The green eyes of the barbarian reveal their cruel nature, their unnatural lusts, and the darkness in their spirit. They cannot be allowed to step off the sands and into our holy lands.
— Detoil da Robin, Threats from the Most Forbidden Lands Known
Desòchu carried a breakfast tray carefully between his hands as he backed into his cave. The new blanket dragged along his shoulder before it slumped to the side. It was heavier than the old one. It was also a different design and he wasn’t used to seeing five names on it.
The sounds of high-pitched crying stopped him. Ever since Rutejìmo was born, the newborn had been crying every moment he was awake. The little baby was in his mother’s room, still bawling at the top of his lungs.
Desòchu cringed but kept backing further into the room. As soon as he was clear of the entrance, he turned and padded into the main room. He held his breath for a second but then call out, “I’m back, Mama. Give me a second and I’ll bring your breakfast in.”
“No, hold on,” Chyojímo gasped. “Please, put it on the main table. I need to get out of here.”
He stopped in surprise. “O-Out here?”
“Yeah, just let me figure out how… to… carry… Jìmo.” She chuckled with amusement. “There!”
Somehow none of the adults realized that both his mother and his new brother had nearly the same short name. Only the gender accent was different. He rolled his eyes. Adults were idiots. He set the platter down on the center table.
His mother groaned as she staggered into the room. She stopped against the frame between the bedroom and the main room. She was cradling Rutejìmo with her other arm, the little baby nuzzling on her bared nipple. “Good morning, Little River.”
Desòchu looked away uncomfortably then busied himself pulling the bowls of thick soup and steaming eggs in front of his mother’s and his customary spots.
Rutejìmo let out a cry, shrill and desperate.
His mother cooed softly until the baby’s fussing faded into wet sucking noises. After a moment, she sat down on the couch and pulled a few pillows closer so she could rest the arm holding the baby in them.
Desòchu glanced at his brother. The brown body was lighter than his mother’s skin tone. He looked content as his eyes opened and closed in time with his nursing.
“Don’t worry, he won’t bite.”
Desòchu said hesitantly, “He doesn’t have teeth, Mama, but he cries a lot.”
“Babies do that. It just means he scared and need to be held.”
“Papa doesn’t like it.”
“Hikòru…” She sighed before she continued. “Your papa has beetles in his shoes. He’s… happy that we finally have little Jìmo but it takes a bit to get rid of those bites.”
Desòchu took his own bowl of eggs and a bit of baked bread. It was crispy with a taste of the fresh batch of cactus oil he had helped harvest last week.
She gestured with her other hand toward her bowl.
He gave it to her. “Will he ever stop crying when you put him down?”
His mother smiled at him, her dark green eyes almost black for a moment. “You did, Little River. All babies cry. They like to be held.”
She hesitated. “Do you want to hold him?”
Desòchu froze. “W-What?”
“Your brother. Come on, take a few more bites and then hold him while I eat.”
Sweat prickled on his brow. “What if I drop him?”
“You won’t. I trust you.”
Desòchu opened his mouth to say something but then closed it. He grunted with agreement. Leaning forward, he shoved in a few mouthfuls of eggs before sitting back.
Chyojímo got up and helped him arrange a pillow under his elbow before setting his brother into his lap and the cradle of his arm.
“There you go,” she whispered. “Just keep your hand under his head and hold him along your arm. Babies are tough but not too strong. His neck is the weakest.”
When she pulled back, she trailed her fingers along his cheek with the sweet smile he always loved to see. “My River.”
He smiled back. Except for the baby in his lap, it felt like life before she got pregnant. It brought a smile to his lips and he reached down to caress his brother’s face.
Rutejìmo reached up and clamped his tiny hand around his finger. It was a surprisingly strong grip. The baby opened his eyes.
Desòchu did a double take. “Why does he have blue eyes?”
“Almost everyone has blue eyes.”
“No, everyone has green,” he said.
His mother grinned and tapped him on the nose before she picked up her own bowl. “No, everyone you know has green eyes. But you only know the valley and a few traveling merchants. We live far away from cities and villages. I’ve met thousands across the desert, clear up to the borders of sand and green.”
“They don’t have green eyes?”
“Most of the desert folks do, but the pale barbarians to the north have brown eyes. I heard there were others with blue eyes too.”
“You’ve seen them? Other people?”
She leaned over and grinned. “It’s hard to believe, but not everyone is brown like us.”
“Why? Why wouldn’t they be?”
A shrug. “I don’t know. All I know is that Tachìra watches us from above and his bright gaze darkens our skin. Maybe the others don’t have a sun spirit like ours?”
Desòchu nodded without really understanding. He knew who Tachìra was: the sun spirit, the source of all magic in desert, and somehow the boss of Shimusògo, the clan’s spirit. However, he couldn’t wrap his thoughts around who Tachìra other than just a name for the sun.
His mother smiled at him and leaned back on the couch to eat. She ate slowly. As she did, Desòchu saw flickers of pain across her face. It made her look older than every but the age faded away when she smiled at him.
Desòchu alternated talking about little things with her and playing with his brother. The baby kept squirming around, twisting one way and the other as he looked around the room with wide, dark eyes.
“Thank you, Sòchu.”
He looked up. “For what?”
“Being a good brother.”
He blushed and ducked his head. “Thank you, Mama.”
Before he knew it, Desòchu found himself yawning. He leaned against the back of the couch as he held a now-sleeping Rutejìmo to his chest.
His mother reached over and rested her hand on his shoulder. “Why don’t you take little Jìmo into my room and take a nap yourself. You can sleep but just keep an ear out for him.”
“What are you going to do, Mama?”
“I think,” she said as she stood up. “I think I could use a little walk. I feel much better and I miss the sun. It’s been months since I was able to pray to Tachìra while feeling his warmth.”
“O-Okay.” Desòchu struggled to get up but with his mother’s help, he managed to head into his parent’s room with his brother still cradled on his arm.
His mother groaned as she walked with him in slow, unsteady steps.
“What’s wrong, Mama?”
“It just hurts. It will for a while.” She pushed her curly hair back over her ear. “I think I’m good enough to walk.”
She smiled brightly. “Take care of him. He’s going to be your brother for the rest of your lives.”
“I will, Mama.”
She kissed him on the cheek. “I love you, my river. I always will.”
“Have a good walk.”