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It rained as if to make up for the dry sunny weather that had spelled doom for Itadesh.
Mostly, it only rained downwards - sweeping washes of soaking rain, straight downward. But some days, the weather would mix things up and add wind; the same soaking rain, but instead of bouncing off of hoods and sleeves, driving in underneath and drenching hair and skin. It was almost cold enough to be snow. Almost, but not quite.
Now, it was tapping out rhythmic patterns on Kativa's hood, slow but steady. "It's not fair," she grouched. "Winter is supposed to be cold. Cold and dry and still. It's supposed to rain in the summer, when it's warm. Or not at all." She tugged her hood closer to her face, and had a pang of grief for her thick winter gear - now only dust and ashes in the burnt ruins of their home. They'd have to scramble to make winter clothing for everyone again. Already, the elders were taking stock of what was left, and shaking their heads with unsettled worry. They'd have shelter at Itrelir, at least, but it would not by any means be a comfortable winter. "It's not fair," she repeated.
"Nothing's fair, Kativa," Tolnam teased her. "You say that twice a week - haven't you gotten used to it yet?" He acted like nothing had happened between them, and Kativa let him, stuffing all of her frustration aside to joke as if he didn't leave her feeling like pins and needles inside. Her courses had come, to her mixed relief, and her necklace was bare again as they pulled up the temporary tents and struck out for Itrelir.
On her other side, Kether chose to join the mocking. "You know no one listens to Kativa - not even herself."
Kativa muttered, but forced a crooked grin to each side for them. "I just want it to be not fair in my favor, for once," she said plaintively. She hated it when she caught herself whining. Ungrateful, she scolded at herself. They hadn't lost everything, at least.
They were walking briskly on foot, three abreast, leading laden snowies who minded the rain much less than they did.
"It won't be so bad," Kether offered peacefully. "Itrelir has extra space. We'll harvest whatever we can along the way, and by the time we get there we'll all be so fat we have to roll the last mile."
"You, maybe," Tolnam quipped. "The way Lenerai gets you seconds..."
"Look," Kether said, pointing. "Marda wants you."
Marda rode ahead of them in the line on a sledge, and was gesturing with a frail arm.
When Kether would have come with her, Kativa snapped, "I think I can find my own way," and promptly felt bad about it. She shrugged as she quickened her steps, and offered an apologetic half-smile back over her shoulder. Kether only nodded - looking as immovable and partly amused as ever.
She caught up with the sledge and matched it in speed, giving Marda a smile. "What do you need?"
"Very little," Marda replied solemnly, and Kativa tried to decide if she was joking - she always did have a dry sense of humor. She laughed and waited for Marda to come to the point; she would eventually.
"I am not getting younger." It was a quiet statement of fact; there was no plea for pity in it, or any urgency, but it unsettled Kativa.
Kativa sighed. She knew what this meant.
Marda had begun to worry, over the summer. She didn't like the weather patterns, she didn't like the way the berries were coming in, or the fish were running. She still appeared as sharp and clever as ever, but she had begun to slow down physically, and Kativa knew that even slight movement caused her great pain now. The days of travel were not helping, and Kativa often winced to watch the tiny woman do the simplest tasks.
To Kativa's surprise, Marda didn't mention the empty space in Kativa's necklace or hint that it was long past time for her to be producing children. "What kinds of clouds are those?" Marda asked patiently.
Many years ago, Kativa had made a fuss about the fact that she thought she heard something during a disturbance in the Other-weather. Given the fact that Marda was her great-aunt, and the last person in Itadesh with those gifts, the old woman had taken Kativa to tray in the art. Stubbornly, any talent that Kativa might have had refused to surface. Other-weather seemed to mimic 'real' weather, and in lieu of being able to coax Kativa to develop a sensitivity to Other-weather, Marda would drill her on how real weather behaved, so that she would at least have to tools to predict Other weather when (if!) her gifts developed.
"Rain clouds," Kativa said sulkily. She gave the technical word for them, and before Marda could prompt her, rattled off the theories that the older woman had painstakingly drilled into her. "Their level and density indicates steady rain for several hours at least." She pointed. "It thins to the northeast, and in other areas locally. Temperatures are near freezing, but not near enough to turn to snow overnight. Not quite."
"And the Other-weather?"
"I don't hear anything."
Kativa closed her eyes and half-heartedly listened. Snowy hoofbeats. Rain... endless, monotonous, mad-making rain. Distant, indiscernible chatter from a few villagers strung out in their travel line. Running water somewhere rather far away. Wind down the mountains and in the sparse, thin spruces. They had broken away from the thick forest cover yesterday, and were headed over a tundra ridge and across a valley towards Itrelir.
"Listen," Marda encouraged. "Block out the sounds of your ears."
One by one, Kativa identified the sounds and tried to stifle her frustration. "I don't hear anything."
Marda didn't sigh or make any sound of impatience. "You're too uptight, too tense, child. You have to relax. The sounds will come to you."
Kativa mentally gnashed her teeth at the term... child. She hadn't been a child in years, and while it was Marda's right as one of the oldest to call anyone she wished a child, there was an insult there. She tried to squash her annoyance; Marda didn't mean offense by it, she was absolutely sure.
She squashed her eyes shut as tight as they would go, willing the pattern of background noise to go away. It seemed to fade, with concentration, but nothing else replaced it.
After a while, she let the breath she was holding out in frustration and shook her head. "Nothing," she said.
"I hear nothing, either." Marda shrugged, and Kativa felt cheated.
"Then why -"
"I want to make sure you aren't hearing only when you wished to hear," Marda said dismissively.
Kativa wanted something to chew on, but resisted her lower lip and only glared out at the darkening rain from their mount.
"We'll be stopping for the night, soon," Marda said peacefully, perhaps sensing Kativa's resentment. "Go spend time with your age-mates again. We will listen again tonight." She pulled her hood down more closely around her, dismissive.
Kether and Tolnam were talking quietly together when she dropped back to find them, and she barged into their conversation with a frustrated, "That was a waste of time."
They let their own talk go. "What did she want?" Tolnam asked.
"Practice in futility," Kativa groaned. "She wanted me to hear what wasn't even there."
"She's been sort of funny about things the last few months. Her mind may be going." Tolnam gave the rude word for it. Kether gave him a fist to the shoulder and scowled, disapproving.
"It is not," Kativa said sharply, to her own surprise. "She's still every bit on top of things," she insisted defensively. "She's just..." she sighed. "She's just careful, that's all. She wants to check and double-check everything."
"Which is guaranteed to drive jump-before-looking Kativa up a tree," Tolnam joked.
"Up a tree and back again," Kativa agreed automatically, distracted. She was aware that her propensity towards impulsive behavior was not always an asset, but she couldn't deny that it existed.
A blast of cold wind had her pulling her hood closer around her ears, and she altered her stride so she wasn't in easy talking range with her age-mates. She seemed to have caught Marda's worry: all the patterns seemed wrong. Things were wrong between her and Kether and Tolnam. The weather was wrong. Walking to Itrelir, when they ought to be preparing for winter in Itadesh - poor, burned Itadesh! - was wrong.
And she didn't know how to make any of it right.