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Although I had my own hut, I could never really call it my own.
A screech outside startled me from my nap. “I don’t want to go in there! She’s an Aberration!” A child’s voice.
“Then remember that the next time you decide to split your head on a rock,” scolded his mother. “Who said it was a good idea to jump from that tree?”
I couldn’t hear what he grumbled next, but she soon dragged him through the doorway, stopping just inside.
I smoothed my dress—I’m pretty sure my hair was hopeless—and stepped forward. “How can I help you?”
The boy, whom I recognized as a member of Pimo’s poop-singing chorus, hid behind her skirt. She dragged him out, his planted feet sliding across the ground, and then I saw why they were here. Blood streamed from the cuts all over one side of his head, matting his dark hair and staining his bare shoulder.
I stepped toward him, and he shuffled behind his mother again. With a small sigh, I sat in the chair to make myself less “hostile” to this boy. She pushed him toward me, close enough for me to reach him, and I extended my hands.
“Ow!” he said before I even made contact.
I jerked my hands away, casting a nervous glance at his mother.
She frowned at me.
“The sooner you let me heal you,” I whispered, “the sooner you can leave.”
With an impatient huff, he remained still, and I laid my hands on his head. When I finished, he scampered away, tugging his mother toward the entrance. The woman tossed me a curt “thank you” before exiting.
“How come she gets a whole hut to herself, and we have to share?” the boy whined once they were outside.
“Hush,” she said. “What she can do is unnatural. You can’t trust someone like that. Who knows what else she can do?”
My cheeks flushed with shame, and I was glad no one was around to see it.
I stared at my hands. Hands that helped people and made them distrust me at the same time. It wasn’t my fault that I had these aberrant abilities, but according to them, I was born a bad person. Unworthy.
A few years after my mother died, I told myself I would not indulge in self-pity. My mother wanted me to stay strong, and so I would.
I dropped my hands to my sides and stood, lifting my chin. A weaving project would give me something else to think about. Yes, perhaps a new grass mat.
I headed to the firewood tent, where the tribe also kept reeds and other plant material for weaving and similar projects. If it weren’t for crafting, I might go insane here.
As I walked back to my hut with an armload of tall grasses, Meresh bounded up to me. “Hello, Siena.”
“What will you be making today? Maybe something for me?” A dimple appeared on his tanned face as he grinned, brown hair lightly brushing his shoulders.
I smiled despite myself. “What would you like?”
“What do you think would befit the chieftain’s son?” he asked with a wink.
“Perhaps a larger headband for your ever-increasing head size?”
Meresh laughed. “As long as it’s made with love.”
Satisfied that I would be thinking about him in my hut, he winked again and took off.
A small cluster of women preparing meat didn’t bothering hiding their stares.
“That boy is too handsome to be consorting with the likes of her,” one of them said.
“It’s scandalous,” the other replied. “All that yellow hair. You’d think he’d at least have the sense to find someone pretty.”
“Chief Magar should say something. Does he even know?”
A pause. “If you want to tell him, be my guest. That man and his temper . . . I wouldn’t want to do that to Meresh.”
I shook my head as I walked out of earshot. Meresh was well-liked, and not brutal like his father. The chieftain was an imposing figure who took what he wanted, when he wanted. His eyes burned with hatred for Aberrations, but he didn’t let it blind him to our uses. He tolerated the useful ones, like me. I once heard someone whisper that Magar’s own father had been killed by an immortal fire-breathing Aberration during a raid from another tribe. It sounded like an exaggeration to me, but when a chieftain died, it was a big deal.
Magar became elevated to chief at eighteen, much younger than any other chieftain I knew of. Normally this would have been challenged by a number of others who wanted to become chieftain themselves, but when you’re a ruthless, violent, and cunning young man, you find ways to silence the opposition.
A small girl, running full speed right at me, skittered to a stop when she saw me and stared with wide-eyed terror. I opened my mouth to say hello, but she turned tail and ran, feet sliding in the dirt before gaining traction.
I sighed. It wasn’t so bad when my mother was alive. She sparked with life and reminded me every day that, even though we were outsiders to this tribe—she’d been taken from her own tribe while she was pregnant with me—it didn’t mean we couldn’t take joy in being alive. “Listen to the birds,” she’d say. “Smell the scent of the wind on the plains. Really feel what it means to be alive.” I had no idea what she was talking about, but I still hung on her every word.
I shook the wistfulness from my head and reentered my hut. Thinking about her wouldn’t bring her back.