The next morning, Gof woke Kisha out of a delightfully deep sleep.
“Time to wake up.”
She stirred and dressed in a trance. She didn’t even put on the skirt but donned the trousers and headed out of her tent. A fire had been burning but now only a few embers remained. It took her a time to coax life back into under the disapproving glare of Grandma Seilee. And after that, it took some time for the water to boil and so she and Maia stole bites of food and sips of coffee while they prepared lunches, packed supplies, and reassembled the wagon. The others ate their breakfast seated on stools around the fire, but this time, Grandma Seilee only poked at her food.
Kisha and her mother-in-law had washed every dish, taken down the tents and readied the carriage before Grandma Seilee finally put down her bowl and spoon. Gof frowned at his grandmother. She ignored him.
Maia and Kisha walked Jasmine over to Nina’s and saw them safely ensconced. Nina’s wagon was day to Grandma Seilee’s night. Large windows with the drapes hidden in nets at the ceiling, let in maximum daylight. The inside had been painted a cheery gold with colorful cushions, a fold out table, and pretty flags hanging along side. The nooks and crannies overhead were stuffed with books, toys, and games and underneath the seats, neatly packed boxes in a rainbow of colors filled the space; each one carefully labeled.
“Nina, what a wonderful wagon you have!” The young mother beamed with pride.
She left Jasmine reading a favorite story to the two young boys and went to her husband’s side.
Next she and Maia crossed to Grandma Kira’s carriage and found the older woman already inside the wagon, her feet resting on the bench opposite.
“Ahh, Maia, please, come in. I was hoping you would play another game of chess with me this morning, however, Canta wants to play bridge again and you are the fourth.” said Grandma Kira, then to Kisha she said, “Enjoy your run, dear.” And she winked and the young woman.
Kisha mulled Grandma Kira’s comment while she made her way back to Gof’s wagon, alone. He stood, waiting by his horses. His broad shoulders straining under his shirt, the morning breeze flapped the fabric against his lean form. She ran and stood as close to him as possible.
Gof grinned down at her and said, “Are you ready for another day of running? It should be easier today!”
“Don’t we have to climb higher?”
“A little bit. Not far.” He asked if she needed anything. If she had enough water, lunch, and so on. Kisha nodded and smiled between yawns. The call went out and they were off. Today, her muscles did not complain but her legs felt like lead. She wanted to crawl into Nina’s wagon and go to sleep, not run up a mountain pass.
Kisha slogged through the first half hour as though she were moving through deep sand. Yawns interrupted her breathing and her boots felt like boulders. However, they reached a small plateau where she could stretch her legs a bit without paying for it with her lungs. The air woke her up and sent electricity racing through her limbs. It was a good thing, for another long ascent brought them around the mountain. The creek disappeared and trees grew between the boulders and up the slopes. Soon, only the most precipitous surfaces were free of vegetation. Bushes, grass, and trees erupted from the unlikeliest of places; a dramatic change from the flat, arid desert she ran through just days before.
The road straightened out and gradually rose a little then descended again. She took in the pine-scented air as she lengthened her stride. The horses too, picked up their pace. She heard her husband slowing them. Her feet flew one over the other as the landscape melted away on either side. Again, the horses’ hooves, her footsteps, the wagon creaking, and her own steady breathing opened her mind to wander.
This time, she did not think about the present, or worry about Grandma Seilee. Instead, she wondered what life she and Gof would have together? What would it be like if they settled in a town someplace? They could have an apartment together; with a room of their own! She could grow flowers and herbs in pots from their windows and sell something in the marketplace (more flowers?). She started thinking of all the possibilities of their new life together and ran farther and farther down the mountainside.
As the trees fell away, so did the boulders. Soon, the fast-moving caravan snaked among rolling hills of tall grasses fringed with shrubbery. Although the sun had baked these meadows gold, they were not the dead, stunted stalks found on the other side of the Tendor Mountain Range. Life glowed within. She drank a bit of water and nibbled on a bit of left over breakfast as she ran. Her husband suddenly called to her.
“You can eat while you run?” He looked amused.
“I did not eat all my breakfast!” She shouted back, and then added. “I’m still hungry!” He nodded.
“Tomorrow you shall eat as much as you want and take all morning if you wish!”
She thought this a strange thing for him to say. The caravan would be heading out as usual.
She saw a building in the distance and wondered what poor soul would want to live high in the mountains, so isolated. As they neared, she saw it was a charming little farm. Some of the dogs ran out to bark at the travelers and friendly faces waved from the fields as they passed. The train of wagons made its way down a valley and over another dale. Finally, the signal for a break was sounded and Kisha skipped back to the rear to lunch with Grandpa Herbert.
“Kisha! My granddaughter, how are you this morning?”
Kisha said she was wonderful. They let the goats graze near a creek. She pulled out her lunch and spread it out.
“Your sentence is almost up, what will you do?” he asked her.
She finished chewing her flat bread and answered. “I don’t know, Grandpa Herbert. I, I really love running. I want to keep running, but I do not want to embarrass my husband.”
He nodded and shrugged his shoulders. “I think you were meant to run, little one. Perhaps Gof will understand that.”
She nodded but wasn’t so sure. Kisha changed the subject.
“Grandpa Herbert, what was the inside of your wagon like when you first got married?”
He was surprised by this question, but enjoyed thinking back on the time. He came up with the funniest details.
“I remember Kira painted colorful pictures around the windows; trailing vines with birds and flowers and such. Well, she painted a little blue bird, so delicate and pretty. Well, one of the children, I can’t remember which one, nicked the paint just below the bird and it looked for all the world like the bird was taking a shit.” He chuckled. “Folks would visit us and ask to see the painting of the bird crapping.” He laughed again.
They talked until they saw other folks getting ready and Kisha and Grandpa Herbert packed up their lunch and got ready to move. The caravan headed on again through rolling hills, sometimes they climbed them but more often than not, they traveled down and down. By late afternoon, they crested a golden hill and looked down. The swaying grasses grew right down to thick green weeds edging a lake like lace on a dress. The road led right through the lake on a levee high above the water line, then over a massive bridge, to an island. On that island, lay a bustling township surrounded by formidable fortress walls.
Grandpa Herbert called out, “There’s Pinkmar’s Lagoon! The end of your sentence, Kisha!”
She looked on in dismay. It was too soon! She didn’t want to stop running and she really did not want to go back into the dark, smelly cabin with her grandmother. Tears filled her eyes.
Kisha tried to savor the last few miles down to the lagoon. She stretched her legs and even left Grandpa Herbert for a time, racing past wagon after wagon, running along the edge of the road. In no time she found herself running next to Gof’s horses. He greeted her cheerfully. She tried to think what she wanted to say to him.
A lump formed in her throat and interrupted her breathing. She coughed and looked up at him. He saw her unhappiness and looked around helplessly. When one is traveling as part of a caravan, one has to maintain the pace unless it is an emergency. Only to Gof, would Kisha’s unhappiness warrant such an action. He called to her,
“Kisha, what is it?”
She glanced up through tear-filled eyes and tried to get control of her breathing again.
“I love running.” She did not say it loudly enough and he couldn’t hear it over the horses, the jangling of their harnesses and the creaking of the wagons.
“What? I can’t hear you!” He shouted.
“I love running!” She yelled and cringed for she knew Grandma Seilee must have heard her and were probably laughing her head off.
“I know!” He called back.
This took her by surprise. She ran for a while before she added, “I want to keep running, Gof.”
His smile told her so much. “Yes, you should keep running, my Kisha!” he answered louder than ever.
She ran and this time her tears blurred her vision as she knew she had married the most wonderful of men.
She raced along fields and as the marshes loomed on the horizon before them, Gof called down to to his wife.
“Kisha! Would you run up to the Chief’s wagon at the front? Will you do that for me?”
She looked up and saw he was deadly serious. She nodded.
“Kisha!” He called just as she picked up speed. She looked back. “Stay with him ’til the end!” She nodded and sprinted ahead. The road had leveled again, she worked to pass the families traveling ahead of her husband. As she passed each one, someone would call out or wave. She wanted to answer back but all her energy went into moving ahead. Breathing hard but regularly, she brought her legs up high and put them down straight and strong, step after step. A chicken or rooster darted out from the field and she flew over the creature without missing a beat. On she ran, until at last she reached the clan leader’s familiar carriage. The drapes had been lowered over the windows as they were nearing a town. Now, she skirted along the narrow shoulder on raised road. The murky lake waters lapped down at the base of the levee. Holding her speed she paced the horses at the front.
Kisha did not feel confident enough to look back at the chief or the chief’s son (as he sometimes drove the head carriage). She slowed enough to stay even with the beautifully matched roans that pulled his load; big boney creatures with a smooth gait.
No one else traveled the levee, save the long caravan pulling in from the mountain pass, and so, they trotted right up to the bridge. Armed guards hailed them and the caravan slowed to a walk and finally a stop. Even then, Kisha stayed with the horses but kept her ears pricked for any order from their leader.
Chief Morcorno’s voice boomed behind her. “We are the Nimian Clan on our way to Bedour to purchase spices.”
The guard greeted him, his eyes ran over Kisha and her manly dress and then he bade them continue into the city. Now the procession began to trot again and she wondered if she should jog back to her husband. Kisha looked back and then turned.
The chief called from his high seat, “Kisha, you shall lead us into Pinkmar’s Lagoon!”
She nodded and returned to her place with the horses. Kisha raced down the long bridge to the wide gate welcoming them into the town. She led the chief’s horses beneath the towering guard towers flanking the road. Wheat fields and gardens spread before them stopped only by the inner wall. Kisha assumed they would slow to a walk as they neared town.
Instead, Chief Morcorno boomed down at her. “Kisha run your fastest to the inner wall! Fly, girl, fly!”
Kisha looked in surprise up at him and he gestured towards the township. She bolted. At first, her feet flew over another bridge and then the paving stones. Through the town gates she raced. A dog joined her for a moment and gave up. The golden stalks on either side of the road became a golden blur as she sped down the main road at her top speed. A few townsfolk and farmers stopped to watch her run past. She sprinted to the gate and practically slammed into them, before she turned around.
The guards, a few beggars, and a farmer looked at her with undisguised curiosity. Finally, one of the beggars piped up, “Oh, the Doe’s Place! You’re running in the Doe’s Place.”
Another beggar, lacking teeth and hair, interrupted. “No, Doe’s Place is at the end of the caravan. Here it comes. She’s at the front.”
The other answered. “What’s that called?”
“I don’t know.” And they both looked to her.
Kisha shrugged and waited as the chief’s wagon pulled up to the Inner Gate.
He climbed down and instead of addressing her, he went to the side of his wagon and opened the door.
“Did you see that Grandmother?”
“Yes, yes, I’m coming Mordecai. Just take out the steps for me, Thank you.” And out stepped Grandma Osiris with her cane. She hobbled over to Kisha and surveyed her from head to toe.
The bald beggar stood up and announced. “She ran the Doe’s Place.”
Grandma Osiris turned to the man and the guards and clicked her cane against the stones. “True, true, she took the Doe’s Place. But do you know from where? From the last oasis in the Purz desert!” Their eyes grew large and they looked back at the slim woman before them.
A guard uttered, “But that’s over two hundred miles. How long did it take her?”
Chief Morcorno answered, “Seven days, eight days total but we stopped for a broken axle.” He turned to Kisha and said, “Your sentence is complete, Kisha. You are not just free, but you have our respect and our support.”
And the chief bowed to her. His mother bowed to her.
Kisha’s eyes filled with tears. She looked up and saw Gof standing near the roans, his eyes too were moist. She ran to him and he held her in his arms.
One of the beggars sniffed, “Oh, that’s beautiful, that’s young love.” and wiped his eyes with his sleeve.
That night, once the entire caravan set up camp just inside the city gates, Chief Marcono summoned Seilee, Maia, Jasmine, Gof, and Kisha, as well as Grandma Kira and Grandpa Herbert to his tent for counsel. Once inside, he had the Crovans sit in a circle facing each other and the chief, his two sons, and his grandmother. Grandma Seilee glared at Kisha and then back at the chief.
He cleared his throat. “Today marks the day that Kisha completed her sentence of the Doe’s Place. I will state the obvious that she not only completed her punishment, but she did it and helped her family with cooking, packing and unpacking, and even supporting her husband. Usually, we say a person completes their sentence with honor, but Kisha did more than that, but we will get to that later. I state now, to be clear, that everyone may say Kisha completed her sentence with honors. Her slate is clean and her conscience is clear.
“Maia, Kisha stole your scarf and you first complained. Do you agree with my statement.”
Maia nodded, her eyes glistening with tears. “Yes, I agree. I forgive her and I, I want to say I am proud of what a good wife and sister she is. I also hope she can forgive me.”
This last part came out as a little more than a squeak. Kisha rose but the chief motioned her to be still.
“Seilee, you also accused Kisha of stealing, do you agree with my statement?”
A tight smile framed her face. “I most certainly do not. She is a useless…” The chief cut her off.
“Yes, yes, Seilee, I heard all that the other night. We need not go into it again.” His eyes returned to Maia.
“Maia Corvan, you too, had a sentence to carry out, unknown to Kisha.” Maia nodded.
“I was to not say anything bad about her or demean or her yell at her.” Her voice came out just above a whisper. Kisha thought back on the last week and could not recall a time when her mother-in-law complained.
“This sentence is harder for people outside the family to judge, however, we do have our ways. For my part, it seems you have kept your word and fulfilled your sentence, Maia. Do you agree, Kisha?”
“Yes, yes! We have gotten along better than ever.” The chief acknowledged this with a bow of his head.
“Gof, do you agree with my statement that your mother kept to her word?”
“Excellent. Maia, you to may go with a clean slate and a clear conscience.”
Then he turned to the one left, “Seilee, did you fulfill your sentence of not insulting, speaking harshly, or being demeaning to Kisha?”
“No!” She barked defiantly. “Nor do I have to! I’m too old for such games. I am the matriarch, the head of this family and what I order is final!” Her mouth snapped shut and her eyes blazed.
Again, the chief responded by slowly stroking his beard in an unconcerned manner.
“Actually, Seilee, you are not technically the matriarch. We, the leaders of this clan, have had counsels with you before about your uncompromising behavior. Several times when Hestes and Jiru were here, again when Maia joined our clan, and later before her betrothal, the birth of her son, and again with the birth of her daughter. My uncle kept excellent diaries and I reread them this last week. Would you like to hear what I learned?”
“I don’t have to hear shit from you.” She sneered. Even Gof was taken aback by this rude outburst.
“Yes, well, you are making this easier. Twice you were warned that if you did not treat your son better, that’s Hestes, you and Jiru would receive no assistance from the clan in purchasing and selling the spices.” At this, the old woman’s face flushed pink. “Later, when you ‘adopted’ Maia, you claimed you would do so only for a new wagon and that you would never consider her ‘kin’.” Maia turned her eyes to Seilee. “And finally, before his death, my uncle suggested, that if another family were to adopt Maia, it should be arranged immediately.”
Seilee guffawed. “Ha haaaa ha ha. She is old and gray, who adopts old women?”
The chief laced his fingers. “Actually, we have a family here, who is ready to adopt Maia. They approached me two days ago.”
Seilee’s eyes shot to Grandma Kira and Grandpa Herbert. “You! Don’t you have enough brats already?”
Grandpa Herbert answered. “We don’t have any brats, do we dear? I thought we only had children.”
Grandma Kira ignored her husband and addressed Maia directly. “Maia, will you come and be a part of our family? Not instead of Seilee, but in addition to Seilee. So you would have two mothers, and Gof, Jasmine, and Kisha would have two grandmothers.”
This took a while to sink in. Her eyes wide and moist, Maia considering this unusual adoption. Seilee grasped at the first hold she had over the woman.
“But it’s my wagon! Your son, your daughter, and your lazy daughter-in-law will have no wagon. Where will you fit them all, Kira?” She sneered.
Chief Morcorno cleared his throat. “True, it is your wagon, however, Gof Corvan has a stake in it since he has been caring for the vehicle, the horses, and buying and selling the spices for you for almost nine years. Also, I might add, that if Maia is no longer under your roof, you will need someone else to do this work for you. There is no one in this clan that will consider the job, however, if you wish to stay in this town until another caravan comes along I’m sure you will eventually find someone. However, you will need to pay Gof in cash before you do this.”
He looked at her. She could not argue his logic. “I have 63 denoubles. He can have 60.”
The blood drained from Gof’s face at this ridiculous sum. The chief stilled him with a single look.
“Yes, that is enough to buy the horses some new shoes, which I’m sure Gof has done many times over nine years. No, Seilee, the amount would be closer to 3,000 denoubles. Do you have 3,000 denoubles here or back in our home town?”
He patiently waited for an answer. Seilee played with the hem of her dress and shook her head.
“No? Well, then this might be a financial dispute. That would not be good for you, for you have a sentence you did not complete, and you know, the clan rules in favor of those with cleared slates and clean consciences.”
“What? So I get nothing? I am kicked out on the street as an old woman?” She screamed.
“No!” Maia and Kisha protested. Everyone turned to them.
“No, we cannot abandon her in a strange city” Maia explained. “She has been part of the clan, we cannot toss away people like we do old shoes.” Kisha remembered Maia’s clan might have done just that to her. She nodded.
“What should we do? What would you have us do, Maia?” Asked the chief.
Maia looked around at everyone in the tent. “We bring her back to our town and set her up with an apartment of her own; a small, affordable one, near the marketplace. Gof gets the wagon, since he’s earned it and with what he makes, we support her back home.” She looked at Gof to see if he agreed. He nodded his head. She looked at Kira and Herbert next.
Kira said, “Yes, Maia, that is good.”
Seilee mulled over this. “How do I get back? You still have to buy your spices and then sell them. You won’t be home for another five weeks! Do I just hitch a ride with a strange caravan?” Her voice sounded thin and edgy.
“No, you travel with us, but now, the wagon is mine, my mother’s and my wife’s.” Gof stared back at her.
The old woman’s eyes burned into him.
She began to rant. This time Chief Mocorono stopped her short.
“Seilee, I must warn you that if you insult Maia, Gof, or any member of the Corvan family or disobey my order I will leave you in this town myself. You are only still with us by the grace of Maia. But if you persist in being difficult, not even she can save you.”
Chief Morcono sighed. “Enough about you Seilee. I would like to move onto a more important subject before we adjourn.” He resettled his bulk facing the Corvans.
“Kisha, I have never seen any man or woman run like you. You run, like I read once, ‘like your soul lives beneath your feet and flies with your heart.’ From now on, you will be known as The Runner in our clan and every one we meet.”
“Although it is unusual in our culture our small clans grant us freedom and independence from some cultural norms. I and my family, our people, feel this is one of those cases. Please, feel free to run when you wish and where you wish.”
Kisha laughed and clapped her hands. She eyed her husband. He beamed back at her and winked again.
Seilee closed her mouth, stood up and left the tent. Gof and the chief made a few arrangements and Kira and Herbert approached Maia. The older woman took the younger woman’s hands in hers. “Our offer still stands and will always stand, Maia. Please, let us know.” And she kissed her cheek. Jasmine wiped away a tear as the elderly couple left the tent. Kisha watched her sister-in-law and mother-in-law and hugged them both. They hugged her back and soon, they were smiling, then laughing.
“Let’s go make some dinner and leave the men to their work.” Maia suggested.
Later that night, after Seilee slunk off, the four of them sat around the fire, watching the sparks float into the star-filled sky. Maia, looked across at her daughter-in-law, without a word, she rose, went to her tent and came back with the scarf. She offered it to Kisha.
“No, Maia, it is yours.”
“No, it is yours, Kisha. I want you to have it, to wear it running. I love to see you run.”
“It is too good for running, Maia! It will get stained and dusty!”
“No, I insist. This way they will know you are The Runner and they will know the whole story!”
And from that day on, little girls and boys would run along side the back of the caravan, each with a blue scarf in hopes that they too would be as fast as Kisha Corvan, The Runner.