A Village on the Turga
The Turga wound through the desert of Mugroba like a vein, spilling precious lifeblood into dry cracked earth. Here was no exception, with thick green banks lining the river on both sides, rushes and reeds thriving despite the odds. One small tributary linked up with it at the bend, but the tree which had given the place its name still dominated the landscape, very nearly the only thing taller than human height for miles around. It was only a few minutes walk out of what might generously have been called marshland to a spot where the earth was flat and cracked from the heat, and even those scrublands were pleasant compared to the desert that awaited beyond.
But here at big-tree-in-the-river’s-bend there was life. The market which had begun at dawn was winding down now in the early afternoon, as the sun drew high overhead and the shady spots receded. The market sprawled over land and river both, extending without pause onto the rafts tied to half-rotted wooden piers in the water, and one could step from land to river almost without even realizing it.
The Turga was thick and frothy today, streaming dark blue capped with white above and below the bend, and suddenly smooth and cool and deep where the tree’s roots sank into the water, swirling with hidden movement between the surface. In the early morning cool mists had risen off it, frogs chirped and fish splashed up to snatch at bugs; now, as the sun baked overhead, it was all quiet, biding its time.
The world of the river was white and blue and green and brown, all sucked faintly dry in the midday sun. Against that the stalls were a riot of colors; not goods, although earlier those had been plentiful enough, lentils and onions and carrots and chickens and even precious spices displayed, fabrics and googles too, even precious kofi, but rather the bright fabrics draped over crates and rafts alike, all possible colors under the sun making a strange and wonderful tapestry on the river’s edge.
For those who made their living on the shores of the Turga, this market was their connection with the world beyond, their once-weekly chance to buy whatever they themselves couldn’t grow or fish up. News trickled up and down the river even faster than the goods did, and now with much of the important trading done, villagers and merchants alike sat in the patches of shade beneath the tree and gossiped as fresh caught fish crackled over open fires, wrapped in thick wet leaves, the smell steaming out into the hot air.
Mugrobi, mostly, and human, mostly, but not entirely either. This market was one of those spots where the humans dwelling along the river’s edge mixed their lives with the wicks who lived on its floating settlements, the two comfortable and easy in their intermingling, at least for the most part.
Today, at least, for Faizra, it was very easy. She had come with her Da at dawn for the market - a big girl, now, it was her responsibility to help him load and paddle the raft, to set up the goods, to guide anyone who needed it to their spot, to run and fetch change or carry goods off somewhere. Now with the winding down of trade she was released from her duties, and rushed off to play with the other bochi. Like most of them she was utterly un-self-conscious, wearing a brightly colored piece of fabric more wrapped than sewn about her, draped over her shoulders and tied at the waist, revealing strong legs and bare feet. Though twelve, as a wick she was shorter than some of the others, but no less strong and not remotely reluctant.
She and the village’s and traders’ bochi played a game involving a puffed up goat’s bladder, kicking it back and forth, with sudden mysterious involvement of hands that seemed to be able to occur at any moment with no apparent explanation. At no time could any outsiders discern why the children suddenly burst into cheers or groans, but there seemed to be strict rules and clear winners and losers nonetheless.
Someone hit the thing too hard, and it soared through the air to land in the tree. There was a burst of loud chatter, and Faizra called something and took off, scaling the tree with effortless swiftness, arms and legs moving as one as she climbed. She swatted at the ball wedged in a distant branch, and it tumbled tree and rolled into the midst of a few of the mercenaries camped in big-tree-in-the-river’s-bend; they were distinctive in that they were the only non-Mugrobi around, at least today. The kids playing, the older ones, were nonchalant about it, having seen the like at many such market days before, although for many of the younger ones the sight was exciting or frightening, depending on their temperament.
Faizra, never afraid, half-climbed down and half dropped from the tree, landing in a low effortless crouch on the ground, and made her way towards the group of men without pause. Her shaved bare head glistened in the hot sun, her glittering gold earrings and the wrap of the fabric over her front the only things to mark her as a girl.
“Epaemo, t’ ball, ye chen?” Faizra stopped a few feet from the edge of the group, hands turned up and extended forward, the soft flutter of her glamour enough to nudge at their attention.