Medvedev woke on his pallet with his children around him. He had missed sunrise but not by much. He sat up and stretched. They had a lot to do this morning. The children woke up, each in their own way. Bohdan sat up and stretched. Mael opened his eyes, but didn't move, like Oliver did, savoring the seconds before the day began. Anoush got to her feet and picked up the water pail, heading for the river. She did this every morning. She said the water that had sat all night wasn't fit to use, but Medvedev would have preferred it to the cold river water, at least for his morning wash.
Mael sat up slowly, then jumped to his feet. "Can we pack our blankets now?"
"Our clothes," Bohdan said. "Our clothes go in the bottom."
The two raced off the gather their belongings. Olive stepped into the doorway. "Did you get enough sleep?"
"I think I can manage. Did you hear anything else?"
"No, but someone's still asleep at the bottom of the hill. I can see a foot behind a bush."
Medvedev got to his feet and went to look. The boys chatter gaily, excited by their coming adventure. They must have woken the farmer; he was striding towards the farmhouse. How long until he came back? They had better be gone by then. Oliver put the last log on the fire. He must have put the pot over the heat a while before; steam rose from it. The boys ran inside their arms full. They sorted everyone's clothes then stuffed theirs in the bottoms of their packs. Their blankets followed. The boys were full of energy. They would need it later, but for now they needed a project.
"Boys, I was thinking that of taking the ticking from our pallets. Do you think you could take them outside and get all the straw out?"
Oliver laughed as he looked at the boys faces. "Have fun."
"Oh," said Bohdan solemnly. "We will."
Mael nodded enthusiastically and they dragged the smaller pallet out the door. Anoush insisted they stop to wash and eat before she ripped the seam for them. "The cook pot will need washing. You can empty the ticking while I clean it. After breakfast."
The boys ate quickly and were back outside before Anoush had finished half her stew. Medvedev took out his knife and opened the seam. The ticking would go in the bottom of his pack, so he needed it done before he could pack anything else. Oliver washed the breakfast dishes, but Anoush wanted to clean the pot herself. Medvedev gathered all his snares. He'd caught four hares overnight. Anoush wanted to clean them, but Medvedev convinced her to wait until they would be eaten.
The air around the house was full of straw and laughter. Anoush picked up the first ticking after the boys abandoned it for the second and emptied last handfuls of straw. She folded it neatly then passed it to Medvedev, who packed it. Oliver packed the largest blanket and both his and Medvedev's clothes in his bag. "This will give you more room for the heavy stuff."
Anoush filled her pack after folding all her clothes. Then she tied the feet of the hares together and attached them to her pack. If she wanted to carry the food, Medvedev wasn't going to stop her. The second ticking followed the first into Medvedev's pack and the boys were sent to the river to clean themselves. They returned damp and happy, ready to fill the last of their pack. Oliver sent them around the little house to take anything they really couldn't leave behind. Bohdan chose three rocks and a stick that from the right angle resembled a sleeping panther. After Bohdan left the hut to show Oliver his treasures, Mael picked up a piece of fabric that Anoush had knotted into a doll her first week with them and hid it quickly in his bag. Medvedev pretended he didn't see. Mael treasured it, but he didn't want anyone to know.
The boys put on their pack and refused to take them off even though no one else was ready to leave. Medvedev packed his tools and knives and the cutting boards then set the water pail and cook pot on top of a large rock so he wouldn't forget them. He went back in the house to see what he'd missed. Anoush followed him in and bit her lower lip. "We can't leave it messy."
She swept the floor, setting the stool back before the fire and the two crates the family had used as shelves against the wall. She tugged on the curtain. "We'll need this won't we?"
Medvedev nodded and tugged it down, doing his best not to rip the fabric that had been nailed to the ceiling. He shouldn't have packed his tools yet. He managed to get it down in one piece and took it outside to help Anoush fold it. A shout rang up the hill. Luke wasn't far behind. Tears ran down his face. "Pa says you're going away. You can't leave."
Bohdan and Mael hugged him, but they didn't frown or take off their packs. The farmer's middle son arrived with his older brother and sister. "Black."
The oldest boy put out his hand to Oliver, "I'm sorry to see you go." He looked at Medvedev. "We would have never made it without you."
The girl burst into tears and threw her arms around Anoush. "I'll miss you so. Can't you stay with me?"
Anoush patted her back and made calming noises even as she shook her head. "I belong with my papas."
"No," the girl said, pulling away. "You don't. You need to be with woman. Girls need each other. You should stay with us."
"Stop. Don't say that." The middle boy ran his fingers through his hair as if embarrassed by the sudden attention. "Black and Oliver are both good men. They'll treat her right."
The oldest boy nodded and pulled his sister away from Anoush, who watched them for a moment before putting on her pack. Medvedev quickly packed the last of their belongings. The sooner they left the better.
"Wait, wait," came the voice of an old woman. It wasn't coming from down the hill, but up it, from behind the house. Oliver ran up the slope and took the tiny child from the woman's arms. The oldest farm boy followed him and lead down the goat. Anoush took off her pack and opened it, taking out her cup. She offered the woman a rock to sit on and the last of the water. The three youngest boys raced around the goat, scaring it. The middle boy lifted Luke and carted him away, calling to Mael and Bohdan to follow. Medvedev stepped behind Oliver and looked down at the baby.
Medvedev didn't know a lot about babies, but he could tell that the infant wasn't very old. The babe was still curled up and moved with jerky motions. He looked at the old woman. "Is this one for us?"
"That he is, lad, that he is."
Medvedev couldn't remember the last time someone called him lad or boy. The woman didn't look much older than Nana. She struggled to her feet. Anoush and the farm girl tried to get her to sit back down, but she waved them away. "Little Bailey here needs men like you. He needs lots of care. He's one of nine and that wouldn't be a problem except his little cries don't make any sound."
Oliver rubbed his fingers over the babe's thin brown hair. "He's mute then?"
The old woman sighed and nodded. She stood in front of Oliver and brushed the baby's cheek with her wrinkled hand. "His ma's so busy with all the others; she doesn't have time to check if Bailey needs her. I think if someone could wear him against their chest, in a sling or something, he would do fine. You can feel his little chest move when he cries."
Bohdan ran into the house and came out with the sling Medvedev used to carry him in. The girls went to work with knots and twine, shrinking the sling enough for Oliver to use it with Bailey. Medvedev shouldered his own pack and Oliver's. "Do we have permission to keep him?"
The woman drew Medvedev into the hut and closed the door. "I stole away with him two days ago. I walk so slowly that I could have easily been caught. I'm not sure they know he's gone yet. She never pays a lick of attention to any but the noisiest off them." She held up her hands. "With these aching hands, I milked my own goat twice a day just to make sure he was eating. He was always so hungry."
Tears dripped down her cheeks. "I tried my best, but what if something happened to me. He would starve to death."
Medvedev patted her back as she wiped her cheeks. He opened the door, looked out, and waved the farm girl over. "She'll need taken care of. Will you wait here with her until she's rested?"
The oldest farm boy nodded. "We'll take her home with us."
Everyone was ready to go. Medvedev let Oliver guide them. He had meant to talk about their destination, but it hadn't happened. The boys passed the goat's lead back and forth several times until Anoush took it away. "I'll take care of her, but I don't know how to milk her."
"I do," Mael said, blushing. "Mum taught me."
"That's good," said Oliver. "I only know how to milk a cow."
How different could the two animals be? But Medvedev didn't ask. They had walked about a mile when Oliver stopped suddenly. "I think he's crying."
Mael milked the goat into Anoush's cup, while Bohdan held it. Anoush opened her pack and got out the bag the old woman had been carrying. Oliver changed the baby's clothes and passed the soiled ones to Anoush, who declared that the task of cleaning the Bailey's clothes was hers. Then Oliver passed the baby to Medvedev. "It's time you held him."
Bailey was so small, but he felt less fragile than he looked. Medvedev spooned milk into Bailey's mouth and then let the babe suck his finger. The other children took turns tasting the leftover milk. Mael grinned. "I guess I should milk her less next time. He sure doesn't eat much."
Oliver sat down beside Medvedev and leaned against his arm. "I think we need a permanent place to live. I think I know where."
Medvedev smiled down at him. "I will follow you anywhere."
This is the end, at least for now. The next part of the Izzy's story will be from Douglas's point of view and I'm not sure if the end of this will transition well into the beginning of that. I might add another chapter from Oliver's POV later or give him his own story. We'll see.