Bolor sat by the edge of the pool, watching silently as the turtle bobbed up and down in the turquoise blue water. Against her back, an old apricot tree rustled gently in the breeze and shook off a curtain of little pink petals, that bobbed in the water for a few seconds before greedy fish swallowed them whole. Footsteps came up behind her but Bolor concentrated on the turtle and willed the footsteps to go away and tried to shrink into herself. She liked turtles. Turtles didn't have to tend the vegetables, or milk the goats, or fetch water, or sweep down the house, or hide under the bed. Turtles had a shell to hide in.
The footsteps stopped beside Bolor and she turned around with visible reluctance. It was Saran, staring at Bolor and fiddling with a strand of her long dark hair.
"I thought you were a soldier" Bolor said, turning back around to the pond.
"The soldiers are gone, Saran replied. "They left an hour ago. There isn't one left in the village!"
Bolor heard the excitement in Saran's voice. She didn't reply. The soldiers had left before, a few months ago. Then new soldiers came in, fighting for a different far-away man with no blood in that soil. Those soldiers had been worse than the first. That was before Saran had arrived at the town.
"Did you hear what I said?" Saran said again. "All gone! Isn't that great! I need to visit my grandma now. She lives on her own in Yaghatar and the soldiers wouldn't let us go, so grandma didn't get any food from us like she usually does. My mum said I should go today, just in case, actually. I can bring her one of the chickens to say sorry. I think that will make her happy".
Bolor turned her head a little further from Saran and rolled her eyes, looking again for the turtle. It had crawled up the bank on the far side of the pond, away from the two girls, and stretched itself out on a warm flat stone.
The noise of shifting material caused her to turn around. She saw Saran wriggling her way out of her dress, tugging the fabric over her elbows and head in a less than graceful fashion. Giggles were rising from inside the fabric.
"What are you doing?" Bolor hissed, eyes wide. She looked around and then back at Saran, who had escaped from the dress and was standing, smiling and naked, at the edge of the water.
"I told you, the soldiers are gone" Saran replied, smiling widely, before swan diving into the pool and disappearing in a dramatic splash. Bolor stood up, and peered anxiously into the water for a few seconds before Saran burst back through the surface, gasping and wiping her eyes.
"The water is so blue", Saran said, in between big breaths, "Because it's full of soil from the mountain. It's a blessing, Bolor! It's so good for your skin. When was the last time you had a real outdoor bath like this? Come in, before they come back!"
Bolor looked around her again, and saw no-one. She looked at the turtle. It met her gaze and held it, for a few seconds, before lazily tilting its head away from the pool and stretching out on the rock a little bit wider. Bolor stepped out of her own clothes, blushing furiously, and climbed into the water. Saran laughed and swam over to her, still grinning with youthful excitement. "Ahhh, it's perfect for the summer!"
Bolor smiled back this time, and then laughed. Both girls laughed, for a solid minute, as they swam on the spot and splashed handfuls of cool mountain water over each other's faces and had their feet tickled by tiny fish. The soldiers would come back, and the war would reach them again, with time. In the pool, under the shadow of an apricot tree, the two girls pretended not to know it.
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