Buna's New World
by Karen Buchanan
Early 2011 NEBADOR Writing Contest, first place
This story takes place when Buna and Toli are buying sweets in the marketplace in NEBADOR Book One: The Test.
Buna danced into the marketplace.
"What are you doing?" Toli asked. "Everyone's gonna stare at us!"
"So what! There's nothing wrong with dancing."
"But Ilika said to watch out for each other, and so I'm watching out for you."
Buna stopped prancing and thought about it. "I guess you're right. I'm just ... really happy! I haven't been able to just walk around since ... I don't know ... since I was a little kid. It feels wonderful!"
"We're supposed to buy something for dessert."
"Hmm ..." Buna started to say, looking around. "There's tarts at the bakery ..."
Toli scanned the marketplace, looking over most people's heads. "I think we should look at everything, then decide. Everything sweet, I mean."
Buna pouted for a moment, then grinned and nodded.
After whispering to the tall boy and the tangle-haired girl, the sweet biscuits thought about standing up on the table and dancing, but the woman who made them was watching, so they didn't.
Candies winked and wiggled, especially when the candy maker had his back turned. The girl holding hands with the tall boy caught a glimpse of them, but when she got close, the man was looking, so they stayed still.
A big bowl of plums, from a farm in the southern valley where hot water gushed out of the ground, could feel the girl's feet moving to the music. They wanted so much to jump up and dance, and then send plums home with her and the tall boy. They started to wiggle, but the farmer turned around after selling carrots to the innkeeper's son, so they stopped moving and tried to look like a plain, innocent bowl of plums.
As they walked among the carts, Buna leaned on Toli and looked up at him. "What do you think of this weird master we have?"
"He's not a master, he's a captain."
"Oh, yeah. What's it like working on a ship?"
"About like being a slave, I think. I've unloaded ships, but not sailed on them. I think you have to be good with ropes and stuff to be a sailor."
Buna frowned. "But you can leave, right?"
Toli laughed. "Only at a port!"
Buna thought about it, then snickered.
A donkey eating hay saw the girl prance by, her feet still tapping to the music as she walked. The donkey listened, and heard the drum rhythm that was the same as what the girl's feet were doing.
The shaggy brown animal felt something special, like it had just seen a spirit. It knew about wolf spirits and mountain lion spirits, and how dangerous they were. But this girl seemed like a different kind of spirit, a nice spirit.
In a burst of courage, like it had never felt before, the donkey decided to try it. Front hooves started lifting up from the ground, one at a time. Once in a while, they tapped against each other.
Feeling its heart beat faster with the thrill of doing something a spirit could do, back hooves started lifting, then tapping.
Suddenly a booted foot jabbed the brown donkey in the ribs, it stumbled sideways over some wooden crates, and landed on its side, calling loudly in pain and confusion.
"Stupid donkey!" the man said, almost spitting out the words.
The donkey stayed on its side until the man left, then slowly got back to its feet.
It always remembered the girl-spirit, now long gone, but never again tried to dance.
Buna and Toli sat down on a log to think about what they had seen.
"I think we should get plums!" she said excitedly.
"They looked good, but I don't think they were ripe."
Buna frowned. "Okay, sweet biscuits!"
"There were only six left. We need ten of something."
"I've never had a sweet biscuit ..." a timid voice said.
Buna and Toli both looked. On the other end of the log, a little girl sat holding a bundle of cloth in her arms, and looking at them with big brown eyes.
Buna hopped up. "Maybe we can't decide, but you are getting a sweet biscuit, little friend!"
"But we're not supposed to ..." Toli started to say, but Buna was gone.
A minute later she returned, sat down beside the little girl, and handed her the sweet biscuit. "Now there are only five," Buna said, looked at Toli, and stuck out her tongue.
Soon a poor woman came by and the little girl hopped up.
"Mommy, she gave me a sweet biscuit!"
The woman looked at Buna with eyes that said thank you. She looked in her bag for something to give in return, but found only a crust of bread.
Buna shook her head, fished in her pouch, and handed a silver piece to the woman. It brought a smile that was missing several teeth.
When the girl and her mother were gone, Toli stood beside Buna. "I'm sorry I snapped at you."
Buna looked up at the tall, handsome boy, and kissed him on the cheek. "I think the baker probably still has plenty of pastries."
"Let's go see!"
Three crows perched on the inn roof.
"I could have snatched that sweet biscuit, right out of the little brat's hand, if her mommy hadn't shown up!" said Ke.
Te cackled. "Afraid of an old hag? That's not like you, Ke! Did you see the crust of bread she had?"
"What I see, I eat!" said Re.
"In your dreams!" Ke taunted. "Let's see what the tangle-haired girl and the tall boy get. They're heading for the bakery."
"You do recon, Ke. As soon as we know what's on the menu, I'll create a diversion, then Te swoops in for the first grab. Ke and me will be right behind for clean-up."
The three cawed at once.
A slave boy, about nine years old, was cleaning up the marketplace that evening after all the wagons and carts had left. He liked working in the evening because he could look up and see the stars come out.
He didn't dare look up for very long, of course, or a whip would make him get back to work. But he knew how to take a quick look, memorize what he saw, then cherish it in his mind until he could glance up again.
As he was picking up some scraps of rope and broken pottery near a log, he happened to spot a small piece of a sweet biscuit down in the dirt, partly hidden by the log. He quickly picked it up but just held it in his hand with two fingers and continued to work.
A guard glanced at him but didn't see anything wrong.
The boy waited until he tossed the junk into the trash wagon, then as he turned to go back to work, popped the little piece of sweet biscuit into his mouth.
Even with a little dirt, it tasted heavenly.
As soon as he could, he glanced up at the darkening sky to see what stars were out. Only the brightest ones were shining.
He smiled to himself and wondered if maybe he could somehow visit them someday. Maybe he could find a way if he got free and climbed the highest mountain.
As he started picking up horse droppings, he wondered if they had sweet biscuits in the stars.
It was nearly midnight before Te came out from under the little cart where he had been struggling with his painful broken wing for hours. He hadn't seen the baker's broom handle coming, but clearly remembered the guard's sword slice through Re's body, then seconds later Ke fell from the sky, pierced by a feathered shaft.
Te looked around, and wondered how he was going to find somewhere safe before a dog or cat found him.