“The First Mark”
by Jennie Ivins
Kadri sat on her parents’ front porch, kicking her feet over the side of her mother’s rocking chair and grumbling to herself. The summer air was hot and thick. The light breeze that normally whistled through the trees around the farm was strangely silent that afternoon. In the distance, clouds were beginning to gather and it seemed the whole world was waiting for something.
Kadri barely noticed. She liked storms and normally enjoyed sitting on the porch, listening to the rain beat down on the roof and watching the lightning carve slices out of the sky. But today was different. Today she was being forced to sit there; once again excluded from things that she wasn’t ‘old enough’ to be a part of.
Not like Mela and Nika. They always got to do everything. And Nika’s wasn’t even a real grown-up yet. But fair or not, her sisters were inside helping Ma’ma and Kadri was banished from the house. She threw an acorn she’d been holding, and bounced it off one of the railings into the grass. It’s just wasn’t fair.
The sound of a fast-approaching horse momentarily distracted her. Pa’pa’s cart pull to a sudden halt in front of the house. He jumped down almost before the horse had stopped and rushed around the cart to help his passenger down.
Kadri stood up and waved as her father helped the old woman from her seat. “Good day Mistress Reet! How are you today?”
Mistress Reet was the town healer and had always treated Kadri like a young lady, rather than a little girl. But today all Kadri got for her troubles was a quick wave and a smile before her father ushered the woman into the house.
“Pa’pa?” Kadri said, grabbing her father’s shirt sleeve before he could follow the healer inside.
He turned to Kadri with an aggravated sigh. His face was flush from the heat. He didn’t look very happy.
“What do you want Kaddie?” he asked, looking into the house as he spoke. “I’m very busy right now. Why don’t you go play in the barn with your kittens?”
Kadri screwed up her face into a scowl. “Please Pa’pa! I’m not little anymore. Mela and Nika are helping, can’t I help too?”
Her father’s expression lightened and he gave her a quick smile, kissing her on the forehead. “I’m sorry Kaddie, but not today. Go play my little one.” Without another word he walked into the house, closing the door behind him.
Kadri’s shoulders slumped as she marched solemnly back to her chair. “Stupid Nika. Thinks she’s so smart. Why does she get to do everything? It’s just not fair!”
“What’s not fair?” Teryl asked as he came around the corner of the house. He spotted the cart parked haphazardly in front and stopped walking. “Pa’pa’s back already?”
Kadri nodded but didn’t look up or give any indication she was interested in talking.
As usual that didn’t keep Teryl from continuing anyway. “He must have flown into town if he got back that fast!”
“So?” Kadri put in as grumpily as she could.
“Here now, what’s your problem this time?” he asked climbing onto the porch and sitting on one of the railings.
“Pa’pa and Ma’ma won’t let me in the house,” she answered with a pathetic sigh. “I wanna help, but they keep saying I’m too little.”
“You are too little, squirt,” Teryl said, looking up at the gathering storm clouds. “You’re barely eight summers old.”
“I’m exactly eight summers old!” Kadri said jumping to her feet. “And Nika’s not a proper grown-up either and she’s helping!”
“Nika is much older than you. Besides, what would you do if you were in there?”
“I’ve helped birth sheep before,” Kadri answered proudly, “helping birth a baby can’t be that much different.”
Teryl let out a laugh which he quickly stifled when he realized his sister was serious. “Kaddie, people babies are a lot different than animal babies.”
Kadri leaned up against the railing and looked up at the clouds without answering. The storm was still a long ways off, but the clouds were steadily rising from the forest, forming a mountain of white that seemed it would topple if it got any higher.
“You think the rain’ll come before the baby does?” Teryl asked absently.
The storm cloud flashed in the distance, sending a cascade of light from one end of the massive formation to the other. But no rumble followed. It was still too far away.
“That storm looks angry,” Kadri said, staring intently at the sky.
“That’s silly,” Teryl said, swinging his feet, “storms can’t be angry. They’re just clouds.”
“Well how would you know?” Kadri said turning to her brother.
Teryl opened his mouth to answer when the front door flew open. “Kadri where’s Pedr and…” their father started. “Teryl! What are you doing just standing around like that? Get Pedr from the orchard and get those horses into the barn! Double quick now! Before the storm hits!”
“Yes sir!” Teryl said, jumping off the railing and tearing off into the apple orchard.
“Can I help with anything Papa?” Kadri asked hopefully.
The sky flashed and a low rumble of thunder sounded in the distance. At the same time through the half open door, Kadri heard her mother moan. This time when her father left all he did was pat her head. He didn’t even smile. They didn’t care that she was out there. They didn’t care at all.
A moment later she heard a small tap on the wooden steps. She peered over the railing and watched as big drops of water plunked lazily down from the sky making perfect circles on the dry ground. The clouds were much nearer now but there was still no wind. Kadri could almost swear she saw the storm drawing closer, but if it was, then it was moving on its own. The wind had abandoned the valley.
Her brothers, running in from the orchard, interrupted her train of thought. Kadri waved to them as they got close, but both were too busy to notice. She watched as Pedr climbed up onto the cart and drove it off to the carriage house while Teryl jumped on the back, kicking his feet as they turned the corner.
Maybe I could help them with the horses, Kadri thought as they pulled out of view.
She started towards the steps when a huge bolt of lightning shot from the sky and hit a tree so close the farm she could hear the wood splitting as it fell. Kadri let out a surprised yelp and jumped back against the house, plastering her body to the front window.
She’d never seen lightning hit that close before. Her heart skipped beats inside her chest. Maybe she should go inside and watch from her room instead. Her hand was on the door latch before she remembered she’d been exiled to porch.
The sky flashed again, and Kadri instinctively pressed her hands to her ears, muffling the sound. But this time the lightning stayed in the cloud, its rumblings crossing from one end of the valley to the other.
“I don’t like this. I’m going to talk to Pa’pa. I’m sure he’ll let me in with the storm so close.”
Another flash and Kadri opened the door, now unconcerned with the consequences of her disobedience. The thunder rolled just as the door opened and in the same instant she heard her mother cry out again.
“The baby’s crowning,” Mistress Reet said, her voice floating in from the bedroom.
“Pa’pa?” Kadri called through the open door. But her words were lost as another clap of thunder sounded from behind her. “Hang it all! I’m not standing out here any longer!”
She ducked into the house and pulled open the drapes in the front window. Another bolt flew from the sky, striking the large oak tree in the middle of the farmyard and setting the topmost branches ablaze.
Kadri opened her mouth to scream, but it was her mother’s voice she heard instead.
Kadri had never heard anyone scream like that in her whole life. Afraid to stay by the window but too afraid to move, she could only watch as the flames on the oak tree spread lower with each passing second. The fire burned red and blue and sparkled in the growing darkness of the storm. She was sure that it would consume the whole world if something didn’t stop it soon. Terrified she started to turn and call her father’s name, when the rain came.
It came like a curtain, thrown forward as if pushed by an invisible hand. The water turned the dry earth dark and muddy. It fell so hard that fire barely had a chance to send up smoke as its multicolored flame was quenched by the pounding rain. It was then that Kadri heard the baby cry. The rain whip past the window as if that simple sound had caused it to return to the still valley.
Her brothers rushed in, soaked to the skin and dripping all over the front room floor.
“Did you hear that last strike?” Teryl asked has he stripped his wet shirt and threw on the floor by the door.
“I was afraid it hit the house!” Pedr replied, removing his boots and throwing them on top of Teryl’s shirt. “Is everything okay in here? Did the baby come?”
Kadri looked out the window at the burnt leaves at the top of the oak tree. “The baby brought the rain,” she said in a faraway voice.
Their father walked out of the bedroom. His hair disheveled, his face wet with sweat. He paused when he saw his children and gave them a relieved smile.
“The baby is here,” he said, his voice tired but happy. “It’s a girl. Would you like to go see her?”
“Can we?” Kadri squealed, every bit of the storm forgotten.
Her father nodded and Kadri bolted past him into her parents’ room with a huge grin on her face.
The rain was tapping steadily on the window and a light breeze blew the curtains back and forth. Mela and Nika were helping Mistress Reet wash something in a basin and their mother was lying in bed holding a tiny bundle close to her heart.
“Ma’ma!” Kadri cheered as she ran into the room.
Her mother held one finger to her lips, but her face was aglow with smiles.
Kadri slowed her pace and tiptoed the last few feet. The tiny baby was snuggled in a soft blanket, her little fists balled up tightly against her chest. A thin wisp of blond hair lay across her forehead.
“She’s kinda funny-looking,” Kadri said with a giggle.
“You were funny-looking too when you were born, my little one,” her mother said affectionately.
“I’m not little anymore Ma’ma,” Kadri said with some pride. “I’m a big sister now, and I can do all the things grown-ups can do. Just like Mela and Nika.”
Her mother gave her a knowing smile. “Is that so?”
“Yes,” Kadri said with a nod.
The baby yawned and stretched, startling herself awake. As she did, Kadri pointed at her chest.
“Mama!” she said, pointing at the baby. “She got a mark on her chest!”
“Yes she does, sweetie,” her mother said, soothing the baby back to sleep. “Mela says it’s a gift from the fey and she will bring us all good fortune.”
“She already did,” Kadri said with some authority. “She brought us the rain.”
Title image by Franz Schumacher.