Cran Palto | Books | Raheem
Wild Cotton




Chapter 17
Wild Cotton

Whether I succeed or fail, I will have lived by the courage to do what I know to be right and just.

—Mingmar Bhavyata, The Courage to be Alone.

In the middle of the night, Vaega felt Yigars move and get up. She turned her sleepy face to him and whispered, “come back soon.”

Yigars smiled in the dark and kissed her forehead. “I’ll be right back.” She was already asleep.

He went outside, closing the door to the cabin behind him. The night was cool and starry; the moon crescent glowed thick and clear. The other, smaller moon, would not be visible for many more months. It occurred to him the others had not seen it yet. He would not spoil the surprise. The first sighting of the little moon would change their minds about Raheem.

When he reached the kitchen, Trion was there working on the stove.

“Oh. Hey Yigars. Couldn’t sleep?”

“No, not really,” Yigars replied.

“I’ll make a bed for you today so you’ll be comfortable.”

“Thank you. I was not uncomfortable with Vaega.”

“No, I could see that.”

“What are you working on?”

“I’m finishing the electric stove.”

“Where did you get the heating plate?”

“From a crashed ship in the next valley.”

Yigars looked surprised. “You found the ship? We’ve been looking for it for months.”

“You were?”

“We saw it streak the night and sent search parties.”

“Agra found it.”

“She did?”

“She’s very good at that.”

“She’s good at research and maps, you mean?”

“Yes,” Trion said.

He stood back from the stove with a satisfied expression. “It’s finished.”

Yigars gently tapped the side of the stove. “You’re good at building.”

“Thank you.”

Trion turned to Yigars, his left hand holding his chin. “Say, do you know how to make clothes?”

“Beyond ill-fitting leather, no.”

“Pity. We’ll really need clothes we can wear, not the ratty apparel the traders sold us.”

“It’s better than nothing, no?”

“Barely. Can’t run or fight with them, and there are so many loose seams the cold gets in anyway.”

“You need cotton or animal fibers if you want better clothes.”

“There is cotton on Raheem?”

“Yes, it grows wild in places.”

“Vaega might be interested.”

“Yes. I’ll tell her. Oh, I have to get back.”

“Me too. I should sleep more.”

Before dawn, Agra left the cabin, taking her bow and arrows. She went to the creek to wash up. When she was in the water, she noticed a brown and red fox in the same spot as the time before. After the creature lapped water, it sat straight up and looked at her, remaining very still. Agra watched its alert eyes, its narrow snout, nostrils smelling the air. She was struck at how suddenly peaceful she felt. The water of the creek flowed gently, slightly bending the reeds that grew along its edges, the noise of the water meandering between the stalks a faint melody in her ears.

“You’re a beautiful animal,” she said. The fox kept looking at her, unmoving.

She splashed water on her shoulders and her arms. She scooped water in her hands and splashed her face. When she opened her eyes again, the fox was gone, as though vanished like a mirage.

Agra stood and clambered up the creek bank, drying as she walked back to camp. The sunlight now shone horizontally and the peaks in the distance gleamed brightly white, like mirrors in the sky.

Vaega woke up next, and after going to the creek, worked in the kitchen, organizing the stove, herbs, and spices. Agra was in the adjoining room researching, meticulously going over the crystalline data rolls from the escape pods, looking for anything they could use.

Once everything was set in its place, Vaega went out to the garden to cut Genoresis Macraw leaves. She came back with a handful, washed them, then used the electric stove to dry them. After some time she rolled the leaves and made little smokes for Agra.

When she entered the research room, Agra was bent over a crystalline following the faint silvery lines with the index of her left hand while taking notes with her right.

“Some medicine to dull the pain,” Vaega said as she set down the little tray on the end of the bench.

Agra turned to look at her and smiled. “Thank you! I don’t know what I’d do without your help.”

Vaega smiled. “You would manage, I am sure. You are so smart.”

Agra pushed herself away from the desk and stood. “I suppose. At least I am smart enough to not smoke around the crystalline rolls.” She took one and the little lighter she carried, and went to stand outside to smoke. “Come with me, let’s talk.”

Vaega followed. As Agra lit the leaves, Vaega wrapped herself in the fur cloak clasped around her neck.

“How much do you trust Yigars to go out?” Agra asked.

“You mean would he leave?”

“If I went out with him hunting and foraging, would I be safe? Would he try to leave me? Hurt me?”

Vaega’s eyes came to Agra’s jawline. She looked up into her eyes but did not answer.

Time passed slowly then, doubt and uncertainty heavy in the air. Vaega tightened the fur cloak around her body and looked away, at the fence, at the forest beyond. “Should we not have asked him to join?”

Agra held the last of the leaves by her fingernails as she sucked the air around the glowing embers.

Yigars’ voice came from behind them. “I have given my word. You will be safe.”

They turned to look at him, wondering how long he has been there.

“Do you have any more of the smokeleaves? I smelled the scent in my dream and woke up right away.”

Vaega shot a glance at Agra, then smiled and came close to Yigars, their bodies almost touching. “She smokes them for the pain. You can smoke them for pleasure. I will make some for you.”

Yigars stood with them and smiled. “I am happy here.”

Agra gave him a smoke from the little pouch at her waist and lit it for him.

“Thank you.” He took a puff and smiled, closing his eyes.

“I’ll go hunt. You want to come with me?” Agra said.

Yigars opened his eyes and turned his head toward her. “Yes, I’ll go with you.”

Yigars turned toward Vaega. “If we find wild cotton, we’ll bring some back so you can grow it.”

“If you bring back cotton, I will grow it!” Vaega said, smiling.

When the sun was at the highest point, Agra and Yigars stopped at a large flat boulder several kilometers south of the camp. Agra had never come this far in this direction before.

“This is a sacrifice stone,” Yigars said. He kneeled near the smooth edge, pinched some soil between his fingers and brought it to its nostril. “I can still smell the blood.”

“Human blood?”

Yigars dropped the soil and rubbed his fingers together. “Yes.”

Agra was on alert. Yigars stood again and left the trail, turning left into a hilly area where thorny bushes grew on rocky escarpments.

After a while, he stopped. “We are far enough.” He sat on the ground looking back at the sacrifice stone, mostly hidden behind a brownish bush with thin black berries.

Agra pointed at the berries. “Can we eat those?”

“Yes, but they don’t taste very good.”

Yigars raised his hand near his shoulder. Agra stayed quiet.

In the distance, near the sacrifice stone, three figures were moving, crouched, holding bows.

“They’re hunting wolves,” Yigars whispered.

“Who are they?” Agra asked.

Yigars crouched and turned, moving away from the hunters. Agra followed, keeping down.

“They’re from the Wolfhead clan. They hunt wolves as a rite of passage, and make head-dresses from their heads.”

Agra did not reply. She felt something stir in her. Would she do the same with a fox head someday?

“Oh, look!”

Agra turned her head to what Yigars was pointing at. She saw a greenish plant with triangular leaves.

“Wild cotton,” Yigars said. He plucked it, keeping it with its roots inside a clump of dirt, and stuffed it in a bag. “Let’s go back!”

Agra saw a child-like glee in his eyes. All the way back he seemed so pleased with himself, and when they arrived he went straight to Vaega to show her the plant.

Vaega thanked him and promised to plant it.

The rest of the day, Yigars was happier than they had ever seen him.

Next chapter: Fire

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