- One too many oranges
- - An island patrol -
- “Miss Oceana! Miss Oceana!” The children appeared as soon as I disembarked from the rowboat. “Miss! Miss! Have you brought us anything?” asked the boldest of the lot, immediately receiving a disapproving glare from one of the older girls. I pondered and readjusted my kitbag, pretending it was very heavy. The children fell quiet and studied the kitbag eagerly. “Maybe,” I smiled, “but you know I have my work to do first.” As I stepped towards the volcano, the children shuffled to the side of the path and followed, careful not to touch me. At the first intersection, I looked at them and said, “I’ll meet you at the caves when I’m done. You know you are not allowed to follow me among those birdwomen.” The oldest of the children nodded and took the others with him into the largest of the caves. “Be careful, miss!” he shouted just before entering.
- I followed the path up the volcano quickly, ignoring the jeers and insults the birdwomen launched at me, thanking my Lord it was only words and not the dung they held in their claws. I nodded politely at the queen, who exclaimed “SKRAAAAWK! Filthy cretin! Give it back to me!”, and withdrew quickly, afraid she would slice my skin with her talons. Cloak held tightly against my nose, I checked the sulphurous springs a little further up the path. I let go of my cloak after I passed the last group of birdwomen, and continued along the rim of the crater.
- Glancing ahead at each step, I reached the upper magma caves. No noise had reached my ears, besides the cackling of the birdwomen below me and the wind whistling through the porous rocks on this island. I pointed my quarterstaff at me and felt a familiar glow of sunlight seep into my skin. It was more to give me confidence, and less to keep me alive, for I had heard the stories about the great red dragon and knew that vigour cast on a little siren would not keep me alive. To my luck, a group of dragon hunters had already taken this path and emptied the lair. All seemed to be in order. Breathing more slowly, I descended the volcano and took the path to the lower caves.
- - A guessing game -
- I felt the children’s eyes on my kitbag as I took out a small package for the old leper. He shifted uncomfortably, a groan betraying the pain he was in, and thanked me. I dropped the package next to him with a furtive glance at the stumps at the end of his arms. The children followed me through the caves. They did not seem to notice the smell. I hurriedly gathered pinches of diamond dust and harvested the moss growing on the walls, breathing as little as possible.
- The children cheered exuberantly as I sat down, just outside the cave, and circled around me, leaving the exact distance they were taught to. I hoisted the kitbag into my lap and smiled at them. “The first one is for he or she who guesses what I have brought for you,” I announced. The children glanced at each other for a mere second before bursting out in questions. “Is it a toy?” asked the one who was fidgeting with a piece of rope. “Is it candy?” asked another, hands deep in his pockets. “Is it something sweet to drink?” whispered another. I shook my head each time. “Ice cream?” piped up the littlest one. “Don’t be silly,” replied an older boy, “Ice cream would have melted by now.” The little boy looked disappointed and I made a mental note to find a way to bring ice cream next time.
- “Is it an apple?” asked one of the girls. “No,” I smiled, “but you are getting warmer!” “It is fruit then?” asked the same girl. I nodded and a mix of fruits were launched at me. “Bananas!” “Cherries!” “Pears!” “Strawberries!” “P-p-p-plums?” stuttered the littlest one. He shut up quickly, afraid to be called silly again. The other children frowned, thinking hard. “A round fruit from another island, in the Eusian ocean,” I added, wanting to give them a hint. “Never lemons!” exclaimed one of the boys with a sour expression on his face. I laughed, took out the oranges and put them on the ground before me. “Go ahead and take your orange!” I said, smiling still. “There is one for each of you.” The children grabbed their oranges and sat down again, immediately absorbed by the task of peeling the orange.
- One orange remained at my feet. I frowned and counted the children around me. “Where is your sibling?” I asked the oldest boy. “Down by the beach, miss!” he said, without looking up from his orange, “Should be back soon enough, miss. High tide.” He pointed a peeled quarter towards the west side, pushed it in his mouth and started to chew. I took the last orange and stood up. The children were sitting without a care in the world, for a moment their minds on their oranges just like any other child.
- - An empty beach -
- I knew the beach he meant, and descended to the harbour. I nodded at the ferryman, warned him I shouldn't be long now and waded through the ocean around the island. There was no trace of play when I reached the beach. It was empty, except for a large speckled egg. As I turned towards the ocean, I saw a primitive sandcastle jutting out from the waves, moments before a strong wave crashed into it and returned the sand to the bank that must lie just beneath.
- Understanding suddenly, I hurled the orange into the sea with a raw cry. I turned to wade back to the harbour while I was still able to and a warm sea breeze caressed my cheek, softly carrying the words “Thank you, miss”. I jumped back, stared at the waves with a glimmer of hope, but saw nothing. With a heavy heart, I stepped into the rowboat. “You’re awfully quiet, miss!” Nate told me, as he rowed me back to the Aalen. I dropped my hand over the edge of the boat and let my fingers trail through the water. “The sea giveth, and the sea taketh away,” I murmured. “That she does,” agreed Nate, “that she does indeed.” He spit into his hands and took up the oars again.
One too many oranges
Oceana Apr 8th, 2014 115 Never
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