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
Zakwan hummed, too loud and dramatically off tune, as he carefully dug up one of the smaller shrubs in the center of the courtyard. He was big, big enough that Adane and Chisa had both cringed at that first meeting, but the man was so gentle that Adane marveled at his incorrect first assessment. Looming a good head and a half over everyone else, Zakwan’s hips were wider than Farah’s, bust bigger, but he had a beard that rivaled Dawud’s fiercest scruff and a nose that had been broken so many times that it was virtually flat.
“Will live?” Chisa asked from the other side of the pot that Zakwan planned to put the shrub in.
“Should,” Zakwan said, his voice high and sweet. “No guarantees but should. Plenty of good soil, nice size pot. Give it a good spot on the roof garden. Should live.”
“Berries?” Chisa asked.
Their excited grin made Adane laugh. The child had developed a huge fondness for berry cobbler ever since Farah made some to celebrate the completion of their new door. All Chisa had talked about since then was growing their own berries so that they could have berry cobbler ‘every day’.
“Not for a year.” Zakwan laughed at Chisa’s crestfallen expression. “Takes time for the shrub to root. Then grow. Takes at least a year, good care, before berries. Tilt pot my way.”
Adane came over and helped wrestle the heavy weight of the root ball out of the ground and then up into the pot. He wasn’t at all sure how Zakwan would get the heavy thing up to their brand new roof garden but then Zakwan did have some very efficient carts spelled to float. Perhaps that would work. Or they could rig a rope sling and pulleys.
“Good,” Zakwan murmured once the shrub was securely potted, soil filled in around the edges. “Should be just fine.”
“How much else?” Adane asked. He brushed Chisa off first, grinning at the child’s impatient grumbles.
“Not much,” Zakwan replied. “Want to clear the wall, yes?”
“Yes,” Adane said.
He stared at the still crumbling wall, itching to get new cement into the exposed bricks, new plaster over that and then protective runes over the top of that. Their home would be so much more secure once the wall was reinforced. Though frankly, Adane worried less about the cement and more about getting the runes up. He’d planned out a dozen different ways of unobtrusively adorning the walls, runes worked into the murals, so that no one would realize just how much magic he’d worked.
“This afternoon,” Zakwan said. He grinned at Adane’s start of surprise. “Should be done pruning this afternoon. Can start work after that. Should rebuild the oven, too.”
“On the plan,” Adane agreed. “Walls first, then well enclosure, then oven, then bath house. And plaster the house. Ceilings, walls. New floor downstairs. And cobblestones outside, too.”
Zakwan rolled his eyes at that. Everyone in the area wanted the cobblestones repaired but none of them had the money to make it happen. It was a constant subject of discussion when people went to the well or market. Adane was pretty sure that they’d all resigned themselves to stumbling over the broken, uneven road. No one expected him to actually fix the road around the house.
He would still do it someday.
Just not yet. Safety, security and comfort at home came first. Chisa tugged Adane’s shirt as Zakwan bent and then hefted the shrub, pot and all. They both stared as Zakwan calmly walked into the house and up the stairs towards the roof garden. Adane watched until Zakwan emerged on the roof, shrub dancing over his head.
“How?” Adane murmured.
“So strong!” Chisa agreed. “Wanna be that big and strong!”
Adane laughed as he pulled Chisa into a hug and kissed their cheek. No surprise, Chisa tasted of dirt and green leaves today. They’d both need baths tonight. And certainly their clothes would need a solid scrubbing. At least Chisa had finally gotten to the point where they allowed Adane to see them naked. The child’s genitalia was between male and female, shy about it, but apparently hadn’t been raped during their time on the street.
“Maybe will be,” Adane said. He chuckled as Chisa cooed and snuggled in his arms. “Maybe not. Don’t know. Will always be my bit of sand.”
Chisa groaned, pushing free of Adane’s arms but they grinned brightly enough that Adane didn’t feel the need to apologize for being so sentimental.
He stood again, looking over the courtyard and nodding. It looked far better, thank goodness. Instead of a mass of greenery that was nearly impossible to see through, there were clear paths through the shrubs. The olive tree still needed a good trimming but Farah had been quite insistent about wanting as big of an olive harvest as possible this year.
Their courtyard looked more like a garden than a private home. Zakwan had been quite serious about staking up branches and supporting tree limbs so that the weight of the fruit wouldn’t break them. Adane still hoped that they’d get a bit more open space after the harvest but for now it was all right. They could move and the ripening fruit did lend a wonderfully sweet scent to the air, day and night.
“We got cement?” Chisa asked.
“Cement, sand and everything for the walls,” Adane agreed. “Once got a clear path, can fix. Finally!”
“Fix anyone else’s walls?” Chisa asked much more doubtfully.
Adane made a face, rubbed the back of his neck. “Maybe. But for money, not trade. Hard work. Rather not do that forever.”
“Thank you,” Chisa groaned, dramatically flinging their arms around Adane’s waist and making sad kitten eyes up at him.
It took another two hours for Zakwan to declare himself satisfied with the pruning around the walls. After that, it took another hour of grumbling and adjustments to the plants for Adane to be satisfied that they would have the room they needed to work. Getting a full yard of space between the plants and the walls took far more effort than Adane had expected but Zakwan was just as determined to keep the growing fruit as Farah was to keep the olives.
“Will be trimming once harvested,” Adane huffed at Zakwan while mixing the first batch of cement for the wall.
“Fine,” Zakwan grumbled. “Waste the fruit. Waste next year’s harvest.”
“Too big already,” Adane countered. “Already said so. Save the clippings. Root them out. Don’t care. Will be trimming further!”
Chisa giggled at them both, hands already wet with cement from their amateur efforts to help Adane mix. As Zakwan grumbled and fussed with the olive tree, Adane helped Chisa make a proper mix of cement. At this point smoothness was beside the point so he showed Chisa how to squish the cement into the cracks between the bricks, hopefully holding them together for another few generations.
“Fun!” Chisa laughed as they worked to fill all the holes left behind by the Shiraida on the bottom of the wall.
“Get it deep,” Adane answered as he worked over Chisa’s head. “Will hold the wall together.”
“Still fun,” Chisa replied.
Their efforts were more focused after that, though. Instead of just playing with the cement, Chisa worked hard to actually fill the holes left behind. Chisa even managed to create a reasonably smooth surface before moving on to a particularly big hole. Zakwan frowned, leaning over Chisa’s head to stare at the hole.
“Need rocks for those?” Zakwan asked.
“Would help,” Adane said. He stood on his tiptoes to get the top of the wall, just barely managing to get the cement into the cracks. “Step stool would help, too.”
Zakwan laughed. “Be right back. Got what you need.”
Adane raised an eyebrow, looked at Chisa who shrugged and then went back to work on the next section. They really didn’t have too long to get the cement into place before it set. Working quickly was important. Chisa helped fill in the middle of the wall between its gaping hole and the area Adane shifted to. Between the two of them they managed to get another two yards covered in cement, more or less levelly, before Zakwan returned.
“This help?” Zakwan asked.
He held a big bucket full of round stones that had probably at one point been cobbles. The other hand supported a sturdy step ladder that was four steps high. Adane blinked, grinned and then nodded.
“Lots!” Adane said. “Thank you!”
“Always welcome,” Zakwan laughed. “Especially to rocks. Got too many of them at home. Street’s falling apart.”
He helped Chisa fill the holes along the bottom of the wall, pretty quickly sighing and smiling wryly at Adane. With his bulk, Zakwan barely fit in the space that Adane had insisted on between wall and plants. Chisa slipped in easily, of course, but Zakwan knocked fruit down multiple times.
“How much do?” Zakwan asked.
“Mmm, this wall,” Adane said thoughtfully. “Side to side. Would be good to get all but not enough cement. Next few days can keep working. Then second coat, smooth one. Then work outside. Can be rough there.”
“Lots of cement,” Zakwan said as if he thought the expense was indefensible.
“Wall falls down if not,” Adane snorted.
Zakwan barked a laugh, looking at the hole that he and Chisa were currently working to fill. It was nearly big enough for Chisa to curl up in, the bricks long since crumbled to dust under the Shiraida’s snapping claws. Adane still found it hard to believe that the wall hadn’t collapsed utterly there. The magic built into it was probably all that had saved it.
“Why smooth?” Chisa asked. “Can just be rough, yes?”
“Well, yes,” Adane said, not meeting their eyes. “Thought I’d paint murals. Always did like murals.”
“Can paint, too?” Zakwan asked, so blatantly staring at Adane that his cheeks went hot. “Read, know the law, solve generations old mysteries, give free water away and painting, too?”
“It’s not… I’m not!” Adane protested. He rolled his eyes as Chisa giggled and pointed at the blush on Adane’s face. “Law was survival. Had to know it or get killed back home. Read, well, yes, but Father was scholar. Didn’t have a choice there. Mystery was Chisa, not me. Just found a way to fix problem. And water was just so that tax man stays away. You know that!”
Zakwan laughed at the finger that Adane shook at him. “Still amazing. Know so much, do so much. No wonder Dawud thinks you’re royal.”
That startled Adane so much that he nearly fell off the step ladder. He spluttered at Zakwan, whining desperately when Chisa’s lips pursed and their eyes went wide with awe. Royalty? How could anyone think that he was royalty? Adane was as far from royalty as it was possible to be, short of being a street rat like Chisa.
“No,” Adane finally managed to say. “No. No! No, no, no. No! Not royalty. Not important. Just trying hard to live life. Give Chisa good life. That’s all. Nothing special at all.”
“Are, too,” Zakwan retorted, snorting at the way Adane sagged. “Not royal, maybe, but kind, gentle, smart, loving. Good person, Adane. More important be good than be royal.”
“Very good!” Chisa cheered, throwing their hands up and nearly painting Zakwan’s beard with the cement.
“Less talk, more work,” Adane protested. “Cement will set soon. Must get into place now!”
He set to work at twice the pace he’d used before. The blush didn’t leave his cheeks for a long, long while. Both Zakwan and Chisa grinned at him, eyes far too knowing. They worked too, fortunately leaving conversation behind as they worked to place the cement before it set. Adane whispered silent prayer to the Goddess for that. The last thing he needed was more rumors about how ‘incredible’ he was. It wouldn’t be too long before someone realized that he was a mage and came after him.
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