M I A S M A
Written on June 30, 2019 (♋)
Author's Notes: The edutaining plant fact embedded in this one is not actually anything to do with the symbolic properties of plants. Pennyroyal is a natural flea repellant and therefore instructing one's children to pick it all day would have been a useful guard against plague.
His mother had told him that morning that he and Tietra ought to go and pick flowers by the river--that it had been too hot to work and that it would be good for them to spend a day in the shade and by the water. Delita had complained that he had better things to do than watch over a girl making garlands, but she would brook no objection, and she sent them on their way with a strange tenderness neither child remarked upon until several years later. Tietra recalled that she had kissed her on the forehead before she ran out into the blinding sun. Delita seemed to remember that she had stooped to do so but had stopped short of completing the gesture.
It was a flatly miserable day to be sent outside to play, and they lamented both the situation and one another's company as they trod along the endless hills of burnt yellow grass that crinkled beneath their feet. Somewhere someone had a fire going for some reason neither could fathom, and Delita worried about the rest of the parched valley catching ablaze. It was still well before noon when Tietra protested that she was too tired and hot to keep walking, and Delita had regrettably little patience for her tantrum. They argued loudly, attracting the mocking rebuttals of several crows before he finally relented and carried her the rest of the way to the little grove and accompanying stream to which they'd been sent.
It had been better there, as their mother had said, although neither child was particularly joyful in the unremitting heat. Tietra picked and plaited several long stalks of pennyroyal, remembering a remark that the purple flowers particularly suited her, and sang a nonsense song to the circling birds. Delita threw rocks into a river that he would not recall the name of in the years that followed. They made up for their spat, combed the river shore for treasures, ate the few withered mulberries with the brown loaf they'd been sent out with, and generally wasted time. Nothing had marked the day as significant or memorable save for the heat, and it was only on the melting trudge back that Delita noticed the steady, sonorous ring of church bells on a day other than the Lord's.
Every entrance to the farmhouse was barred and bolted when they returned in the glow of twilight. Catching sight of a bright knot of fabric tied round a door handle, Delita stopped, shaking, and quickly convinced his sister it would be no trouble if they continued to walk a bit until it was really dark--to wait until they could see the stars.
The Hokuten found them the next morning, Delita having sat up through the night after telling Tietra he would wake her to head home if she stopped by the roadside to rest a moment. The knight who carried them back to Igros was later rebuked for bringing two children out of a village ordered quarantined, but neither they nor anyone they met with showed any signs of the pestilence in the months that followed.