First, some news. I am officially a writer. Why, you ask? Because today, I received my very first official rejection letter. Yay! This is great! Why, you ask? One word... Deductions! Yup, I'm all about the tax deductions (since it won't get published this year, I figure why not). So anyway, back to the snippet. This one comes right after last weeks snippet with Adhara and Selene. This one though involves Cassie and Cintha (one of Adhara's girls). Hope you like it.
Cassie finished the last of her chores and ran out of the barn, carrying a large canvas haversack and wheeling a large barrow inside of which was an equally large woven basket. Zinnia had promised to stay late so that Cassie could work in the orchard without having to worry about watching the boys. The apples needed to be picked quickly, so of course, Umar expected Cassie to do it all by herself in addition to her other chores and watching the boys after school.
Walking back towards Adhara and Selene’s farm, Cassie turned off the path just before reaching the creek and its fallen log bridge and walked up into the forest a ways. There, nestled in a fold in the land and sheltered from the winds by the surrounding forest, grew the farm’s apple orchard. Not a very large orchard, Cassie had been coming every afternoon for a fortnight to pick those apples that were ready, taking the opportunity to inspect each tree for signs of its health.
Climbing swiftly into the first tree, Cassie picked quickly, able to tell by feel which fruits were ripe. When the haversack was full, Cassie tied a rope to the bag’s shoulder strap and lowered the bag to the ground. Once Cassie herself was on the ground, she would empty the bag into the woven basket before moving on to the next tree. Whistling a cheerful tune, Cassie called out a happy greeting to the songbirds eating the grass seed, as well as to the barn cat who had come out to the orchard looking for Cassie, before settling down for a nap in the sun.
Cassie was almost finished picking apples for the day when a loud noise caught her attention. It sounded like someone was in trouble, possibly someone was being chased. Unfortunately, if someone was being chased, Cassie knew without a doubt who was doing the chasing. Emptying the haversack one last time, Cassie left the orchard and slipped silently into the deep shadows of the surrounding forest. Following the sounds, Cassie worked her way ahead of the noise and climbed the nearest tree that offered some protection from being seen.
Cassie’s heart sank when she saw that her guess had been right: Sabik, one of her step-brothers, had caught a girl and had her pinned against the trunk of a tree. Cassie couldn’t see who it was around Sabik’s larger body, but Cassie was close enough to hear the sounds of ripping fabric. Taking one of the stones from her pocket, kept there to keep the squirrels and birds out of the basket of apples, Cassie took careful aim and threw, hitting Sabik squarely in the seat of the pants.
Cassie swore softly to herself, remembering at the last minute to duck so he wouldn’t see her. The terrified girl huddling at Sabik’s feet was Adhara’s Cintha. Cassie had to do something to get her away from him, but what. A scrap of a plan was all Cassie had time to come up with, and desperation leant her strength as she climbed up higher into the tree and at last reached a branch that was broad enough to reach the tree beside it. Climbing out onto the limb was the most terrifying thing she’d ever done, reaching out and grabbing onto the branch of the neighboring tree and climbing into that tree. After several such moves, Cassie found herself in the tree that Cintha was pinned against.
Cassie still hadn’t figured out how to distract Sabik when she heard the sound of approaching voices. Momentarily hopeful, Cassie fought down the panic she felt when she realized it was Nunki, calling for Sabik and probably wanting to join in on any trouble he was up to. Wishing with all her heart that she had a way to set Sabik’s pants of fire, Cassie was amazed when she saw smoke wafting out of his back pocket. Maybe he had stored his firestone there; he was the only person she knew who always carried his firestone with him: Sabik was known to set fire to the barn cat’s tail.
Sabik’s laughs changed to howls of pain and fright as he felt the heat of the cloth against his skin. Letting Cintha go, Sabik started to roll on the ground trying to put out the fire smoldering in his pants, the fire that would not be put out but never grew bigger.
Reaching down just as Cintha was prepared to jump up and run away, Cassie caught her attention and then caught the wrist she held up, quietly pulling her into the branches of the tree.
“We can’t stay here,” Cassie whispered, “I heard Nunki looking for Sabik, he’ll think to look in the trees even if Sabik doesn’t. Follow me,” and Cassie lead Cintha higher into that tree and through the branches of several neighboring trees, until at last they were resting in a truly giant tree beside the creek just before the waters split to pass around the island that lay in its path. Halfway up the main trunk of the tree, there was a large crotch where three branches split away from the main trunk, easily large enough to comfortably fit two young girls.
“Are you alright?” Cassie asked, pulling Cintha down into their hiding place and wrapping her arms around the shivering girl, her shirt had been ripped open and then torn further in the struggle with Sabik. Cassie pulled the scraps of fabric off the shivering girl, explaining as she did so, “You’re shivering, let me get you warmed up. You didn’t get scrapped or scratched in the trees, did you?” And taking off her sweater, Cassie quickly undid the frogs on her under tunic, telling Cintha, “the sweater might be scratchy if you got scraped up climbing, and the tunic will warm you up quicker,” and pulling the tunic over her head, helped the shivering girl put it on, redoing the frogs and rolling the sleeves up so they didn’t hang down beyond her fingertips. Once she’d put the tunic on Cintha, Cassie put her sweater back on and once again pulled the shivering girl into her arms, holding her close to let her feel safe.