Threads: Part Two
Thread 2: As Time Rolls By
I was born to traveling. As soon as I could walk my Mother taught me the essentials of fixing broken axle's on wagon wheels and stoking fires before dinner. The group we traveled with showed me the ways of tracking and moving silently and my Father taught me to handle the furs and other trinkets we sold in the towns we moved through. My family was a group of nomadic traders and we never stayed in one place for very long. It was a good life and my child hood was filled with new lands, learning new things about different cultures in life and the different religions that every area seemed to cultivate. The wind and rain were my music box and the animals were as much my friends as the other children I grew up with.
To me, it was a good life with only one shadow to cover it all during the silent moments when I had too much time to think. Through every town my family visited I found out that all places were different in many ways, but there was one thing that I always saw were the same. Every village we passed through, the people seemed to fall quiet when we walked by. For a day they'd stay away, whispering under their breaths and treating us like some form of abomination. By the second day, the trading would start and the townsfolk would warm up to us, but the whispers never stopped. The angry stares never gave and the village children that I met were always dragged away by their parents. We were outsiders and we were tolerated, but only just.
By the time I had reached my fourth summer, I summoned up the courage to ask my Mother why after a child had cried out in fear of me and threw a rock into my side. It had hurt and I had cried, but the boy had only laughed and said I deserved whatever pain I got. I had to know why they put up with us. I needed to know why the dark stares and whispers, why did the people we see in all of our travels stare at me as if I was vermin, no better than the mud on their boots.
"Oh child, you are such a smart little thing." She told me, smiling and shaking her head. Her ears jangled from the bells that hung from them and her black curls bounced. It always gave my fingers the urge to touch and play with the soft tendrils, but I held back my hands and waited for her response. "They like what we give them, dear, but they'll never trust us. They find our... family... untrustworthy."
"But, Momma..." I pressed, still not understanding. "What have we done to them? Why don't they trust us?" The sun was going down by the time I had asked her and though my questions were quite serious in my mind, she still saw no reason to leave me standing there and plucked me up from the ground to carry me off to the wagon I slept in.
Her fingers brushed through my hair and I rested my head upon her shoulders, annoyed that she hadn't supplied an answer. By the time she laid me down for sleep however, I finally learned what made people distrust my family so. She kissed my forehead, pulled the wool blankets over my shoulders, and said softly in my ear,"Because we are gypsies child... and no one but a gypsy can trust a gypsy."
I never forgot those words, even as I slipped into sleep.
Once I had reached my seventh summer, I learned the value of Angels. I had heard about them in the towns we visited. There were different versions, but still the Guardian Angel was as much a fantasy to me as the tales of Faerie Circles were that my family told me nightly. I loved the stories and the more I heard of them, the more I realized that it could not be real. Such fantastical beings could not exist, and if they did, why had I not seen them yet? The story of Angel's that I heard from the Priests villagers so respected or even heard cursed down upon me and the rest of my family could be no different.
When my family made camp one night, the other children and myself ran off. It was customary to leave when the adults began setting up. We got in the way they'd say and that we should all return to help cook dinner and wash up. Until then, we had as much time as we wanted to play about in the woods and take care of one another. The oldest, a girl from another branch of our band, would watch us and ensure our safety while the rest could run about as they pleased. Just like them, I ran out amidst the trees, giggling as I disappeared amongst the thick branches. I loved to play games, but I also loved to just explore the area by myself. The trees and the ground were as much my friend as the ones I traveled with and I liked to give them my due without interruption.
This was how it had always been for me and I followed the openings of trees and branches in the woods as if I were tracking down a rabbit. There was no rabbit, of course. It was just a part of my game and the more I wandered into the trees, the less I heard of the other children as they ran about screaming at each other. The adults had made sure that camp was being set up near a stream for water and I had seen the stream trickle through the woods and beyond. I wanted to find it. In silence I stalked through the trees, being as silent as possible and I strained my ears to listen for anything that might signal water to me. That was what I was good at during my training. I could always find water if I had to.
I found the stream, when all the voices of the children were long gone and only the howling wind and rustling trees could keep me company. It wasn't wide, but it was deep, and the pebbles gleamed from the setting sun and the water looked clean and lovely. I immediately kicked my leather slippers off my toes and walked along the rocks. The water touched my skin like a chilled kiss and I shivered, but with a grin. Let the other kids play for now, I had the entire stream to myself!
Like any child would do, I played. I kicked water in the air, I splashed my feet and hopped from stone to stone. I imaged that I was some explorer, looking for treasure. Like the ones I heard in the stories Mother told me nightly. I dreamed that I was with my father, fishing from the stream to feed the rest of our band. He never told me stories, but my hunting and other learning came from him. I was the oldest in my small family, with a small little brother who couldn't walk yet. Because of that, I had to learn what my brother couldn't until he was old enough to understand our ways. Father would grace me with a smile if I did something right, however, and I believed that I caught a big fish at the stream, earning his praise and smiles.
The rock discolored from the rest never caught my notice, right up until I stepped upon it and felt the slickness of moss and other life upon it. Faster then I could catch up with, my legs flipped outward and I fell back into the water with a splash and stinging backside. I know I shrieked before I hit the water, but it was cut off by the cold and rocks that struck my back. I didn't know how to swim.
Before I could truly panic, as my arms and body flailed within the cold water and mud mixed with sand to weigh me down, I was saved. For me, it was like a bright light when my arm was yanked, dragging the rest of me out of the water with the sunset burned into my eyes. Disoriented, I didn't understand what was up to down or what it was that held my hand, but once the grip settled upon my own small fingers, I held tightly. I gasped for air and met the Earth with dirt in my nose and wet hair. Everything felt like heavy weights upon my body and I shivered from the wet clothes stuck to my skin. Coughing up water, I stared upwards in surprise, even more shocked when a second pair of eyes met mine. They widened, staring at me and a grim line of dissatisfaction was featured on my saviors lips.
It was a boy. He looked a little older than myself, but in his eyes was something the other kids didn't have. He almost looked smart. Like someone who despite their small amount of years still knew much and went through just as much. And he looked mad.
"Are you an idiot?" He asked while I still struggled to get much needed air into my system. "Don't you know to look before you jump? Those rocks are covered in that slippery stuff!"
I wasn't sure I understood why someone would save my life and immediately yell at me afterward, but I wasn't going to take it lying down... I forced myself up, glared at him and said as smartly as I could, "I was looking!"
He crossed his arms and sniffed at me, not looking at all convinced of my words. I coughed again and felt just as stupid as he said I was. I didn't recognize him, but he was dressed in clothes similar to mine. And his ears were pierced. No one my age was allowed to have piercings in my family, just who was he? He was darker than me too, with dusty brown skin and eyes that were pale. Even with his black hair I thought he looked weird.
He didn't much care for my thoughts when I voiced them out loud. "I'm not the one skint and bloody from rocks and wetter than a muddy dog. You stink too." It was surprising to hear this as I didn't even notice the scrapes and cuts on my legs, sides and back. He was right, I was bloody. I couldn't think up a reply in time to wipe the imperious look off his face sadly. Yells and shouts from the camp suddenly echoed around the area, sounding closer then I thought I'd actually been from the wagons.
Hadn't I been far enough to where I couldn't hear them? Why were they so close now? I glanced behind me to judge the distance of the yells, noticed the terrified screams of my mother and looked back to the boy. He wasn't there, but the splash of the stream and the rustling of the bushes on the other side of the stream told me where he'd went. Quick as a fox and almost as silent, but not there yet. My annoying savior was gone, and I was left sitting dumbly on the bank, hurt and wet.
When my Mother and Father found me, annoyed at my disappearing and angry I had run off so far from the rest of the kids, I didn't tell them what happened. I wasn't sure if I should. A lone boy running off in the trees after saving me? He obviously wasn't from my group, but he obviously wasn't a village boy either. Just what would they do if I told them? I wanted it to be my secret, but as I was carried back to the wagons to wash up and have my dinner, Mother tended to my scrapes and bruises and made it clear that I was to learn to swim at the next stop. It was news that made my day.
Going to sleep that night was quick and easy, as I had already made up my mind. Perhaps the townspeople thought Angels were mystical beings on wings that did as their God told them. Perhaps they were right, and perhaps others were right when they said Angels came from every one and everywhere. Perhaps that annoying boy was my Angel. Somehow, I believed I could live with that.
"Momma, why is it that there are many Gypsies but we all stay separated from each other each year?"
It was a question I had asked often, but I never understood the answer when I was younger. Time and time again we would pass through towns and other places, and time and time again I saw others like us. They dressed the same, they pulled their wagons the same, their music was the same, and even if I had never seen them before, they felt like family to me. Yet, we would never stay with them for long, as if there was only so much of each other we cold stand. If we were family, why couldn't we stand each other?
Mother once told me it was because the Traders were different. That us being traders put us more in-between normal beings that lives in villages and the gypsies that we emulated. How is that? I never understood it.
Today was no different and my graying haired mother sighed at the question. "Curious child, why don't you ever ask your Father these things?"
"Papa tells me to ask you!" I replied, placing hands on my hips. Or what would later on be hips. I was only ten summers old then and couldn't quite have the curves my Mother often used to show when she was annoyed or help her carry heavy items around. My little brother was often on those hips even though he could run about and play with the other kids now.
She sighed again, blew hair out of her face and tutted at me to keep walking. We were on the road right now, and most were silent. Just behind us was another band like us, heading in the opposite direction. We had said our greetings, passed around news and just like that, went our separate ways. It was a normal occurrence, but this time the wagons of the other group were far nicer, looked richer and the whole lot of them seemed more battle ready than we did. Even though we were all the same, they had stared at us as though we were dangerous. Not like the villages we passed, but almost as if they found us unbecoming to them.
"Of course he'd say that." Mother finally stated after a few minutes of silence. "Listen to me, young one, we are just like them. They are just like us, but each band has their own way of life, their own way to live and their own system. Our system is the only one that trades all year long with the peoples of the towns. We're the only one's that don't travel back North in the winter to lie low with the rest of the groups until the snows pass. We know more things than the others do, and that makes us dangerous to the others."
"How is that dangerous?"
"We trade what we can, make money as we can..." She stared down at me with cold, empty eyes, "And those who know as much about one type of people as they do the next, are usually the ones who can easily stab one side in the back. We don't make merry with them, because they can't trust us. We are too close to the outskirts of our people. Our group, my child, is the most distrusted of all Gypsies, and that is what it means to be traders."
As we continued traveling, stopped for the night, ate and played our music with the embers of fire dancing off into the sky. I realized that being a Trader was more than just slipping into towns, bartering and selling wares and disappearing again to sell elsewhere. It was a constant curse.
"They say our Leader is going to put his young daughter to the test. She may become the queen of us soon."
"Yes, but what test could that be?"
"How should we know? It's only a rumor!"
"Strange, a woman for our leader... I've never considered it before."
"Well, it's not like we'd ever see her. We're just the news gatherers and traders after all. Her band would have nothing to do with us."
"... but what if we ever ran into them?"
"Didn't we see the young girl last year? Passed us by after a raid, they did. We couldn't make any money off'a that town because she'd already passed through with her father. Set them afire her father did."
"Well, that's just how it goes..."
I couldn't eavesdrop more on the new revelation that my kind even had a hierarchy. I was hiding behind the wagons, refusing to sleep as they talked, but all matters of discussion died away after that and slipped back into music from their mandolins. My father, who was sitting with them, drank deeply and listened silent, but when he looked back towards the wheels I was hiding behind, I had already run off and back to bed in the safety of the wagon myself and the other kids slept in.
Father took me out into the forest to hunt. My younger brother would have gone with him, but was bed-ridden from the rains and though I was a girl, father always took me when the boys couldn't go. We moved silently in the trees and waited in the bushes for any signs of an animal, or even a stream. I moved alongside him diligently. I was long past hiding behind him as he did all the work, I knew what to look for and sometimes I thought I knew it better than he did.
"The rabbits have been scarce this season..." He murmured under his breath. I shrugged my small shoulders and fingered the knife in my belt.
"We'll find something." I said confidently. He merely snorted and glanced at me with a smirk.
"You're only so small and just ten summers old. How can you be so confident, girl?" It wasn't meant to be an insult, and I smiled back, a toothy grin as one of my teeth had fallen out last week during a small brawl with my brother.
"We always do." I stated before shushing him as my mother would do by clucking my tongue. He shook his head at me and moved ahead, but I suddenly stood still. I was right, we always did catch something, but there was something else that made me feel so confident. A pulling, a whisper in my ear that clenched my gut and assured me that I was right.
I turned my head to the right, ignoring the fact my Father was moving away from me and I swiftly moved through the brambles, already pulling an arrow from my quiver and drawing my bow. The pull assured me, it told me I would know where to go.
My father found me minutes later, confused and surprised to find me standing over a rabbit, my arrow still vibrating through its throat. He placed a hand on my shoulder as I looked at the fluffy animal and gave me a small squeeze. The last time we hunted together, I had cried. I hated killing animals and he knew it, but this time, I did not cry. I only stared at the weapon I had used to kill it.
"It told me it was here." I whispered quietly, hands shaking. "Papa, it told me. It's sick and wanted to die, I could tell."
He knelt down to his knees, looked at the side of my face and smoothed my cheek with a thumb. "Well aren't you something special..." He whispered back, staring down at the kill I had made.
The Last Night
By the time I was thirteen. The world seemed so much different to me then it had been when I was just a small child. The feelings I received in the woods, the ability to find and kill when needed. It was all an asset that my clan appreciated from me, but never understood. It was there and I had no way to explain it, no source of the specialty my father congratulated me for three years ago. It was just there, and after that point, it never left me.
I knew when the rains would come. Everyone did, but I knew before even they did. I knew when the roads were treacherous, I knew when someone was lying. There was nothing to this knowledge other than the fact I just knew.
Just as I knew not to sleep the last night I ever saw my clan again. I knew not to sleep in the wagon with my family, not keep the fires burning and not to be at peace. I knew, but I couldn't tell them. This knowledge, as much as I knew it soon, was far too late to convince and warn everyone.
I knew that they would die, that it would be the end of their lives.. Just as I knew that I would regret not being able to tell them for the rest of my own.
I just knew.