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Pink, fragile, and smooth, the poppy’s scarlet bloom stands amidst the earthen mist of the predawn meadow. The grass, heavy with dew bends its beaded head in the one direction of the rising sun. The tiny crystalline-like strands of green fall as I walk to the bloom amongst the grass. My feet are soaked and cold in the mountains icy air. Bending with one hand in the basket by my side, I reach and pluck the tiny jewel from its nest in the grass and place it safely in the basket. It lies in quiet with the other treasures of the mountain; the columbine, rhododendron, and a single edelweiss.
I stand in the breeze then, just waiting for the sun to rise. I just want to see its yellow disk glide over the scraggly mountains and spill its pink paints across the sky. But I can’t. I have to take the flowers back to my grandmamma in our little yurt by the creek. She says they are the only things that keep her breathing. How these little flowers do that, I have no idea. But she believes that, so I must.
Exhaling in disappointment, I turn my back unto the place where the sun should be in matter of minutes and I begin my decent down the mountain. I choose the path to the left, it’s the longer way down and by far the easiest. It also gives a wonderful view of the horizon.
I watch my feet as they take me down the twisting dirt trail that goes towards the creek. They kick up little spurts of dust and gravel and dirty my feet even more than usual. Grandmamma doesn’t like this but I do it anyway. I usually, before I get to the yurt, rinse my feet in the creek, but I wont be doing that this morning since the creek is frozen over with ice.
My breath fogs in front of me and the slight wind brings a cold that burns into my eyes, but they are clear enough to see the light auburn sun gently swing above the horizon and reach its soft dainty purple fingers amongst the clouds, and each cloud has a shine of yellow-gold that illumines the individual ripples of soft white, casting an eerie glow to the mountains rocky floor. Never have I seen such a perfect and beautiful sunrise.
I start, realizing that in watching the sunrise I did what I was trying not to do: waste time. My pace quickens and I scurry down the mountain. Each step I make causes a cascade of tiny rocks and other rubble. In my haste, my toe hits a rock that is hidden beneath a sauxal bush and I hit the ground; hard. I press my hands to the craggily surface and propel my body into a crouching position. Then, resting on my toes, I check the flowers to make sure they didn’t get broken. All good.
“Rui, is that you making all that noise?” I didn’t realize I was so close to camp. My sounds of haste must have spooked the animals and they must have alerted my grandmamma as she never leaves the yurt alone.
“Yes Grandmamma, and I have your flowers.” I hold the basket above my head to show her what I have. “All your favorites: poppy, and rhododendron and I even found an edelweiss.”
My grandmamma shuffles a little closer; “Yes, those are wonderful, now come on inside and eat your breakfast before it gets too cold.” I watch as she walks with a crooked back to the wooden door of the yurt, then lifts the door and slips inside its heated interior. Muffled voices filter out of the opening she left for me. Most likely our cousins, considering that I was the only one who left so early in the morning, and they love to come to our yurt since it is the largest one in the caravan.
I follow my grandmamma inside and the heat from the fire nearly over powers me after being outside for so long. I can feel my face and hands tightening up and then loosening as my skin warms and my body gets used to the temperature. I set my basket at Grandmamma’s feet and then begin peeling of my many layers of clothes. I set them by my bed and step up to the fire.
Grandmamma shoots a look down to my feet and gives me a hard stare that means we’ll be talking later, after my cousins leave for the fields. But right now, we must begin breakfast. The food is the usual sheep meat and rice that sticks to the bowl and makes it a challenge to eat, but always gets me ready for the oncoming day.
I stand and walk to the bowl of rice by the fire and stoop down to ladle some rice into my bowl, the smell of warm cooked wheat wafts over me and my mouth begins to tingle with anticipation. I stand and then grab some meat from the table near the edge of the tent, before plopping down next to Grandmamma. She looks at me sideways, but I shrug her accusations off and begin spooning heaping piles of rice into my mouth. Next, I neatly tear my meat into small pieces and burn my hand on the scorched flavors.
“Careful Rui, I wouldn’t be in such a hurry if I were you. You’re going to have a hard time getting to Fallow if you keep eating like that.” Grandmamma refers to the hill that lies a half mile away; a short distance, but it covers rocky and steep land.
“Yes Grandmamma.” I slow the speed of my spoon and take measured bites of rice and meat, but still my food is gone before I want it too.
An empty bowl stares back at me and I glance over to Grandmamma, who is consumed in her own food and doesn’t notice my longing glance. I sigh and stand up to shake the bits of grain from my skirts, then walk back to the fire to replace my bowl next to the unused ones.
Grandmamma stands as she finishes her own meal and walks up next to me. She places her old and crinkled hand onto my shoulder and I can feel her fingers scrape my clothing.
“Go out and get the livestock.” A very simple command and not the words I expected to here after being in trouble twice so early in the same day. Her fingers loosen there grip and she peers into my face. Her old brown eyes bare into mine and her voice wavers when she says: “Be very, very careful today. Watch for unknown men in the fields. If you so much as think you saw someone come straight home. Understand?”
No, why do I need to be wary of strangers. Strangers are always welcome. “Yes Grandmamma, I understand.” She must be able to tell that I do not understand because she shakes her head and then goes to sit by the fire again.
I walk to the yurt door and let it creak open before a blast of air enters the room and I know I must leave and face the wind. My face instantly tightens, and so do my exposed fingers and toes. “Its cold.’ I say aloud, and its true; its not in the least the same day as it was just an hour before.
The animals huddle for warmth and start making noises when they hear my feet crunching the brittle grass that encompasses this area of the valley. I have to take the livestock to Fallow where I picked the flowers that my grandmother asked for and let them graze upon its lush grasses that are so different from the ones here.
I walk past the goats and camels as they try to stand on cold joints and I can almost here there legs creaking and crying in the cold. My dogs are also alert and awake by the time I reach them, and they are ready for a days work which is confirmed by their wagging tails and flapping tongues. Chechi, my own dog is the largest of the four dogs that we own, and always greets me as the leader; not letting the other dogs any where near me until he has established that indeed, I am myself.
After this, the other dogs circle the livestock and I begin waving my arms in their directions. I get nervous bays and whinnies from the animals in return for my efforts.
We start up the valley and the biting wind tears at my exposed face and hands, making them ache with the cold. The dogs lead on though, not stopping the heard as I slow down to warm my exposed skin. When they are a hundred yards ahead of me, and around the bend of a corner, I speed my pace to match they’re ever increasing one. I believe the animals know when green grass is near as they always hurry when they get the scent of the first southern breeze.
“Hai!” I scream just a little to loud and the animals bolt up the hill, the dogs hot in pursuit. I see a flash of fur and my dogs are gone around the corner, after the frenzied animals.
Instantly I hear a yelp of pain and the terrified brays of my animals. Something caught them.
Ignoring Grandmamma’s warning, and without thought, I tear through the underbrush and take a short cut to the top of the hill to see what has delayed our passage.
My hand comes to my mouth to stifle a scream; beneath the hill lies not one man, but hundreds. Leather armor and tanned skin form a mass, a wave, of soldiers. All brandish weapons of glittering metal or clubs of heavy wooden objects. One of my dogs lay at the feet of such men. I see the heard pressed against the hill’s thick tree line, standing in an agitated circle.
An iron hand clasps my wrist and my face is jerked to the side. A man stands before me, his face hidden in shadow. “Run.” he whispers
It takes my mind but a moment to comprehend what he said. “Where.” It almost comes out as a squeak.
“Back to the creek where your family is. Go, warn them and leave, leave your things and all your belongings.” the man in shadows replies in a stressed whisper.
I don’t ask how he knows where we live or why he even cares enough to tell me to go. I just run. My mind blanks in terror, and I don’t feel my feet crunch over the stream that we passed over earlier and rip my feet to bloody shreds. My face doesn’t feel the wind blister it red and my hands don’t notice the sting of the frigid cold. But I run.
I pass over the hill that blocked my view earlier and down the path that leads to the creek. And I see my home, only its not my home. Everything’s burning, and no one is there…