Monday, June 24, 2013

Thirty-Sixth Beginning: Daffith's Egg

Daffith dropped himself down into the leaf litter, under the trees, exhausted.  He sniffed twice, wetly, wiped his nose on his sleeve, and sniffed again.  Such sniffs were as close as the boy would come to crying since his parents had died, nearly a season ago.

But Daffith wasn't thinking about that, refused to think about that ever again.  Instead, Daffith ran his hands over an egg too large for him to lift one-handed, worried that the jolt of his collapse might have cracked it.  Once reassured that the egg was whole, he worried that he wasn't far enough into the woods to be hidden, or that someone had seen him running from the fields.  As time passed and nothing moved nearby but insects and small birds, he worried . . . but there were too many worries waiting for their turn, so he worried about the egg again.  Was it too cool?

Daffith scooped needleleaf litter around the egg, flicking a hand every time one of the newer needles pricked him.  Shiff--scoop--flick--sniff.  He couldn't sit on the egg or even lie across it.  He was too afraid of breaking it.  So he curled awkwardly over the mound, trying to keep his weight off of it.

This wasn't a dragonman egg.  Everyone knew that dragonmen came from dragon eggs and dragon eggs had to be bigger than this, didn't they?  And he wasn't a vile and wicked boy to be wasting good time trying to hatch a dragonman like the one that had killed his parents, even if they were fools.  He wasn't.  Uncle Ures was wrong.  Uncle Ures had to be wrong.  Anyone who could call DAffith's solid farmer parents fools was likely to be wrong about anything.

Daffith's sniffles stilled.  His old farm-knowledge whispered to him.  There was a time before a duck or hen was ready to set when she just laid eggs, one a day, and left them hidden, unwarmed.  During that time the eggs didn't die, they just waited.  That way, when the hen or duck decided to stop laying and set, the six or ten or twelve eggs would all hatch out on the same day, as one brood.

Daffith screwed his eyes closed and tried to remember the nest.  It had been a bloody mess of scattered twigs and splintered oak branches.  There had been three eggs.  One had been splattered against the ruins of the tree trunk, another had cracked and leaked itself over the roots.  Only one egg, his egg, had survived.  He had concentrated his attention on the good egg, at the time.  Ig was hard, now, to remember the others clearly.

A stray thought of what was left of the tree finally brought the memory back.  There had been huge claw marks gouged into the trunk.  Dripping through the gouges, egg yolk had been drying in masses against the bark.

The egg probably hadn't started to grow yet, then.  Daffith flipped over onto his back.  He probed gently through the rips of his sleeves.  From the damp and the sting, his elbows had obviously been skinned badly in that last fall. He had protected the egg, though. It hadn't been easy, running with an egg that heavy.

Further exploration revealed that Daffith's knees weren't skinned, only a little bruised, that one pants knee was a bit ripped, and that his stomach was beginning to remember that this whole thing had started before breakfast. Daffith sat up and brushed needleleaves out of his hair. "First things first," Mother used to say. The egg could go without warmth for a week or more. But he was hungry now and his elbows needed washing out or the field dirt might cause an infection -- maybe even red-thread. Aunt Weaver would be worried about him and Uncle Ures would be furious, but there was nothing he could do about that, not 'til the egg was safe.

But there should be a stream nearby, if he remembered right. That would solve at least the washing problem. Daffith looked at the egg. Was it hidden well enough to be safe? Well, it would have to do. He was too tired to lug it around in search of half-remembered streams. But still . . Daffith decided to drape a couple of dead branches over the egg to discourage passing beasts from stepping on it.

The stream had no fish in it. But it had flint pebbles on its banks, which meant that Daffith could start a fire. As the fire burned itself into usable coals, Daffith scrounged about the stream for edibles. There was plenty of plowman's lettuce, a low growing leafy plant that came up early in the spring and was good for stopping the bleeding gums that sometimes came from being reduced to eating nothing but bread in the last of the winter. Daffith chewed it as he collected island-leaf roots and wolftail roots and stems. Among the wolftails he found a nest with four covered eggs in it. He took tow. That would do for a late breakfast. Even without fish, the stream had provided.

A bit later, Daffith was laying back by his egg with a full belly, watching the needleleaf branches sway over his head. He was almost feeling pleased with himself. He knew he was being disobedient, though, which made him feel bad. And he knew that he was no nearer to being able to save and hatch out his egg, which made him feel worse. But he had managed to buy himself thinking time. And not only had he known how to find himself food, he had thought to use the hollows in the island-leaf roots as containers for baking the eggs. He had never heard of anyone doing that before and it had worked out well. Even when you poked a hole in the large end of an egg, it could explode baking in camp coals.

Somehow, living with Aunt Weaver and Uncle Ures left him feeling useless. Aunt and her daughters, all of them older than Daffith and his sisters, wove brightly patterned blankets out of woolen yarn that they dyed themselves. Uncle Ures sold the blankets. He called it marketing, but Daffith couldn't understand what the difference was, except that Uncle Ures spent more of his time in the local inns than in their small shop. And while Junibeth and Mareet had fit themselves into the business from the start, one loving to mix the dyes and the other loving to keep shop and shop records, Daffith had not seemed to fit. Daffith didn't want to think about that, though. Instead he thought of the egg.

Thinking about the egg made Daffith think about his parents' farm on the outskirts of Flotsam. An egg was a farm kind of thing. Uncle Ures had sold the farm after the deaths of his wife's sister and her husband. Daffith missed it. It didn't do to mention that around Uncle Ures, though. Uncle Ures had done the best thing and it was ungrateful for certain young boys to criticize his elders. Certain young boys would be better off listening to his uncle and learning how to do business.

Daffith didn't understand doing business, either. If felt good to be out of the city and back in the woods and fields. Maybe he could get a job as a farm hand and hatch the egg on that farm, somehow. But Uncle Ures was sure to look for him. And he'd do it like marketing, talking in the taverns about his runaway nephew, making sure all the local farmers knew to look for him. Drat!

Maybe he could somehow go far away to a farm that wasn't anywhere near the city of Hawesbeck. But he didn't know how to do that safely. And he sure didn't know how to do it safely and keep the egg hidden or how to explain the egg. The egg worried people. And the journey would take longer than a week. Heck, if he didn't even know how to hatch an egg this big on a farm, he couldn't possibly hatch it in . . . in whatever he'd have to be in to be traveling.

So think of a way to hatch the egg first. Maybe think about getting food to eat while thinking, too. The stream wouldn't feed him for much more that another meal. Then he'd have to follow it deeper into the woods or find other woodsfood. Or steal from the fields. He wouldn't like to steal from farmers, though.

Daffith considered. It was mid-spring and time to thin some crops. Sometimes farmers would let a helper thin for a day or two just for the thinnings. A thinner could come away with sacks of baby lettuce or cabbage or turnips or beets or carrots. He was too close to the old farm now, though, and folks would recognize him.

But if he walked a score or so miles, he'd probably be able to find a couple of days work before word spread. He'd travel tonight and ask for work early in the morning. It was easy to think while thinning. After a bit, your hands and arms, back and legs, just fell into the continuous motion, leaving your mind to its own business.

If he planned to travel tonight and work all tomorrow, he'd better rest now. Daffith yawned. It had been a stressful morning. It would be good to rest. There were plenty of roasted wolftail roots for dinner. They were stringier and chewier than roast carrots, but sweeter, too, and definitely filling. It would be good to be on a farm again. Good to feel the familiar motions, see the familiar sights. Daffith yawned again and curled down into the dry needles, thinking of farms. The sounds of farms were good sounds. Daffith began to hear them as he fell asleep.

Daffith woke with a start. His fingers and toes tingled, as if he'd been struck with an illusionist's lightning bolt. He felt a strong half-awake sense of urgency. There was something he had to do, had to start now. But he didn't know what it was.

The egg. He needed to hatch the egg. But that wasn't urgent. That could wait. The boy ran his fingers through his hair to straighten it a bit. He must have been dreaming. This urgency must be left over from the end of the dream. Sometimes that happened if you woke up too fast, especially if you woke up before the dream was finished with you. Maybe he had been running from something.

No, not running. He remembered now. He had dreamed about the farm, about the farm in the early morning, just the way he would be seeing a farm tomorrow. Daffith looked around. It was just beginning to get dark. The air had that thick, golden color it sometimes showed just before sunset. There was plenty of time. Daffith laid back and began chewing on a cooked root.

It felt good to lay back and remember the dream. It had been of an Autumn morning. The tree and bush leaves were bright with frostburn. There were twinklings of dew ice from every surface. The goats and the mule in the barn were making their usual readiness noises -- not impatient, mind you, just wanting to remind, to be sure that the housefolk remembered that critters needed breakfast, too. Steam was rising in gossamer wisps from the compost pile. Chickens were pecking around the edges of it, seeking worms as an appetizer.

Daffith felt the tingle again. Chickens pecking around . . . Suddenly Daffith was up and running. That was the reason for the urgency. There was a way to hatch the egg, but it would take time to set it up. He had to start now to be sure that he'd be ready in time.

It was long past sunset when Daffith arrived back at his uncle's house. He went around back, past the main dye sheds to a little, leaning shed on the side. He unlatched it and peered into the dark of it. It took a minute or two to work up his nerve and go into that dark. It was a dark thing , stealing was, and it put a little darkness on you that gave the dark a bit of a claim on you.

"I'm just taking my own things," he whispered to the dark, so it would know. "Things Uncle Ures didn't want to keep anyways. The boy-sized rake and shovel and wheelbarrow that he couldn't say went with the farm. My things. And maybe some of the crop sacks from the farm, too. If those aren't mine and they want them back, I'll give them back. So it's just borrowing."

He paused for a moment, trying to think of anything he'd left out. No. Nothing he could think of. He wiped his hands down his front and slid into the darkness slowly, as if it were cold water. Even though he knew exactly where the things he wanted were, finding them took some time. Things were hard to recognize by feel with darkness pressing against him. But he found the things, one by one, and took them out into the starlight and the pinkish moonlight. He didn't look up, for fear he'd see a moon better left unseen, since Uncle would think it was stealing no matter what the technicalities were. When everything was packed into the wheelbarrow, he relatched the door and started the long walk back to get the egg. He had some thinking to do on the way.

[Continued here.]

Sent to David 11/18/1991.

Note in handwriting: I haven't changed anything yet. I'll finish the whole thing first before I start revising. I'm saving your comments 'til then.


PS Those are neat shoes.

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