Written in the Dust
Acre upon acre of flat land made the plains of Sacae an ideal place to start a farm. The soil was rich, there were creeks and small rivers carved through the earth, and a person could see for miles in every direction.
Lyn's name was written in the land, but Kent's was not.
He had loved it just like she did when, newly married—though only in their own sense of the word—they had traveled to Sacae to live.
He'd left everything for her and for the land. She was everything he could ever hope for and more, but the land…it was not.
For the first six years, he worked hard and with everything he had to make fields, to build fences, a house, a barn, and to raise horses. The work was exhausting, but retiring at the end of the day to the arms of his wife made everything worth it.
When she told him that she was pregnant, he couldn't be happier, and when she gave birth to a son during their third year in Sacae, he was proud.
Their seventh year together started, and he sowed seeds in the fields after weeks of plowing them, just as he did every year. He trained and broke horses while he waited for the seeds to come up, and just like every year, they did.
But the rain did not come as it did every year. With agonizing slowness, the green plants turned brown, the grass turned brittle, their well line dipped lower and lower, the creeks dried up, and the rivers became mere puddles. It was a good thing they didn't have to share their water with anyone else or they wouldn't have been able to make it.
His shame was stronger than it had ever been. Even the days that were long gone, when Lady Lyndis had been injured—sometimes gravely—in battle, could not compare to the failure that he felt weighing down on his shoulders when he watched her give most of what little food she had to their son, and when, even after eating part of Lyndis's food, he still complained of being hungry.
Lyn told him that she was pregnant again, and he worried. He couldn't help it. It was nothing like the first time; when she had announced her first pregnancy, she had done so in the pond on the other side of the barn, her hands pulling his arms around from behind her to settle his palms against her stomach. Her skin had been soft; he remembered how her curves felt under his fingertips.
The second time, she cried without shedding a tear, and he knew. He knew from the way she clung to him and the way her shoulders shook.
He worried because her skin was stretched over her bones, because she weighed almost nothing, because he could hardly feel the weight of her in his arms anymore.
Months passed, and the crops were beyond help. Their horses were drinking out of the puddles at the bottom of the river, and so were they. He had never hated the sight of the sun more. There was lightning, heat lightning, and it made him sick to see it. He worried that it would strike the barn, or the house, or even the fences. If it did, everything would go up in smoke, and they would be left with nothing but the dust of the plains, as the grass had long ago withered and blown away.
It struck the old tree at the corner of their property. They couldn't fight it because they had nothing to fight it with.
They both cried in relief when it burned itself out where the grass had disappeared and only crumbly dirt remained.
Lyn had a painful miscarriage. There wasn't time to go for a midwife, or any kind of help at all. He buried the daughter that the plains refused to let them have, and he tried to focus on other things.
One of the horses died. Lyndis said it was a bad omen, that something was wrong; they needed to burn it, or dispose of the body, she told him.
Kent told her that the animal had died of dehydration, and that they had to make use of that body.
It was the worst fight they ever had, and it left both of them in tears borne of frustration and fear.
Though it made them both almost sick to do it, they ate Bleue.
They would have been foolish not to.
They grew thinner, and weaker. Their son drew pictures in the dirt with a stick. Lyndis smiled at what he considered a good replica of a horse.
Kent taught him to write.
He took half of his horses to Bulgar and sold them. They were good horses; all had been broken to ride and taught to pull a plow, not to mention a wagon. The money he got out of it was hardly worth the trip, but there wasn't enough water to keep all of them, and if he knew that if he didn't sell them, they'd only die.
When he returned, he told Lyndis that Bulgar was a shell of what it had once been. It was half the size, the streets hardly had anyone on them, and poverty was everywhere. Nobody had work because nobody could afford to pay for it. People would pay for grain, for corn, for oats, but there wasn't any. There was only dust, and it kicked up every time the wind blew, getting in people ears and eyes and mouths.
He tried to send Lyndis away. He tried. He tried to tell her to go back to Caelin, where she would be treated well, or Ostia, or Pherae…or even Etruria! Just until the drought was over, he told her. Just until it rained.
She refused. She wouldn't leave him. Even though they weren't married by all legal definitions, they were husband and wife, and didn't husbands and wives work things through together?
Rumors of a coming war started to spread as summer came to a close.
Another of their horses died.
They ate her.
They started to travel further downstream for water, for other puddles. The water was hardly an inch deep anywhere, if that. They hunted but found nothing to kill.
The only reason that Kent was glad he had gone to Sacae was because of Lyndis. Lyndis would have gone alone if he had not gone with her, and she… He shuddered to think of her trying to survive the drought alone.
They were almost out of grain when the clouds came.
Lyn told him that it was going to rain, but he knew that neither of them believed that it actually would. After months of not seeing a single raindrop, the idea of it raining down hundreds of thousands of them seemed ridiculous.
He might have laughed at the idea, but nothing was funny anymore.
How could anything be funny when he knew his family was hungry?
Their son wrote in the dirt. He learned things quickly, it seemed, and Lyn leaned over him, helping him as he wrote Mama and Papa and Me in the dry dust.
He traced over them, again and again, digging them deeper into the ground. "Papa?" he asked, pressing a hand against his belly as it rumbled quietly.
Kent hung his head at the sound, feeling sorrow and shame so deep in his bones that he couldn't even make himself look up. "What is it?"
"Are we goin' to stay here f'rev'r?"
Kent looked at him, then, at the young boy's eyes that matched his own, and then he looked to Lyndis. His fear and sadness were evident in his eyes. "I don't know," he said honestly, softly.
Defeated. That was how he felt, from his sun-bleached red hair to his calloused feet.
She tried to smile encouragingly at him, but he could see that she had been defeated, too. Kent thought, in that instant, that he would much prefer to be defeated by a man, by an axe or a sword or a javelin through his skull, than to waste away slowly being defeated by the sun and the sky and the soil.
"Mama loves it here," he continued quietly, looking down at the words in the dust with an expression on his face that made him look far older than he was. Lyndis picked him up and kissed his cheek, holding him against her tightly.
It hurt Kent more than anything to look at them, to see the bones in Lyn's back and the thinness of her face. His son wasn't much better, but he was just a child—Elimine, just a little child!—and he didn't deserve to suffer, to go without, to know and understand want and conservation and…and hunger!
"I like it here. Papa, do you like it here, too?"
He doesn't know anything different, Kent told himself, but before he could sigh and shake his head and tell the truth—no, he didn't like it—he saw the first one. A tiny drop of water splashed across the bridge of his son's nose.
He stared at it.
"Papa, do you like it here, too?" he repeated, getting frustrated. Ah, he was so much like his mother, sometimes…
He stared at that little drop, stared and stared and stared and stared. His heart started to beat faster, faster than it ever had in his entire life, faster than it had beat when Lyndis had walked in on him changing his clothes before he had even known her for a full year, than when he had first kissed her, than when he had asked her to marry him, than when they had consummated that marriage, and faster than when she had cried out as contractions indicated she was going into labor for the first time.
"Kent, what's wrong?" she asked, concerned, probably worried that he was suffering from heatstroke, because—hah!—they couldn't do anything for him if he was.
His hand reached for her side, squeezing tightly. Her waist was so thin.
It broke his heart a thousand times over.
"Kent, are you okay?" She was nearing panic, he could tell. She might have been on the verge of tears, but all he could do was stare at that little drop of water on his son's nose. It had landed right on a freckle.
"Papa? Papa, do you like it here?"
He stared until a second splash caught his eye. It landed in Lyn's hair, on a strand that hung in her eyes. Tentatively, he reached out to touch it.
"Kent, please answer me," she begged, rough fingertips touching his face in concern. She set their son on his feet, both her hands grabbing his shoulders.
"Papa! Tell me that you like it here!"
Then there was another drop, he felt it on his cheek. Cold, wet… Hope hit him so hard and fast that he almost burst into tears. Lyndis looked scared. He smiled at her.
He smiled down at his son.
"Papa…!" Impatient, the boy glared at him.
He only continued to smile as he crouched down next to him and ruffled his auburn hair. "I like it here because you and your mama are here," he answered truthfully.
As his four-year-old's mouth opened in a wide grin, the heavens split apart and the rain fell so hard and fast that it hurt his skin.
Lyndis tackled him to the muddy ground.
Muddy, he thought. The ground was muddy.
Their son ran in circles and loops, his bare feet getting dirty though neither he nor Lyn cared.
Her lips against his were unyielding and demanding. She might have been crying, but he couldn't be sure. The rain was running down her face in rivulets, and he thought she looked beautiful. He kissed her back, just as demanding, just as unyielding, and when they separated, he held her against him tightly. Both of them were soaked through.
The rain must have added some weight to her clothes and hair, because he could feel her head against his chest as she hugged him.
She sat up and laughed, laughed and clutched at his shirt, kissed his hands and his face as her fingers ran through his hair. Suddenly, she looked to the side and watched her son as he jumped into the air and came back down in a puddle, the water splashing up around him.
"He almost looks like he's dancing," she said softly, wistfully.
He got to his feet, pulling her after him, and they both watched him play like a child ought to play.
"Do you want to?" He asked her, turning to take one of her hands in his before brushing a kiss across her knuckles.
"Dance?" She laughed, the sound warming his heart so much that he wondered if he had started to cry, again. "Kent, I was never good at that."
"So?" he asked, leaning close to her, his lips tickling her ear as he spoke. "Do you remember the last time we danced?"
She grinned and pulled away from him, attempting a curtsy that looked both ridiculous and wonderful. "I do remember," she teased. "In Caelin, on the balcony where Chancellor Reissmann told me not to go because it was—"
"—Raining outside," he finished, letting one of his hands rest on her waist as he took the other in his hand.
She laid her head on his shoulder with a sigh, "Yes, raining outside… That was one of the best days of my life." She lifted her eyes to his and smiled. "I love you," she murmured. "I love you so much."
He wrapped his arms around her, one of his hands stroking her hair, the other just holding her close, and he pressed the side of his face against hers, the motion both gentle and firm at the same time. "I love you, too," he whispered back, his voice hoarse and raw with emotion; he had only had that happen a handful of times in his life.
Her hand touched the side of his face, and he closed his eyes, breathing in the smell of the rain and the dust that was kicked into the air by it before it was beaten back down again.
"We can do this," she said. "Everything will be fine."
His eyelashes fluttered against the wet skin of her cheek, and he found himself looking down at the ground, at the deeply carved names that his wife had helped his son put there in the dust.
He found that he could still read them.
I loved writing this. Uhm, this was written for Qieru.
If you know the movie (book?) that this idea came from, then you win the internet. Drought is indeed a sad thing, and it was actually really scary; I can't imagine living through one, myself.
Thanks for reading! Feedback would be much appreciated.