The Sisters’ War: Part 2 (Chapter 8)

“What do you mean we can’t have our share?” Garon glowered at the attendant in the storage house. “I helped shear. Give me my wool!”

“I’m sorry, Garon,” the other replied. “The master told me that you can no longer take from our stores. I can’t overrule him.”

“He has no right!”

“He is in charge. You need to persuade him, not me.”

Garon slowly clenched and unclenched his fist. His daughter Ina shrank behind him.

“Garon,” the attendant said gently, “what is this about? Why are they so upset with your family?”

“It’s D’ara,” Garon cried. “She’s gone mad. She sent her warlord to beat us up! Dal attacking Dal! This makes no sense.”

“I’ve heard rumors. Garon, I sympathize. That’s not right. But if Dal is fighting Dal, I don’t want to be the next target.”

Dejected, Garon and Ina left the storage house. From a distance, the warlord of Mel watched, smiling.

Garon and Ala sat at the table, dinner now cleared away except for a pitcher of sweet-drink. Ala drummed her fingers on the table. “How could he? We’ve known him since his boys were crawling!”

“I know,” Garon replied. “He seemed scared. What is D’ara doing?”

“She’s trying to drive us out,” Ala said glumly. “Out of our clan. Will anybody help us, or are we doomed?”

“Well if not Dal…what about Eril?” Garon asked. “Do you think she would help us again?”

Ala shook her head. “Eril? She’s probably mad at us too. Did you not hear that she sent her boy Rufi out the day after she took Elish from us? Have you seen him since? What if something’s happened to him and the girl? No, we should stay clear of Eril.”

They sat for a long time. The silence was broken by light footsteps.

“What about the nice old lady?” Ina said, walking into the room.

D’ara and Efa stood in the twilight, watching Dal rise.

“Last night…” Efa spoke tentatively. “Did she speak to you?”

D’ara shook her head while staring intently at the rising moon. “No, nothing. I do not know if she’s mad about the broken circle or the newcomer or the girl.”

“The girl is gone,” Efa said. “Whatever she did on Dal’s night, you can’t affect it now. Dal needs you to focus elsewhere!”

D’ara turned to glare at her friend — or at least she thought she was her friend. “What do you know about what Dal needs? Did she appoint you high priestess when I wasn’t looking?”

Efa stood firm. “Dal speaks through you, not me. But look at what’s happening! You attacked Ala — “

“The traitor!”

“Maybe. But there is strife in our clan, and we still don’t know anything about the newcomer. Is she causing this?” Efa gestured to where the newcomer stood in the sky, observing.

D’ara sighed. “I… I don’t know,” she said quietly. “Nothing makes sense any more.”

Efa placed a hand on the high priestess’s shoulder. “Let’s go inside,” she said quietly, “and figure out who should complete our circle now.”

“You,” Ala said to her daughter, “are supposed to be in bed.” Ina looked at the floor. “But since you’re not… what are you talking about? What nice old lady?”

“The one I helped after the storm. She gave me bread and sweet-drink and she was really nice to talk to.”

Ala met Garon’s gaze. When had this happened? And what had their daughter been talking about with strangers?

“Ina,” Garon addressed his daughter, “do you remember where to find this nice old lady?” Ina nodded enthusiastically. “Then, tomorrow you will show us. Now go to bed.”

Ala stood outside the house Ina had shown her. As she had suspected, this was not a Dal house. She hesitated, then tapped quietly.

“Welcome!” The woman who opened the door greeted her and waved her in. “I get so few visitors — come in, come in!”

Ala was glad for the quick response, wondering how many had seen her here. She stepped inside and closed the door. “Thank you,” she said quietly as she bowed to the elder woman. “I’m Ala. I understand you met my daughter recently.”

“I’m Usaygo. Come, come — I’ve got fresh bread and sweet-drink. Is your daughter that charming little girl who helped me clear branches from my roof after that storm?”

“I’ve only just learned of that,” Ala answered. “Are you why she has become obsessed with sweet-drink?”

Usaygo laughed. “It’s possible. She sure did enjoy it when she visited me. I’m surprised she hasn’t come back for more!”

“Well,” Ala answered, “things have been…complicated. And we Dal folks aren’t usually welcomed by Sav folks.”

Usaygo nodded as she placed the pitcher on the table. “I’d rather people just be people. Why do we need to fight each other? But let’s not talk of the unpleasantness between our clans’ leaders. What brings you here?”

Ala took a deep breath. The words stuck in her throat.

“Lately the conflict is not just between clans. I seek help.”

The first thing she noticed was the smell. Harsh and bitter, an odor a thousand times stronger than bitter-fruit invaded her nostrils. As she stirred, she noticed other sensations.

There was something covering her. It felt all wrong, not like a blanket at all. And what was she lying on? This was no straw mat. It didn’t feel right or smell right. It was too smooth, too slippery, too flat.

She felt warm, even though what covered her was too thin to be a blanket, but she also felt cold against her hand. She felt a dull jab in her arm.

She heard a steady hum, punctuated by gurgles, clicks, and sounds she couldn’t name.

Slowly she opened her eyes. Harsh white light, like neither the sun nor flames, shone down from the ceiling above. What was this? Where was this? And why was there something stuck in her arm?

Elish let out a cry.