Salya First posted 8/2/06
The caravan arrived in town at midday.
Awash with sun, Salya could see the half-dozen front wagons waver in the
heat, the mules moving drowsily along the street. The hoods of the women
stood out as bright beacons on the landscape of brown grasses and wooden
cottages. Salya wondered if the other women were as uncomfortable as she
was. She shrugged back her red hood and had half wiped the sweat from her
brow when she caught the disapproving stare of her mother beside her on the
wagon bench. Quickly she pulled her hood back up over her long black hair,
and crossed her arms over her chest. "Humph," she said.
“How many times do I have to remind you Yaya?" Mother asked in
exasperation. "It's not appropriate in town."
“Come ride by me and Vadie, Child. In the shade of the wagon you won't
be so hot." Amma said gently. A fringe of white hair poked out from beneath
her blue hood, and her wrinkled hands reached up to Salya as the girl
climbed over the front seat, and around the packs of goods.
"I can't see the town then." Salya objected as she sat down, but her
protests were halfhearted and drowsy, like the pack mules.
"Take Vadie to market and get oranges. We need something for the
birthday, and Torreb won't miss you with all the haggling over goods he'll
be doing." Amma whispered as she pressed four small counters into the palm
of Salya's hand. "It'll be a treat for everyone." The counters were warm,
and the sweat on Salya's palms closed around the small disks, absorbing
"Just keep up, OK?" she whispered gently to her little sister. She
tucked Vadie's long black braid up into her green hood, and patted her
As the wagon train pulled into the square, the girls jumped out the
wagon back and ran through the dust to Market Street, still clasping hands.
Sometimes Salya wished Torreb would let the girls shave at least their
eyebrows. It would make things so much easier in town. they might blend in
a little more, though their heads would still be manes of thick black silk,
making the hoods necessary. Salya wouldn’t trade her hair for anything,
especially not the tattooed and hairless scalp all women in Nottlimaa
sported. Like chain lightning, or varicose veins. But of course it was no
use. Once Torreb made up his mind, that was the way things were. He was a
fair leader, and always did what was best for the caravan, but he was
always cranky. And never more so than when his directions weren’t followed
explicitly. If he knew they were in town alone they would be in huge
amounts of trouble, and likely Amma too.
“Hey boy-girl,” a boy’s voice called out to Salya’s left.
She turned her head to see a gang of them clustered in the alley between
the village houses, as tall as the thatch on the low roofs, shirtless,
their chests glistening with sweat. A clod of dirt soared through the air
and hit her squarely on the jaw. A few more rained through the air,
striking her back and calves as she gripped Vadie’s hand tighter, her palms
sliding a little as she gripped. They ran on, faster now. Salya looked
back to see the boys in the distance, still lobbing dirt clods and cheering
each other on, but not following.
She breathed a sigh of relief as she pulled Vadie into the shade
behind one of the market stalls several blocks away. Vadie’s face was
streaked with dirt and tears, and her body trembled just a little bit, as
she struggled to pull it together.
Salya felt a little shaky herself. She pulled a handkerchief from the
folds of her brown woolen dress and held it out to Vadie.
“Spit.” She commanded, then proceeded to dab at Vadie’s face, the white
cloth of the handkerchief slowly turning the same red-brown as the roads.
Vadie’s hand slowly reached up and gripped Salya’s shoulder, as if for
reassurance. Salya took a deep breath.
“What do you want to get for the Birthday?” She asked quietly but
cheerfully, bending down and setting one arm around Vadie’s waist as she
continued to wipe. “I like Figs and Walnuts, but I know Amma likes oranges,
and she gave us the money. I guess we should get whatever Fardon likes,
it’s his day, but I have no idea what that is. Maybe some sugarcane or an
“Orange.” Vadie whispered decisively, her jaw trembling a little
Salya answered, “well alright then,
oranges it is.” Salya pulled Vadie’s hood closer,
making sure to tuck in all her stray hairs and re-tying it in front, before
doing the same to her own.
She tucked the brownish handkerchief back into the folds of her dress as
she grabbed at Vadie’s hand again.
The market was a slim and straight
street through the heart of town, lined on either side with booths of fantastic
items. Wood poles reached their arms to the sky, grasping colored awnings
between their fingers, all tinged with the same red-brown of the roads.
Behind the market stalls and buildings, Salya could see the white peaks of the
Elums rising from the earth. She wished they were on their way through the
solitary mountain pass again, the cold wind biting at her cheeks, instead of
trapped in the heat with cacophonous strangers.
"Finest linen in all the land, hand
dyed and hand woven!"
"Delicious pies! Fill your
stomach, don't empty your purse!"
"Shoes made while you wait!"
The clamor of the marketplace
surrounded her, and she grasped Vadie's hand a little tighter as she plowed
through the crowd to a produce stall in the distance, focused. Vadie
dragged a little at the hand, trying to catch a glimpse of the wonders displayed
to either side as they hustled along, and not succeeding.
Barrels of potatoes, pickles,
apples, and onions were scattered among crates of exotic fruits and vegetables.
A short round-faced man stood behind. Salya cringed to herself, men were
always more rude than women. She took a deep breath for courage and
stepped forward, shrugging off Vadie, who was doing her best to hide herself
behind Salya's back.
"I'd like some oranges please." She
said politely, but matter-of-factly, her red wool head held high. The man
ignored her, and she repeated herself louder.
"Yeah?" he asked.
"Yes." Salya replied. "However
much four counters will buy."
"Let me see your money first, or how
do I know you ain't lyin'." He said.
Salya opened her palm, imprinted now
with the face of the queen and some ones, to show him the white discs. The
man gave a sniff and handed her a burlap bag. Salya handed him the
counters and peered inside. A fresh citrus smell wafted up to her nose as
she beheld 24 oranges. The man had been unpleasant, but he hadn't cheated
them. Salya smiled a little to herself as she turned and took Vadies hand
again, proud that she chose correctly. The girls hustled their way back to the
safety of the wagon train.