By Elizabeth Anderson
At least, that’s what she thought for a while. There was very little chance that she’d be able to make it back to Yahvsin Tevoe, or even the nearest village. Not in this snow, which was coming down harder and harder. In the cave, she’d be out of the wind, and it was a little warmer than last night, but her entire food supply was frozen. She had counted on being able to make a fire.
At least, the wood was in the cave now, where it would hopefully become dry enough to burn. Tika curled up in all her blankets and lay down. She put some of her food in between the layers of her clothing.
She woke up sometime in the night. The wind was screeching. The fierce sound made her afraid. “Nwari,” she whispered. “Nwari, please help me.” Tika had never had much respect for her mother, not really, but the thought of her long-dead mother was now somehow comforting. If you didn’t live on the plane of the living, maybe you knew where your child was, even when not another soul in the world did.
But there was nothing. No one would ever help her. Tika asked herself suddenly, why am I still alive? What point is there in being alive? What do I have to look forward to? Who will ever care for an ugly little migrant girl enough to take her into his house? Would I be able to go back to Tvarnaer, and, if so, would they want me to, anyways? What use would I be? What use am I to anyone?
She was a human, a living animal. That was the only explanation for her tenacity in staying alive.
The days of Holiday were awful. Tika didn’t even try to celebrate. What did she have to celebrate? She was just an insignificant little fifteen-year-old girl. Even her life was not enough to be thankful for. She had no idea what she was going to do next. Work at the Yahvsii port, probably. It wouldn’t be open until the summer, though. The appeal of being near the ocean would be an exciting change for her.
She was able to start a fire by midday the next morning. She collected more wood so it could dry, and tried but failed to find food hidden under the snow. Tika found a protected spot a bit away from the cave, and used it as a bathroom. She’d had to use cold outhouses, but this was even worse.
The four days of Holiday finally came to an end. Tika felt like it would be safe to move on again. She took roughly the same route back to Yahvsin Tevoe, but veered off towards the port instead of to the rising sun. The city was crowded and it was easy to find food by begging. Shelter was the hard part, as staying outside overnight had other risks for a girl than freezing. She was able to find an abandoned barn one night, and beg to stay with a family the other night.
No one seemed to realize the plight the girl was in. She was nearly out of money. She had not washed for days, and simply switched which dress she was wearing every few days.
At last she reached the port, but it was closed. She was daring enough to talk to the men in charge of the port.
“It’ll open up after the snow melts,” one of them said. He was probably older than her father. “Why do you ask?”
Tika shrugged. “I’m looking for work,” she said.
“What kind of work?” another guy, a bit younger than the other one, asked, somewhat suggestively. “You can stay here with us, you know. I don’t have anyone.”
Tika flushed, guessing she knew what he was implying. Tika took a gamble. “I’m just twelve, Ter; my parents died a few days ago and I want to make an honest living for me and my siblings.”
“Ah. Well, you could stay here a bit and then be my wife in a few years. We’ll take good care of you.”
“No, I’m looking for work, Ter, not marriage.” Tika was insistent. By now, she was a little scared. She knew she looked young enough to be twelve, and you had to be fifteen to do that sort of thing. She hoped that the men would believe that she was only twelve, and would leave her alone.
“Yeah, there are lots of other places around, come back in the summer,” he said. “Or even spring.”
The older guy spoke up. “Late spring, more like it.” He chuckled. “I’ve never seen so much sea ice, and so thick. You could probably walk across. Good luck, little one.”
Tika left, walking until she got to the first turn that took her out of site from the port house before running as fast as she could to the busy area of town. She was so glad she’d made it out of there safe and alive.
You could probably walk across. Those words seemed seared into her brain. Tika had never been outside of her home island. Did she dare try? The next island was within sight; the distance could probably be walked in a night.
That night, it was cloudy and very dark, a rare occurrence during this time of year. . Tika knew that the ice, as strong and thick as it looked from where she was, could be thin and weak in the middle. She might die trying. And the other island might not provide her with anything better. To Tika, it was uncharted territory. Possibly promising, possibly dangerous.
She walked back to the area that the port was in, but veered off so that she stayed out of sight. Soon, she was out on the open ocean, walking on a layer of ice of uncertain thickness. It was a little slippery in places, but the snow had covered much of it up.
Suddenly, she heard voices. A woman’s voice, in particular, was louder than the rest. “Take little Greesatina. Please, Nira. I’ve got to put her down.”
“Alright. Careful, there, dear, don’t slip.” Another woman. They were both speaking a dialect that was hard for Tika to understand, but she was able to make out the words. Tika could not see them, though she could tell from their voices that they were to her left. She started walking towards them, hoping that she’d at least feel safer being near other people.
She heard low murmurings that grew louder, encouraging her that she was headed in the right direction. Suddenly, they stopped. Someone whispered something, not far from Tika. Then, she saw them: three adult figures and a child. “Who is that? We’re prepared to fight. How many of you are there?” A man’s voice said, shaking a little.
“Just me, Ter. I’m Tika, and I come from a small village. I want to see if I can find a job across the sea. I’m a runner.”
“Oh.” The three adults whispered among themselves.
“Come with us, Seree,” one of the women, the one holding the child, said. “You’ll be safer.”
“Hi,” a soft little girl’s voice said. “Why do you want to go across the sea?”
Tika could not make out what the little girl looked like. “I want to find work,” she repeated.
“Isn’t there work here, though?”
“Yes.” Tika realized that it would probably be best to tell the truth here. From the other people’s dialect, they seemed to be important people. Lies would do her no good. “I ran away from home last summer. My family doesn’t have good standing in our village. Now I try to find work as a runner, but I don’t want people to figure out who I am. I’ve been in a lot of different districts in the Yahvsin Tevooe area, and I think I need to go somewhere new.”
“Oh,” one of the adult women said. Tika could feel her pity.
“Maybe she can stay with us,” the other woman said. “We’ll need someone who doesn’t seem like a government official. They’ll recognize you and Tlaln.”
“True. And you were in school for a few years, Lera. Seree, are you a Rhetian?”
“Yes, why?” Tika was confused.
“Um…how much do you know about what’s been happening with Rhetia’s government?”
“Not much, I’m sorry. You are government officials?”
“Tlaln and I were,” the woman who seemed to be called Lera said.
“I guess…I’ve heard that someone else is Leader now, some of the people who I stayed with were very angry, I haven’t had time to keep up with the news. I know that Leader Aralina died a year or so ago, and her eldest daughter was too young to be Leader by herself.”
“Was last year hard in your village because of the famine?”
“Somewhat. For me, it’s always been hard. All I had were brothers and my dad, and the rest of the villagers didn’t like us because we needed a new house built. Before my mother died.”
“What did your village think of the famine?” the other woman (not Lera) asked. “Where did they place the blame?”
Tika wondered at these strange questions, but she enjoyed being able to have a real conversation with people. They were still walking, the two women taking turns carrying the child, and the man looking around, rocks in his hand, and leading the way. “They blamed the winds. They said the winds were not happy with the change in leadership and did not bring us rain.”
“Do you believe that?” The other woman asked, gently.
Tika shrugged. “The winds have not carried us much rain in recent years. Maybe they are unhappy with something else.”
“Do you think someone is unfit to be Leader if they cannot bring good winds?”
“Watch out!” Tlaln called out suddenly. “It’s slippery here. Amara, stay back with Greesatina while Lera and I check it out, find a safe path.”
Tika continued: “I think it’s not the Leader’s fault if they can’t bring good winds. We don’t know everything about the winds; maybe it was the Leader, maybe not. But we shouldn’t say someone is unfit for something when it might not be their fault.”
“That’s a good attitude. I wish more people thought like you. Tika is your name, yes?”
“Yes. And you are…Amara?”
“Amara Cene.” There was a pause. “And this is Satina lya Rhetia [the little Leader-girl].”
“Oh.” Tika kneeled to get onto the girl’s level. “I am Tika Aza from Tvarnaer,” she said, arms out in front, palms up.
Amara chuckled softly. “Yes. Tvarnaer? I stayed there for a couple days a long while back. You probably weren’t alive, yet.”
“I don’t know—I’m fifteen. Actually sixteen now, I suppose, seeing as it’s after the Solistice.”
“Ah, yes, then you were not alive quite yet, I think. Do you intend to return to your village?”
“I haven’t decided yet.”
Tlaln and Lera came back. “We found a good path to take.”
“Okay, Greesatina, let’s keep going.”
They continued on their walk. Tika shared her story with Amara, who was extremely understanding. Tika did not tell her about Kaeei, or provide much detail as to where she had been living for the last few months.
“You should definitely return to your village someday, Tika,” Amara said when the girl had finally finished her story. “It’s your heritage. You’ll never have a real place anywhere else.”
“I stole stuff,” Tika protested.
“It wasn’t much. And by then, they will have forgotten. You will stay with us for now, but someday you’ll have to go back. Go and show them that you can be a successful, useful adult.”
“I’m not, though.”
“You’re sixteen, yes? And look—you’ve made it this far.”
They were nearly to the other island. Tlaln made an ice cave once they reached shore (or what he said was the shore). They hid there until morning, when Amara sent Tika into the village with some money to buy food. “See if you can find a good path that will keep us out of sight of the village,” she instructed.
Tika did as she was told. This part of the new island was not too different from Tika’s home island in terms of customs and language dialect. She found someone willing to sell her some bread and fruit. After she bought the food, Tika looked around until she found a decent path that would keep them out of the villagers’ sight.