By Elizabeth Anderson
Spring arrived, and with it, melting snow. It was a good year, at last, with an early and pleasant spring. Tika was staying with a new family, now, and helped them plant crops. She was still a bit weak from lack of food during the winter, but as strong as any of the other girls.
Alina told Tika that she was getting a bit old to be a runner. Tika did not think so—at sixteen, she was as skinny and small as ever. But she worked hard at the planting. It was true that an extra body, and a strong, healthy one at that, was what was needed most in Znay-izoe.
Every six days, the villagers would take the day off from planting and most chores. The animals would be fed and taken care of, well water would be fetched, and morning and evening rituals were followed. During the rest of the day, though, the Znayn would gather on a large field in the center of the three villages, where the market was on other days. The children would play tag and ball. Tika joined the older boys in their games; her love of running was for once satisfied.
If the Ahlt-la-sihv, as the Tsknayn called this break from work, fell on a rainy day, the children played outside in the mud until the adults made them come in. Those who were old enough to not be thrilled to get muddy and wet—a group that sometimes included Tika—sat close to the fire and played games or told stories.
Tika was still somewhat on the fringe of things. She had made a few friends, but they were not close ones. The villagers saw that she was a hard worker and let her stay, let her be one of them. She was assigned to stay with one of the families—a daughter had died two winters previous, and they had room for Tika. She wasn’t quite a replacement daughter or anything like that—Alina didn’t need her in that way. But Alina was kind and mother-like, and taught Tika many things. “You can’t be a crop-worker for long,” she’d remind Tika. “Two more years and you’re eighteen.”
Tika knew that the villagers expected her to stay there and marry one of the males her age, one of the ones that wouldn’t be able to find a good girl with a house to marry. She wasn’t too certain about this. She kind of missed Kaeei, though she tried not to think about him. He would have forgotten about her and moved on to some other girl by now. She was just an insignificant little girl to him.
Through Alina’s help, Tika at last managed to master the art of baking bread. During Aarae and Corosk, she learned how to make jam from the berries she and the other Znayn harvested from high up in the mountains.
Also in Aarae was the shearing. This was completely new to Tika. She was a bit jealous—after all, even ten-year-old Sanan was helping herd the Qosarlas—but realized quickly that her task of fetching water was just as valuable.
Come Corosk, and it was time for the Znayn to take their wool to the large market in Ine-ya-srar to the west. Tika had assumed she’d go, but she was left behind.
“Stay and take care of the place,” Alina said. “I’ll bring you back some new clothes.” Tika was very excited by the idea of clothes made by expert weavers and sewers rather than from rough cloth she’d have to sew herself.
Again, though, she was put on the run. Only a few boys about Tika’s age, the old people, and those too young to walk (with their mothers), were left behind. Tika considered herself by then one of the boys, which had dangerous repercussions the time they all stayed out with the Qosarlas. Angered and hurt, she ran away that night.
Until fall, she would not need to find a village, so she climbed up the tall mountain in the center of the island. She fled from every sign of human habitation. Tika searched for a good place, one with an easily modified cave, and a water source. If she gathered and stored enough food, she’d be able to stay the winter.
She found such a cave, on the south side of the mountain, about halfway up.. By this point in the year, the herders would be taking the Qosarlas down from the vast meadows. Tika would perhaps be able to trade with them for cooking tools and blankets. She still had most of the money the government woman had given her.
So she traded coins for goods, taking care to not spend it all and to not give away her hideaway. She pretended she had gone on a pilgrimage and was heading back to her home soon. The people with her had sent her to buy food—they weren’t too far away. Using this story, Tika was able to stay out of danger.
Fall arrived. Tika was more or less ready for it; she had a pile of wood in one part of the cave, thick mud casings around her food, to keep rodents and insects out, and plenty of warm clothing. She’d learned a lot from the Znayn.
Once the snow grew thick and heavy, Tika stayed inside the cave most of the day, leaving only to collect snow to melt for drinking water. She let herself sleep a lot; late evenings and early nights, with perhaps a nap by the fire in the middle. The days were still long even with this much sleep, and Tika had plenty of time to think.
She didn’t really think about the fact that had she been a male, she would have been able to spend the winter in Znay-tsoe. That was in the past. It didn’t matter anymore, although maybe it was the reason why she wanted to shy away from people for a year or two. Instead, she thought about her old village Tvarnaer. She wondered how everyone was doing and if anyone missed her. She at last realized that she missed her home.
But it wasn’t the time to go back yet. Tika realized she wanted to go back successful. Admittedly, though the worst thing hadn’t happened, she hadn’t really made any progress on being successful. Sure, she’d learned how to bake simple foods, but that was an accomplishment only for herself.
She was glad when the snow began to melt. Tika broke open the last of her food stores, put them in a cloth bag that she’d used to carry things when she’d been a runner, and set off down the mountain. She headed southwest, away from everyone she’d ever known.
It would be years before she’d finally turn around. Years of hardship and happiness. A thirty-five year old Tika, with two children, took the trip back home to Tvarnaer. She was not really recognized, and so many things had changed, but inside, she was still wild Tika Aza.