A Tale of Two Bori: Part Five
There was much work to be done. Spring was the perfect season to begin a garden, though Feinly was unaware of the effect that seasons had over plants. After all, her mountain birthplace had essentially two seasons, the blizzard season where ice claimed the entire continent and she would remain safely underground with her cache of food, or the dry season, where the snow receded further up the peak and it was safer to forage – though there was always the risk of triggering an avalanche. There were some tenacious pine trees and alpine berry shrubs, but that was about the extent of their vegetation, and those did not change as the months did here. Shenkuu would prove to be far different, and had already reformed her sheltered views of the world.
The first task to converting the abandoned shrine would be to fend off the grove of wild bamboo. The tall stalks loomed far over her head, and with their stranglehold over the soil, no new plants could be introduced. She would have to attack them before she could start planting. The white Bori pursed her lips, quietly studying the veritable forest. Luckily, she was well-equipped for the undertaking, as she had learned from her first night in this new country. Her heavy claws could shear through the woody stems as well as any pruner. As the sun slowly crept over the ridge, its pale light washed over the dutiful Bori, hard at work. A swath of shorn bamboo led a green trail behind her; she was methodically slashing the plants near their base, one by one cutting them down. It was still early in the day when exhaustion overtook her, though. Feinly had never been a strong Bori, and even digging her own winter den had taken several days longer than most. Panting heavily, she trundled out from the grove to survey her progress.
It looked no different from before! Disheartened that she had only made a small impression, the Bori sat down on the weathered stone path to try and catch her breath. Thin leaves were stuck in her white fur, dirt caked on her claws. At this pace, new bamboo would begin growing before she had finished clearing the field of the older plants. Her project might be over before it started; finding a new location without as many weeds could make things easier for her.
An idea occurred to her then, as she thought back on the simple scroll she had memorized the illustrations of. Every plant had the same basic design: leaves that reached to the sun for sustenance, and roots that reached into the soil for water and minerals. She might not be built to cut, or pull these plants loose, but she was built to dig. What if she could tunnel beneath the bamboo and uproot them that way? It would certainly be faster to till the field that way, especially since the temperate soil here was much softer than the permafrost she had scraped her burrow into. Invigorated, she rose to her paws, prising loose the old stepping stone she sat upon. The soil underneath was darker and damp, having trapped residual moisture and shielded it from the sun. Letting the flat stone clatter aside, Feinly sank her claws into the ground, testing the density. Sure enough, it was softer and lighter than even the packed snow she had grown up with, as her arms easily plunged past her elbows. A shy smile lit up her countenance; this could work after all!
The setting sun painted the Shenkuu horizon rich shades of red, orange, and pink, burnished with deep purple and navy blue at the edges as nightfall crept closer. As the shadows lengthened, Feinly emerged from a pit in the ground, white fur thick with brown clods of earth. She shook vigorously, shedding some of the clinging dirt from her pelt, and wearily crawled to the base of one of the old cherry trees at the edge of her new territory. Behind her was an expanse of raw loam, soil upturned from beneath the ground to create saturated ribbons of terracotta, mahogany, and sepia. There was not a single stalk of bamboo still standing; in one day's hard labor, Fein undermined their tangled root system and forced the invasive plant up through the crumbling earth, a task no ordinary gardener could have attempted. Once the roots were exposed to the surface, it was easy to drag the bamboo off into a stack near the gate, where the sun would dry them out and she could find a later use for the shafts. The sweet pink cherry blossoms drifted down to perfume the warm evening breeze, but Feinly was already in a deep sleep, curled up tightly against the wizened tree trunk.
The next weeks passed Feinly in a flurry of activity. Now that she had eradicated the weeds, her next landscaping task would be to place stones into paths and borders, dividing the open ground into smaller flowerbeds, and expanding up the ridge into terraces. She had never seen a real terraced garden before, especially not one on the scale she was trying to create. Her motivation was simpler than all that – she had no one to impress, no rival to try and outdo. She had seen so many pretty plants and flowers here already that she just wanted to collect them all into one place, her own private paradise. Finding stones to segregate the different areas was the simple part; there were rivers and streams all over the natural hillsides that lined their banks with the smooth stones they had carried. The hard part was carrying them back. There was no easy way around it; Feinly could push the larger rocks so that they tumbled down the slope, but she still had to collect them all at the bottom of the ridge and drag them back one at a time to her new home. She found herself envying some of the townspeople she had met, such as the Shoyru performer – having wings would make this sort of travail less difficult. Despite her aching muscles, though, the work was not all drudgery. The Shenkuu wilderness was pure beauty, with its swirling mist and lush surroundings. As she made her daily trips up the hillside, she would catch glimpses of little wild petpets like the Tomamu bird, splashing in the stream water, or the furry Sandan, curiously climbing up a Purplum tree. Her infatuation with the land and its culture had not lessened; if anything, all the hard work she was investing made her feel like she deserved to live here after all.
It was finally time to make another venture into town. Feinly had acclimated comfortably to the Shenkuu weather, and consisted easily on foraged fruits and vegetables. The hills were rich with Bluchard roots, edible mushrooms, almonds, Chokato, and Purplums, a cornucopia compared to the scarce berries and lichens she was used to surviving on. It was a serene existence, but she needed to stock more supplies, and it was time she got up her nerve to deal with people again. The bamboo stalks had dried out, and she took the time to strip the leaves and roots off using her claws. Now they were poles, light and hollow, flexible and strong. She had the idea that she could trade them in place of currency – surely some merchant would give her coin for them, and then she could purchase seeds and flowers, scrolls, and perhaps another delicious noodle meal if she had enough left over.
So the small Bori bundled a stack of the tall bamboo poles together, using a length of cord she had salvaged from the sagging gate at the entrance to her shrine. She squared the makeshift lumber atop her narrow shoulders, and with a determined nod, stepped forth onto the winding footpath. The walk downhill was peaceful, although there was a strange stillness in the air, a hush that stifled the wildlife. Fein's sensitive ears swiveled for sounds of birdsong, but was met with silence. It made her uneasy, clinging more tightly to the bamboo poles weighing her down. A distant rumbling noise made her flinch, looking around wide-eyed for the source. It was like a guttural growl, but coming from all around, echoing down the mountain. She froze in the middle of the path, heartbeat fluttering nervously. It sounded like the precursor to an avalanche. But... there was no snow here. None to come barreling down the mountain, and none to bury herself safely beneath.
A droplet of cold water landed lightly on her nosetip, splattering against her fine white fur. She squeaked in surprise, nearly dropping the lumber. Another droplet splashed onto her claws, then another wet her cheek. It was a thunderstorm. The Bori had never seen rain before – her climate only allowed snow or hail. She stood trembling for a moment or two, waiting for the terrible growl to sound again. A flash of lightning illuminated the area shock-white, followed seconds later by a crash of thunder. This time she did drop the bamboo, letting the poles clatter to the ground and quickly roll down the slope. She wrung her wrists anxiously, trying to decide if she should chase after them and try to reach town, or if she should flee back up the path to take cover in her garden. The raindrops were falling fast and thick, painting the path dark brown with mud, and plastering her fur against her skin. Poor Feinly had no idea how quickly the weather could turn to rain up in the high altitudes, and was still too new to recognize the warning signs and stay sheltered. Now she was drenched, chilled to the bone. Dithering back and forth, she finally decided to run back towards her garden, whimpering as she tried to shield her face from the barrage of cold raindrops.
She felt almost betrayed, having put so much trust and love into Shenkuu and having it torment her thusly. Blizzards she could handle with her thick pelt, and hailstorms she could repel with her hardened backplates, but this rain made her waterlogged and heavy, and it made the wind unbearably cold. After what felt like a lifetime of slogging uphill through the mud, a flash of lightning showed the exhausted Bori the silhouette of her gates, the entrance to her haven. She stumbled into her territory, groaning as she saw how the carefully arranged stones had washed into a sea of mud, destroying her weeks of hard work. Disheartened and dripping wet, Fein dragged herself to the base of her favorite cherry tree, curling herself tightly against its roots to take shelter beneath its branches. Her quiet sobbing was drowned out beneath the crashing thunder and the pouring rain.
To be continued...