The next morning, Kisha and Gof rose as usual, and this time found Maia tending the fire and heating water for coffee. Grandma Seilee sat on her stool in a frozen pool of misery. Without her help or interference, they prepared breakfast and this time, the old woman did eat her share, and more. But afterwards, she crept into the wagon again without a word.
Nefreti came and pulled Jasmine away after breakfast, claiming the babies demanded her presence, and then Canta came and asked for Maia to join her. At first, she hesitated, but Gof urged his mom to go and enjoy herself. She did and Kisha was surprised to see her mother-in-law grab a book from under her seat to take with her.
The signal sounded to ready the loads, and Kisha rechecked the camp site to make sure they hadn’t forgotten to pack anything. Gof came back from the water wagon and handed her the goat skin. “Paul’s wife added a slice of lemon to it.”
“How sweet of her!” They stood looking at each other, grinning stupidly.
“It’s going to be steep traveling. I don’t know if you remember last year, but some of the hardest part of our journey will be today. The horses and mules have a difficult time making it up some of these grades.” Kisha thought more about her husband’s sweet eyes than his words. She nodded. “Will you be all right?” He pressed.
“What? Oh, yes. I have my water and my lemon!” She held up her goat skin.
“Why don’t you leave your skirt here. Everyone in the camp saw you the other day and no one complained.” Her look told him his grandmother would. “Well, other than her. She is unhappy whatever we do.”
She nodded, quite aware again of the listening ears on the inside of the wagon. She stepped out of her skirt, folded it and placed it inside one of the sacks tied to the back.
“Now I’m ready.” Kisha smiled and they held hands. The warmth of his hand on hers sent her pulse racing. The call went out and he kissed her forehead and climbed into the drivers seat.
Kisha stood by their horses and pet them on the neck and waited. She breathed in deep and the cool mountain air stirred her senses and raised her spirits even higher. What a wonderful day to be a live, she thought. And then she had another thought, one that had been sitting in her head the last few days and now it would not be ignored. What a great day for a run, she thought. She admitted it; she loved to run.
Kisha gazed up at her husband and he winked at her. She hoped he would understand. How odd for him to have a wife that wanted to run all the time. The wagon before them began to move and she started her slow jog.
Gof kept his wagon a safe distance behind the folks in front, the Beccars, and at first everyone moved along a nice trot. This gave Kisha a chance to really stretch her legs. She even leapt over boulders on the side to break up some of the monotony of the journey. With each foot in front of another, she thought of her new grandmother and her tragic life, of Gof and their plans together, and finally of Maia and Jasmine. The hours went quickly and before she knew it she was racing back to find Grandpa Herbert for their lunch break.
This time, the old man and his animals trailed right behind the last wagon. He explained this as they set out their lunch not too far from the other stopped wagons.
“The goats are not carrying or pulling anything. Even my camels are traveling with mostly empty sacks. These mountains do not slow them down, however, the horses and mules pull heavy wagons that want to drag them back down the mountain. After lunch, the pace will slow quite a bit. You may be leading the caravan!” She smiled.
“Grandpa Herbert, I have so many questions about Maia. I thought about Grandma Seilee’s past and what she went through with her husband and losing her little boys and now I see her differently. Can you tell me what happened to Maia’s family? How old was she when Grandma Seilee adopted her?”
Grandpa Herbert didn’t answer right away, for he had taken a big bite of some dried apple and was chewing thoughtfully. He swallowed and began telling Maia’s history.
The clan had found Maia wandering about alone in the mountains on the other side of the desert; the ones they crossed weeks ago. She told them a dragon had attacked the traveling party and burned all the wagons, carried off or eaten the livestock and slaughtered everyone but her. The chief at the time, Morcorno’s eldest uncle, traveled to the site. What he found disturbed him. Clearly, some of Maia’s clan had gotten away and fled back over the mountain, leaving the injured to perish. But most of all, he could not understand why they did not take young Maia, then just fifteen-years-old. The chief thought they might have left her as an offering to the dragon.
The old man sipped his water before continuing, “Maia was too young to marry and we didn’t have any bachelors of age that time, anyway. Well, there was Grandma Seilee struggling to take care of herself and her mules and her wagon and make the journey to buy spices and sell them three times a year. It’s a hard job for any one person to do it, let alone a woman. So, the chief asked Grandma Seilee to adopt Maia. At first she refused, but then he promised her a new wagon, and she accepted.”
“When did Jiru, Grandma Seiliee’s husband die?” She asked.
“He died a year before Hestes left the camp.” Kisha nodded.
“How did he die, Grandpa?” The old man looked out at some children petting the goats and sighed. The ridges on his brows furrowed and he worked his mouth some.
“We don’t know. He had gone missing and so we went out looking for him. I found his broken body at the bottom of a cliff. The last one to see him alive had been the chief the night before. He said thought it odd at the time. Unusual behavior for Jiru, a man set in his ways.”
“Did Maia and Grandma Seilee get along?”
Grandpa Herbert waggled his head. “Hard to say. Seilee ordered Maia around like she and Maia order you.” He shrugged. “Seilee fed her, clothed her, sheltered her, and helped her find a fine husband. Gof’s father was a good man.”
Kisha thought about this as she ran after their lunch. Grandpa Herbert was right about the caravan moving slower in the mountains. She jogged along with the expecting nanny goats within feet of the next wagon. Up the road wound through the mountains. It became rough in parts and now a trickling creek joined them on the left; an emerald ribbon among the slate gray boulders. Kisha wondered where the water came from since they were so close to the desert.
Perhaps it was the late start or the slower pace, however, the signal to stop and camp came quickly. Kisha first helped Grandpa Herbert pen his livestock for the night before she found her campsite. Grandma Seilee stood in front of pile of cold timber, unmoving. The young runner searched for Gof or Maia but did not see them.
Although Kisha usually set up the fire and unpacked the dinner items, Grandma Seilee had been known to strike the fire at times. She looked at the old woman, who refused to make eye contact.
“Good evening Grandma Seilee. Have you seen Gof, Maia, or Jasmine yet?”
Grandma Seilee narrowed her eyes and did not speak.
Kisha took in a deep breath and released it. She looked towards where she thought Grandma Kira’s camp might be and changed her mind. Better to get the fire started. She took the usual items down from the wagon. As she did, Grandma Seilee shouted a command from behind her.
“Make the fire first. You should always make the fire first! Don’t you know anything girl?”
Kisha ignored her, as she pulled out the cumbersome wooden box that held their dried foods. It was as beautiful as it was practical; carved wooden box with two layers of thin wood and metal on the interior to keep out pests. However, it was easily the heaviest household item on the cart. She hefted the box and waddled over to the campfire.
“I am freezing! You should have made the fire first!” Repeated Grandma Seilee.
Kisha put down the box and looked at the old matriarch. To her, the evening felt warm with a little breeze. But when she looked at Grandma Seilee, she saw the woman shivering under blankets and scarves with a pinched face and gloved hands.
“Are you ill Grandmother? Why do you not start the fire yourself?” This was a reasonable request, in her clan. Everyone pulled their part and usually the older folks tended the fire.
Seilee’s face burned red and she stood, shaking with emotion. “Start the fire myself? Why should I? That is the job of a daughter-in-law! And you, Dear are a lazy, frivolous, immature, daughter-in-law!” Her voice rose with each insult.
“Yes, I am your grand daughter-in-law. But not your slave! Unless you are ill, you need to do your part with this family. I do not think it is too great a task for you to make your own fire when you are cold!” She uttered this as evenly as she could; careful to not raise her voice.
“What? What? You dare to talk back to me!” The old crone advanced on Kisha. She easily skipped out of the woman’s reach. Gof ran between them.
“Out of my way you brat. Your wife needs to be taught her place.” Gof raised himself to his full height and looked down at Grandma Seilee.
“No, Grandma Seilee, she does not. She knows her place; I think you are the one who needs to know yours. Jasmine, get Chief Morcorno or one of his sons if he is not available.” He ordered his sister. Kisha looked up in time to see the pale face of her sister-in-law retreating.
“This is a family matter! It does not concern the chief!” Grandma Seilee whispered hoarsely.
“Yes, it does. Kisha is completing her sentence; have you?” His eyes drove into Grandma Seilee.
Kisha had no idea what they were talking about.
Maia joined them and looked as bewildered as Kisha. Behind her, in the dimming light of the day, Kisha saw Chief Morcorno’s frame approach with Jasmine jogging to keep pace with the man’s long stride. They entered the circle.
“This does not concern you, Mordecai. Be gone; it’s family business!” Ordered Grandma Seilee.
Instead of responding, the chief studied each person there; first Grandma Seilee, then Maia, then Kisha, and finally Gof and Jasmine. Before he spoke, the chief’s grandmother entered crowd. Kisha had forgotten the old woman’s name; something that started with a vowel. However, she was told before she ever joined the clan that this woman was wise and powerful.
Tonight, Osiris did not look a tower of leadership. She walked with a cane, had a noticeable bald patch in her white fluffy hair, dull and well-worn robes, and an immense blue-beaded necklace that only emphasized her frail frame and delicate features. However, set in her brown wrinkles blazed two sea green eyes. Kisha had the feeling that the chief’s grandmother took in the situation in a fraction of the time it took her grandson.
Chief Morcorno looked at his grandmother and she began, her voice deep and rich.
“Kisha has not finished her sentence.” She said this as she looked at the older two women and then back at Kisha. “Please, go with young Jasmine here over to the Galla’s. You are to dine with them this night. Gof will join you later.” Kisha nodded, bowed and followed Jasmine to their neighbor’s wagon.
Although they rode next to each other during the day, at night, the Galla’s tended to put up their camp far from others since their younger one woke up crying many nights. Nina seemed genuinely glad to see them and they helped her make a larger supper to accommodate them all. Kisha felt a little awkward about telling the young mother she was to feed them, however, she quickly replied. “Perhaps you and Gof can have our little family over one night.” Kisha agreed and they spent the rest of the time playing with the tots and talking about their favorite spots on the route.
Gof did not make it for supper, but appeared just before the washing up was done. After a quick bite, he chatted with everyone and even bounced little Matthew on his knee. And again, the three young people relaxed with their new friends, the Gallas, into the night.
It was late enough when Kisha, Jasmine, and Gof made their way back to their tents. Neither saw Maia or Grandma Seilee as they turned in. In the dark, Kisha and her husband made love as quietly as they could. Afterwards, she lay her head on his bare chest and asked about his day. She did not ask about what the chief said or what happened with Grandma Seilee or Maia, but she did ask about the mules, the load, and what to expect the next day.
“Well, for one, Jasmine is to travel with the Galla’s tomorrow. Poor Nina is alone in the carriage with the two small boys all day; Grandma Osiris says she needs another helping hand.” He said. “Two, Maia is to ride with Grandma Kira, and three, you are to keep running your sentence. I wish I could say more, but I gave my word. I will tell you that Chief Morcorno is fair; and he always has been. Even when I was small, he wouldn’t let the bigger kids pick on me. Promise me you will fly like a gazelle tomorrow.” She hugged him and kissed his chest and said she would.
The Story Concludes with The Runner: The Last Day