“Be happy you only have to deal with the snow and not so much the smoke!” Old Beladin scowled. “The ‘taters never grow well near the ‘shovels. Never!” He waved his hand and grabbed the brush. “Now, keep at it, boy! Stop eyeing the ladies!”
Thanis blushed and pushed his brush over the sprouts. Snow foofed off and fell in a pile between rows. “How long until we harvest the potatoes?” He glanced around to make sure none of the girls were close enough to hear his voice crack.
“Another week. Maybe two. All depends on how much sun gets through the clouds.” Beladin shrugged. “And how much heat’s left in the springs here.”
“It’s hardly enough to melt the snowfall anymore,” Thanis muttered. “Stupid snow.”
“Aye. And that’s usually a sign it’s dried up.” The old man leaned on his brush handle. “But at least there’s some hope. We won’t be stuck here. I hear some old heat baron’s buying up this pit. The entire cooperative’ll be able to move to one of the newer ones to grow on fresh ground. Ah, to have warm toes again!” Beladin’s toothless smile crinkled his eyes.
“Why would a heat baron be interested in buying a pit with no heat?” Thanis paused his clearing of the vegetables. “The pit’ll only be good for snow. And that’s not good for anything!” He shivered.
“That was pretty good. Your voice didn’t crack once!”
Thanis wrinkled his nose at the old man.
“I never tried to understand the barons. It’s easier in the cooperative. We all look out for each other and grow the food the Pits need. Simple as that. I figure, as long as we do our part, everyone else’ll leave us alone.” Beladin’s cackle filled the pit. “Other than during food riots, of course, but we haven’t had one of those in years.”
Thanis looked up as he heard crunching in the snow. Rachel approached them. “Thanis, time to switch. Head over to the bamboo stand and start harvesting.”
Thanis stood as tall as he could. “All right, Rachel. Thanks for getting me.” He tried offering that debonair smile that Case used on the girls.
Rachel raised an eyebrow. “You like bamboo that much?”
“Uh, yeah.” Thanis dropped the smile and handed over the brush. “Have fun with Beladin!”
He attempted a jaunty jog but dropped it for a mopey walk after a few seconds. It was Rachel. She didn’t go for that kind of guy anyway. Apparently.
He got to the bamboo stand and plucked a small ax from the ground. He found Llewellyn and asked, “Where you want me to start?”
“Eh. The south side could use some clearing. Try over there.” He waved. “Make sure to check the interior of the thicket before deciding where to start.”
Thanis nodded and walked to the indicated patch. Stepping inside the thicket to look for broken branches, signs of animals, or anything else he should know before swinging the ax, he found something unexpected. A cute girl with dark hair.
Ravena smiled. “Hi.” She giggled.
“Um. I snuck in here. ‘Cause.”
Ravena giggled again.
Thanis blinked. He was very good at blinking.
Ravena stopped giggling. “Do you want me to go?” Her voice was almost a whisper.
Thanis shook his head. He remembered to smile. He blinked.
Ravena returned the smile. “OK.” Another pause. She ventured, “You look really nice with that ax?”
Thanis nodded. He blinked.
Ravena looked up toward the sky. “I should probably get back by the radishes. Annya can only cover me for a little bit. Can you see me tonight after dark?”
Ravena giggled and scrambled out of the thicket.
Thanis smiled. Suddenly the snow didn’t bother him so much.
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous story, Dying Songs, here.
Read the next story, Into the Wild, here.