Islinn took care of her. Her eleven-year-old mind couldn't grasp the basis for her mother's strange paralysis. She wondered, uneasily, if she might catch it too if her father didn't return soon.
"We'll just sit here together like two lumps on a riverbank,I guess." Islinn thought as she watched her mother stare out the window. Everything would be left unattended and would just crumble around them.
"Hope it happens soon." She thought,exhausted. She immediately dropped to her knees and prayed for forgiveness for such a thought. But she was so busy!
After she was done taking care of her mother and cleaning up from breakfast, she went back to the barn to confront Casper about the business of plowing the field. She barely knew the difference between the collar and the hames. The first time she'd tried to tack him up it had taken most of the morning. And that didn't account for the time taken to sit down for a good,long cry.
After some practice, harnessing him up only took an eternity instead of forever and when she was done he still always resembled a fat, white mule caught in a sloppy noose. After the harness, came the hitch gear. That took even longer. Casper would doze. Islinn would curse. Surely Brede would overlook her muttered words considering the circumstances.
Plowing her father's field was beyond her capabilities but she hung grimly on. There was no one else to do it. Her furrows resembled paths dug by drunken gophers and, try as she might,she couldn't get them straight.
Casper ignored every "Gee!" and every "Haw!" and gazed off resolutely across the field as he waited for all the foolishness to cease. Islinn quickly discovered that a sharp slap of the reins punctuated with "Move,you son-of-a-whore!" got a less than enthusiastic response but a response nonetheless.
But it didn't matter. A wierd sort of irony came into play once the plowing started and Islinn immediately fell victim to it. As soon as Casper moved, the plow would hit a rock she would swear had not been there earlier. She heaved rocks from her path until her fingers shredded.
The one time everything looked clear something on the harness snapped. Before Islinn could shed the reins over her head and shoulders Casper jerked her over the plow. He'd dragged her a few feet before she'd disentangled herself and lay, spread-eagled and stunned,in the dirt.
Islinn would plow well into the day then return Casper to the barn. He had to be cooled out, fed again, groomed and, finally, put away. Then she had the harness to clean and rehang. Her father was very particular about his equipment. Then it was back to the house.
The things she had to do never ended and she stopped only when her eyelids fell closed and she no longer had the strength to pull them back up. The many cuts and scrapes on her fingers became infected in spite of the comfrey poultice she applied every evening and one scary bout with heat exhaustion out in the field left her leery when the middle of the day rolled around.
In spite of everything though, Islinn didn't mind the poor hand she'd been dealt. For the first time in her life, she didn't feel as though she were a burden. Her father had left, gone to follow his faith, and when he returned she'd no longer be that scabby-kneed little girl he'd left behind. The one he'd sent to fetch water when he wasn't thirsty. Or to check on things that didn't need checking.
If there had been anyone around to notice, they would have caught a glimpse of the loveliness that waited for her a few years down the road. Her hands were already slender and graceful beneath the dirty bandages and her sunburned face and perpetually peeling nose were close to beautiful dressed in the belief that her father would see and appreciate how capable she had become while he had been gone.
The joy and approval on his face when he saw all that she'd done was a seductive daydream and one she often succumbed to. It played through her mind repeatedly. She thanked Brede profusely for the chance he'd given her to earn her father's love. Others weren't so lucky.
"What if he doesn't come back?" Her exhausted mind would chip in. "What if the Tribe is waiting for them? And just kills them all?"
Tears would threaten at this point and she was never quite sure if they were for her father or the bleak prospect of being stuck with all this shit to do and no end in sight.
So,she waited, filled with hope for his return and a rising horror as the days meandered by and the road out front remained empty.