The Sisters’ War (Chapter 2)
Rufi dropped onto the bench with a thud. His father and brothers looked exhausted too. As his mother set the pot in the center of the table Rufi reached hungrily for the ladle, earning a smack on the hand from his mother.
“First we thank Sav for her protection, then we eat”, she chided him. Rufi nodded. For once he believed Sav had protected them — or, at least, the idea deserved consideration. Dal’s might hadn’t damaged them — a couple boats lost, but nothing more. Everybody was safe and the land well-soaked, and they’d mustered every available man to prepare those fields for planting. Every day now, for a ten-day. Rufi feared they’d be at this for another ten-day at least, more if people continued to slow down from exhaustion. But it would be a good crop.
“Thank you Sav for protecting your people,” they all said together, “and for your provenance — we owe all to you”. With the fixed words done Rufi started to move again, but his mother continued. “May you and your sisters triumph over Dal!” When the silence was long enough that he thought it safe, Rufi reached for the ladle again.
When did she start caring about the fight? Rufi’s family had always tried to lie low. Yes they were Sav’s clan, but that was an accident of birth. We could have just as easily ended up in Mel’s or Dal’s clan, he thought. Would we then be pleading with Dal to show no mercy to us? Or asking Mel to do something, anything, to help?
But Dal’s night had brought changes. People were talking more about the sisters, and especially the new arrival. Rufi wondered about all that, but his greatest worry was Elish. He still had a lump where D’ara had smacked him with her staff for daring to ask after her. D’ara had threatened much worse if he were seen at her house again, and he’d taken that warning to heart.
* * *
They were arguing again. Elish opened her eyes but the room was dark, the candle long since extinguished. The girls in the other two beds didn’t stir — probably fast asleep, used to their parents’ voices, she thought. Elish knew she should try to go back to sleep, but she desperately wanted to know what was going on. She strained to make out their words.
“We can’t hide her forever,” Garon whispered. “She’ll find out. Somebody will slip — Ina is too young to know better and loves to talk. Or she’ll mount that house-to-house search she’s been threatening. If D’ara finds her here, we’re doomed.”
“I know,” Ala murmurred. “But D’ara is still on the warpath. She fumed through most of council today, again. If she finds her she’ll hurt her, might even kill her. We can’t let D’ara get her until she calms down!” Elish shivered and wrapped the blanket tight around her, wishing she could disappear into it, disappear entirely. Ina stirred, then rolled over.
“No, nobody else. When D’ara came in we turned the discussion to the newcomer. Efa has been making a chart, trying to understand her movements…” The voices dropped back to whispers and Elish gave up trying to hear.
Ala had warned her that she must not be seen, and Elish had barely left this room since she’d woken up in this bed a ten-day ago to her aunt washing and dressing the deep gash in her forehead. She’d pieced together some of the events of that night — D’ara had collapsed and been helped home, and Ala and a few others had carried Elish down and brought her here. According to the story they’d agreed on, Elish had regained her strength and run off before they could bring her to D’ara’s house. It sounded like that story was wearing thin, especially after the search parties had come back empty-handed. The overturned boat that turned up a few days later hadn’t convinced D’ara.
So far, most of the council was focused on the new visitor in the sky. They’d argued that this was far more important than the fate of one girl, even the (former?) heiress to the priesthood. But after a ten-day of discussions they still didn’t know anything — who the new god was, who her priestesses were, what she wanted… anything. D’ara kept returning to the subject of Elish, probably because there was nothing else she thought she could do. And D’ara needed to be seen as doing something.
Elish had to find a better hiding place. And Rufi. She had to find Rufi and let him know what had happened.
* * *
The warlord of Mel watched the last of the boats come in. The newest moon was just peering out over the horizon, seemingly chasing Sav again. The fishermen paid the man no heed as they hauled their catch to the village. After the last of them left, he turned to face the figure striding toward him.
“I have come as you requested,” the warlord of Sav said. “We are alone?”
The warlord of Mel nodded. “Alone, and nobody knows I am talking with you. I would like to discuss an opportunity of mutual interest.”
The two had much in common, they soon learned. Neither had much use for gods or priestesses; they served their clans out of obligation, nothing more. Both resented the clan of Dal, which took the best land by force and “divine right”, and took a share of everybody’s produce besides. And both could see that Dal was in trouble.
“It is time for a new order in the land,” the warlord of Mel said. “Will you lead us?”