By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: The villagers spoke of crystal clear waters and snowy peaks that towered in the sky.
Kia Farr couldn’t keep the scowl off her face. She crossed her arms, the closest she would get to sulking. Today of all days, her father needed her to put on a brave face and act her age. That meant resisting the urge to stick her fingers in her ears and sing out loud so she wouldn’t have to hear the terrible things Master Warren was saying in the council meeting.
“…which should show how this man had every intention of ignoring his debts to me!” Master Warren exclaimed, through an accusatory hand in the direction of Kia’s father.
She looked at the man who had raised her and her younger sister while her mother fought in the war. Had Craig Farr possessed the same special talents in magic his wife did, Kia and her sister would have spent their childhoods without both parents. As it was, even with her father at home, the Farr family had struggled. With meal making. With keeping clothes clean.
“…and if his crimes against me weren’t enough, his intentions regarding the young women of this town are less than honorable,” Master Warren went on with a sneer. “Why, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s behaved indecently with his own daughters.”
Kia bolted to her feet. “Enough! You have no right to speak about my father that way. He’s always contributed to the village. Always.”
“Kia,” her father said, putting a hand on her arm.
Master Warren snorted. “A child speaking where she has no idea what reality is.”
“I know the reality here,” Kia said, clenching her fists. “I know that my father took loans from you to fix our roof and feed our family. I know that you charged him an impossible amount of interest and an unreasonable demand to repay by the end of the month. I’m sixteen years old, Master Warren, not a child, as you say, and I’m well aware of the realities of life.”
The council members sitting at the long table fidgeted. She tried to stare one or two of them down, and they averted their gazes from her. Her father tugged her back down to her seat.
“Don’t let him goad you into an argument, my love,” her father said in a soft voice. “When has that ever worked?”
Master Warren narrowed his eyes at her. “You know of the realities of life, do you? Do you think you can repay your father’s debt then?”
Her heart fluttered, but she drew herself up to her full height. “If the terms of repaying it are fair and just, yes, I can repay my father’s debt.”
“This is ridiculous,” her father said aloud, getting to his own feet. “The debt concerns Master Warren and myself. Kia should not be included in this conversation at all.”
“No, Kia,” he said. “The debt is mine. The choices I made to incur it were mine. The repayment will be my responsibility as well.”
Master Warren crossed his arms, and a smile crossed his face. Kia’s heart beat harder. His smile reminded her of a snake’s expression when it had a mouse in its sights.
“I am willing to forgive the entire debt,” he said. “On one condition. Bring me a bloom from the crocus plant.”
Gasps zipped around the room. Two of the councilors covered their mouths, their eyes large Os above their hands. Kia pressed her own hands to her chest; if her heart pounded any harder, it would beat right through her ribs and fall onto the floor.
“Those are my terms,” Master Warren stated. “I give you three months to fulfill them. Otherwise, your interest and your principal double.”
The crocus plant, known to grow in wintry conditions. Plentiful among the mountains. Mountains Kia had never visited.
She turned and ran down the length of the oversized tent, pushed its flap open, and let it fall shut behind her. Deep inhales brought her the heat of the desert—the only home she had ever known. She panted as she adjusted her large scarf across her face. Sandstorms, as desert dwellers knew, could come up fast and without warning.
Like her closest friends and her entire family, Kia could navigate the desert without a second thought. She knew when the heat shimmers above the sand meant mirages and when they held above actual puddles of water. The shimmer about a hundred feet in front of the council tent now undulated like a dancing girl; it winked and flirted but ultimately offered nothing of substance.
The desert heat sat in her gut like smoldering coals. On storytelling nights, the villagers spoke of crystal clear waters and snowy peaks that towered in the sky. They shared tales of peddlers and nomads who would climb those peaks and see miles in any direction. Like Kia could see now in the desert.
Miles and miles of sandy hills baking in the punishing rays of the sun.
Once in a while, a plucky young boy or girl would ask how they could travel across the hills to find those mountain peaks. Would they ever get the chance to see the tall trees covered in the white powder that fell from the sky? Peddlers had told tales of it floating to the ground with the gentleness of a first kiss or with the fury of a sandstorm.
No one from their village knew how to get there, and no one had ever attempted the journey.
That didn’t mean they wouldn’t make it if they tried.
The coals in Kia’s gut smoldered. They frittered away the edges of her worry and her apprehension. They stoked a desire to make a difference in her father’s life, in her sister’s life. In her own life.
She straightened her shoulders, tilted up her chin, and marched to her family tent to begin preparations for her journey.