In the morning, we headed out to the village. Baruka was now leading us, and I noticed Captain was paying an awful lot of attention to her. We’d been wandering in the woods for weeks, so I couldn’t blame him, but now I was regretting giving her that little make-over. I call it the WCA Effect: Whatever Companion Available! When you are the only one available, it doesn’t matter what you look like; you’ll look good compared to the alternative!
So, how could I compete with that? I kept as close as I could, but even then, I could not hear what Captain was saying to Baruka. I did notice that Captain was now carrying Baruk’s sword with him. The tension in the group began to grow as we went along. There was a sense that we were about to step into something nasty.
That’s when we saw it: a village! It was up on a hill, surrounded by a wall made out of tree trunks tied together. Baruka pointed to it as she said something to Captain. He grabbed her arm and told the rest of us to stay a ways back. Then he and Baruka approached the village entrance. Baruka was waving and calling out to them. A whole group of chickens walked right by me like nothing was happening! Eventually, we were noticed because the doors flung open, and children came running out to greet her.
The tension melted away as the sound of kids giggling flooded the woods. Several of them ran back to greet us as well and to chase some of the chickens around. At that point, Captain signaled that we ought to follow him into the village. As usual, he had not told us what was going on. We were just following his lead.
Inside the village, there were houses built along the wall around the outside. You could climb up on the roofs to look out, but it seemed they hardly got any visitors. The big surprise was that they had dug down as well. The center spiraled down to a cistern carved out of solid rock. Each of the houses was furnished with the finest linens and furniture. There were some fancier than Ramoth’s Private Chamber!
Baruka and Captain disappeared into one of the houses, leaving the rest of us sitting in the roadway just inside the village wall. The kids were burning through me with their eyes, looking at my sword and pointing to it. So, naturally, I handed it to one of them and watched him try to lift it. Three of them together couldn’t do it! His mom got pretty mad at me. She came running out of one of the houses, yelling at the kid to give the sword back.
Then, one by one, more women appeared and began to “adopt” us. They brought us water, then asked that we go wash up before a meal would be prepared. You know when you stink, but the person is too polite, so they just sort of hold the back of their hand to their nose and smile, but their eyes are watering? Yeah, that was the treatment we got!
Some of the older women led us over to the baths. They’d have you stand one at a time on this rock, and they would dump water over your head while they laughed. It wasn’t even the laughing that made me blush; it was the pointing! Then they took our clothes and gave us these brown robes to put on. I was having a hard time keeping it closed. Every time I sat down, there was more pointing and laughing!
Finally, Petton and I end up in one of the nice little houses. There was a round fireplace in the middle and cushions to sit on. They gave us food and more of that brown liquid Baruk had served us back in Pacia. This stuff was good, though. I wonder if Baruk wasn’t very adept at making it.
Suddenly, Baruka walks in! I was startled to see she was back. So was the mustache! Then the woman explains that she is not Baruka but another cousin: Loina. The family resemblance was strong with that clan! We ate and then we played this game with little marbles. Loina played the flute, and we danced until it got dark. Then, we stretched out on the floor. I remember Peyton whispered to me, “Hope we can trust them. Should one of us keep watch?”
“Nah,” I muttered back. “At this point, I don’t care what they do!”
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