13th Day of Harvest Season
Niles is missing. Ellison and Barly rose before the others. They saw his untouched bed and after further inspection, noticed his bag was missing. They assured me he’s disappeared before and he’s always returned. Where the boy goes is a mystery. When he returns, he never speaks about his time away.
“Niles don’t say much to anyone,” Ivette told me later. We had washed and dried the morning dishes and carried them back to the house, and now we were stacking them away. Noreen sat at a table close by, feeding Hugo a bowl of porridge. The mutt waited under Hugo’s chair, dashing out to lick up the spills every few minutes. According to Hilla’s report, Noreen still hadn’t spoken a word. I haven’t given up hope on her. Blessed Sisters, though I don’t know the pain she carries in her heart, I’ve seen even the most severe injuries healed. One day, she may yet speak, or laugh.
“‘Less he’s talking ‘bout weapons. Then he won’t shut up.”
Ivette’s comment brought me back to our conversation. “The plague has robbed something from each of you. Yours homes, your families, your past lives–”
“The smell of elderberry wine on mamma’s breath,” she said quietly and I could feel the longing in her words. A hush fell over the room. Even Hugo stopped babbling and looked at her, his chubby hands unusually still.
“Yes. That, too,” I said, forcing the words past the lump in my throat. I wanted to say more, so much more. I wanted to encourage her to speak. To let the pain out. To begin the healing process.
We worked in silence for a while. After we stored the last dish, we opened the larder and began taking an inventory. Was it a foolish hope? That the girl wanted to talk about her family? I prayed for her to continue and was afraid if I spoke, I might shatter the spell. The children have tasks before them, but a task is a poor replacement for the missing people in their lives. Most of them weren’t ready, though, and I knew this. It would be painful. Even more painful than they imagined. Unfortunately, since the dawn of time, the only way to move forward was to speak to the past. She wasn’t ready.
“Not like he’s missed.”
“Niles. Our self-proplained protector.”
“Self-proclaimed,” I corrected with a smile. “Where did you hear that word?”
“Hilla.” Something in the girl’s voice made me smile. I felt a sense of . . . pride. As if Hilla were my daughter, or granddaughter.
“Are you happy Hilla came to the farm?” I asked her.
“She’s better than Niles. She don’t act strange. She’s nice. She makes sure everyone’s doing sumthin’. Works better that way, don’t it? When everyone’s got sumthin’ to do. Like us.”
“It does indeed,” I answered. We worked that way, side by side, throughout most of the day. After the larders, we checked the fields and all the while, Ivette spoke of the things of childhood. The sounds she heard and the colors she saw. I enjoyed listening to her chatter. She lifted my spirits with her theory of river nymphs and stones. In her presence, it’s easy to forget Imorgan and her spies. It’s easy to forget the tally of the dead in Aramas when you’re around someone so alive.
Hilla and her sister Poppy have taken over Brother Trinn’s healing. He remains feverish, but alive. I spoke with Hilla briefly before retiring. She fears Niles might return to finish the job he started, so she and Poppy take turns staying with him. I don’t share the same concern. According to the other children, Niles disappears often. In any case, I was baffled about how Hilla planned to stop Niles should he appear, though I didn’t ask her. I didn’t want to frighten her.
Ellison has begun training the other boys, and any girl who wishes to learn, how to defend the farm. Master Gryst made quite an impression on the boy the night we arrived. I think Ellison might be trying to prove something to the dwarf. It’s a shame Master Gryst doesn’t see any of it. He still hides in one of the upstairs rooms, making plans. Or sleeping. Perhaps tomorrow I should check on him.
– Jakob Borchain