Chapter 4 — An Errant Bird
Sakalina reached the end of the street and exited the village’s hexagonal stone wall through an arched passageway. Yet once she had crossed the threshold, she was not in the same kind of open countryside as she had been on the trip from her family’s cottage into the market. Of the six sides of the Lignumholtz village hexagon, four of them opened to the lands surrounding that core of the village. The other two, the northern and southern gates of the hexagon, led to passageways between pairs of walls. Sakalina had passed through the village’s south gate and was passing between the walls of an area she and the rest of the villagers called the south strand.
The central stone walkway of the strand was straight, and ran down the middle of a courtyard thirty meters wide, about fourteen meters on each side of the walkway. The courtyard and the walkway which acted as its major axis were about fifty meters long, either side of the stone axis covered in grass. Trees dotted the courtyard, and the periphery of this green space was surrounded by a two story building.
Sakalina was striding swiftly southward through the south strand. Overhead, many birds provided a chorus of call and response, and alternately a relay race of chirping from tree to tree. When Sakalina wasn’t in a tree herself, she often wished that she were. She could tell from their calls what species and variety was each member of the chorus. Sakalina was about halfway through the quad when she heard a sound that clearly wasn’t the voice of any kind of bird she knew. She spun around and crouched low to the centerwalk, her left hand flew to her right arm, and her eyes popped up into the canopy of the tree above.
Laughing fell down from the branches, and Sakalina stood upright, glaring upward.
“That was not funny, Ramaldo!” Sakalina shouted up to the leaves above.
A little rustling later, and a boy dropped down from the tree and landed on his feet, but flexed his legs and leaned forward before coming upright. He stood about a meter and a half in front of Sakalina, facing her.
“From the perspective up there, from a bird’s eye view, I assure you it was hilarious,” said Ramaldo, still laughing.
Sakalina frowned, then stepped aside and proceeded around him in the direction she had been headed. She was a few paces past him before he reacted and turned about, putting a skip in his step to catch up with her. She refused to make eye contact, but the two of them continued walking side by side, Ramaldo matching Sakalina’s pace precisely until they reached the archway at the end of the courtyard. The courtyard was rectangular, and the double-story buildings that lined the sides came together both behind them at the point Sakalina had entered from the village center, and ahead of them at the upcoming arch. There was a window above the archway in the brick face of the second story that crossed over the path.
With a swift motion that Ramaldo could not intercept, Sakalina snatched his bag off his hip, having pulled the strings that tied it to his waist in one fluid motion with pulling it away from his body. She spun her body and threw the bag upwards and it flew through the window above them, disappearing from view, but a thud could be heard a second after it passed through the open hole upstairs.
“Hey!” shouted Ramaldo. “Why did you do that?”
“So that you remember that I don’t like surprises,” growled Sakalina.
Ramaldo moaned, “Now I have to go around, and up, and…” He had stopped walking as he stared up at the window, allowing Sakalina time to get ahead. She was now under the archway. When Sakalina turned around, Ramaldo shot her a nasty look and said, “And now I’ll be late for class.”
She shrugged, stifling a cackle, turned away, and walked on.
Ramaldo stood looking up at the open window. How did she even get it up there, let alone through the window? He looked down at his hip where the bag had been. How did she get it undone so quickly. I’m pretty fast, he thought, trying to convince himself that what he had just witnessed simply wasn’t possible. I should have been able to stop her. His eyes dropped back to path level and he saw her walking further away. It seemed to him as though she had sped up.
Sakalina heard the scurry of feet behind her. She listened intently as she sped forward, deciding if she needed to be on the defensive. But she was already on the defensive, mindset-wise; she always was. It was really a matter of whether she would need to act on her defensive surveillance, and as the steps came closer, it was the way in which they had slowed and sounded as though they were to the side rather than directly in back of her that allowed her to decide to stay on course.
When the breathless Ramaldo slowed down to her still respectable pace, albeit not a run per se, she did not look at him. “I’ll get it later,” he explained, as if she had asked a question as to why he had run after her rather than fetching his bag.
But Sakalina hadn’t asked the question. She knew he would rather chase after her than avoid the trouble he would be in for leaving the bag behind. Yet she hadn’t intended to seek confirmation of this state of affairs of Ramaldo’s disposition which drove his present actions. Sakalina was simply angry, and wanted to throw something odd and unaccountable his way.
“Left,” she reminded him, just before she skipped ahead two steps and cut in front of him.
Ramaldo turned to the left as hard as he could, and followed her onto the grass. They were in the middle of the third courtyard of the strand south of the Lignumholtz hexagon, two whole courtyards—about a hundred and ten meters—ahead of where Ramaldo had planned to drop on Sakalina but chickened out.
They were halfway across the grass, on a trajectory nearly perpendicular to the strand’s central path they had been on, with the building seeming to rise up before them, when Ramaldo was able to work in another word.
“Sakalina, please don’t be mad at me,” Ramaldo pleaded. “It was only a joke.”
Only her glare was necessary, though her lips remained sealed, for Ramaldo to hear his voice in his head saying, it wasn’t a very good one.
He interjected, “intended as,” in response to what she hadn’t actually said with words.
They were already at the building that formed the boundary around the courtyard. Sakalina bounded up the stairs. Ramaldo dashed up after her. Sakalina had been three steps ahead of him at the bottom, and was seven steps ahead at the top.
A balcony extended around the second story of the two sides of the courtyard that were parallel to the strand’s central path. As Sakalina and Ramaldo had been traveling southward, then turned left before ascending, they were now on balcony the eastern side of the green gem at the center of the quad. At the north and south ends were the walls with windows above the archways, such as the window through which Ramaldo’s bag had been thrown two quads back.
Sakalina walked with her friend in tow. They strode slowly across the balcony and paused in front of a door. There were six such doors on this balcony, four on the eastern face of the courtyard, and one at each end of the balcony, leading into the north and south buildings.
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