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Lenarai is always busy now. With so many refugees from Itadesh crammed into Itrelir, is neither enough space nor food for everyone. The swell of her belly slows her steps. This pregnancy limits the kinds of food she can cook without feeling queasy. Bread is still good, though. She bakes endless rounds of flatbread.Author's Notes
Children of various ages move around Lenarai in little herds, most of them sticking with their own age-sets, but some mingling across the lines. The raisers are talking about merging some of the smaller age-sets from Itadesh and Itrelir. After the painful losses in the summer fire, people are clinging to each other for comfort, seeking new family ties. Some of the children are barely out of the infant-house, five or six summers old. Some are eleven or twelve, approaching their adulthood tests. All of them are busy finding useful things to do, and pausing to eat whenever they have a free moment.
Tefein stops politely at the edge of the hearth, her dark wild curls floating around her face as the warm air lifts them. "We would like some flatbread, please," she says politely.
Lenarai recognizes the Itrelir girl from her hard work gathering. At nine summers, Tefein seems equally talented at ranger and domestic skills, so there is no guessing which she'll choose as an adult. "How many people are you fetching for?" Lenarai asks.
"Seven," says Tefein.
Lenarai uses a birch spatula to lift the circles of flatbread into a flat basket woven of willow stems. She puts in eight, instead of seven, and Tefein smiles as she voices her thanks.
Tarl comes to the hearth next. He is one of Alainya's age-mates, almost seven summers old. Like many other children of Itadesh, he is still unsettled in this new place. "Can I have some flatbread?" he asks.
"Of course," Lenarai says. "How many people are you fetching for?"
"It's just for me," Tarl says.
With a brisk stroke, Lenarai frees a round of bread from its baking stone and transfers it to a small mat made from grass. "Here you go," she says.
"Only one?" Tarl says. "Tefein got lots!"
Lenarai gives him a warning cough. "Tefein came to get food for her whole age-set, not just herself," she explains. "Good manners get good rewards."
"Oh," Tarl says glumly, looking at his solitary flatbread. His tummy growls.
Lenarai can't blame him; he's a growing boy, and there is just not quite enough food to go around. Her fingers creep up to the cage-bead on her necklace, silent sign of the pregnancy that earns her all she can eat. It makes her feel a little guilty, sometimes, that she doesn't have to go hungry when everyone else is scrimping; but it's vital to replace the people lost in the fire. A lot of women are wearing cage-beads now, and even the shellies who prefer each other's company are taking duty-months with men in hopes of catching a child.
Lenarai sinks to one knee, her woolen dress pulling taut over her belly. She'll need to start choosing larger sizes from the clothes basket soon. "Tarl, the next time you come, you can get food for your whole age-set, and then you'll get an extra round to share with everyone," Lenarai says. "It's important to take care of each other when the world is such a hard place to live in. That's why people need people, and why we have age-sets in the first place."
"Thank you," Tarl says. "I'll try to remember for next time." He scampers away.
Lenarai watches him go, fiercely grateful that her people have survived this long, so that there will be a next time. One hand rests on her burgeoning belly as she turns her attention to preparing the next batch of flatbread for baking.
This story was inspired by the "Teaching children to share" square in the Torn World Muse Fusion card 4-16-14 and the "Bakery" square in my Cottoncandy Bingo Card 2-1-14. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.