Following on from "And here, I'd hoped they'd lost my address". And yes, I'm going to give this ongoing thing its own section as soon as I figure out a better name for it...

Having determined to answer the summons she received, Irinan discovers one of her other charges is not prepared to let her go alone...


It took Irinan two days to make all the arrangements, which was better than she'd feared. Irinan was not really the anxious sort, but she still underestimated, as many do, how many people valued her and were willing to help her. It helped a great deal that the children she raised were always uniformly looked upon as "good kids", even the odd ones like Thanan. So it was that Irinan has surprisingly little trouble finding people willing to look after the eight or so children she was having to leave behind.

The children themselves, of course, protested mightily, not only because they looked upon Irinan as a mother who was now having to leave them, but because they were being denied an adventure. This was only made worse when it became clear that Thanan would be accompanying her. Jealousy was a natural result, and Irinan had expected it, but was at a loss for what to do. She had no time. Perhaps she'd have been better off just slipping away, but she simply did not have that in her.

On the morning of their departure, Irinan thought everything was well in hand. The other children had all been settled in their new homes. The small cart she often used for market runs was packed with what she and the girl would need. She still had not had a chance to have the conversation with Thanan about "Vtoric", about her Gift. She still had no idea, really, how to have that conversation. She prayed that somewhere along the long road ahead, she would.

Thanan was awake before her, excited, nervous, but not really anxious. "I couldn't sleep, Mama Iri! I tried! I really did!"

"I'm sure you did, child. I know this is all going by very quickly for you. It is for me, too. I know a few tricks, and used one of them to make sure I slept last night, because I had a feeling you probably wouldn't, and one of us has to be alert today!"

Irinan had already decided that she would no longer be able to treat Thanan like a child, not really. She had always treated the more responsible children more like adults, anyway, and Thanan was already at that threshold. There was a lot Thanan simply did not know, but there were plenty of ignorant adults in the world, too. Children, she'd found, at least were more open to learning what they didn't know.

"Vtoric will help look out for us on the road, Mama!"

"I'm sure he will, child, but Vtoric doesn't speak to me, you know. If you're asleep, I won't know if something is amiss!"

"He'd wake me up, though, and then I could tell you!"

Irinan was beginning to wonder if she was being too anxious about her eventual conversation about Vtoric. Thanan really didn't think it was at all strange that no one else saw Vtoric, or that they needed her to speak for him. Maybe she understood more than Irinan had given her credit for.

A puzzle for later, on the road.

When they came outside to hitch the horses, however, a surprise awaited them. The horses were already hitched, and there, sitting in the seat, was Haranan, one of the older girls Irinan had looked after for years. Haranan was perhaps 16 years, now, although it was difficult to know for certain. She was already past toddlerhood when her mother had come to the village, apparently on the run from something in some other village or farmstead nearby. She had been beaten badly, the mother, and had barely made it to them. All Irinan's skill had been inadequate, and the mother had lived only a few weeks more.

Unsurprisingly, Haranan had worked to become strong almost from the first. Boys from the village would pick on her, as they did anyone they perceived as weak, as boys sadly often do. Haranan, however, they rarely bothered more than once. Some respected her, some avoided her, but few bothered her, or anyone perceived as being "hers".

Thanan had long since been in that category, so perhaps the Irinan should not have been surprised after all.

"I'm coming with you," the young woman said. "Please don't argue with me about it. I'm sure you have all kinds of reasons you don't think I should. Maybe you're even right. But I'm coming with you. If you kick me out of the cart-seat, I'll just run along behind you. These horses aren't going to move very fast with the cart to draw, and you know I can probably walk as long as they can. I'm not letting you two go out there without me. That's all there is to it."

Irinan suppressed a smile. It was pretty clear Hara had been practicing that speech all night, possibly for the last two days. Having the older girl along would probably complicate some things, but it would actually simplify others. If nothing else, having a third person to drive the cart would be extremely helpful.

Then, too, there was definitely safety in numbers. If she could think of a practical way to do it, she'd have arranged some of the villagers to come with them as well, for company and protection. Irinan could think of several young men she could have trusted. All of them, however, had their own families and obligations here.

"I can see you've quite made your mind up."

"I have, Mama." Haranan stuck her chin out, pugnaciously, although the older woman could see she was also frightened, both of being rejected, and of being accepted. Hara's memories of traveling here, vague as they must be, could not be pleasant, and they were all the young woman knew of the world outside this village.

Irinan scoffed at herself. It wasn't like she really could say she knew more. It was nearly twenty-five years since she'd come here. Before that, she'd hardly been world-wise.

Still, she had to make some show of it, to give the girl a chance to change her mind and save face. She looked down at Thanan. "What do you think, Tha?"

If she'd had any thought that Thanan would provide cover for a refusal, she would have been disappointed. "I think it's an awfully good idea, Mama. Vtoric has to sleep, sometimes, too, you know. And Hara can probably take on anything that can be beaten with a stick!"

The old woman looked to Haranan to see what her reaction to the mention of Vtoric would be. She looked Irinan in the eyes and nodded, ever so slightly.

Fascinating. Hara knew about Vtoric, then. She wondered how much she understood. That would have be be determined. Hara may be able to help in more ways than she'd expected.

"All right, then. Since I clearly am not going to get any peace from either one of you otherwise, I guess that's how it's going to be!"

And so, Thanan and Irinan climbed into the cart, Tha into the cart bed, moving the baggage around to make room (Irinan noticed that Hara had not neglected to pack herself for the trip, as there were two more sacks than she herself had loaded). Haranan shook the reins, and they began their journey eastward.