Nim dismissed the kids. His first day back to teaching went well, all things considered. The kids behaved and had their work done. There was a new girl in class. He assumed Sinta had enrolled her. Normally, he liked to meet with the parents of new students to see what kind of support they’d give, but if Sinta had met them, there was no need to rush.
He stayed to review work. He noticed the girl, Feena, hadn’t turned in the assignment. He wondered if there were problems at home with getting work done. Not all parents were supportive of their kids being in class. She had been quiet in class, not seeming to know most of the answers. He’d talk with her in the morning, and possibly not put off meeting her parents. He wondered if she would do better in Sinta’s class.
Nim packed up his things and went to drop off some supplies in Sinta’s room before leaving. As he passed his room again, he’d heard a noise. He went in to investigate, assuming a student had forgotten something. He saw Feena.
“Forget something?” He asked.
“My slate,” she said, softly. She smelled nervous.
“You had your slate.” He remembered seeing doodles on it as she talked with Lamdi about joining a study group she and Ruzi were having.
Feena shook her head and Nim caught a quick glance toward the back of the room. Her nervousness turned to fear. He looked, half expecting her to run as he did. She just stayed. He went back to investigate. In a corner, behind the shelf was a makeshift bed. She hadn’t enrolled in class, he realized. She’d been staying there and was pretending to be a student as an excuse to be in the building.
“Is this your stuff?” He asked.
She shook her head but then nodded.
“You can’t stay here,” he told her. “Get your stuff.”
She sighed and did.
“Come on,” he started to leave.
She didn’t move.
“Come on,” he insisted.
“A place you can stay. You didn’t think I’d put you out on the street, did you?”
“You want me to stay with you?” She asked. Her fear suddenly became overpowering. Nim realized what she was thinking and growled.
“A dragon would never treat a child like that.”
“I’m seventeen. I’m almost an adult.”
There was no way she was seventeen, but he didn’t contradict her. “And I’m a dragon and don’t care. You’re still a child. Besides, my wife would kill me if I even thought of hurting a child. I’m taking you to a safe home.”
Reluctantly, she followed. She followed all the way to the home, but wouldn’t come in the yard, saying there was somewhere else she could stay. She still didn’t trust him.
Dae, could you send Lamdi out?
She’s next-door. What is it?
A new girl. I found her at the school, and she thinks I want to take advantage of her. She knows Lamdi.
She and Ruzi aren’t in the hammock?
Nim went to the edge of the yard where the fence used to be. Yes, I see them.
Jo’s here. I’ll send her out when she’s free.
“Lamdi,” Nim called.
Lamdi sat up and turned. He motioned for her to come. She and Ruzi both did.
Lamdi smiled. “Feena, hi.”
“Feena needs a place to stay, but she doesn’t trust me,” Nim explained.
Lamdi smiled. “Nim’s got to be the gentlest dragon around. He’s just tough in class. Come on in. You can stay with us.”
Feena still hesitated, glancing at Nim.
“He doesn’t live here,” Ruzi told her. “He lives in the palace.”
Feena glanced at him. “The palace?”
“He’s a spy for the dragons,” Lamdi whispered loudly.
Nim frowned. “I’m what?”
“That’s along with being a madman, and a mass murderer.” Ruzi grinned. “He lives in the palace prison.”
Ruzi laughed. “Not really. But some of the nobles should write stories. We tell everyone the crazy rumors when they come to stay so when we go to the palace, they don’t get worried.”
Feena relaxed some.
“Come on in. Seriously, if you need a place to stay, you could stay with us. If not, you can at least have dinner. Sapphire is a really good cook,” Lamdi offered.
“Do you really live here?”
Lamdi nodded. “Five years now.”
“I live next-door, but I used to live here too,” Ruzi added.
“It’s a safe home,” Nim told her. “It’s a place for kids to stay if they can’t stay with their parents.
“Lamdi’s parents don’t handle her special needs well, and Ruzi’s mom was in a coma and his dad is missing.”
“I was adopted and then he married my mom.” Ruzi grinned.
Jo came out. “Y’all coming in?”
“Y’all?” Nim grinned. “I thought you were from Chicago.”
Jo grinned too. “I am. But that doesn’t mean I can’t say y’all.”
“This is my wife, Jo,” Nim said. “Jo, this is Feena. She’s trying to decide if she needs a place to stay.”
“Well, come on in and have something to eat. You don’t have to decide now. Meet everyone.”
Feena finally followed them in.
“Were you staying at the school? This place is better than that. It’s a little crowded but there are beds for everyone and the foods good. And they have free health care.” Jo winked and gestured to Lamdi. “They have a live in healer.”
“You’re a healer?” Feena asked.
Lamdi nodded. “That’s why I always wear gloves.” She looked at her bare hands. “Except I left them in the hammock.”
Ruzi rolled his eyes and handed her the gloves. “What would you do without me?”
“I don’t want to know.” She took her gloves but didn’t put them on.
Jo led them to the kitchen table and pulled out a cake.
“Not the pie?” Nim frowned.
“If you eat that pie, you can answer to Sapphire,” Dae warned. “That’s dessert for tonight.”
“My wife doesn’t make pies.” Nim pouted.
“You didn’t like my pie,” Jo countered.
“It was chicken.”
“Oo, a chicken pie? That sounds good.” Dae smiled.
“No chicken,” Ti called from the other room.
“I’ll give you the recipe,” Jo offered, ignoring Ti.
“This is Feena. Feena, this is Dae, she’s one of the moms here. Sapphire’s the other.”
“She’s trying to get Nas down for a nap,” Dae explained.
“Ti, the one that doesn’t like chicken, and Pt’this are the dads.”
“I have a mom and dad,” Feena argued.
Jo nodded. “All the kids do. But for some reason they can’t or won’t live at home. These are foster parents. The kids aren’t orphans, and they aren’t adopted.”
“I was,” Ruzi said.
“That was different,” Jo pointed out. “They’re substitutes or helper parents.”
“And what about you?” Feena asked.
“Me?” Jo smiled. “I just come to talk with the kids, and if they have problems, we work on them. Sometimes, I’ll talk with the kids’ parents and see if we can work through the problems that cause the kids to leave home.”
“How long can I stay?”
“As long as you need to. Lamdi’s been here five years. Rella’s been here since the beginning and will be until he comes of age, and moves out.”
“Why doesn’t he live at home?” She asked.
“He can’t.” Jo generally didn’t discuss the other kids’ problems.
“I can hear you talking about me.” Rella came in. “My parents are in prison for killing my brother in beating me senseless.”
Feena’s eyes grew wide. “They killed your brother?”
Rella nodded. “They beat him to death for trying to protect me.”
“Really?” Feena asked.
Rella nodded. “Yeah.”
“You lie,” Ruzi accused. “His mom died and his dad is in prison for murder, but not of his brother. My birth dad used to be in prison too but he escaped. He beat my mom and another woman.”
“Is that why she was in a coma?”
“No, my grandpa and uncles did that. It’s an elf thing.”
“You’re an elf?”
“I’m a half elf. That’s why my eyes are two colors.”
“Feena, can I ask why you left home?” Jo asked.
Jo waved it off. “It’s okay. When you’re ready.”
“Yeah, Lamdi didn’t even talk her first week here. Now she talks too much.” Rella grinned and helped himself to some cake.
“She does not,” Ruzi insisted.
“Enough. Rella, go finish your homework,” Dae insisted. Rella took his cake and left.
“Would you like to stay a few days and see what you think?” Jo offered. “It’s a lot like living at home, but without the bad stuff. You’ll have a house, a bed, and parents, brothers and sisters. And despite the teasing, they’re all pretty nice,” Jo assured her.
“Everyone here’s nice,” Ruzi agreed. “You haven’t been on your own long. I can tell. I was alone from the time I was five until I was ten. When I was brought here, I thought they’d kill me. Half elves aren’t supposed to be allowed to live. But they helped me, and protected me. It’s hard to be a kid alone. You’re what, fourteen or fifteen? You’re too young.”
“I’m seventeen,” the girl insisted.
“Seventeen?” Lamdi laughed. “You are not.”
Dae growled. “Lamdi, mind your manners.”
“Sorry. You don’t have to tell us how old you are,” Lamdi assured her and patted her hand.
Dae growled again. “Lamdi.”
Suddenly Lamdi hopped up and grabbed Feena’s arm. She pulled up the sleeve to reveal a scar. Ruzi’s eyes widened.
“Lamdi! Stop!” Nim commanded.
Lamdi released her and she pulled her sleeve down.
“I’m sorry. Ruzi’s dad did that to his mom,” Lamdi explained.
“My birth dad, not my adopted one. He’d never hurt her. But we’ve been looking for him to heal my eyes.”
“My dad did that with a rod. Back when I was a baby, he used to hit my mom and she ran away and brought me here. She didn’t talk about him much, but I knew he’d made the scars.
“A few years ago, he showed back up and convinced my mom to take him back. At first, there were no problems. Then, he started hitting her again. First, it was just with his hands. Then he used the rod. She would scream and cry. I tried to convince her to leave again. She was too afraid. A few months ago, he started hitting me too. It was only a few times, mostly for trying to get my mom to leave. But I didn’t want to end up like my mom, so I left without her. I stayed at a friend’s place for a few days but I knew he’d find me and I didn’t want them to get hurt too. I stayed here and there until I found the school. I didn’t know it was being used. The elf lady found me and thought I was a new student, so I played along so I could stay.”
“That mark on your arm still hurts. It hasn’t healed yet. Do you want me to heal it?” Lamdi offered.
“Healing potions don’t help.”
“I’ve healed these before on Cesni. Hers were old so this might hurt a little.”
“Or maybe a lot,” Ruzi added. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to scare you but healers have a tendency to underestimate the pain.”
“It may hurt,” Lamdi told her. “I don’t know how much. I’ll do what I can to minimize the pain.”
Feena nodded and held out her arm. Lamdi rolled up her sleeve and started to the trace pattern of the injury with her finger. Slowly, the mark turned from an angry red, looking like a burn to an old scar that slowly faded. The healing went slow. They took a break for dinner. When Pisha came for Ruzi, Lamdi asked her to have Thailyn come look at the mark. This was the first time they’d seen one before it healed on its own. It would allow them to learn from it.
Nim scried Remtani who promised they’d look into it in the morning. There were pressing matters at the palace, though he didn’t say what. He thought that if the man was still in town, it was unlikely he’d leave that night.
Ruzi returned with Thailyn since Feena might be his sister. He agreed it was informative to read a fresh mark. He gave Feena something to help with the pain. Both girls needed a break.
MeInOhio 6:42PM | Wed, 18 January 2023
Good story. Nice image!