where I need more hands.”

Ofonode feels doubtful, but decides he'll just work harder to make up the difference. So he answers, “I think she'll be helpful.”

“She can stay. But just because you suggest it. If she'd come in here on her own, I'd have sent her on her way. What's her name?”

Just as Ofonode was going to answer, she speaks for herself, “I am called Eminghare. Thank you for allowing me to stay and work for you. I won't be here too long.”

“Thank Ofonode. It's only because I think highly of him that you'll stay as long as you need.”
Eminghare nods her head.

Primina walks away, “Breakfast will be ready in a few minutes. Go ahead and sit at the table. I'll get yours out first so you can get to work.”

“Thank you, Primina. I really appreciate it!” Ofonode looks over at Eminghare and smiles. She responds with a tight smile. He steps away, leading her to the long dinging table.

Ofonode waits for Eminghare to sit so he can choose a place next to her. When they are both settled he asks, “Why are you traveling?”

“Why are you?” she returns.

“Well, I guess I need to. I was having some difficulty learning something back in my village. And I realized a need, so I decided to leave in hopes of fulfilling it.”

“That's very cryptic.”

“Well, it's an answer. You only returned a question. I guess I don't know if I should try to trust you since you seem so unwilling to try to trust me.”

“Okay, well, my journey has been for much the same reason. I'm afraid I return home unable to answer the need, though. At least I have learned a lot as I've traveled.”

“My Aunti, Kokofeko, often said that sometimes the destination of a journey isn't as important as the traveling. I didn't understand her when she said it, since I'd never been off our plateau, but now I do.”

“Plateau. You live on a plateau? I mean, you lived on THE plateau?” Eminghare is now sitting straight up in her chair. If Ofonode hadn't seen the fatigue in her only a moment before, he wouldn't know she was extremely tired to look at her now.

“Yes… why?” he says with some misgiving.

“That's the only place I haven't been!” Eminghare's eyes are glassy with excitement mixed with fatigue.

“Um. What do you mean?” Ofonode can't help but feel even more unsure of the girl with the way she looks and is asking questions.

“I've been all over Oghodua Egbe and no one could ever tell me anything about the plateau. No one knew anything about what I was looking for. I wanted to find out, but being so very much in the wasteland, I didn't have a way to get to it. Would you tell me about it?”

“Why should I?” Ofonode feels unsure and unwilling to trust Eminghare. Mostly because she wasn't willing to share with him, but also because her reaction has been so very unusual.

“You don't have to.” She can see mistrust as if written all over his face. “I can understand why you might not want to talk to me about it. I haven't been very open and trusting. That's okay. We'll get to know each other and then we'll share our stories.”

Primina comes through the door just then, carrying a large platter.

Ofonode's mouth starts to water as soon as Primina sets a plate down in front of him. She also puts a bowl and two cups down in front of him. She sets a plate and one cup in front of Eminghare.

“Thank you Primina.” Ofonode says as she returns to the kitchen.

“Wow. She really does think highly of you. I'm surprised you aren't fat with the way she feeds you, Ofonode.”

“I might be if she always fed me like this. I've only been here a few days and this is the first time she's given me so much food for breakfast.”

“But she's given you this much for another meal?”

“Well, last night she gave me a second portion before anyone else.”

“Why. What did you tell her?”

“I asked if anyone had seen a large lizard at the creek.”

“Oh.” Eminghare looks very thoughtful. “How large was it?”

“Very. Easily bigger than me and any other guy on this place. I'm pretty sure it could eat me for one meal.”

“And it was trying to, I'm guessing.”

“Yes.”

“And they didn't warn you about the thing there. And you got away even though they've never heard of anyone getting away before, I guess.”

“Well, yes. How did you guess so perfectly?”

“I think this must be similar to the beast near Overton and the one near Flindernan. I bet there's such a thing happening near every place people go to live. I think the people let travelers feed the beast near their home and that's why, for the most part, people don't travel much… and even fewer return home when they do travel.”

“Really? There are a few in my village who left and returned. They never told me such an idea.”

“Did they travel extensively? Or only visit a couple towns?”

“I don't know for sure. Maybe only a couple.”

“That's why, then. I'm sure it's easy to overlook… or just remain ignorant about such a thing. I've traveled the whole continent. It's very easy to see patterns when you travel so much and to so many places. Now that I'm thinking about it, I'm sure there's such a beast around every town and city I've visited.”

“How have you been able to travel so far?”

“Oh… I have my ways. I could ask the same of you.”

“I'm not alone.”

“You've said that. Where is your travel companion?”

Almost as if on cue, Ofonode catches a glimpse of Os's tail coming through the main dining room entrance. “He's just come in. I'll introduce you in a minute.”

Eminghare looks around.

Once Os is sitting comfortably on his lap, Ofonode says, “This is my friend, Oseratin.”
Eminghare looks at Ofonode and then down at the lizard on his lap. She giggles, “But that doesn't count! I thought your friend was another young man.”

She just called me a young man. Everyone else has called me a boy. Does she see something different in me. Responding to her Ofonode says, “He absolutely counts. Just because you can't see what I know, doesn't mean he isn't helpful while we travel.”

Eminghare cocks her head to the side, “I guess so.” She seems to contemplate the lizard as Ofonode gathers some food into his napkin and put it on his lap. “You feed him really well for a pet.”

“He's not a pet. He's my friend. And he has helped me more than I can say.” Ofonode smiles at Os when he looks up. Oseratin feels very pleased and shivers a little. The girl sees it all and begins to wonder.

“When did you meet him?”

“Just outside my village.”

“Oh. So you haven't known him your whole life, then?”

“No. I guess he's sorta known me, though. He's been watching me and my village for a lot longer than I've been alive.”

“Really!” 

Ofonode feels like he's said too much. When he looks down at Os, the invisian seems to shrug a shoulder as he continues eating. Still, treading more carefully, Ofonode focuses on eating his wonderful breakfast.

“He must be very old, then. Do you have any idea how old your friend is, Ofonode.”

“How would I know. He's a lizard. It's not like he can tell me.”

Eminghare feels sure that the lizard isn't just a lizard and that, somehow, he can communicate. She wonders if the lizard on Ofonode's lap is like her friend, Itohan, hiding in the tall grass. She hopes to bring some food for her very soon. Surely Itohan is very hungry.

“You should finish eating, Eminghare. We should get started soon. The others will come to the table soon and I don't want them to see all the dishes I've had. I can't finish it. Would you like some?”

“Yes, please. Do you mind if I put some in a napkin and keep it with me? I've learned I shouldn't eat too much in one sitting right after traveling long. But I am still very hungry.”

“Sure. That's fine with me. I'll just let Primina know I've borrowed her napkin and I'll return it at lunch time.”

“Thank you.” Eminghare removes the items from the plate Ofonode hasn't finished and wraps them in the napkin. Standing, she gathers the corners together and flips a light rope she's been wearing around her waist around the corners and drops the napkin. Ofonode jumps slightly, sure the food will end up on the floor. It doesn't. “Should we bring the dishes to Primina?”

“I will. I don't want her to see what you're doing with her napkin.” The girl nods. Ofonode gathers up all the dishes and deposits them on a counter calling his thanks to Primina and letting her know the other napkin will return at lunch time. Ofonode leave the kitchen before Primina can respond and leads Eminghare out of the house. “Just stay with me and try to see what you can do to help. The restroom is over there,” he says indicating a small building off to one side and about half-way between the barn and house.

“I will. May I take a few minutes to myself before I join you in the barn?”

“Uh… okay. I guess that's fine.” Eminghare disappears around the side of the barn and Ofonode walks into it.

When she joins him, she looks somehow more relaxed, a slight smile in all the features of her face. Ofonode barely notices, feeling more burdened than usual with his desire to make it seem worthwihle to Primina to have Eminghare here. The girl joins him in his efforts and seems to be a good worker.

As they work through the morning, Ofonode notices that she is able to do a lot more than he thought. She turns out to be much stronger than she looks like she would be. She is, after-all, tiny. She carries hay and feedbags like they weigh nothing and even tosses hay up to him with more precision than the guy he worked with yesterday. The longer they work together, the more Ofonode appreciates Eminghare.

“Have you been to Trebukenan?”

“Yes, of course. I've been to every major city and town in the land. Ontewon was my last hope. Honestly. I wasn't using hyperbole when I said I'd been everywhere. Why?”

Last hope. I wonder what that's about? It must have something to do with the thing she's been searching for and not found. “I was just thinking how much they would love you there.”

“Oh? Why do you think so?”

“Because you're such a good worker. And so strong.”

She bows her head for a moment. When she raises it to look at him, there is a new and different sparkle in her eye. “And is this a good thing to you, too, Ofonode?” Eminghare smiles in what might be flirtatious. She looks very cute to Ofonode and he wishes he understood how to interact with her.

Ofonode blushes lightly, “Yes. Strength and truly working hard, not just saying one can work hard, are very good character traits.” She smiles as she turns away to pick up another bale of hay and bring it to the bottom of the ladder they've been piling them next to in their routine before tossing them up to the loft. Ofonode carries two and places them carefully in the pile.

“To answer your question, they did like me there. Still, I had to continue.”

“Where are you trying to go now?”

“I return home.”

“You said you feel like a failure. But surely you've learned a lot and grown. So your time away cannot have been a complete loss, right?”

“This is true. I have been gone a very short time to my people, but it has been long for me.”
He hears something familiar. Who was it that said something similar… “What do you mean? A very short time for your people?”

“Oh, I'll tell you about that another time.”

Why does what she said about time away sound so familiar? Ofonode ponders over this question while they move the rest of the hay to the bottom of the ladder.

Tramdon interrupts Ofonode's thoughts when the other guy calls from the door of the barn, “Primina said to get you and the new girl for lunch since you'd not come on your own.”

Ofonode and Eminghare bring their last load of hay to stack at the ladder. “Thank you, Tramdon. Have you already eaten?”

No. I was just about to sit down when Primina sent me to get you.”

Are we really that late?”

Yes. I thought for sure I would be the last one.”

Okay, we're coming. You don't have to wait if you want to go ahead.” Tramdon nods and runs ahead.

We need to stop at the bath house before we go to the table. Primina would be angry if we tried to eat dirty as we are.

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