The wagon arrived at first light. Myra was still shoving the last of their things into rough hessian sacks when three big, burly men arrived, their patched leather tunics straining against the solid slab of their muscled torsos.
At an impatient gesture from Myra, Idira opened the door. One, then another, ducked into the main room, their massive presence filling up the confined space. Idira eyed the multitude of strange tattoos on their arms. One of them a had a black leather patch over his left eye. Even standing there, not doing anything, he looked mean, like he could torture a puppy for fun. She shuffled back into the shadows, not wanting to attract any attention to herself.
The last one came in and closed the door behind him. He tipped his head to Myra.
'Miss Northshire, Mr VanCleef sent us round to help ye wit' yer move.'
Her lips pressed together, Myra just nodded and carried on packing, jamming the last of the pots into the sack, not caring about the racket she was making.
He cleared his throat and lifted his voice above the clatter. 'Ye can call me Jim, and this here's Fence, and—'
The biggest one, the one with the eye patch, lifted his hand and cut Jim off. He turned to Papa. In the half-light of dawn, most of his face was in shadow. He held out a meaty hand, his knuckles and fingernails crusted with dirt.
'Mister Jac,' he said in a gravelly voice, 'it's an honour ta meet ye. They call me Borda. I'm the master blacksmith down Moonbrook way.'
Papa looked Borda over, inspecting him, his lips twisting like they always did whenever he was deciding whether he would be nice or not. He sniffed and leaned forward, jerking his head to where Myra was standing in the kitchen.
'Ye better be taking me to a better place n' this one here.'
Borda didn't look at Myra, he just kept on holding his hand out, waiting.
'Aye,' he answered, 'it's the second best house in Moonbrook, VanCleef's orders. The servants o' the last Enforcer are in there now getting it all ready for ye's. Baking bread and roasting boar meat and what not.'
Boar meat! Bread! Idira felt her eyebrows lifting to her hairline. She'd never had roast meat in her life. She glanced at Myra, hoping to share her delight with her. Myra ignored her.
'That's all well an' good,' Myra said, her voice full of hard, angry edges, 'but what about our house and land? Does yer Mr VanCleef expect us just ta abandon it?'
Papa glared at Myra. 'Ye shut yer gob,' he muttered. 'They can burn it ta the ground fer all I care.'
Borda gave up waiting for Papa to accept his hand. He turned to Myra and looked her over. A glimmer of appreciation slid across his face as his one eye drifted over her. He had something in his mouth, like a little stick, he moved it from one side to the other just using his lips. Idira couldn't help but stare, fascinated. He tilted his head at the other two waiting behind him, their thick, muscled arms crossed over their tunics.
'We've some planks wit' us. Jim n' Fence'll be boarding up the winders and the door after ye leave. Should keep out the vagrants and the vermin. Heard ye got them stinking murlocs up this way now too.'
Idira looked down at her bare feet, fighting a sudden upwelling of sadness. She had gone to look for her friend last night after Papa fell asleep and Myra was out 'walking' with Benny, but her friend was nowhere to be found.
Not knowing what else to do, she made another little pile of stones beside the murloc's pile, and left her best seashell necklace on top. That one had taken her three days to make. She hoped her friend would like it. She waited, hopeful, until the black sky filled up with stars, their crystal light glimmering against the surface of the dark, roiling sea.
It wasn't fair, just as soon as she made a friend, she had to leave. She wanted to stay, but she had no say, no one cared about her feelings or what she wanted. She was just Idira, the one who made Mama die when she was born. Myra told her often enough how much she wished it had been Idira who had died on the birthing table instead of Mama. Papa said it was Idira's purple eyes what killed Mama, saying Idira was cursed. Idira rubbed her eyes, wishing for the millionth time she could make the awful colour go away. She didn't mean to kill Mama, nobody ever asked, but she missed her, too.
Papa stood up, slow, because of all his injuries and held out his hand to Borda. Fresh blood seeped out of Papa's scabbed knuckles as they shook hands. Papa was a little taller than Borda, and Idira was pretty sure Papa preferred it that way. He glanced at the other two, waiting by the door and sharpened his voice, 'Aye, that'll do. Get them boyos movin'. I don' wanna keep VanCleef waitin' longer n' necessary.'
They started with the big pieces of furniture, the kitchen table, and the big bed with the solid wood headboard and feather mattress; what used to be Mama and Papa's bed but when she died Papa said he would never sleep in it again, so now Myra and Idira shared it. Next came the dresser, and the stools, and finally Papa's cot.
Myra made a big fuss about leaving the pot belly stove behind, since it had been one of Mama's prized possessions. Myra harped on about it for so long, Borda finally said he would send another wagon round to collect it later, even though he had told her twice the house they were moving to had a much nicer cast iron stove.
While the men were busy tying up the last of the chicken crates to the sides of the wagon, Idira went to fetch the farm cat, Blackie. All black, except for a little white patch on her nose, Idira found Blackie hiding under the porch, her green eyes all big and scared. Idira wiggled under the low planks to reach her, the dust in the closed up space making her eyes water. Laying flat on the rocky soil, she extended her arms before her and opened a little piece of oilskin, carefully unwrapping the glistening white meat tucked inside, saved from her crab dinner yesterday. The tangy smell of it filled the narrow space. Blackie would be hungry, like always. The cat stretched her neck towards the meat, catching its scent. She licked her nose, tasting the air. She crept closer, wary. Booted footsteps pounded up the steps and across the porch, Blackie froze. Idira held the meat steady, waiting, willing the cat not to run. She could hear Papa moving around the house, yelling her name, angry and impatient, saying it was time to go.
'Please, Blackie,' Idira whispered, her heart in her mouth. She couldn't make Papa wait, but she didn't want to leave the cat behind either, especially not when they were going somewhere where there would be food. Blackie shifted a little closer, and touched her nose to the meat. Quick as lightning, Idira grabbed Blackie by her scruff and scuttled back out from under the porch. Avoiding the cat's claws, she slipped her into an empty chicken crate and tied the door shut. As the cat bellowed in terror, Idira slid back under the porch and salvaged the crab meat. She pushed it into the crate, dropping a little on the ground in her haste. Blackie bolted it down.
Idira lifted the crate and ran to the waiting wagon. Borda helped her up into the back and handed her the cat, shaking his head. She knew the others didn't care about things like hungry cats, but she couldn't help it, she did. A hand smacked against Idira's temple. She turned. From the bench up front, Myra glared at her full of loathing.
Rubbing the sore spot, Idira settled the crate on her lap as Borda called to the big workhorses. With a creak of leather and a jangle of harness the wagon turned, slow under its heavy load. She looked back at the small two-room house she had lived in for almost six whole years of her life. The roof sagged in the middle, and some of its tiles had slipped free, leaving behind a wavy pattern. Beyond the house, the waters of the Great Ocean stretched away to the horizon, its wave crests glittering in the morning sun. She wondered if Moonbrook was close to the sea. She hoped so.
Jim and Fence were already hefting the pot belly stove down the porch steps, the muscles in their thick necks showing from their exertion. They left the stove standing in the middle of the yard, waiting to be collected. Fence picked up one of the new planks of wood and held it up while Jim pounded nails into the kitchen's window frame, the staccato beat of his hammer carrying across the empty, desolate fields. Idira stared at the stove sitting alone and forlorn in the desiccated yard. It looked sad. She felt sorry for it, taken away from its home.
Blackie hunched down in her crate and began to pant. Idira poked her finger through the wooden slats, and stroked Blackie's nose, trying to make the cat feel better.
'You'll see,' she murmured quiet enough so Myra wouldn't hear, 'where we're going there's boar meat, you wait and see. It's going to be better. I promise.'