"They sowed the land with salt when they left." The girl speaking was a spitting image of her mother--minus the gray hair and haggard lines. Her voice held neither hate nor animosity. It was flat and matter of fact; as though she were in a daze. Harry looked hard at her and she returned the stare unemotionally.
Suddenly, Harry saw Francis staring at him in the gloom of their first night after battle. It was the same unemtional flat look and tone. He heard Francis asking, "Who won?"
Harry shook himself and the gloom disappeared along with Francis. In his place stood his sister, her face lit up in the morning sun. "She's still in shock," Harry told himself. There was plenty to be in shock over: the loss of her father and a brother, her home, her possessions...her way of life.
"What do you have in the garden, Meredith?" he asked, gesturing to the dejected looking plot. She vaccantly followed his arm with her eyes, then said, "Oh, vegetables, you know." Harry nodded encouragingly, "Sure. What kinds?" She shrugged her shoulders and started to aimlessly wander toward the garden, "How would I know? You're the farmer."
It was true, Harry was the son of a small time produce farmer. He had grown up with dirt between his toes and up his fingernails. He had never gone to school and could not read, although he was pretty fair at mathematics, having learned at his father's side at the markets. How he had ever come to be on intimate terms with the son of a wealthy plantation owner was beyond him. He sighed ever so slightly as he followed Meredith to the edge of the garden patch.
As he surveyed it, he realized that all the plants were volenteer and much in need of tender care by someone who knew what they were doing. He smiled as an idea hit him, "Meredith, would you like to learn what the plants are and how to care for them?"
At first he was afraid she would say no, but after a moment she said, "I think I would." And suddenly, she stood from where she had crouched down, exclaiming, "Harry, nothing will ever be the same again, will it?" She held out her hands toward him, hands that previously had seen no real toil. Startled, Harry said nothing at first. "Harry, say something! Don't just stand there!" She sounded panicked and began to sob. Harry reached out and took her hands, which were still extended and gently drew her toward him. Laying her head on his broad shoulder, he started to say all kinds of comforting nonesense, feeling that she needed this cry and would be better for it. "Everythings gonna be alright, Merry. Don't you worry none. I'm here now and I'm gonna take care of all of you...."
After the fury of the storm was over, Meredith pulled away, wiping her nose on the back of her hand in an unladylike fashion. "I'm sorry," she mumbled, looking at the ground. "What's this one?" she added as she poked at a wilted plant with her bare toes.
Relieved, Harry grinned and spent the next hour explaining which plant was which, what they liked, and how to tell if the fruit was ready.
To be continued...