Halu carefully groomed the burrs from the goat’s coat, picking at the stubborn ones with gentle fingers. She could hear the children waking up slowly, a lazy hum notable in the large barn loft where they slept. It was a slow day, their rest day, no herbs to gather, no fowl to trap, only sleep to be had and meals to make. Halu sat back on her heels brushing her hands off on her stained pants before scratching the stray goat hairs from her nose.  Overhead the songbirds sang their daily tunes and she sighed looking down at her thin calloused fingers, getting to her feet and patting the dust from her tunic.

Giving the goat one more rub on the forehead, Halu collected her brushes and dumped them into her bag, heading back towards the barn. Climbing the ladder to the loft she pushed open the window, letting in a draft of warm air and fresh light. Fourteen make-shift cots of straw and tattered blankets were tightly packed in the large loft. It smelled of warm and human bodies as Halu carefully moved among the dozing children. Most were around ten years, but a few were young and a few older, thin with hollows in the wrong places, but warm, kind eyes.

It only took Halu moments to notice two of the cots were empty. Arthur and Simmons’ blankets were tossed to the side with nobody in them. Halu frowned and knelt by Rosa, who slept near the two older boys. “Any idea when they left?”

Rosa rubbed her eyes and yawned, already awake, just relaxing. “Before first-light.”

“Great,” Halu sighed and straightened. “Watch the barn, I’ve gotta go make sure they’re not getting into trouble again.”

Rosa gave a close-eyed, half-hearted grunt in response as Halu clambered down the ladder, yanked the twine from around her neck and pulled back her unruly curly red hair. Those boys always made trouble, and one of these days, they’d get hurt.


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