Adane barely escaped war in his homeland. He wanted nothing more than to hide in this new city with his adopted child Chisa by his side. But every choice he makes risks their quiet lives and every day brings the war that Adane fled closer to their doorstep. Soon Adane will have to choose between running away again or taking a stand against an enemy that can’t be seen and cannot be fought.
Transplant of War
by Meyari McFarland
“Where this goes?” Chisa asked as they carried a bundle of blankets as big they were into their finally renovated house.
“Bedroom upstairs,” Adane said.
“Awful small,” Chisa said, giggling a little.
“So true,” Adane sighed. “Still, bedroom.”
Their bedroom was tiny, barely three paces one way and two the other but there was room for a mattress and a chest for clothes under the narrow stairs up to the roof. Adane had thought of having Chisa sleep in a hammock on the far side of the room but both Chisa’s and Adane’s nightmares made that impossible. Thankfully they both slept better with someone to touch or cuddle in the night. They’d just have to share the mattress until Adane could expand the house or figure out another place for Chisa’s bed. And, of course, until they were over their nightmares.
He grinned as the entire bundle nodded along with Chisa’s head. A month along the house was livable. They’d spend half the rudraii getting the house to a point where the walls wouldn’t collapse, the ceiling didn’t leak and the kitchen could be used to prepare food. There was still a huge amount of work to be done, including plastering all the walls, redoing the floor downstairs and then getting actual furniture for them to sleep on but it was something to be done in the future. For now they had a home.
Which had, actually, gotten named Shiraida House much to Chisa’s amusement. Adane shrugged off the comments every time people saw them together. It was a good old house and it was theirs. Other people’s opinions didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered to Adane was getting the place livable. He breathed slowly against the surge of memories from before. His flashbacks had already frightened Chisa once. No reason to repeat it now when Adane was safe and secure.
“What now?” Chisa asked.
They grinned up at Adane, the gap in their teeth starting to fill in. Having three meals a day seemed to have triggered a growth spurt. Chisa’s now perpetually clean face had filled out but their arms and legs had grown enough that the new shirt and pants Adane had bought were slightly too short.
“Walls?” Adane said, looking out the door towards the crumbling plaster on the outer walls.
“Can’t reach big chunks of wall,” Chisa said doubtfully. They sucked on their bottom lip, hesitantly sidling closer to Adane. “Too many plants.”
Adane laughed, scooped Chisa up in his arms and pressed a kiss against Chisa’s cheek. The startled squeak and then laughter just made Adane laugh harder. He could taste the sugar of Chisa’s morning pastry. Chisa giggled as they hugged Adane, settling into Adane’s arms with a little sigh of contentment that always made Adane’s heart break for how lonely the child’s life had been.
“Some of them will give food,” Adane murmured.
“Still can’t reach walls in spots,” Chisa said, nodding just enough that their wiry fluff of hair brushed against Adane’s cheek.
“True,” Adane sighed. “So plants, maybe? Plaster inside? Not cobbles.”
“Ugh,” Chisa groaned. “Too expensive!”
Adane groaned with him. It really was too expensive for them to fix the cobblestone streets. He’d asked around and every single tradesman he’d spoken to had made it clear that the cost would be well beyond what they had available. Maybe in a decade Adane might have the money for it but not now. Maybe. He still had to find a reliable way to earn money that didn’t expose them to too much attention from the powerful of the city. They had enough attention just living in the newly-named Shiraida House.
Chisa squirmed until Adane set them down. They ran out the door, weaving through the plants while waving for Adane to follow him. They ended up on the far side of their land by the well and bath house. That had been a delightful surprise the first day. Very few houses in Rudrai City had their own wells. It was actually forbidden to dig new wells so Adane had expected that he’d have a regular bill for water to pay.
But no, the old house had a solid well that sank deep into the earth below, all the way down to the cool dark aquifer below their feet. The water was even clear and clean instead of musty and algae-tainted like the public well a few streets away. Unfortunately, the winch was broken so they had to haul the water up by brute force. It took both of them to get a full bucket to the surface.
“Fix this,” Chisa declared once Adane pushed past the looming olive tree and its half-ripe olives. “Make life better fast!”
“…Good idea,” Adane said, nodding slowly. “Very good idea. Just… not sure I want to tell anyone about the well.”
“Oh,” Chisa breathed, glowering down into the well. “Yeah. Might tell tax man. Close well.”
“Nah, wouldn’t close well,” Adane said. “Would just add to taxes.”
That made Chisa’s glower turn into a fearsome thing. Over the last month Adane had learned quickly that Chisa regarded taxes as a personal insult. If it was up to Chisa no one would ever pay taxes for anything at all, no matter what it was for or if it would help Chisa live their life more easily. Adane couldn’t blame the child. Everyone in the neighborhood had similar attitudes about taxes and Adane’s few brushes with the tax assessors had already shown him that they would add taxes for anything they thought they could get away with.
So no, they really couldn’t afford to pay more taxes than they already were. Adane looked towards the door to the street, fingers tapping against the smooth stones on the lip of the well. Maybe there was another way but it would take opening up to their neighbors. Using magic to draw the water up wasn’t an option, not when the thought of casting spells openly gave Adane panic attacks.
“Farah ni Dawud is pregnant,” Adane said slowly, very aware of Chisa’s startled stare. “Dawud carves wood. Can’t carry water from the public well without help. Keeps Dawud from doing his job to carry water for her.”
“Oh,” Chisa breathed. “Let Farah get water here, just across the street, not so far. Dawud makes winch, Farah gets water. We get new winch without tax man knowing.”
“Think might work?” Adane asked Chisa. Chisa’s eager grin and nod made Adane laugh. “Let’s go ask. Can’t hurt to ask. Can only say no. Then find another way to fix it. Farah… she won’t tell the tax man about the well.”
The door to Farah and Dawud’s house was open. They actually had both a shop and a house on their tiny plot. Neither seemed big enough to Adane for a family that would soon swell for the infant growing Farah’s belly, but it was average for the area where courtyard houses had long since been divided into smaller and smaller houses that became smaller still in the next generation.
“Anybody home?” Chisa called as soon as they neared the door.
“Chisa?” Farah called back. She poked her head out the door, flour smudged across her face and shoulders. “Ah, Adane, too. Come in. Come in. What you need?”
“Ah, got an offer,” Adane said once they slid carefully into Farah’s tiny kitchen.
There was enough room for Farah to move around and Chisa could slip under the table filling the center of the room if they wanted to but Adane stayed very firmly by the door where he was out of the way. Farah’s kitchen was thick with spices, rich cinnamon, heady sage, a metallic salt that gleamed pink in the salt bin. Something bubbled on the stove, brown and chunky. It made Adane’s mouth water at how good it looked. A huge mass of dough rested in the middle of the table in a circle of flour, slowly rising.
“What offer?” Farah asked. “Need someone cook for you?”
Chisa giggled while Farah grinned at Adane. The very first day after the Shiraida had been removed Adane had gotten cooking offers from every single female in the area. None of them really believed that Adane could cook until after they watched Adane cook him and Chisa a meal on the communal stove near the public well. Even now they asked whenever they had the chance just to make Adane groan.
“No, need Dawud’s help,” Adane said. “Got wood work need done and, well, don’t want the tax man to know.”
“Is a good deal,” Chisa said. “You come? Bring Dawud? We show you. Make it good for you and for us and no tax man at all!”
Farah blinked rapidly. Her lips curled up at the corners as Chisa bounced and nodded urgently at her. No matter how much of a cold shoulder Chisa had gotten before their adoption, Farah and the other women in the neighborhood loved them now. It was something that made Adane’s heart hurt. Getting a ‘na’ behind their name shouldn’t make that much of a difference in Chisa’s life.
“All right,” Farah drawled. She laughed at Chisa’s cheer. “Shoo. We be there soon.”
“Yes!” Chisa darted to Adane’s side, hugging him before running right out the door and across the street.
“Careful!” Adane shouted after Chis. “Traffic!”
“Good luck there,” Farah said, snorting a little in amusement. “Children.”
“I know, I know,” Adane sighed. “Still. Scare a year’s growth out of me.”
Farah laughed, flapping her flour-covered hands at him. It took an hour before Farah and Dawud appeared at the door to the garden, both washed up though flour still dotted Farah’s apron and wood shavings marked Dawud’s pants. Adane spent the time carefully pruning back a path to the well. Taking just the branches that weren’t currently bearing fruit helped a bit but once the bushes had stopped bearing he would have to prune them much further.
Chisa spent the entire hour running back and forth from clearing grass around the well to peeking out the door to see if Farah and Dawud were coming. They gasped and ran straight through the shrubs when Dawud hesitantly knocked on their so-worn door.
“You’re here!” Chisa shouted.
“Quietly,” Adane called. “Don’t wake the dead.”
Farah’s laugh echoed in the courtyard along with Chisa’s huff of dismay. As Adane pushed the branches aside, careful of the hanging fruit that he hoped to sell in the market, Dawud’s laughter jointed Farah’s. He leaned against the door but cautiously, only a bare fraction of his weight resting on the old, fragile wood. Farah straightened up from ruffling Chisa’s hair when Adane appeared. Her grin made him chuckle while Chisa’s offended glare made Adane laugh.
“Come see,” Adane said. “And… close the door.”
“Need a new door?” Dawud asked.
“Not bad idea,” Adane said, nodding as Dawud closed the door, ensuring that no one would see them or easily overhear their conversation. “Not what planned on asking. This way.”
He held the bushes aside so that Farah wouldn’t have to wrestle with them. Of course, Chisa charged straight through, branches whipping behind him and the occasion piece of green fruit flying into the air only to drop to the mossy stones below with a muffled thud. Dawud joined Adane in keeping the branches off Farah. She cooed at all the hard green fruit.
“So much,” Farah murmured.
“Too much,” Adane sighed. “Jam and jelly and salad and mashed and syrup and…”
Both Dawud and Farah laughed at him, Dawud with a sort of bitter agreement while Farah’s laugh was simple acknowledgment of the universal truth of harvest season. The laughter stopped the instant they reached the old olive tree. Farah gasped and pointed at the branches while Dawud looked past it and cursed at the sight of the old well.
“Dawud!” Farah scolded him.
“You have a well!” Dawud hissed in Common Tongue at Adane.
The accusation in that prompted a flinch out of Adane. Chisa grinned so cockily that Dawud’s envy turned into scowl of disapproval that didn’t come close to denting Chisa’s attitude. Farah gently pushed the olive tree’s branches away so that she could peer down into the well. Her eyes were wide when she turned to stare at Adane.
“It has water,” Farah whispered.
“I know,” Adane murmured. “But no winch. Have to haul the water up hand over hand. Thought that maybe, if Dawud agrees, could trade a new winch for right to draw water here. Trust you not to drain it dry, to make a good winch, one to last for years.”
Dawud stared at him, looked down into the well, and then ran his shaking fingertips over the lip of the well. Farah didn’t bother looking at Adane or Chisa or even her husband. She turned and frowned at the olive tree, tapping one finger against her bottom lip while the other hand rubbed her swollen belly.
“Need help with the garden,” Farah said.
“Well, yes,” Adane agreed.
“Getting a door, too,” Dawud announced so firmly that Adane nodded agreement automatically. “Good one, nice and thick. No paint. You do that.”
“Would… prefer that?” Adane said. He looked at Chisa who shrugged, hands out to say they had no idea what was going on either. “Please?”
“Sister’s husband lives three streets down,” Farah said. “Good gardener, lots of skill. Can help you get this,” she gestured towards the olive tree and by extension the rest of the overgrown courtyard garden, “under control.”
“For… water?” Adane asked.
“For harvest rights,” Farah said so slyly that Dawud nudged her shoulder with one broad, scarred finger. “What? Always complains nothing to sell at market. Promise half to him, half to you, be glad to do the work for you. Even take some away, put into pots, so room to walk in here.”
Adane opened his mouth. Stared. Shut it again. When he looked at Dawud, Dawud shrugged and looked around the courtyard as if yes, that was a perfectly logical thing to do. Even Chisa just looked back at Adane.
It was a logical thing to do. The two of them really couldn’t handle all the work that the old courtyard would need. Frankly, Adane was fairly certain that they wouldn’t get caught up on the gardening for several years if they didn’t get help.
He was still frightened to let anyone else in. Farah and Dawud were known. Adane trusted them. Chisa liked both of them, too. When the time came, when Adane finally painted proper protective charms around the walls he knew that Dawud and Farah wouldn’t betray him. Farah’s sister’s husband was completely unknown. Who knew what he would say and who he’d say it to?
“Unsure,” Adane admitted finally. “Do not know him. Would… want to meet him, perhaps sister, too. My home, yes, but all new, Farah. We, I, ran because of…”
He shut his eyes. Even now he could remember the crowds screaming, people shouting obscenities and throwing rocks, bottles, rotten fruit. The end had been one long series of humiliations, from being forbidden to go out of the house to receiving rotten food and being required to thank their captors for it. Mother’s terrified face, Father’s despair, it all mixed in with Adane’s desperation to escape.
Years, they’d spent years planning their escape only to have everything go wrong at the last second. He still had no idea whether his parents and older brothers had escaped from the city. Adane had run when Mother had shouted. He’d kept on running until he arrived in Rudrai City. Even now the terror of the weeks of running during the escape made his pulse pound in his ears and his mouth go sour. He swallowed the sand-dryness of his mouth, focusing on the feeling of his aching knuckles locked around the lip of the well.
It was over. He was safe. This was his home, Chisa’s home. No one got to enter if Adane didn’t want them to. From the time he’d been old enough to be allowed out of the house people had spat at him, called him vile names. The war that was inevitably coming would arrive here eventually. Adane didn’t want to invite that abuse until he had protected walls and a secure place to meditate each night.
“It was bad,” Adane continued once he’d swallowed down the urge to scream and hide in a corner of the garden where no one could see him. “Chisa had bad things, too. Don’t, don’t want to risk. Risk strangers. Talk. Gossip. Trust, trust you, trust Dawud. But… Don’t know him.”
“Oh, Adane,” Farah whispered. She nodded, wiping tears out of her eyes that made Adane’s cheeks and ears flare hot. “Will bring them here, let you meet them. Need to choose the wood for the door anyway. It will be fine. Promise. And then will have enough olives and olive oil to make truly wonderful dinners. You will take some!”
She waggled a finger in Adane’s face, laughter in her eyes despite the stern expression. Behind her Dawud nodded his agreement. His smile was strained but honest still. Chisa, bless their innocent soul, just grinned at Adane, unconcerned by Adane’s latest flashbacks. After all, Chisa had their own nightmares that they didn’t discuss.
“All right,” Adane said. “As long as we can meet him first.”
“Good,” Farah said, clapping her hands. “Now come choose the wood for the door. Sister’s husband will come. Meet you. Will all be perfect.”
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