Chapter Two: Nedra

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It was getting late by the time we reached the dock at Hart. Papa waved to someone on a flatbed cargo boat as Jojo plodded down the path. Two people—a girl about my age and a boy probably a few years older but quite a bit larger—were lifting crates onto the boat. They stopped and waved back when they saw us coming.

"You've heard me talk about Oslow and Mae," Papa said, his eyes on Jojo. "Their kids took over the farm. Carso—the oldest one—he makes weekly runs to Northface Harbor. He agreed to take you over."

I tried to recall them. Papa traveled every week across the northern part of Lunar Island—from the tip to the forest—and he knew someone from every village, but it was hard to keep up when all I ever heard were stories about strangers.

"Room for her trunk right here!" the boy said cheerily as he and my father hauled my belongings off the cart, and I hopped down.

The girl stuck her hand out. "I'm Dilada." I noticed the dirt making crescent moons under her fingernails. She pointed to her brother. "Carso."

"Hi. I'm Nedra," I replied.

Papa and Carso wedged my trunk between two crates of turnips, clumpy red clay still clinging to the purple skins. Carso put a basket of carrots on top of it.

And then it was time to go. Papa looked at me, his eyes a little too watery, his hands on his hips until I threw my arms tightly around him. He dropped his chin to the top of my head. "Write us," he said, his voice a little choked. "And don't forget about us."

I squeezed tighter.

Dilada and Carso climbed into the boat. They weren't rushing us exactly, but it was time to go.

"You ready?" Papa asked.

"Yes," I lied.

"One last thing." He went back to the cart and withdrew a tube about as long as my arm, the kind used for carrying documents or maps. "This is for you," he said.

I peered at the package.

"Don't open it yet," Papa continued. "You're going to a new city, all by yourself. It won't be easy, and we won't be there to help you."

His voice dropped low, just for me. "Open this when you need us, and remember that we're never too far away."

I wanted to thank him, but my throat was tight with emotion. Papa hugged me once more, then held my hand to steady me as I stepped from the dock onto the boat. It dipped under my weight, and I struggled to find balance as I wove between the crates of vegetables and sat down on a box behind Dilada. I settled my hip bag beside me and clutched the carrying tube in both hands, too nervous to let it rest on the wooden floor of the boat.

Carso stood, using a long rod to push off from the dock and point the boat south while Dilada set the sails. I tried to be as small and out of the way as possible, stuffing my shirt into my waistband so the wind wouldn't blow it around. Behind us, Papa had moved Jojo back up the hill and sat on the cart, shading his eyes with his arm, watching us until we were out of sight.

"He's a good man," Dilada said, plopping down beside me.

I nodded silently.

"Helped us out after . . ." Her eyes shifted.

After. Suddenly, the memory burst inside me. Papa talking about the farmer in the village beyond the chryssmum gate, his wife who baked better than Mama, their two children . . . a boy and a girl, left as orphans after the parents fell ill with the Wasting Death and died.

The ride to Northface Harbor wasn't unpleasant. The water was clear and blue, the waves gentle. Carso made one stop—dropping his sister off at the forest in the center of the island, where she had a job waiting for her to help cut timber. Carso and I lunched aboard the boat, snacking on produce from the crates and dropping the carrot stems into the water when we were done. I shared the bread Mama had packed for me.

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