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A Pretty Girl

The next few weeks were an endless parade of sick people seeking help from Tarra. She set up an infirmary in the shop space and had as many as three people at a time on the table. Caran stayed in her room while others came and spent time lying on the table basking in the care of Tarra’s gentle hands. Some got better, but many did not.

Tarra collected plants and seeds from everything she could before the gardeners pulled them up. She then set about trying to figure out if she could use it for anything practical. Those that the rabbits wouldn’t eat she treated with additional reverence drying and grinding them into teas and poultices. Most didn’t do anything except make her skin red or upset her stomach. It was a slow process of trial and error, but it kept her busy while Caran recovered. Tarra wouldn’t leave her company except to gather samples and disposes of rejected research.

As the months passed, the gardens slowly came under control and the ailing among the villagers eventually found a way to be productive. The savanna provided game and the gardens supported the village sparingly, but the sun continued to punish their days relentlessly.

After much haggling over ownership, nearly everyone agreed to use their tent panels to cover the central plaza making a twilight patio for communal gatherings. The shade was welcome but it blocked air circulation, so fires were a tightly controlled proposition. In time, a more stable set of ladders and hoists leading up the cliffs were rigged and life became a settled regimen for the villagers.

Caran sat on the work platform weaving a basket. “You should go and visit your friends. I am fine here with my work.”

Tarra arranged a couple of trinkets she had set in the alcove near the door. “I have no friends to visit. They all think I’m some kind of witch because of the herbs and things. They treat me differently now. They like it when I help them, but they don’t treat me as a friend.”

“You’ve chosen a difficult path. I think your father prepared you as well as he could, but it won’t be easy. If you continue on this course, you’ll have to make new bonds with these people. You’ve grown into a beautiful woman; perhaps one of the young men would please you.”

“No, I don’t want a boyfriend; I am fine here with you.”

“Suit yourself, but I don’t want you to stay here just to tend me. I get around pretty well here in my shop. As long as no one moves anything without telling me, I’m fine.” She rearranged the pile of weaving strips and resumed her task.

“Did you mean it when you said I was pretty?”

“Child, you’re probably the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known. Even without eyes I’m stunned by your beauty.” Caran put her basket aside and turned to drape her legs off the table. She stretched out her arms. “Come here.”

Tarra hesitated a moment but went into her arms. They hugged tightly for several moments. “I may be blind now, but I’ve seen you. I’ve seen the way the boys look at you. You were a very pretty girl and now you’re a beautiful woman.” She held Tarra’s face in her hands and gently traced her features. They kissed tenderly and remained silently transfixed. Caran ran her hands down her neck and shoulders then squeezed her arms firmly drawing her close. “You’ve given me this time, and I’m grateful, always.”

“I wish I could do more.” She spoke softly after several moments. “You’ve—completed me.”

“Oh child, I wish that were true, but I’m afraid you still have much to learn. I’m sorry that I’ll not be a part of it.”

“Don’t say that, you’ll always be part of my life.” They hugged again quickly and Tarra stepped away from the platform pulling her robe into place. “I think I’ll see what’s going on in the plaza. The sun will be down soon and people will be gathering for jobs.”

“Good. I’ll be fine here. Remind Chilcoat, if you see him, that he has the kids.”

Tarra wandered around the plaza greeting people and checking on patients. Everyone seemed to be on the mend. No new cases were reported and everyone was stabilized and coping well with their afflictions. The weeding and cultivating was underway and new social bonds were starting to form. Her status as a witch had grown among the children to the point that the young ones stopped and stared at her when she walked by, and the older children pointed and whispered. The young men treated her like a priestess and the young women treated her as a threat, but everyone treated her with a new respect that rested uneasily on her. She knew these people; they had always treated her as a little girl and now they only spoke to her as a physician.

She walked slowly around the central platform tracing her hand along the carvings. The little figures danced and played in strange erotic puzzles. I wondered what they represent. Did Papa ever talk about dancing figures? I don’t recall anything, but maybe Chilcoat or Lan will remember something. She looked carefully at the figure under her hand. She couldn’t be sure, but it looked as though a short fat man was enjoying a one-way conversation with a shorter, fatter woman. Tarra reflected on the fact that people spent a lot of time thinking about sex as she traced the outline of the little figures.

“Got it figured out?” Lannon approached dressed in his hunting gear.

“What’s to figure out? Men are always carving statues of naked women.”

“Well, it’s better than naked men.” He poked at the little fat man.

“You going hunting?”

“Yeah, there’s a bunch of us are going to give it a go... You want to come?”

“No, I don’t want to get caught with you bunch of hooligans stomping around in the bushes at night. I think I’ll work in the gardens like a good girl.”

“Is that you—a good girl?” He scoffed. “I always had you pegged as a troublemaker.” He stroked the snake tail on his headband and headed out across the plaza toward the group of intrepid hunters gathering near the stairway.

“Don’t do anything foolish!” She called out to him.

“Yes Mom.” He mocked her concern.

She traced the carving again and moved on toward the social hall. The long counter along the far wall was usually where all the ’leaders’ gathered. It was a good-old-boys club where the old men would talk, drink, and gamble. To her surprise, Chilcoat wasn’t among them. I wonder what he’s found that’s more important than hanging out with his buddies. He must be hiding up in the gardens.

She found him just as the first stars peeked through the gray evening. He was standing out in the middle of one of the fields poking something with his walking staff. The children were kneeling at his feet tugging on some vines.

“What’s up?” She called from the nearby path.

“The kids found a hole.”

“A hole—what kind of hole?”

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out. It’s square; I’ve never seen anything like it. These vines have choked it. I hope they’re nothing you want because I don’t see any way to save them and still clear the hole.”

“No, they’re just gourd vines; we have plenty of them growing around the cisterns. Caran asked me to remind you that you have the kids tonight.” She shouted as she turned to leave.

“Is she OK?” He called back, trying not to alarm the children. He poked his spear down the hole to distract them. Tarra didn’t answer so he continued involving the children in exploring the mystery.

He wondered at the size and shape of similar shafts they found scattered around the garden. They, like the stonework at the winter temple, were beyond anyone’s ability. “The Shanare were an amazing people,” he said to no one, as he worked to clear the vent of his own house. He and the children made quick work of it and were soon in the kitchen cleaning up the debris and building a small fire.
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