Miri sighed as she walked down the ship's corridor. They'd been at sea a long time now, and her grandchildren were restless. And when children had cabin fever, trouble was never far behind. It had culminated today when Yu's eldest had decided to climb up the rigging to the top of the mast. He'd nearly broken his neck, and had to be rescued by one of the sailors.
Immediately after that incident, Miri and the ship's captain had brought all twelve children up into the great cabin and lectured them for a full half-hour, with Miri promising a good switching to anyone who even thought about duplicating that stunt.
The family's dinner that evening had been subdued, and one child was conspicuously absent.
Miri entered the cabin, and set down the tray she'd been carrying. The ten-year-old was curled up in his bunk, facing the wall.
"Feeling all right?"
He started, looking up. In the dim light, Miri could see his red, swollen eyes as well as evidence of a runny nose. " 'm fine…"
"No, you're not," she replied quietly, sitting down beside the bunk. "But you will be." She nodded to the tray. "You missed dinner; I brought you some food."
" 'm not hungry."
Miri didn't say anything to that, knowing that his stomach would come around sooner or later. "How's the paws?" she asked instead.
"Sore," was the mumbled reply.
Miri nodded. "I figured they would be; I brought some salve that'll help." The boy's hands were badly rope-burned from where he'd clung for life on the rigging. Miri bit her lip, remembering that heart-stopping sight…
Gently, she worked the salve into the reddened palms and fingers, pausing whenever the boy whimpered.
"Sweetheart, listen to me," she said at length. She more than half-expected a sharp retort from him, considering the lecture he'd already had to listen to earlier. But he was either too tired or he didn't want to anger her again, and he made no reply, so she continued.
"We've lost too many family members to the war. Your father… your uncle… your grandfather. We can't afford to lose anyone else to foolishness." Miri sighed, smoothing the boy's hair back from his face. "I know you miss home, and I know it's hard being stuck on this ship for so long. But risking your neck isn't the solution."
He sniffed, looking away. He was at that age when boys become self-conscious about crying in front of others, but when Miri pulled him close in a hug, his walls broke and he sobbed helplessly against his grandmother's shoulder. Finally he looked up, hiccupping and wiping his nose on his sleeve. A moment later, his stomach growled, loudly.
Miri smiled briefly. "Ready to try some food now?"
He nodded, and she handed him the bowl of noodle soup, which had cooled while he was crying. He finished it in five minutes flat, then sat back, staring at his toes. "…Grandma?" he said. "…'m sorry for scaring you."
She kissed his forehead. "I know, sweetheart. The important thing, though, is that you're all right."
This is a short story that's part of a larger OOTS fanfic my friend Star the Foxhound and I have been working on for quite a while. Miri is the wife of the famous General Tso, and is trying to hold her family together while the Azurites are in exile. As she says, "To survive this family, you need three things: a heart of gold, a backbone of iron, and the stamina of a workhorse."