I’m not sure how many days I was hanging out with those guys, but eventually, Loina tracked me down and dragged me back to her home. She was acting weird! I mean, she’s clutching my arm, looking at me with those big eyes of hers. I thought this might be my chance to make a move. I was expecting her to propose to me, but instead, she tells me that Baruka wants to meet with me! I was thrilled! Unfortunately, we couldn’t just meet out in the open, so Loina tells me to go to the bathhouse, you know that place where they dump the water over your head, in about an hour.
I think I got there way too early. In the mornings, the women are mostly there. That was how it was done- the women and children in the morning and the men in the evening. So me loitering there brought a lot of dirty looks from the women entering the place.
Finally, after what felt like a fully hour, Baruka shows up with a gang of other women. She saw me standing there in that little robe and rolled her eyes. She pulled off her own cloak and threw it over my head. “Do you want to be seen?” she scolded me. The women surrounded me and snuck me into the bathing area.
Baruka took me off to the side, but I could feel the others’ eyes burning into the back of my head. I offered to return Baruka’s cloak to her, but she insisted I keep it on. “I cannot look at you in Loina’s robe!” she insisted. I did not realize until that very moment that the little blue robe belonged to anyone, let alone Loina! That sure explained a lot!
Anyway, I asked Baruka if she was okay and if Captain was taking good care of her. By then, I had heard so many rumors!
“I am fine,” she insisted. “Please, do not worry yourself. Captain explained the situation to me. If I did not agree…”
“What did he tell you?” I interrupted.
Baruka looked surprised. She hesitated, looking over her shoulder at the other women before explaining in a hushed tone, “I know Captain is not Ramoth, but he has explained that if I do not play along, my people will be in great danger. Our land connects to so many others. We survive off of the trade that affords, but those same routes could be used for other things.”
“Like a war?” I offered. Baruka nodded. “That is what he has promised, not to bring Arden’s armies here?” Baruka again nodded, but I knew Arden did not have a large military. We were mostly farmers, but if Pacia joined us, then Dione would be in trouble. I hesitated to say anything, but as I did, Baruka grabbed my arm.
“Could Captain really convince Ramoth to leave us alone? If we promised to remain neutral, would he protect us?” Baruka whispered all at once. Her nails were digging into my arm as her grip tightened.
“Sure?” I blurted out, mostly to get her to let go of my arm. My answer had satisfied her, and she did just that. I was relieved that she seemed to know who Captain really was, but I still had so many questions, but I never got the chance to ask.
Regaining her composure, Baruka continued, “Then do nothing to jeopardize my people! The Elders will arrive in a short time. They will agree to the peace treaty, and then I will likely never see any of you again.”
“You mean you are staying here?” I asked, but Baruka did not reply. She grabbed her cloak off my shoulders and walked back to her friends. I wanted to go after her, but seeing the looks I was getting, I decided I had better leave. I returned to Loina’s house to pack up my things and head for the town’s gate. I was done with all of them. Baruka might have been okay with living a lie, but I was not. Not anymore.
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