Anya’s sukkah was suspiciously lopsided.
She had gone into the barn to get more rope for securing the posts of the booth’s framework. The sukkah itself was in the field between their barn and the river since there were no trees out there to hang over it. That was one of the rules of building the booth: there could be nothing over it that would obscure a view of the sky. Since the fire the year before, there were also no trees at all where the new house and barn now stood, either. But it was tradition for the family to build the sukkah out in the field, and Anya was going to follow tradition.
The rope dangled from her fingers, and she narrowed her eyes as the sukkah gave a little shudder. She put her fists on her hips and said, “Zvezda, get out from there right now!”
Her goat’s white horned head peeked out from around the side of the booth. He had a mouth full of the thatching she had carefully woven out of branches for one wall.
“Zvezda, no! Bad goat!” Anya dropped the rope and ran toward her half-erected booth. The goat didn’t even have the decency to run away. He just stood there, chewing on thatching, as Anya stomped up and yanked it out of his mouth. “I worked hard on this, you stupid goat!”
“Myah,” he said, indifferent to her anguish.
Anya threw the chewed thatching to the ground. Zvezda rolled his eyes up to her and, very slowly, very carefully, lowered his head to the ground. He slurped the thatching back into his mouth without looking away from her.
She sighed and pushed his rump toward the barn. “Go away. I need to build a great sukkah this year.” Last year had been a disaster. It had been the first Sukkot without Papa, who usually built the sukkah they would spend a week pretending to live in. Pretending, because Babulya was too old to spend too much time in it, especially at night. They definitely took meals in it, which meant it had to be wide enough to hold all of them—plus a couple of goats, who always squeezed in whether the family wanted them to or not. Anya had built a haphazard sukkah, and then her friends Ivan and Håkon had come over to see it. Then Håkon had burned it down.
It had been an accident. Ivan never went anywhere without the staff Kin had made for him last year, so he was pretending to fight the dragon. Håkon swore he only meant to breathe a little bit of fire at Ivan. He didn’t use fire much, being a river dragon, so he was out of practice. It was a lot of fire. It hit the sukkah and caught immediately. Ivan used his water magic to put the fire out, but by then it was too late.
That sukkah was gone, and Anya didn’t have time to put up another one. She told her family that she’d set the sukkah on fire—accidentally, of course—because any excuse she had was better than the truth: that a dragon had done it. No one could know about Håkon, not even Mama and Babulya and Dyedka. The family ate outside anyway—until the sky opened up and poured rain on them. Babulya declared the rain lucky, an answer to the prayer they hadn’t even said yet, but to Anya it felt like a punctuation mark to her utter failure.
Not this year.
She inspected the damage done by her stinker of a goat. He had chewed a hole large enough for Anya to stick her arm through, but it was fixable. The other sides were untouched.
The field between the barn and the river was full of rushes and tall grass. Anya gathered some up and wove a patch for the sukkah wall, then wove its ends into the wall’s ragged hole. The patch was a different color and plant species, but it worked.
Anya retrieved her rope and fortified the booth’s top four corners. She made sure the poles were deep enough in the ground that a stiff wind wouldn’t blow it over. Inside, she paced from one side to the other. It would be long enough to fit not only Anya’s family but some guests as well.
Just a couple of guests. Anya didn’t have time to build a thatch palace.
She walked a few paces away and faced the booth, one hand on her hip and one stroking her chin. She needed a roof now. But the roof couldn’t just be any old roof. It had to offer shade but be see-through enough to see the stars. Papa always used pruned lengths of the roses that climbed the little house, weaving them into a very loose topping, but those roses had burned when the old house had last year. Babulya had cultivated them back, but they reached only to the top of Anya’s head. She didn’t want to cut some off when they were so sparse to begin with.
She thought she could go into the woods and cut a branch off a tree, probably, but hadn’t yet. The roof had to go on last, and she had to make sure everything else was perfect.
Well, it was as perfect as it was going to get. As long as Zvezda didn’t come back.
With a quick peek around the side of the barn, Anya determined that Zvezda was gone. Probably back inside the barn to spend time with the other goats. None of them ever tried to eat Anya’s things.
Anya had a knife in her pocket already—she had been using it to craft the sukkah’s walls—and she figured that was all she needed for gathering branches. She went back to the sukkah for one last check on it.
A little white goat butt stuck out of the door. The wall to the left of the door rippled, and then a goaty snout pushed through. Zvezda tore another piece of the wall out, then saw Anya. He stopped chewing. He just stared at her as she clenched her fists and thought of a thousand different ways to tie his mouth shut.
“Myah,” he said.