Frank and Aben were to be out to the barns at dawn, and Aben’s mother was to have breakfast for the Archer household before that. Aben could hardly move, but at least only Frank saw his pain as he changed his clothes and tried to wash up. Mia was still asleep. Everything he had was dirty from the trail, but his mother told them to keep their clothes out today, and she’d ask about getting them washed.
After breakfast Aben walked with Frank to the barns. Raven grabbed him. “You’re with me today. Every day we switch. We bottle last night’s milk and deliver it. Kayne milks.”
Aben worked silently and was only cuffed a couple times. After bottling the milk, his job was to ride with Raven and take the full milk jars to the doors of the customers on the route, returning the used milk jars to the wagon. Out on the road, Raven seemed to mellow out, telling him about the different people who lived in the houses they delivered milk to and what their business was.
They came to a large house with an attached workshop. Weeds and rambling bushes lined the foundation. “Leather and Furs,” the unpretentious sign claimed. “That’s the Toles. They say they’re not related to the rich Toles in Alexandria — the ones who put out the dragonhide stuff — did you see them when you went through Alexandria?”
“No. We didn’t see much.”
“If I ever get to Alexandria, I’d like to see it. Wyatt Omar’s been there, and he even brought back a dragon-hide pack. You should see it. Glittering green and soft to the touch.” He had stopped the wagon. “But these Toles aren’t rich. They tan and sell any extra they have through the general store. Now those Nevilles up at the general store, they’re rich. We’ll go there last. Go take three bottles to the back step for the Toles.”
Aben grabbed the bottles and jumped from the wagon, ignoring his aches. He ran along the path beside the house to the back. He’d been cuffed for being slow earlier. As he leaned over to set the jars on the back step, the door swung open into Aben’s face, knocking one of the jars from his arms and banging his nose. Involuntary tears wet the corners of his eyes. He hated that about nose injuries.
The man rolled his eyes and shifted a long projectile gun to his shoulder. “You take care of it, Seavan.” He stalked off.
A bit younger man, perhaps only a few years older than Aben stepped out of the house. He sighed and took the milk. Aben grabbed the empty bottles and whirled to run back to the wagon, hoping he would not get in trouble for the broken milk bottle.
“Wait!” called the man.
Aben stiffened and closed his eyes. He quickly swiped his sleeve across his face to remove those offensive wet tracks, and saw the blood on his sleeve.
A hand rested on his shoulder. “I’m sorry for my brother,” the man who had been called Seavan said softly. “He’s just in a bit of a hurry today; he didn’t mean it. Let me help.”
“I… Raven, he….”
“Raven is waiting for you. I’ll go with you to explain. Come on. You need to stop that nose-bleed.”
Reluctantly Aben followed Seavan into the house. Seavan was slightly taller than Aben and a little broader. His deep brown hair curled on the ends, and his hazel eyes showed a sympathy that reminded him of his friend Michael Jamel, although Michael had blue eyes. The kitchen he led him into still had breakfast dishes, but an older woman washed them, while a younger boy and teenage girl still ate at the table.
“Mom, this is Raven and Kayne’s new friend. Rigel just hit him with the door.”
The woman glanced over and grabbed a cloth, dipping it in the dishwater. “Well, welcome to New Haven, young man. What’s your name?”
“Aben Vicente,” he mumbled, sure he was going to be in for another beating.
She washed his face, and her grip on his shoulder made him wince with pain. Then she made him hang his head until the nosebleed stopped. “I know Lena has needed the help. Perhaps she won’t lose the twins this time.”
Aben jerked his head up. “Twins again?”
She chuckled. “It goes that way. If you’re prone to twins you can have them more than once.” She sobered. “Don’t judge poor Lena harshly. She’s lost too many babies over the years. I hope you and your family will help her without a lot of extra stress. Taking in strangers is such a gamble.”
“Ah, yeah. Guess it is. Look I need to….”
A knock sounded on the back door, and Seavan pulled it open. “Ah, Raven. Sorry about holding you up. Rigel smacked your helper with the back door.”
“Lazy toad,” Raven mumbled. “Come on!” He motioned to Aben. “Sorry he bothered you.”
“No. It was us who bothered him. My fault,” Seavan said. “And we broke one of the jars.” He handed the used jars to Raven. “We’ll pay for it.”
His mother rolled her eyes. “When we have an accident we don’t make the customers pay for it.”
“But this was Rigel’s fault, Mom. We will take care of it.”
“Come on,” Raven growled.
Aben followed him from the house. They were almost to the front corner of the house when the empty milk jar slammed into his shoulder. “Don’t keep me waiting again.”
Aben scooted to the wagon. When he glanced back, Seavan stood by the corner of the house where Raven had hit him. He watched Aben, but Aben couldn’t determine the look on his face.
Raven was in a sour mood the rest of the journey, but surprisingly he was not hit again. At home he worked as quickly as possible, and when dusk fell he only had a few more injuries.
His day as Kayne’s servant was not as easy however. It turned out that Raven and Kayne alternated delivering the milk, so that now his permanent job was running the bottles to and from the houses. However Kayne had slightly different rules than Raven, and he was quicker with his fists. This time Kayne got him in the eye right before they reached the Tole household. Aben was careful to avoid the door as he came around the back corner, but Seavan was standing outside, waiting for him. He caught Aben’s arm.
Aben jerked away, careful not to wince in pain.
“Wait a moment.”
Aben wished he could, but any more blows to his face would cause his mother to worry. He ran back to the wagon.
Back at the farm, he spent the mid-afternoon cleaning out stalls.
The next day Seavan was again outside, but he didn’t try to grab him. He simply said hello. Aben nodded and then left, feeling somehow that the exchange was incomplete. But soon it became familiar. Every morning Aben looked forward to the one friendly face he knew he’d see on his route. He was beginning to recognize several others, but somehow he knew Seavan was making a special effort to be outside to greet him. If only he had time for a friend, he knew Seavan would be a good one.
As he became adjusted to Raven and Kayne’s ways he was cuffed less. When they were assigned to help in the fields with Mr. Archer and his stepfather, Aben was not cuffed at all.
Twice when Aben glanced up into the sky, he saw something larger than a bird. It wasn’t a dragon though. Maybe it was one of those wingdeer. He wished he could ask someone. If he just had a friend….
They’d been there two weeks, and Seavan still waited each day to say hi. Aben had not stayed for more talk, because he wanted to avoid the bruises delays caused, but today he was with Raven, and Raven seemed in a mellow, talkative mood. If he didn’t take too long, he may be okay.
Aben rounded the corner and Seavan was again waiting. “Hi,” he greeted with a smile, taking the milk from him.
“Hi,” Aben said. He glanced at the sky. “Aahh…” He shrugged, wondering now if the abrupt question would sound stupid. He shook his head and grabbed the old milk jars.
Aben took a deep breath and glanced at the sky again. “I… ah… just wondered if… what those big, flying things are that aren’t dragons.”
Seavan settled back on the steps. “There are quite a few different flying beasts. Kittles and doggles are small, so you can’t be talking of them. There are a few wild wingdeer around here that the dragons haven’t gotten. My dad saw a pegasus a couple years ago. There’s also a flying whale type creature, but they don’t generally come over land.”
Aben glanced back toward the road, knowing Raven would be getting impatient.
Seavan nodded. “How about I make a list of all me and my dad can remember for you to pick up tomorrow?”
Aben smiled in relief. “Thanks.” He ran back to the wagon. As suspected Raven was a little upset, but he got over it after a quick cuff to Aben’s back.
They worked in the field again. It was the third time they’d been with their parents, and Aben enjoyed the work, harvesting the winter wheat, more because he didn’t have to worry about being attacked while he did it.
Frank reported later at the dinner table that Mr. Archer had been impressed with what a good worker Aben was. They’d been in New Haven two weeks now, and the news pleased his mother, because he knew that no matter how he tried to hide it, she worried that he wasn’t adjusting. Aben worried about her as well. She seemed more tired and not as cheerful, but he supposed that having all the Archer housework as well as caring for her own family took a lot of work, especially when there was no electricity or robots to help.
That night Aben again tried to soak the aches from his bones in the large washtub they’d been given. His mother rushed in. “I don’t think you have….” she held out a towel, but then gasped as she stared down at him in the tub.
Embarrassed, Aben jumped out and grabbed the towel to wrap around his waist.
But it hadn’t been his nudity, he realized. It was the purple and yellowing bruises on his arms, back, sides, chest, and legs. “Did the cows do all this?” Her hands hovered over his arms as if afraid to touch him. “Oh, Aben, oh….” Tears filled her eyes.
Frank came through the door.
Aben rolled his eyes. “If I could get dressed….”
“But all those bruises… your ribs… you haven’t been eating.” She grabbed her husband instead of Aben.
Frank led her from the room. Angrily Aben pulled on his clothes. Then he grabbed his pack and pulled out his books. Mia now had a small mattress in the corner, but Aben sat at the table near the lamp so he could see his books. He opened the large one to the Viper Runner. If he’d gotten into the Planetary Protection Corps, he would have flown a ship like this. Sleek and fast. He’d be able to rescue anyone, including himself.
He heard Mia put to bed, and Frank encouraged his mother into the bedroom. They left him to curse what could have been.
He turned the page, and out fell Michael Jamel’s picture. The wingdeer seemed to leap from the page. Aben clenched his teeth. They couldn’t keep him here forever. Someday he’d be flying.
Go to Chapter 5
© 2013, 2000 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.