Ibagghi returned, saying she’d found another empty village, only a short way up the slope. By then, all of them had aching stomachs, and excreted loose waste at a wider trading nook.
“We are poisoned.” Dinieve said. “Was it the water or the wood we ate?”
“I would hate to think it was both.” Ludyrr said.
“It would pass faster if we had herbal remedies.” Endieve said.
“We might find something.” Ibagghi motioned to the ascending slope. “This next village has more belongings in it. I saw carts and gardening hoes.”
“We can leave our extra supplies here.” Elynir decided, looking up at the darkening sky. “It will be night soon. Afiruk isn’t back yet.”
“I will go and find her.” Ludyrr decided.
Elynir went to retrieve her spear. “I will go with you, in the event there is danger.”
They found the smaller woman, curled up against the wall and shivering.
Elynir put the back of her hand against Afiruk’s forehead. “She has fever. We must carry her.”
“I can carry her by myself.” Ludyrr replied.
It was true. Elynir knew the tall woman was tired, as tired as she was, but Ludyrr still managed to throw Afiruk over her shoulder, with a grunt, and walked off with her. Elynir could not understand that tall one, who could be so selfish at times, but also so courageous. She picked up Afiruk’s sword and shield and followed.
The others had a place set out for them, when they reached the village. It was another home carved into the wood, large enough for eight people, that had probably belonged to a village head at one time. The mother and sister stood guard outside, both handling bows, but they rushed over when Ludyrr approached with Afiruk’s small form hanging over her shoulder. Apprised of the situation, the two women ran to the home, sliding an old tapestry aside to tell Ibagghi.
The home was luxurious, by Elynir’s standards. As she followed Ludyrr inside, they came to a social room with a small oven in its center. The oven was made of a dozen bricks, baked and hardened in the sun, likely made of dung, twigs and whatever mud the villages had scraped up off the ground or traded for from elsewhere.
“Let me put a blanket on this bed.” Ibagghi said, having already collected enough blankets for all of them. When cleared off, the bed served a dual purpose as a seating bench. “Go on, set her down. You see that I’ve already started a fire.”
“Did you find any remedies?” Elynir asked.
“I did.” Ibagghi nodded. “This village has six chambers on this floor, all dedicated to the growing of medicinal plants. They had bee hives, and real fruit trees once.”
“This was a rich village.” Endieve said, standing just inside the doorway with her daughter.
Elynir gave the social room a second look. Carvings were found all over the walls, showing hunters carrying fowl of all sorts, and merchants with carts piled high with fruits and vegetables. Ludyrr had placed Afiruk on her back, and now, with Ibagghi helping her, they stripped the girl naked and covered her over with a blanket.
“I didn’t find plants.” Ibagghi went on. “But I did find small jars filled with crushed powder, and also crystallized honey, but that will loosen up over the fire.”
“Any food?” Ludyrr asked.
“No food, but I did find water stored in covered jars.” Ibagghi answered. “The people who lived here, some of them left, such as the family that lived in this home. Others stayed behind with all of their things. They stayed and tried to keep the village going. Whatever happened to them, it happened quickly. There are many skeletons left here, in many of the homes, or at least the ones here on this first floor.”
“Do you think they starved?” Elynir wondered.
“It’s an odd matter to speculate.” Ibagghi said. “Some of these people, like the ones who tended the plants, they simply sat down and died. Perhaps they did starve. There are others who looked as if they died from violence. At least three were killed by struggle.”
“This village could be cursed.” Ludyrr said.
“The entire great tree is cursed.” Elynir reminded her. “We must stay here tonight. We will have a vote in the morning, over whether or not we will search the village.”
“There could be many valuable things here.” Endieve said.
“But mother, they could be cursed.” Dinieve said.
Ludyrr, however, took the discussion in another direction. “You and your stupid votes. Can’t you make even one decision by yourself?”
Elynir took a step closer to Ludyrr, ready to crunch her fist into the taller woman’s head. Before she did, Endieve gripped her arm and led her outside, away even from her daughter.
“I’m going to hit her.” Elynir hissed, once they were a good ten strides away.
“She’s jealous of you.” Endieve replied. “We can all see that.”
“And what am I supposed to do, let her insult me whenever she wants?”
“Find out what she wants, and give that to her.”
“What does she want?” Elynir blurted out.
“Leadership. Ludyrr wants to lead, but she doesn’t know how. It’s because she’s so big and tall. She must think she’s no good if she can’t be the one in charge. This is the reason she picks on you and Afiruk so much. You, because you’re obviously a better leader than Ludyrr, and so she feels useless, and she picks on Afiruk because, I’m sorry, but Afiruk really is useless. There is nothing that girl can do right.”
Dinieve came to join them, still holding her bow, which was good, Elynir felt. She and her mother would make for good warriors in a battle.
“How can I get Ludyrr to stop picking on me?” Elynir asked.
“I don’t know.” Endieve sighed. “Tell her she’s strong and capable, I suppose. Give her compliments. Do you know? She acts like a man sometimes.”
“Her mannerisms.” Dinieve nodded. “I think she was raised around only boys, and not girls.”
“That makes sense, dove.” Endieve agreed with her. “Because she is a tall woman, and as strong as she is, she probably ended up running around with boys from an early age. Don’t you see? This is why she is so competitive around you.”
“Does she think she is a man?” Dinieve wondered.
The question looked to perplex Endieve, who showed that perplexity to Elynir.
“What is it?” Elynir asked. “What did you come to understand?”
“It makes sense.” Endieve answered.
“What makes sense?”
“If Ludyrr thinks she is an attractive man, of course she would want to attract an attractive woman. And if that woman is not paying attention to her, of course Ludyrr would be angry about it. Angry enough to bark all day until she does get attention.”
“By god.” Elynir muttered.
Endieve covered her face, but her laughter broke out of her anyway.
“It isn’t funny, mother.” Dinieve said, but she also grinned. “I’m sorry, Elynir, but you have found a woman who thinks she is a man, and you’re the one she likes.”
“By god.” Elynir said again. “How much worse can this get?”