"Good-bye, Ma!" Nordra called. The eight-year-old waved hard at her grandmother, whom everyone in the Forest affectionately referred to as Ma. "Come back soon."
Ma blew her a kiss. Her white-streaked black hair was pulled back in a tight bun, but the wind played with several strands that had fallen out. "Don't worry, darling. You and Rin stay put and play together nicely, and I'll be back by this evening."
Nordra smiled. "We will." She glanced over at Rin, who stood several feet next to her, her arms hanging limply at her sides and her face pulled into a tight, forlorn expression. Nordra knew how Rin hated to be separated from Ma. That was understandable, of course. Rin was Nordra's aunt and Ma's own daughter. Nordra was just one of many grandchildren.
Nordra watched and waved as Ma strode out of the yard and disappeared in the many trees of the Forest. She was being called off to help birth a baby. Nordra wished Ma wouldn't have to be gone so long. Everyone always felt lonely without Ma's comforting presence nearby. Until Ma was back, she would simply have to make do and play with Rin.
Nordra skipped over to Rin and tugged at the seven-year-old's hand. "Rinna! Let's go play hide-and-seek."
"No," Rin said in a borderline irritated voice. She sighed in the direction that Ma had gone. "I want Ma and Razo."
"Ma will be back soon, and you know that Razo is gone. He's at the city earning money for us. He'll come back to visit us soon, don't worry," Nordra said cheerily. She plopped down on a log. If Rinna wouldn't play, that was fine. There were plenty of other things to do.
Nordra picked up a stick lying nearby and began to draw pictures in the dirt, which was still damp and slightly muddy from a recent rain. She carefully sketched a stick figure of Ma.
"I want that," Rin spoke up. She pointed to the stick that Nordra was using.
Nordra glanced up. Rin was pouting, and there was a defiant glare in her eyes. Nordra inwardly cringed. Rin was usually so calm and peaceful, quick to do as anyone asked. Everyone called her Ma's little shadow. "I'm using this right now." She waved her hand around the yard. "There are plenty of others."
Rin's little cheeks were turning a fiery red. "No!" She even dared to stomp her foot. "I want that one."
Nordra tightened her fingers just a little tighter around the stick. She stuck out her chin and frowned at Rin. "Stop it, Rinna. Please. Ma said to be good."
"She said nothing of the sort!" Rin was protesting now.
"Uh-huh! She said, 'You and Rin stay put and play together nicely'! You heard her yourself!"
Rin's shoulders slumped, for she could not defy the truth. Nordra straightened and turned her attention back to her stick, thinking that at last she had won the victory.
Nordra looked up. There was a pleased expression on Rinna's face that made her shiver.
Rin spoke slowly, as if she had just realized the power of her words. "If you don't give me that stick, I'll tell Ma you took it from me, and she always believes me."
The stick shook in Nordra's hand. Rin was right. She was Ma's favorite. Nordra tried to hide the terror in her face.
"She loves me best, and she'll wallop you with her wooden spoon. So you better give me the stick."
Nordra frowned at her aunt, but finally handed over the stick with an air of reluctance. It would do no good to argue.
She watched a delighted expression spread across Rinna's face. "Now give me your doeskin boots, Nordra."
Nordra's hands instinctively reached down to protectively cover her boots. Da had made them for her for her birthday! A stick was nothing, but she couldn't give up her boots! "No! No, Rin, don't," she wailed, ducking her head so that her black hair fell over her face and Rin wouldn't see the tears dripping pitifully down her cheeks.
"Remember what I said." Rin's voice had a hint of warning in it. "Ma'll whack you hard with that spoon if you don't share. She'll hit you good and hard."
Nordra shook at the thought of Ma punishing her. Ma was sweet and tender and loving, but when one of the Agget-kin did wrong, Ma did not hesitate to gently correct them or punish them. And Nordra would hate to get on her dear Ma's bad side. So she unwillingly handed over her precious boots, crying the whole time.
"Now," Rinna said in a voice of regal, superior tone, "for your hairpiece."
Nordra's hand flew to the cloth that she used to hold her hair. It was a cheerful, vivid red that accented her hair perfectly. She breathed deep, shuddery breaths, and tears dripped from her cheeks, splattering her stick figure on the ground. "No!" she moaned, "no, Rin, don't." But there had been something in Rin's voice that made her feel compelled to do as she asked––for Ma would surely be angry with her if she didn't share, just as Rin had said. And so Nordra relinquished her hairpiece.
"Your doll," Rin said, pointing to the doll of wrapped sticks which was poking out of Nordra's apron pocket. "Give it to me."
Nordra cried even harder now. Not her doll! Not precious little Jenna. But, with tears falling from her cheeks, she slowly got it out of her pocket and handed it to Rin, feeling as if she had no choice.
Rin gripped her new three items in her arms with a look of satisfaction.
"Rin! Rinna-girl, what are you doing to make Nordra cry?"
Nordra jumped at the voice, and when she saw Ma bustling through the clearing, she didn't know whether to sag down and cry from shame or jump up and down with relief. Finally she just let out one piteous word before returning to her crying. "Ma."
Ma marched over to red-faced daughter and grabbed the back of her tunic, yanking her to her feet. "Answer me, Rin. What's wrong with Nordra? Tell me now."
"I just asked her for her things and she gave them to me," Rin mumbled, her blush blushing.
Nordra wiped her eyes and looked on with interest. What would Ma do?
"Then stop asking for things that aren't yours," Ma was scolding Rin. "You just shut that mouth and keep it shut unless you have something nice to say. I'd never guessed you had such a bad core in you! I'm ashamed of my own daughter, making little Nordra cry. I'm right ashamed."
Rin's lips were quivering. Nordra felt a tad bit sorry for her, but she was still hurt. Then Ma snatched up the boots, hairpiece, and doll from Rin's arms and handed them to Nordra, patting her back comfortingly and whispering soothing words in her ears. "Thank you, Ma," Nordra mumbled.
Ma kissed her cheek. "There, it's all right, dearie. I'm sorry." She stood up, frowned at Rin and shook her head, then strode into the cabin.
Nordra followed Ma into the cabin, clutching her things close to her chest. She turned her head back before she went in, and she was just in time to catch a glimpse of Rin's face, stricken with betrayal.
And then Rin ran to the trees.