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"Well, haruu, you," Lenarai said gently, kneeling carefully out of consideration to the little bump of her belly and the strange looseness of her joints.
She hadn't declared as a gatherer when she graduated with the rest of her age-set, but she knew a plant that was growing where it shouldn't when she saw it. The little onion plant was already putting out stubborn little flowers, mindless of the fact that it was in an utterly unsuitable place. These top onion plants could be eaten fresh this early, but it was a waste, when later they would make handfuls of tiny, surprisingly strong onions that could be dried for the long winter. But here, in the middle of Itadesh, as hectic as things were getting as everyone was packing to travel away to their summer gather spots, it was sure to be trampled underfoot before any of the blooms could become delicious onions. It was a minor miracle that it had survived this long, and was surprisingly healthy-looking, with bright green spikes of leaves and little cones of pale purple reaching for the sunlight.
The idea of onions felt disgusting to Lenarai right now - almost any food did. But at the end of the summer, when they returned, she knew she would want them, so she dug into the soil, already packed hard by foot traffic, and freed the plant's roots with gentle fingers.
Maalon was already in the garden, preparing all the plants as best she could for a summer of riotous growth and all-night sunlight. She would browbeat one of the few domestics who would be staying at Itadesh through the summer into coming through to rip out the worst of the weeds once or twice through the season, but the plants that would survive would have to be hardy and determined. Lenarai thought that this little onion plant had already proved to be both of those, and she tucked it into a corner that Maalon indicated with a loving little smile.
"We can only give them a good start," Maalon cautioned. She was a veteran of many disappointments, when it came to planting, but the herbs she managed to nurture were always highly appreciated, and it was nice not having to venture far away to get them for their short season.
Lenarai fingered the cage-bead at her throat, her other hand over the faint swell of her belly. "That's all we can do," she agreed.
# # #
Lenarai hadn't gone to see the ruins of Itadesh, and could only imagine it from the tales of those who had. The village was only cold ashes, now. Cold, wet ashes, as the sky itself seemed to spit rounds of tears over the camp. It cleared for a day or two, allowing the salvage crews a chance to pick anything useful that they could from the burnt timbers and fallen trees.
Lenarai put a hand over her belly as the baby inside shifted faintly and frowned. Kalitelm was enforcing rest on her, not happy with the cramping that had accompanied this child in the last few tendays, but it left too much time to sit and think about the people they had lost... and the food they had lost. Of all of them, she needed to worry the least; if there were any food shortages, the elders and the infertile would take the smaller rations. And she knew that Tekoth would make sure that she ate regularly, whether she willed it or not. Worse than the idea of going hungry was the idea of not going hungry, while all her loved ones around her did.
"Lenarai!" Maalon looked as exhausted and heartsick as they all did, and she limped badly; a fall earlier that summer had hurt her back more than she liked to admit. But a tiny smile on her face was a spot of brightness in the gray day, and it gave Lenarai a little lift to see it.
A little cloth gather bag was pressed into her hands, smelling strongly of onions and she started to protest. It was too soon for her to be getting special treatment; they had barely taken stock of the stores by this point, and the salvage crews found new treasure in the burnt ruins every day to give the villagers hope.
"The rest of the garden was a loss," Maalon said matter-of-factly, settling to the ground beside Lenarai with a groan. "But your little onion plant managed to weather the fire and put out a fresh crop of flowers."
Lenarai loosened the ties of the bag and looked in with astonishment. The tiny top onion buds were not fully ripe, but they would still be a delicious garnish to a meal for many of them, and for the first time since they had received the awful news about Itadesh, the pregnant domestic felt a little ray of hope.
"It wasn't really my onion plant," she felt obligated to protest.
"You gave it a good start," Maalon said in reply.
The smile felt unfamiliar on Lenarai's face after the last few days. "It's all I could do," she said softly.
Inspired by a prompt from the January 2014 Muse Fusion - and also by the characters of Lenarai and Maalon, and in no small part by a tough little wild chive plant I found growing in my driveway two summers ago. It was successfully transplanted to my own little garden.