Pieces

Genre: General

Summary: Bits of life, pieces of adventure. (I don't own Rowan of Rin. Emily Rodda does, and she did an excellent job.)

Chapter 1: Scars

Shanon, the Keeper of the Coolhouse had in his time, seen various rodents seeking food and shelter inside (and chased them out. He would never admit to having a soft spot for the mice). He had driven out invasions of plucky birds and cheeky, arrogent cats.

But this was the first time he had ever seen a bukshaa make its way inside.

He was checking that nothing had gone off within the many cupboards while his friend Rora, the other coolhouse keeper updated the inventory list, their usual morning routine.

Thump, thump, thump! The door opened.

'Good morning,' said Nellie of the Forge.

'Morning,' Shanon poked his head out of a cupboard to mutter. 'New cheese in cupboard seven.'

'What are you here for?' asked Rora. Scritch, scritch, his pen went over the notebook.

'Solla asked me to bring him some milk.'

'Can he not come and fetch it himself?'

'Busy with a cake.' Nellie grinned. 'He did promise me sweets.'

Shanon laughed.

'You will become as fat as Solla himself one day.'

'Shut your mouth,' Nellie sneered. 'By the way, while I was at his shop, Sara came by for sweets, Allun too. They were talking about the return of Jiller of the Field, Jonn of the Orchard and her son, Rowan of the Bukshaa. They just got back from Maris the other day.'

Shanon and Rora perked up. Really, for all their sensibility the villagers of Rin could not help the fast spread of gossip through themselves.

'So we heard,' said Rora. 'A new Keeper of the Crystal has been chosen and life goes on.'

'Yes, but did you know that Jiller and Rowan returned injured?'

'I heard tell of it.'

'I think something strange happened to them,' Nellie said thoughtfully. 'Not surprising, considering Rowan of the Bukshaa was involved. He has been a part of strange things before. Sara and Allun said there had been an unexpected trial.' She frowned. 'I wonder what it was? Jiller and Jonn have talked about their journey, but they have not said everything. Except to Lann, I think. And perhaps their close friends.'

'If they have not spoken,' Shanon said, as he opened another cupboard, 'you should not poke your nose in. Cupboard eight is now full.'

Scritch, scritch.

'I know, I know, but I am curious! I am certain something strange happened in Maris.'

'Besides the attempted Zebak invasion?'

'Yes. They had an air about them upon return.' Nellie lifted the lid off a large, round milk vat and ladled milk into a clay flask. 'And did you see the bandages on the boy's arms? I wonder what happened to him?'

Thud, thud, thud, thud! The door opened again.

'Hmm?'

Nellie's hand stilled in mid-ladle. Rora's mouth dropped open. There was a stunned silence.

'What in the world is that bukshaa doing in here?' said Shanon, incredulously.

It was calf bukshaa, born only that spring. The grey, shaggy thing had small knobs for horns and was nearly the same height as a woman's knees. The calf hmmed again and walked boldly into the coolhouse. Nellie watched, bewildered, as it sniffed around the cylindrical butter churns. Then it trotted over to the open milk vat and stood right up on its hind legs, scrabbling at the smooth outside! A pink tongue reached out for the ladle.

Thump, thump, thump! Rowan of the Bukshaa poked his head in.

'Sunny? Sunny!' He came in and did a brief doubletake.

'Um, sorry,' he mumbled to the humans. He kneeled down to speak to the bukshaa.

'Sunny, what are you doing in the coolhouse, hm?'

The calf, Sunny, licked his face. He giggled.

'Does it smell like your mother, Berry? Look, why don't you come back home with me and Berry will feed you. Come on now.' He laid a hand on the bukshaa's back and began to steer it away.

'What happened to your arms, Rowan of the Bukshaa?' asked Rora, suddenly.

Rowan froze. He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and the adults could see short, jagged pink scars carved into his forearms and hands.

'Um, I had an incident in Maris,' he muttered.

'An incident?' Shanon repeated. 'It looks as though something has tried to - eat you.' Rowan shuddered.

'It was sort of a fishing incident.' The adults looked at each other.

'What were you fishing for, boy?' asked Nellie, 'A sea serpent?'

Rowan smiled weakly at her.

'No. They were small fish.'

'Well, sometimes dangerous things come in a small size. Just look at youself!' Rowan turned red and combed his fingers through Sunny's fur. The conversation had a shy feeling to it. Nellie was not used to it, and she wondered if this was how Rowan often felt when talking to people. For a moment, she could sympathise with him, and it was stranger to her than a bukshaa in the coolhouse.

'Sorry if Sunny interupted you. Good day.' Rowan lead the bukshaa Sunny outside and was soon gone.

'We forgot to ask him about the rest of the trip,' said Rora.

Nellie realised she was still holding the milk ladle in mid-air, dripped empty and lowered it.

XXX xxx XXX

Hours later, Rowan walked past the Teaching Tree on his way to the House of Books. It was absent of children; they spent their mornings under its boughs, learning from Timon the Teacher, then in the afternoon they were sent to the House of Books, to training for whatever adversity or adventure they might one day encounter, or out to help the adults with work. Annad would be in the orchard with Jonn now.

Older children and teenagers only spent a couple of hours after lunch under the Teaching Tree a day, and now Rowan walked to the House of Books to read Ailments of the Bukshaa, by Corrie of the Bukshaa. She had been their keeper years ago, and judging by the first two chapters, she was a genius.

Rowan walked fast, keeping his arms tucked close to his sides. Today was his first day without bandages and, although his injuries were no longer an angry red, they were stark against his skin. The scars would probably be there for the rest of his life. Still, it could be worse.

The House of Books was perhaps twice the size of an ordinary house. There were several older children pouring over the history books in the large not-fiction room. They had taken all the sitting mats. On the other side of the room, a few adults sat at tables with their books. Rowan took Ailments of the Bukshaa from its shelf - there was half a shelf dedicated to bukshaa (Rowan had read nearly all of them)- and opened it at an empty table.

Brush, brush.

Page 13, chapter 3: Stomach Ailments

A bukshaa usually has a steady stomach, Corrie had written, but sometimes they will eat something that disagrees with them. My dear friend in the herd, Clear, has a taste for peelings and one day, those peelings got mixed up with a red bushbird bird my mother and I were preparing for dinner. Bird meat must be cooked thoroughly, and a piece of it remained with the peelings I gave Clear. When I went to see the bukshaa the next morning, she was moaning in pain.

Corrie's recount of how she got Clear through her food poisoning ordeal absorbed Rowan completely. He picked over the sketches, not noticing that the adults in the room were one by one, gaping in surprise at him and trying not to stare too obviously.

Apple cider vinegar? Rowan mused. Easy enough. Or Licorice? That black thing the Travellers brought with them?

'What happened to your arms?'

The voice piped into his ear so unexpectedly, Rowan banged his elbow on the table edge.

Ow!

The speaker was Bree and Hanna's oldest child, Ella, who was a year older than him. She was eyeing his healing arms with shock and interest.

'Fishing accident,' Rowan told her, and he tucked his arms under the table. Would she go away if he kept reading? She had not teased him as much as her younger siblings.

'Really? What kind of fishing accident?' Bother.

'Er, there were a lot of small fish with very large teeth,' Rowan told Ella. 'I was reaching into a rock pool-' (this was not lying. Hungry pool really was a rock pool) '-and they attacked me.

'Why did you put your hands in at all?' Ella's loud voice was somewhere between interested and condensending. And now everyone was staring. 'Did you not know what was in it?'

'Well, we tried scaring the fish away, but they came out before I could get my arms out completely.'

'Why did you scare the fish away? I thought you were fishing.'

'Ah- they were not what we were looking for-'

'Back to your studies, children,' Maise's voice interrupted. Heads swung to watch her in the doorway to the fiction room. Rowan didn't think he had ever been so relieved to see her, except for that time she had rescued him from being used as a chair. Or from toppling off a chair back when he could not reach the small music books shelf, which had three books.

Rowan kept an eye on Ella and the other children as he read on, but they did not question him again. They forgot he was there after a while.

A bit later (page 19, chapter 4: Problems Down the Other End) Lann walked into the House of Books, the tap, tap, thunk, tap of her cane preceeding her.

This is easily remedyed with regular washing.

Tap, tap, tap. Rowan heard Laan taking a book down from somewhere behind him and tap, tap tap, thump, scrape, rustle and thump, she took a seat at the table next to his.

Brush, brush.

'... How are your arms?'

'... They are mending.'

'Good. The fresh air will do them well. How is your mother?'

'She is much better too,' Rowan said. Brush, brush.

He saw Lann leaning over to see his arms.

Diet, too, affects the rear-end workings. If a bukshaa is ill with a fungal stomach infection, there will be an excretment of - Oh and there was even a coloured picture here.

'That will scar, boy. It will be something to tell your children about.' Rowan had no idea how to answer that one. He did not know if he would ever have children to tell his stories to either.

I wonder if she feels differently about me now? he wondered. If she did, she gave no sign of it. Is Lann thinking about what happened to me in Maris?

Upon his return to Rin two days ago he, Jonn and Jiller had told Lann and the few who knew of their family's duty what happened to them in the Maris. Jiller spoke of her brief experience on the Island before Death Sleep struck her down. Jonn talked about his wait in the Cavern of the Crystal, knowing that Rowan would return in time, and of the Zebak's attempted attack. Rowan told them about his adventure solving the riddle of the antidote with the Candidates, the suspisions that plagued him and the terrible realisation that Doss was a slave to the Zebak (dismay and horror crossed the faces in Timon's workroom here). How he had moved to join with the Crystal - he heard gasps and saw eyes widen - and pulling Doss to join with the Crystal anyway because it was more powerful than any brainwashing.

Timon's eyes were wide with wonder.

'How incredible,' he murmured.

Rowan hoped they would not ask for more detail. Jiller and Jonn already knew the experience had changed him. 'Something in your eyes,' his mother said. He did not want the others to know too.

The adults eyed him with wonder and curiousity, but only Lann, Timon the Teacher and Allun the Very Curious Baker had pressed for more.

'It felt like, like a vast sea,' he said shyly. 'Full of time and power. Nothing can stand before it; not love or ties to others.' An irresistable force washing away all his bonds, absorbing his soul like a drop of rain falling into the sea. He was becoming part of something much bigger and stronger and older than himself, giving up his own raindrop self with joy. How safe and comforting it would have been!

And for the moment the Crystal's healing power had rushed through him into Doss, his skin tingled and his head swam.

Most of the adults looked unsettled by his description. Rowan didn't blame them. Jonn and Jiller held their faces steady and eyes dry, but he could see the relief and fear in their eyes. Allun's eyebrows were high on his forehead.

'My goodness,' he said. 'That is more impressive than any cheese dream or drunken night I have ever had. But I am glad you are staying here.' There was a moment of quiet. Rowan's face was red. Jonn squeezed Rowan's shoulder. Then Alunn grinned and said,

'I wonder what would happen if you had cheese with that experience?'

Lann was unsettled, I know. But I know she will get over it. Lann is one of the most sensible people in the village.

XXX xxx X XX

Later again, as the sun was slowly sinking West and people were coming in from the fields, Rowan stood with Star by the fence, watching them walk. The Western horizon was turning yellow and the East side was darkening.

Rowan threaded his fingers through Star's fur.

'I think we all need to keep an eye on Sunny,' he told her. She looked at him.

'He keeps wandering off. More than any other bukshaa. You know I found him in the coolhouse today.'

'Hmm.'

'And yesterday he was trying to climb the fence, and before we went to Maris he was in the House of Books! He is just like Annad!'

Star snorted.

'And then I have to go and find him. But at least nothing bad has happened to him.' Thank Orrin the mine shafts are all closed down or locked up. Wait. Thank Orrin? A warm spring breeze bent the grass and rustled in the trees and ruffled Rowan's hair and Star's fur. It smelt of blossoms.

The exposed pink marks on Rowan's arms and hands tingled. He looked at them. He did not remember how many times he had looked at them. Lann was right that they would be a story to tell. Apparently she had several battle scars from the War of the Plains. Allun and Sara both possessed burn marks from years baking cakes and bread in hot ovens. There was a line on Jiller's leg made by a plow years ago. Lots of little cuts littered Jonn's body. Scars were a part of life. Everyone had to put up injuries every now and then, and sometimes they told tales.

One, two, three -

'Wait... wait,' said Doss. 'Wait for all of them to go.'

Now! Rowan plunged his hand into the cold, silvery water. Deeper, deeper, his body stretched out over the rock. Wetness lapped his chest, his neck, his chin, soaking his clothes. If the fish were to attack now...

His fingers grasped the moonflower's smooth, hard stem. He thrust his other arm in, pinched the end with his nails - yes! - and shuffled backwards, grazing himself on hte receeded down his chest, out came his elbows and -

'Ahh!'

'Rowan!'

His forearms were pierced with pain. Water, blood and tiny, hiddeous fish fell from him and splashed back into the pool. Silver and red. Sweet purfume clouded the air.

His hands were shaking, needles filled his mind, but he held the moonflower over the jar Seaborn held before him.

Pluck one and add the tears it sheds...

Rowan's arm had fallen to his side and Star looked at it. She licked it.

'Hmm.' Her nose wrinked. Rowan giggled.

'That is healing cream you taste, Star. The kind they make in Maris. Does it taste fishy?' He licked his hand carefully.

'Ugh.'

'Rowan!' Annad's loud, high-pitched voice floated from the edge of the orchard. 'Rowan! Hello!'

'Hello, Annad!' he called back. He raised his arm to wave to them. It looked unfamiliar. Then Annad and Jonn waved at him, and he waved back.

XXX xxx XXX

Thanks to ummdotedu for the information on food poisoning.