“Mekara,” he whispered softly, “I’ve been watching you. Take my hand. I’m taking you away from here!” Mekara looked up into his face, the sun erupting behind his head, a halo made of glare. “Take it!” Mekara reached up to grasp his soft fingers.
“Take this bucket, Mekara! If you don’t get that water and get back, the matron will whip you!” a jagged voice tore the sun-washed dream from her mind. “Take it!” Kana, her gap-toothed grimace marring a pocked face, thrust the splintered, oaken bucket toward Mekara’s chest. “I did the wet work last time, and I ain’t doing it this un. Get to!” Mekara crossed her arms, a frown settling on her face.
“I mean it,” Kana threatened, holding the bucket with one hand and cuffing Mekara’s face with the other. “I’ll tell if you don’t! You know what happens then!”
“You didn’t even do it last time!” Mekara argued, pushing the bucket away. “You made Corina do it, and you told her you’d tell Mrs. Hell’s Piss about the kittens she’s been sneaking off to play with in the barn after bedtime!” Kana’s eyes narrowed.
“So what of it?” Kana sneered. “I’m biggern you and what I say goes!” Mekara rose up to her full height and leaned forward a little, but Kana just snickered. “Do it!” she said, “Or else!” lifting her fist again. Defeated, Mekara snatched the bucket from Kana’s outstretched hand.
“’Sides,” Kana muttered under her breath, “Ain’t no kitten she’s playin’ with after dark. It’s the butcher’s boy.She's playin' with his kitten alright.” Mekara turned to Kana, fixing her clouded gaze on the bully.
Quietly, she whispered, “She did what you said, but you killed the kittens anyway. We found 'em strung up in the barn. Hung up like laundry, by their necks with their guts tore out!”
“So what if I did?” Kana laughed. “I’ll do that to you, too, if you don’t get busy!” Kana was a full foot taller than Mekara and twice as big. Her fist was as large as an apple, and her knuckles just as red. Mekara sighed.
“One of these days, I’ll kill you,” she muttered.
“What’s that you say?” hissed Kana, her eyes glittering evilly.
“Nothing,” Mekara mumbled, hiking up her skirts and tucking them into her waistband. Gingerly, she waded into the chill waters of the Runa Dart, at the place where the water was lowest. Here, it eddied around moss-covered rocks, separated from its banks by tall reeds. As she waded in, she could hear the splashes of frogs launching themselves into the water at her arrival. She was barefoot, and she could feel the river sediment squishing up between her toes. Her lips curled in disgust. The bucket made a sucking and burping sound as it filled with water. Pulling it out was heavy, and Mekara’s small muscles strained with the weight of it. Still, Kana did not help. She stood upon the bank, her arms crossed against her chest, a self-satisfied smirk on her face. It took twice as long for Mekara to battle the bucket all the way back to the manor, but Kana just sauntered beside her, chewing lazily on the stem of a reed, slapping the back of Mekara’s head while she struggled.
An hour had passed since Kana and Mekara had left the manor to gather water at the Runa Dart. Now, the sun was beginning to wane and the Trippan House rose dark before them, silhouetted against the dying light. As they approached, the mere sight of its towers and barricades filled Mekara with dread. As the two girls came closer, Mekara began to remember the first time she had ever seen its walls. That was five years ago.