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
The old door crumbled under Adane’s fingers as he eased it out of the way. Truly, it was a miracle that the thing had stayed in place for so long. Dawud snorted and shook his head as Adane brushed the dry, rotting wood off his fingertips. Both of them laughed as Chisa, face utterly serious, poked a finger straight through the door and then gasped with stunned delight.
“Careful,” Adane warned Chisa. “Could still get splinters.”
“Useful for compost,” Dawud said as he tore the frame out with his bare hands. It crumbled under his grip, prompting a disgusted snort. “Not much else.”
“Lintel will stay up?” Adane asked. He gently gripped Chisa’s shoulder and pulled them back away from the now unsupported doorway through the wall. “Not dangerous?”
“Nah,” Dawud said. “Frame was just to support the door. Not structural. Old walls like this, real old ones, made so magic doors could be cast. Grandfather told stories. Glowing doors, spells to welcome or repel. Like the rich mansions other side of town.”
“Ah,” Adane breathed.
Now that Dawud had pointed it out, Adane could actually see the old runes around the inner surface of the archway. It wasn’t a spell that he knew but Father had taught Adane years ago how to make door-shields much like the ones Dawud spoke of. Of course, the ones that Adane knew were intended to kill anyone forcing their way in. He certainly couldn’t cast that spell here.
Still, Adane helped clean up the crumbled doorframe, sweeping the splintered bits into a pile that Zakwan could use for compost or not, as he preferred. As Chisa helped Dawud measure the new door frame timbers, Adane traced his fingers over the old runes cut into the stones. Here was Peace, round swirls familiar. That was probably Quiet, logical in a home where other houses were right next door. You would want to be able to muffle noise inside and outside so no one disturbed the others. And that, most definitely, was Death.
Adane’s fingers lingered over the coffin-shaped rune. It still held a whisper of power. Perhaps that was what had kept the Shiraida in all this time. The walls, weakened by time and lack of care, certainly hadn’t done it.
The deep-voiced comment startled Adane. He whirled, heart pounding, only to stiffen even further when he saw the neighborhood’s bane, Bahji the tax assessor, smiling brightly at the three of them with his plump hands folded over his full belly. Adane waved for Chisa to come to his side, pushing it behind him where the child would be safe.
“Old door had dry rot,” Adane said. “Needed replace.”
“Nice work,” Bahji said. His jovial smile didn’t reach the cold, calculating eyes. “Cost much?”
“Nothing,” Adane said. He smiled, just as grim as he wanted to, at Bahji’s surprise and Dawud’s snort of amusement. “Old olive tree in garden. Farah likes olives. She gets olives. We get door. Fair deal.”
“For free,” Bahji said. His lip curled up in a sneer that was immediately followed by a forceful hawk and spit across the alley towards Dawud and Farah’s door.
“Big old olive tree,” Adane said, pointing at the looming branches that could easily be seen over the wall. “Fair deal.”
“That old?” Bahji commented.
He stepped forward, going to pass Adane and saunter into the garden. Adane glowered, stepping to block his way. Bahji tried to step around. Adane countered, hands automatically curling into fists. Behind Bahji, Dawud’s eyes had gone wide. He stood, saw still gripped in his hand, but it was clear that he wouldn’t step in to help, not that Adane needed the help.
“Invited me to see,” Bahji said, his joviality stretching thin and smile thinner.
“No,” Adane said. “Did not invite or approve entry. You are not allowed entry.”
“Rude,” Bahji gasped, right hand fluttering to his chest as if he was shocked that anyone would deny him anything he wanted.
“Illegal,” Adane hissed at him. “Not allowed entry! Chisa not allowed to grant entry or invite in. Stay out.”
Everything smiling disappeared from Bahji’s face. What was left behind was cold, calculating and very, very angry. Adane stood strong, glaring back into Bahji’s glittering eyes even though Dawud had gone pale and Chisa whimpered behind Adane while clinging to Adane’s shirt. The smell of the dry rot mingled with the scent of Bahji’s expensive imported rose oil. It curdled in Adane’s stomach.
After a second Bahji clucked his tongue and took out a little notebook, flipping through pages until he reached a blank one. Adane snorted as Bahji wrote down the date and time, followed by Adane and Chisa’s names.
“Illegal,” Adane repeated.
“Know the law, do you?” Bahji asked. He wrote a one and started adding zeros behind it.
“Yes,” Adane whispered. He leaned closer, letting the sheer rage at Bahji’s behavior show. “I do. Do you? Do you really?”
He said the last sentence in High Tongue. Bahji’s eyes went so wide that Adane smirked at him. It was a dangerous game, revealing what he knew, but he wouldn’t let Bahji break the law and bully them into paying taxes they didn’t deserve. That they couldn’t afford. Adane knew that most of the taxes Bahji collected had to go into his silk-lined pockets, not onwards to the government as they were supposed to.
“You can’t know that,” Bahji replied, the words High Tongue but hissed so badly that they almost shifted into Common.
“Fool,” Adane said. He straightened up, looking down at Bahji who instinctively backed off. “Their Majesties have decreed in Law of Order, Taxes of the Common People, Rules of Behavior, year of the Goddess seventeen-one hundred and three, that Tax Collectors are forthwith and forever banned from entering citizen homes unless a) the owner of the home expressly allows and invites them in or b) they have obtained a legal warrant that lists exactly what will be searched for and where will be searched. Any Tax Collector who attempts to force, intimidate, cajole or otherwise illegally enter the home, property or business of a citizen will be charged with obstruction of their Majesty’s wills, subject to arrest, trial and execution on suspicion of embezzlement of public funds.”
By the time Adane was done proclaiming the law, quoting it as exactly as he could remember, Bahji had backed up against the far wall. His notebook fell out of his hand to the rough cobblestones. Bahji didn’t pick it up again. Adane sneered at the fat, dishonest little man.
“Got a warrant?” Adane asked, deliberately using the roughness of Low Tongue.
“Don’t got a warrant, don’t get to enter,” Adane said. “Get out. Not welcome here, Bahji. You push too hard, I report you. Remember that.”
To his surprise Bahji turned and scurried away. He didn’t look back, didn’t scramble for his notebook. He just ran away like the coward that he was. Adane waited until he disappeared around the next corner and then sighed, tension draining out of him so abruptly that he felt as though he was a puppet whose strings had been cut. Bahji’s notebook held names, times, dates and lots of numbers. Nothing else, not even which tax codes applied.
“Think will report him,” Adane murmured as he flipped through the book. “Don’t think can read.”
“True?” Dawud asked. “What you said. True?”
“Hmm?” Adane asked. He blushed at the sheer awe in Dawud’s eyes. “That. Ah, yes? Not exact quote but yes. Is true. Not allowed in. Not allowed threaten or tease. Breaks the law all the time.”
“You need anything fixed,” Dawud said, his free hand gripping Adane’s arm tightly enough to make Adane flinch. “You ask. Anything! That… Just ask. We make it. Bahji…”
“Corrupt,” Adane agreed. “Um, door?”
Dawud laughed, high and desperate. He nodded and turned back to saw the support timber so vigorously that Adane knelt to hold the other end. Chisa watched and then helped support the other end so that it wouldn’t sag. The growl of the saw was followed by Dawud’s drill as he made holes for the bolts that would secure the frame to the wall. He hammered new iron bolts into place while whispering prayers of thanks and protectiveness that made Adane’s face burn.
It took all three of them to get the door hung properly but once it was up the door swung smoothly, perfectly, into place. Adane smiled, his stomach flipping at the fiercely devoted look in Dawud’s eyes.
“Perfect,” Adane said as he held the door so that Dawud could screw the new lock into place. “Thank you.”
“Thank you,” Dawud murmured. His shoulders were far too tight. Even from the corner of his eye, Adane could see how concerned Chisa looked. “Mean it. Thank you.”
“Always welcome,” Adane replied as formally as he could in Low Tongue. It felt wrong, strange, to be that formal but seeing Dawud look at him that way was far worse. “Friends, yes?”
He could hear the pathetic fear in his voice. Chisa leaned into Adane’s side, wrapping their arms around his waist. Adane smiled down at them, just a flicker of his lips, but it seemed to reassure Chisa. When Adane turned back Dawud had stood and was now staring straight at him. Thankfully, the devotion was gone, replaced with concern.
“Who hurt you?” Dawud asked.
His hand reached out towards Adane, palm up, callouses showing. Adane jerked and backed away, shaking his head. Chisa called something, worried, not frightened, thank the Goddess. Dawud’s hand reached closer but no, it wasn’t Dawud. Police Chief Baird sneered at Adane, his ham-hand streaked with blood.
Adane whirled and ran. It wouldn’t help. He knew it wouldn’t help. It was a memory, only a memory but that fear, the pain, the sure knowledge that Baird would smash Adane’s head in just as he’d smashed little Ruby’s skull even though they’d only been eight, only been walking home together, wouldn’t leave. It would never leave. None of it would leave, not Baird or his officers or the disgust on old Mrs. Hubbert’s face whenever they happened to cross paths. All of it would always lurk in Adane’s mind, waiting to catch him and throw him straight back into the past.
The bedroom was quiet. Calm. Adane curled up on the mattress with its heavy fabric woven of red and gold yarn that felt rough enough to tear skin. His and Chisa’s blankets formed a nice backrest. He looked up at the ceiling, tracing the places where the plaster had cracked, forming the impression of rivers seen far off in the distance from the top of a ridge.
“Okay?” Chisa asked.
Adane’s pulse pounded again. “No, never. Come in. Sorry, Chisa.”
“Dawud said sorry, too,” Chisa said. It sidled in and slowly, carefully, made its way to Adane’s side. “Didn’t mean to scare.”
“Not scared,” Adane said. “Well, some. Looked like wanted to worship at my feet.”
Chisa snickered at the disgust in Adane’s voice. The warmth of Chisa’s body was a huge help in calming the fear still pounding in Adane’s veins. Adane wrapped his arm around Chisa’s thin shoulders. He still didn’t know what genitalia Chisa had been born with. The child had been, understandably given their time on the street, reluctant to let Adane see them naked. Not that it mattered. Chisa was Chisa, no matter what genitalia they had or what gender they chose as an adult.
“Weird,” Chisa agreed. “Not mad?”
“At Dawud?” Adane smiled as Chisa nodded. “No, not mad. Just… people… reached for me. Like that. Bad memories.”
“Mm-hmm,” Chisa agreed. “Thought so. You report Bahji? Get him arrested?”
Adane laughed, letting his head flop back against the stack of blankets. “Should. Breaks the law all the time. Don’t want court. Law court is… bad. Bad memories there. Lots of bad memories.”
Chisa crawled into Adane’s lap, wrapped their arms around his neck. Adane hugged them because Chisa wasn’t a memory. It was a child, a child who needed him, who was right there, real and alive. He needed that, needed the grounding. All the laws he’d learned over the years hadn’t done a damn thing to protect him or his family. People in power broke the law whenever it suited them. The only thing they respected was power and Adane had no power, had no security yet.
“Should go work on the walls,” Adane said eventually.
Chisa pulled back and frowned. “Walls important?”
Whatever Chisa saw in Adane’s eyes, it appeared to be enough to convince them that the walls really were the next important thing to do for their house. Chisa bounced and then rolled out of Adane’s arms and ran towards the door.
“Gonna ask Dawud for advice!” Chisa exclaimed. “Sand and plaster and paint!”
“Wait!” Adane gasped as he scrambled to follow Chisa. “Chisa! Needs to be specific sort of cement, not plaster!”
He ran after Chisa, leaving behind the memories and the fears. They’d be back. They always were. But with Chisa and the house to take care of Adane thought that maybe, just maybe, they wouldn’t haunt him so.
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