Anya was not a good goatherd.
The sun had barely broken over the trees as she pulled Zvezda back to the barn by his horns for the third time. The stupid goat had broken his leg two weeks earlier, and Anya’s grandfather wanted him to stay in the barn and rest for at least a month. But the goat had chewed off his splint and, apparently bored with the comfort of the barn, pushed through the doors and followed Anya out to the onion fields.
Her grandfather, Dyedka, sat in the barn on a stool and milked a goat. When Anya pulled the door open, all the goats swiveled their heads toward her, and Dyedka said, “Back already?”
She shoved Zvezda inside. “Can you make him stay?”
Dyedka shrugged. “He’s not my goat.”
“They’re all your goats,” Anya said.
He shook his head. “That one’s yours. He doesn’t listen to me, either.”
“But you have animal magic, Dyedka.” Zvezda nibbled on her dress, and she pushed him away. “You’re a bad goat!”
Dyedka patted the goat he was done milking on her rump, and she walked away. He turned his head to Anya so he could study her with his good eye. He had lost his other eye, plus both of his legs at the knee, in a past war against the tree people—?who Anya was disappointed to find out weren’t actually people made of trees but just people who lived in the forest—?before she had been born. He had wooden legs that he got around on with the help of his walking stick, which leaned against the wall nearby.
Another goat stepped in front of him and bleated, ready to be milked. Dyedka scratched the top of her head and said to Anya, “You know no one is allowed to use magic, Annushka.”
She snorted and watched the line of goats waiting patiently to be milked. “You’re using magic,” she said. The goats didn’t behave this well for anyone but Dyedka and Papa, because both of them used animal magic.
Dyedka nodded. “Because I’m old and missing too many things. The tsar makes his laws in Kiev, but they don’t always apply to us out here away from the cities.”
Anya quoted a sentiment she’d heard a lot in the village when people decided to break the law: “‘God is far up high, and the tsar is far away’?”
“Exactly.” Dyedka milked the goat. “Besides, magic won’t solve all your problems.”
She wouldn’t know. Anya still didn’t have the ability to see the threads that were the key to performing magic. She was hoping that ability would make its appearance in a month, when she became a bat mitzvah. If she was old enough to be responsible for all her own actions, she was for sure old enough to use magic, right?
Zvezda nibbled on her dress again, and she pushed his head away. This time he didn’t let go as easily, and she groaned at the sharp rrrrip of her dress tearing.
“Zvezda!” She grabbed at the torn fabric. “Now I have to harvest the onions and bake challah and mend this before sundown.”
“Just mend it tonight,” Dyedka said.
“It’s Shabbat, Dyedka.”
He shrugged as he milked the goat. “I don’t remember all your rules.”
She pushed Zvezda at the milling herd in the barn. Talking about Shabbat rekindled her urgency to get the onions brought in from the field so Mama could take them to the Friday market. If she didn’t sell enough onions, they wouldn’t be able to get the fish they needed for dinner, and they wouldn’t have enough to eat that night and the next day.
“Stay,” she said to Zvezda.
He blinked. “Myah.”
Anya slammed the wooden barn doors shut, and as she took a step away, she heard Zvezda bleat inside.
“Oh no, you don’t!” She backed against the barn doors and held them closed. Nothing happened. Maybe Zvezda was finally going to stay—?
Thump! The door shuddered as the goat rammed it with his head.
Anya rolled her eyes. Maybe not. “Stay there!”
She heard Dyedka laugh. Papa would have known how to make the goat listen, and he would have helped her. But Papa was gone. The tsar’s conscription officers had come through months ago and taken inventory of every able-bodied man in the village. Now they were all away fighting against the forces of Sultan Suleiman to the south.
Zvezda bleated again and bumped the door with his head.
Anya scowled. “If I catch you out of the barn again, I’ll break your other legs!” She wouldn’t really. Dyedka had said Zvezda was her goat, and she supposed that was true. Even though he was annoying, she still liked him, and he seemed to like her. She had named him for the star-shaped black smudge on his white face, ignoring that he was a boy and “Zvezda” was a girl’s name. He was a goat. He didn’t know he had a girl’s name.
Zvezda snorted from inside, as if challenging her threat.
Anya stepped away from the door, waiting to see if Zvezda would escape. The shadows of his little goat legs moved back and forth under the barn door. He bumped the door again with his horns, the dull thud less enthusiastic than before.
With an open palm, Anya smacked the wood of the door.
The goat stopped pacing, letting out a little bleat.
Anya grinned and hurried east toward the road. She passed her family’s tiny home: sturdy wood and stone with a half-tidy garden of potatoes, radishes, and leeks around the front and left side. The rest of the house was covered with rosebushes so thick, they looked as though they would crush the house at any moment. But they wouldn’t. Anya’s blind grandmother, Babulya, whose snores managed to reach Anya as she made her way to the road, made sure of that. Papa’s side, the Kozlovs, had animal magic. But Mama’s side had plant magic.
The onion fields on the other side of the road were the most in need of harvest. Onions were best gathered in the cooler morning, but if Zvezda kept delaying her, it would be midday before she finished.
As soon as her feet hit the packed dirt of the road, a bleat from behind made her halt. She turned, shoulders slumped with resignation, and stared Zvezda in his black-smudged face. The little white goat flicked his tail and stared at her, then bleated again.