The young woman nodded, “I see.”
“And to answer your question, Hataru, some of this,” he gestured to the heap of wealth, “we do keep, but mostly, we deliver it to the elderly and the sick who can’t join us in the village square.” Placing the last item on the cart, he asked, “Would you… care to join me?”
Biting her lower lip and letting it slowly slide into a faint smile, she replied, “I think I would.”
Levi knew the town like the back of his hand, which was good because Hataru would have gotten herself extremely lost without him in the maze of haphazard dirt roads and dead-end passages as they passed out the food and valuables. They passed a dirt-smudged child wearing clothes two sizes too big, playing toy boats with leaves and scraps of wood in a large, muddy puddle. Hataru stopped. Her hair tumbling from her fingers, she impulsively snatched up the shiny teacup that had once been her favorite and placed it in the water next to him.
“You think there’s room for another ship in your armada?” she beamed.
The boy stared at its glistening surface and enthused, “Thank you, pretty lady!” Hataru blushed, timidly tugging her hair back in place.
Next, they came to a run-down dwelling with a sunken roof.
“An old man lives here. He’s been suffering with dementia and has had shingles on and off for the past year,” the captain spoke, “You can wait out here, if you want.” He headed toward the door, but the young woman followed closely behind, plunging into the stale and stagnant air of the hut scented heavily of sweat and vomit. The windows were boarded up from the inside, allowing little light to enter, but even in the dimness, Hataru was still able to make out a lumpish figure curled under a thin, patch-covered blanket.
“Who’s there?” the lump wheezed.
“It’s me, Mr. Wan, Levi,” he set a sack of beans on a cluttered table. “I brought you more food.”
“Thank you, boy. Oh! And I see you brought your lovely mother with you. How are you, Diana? You haven’t aged a day!”
“Mr. Wan, my mother died nearly twenty years ago. This is my… friend, Hataru.”
“That was my wife’s name!”
“Ah, your wife’s name was Henrietta, sir…”
“Oh, right… Well, you’re much too beautiful to be my wife, anyway, but she made the best food...” Mr. Wan began coughing.
“Shall I fetch you some water, sir?” Hataru offered, looking around for a sink and finding none. She glanced at the captain.
“There’s a pump outside and to your left,” he pointed to the door. Nodding, she walked out, grabbing a cracked clay bowl as she left.
The ground around the rusty pump was damp to the touch, which made Hataru’s hands rather messy. Sighing, she started wiping them on her already sullied skirt, but then a sudden idea struck her. I haven't had to do this in years... She dipped her fingers deeper into the moist soil.
“Having trouble, Princess?” an amused voice asked, making the young woman jump. Levi looked down at her, sniggering.
“I told you not to call me that.”
“Oh, but the best nicknames are the ones you never like,” he teased, “Maybe you would prefer Dirtface, instead, since you’ve got mud all over your cheek?”