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 paint smelled of chalk and oil, rank enough that Adane wrinkled his nose while stirring it. Fortunately the smell had already proved to fade rapidly as the paint dried. When he’d painted the wall over the oven pale yellow it had only taken about an hour before the sweet smell of fruit overwhelmed the stink of the paint.
“Ugh,” Chisa groaned. When Adane looked, Chisa was perched on one of the lower branches of the olive tree, one hand over their mouth with the others clustered under their small feet, baskets in hand. “Smells!”
“Yes, it does,” Adane agreed. “Pretty though.”
Farah cleared her throat dramatically and then glowered when Adane looked over his shoulder. “Help?”
“Already told me not to,” Adane reminded her. “Yesterday. And day before. And day before that. Decided to paint instead of get yelled at. Green olives are green.”
Dawud burst into laughter that Zakwan echoed. They leaned against each other while Zakwan’s wife shook her head at them. Ghadir was as small as Zakwan was tall, though twice as curvy. The resemblance to Farah was quite obvious. They shared noses, eyes, masses of black hair that curled over their shoulders when let loose. But Farah, even pregnant, was slim while Ghadir had the full bust and hip, rounded belly, that people found so attractive.
“Smells bad,” Chisa complained.
“Smells fade,” Adane replied. He carefully dipped his smallest paintbrush in the brilliant blue paint before setting to work on a lovely braided border around the stove that would hide a huge number of runes and spells. “Olives are still green.”
Farah muttered something that felt like cursing but probably wasn’t. She stayed firmly on the ground, taking olives from the others, while Zakwan and Dawud climbed ladders and Chisa climbed the tree for the ripe olives that Adane simply couldn’t identify. Despite their grumbles over the smell, the others worked companionably while Adane painted his border and embedded a series of protective runes that would keep the stove from exploding as well as redirecting people’s attention from the courtyard.
“Pretty,” Ghadir commented about an hour later.
“Thank you,” Adane said as he knelt on top of the heavy earth stove’s new iron cooktop so that he could paint a sun symbol full of tiny runes on the chimney.
“Letters?” Ghadir asked. “Symbols? Runes?”
“Ah, yes,” Adane said.
He couldn’t help the instinctive glance towards the closed door to the courtyard. Admitting that some of them were runes made his stomach clench, nausea turning his mouth sour with bile. Ghadir didn’t appear to notice his nervousness. She cocked her head, a basket full of olives resting on her wide hip, as she traced a sun symbol in the air with one finger.
“Means something?” Ghadir asked so dubiously that Adane laughed.
“Yes, prayer,” Adane said. He blinked at the suddenly interested expressions from everyone, even Chisa whose face poked out of the branches entirely too high up the tree. “Chisa! Careful!”
“Am!” Chisa complained. “Good olives up here. Nice and green!”
Adane snorted, gesturing for them to come down further. Farah looked and then squawked, glaring up at Chisa fiercely enough that Adane felt quite justified in his worries over the child. She didn’t waver as Chisa groaned. Neither did Adane. After a grumble that most definitely did include cursing that a child Chisa’s age should never use, Chisa clambered down the tree with a shoulder bag full of ripe olives.
“Not so high next time,” Adane huffed. “Stop my heart, you.”
“Did not,” Chisa complained but its frown was mixed with the shy smile that always marked their delight in having someone care about them. “What says?”
“Prayer?” Adane asked. He chuckled at the curious looks and nods. “Different language but…”
Saying it out loud was supposed to add power to the spell, not that Adane had ever tried it before. Adane bit his lip as he finished the last bit of the final rune, putting dots of blue at the end of each ray of the sun symbol. It was a purely artistic addition but he thought it looked good.
“Hard to translate,” Adane said slowly. “But closest is ‘Blessed Goddess, watch over this home’.” He pointed to the biggest ray then moved around the rest of the symbol, tapping each rune and imbuing them with power as he spoke. “‘Keep us safe. Give us plenty. Heal our wounds. Let peace fall upon us. May joy fill our lives. Let time not part us. In your name.'”
The sun was bright enough overhead to keep the tiny shimmer of the paint from being seen from any kind of distance. Adane barely saw it kneeling right there in front of the painting. He licked his lips, doing his best not to panic at having done magic in front of people. So many times he’d risked magic but never in public, not since he was a tiny child.
That was a bad enough memory that Adane had to shut his eyes, breath slow and careful. Now was not the time for a panic attack. Nor a flashback. A bit later, longer than Adane liked but not so long as to be painfully obvious, he opened his eyes again, glancing at Ghadir who nodded and tapped three fingers to her lips, chest and forehead.
“Nice,” Ghadir comment. “Not poetic.”
“Translated,” Adane laughed. “Not a scholar.”
“Still have your letters!” Zakwan shouted from the top of his latter. “Good enough!”
“Not a scholar!” Adane shouted back.
Laughter echoed through the courtyard. Adane shook his head and went back to decorating the wall behind the chimney. Two more symbols, one for the moon and a second for the ocean, fit nicely on either side of the chimney. The spells worked into them would be good for turning away the attention of powerful people and in bringing good fortune to those in the neighborhood.
“Know our letters?” Ghadir asked.
“Oh yes,” Adane said. “Father taught four languages. Knew nine more. Taught me five. Read all of them.”
“Paint them!” Chisa shouted. They weren’t half so high up on the tree this time but they were entirely too far out from the trunk on a branch that wobbled and creaked alarmingly. “Please!”
“Off the branch!” Adane ordered. “Chisa!”
He put the paint down and hurried over to glare until Chisa followed orders, grumbling. Adane plucked the child off their branch and cuddled them, shaking a little at the thought of Chisa tumbling to their death before they had even chosen a gender. Chisa was so young, so careless of their health, that it hurt Adane’s heart.
“Please be careful,” Adane murmured, pressed his forehead against Chisa’s. “Please. Worry for you.”
Chisa’s breath hitched in a suppressed sob that Adane felt more than heard. They nodded, just a tiny little thing before clinging to Adane’s neck as if they never wanted to let go. Farah cleared her throat, nodding towards the paintbrush and paint that Adane had left behind.
“Maybe Chisa can paint?” Farah suggested.
“Shiraida!” Chisa exclaimed, instantly delighted by the thought of it. Tears still gleamed in its eyes but there was joy too.
“No,” Adane groaned. “Not Shiraida everywhere.”
“No, not everywhere,” Chisa said. It waved its arms dramatically, squirming until Adane put it down. “Low, along ground. Like crawling through bushes!”
Adane stared at Chisa, laughter warring with horror. “People will see them. Run away screaming.”
Chisa’s grin spread until Adane could see all their teeth. Their small hands clenched into triumphant fists while Zakwan and Dawud cackled from their ladders. Farah groaned, one hand against her forehead, the other over her belly. To Adane’s surprise, Ghadir nodded thoughtfully.
“Makes sense,” Ghadir said. “Is Shiraida House.”
Adane threw up his hands in defeat. He spent an hour or so sketching stylized Shiraida for Chisa to paint all around the base of the wall. Chisa didn’t have the precision to paint them perfectly but he could fill in the outlines well enough that Adane would be able to go back later and paint in details, runes, whatever he chose. It did keep the child from climbing the tree and giving Adane heart attacks.
By the time that was done it was dinner time. Ghadir and Farah brought a big pot of stew from Farah’s house along with several stacks flat bread decorated with beautiful pressed in designs. Washing the paint off Chisa took long enough that Adane was fairly certain that it would all be gone but once they were clean, though still clothed in paint-and cement-splotched shirts, he found that Farah had saved some for them.
“Thank you,” Adane said. “Plenty of fruit for dessert, too.”
“Reach over and pick it,” Dawud agreed with a contented grin. “Pay you for a symbol like that? Pretty. Nice to have in the kitchen.”
“Our house, too,” Zakwan agreed. “Like the moon symbol.”
Adane stared at them, heart pounding in his throat. His spoon dropped out of his hands into the stew, startling Adane out of his cascading memories and back into the current moment. He swallowed down the lump in his throat, took a bite of the sweet and sour stew and then shrugged one shoulder.
“Could,” Adane said. “After finish all the murals here. Got lots planned.”
“Should paint letters,” Ghadir declared so fiercely that Adane raised an eyebrow at him. “No one learns letters here. No one learns reading. Put them where people can see. Tell them what they mean. Would help everyone.”
“That… would be easy,” Adane said. He looked towards the door, still unpainted, and thought about the rough outer surface of the wall. “But… thought it was illegal to paint colors on walls.”
“Not illegal,” Ghadir said with a scowl so fierce that Zakwan tugged her closer. “Cheap landlords won’t paint. Whole neighborhood had color. Lots of color! Walls and doors and rooms. Now only the doors. Soon even those plain. Landlords too cheap, won’t paint. Don’t care!”
It made sense. Other areas of town had plenty of color. Frequently walking down a street was like walking through a rainbow, red walls and blue, green and orange. The better the neighborhood the more beautiful the outer walls were. It really was only this poor section of town that had no paint on the walls, rundown plaster and cobblestones that tripped rather than smoothing your way.
“Could,” Adane said, glancing towards Chisa. He laughed at the pure delight on Chisa’s face. “All right. Will. Inside first, though. Then simple ones outside. Maybe with pictures of sounds associated with letters.”
He laughed at the confused expressions on Chisa, Ghadir and Dawud’s faces. They clearly had no idea what he meant. Farah, on the other hand nodded as if she understood but her eyes had gone squinty with confusion. And Zakwan’s fierce beard hid any signs of confusion that might linger around his mouth.
“Here,” Adane said, using the handle of his spoon to sketch ‘adh’ in the dirt of the closest bit of unpaved courtyard. “This is ‘adh’. It is the sound of ‘ah’, like ‘Adane’. Add ‘deh’, then ‘adh’ again, then ‘nehr’ and it is ‘Ah-de-ah-ne’, my name. ‘Shi’ and ‘sa’ means Chisa. All writing is, all it has ever been, is sounds made visible.”
Slipping into Common was automatic. Low Tongue just didn’t have the flexibility to explain the terms he needed, much less the clarity. Blunt and direct, Low Tongue was intended for simple orders, even if everyone here used it for all their communication. They’d stretched the dialect and molded it until it had become something beautiful in its own right.
“Me?” Chisa breathed. “Really?
“Mm-hmm.” Adane nodded, fluffing Chisa’s mop of tight curls. “You. And me. Anything said can be written. Just need letters and then you’re good.”
“Paint them,” Ghadir whispered. She had tears shining in her eyes. “Share them with everyone. Please?”
Adane blushed and nodded. “Will. But first the inside! Want the inside and then can do the outside. And maybe paint symbols for you, too. Later. Okay?”
He avoided meeting their eyes, any of their eyes, other than Chisa’s. Even from the corners of his eyes Adane could see the worship and approval. It made him so desperately uncomfortable that he focused on eating Farah’s delicious stew, sopping up the sauce with bits of bread carefully torn to bite-sized chunks.
After a minute or two Chisa scooted closer, pressing against Adane’s side. Somehow the worshipful look in Chisa’s eyes wasn’t as difficult to handle. Adane remembered feeling that way about his father. Even all these months later Adane knew that he would feel, look, much like Chisa if his parents suddenly appeared at the door. Though honestly, he doubted anymore whether they would show up. After months with no sign of his parents or brothers, Adane could only believe that they’d been killed or captured.
He was on his own in this new land.
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