When breakfast was over, Yuah bundled Augie up in blankets and tucked him neatly into the baby carriage she had ordered from Brech. It was baby blue, as befitted a boy, with a cute lace edged sun shade and very large round wheels to make it easier to go over the mostly unpaved roads of Port Dechantagne. Picking up her teal parasol, she pushed the stroller out the front door and waited at the bottom of the steps as Tisson carried baby and all down to the level ground. It was cool and somewhat on the breezy side, so she tucked the parasol into the carriage and pushed on down the roadway.
Though she hadn’t quite decided on a destination when she left the house, it wasn’t long before Yuah realized that she was walking east toward the heart of the colony’s Zaeri community. Here along the edge of the town, yards were large, filled not with flower gardens but with rows of vegetables, and houses were for the most part small one or two room affairs. White gravel paved the road here as most everywhere else, but there were few paved or even stone walkways. Here people walked across grass yards to the front doors of their bungalows.
Three women were outside working, and stopped weeding or turning soil in order to watch the woman in the teal dress push along her baby carriage. Each of the three women wore utilitarian dresses, which though they were the same shape and covered a similarly large bustle, had none of the lace or decoration of Yuah’s dress. They were made of coarse brown cloth over white cotton under-dresses. Instead of hats, they wore bonnets of brown linen. A fourth woman looked up from digging the weeds from her garden as Yuah reached the point directly in front of her home. She put aside her hoe and stepped quickly to the road side holding out her hand.
“Mrs. Dechantagne, how lovely to see you.”
Honor Hertling was dressed in the same sturdy brown and white clothing as her neighbors. Her sleeves and the front of her dress were stained with dirt, and she wore a beat up pair of men’s work gloves. Twenty years old, with large, sad eyes, a small nose, and raven hair, she was not classically beautiful, and not just because of the ugly scar that ran across her left cheek to her chin. She was cute though, in an indefinable way. Yuah reached out to take her gloved hand.
“Oh, sorry,” said Miss Hertling. She pulled her hand away and removed the glove, then grasped Yuah’s hand firmly. “What a lovely dress.”
“You like it? A little bird told me that you might not approve.” Yuah was suddenly aware that she was using one of Iolanthe’s expressions.
“Mein sister and her friend.” Miss Hertling’s accent suddenly became thicker. “I am thinking that the Drache girl likes to stir up trouble. Would you like to come in for some tea?”
Tossing her gloves onto a potting bench near the garden, the young woman opened the door. Yuah parked the blue baby carriage in the yard and lifting little Augie out, followed into the house. The structure was very small and consisted of three rooms. The front room, only about eight by twelve feet, served as parlor, dining room, and kitchen, as well as any number of other functions for which the Dechantagne household would have had individual rooms. At one end was a cast iron stove, a kitchen counter with a wash basin and spigot, and a shelf filled with jars of canned goods. At the other end of the room was a bookcase filled with a dozen volumes and two small porcelain flower vases holding cut flowers, and an old rocking chair. In between were a rough-hewn table and four very simple chairs. The wood planking of the floor was exactly the same wood planking of the walls and the ceiling, but bright light shown in through the four lace curtained windows, and the room was impeccably clean.
Augie began to fuss as Yuah stepped inside.
“He’s probably hungry again,” she said.
“If you would like to nurse him now, you may sit in the rocking chair, while I make our tea.”
Yuah set the swaddled baby on the chair as she went about the fairly arduous task of freeing her breasts from the many layers of her clothing. Though two of her three undergarments had been fashioned with breast-feeding in mind, the gorgeous teal dress had not. By the time Augie was able to begin suckling, he was red-faced from crying and his mother was nearing exhaustion. Yuah pulled the suddenly quiet baby close to her body, now bare from the waist up, and reached with a free hand to accept the cup of steaming tea. Miss Hertling turned the lock on the door, which consisted of a small piece of wood with a single nail holding it to the doorjamb.
“I wouldn’t want Hertzal walking in on you,” she explained. “I think he might faint.”
“Isn’t he working at the dock?”
“Yes, but sometimes he comes home for lunch.”
“Thank you again for your hospitality. I suppose I would have had to walk all the way back home, or find a spot beside a tree.”
“That probably wouldn’t have been a good idea. I’ve seen velociraptors eating out of people’s garbage twice this week. I doubt that one or two would chase down a full grown person, but they always seem to multiply. I hate to think of one of them getting after a baby.”
Yuah pulled Augie even closer. “I hope you have notified the police.”
“I have. The militia too. They keep chasing the beasts off and they keep coming back.”
Yuah turned Augie around to give him the other breast. He cried for just a moment as she shifted his position, and then happily went back to feeding. She brushed his thin brown hair back away from his face.
“I don’t want you to think that I disapprove of you or your clothes,” said Miss Hertling, pulling one of the dining chairs forward to face the rocking chair, and sitting down in it. “I just think that it is very important to preserve our traditions.”
“There is nothing in the scripture or the Magnificent Law that prohibits the wearing of colorful clothing.”
“Yes, I know. But my sister and I come from Freedonia. You must understand that in Freedonia, the Zaeri face extinction.”
“You don’t really mean that do you? Extinction, as in death?”
“Murder is being committed and sometimes it’s sanctioned by the government. Those Zaeri who stay are being discriminated against and forced to move to specially designated areas. Laws are being passed that limit Zaeri rights and create special Zaeri taxes. Those Zaeri who do leave, find themselves unable to return. Things are only going to get worse, too. King Klaus II has publicly called the Zaeri an unclean race.”
“Yes, but that’s the way it is. My parents were killed and my brother, sister, and I were chased out of our home. But they couldn’t destroy what we are. We are still Zaeri and we are still alive. I think it’s important that we remember who we are. We should maintain our traditions.”
“I suppose I can understand your feelings about it,” said Yuah.
“Things must be strange for you though,” mused Miss Hertling. “I hadn’t really thought of it before. You are one of only a handful of Zaeri from Greater Brechalon. You must feel as different from us, from the Freedonians, as you do from the Kafirite Brechs.”
“Yes. I hadn’t thought about it either, at least not much, but I have been feeling isolated lately. It’s probably postpartum angst as much as anything.”
“Don’t disregard your feelings so quickly. If only I had known you were interested in being part of the Zaeri community here… well, I could have done something.”
“I don’t know if I am interested. For a long time I didn’t want to be a Zaeri at all. When I was a little girl, my mother took me and my brother to shrine every week. Then she died. I was only five.”
“Losing a parent can shake one’s faith.”
“My father called a Zaeri Imam to cast a healing spell. He did too, but it didn’t help. My mother got sicker and sicker until she died. My father of course, refused to allow a Kafirite Priest to bless her.”
“Do you think a Kafirite Priest could have healed her?”
“I don’t know, but I’ve seen so many people healed by their priests. If Kafira is not the daughter of God, how can they work such miracles?”