Chapter 5

The next morning, as it turned out, came just at
its usual time and was just as chaotic as Jade had anticipated. Everyone was
preparing to go to the festival. And everyone was excited too, which made Jade
feel sick because she knew that somewhere in that jumble of humans downstairs
was Khana, and he was excited too. Jade didn’t want to ruin things for him
because of her own selfish desire to not go, but…this whole thing was too
risky. She smelled a friendship brewing, or at least what Khana thought was
one, and she didn’t like it.
            But with no other options,
Jade remained in her room, hoping they would forget her. But Khana didn’t.
            Jade heard Mrs. Berkley
calling her from outside the door and knew that she had to go. She grumpily
dragged herself off of the bed and to the door, when she pushed slowly past the
portly old woman, not waiting for the inevitable explanation. Mrs. Berkley
pursed her lips, then opened them halfway as if about to say something, then
seemed to change her mind and turned to follow Jade.
            Jade slipped into a corner as
a steady stream of excited orphans flowed out the door with their partners at
their side. Jade slumped against the wall and tried to hide as she spotted
Khana, who was desperately swinging his head from side to side with a broken
expression on his face. He looked so young and sad that, right then, he almost
reminded Jade of how she had been before she had become callused to the world
the pain it brought.
            To her surprise she felt pity
for him, but also a sense of neutrality, as though she did not care one way or
another. As she dropped her arms her sides, she hit her wrist on the table that
was about a foot to her left. She let out a soft exclamation of surprise at the
small pain, but it was not too soft to elude Khana’s hearing. He whirled
around, and his face lit up as he recognized the slouched form in the corner as
Jade, who let out a small groan and forced herself to walk over to him.
            “Hello!” Khana said
enthusiastically, grinning from ear to ear.
            Jade closed her eyes for a
moment in acknowledgement, then continued to stare at nothing.
            “Aren’t you excited? This will
be so much fun!” Khana clasped his hands in front of him and waited expectantly
as he looked at Jade, still grinning.
            Jade wanted to say, “in all
honesty, no.” But she couldn’t say that, so she opted for the neutral response.
She shrugged.
            Khana blinked. Then he let
loose a torrent of joyful babbling, too excited to contain himself.
“You haven’t gone before, right? Right. You told me that. Why did I ask? You’ll
have fun, I promise! There’s food and games and the lights, oh, the lights! And
they roast this huge pig”—he spread
his arms wide— “in the center of the town over an enormous bonfire and it’s all
juicy and glistening and then they give everyone a nice piece of it to taste! I
think it’s so the adults will think it is great and want to buy a bunch more
meat before winter rather than hunt for it themselves, but everyone gets a
taste so it’s practically free food!”
            Jade stared at him blankly as
he continued.
            “You wouldn’t believe the size
of this thing, it’s like…like…It’s huge!
I never knew they could get so big! It has to be six feet tall and its super
fat!” Khana paused, as if waiting for Jade to say something in response, or at
least look surprised, but Jade’s face remained expressionless.
            “Anyway,” he continued, “I
can’t wait! It looks like everyone is leaving, let’s go!”
            To Jades frustration, Khana
kept up a steady stream of talk the whole way out the door and on to the
streets, and Jade began to wonder how he could think of so many things to talk
about.
            Most of the action was all in
the center of the village, so they headed that way. It was where everyone else
was going as well.
            (           TOWN NAME            )
wasn’t exactly a village, but it wouldn’t be called a town either. It was
rather small, and it was surrounded by farmland. The farmland consisted of
mostly pastures, but there were a few fields. These fields grew wheat. The
pastures were grassy and green, filled with cows. The pigs were separate from
the cows, it their own smaller pen. There were large areas that were not fenced
in, just plain grass and flowers, dotted with white sheep, which were guarded
by large sheepdogs. The farmers kept their sheep separated by the fenced in
areas holding the cows. There was occasionally a small wooden house with a
thatched roof disturbing the green, where the farmers lived with their
families. Next to it was a barn, made of the same materials. On weekends the
farmers would ride into town on their wagon, usually pulled by mules, to sell
their eggs or produce that they had grown at the market.
            (            TOWN NAME           ) consisted of buildings much like the farmers houses, with
the houses of those who lived in the town being on the edge and the stores
being in the center. Those who ran the businesses, like the butcher, lived in
the back of their store. There was a butcher’s shop, a blacksmith, a leather
maker, who was next to the butcher because he bought the hides of the animal
that was butchered, a seamstress, a town healer, and a few others. There was
not a stable because horses were harder to feed through the winter, so if one
needed a horse he would have to use a mule or travel to another town and bring
a horse back. Many who were traveling a longer distance would stop in the
nearest town and trade their animal for a horse, then on the return trip they
would give the horse back and take their mule or donkey back the rest of the
way. That way it was of no cost.
            The dirt road ran through the
center of town, branching off into thinner roads and alleyways that sat between
the buildings. In the middle of the town was a big intersection, where the two
main roads met and crossed each other. The first road led out to the farmland
around the little town, and the second road led out of the town and farmland
and to the lands beyond. Jade’s town was far away from others, the nearest one
was a two days ride if one rode hard and only stopped once for a few hours to
rest and water their horse.
            The small stream that ran
behind the orphanage curved and intersected the road out of town, so there was
a small wooden bridge. It was thin and only wide enough for two horses to pass
each other, so if the two horses were pulling a load, they had to go one at a
time. But in any case, it was not often that a horse crossed that bridge.
            The people did not have much
money, but they were a close community and helped each other when they could.
The women often watched over another family’s children in exchange for a mule
to borrow for their husbands hunting trips, and the men often worked another’s
land while the other was gone in exchange for a lamb to prepare for the meal.
If a family’s barn burned down, everyone would pitch in to build a new one
before winter fell.
            Khana surged ahead, dragging
Jade along behind him. Their footsteps slapped against the hard packed dirt of
the road, flinging up loose dust in clouds that flew out from under their feet,
as if frantically trying to escape. Which is exactly what Jade felt like doing
as Khana grabbed her by the hand and pulled her into the center of the busy
town.

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