Maggie pushed Kai into the mud causing the petite Yahata’ai girl to fall hard onto her side. “You cheated!” Maggie yelled. “You started before I was ready!”
Kai looked up at her friend, her moist eyes reflecting her hurt feelings. “I didn’t cheat! You just always have to be the winner. Why are you like that Mag?” she said, her lip trembling. “Just can’t stand to be beat by one of us?” Kai stood stiffly and turned to hide her tears.
Maggie saw her friend’s shoulders shaking and all of her 9-year-old self-righteous anger melted away. “Kai please… I’m sorry.” She laid her hand hesitantly on her friend’s shoulder. “I’m really really sorry. I don’t know why I did that” and then her own hot tears fell.
She felt Kai’s arms around her and they cried together, eyes running until they looked up. When Maggie saw Kai’s mud-covered face, she couldn’t help herself. She snickered and then she laughed. “You’rrr suchhh a meesss…” Kai frowned for a second and then she was laughing too. Big, girly, snorting, silly laughs that left them holding their sides and gasping for air.
“You are such a princess!” giggled Kai. “Twelfth in line from the throne? You should be next in line!” and she snorted again, which made them laugh even harder.
Maggie sighed and smiled at her friend as her giggles subsided. It was hard to deal with Kai sometimes. Not because she was difficult in any particular way, but because like most of her people she was incredibly honest. Blunt even. Maggie’s family was considered plain-spoken by the standards of the Illian elite, but she had grown up in circles where people played word games and what they said was not always what they meant. Maggie loved that she didn’t have to be on guard with Kai or couch her remarks in clever dialogue. The problem for Maggie was that when she removed the social wrapping from her interactions, she came to realize how petty, mean-spirited and spoiled she had been. But she could change.
Maggie took her friends small hand, marveling again at the hard ridges and calluses she found there. “You’ve got mud in your hair. We’d better get that washed out before it dries.”
Kai bowed mockingly “Whatever you say your ladyship.” She looked up with a twinkle in her eyes as she ran her fingers through her long hair. “Besides, we’ll also have to wash your Ladyship’s gown.”
Maggie looked down and gasped. Her play clothes bore the muddy imprint of Kai’s body. “Ahh! Nana is going to be mad!” She squinted her eyes and wagged her index finger at her friend. “You did that on purpose!”
Kai laughed and curtsied again. “Yes, your highness.”
“And knock that off” Maggie grumbled. “I’m perfectly happy having eleven others ahead of me. Believe me, the last thing I want is to live in that hornet’s nest and feed the royal dog, or whatever it is they do all day.”
Maggie walked towards the well, arm in arm with her friend. They were the same age but that was where most of their similarities ended. Kai’s Yahata’ai heritage was apparent in her dusk-colored skin, long dark hair and green flecked eyes. Maggie’s light skin and freckled face was common enough in Illia, but her wavy auburn hair with its blonde highlighting was unusual and striking. They had met a year earlier where her house bordered the woods. Maggie had been racing her cousin and looked up to see Kai grimly matching her speed through the trees. They’d raced often after that until Kai had walked up to Maggie’s well for some water. They spoke and a friendship blossomed.
Maggie pulled the lever on the well, and the mechanos built device turned hidden gears and cogs drawing water up the large, enclosed screw-pump that angled deep into the earth. Clean cold water flowed into a basin, and she helped Kai rinse the mud from her hair. She looked at her critically for a moment and then declared “That’ll have to do.” Maggie looked down at her clothes and sighed “I’m not sure there is any way for Nana to avoid seeing this.”
“I have an idea” said Kai “Hand me that sponge.” Maggie turned to look for the sponge and heard a sudden plop and splash. Spinning quickly, she found Kai with a mischievous grin and a full bucket. “This ought to help!”
“Don’t you do i…!” her cry ended in sputtering outrage as the ice-cold water hit her chest. Within moments the two were hooting, hollering, and splashing water with all the energy and joy of youth.
A long dark shadow stretched on the ground between the girls causing them to pause and look at each other with trepidation. They turned and saw a shape limned by the setting sun. Nana stared with an expression of disbelief and exasperation at the two girls. She slapped a broad hand on each hip and reared back on her heels before thrusting her head forward. “What in the name of the Holy Builder’s Beard are you two pixies doing!” Kai and Maggie stood stunned for a moment, at the roar that came out of the diminutive woman’s mouth. They looked at each other, and back at Nana before bursting out in laughter again.
“Ok, ok you two. It’ll be getting dark soon. Off to the house with you and we’ll get you cleaned up before Master Moran gets back.”