The inside of the wagon… glowed.
The golden light spilling from the lanterns hanging from the high beams of the roof glittered off row after row of glass bottles, all carefully slotted into wooden shelves set along the length of the walls. In the spaces between the rows of bottles, brass-and-wood racks of dried herbs, linen bags of seeds and spices, and glass jars filled with brightly coloured stones gave the impression of being inside a giant jewellery box – an impression that was only heightened by the swirls of colour painted across the arch of the roof, ruby red, emerald green, sapphire blue and royal purple all shot through with lines of something which looked almost as though it could be actual gold leaf.
It was the most beautiful thing Caleb had ever seen in his life.
“Huh?” He blinked, eyes refocusing on Tam’s grinning face. “Sorry. It’s just- I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Her turn to look surprised now, though only for a second. “Aye, I suppose you wouldn’t have. Keep forgetting you’re new to all this.” She looked around the interior of the wagon, frowning. “You sure she’s in here, Talan?”
The apothecary’s head appeared back around the doorframe, light glinting off their spectacles. “Very sure. She’s probably hiding. You know how she is with new people.”
“Good point.” She turned back towards Caleb. “You stay there – sit down, if you want.”
He did so – there weren’t any chairs, but the floor was strewn with cushions and blankets enough that it didn’t take him much effort to find somewhere comfortable. “Are you sure I should be here?”
“You’re fine,” Tam said, without looking at him. She was on her hands and knees at the back of the wagon, now, peering around boxes and under piles of bedding. “She’s just being a brat, as usual.” But there was no malice in her tone – if anything, she sounded almost proud. “Aren’t you, Kitten?”
There was a small rustling sound from behind a pile of blankets at the very back of the wagon, and something that sounded very much like a stifled giggle.
“Got you!” Tam lunged forward, arms outstretched – and fell flat on her face into the bedding as something small and fast darted past her, barrelled down the length of the wagon, and threw itself headfirst into Caleb’s chest.
“Oof!” The impact knocked the breath from his lungs and he fell backwards, arms flying up instinctively to protect his throat from the… whatever-it-was.
“Kitty!” Tam’s voice, sounding somewhere between amused and mildly annoyed. “I told you before, tackling people’s not polite. And this is me saying it, so you know it’s serious.”
There was a small, childish giggle. Then silence, and a slight shuffling noise, like someone scraping their bare toes back and forth across the floor.
“I know, but it’s still not polite. You might’ve hurt him.”
Another shuffling noise, and a small, barely audible whimper.
“I’m sure he’s fine, Kitten. Just a bit winded, is all. Now go say sorry to him, alright?”
Caleb blinked the last of the stars out of his eyes, pushing himself back up to a sitting position, and finally got his first proper look at the crew’s ‘kitten’.
It was a little girl.
She couldn’t have been older than five, by his reckoning – barefoot, dressed in plain dark red trousers and tunic which were clearly hand-me-down and equally clearly had been altered to fit her by someone who’d taken a good deal of time and love over the process. Her long dark hair was tied back in a simple plait, woven through with gold ribbon, and someone with a steady hand had painted a series of small intricate silver runes down her right cheek and across the backs of her hands.
She must have caught him staring, because she stuck out her tongue and grinned, revealing small white slightly-pointed teeth.
The girl looked up at Tam – who was standing, hands on hips, watching the whole scene – and pouted overexaggeratedly. Then she turned back to Caleb, bowed, and made a fluid series of gestures with her hands.
Tam smiled. “She says she’s sorry for running into you. But she also says that she’s going to stare at you as much as she wants because you look funny.” She rolled her eyes. “Last bit probably wasn’t tactful, but I’m hardly the one to be teaching her that.”
“Tell her-” No, that wasn’t right. She could obviously hear, given how Tam’d been talking to her. He turned to face the girl – Kitten? What kind of name was that? – fully. “That’s alright. I don’t mind being stared at. And you look strange to me, so I suppose it’s fair.”
Kitten’s eyes lit up, and she made a lilting singing noise in the back of her throat, hands flapping excitedly in front of her face.
“What’s she saying now?”
“She’s not saying anything. She’s happy.” Tam sat down on the floor opposite him, looking properly relaxed for the first time since he’d met her. “You’ll learn how to speak her language after a while – I’ve a bit of an advantage, given it’s close to hand-talk I learned at sea.”
But Caleb wasn’t entirely listening any more. He’d not parsed the girl’s movements as sign language, originally, but if they were just a different form, then… “Kitten?”
She stopped flapping for a second, tilting her head on one side.
“Um… Can you tell me if you understand this?” He frowned, concentrating, and tried to dredge up what he remembered from the conversations he’d had with his cousin once upon a time – before the family’d moved away over the valley, and dropped out of contact save a letter or two every year. “Right.”
Happiness – you – meeting. Apology – I speak – bad.
Kitten’s eyes narrowed, and she bit her lip, obviously trying to work out what he was doing. Then she shook her head, and signed something fast and somewhat apologetic-looking to Tam.
“She says it looks like things she recognises, but she can’t make words out of it. I think you’re probably using a different language to the one she knows.” She broke off, as Kitten signed another rapid-fire sequence. “But she says thank you very much for trying. She likes that other people can talk like her. And she likes you because you’re not treating her like she’s stupid.”
Caleb winced. “My cousin’s deaf. I know it’s not the same, but…” He trailed off, failing at finding words for what he wanted to say.
Kitten, apparently, understood. She walked over to Caleb, looked at him solemnly for a few moments, then reached out one small hand, extended a finger, and very slowly, very carefully, as though she was a priestess performing an ancient rite, poked him in the nose.
He grinned. He couldn’t help it. But it was apparently the right response – Kitten grinned, made another lilting singing noise in her throat, threw her arms around his neck and hugged him, hard.
“And that,” Tam said, “means as far as she’s concerned, you’re one of us. Welcome aboard, farmboy.”
Copyright © 2018 by Finn McLellan. All rights reserved.
3 thoughts on “Seventh Son: Chapter 4”
Oh god, the feels. As if Caleb wasn’t adorable enough, now there’s Kitten.
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