Green Girl

By Sara Maraim TaGalbi

Fantasy, Young adult, Literary fiction

Paperback, eBook

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880
6 mins

The Race

“Then, you are just a baby!” Mahbruk said with a teasing smile. “We will have to take extra special care of you.”

Allanas felt the childish urge to shove him for that remark, but restrained herself and said, “Yeah, just go ahead and laugh! You’ll be sorry when we get to the ocean.”

“Such a dare!” Mahbruk exclaimed with mock horror. “What do you think you can do to me, little girl.”

“Well, for one thing, I’m sure I can outrun you,” Allanas said tartly, trying to hide her smile as she baited him.

“Faster than Mahbruk! Hah! Not possible,” Lifar said, finally finding his tongue.

“Then, you should race when we get to the beach!” Keely said excitedly.

“Do you dare run against me, little girl?” Mahbruk said with more mock ferocity.

“Dare? Hah! I will beat you.”

“You are on!”

Thus, with the prospect of a race and lunch on the beach, they did not linger long over the fountains at the University despite their beauty. Lifar steered them several blocks off course when they approached the slave market so they wouldn’t come too close to it. Then, they saw the ocean. Allanas could not believe how enormous it was, stretching on forever. So much water was impossible to imagine. She stopped in her amazement and just stood on the street above the wharfs and stared at the ebb and flow of the water.

Since she was behind them, they didn’t notice her stop as they continued on. And for a moment she was alone and she found that the water pulled at her, as water always did. But since there was so much more water, it seemed to pull more strongly.

Then, there was a hand on her elbow, pulling her back into herself. She looked up and saw Lifar standing close with a stern expression. “Do not let yourself get separated from us. We are still too close to the slave market and those ships down there are loading slaves bound for Cessor. It would not be hard for you to be kidnapped, especially when you stand around like this daydreaming.”

“I’m sorry. I’ve just never seen the ocean before. It is amazing.”

His face softened at that and said, “Come on. Let’s join the others. We’ve still a ways to walk to get clear of the city and find a beach.”

They caught up with the rest of the group easily and said nothing more of the incident, but now Allanas knew why Branthor had been so troubled about their outing. She watched Lifar as they walked and realized that he carried a long knife under his robes, and guessed that the paper he was pocketing as they went out of the house was Branthor’s authorization to carry the knife. If they were stopped by anyone, he would need it. Slaves were not allowed to carry weapons, unless they carried the written permission of their master. If Branthor had armed Lifar, then the danger was very real.

By the time they reached the beach, it was nearly lunchtime. There were only a few other groups on the beach. It was a large beach but even with the other groups, it still felt empty. Allanas loved the feel of the beach and the water was a blue, nearly green where it was unbroken by the waves. She did not know if it was proper, but she was getting in the water before they left.

They settled on a location in the middle of the open sand and above the wave line. Keely and Elly began to set out the food on a cloth. Mahbruk turned to her and asked, “Well, are we to have that race now or after lunch?”

“It doesn’t matter to me as I don’t eat. So, if you think eating will make you stronger, then we can do it after lunch,” she said with a careless shrug.

She saw his eyes widen at her comments and looked to Lifar.

But it was Keely who explained, “It’s true she never eats. She does not need to with that skin. You could say she’s been eating the whole walk here.”

“You’d better run before you eat. Food will just sit heavy in your stomach, and she might beat you,” Lifar said as he considered the matter.

“Very well, then. Before lunch it is!” Mahbruk exclaimed. “Do you need time to prepare?” he asked, looking at Allanas.

“No, just set your distance.”

“You should walk out to the starting point, and we will set the finish line here. That way we can see the end of the race and arbitrate any disputed finish,” Elly said wisely.

“You think there will be a disputed finish?” Lifar asked surprised.

“Perhaps,” was all she said.

Lifar and Keely decided on the end point. Elly drew a line in the wet sand just beyond where the waves were receding. The ground was firmer where the sand was wet, and Allanas took off her shoes, liking the feel of it.

“What are you doing?” Mahbruk asked her.

“What does it look like I’m doing? I don’t run in shoes. Shoes are only necessary in the city because of the all the waste on the streets you might step in. I’ve never worn shoes so much in my life since coming here. Growing up, I only wore them in winter when there was snow on the ground to keep my feet dry.”

“Well, I’m keeping my shoes on if you don’t mind.”

“I don’t. Come on,” she said as she got up and started walking for their distant starting point. Allanas judged it to be a mile and a half by the time they arrived at their point.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Mahbruk asked, skeptically.

“Have you never raced before?” she asked.

“Well, yes, but not against a girl.”

“Well, don’t think of me as a girl and you will be fine,” Allanas pointed out.

Mahbruk snorted and then said sarcastically, “You may only be sixteen, but it is kind of hard not to notice that you are a girl.”

“Well then, if you take the lead, you’ll never have to look at me will you?” she replied tartly. She did not want any man looking at her the way Mahbruk did in that moment.

He scowled and said, “Has anyone ever told you that you have a prickly personality?”

“No, you may be the first. And I thank you for the compliment. Now, shall we start? They are waiting for us at the other end,” she said pointing at their group, small in the distance.

“Fine,” he muttered, and she could tell he was finally taking the race seriously. She was afraid during all their banter that he would let her win out of some notion of gallantry.

He drew a line in the sand and they put their toes to it. Mahbruk looked over at her and asked, “You want to say, ‘Go’?”

“No, you can,” she said blandly, trying to irritate him more. She wanted him fighting when he ran. He would run harder that way.

It worked because he scowled at her and turned to face forward. Then, saying, “Ready, set, go!” they were off.

He broke first with all his powerful muscles as she’d expected. But she stayed with him just behind his shoulder, close enough that he knew she was there without looking. And as the distance wore on, he didn’t slow or wear down as she’d been counting on.

Suddenly, she could see the faces on their friends and knew he wouldn’t slack even at the end. It was then that she let herself slip into her body and felt the pounding of her feet, the air surging through her lungs and her muscles pushing hard.

And it felt wrong. They shouldn’t have to push hard. She just needed to let them go. So, she did. At that moment, everything smoothed out and she felt her stride lengthen, the ground barely touched her feet and she knew she was flying. It was as if she had wings!

“Allanas stop!”

The cry broke her momentum and she slowed and looked around. For an instant, she saw a large shadow beside her. It looked like a lizard with wings. She looked to her other side to see what caused it, but even Mahbruk wasn’t there. There was nothing. She was alone.

Glancing back, the shadow was merely her own, and she wasn’t sure if she hadn’t just imagined it with all the blood pounding through her head at that moment. She slowed up more and looked around. There was no one, so she stopped and turned.

Everyone was behind her, waving and shouting at her. She heard nothing but the waves and the cry of the gulls above her head. And then as if her ears opened up, their sound reached her.

“Allanas come back!” They yelled, but for a moment she wasn’t sure what the words meant. In another few seconds, the meaning came to her and she started jogging back to them.

Mahbruk came out to meet her grinning in wonder. He ran up to her and caught her about her waist. “That was amazing! You were amazing!” he cried out as he swung her around. The world swam in colors blurring together, and she was glad she didn’t eat or she knew she’d be sick.

She patted him weakly on the shoulder to put her down and when he did, she sank to her knees to draw air.

Kneeling beside her, he asked, “Are you alright?”

“I will be. Just give me a minute to catch my wind.”

“Sorry. I should have thought about that. Didn’t mean to make you sick.”

She nodded and grasped the cloth of his sleeve to steady herself and looked out to the ocean. The waves settled her and the world stopped spinning. Blood returned to all the right places in her body, and she could think clearly again.

Nodding to herself, she stood up and released his sleeve. Turning to Mahbruk, she said, “Thank you for running so hard. You did not make the race easy.”

He looked at her for a moment and then threw his head back and laughed.

“What did I say?” she asked puzzled.

“I just got it.”

She shook her head in bewilderment. He was making no sense.

“Why you acted so irritating down there on the beach at the start,” he said gesturing into the distance.

That she’d been so transparent was embarrassing, and she felt her face go hot again and dropped her gaze.

“You were making me mad so I would run harder weren’t you?”

“Yes, I was afraid you would let me win,” she said, just wanting the sand to swallow her up for being found out.

“Oh little girl,” he said mockingly, “What a witch you are. I’ve never been played so completely. It is no wonder that no one believes you when you say you’re sixteen. I might have to set my cap for you now before everyone else realizes what’s inside of you, or I’ll have some competition!”

That idea set her blood racing in anger and she threw her head back and glared at him, “You will not! I’m not to be had, so give it up.” She paused and then bit out because she couldn’t hold it in, “And there’s no such thing as a witch because magic doesn’t exist!”

“Ah, that’s more like it. I knew that witch was in there somewhere,” he teased. “Come on let’s go back,” he said, reaching for her hand.

She snatched it out of his grasp, but he merely reached for it again and held it up in the air, and yelled back to the others, “We have a winner!”



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