Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Fifteen

Nora had cried for about thirty seconds before she had to stop, explain to Petto what was going on, and then comfort her for a bit.

“Why did they go?” Petto kept asking. She fancied Cragg her friend as well as Nora’s, and being five, therefore had to have just as big a reaction in the tears category.

“That’s a good question,” Nora muttered, as Petto sobbed into her shoulder. “Um…they felt they could have a better life somewhere else.”

“Where else?”

“Over Mt. Yenin.”

“Will they come to visit?”

“I don’t know. I hope so.”

Petto was quiet for a bit after that. Her hand reached up to stroke Nora’s face. Then she sat up, climbed off of Nora’s lap, and wiped her nose on the back of her hand. “You cry too, Nora. Mama said to take care of you.”

“No, Petto, I take care of you. That’s my job.”

She let out an exaggerated little-kid sigh. “Phew. Cause I don’t know how.”

Join the club. “What time is it?” Nora said to change the subject.

“Eight twenty,” she replied proudly.

Excellent, a Council meeting. She dragged herself out of the house, wondering what Sheen would tell the others if she didn’t show up.


A sign on the Council door read ‘No meeting today.’ Zena sighed and turned away. Now what am I supposed to do? I’m not going to track them down. Guess it’s a day inside for me. I guess I could use the self-pity time. Wonder who put the sign up?

“Jacques must have put it up,” Nora said behind her. Zena quelled the urge to jump. “How do you know?”

“You obviously didn’t. Sheen wouldn’t have. Only Jacques left.”

“What about…oh.”

“Takes some getting used to,” Nora said dryly. Zena surveyed her closely, but didn’t see any obvious signs of tears. Good. She seems pretty stable. “Why do you think they left?”

“Atkin got pissed off.” Nora said, completely seriously.


“Yeah. Sheen thinks he’s a coward.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Zena said absently. Both of them thought for a minute, Zena remembering the conversation outside her door. Something about that gave her an awkward feeling in her stomach, so she tried to shrug it off. “Oh well. Maybe we’re better off without them.”

Nora looked at her warily and abruptly left.


This time, Nora didn’t go home. I don’t care if I’m neglecting my big sister/mother/whatever the hell I’m supposed to be right now; I’m going to have my meltdown!

She climbed higher in the tree then she ever had before, stopping only when the branches started to creak, and she was only about twenty feet off the ground. This lame. Why are you so stubby? She kicked the trunk. It hurt. She wrapped her arms around it instead.

When she was done crying and thought she’d gone through most of the self-pity routines she could think of, she took her forehead from the bark and carefully turned herself around. The tree was right on the backside of the long, skinny mountains of Traveler’s Rest. It was really a very orderly area, with a wide track running down the middle and the paths off of them were only the slightest bit maze-like.

Nora took a breath. It was still snowing lightly, but just cold enough to pinch her cheeks a little. Okay, Nora, time to survive now. She followed the main drag of her home area with her eyes. Let’s figure out how to do that.


Jacques had indeed written the sign. Then he had walked to the Dirty Hills. He had never been there before, and it took some asking to find her hut. He was relieved to see that it wasn’t that much bigger than his. He knocked.

Sheen was sprawled on the floor, writing furiously on the rough paper you could get cheaply at the trade. “Come in!”

He did. “What are you writing?”


“Ah.” He stood nervously until she blankly invited him to sit. “Am I late for the meeting?”

“No. I cancelled it.”

She gave him a disappointed look and cast the paper into the corner. “Oh, but I was trying to get all the words out.”

“To…bring to the council?”

“No, to not bring to the council.” She said this as if it were the most obvious thing ever. “Otherwise I’d talk the whole time.”

“Makes sense.”

She was lying on her stomach, perched on her elbows with her feet in the air. He was sitting awkwardly cross-legged near the door. “Did you…have a purpose here?” she asked.

The bluntness caught him by surprise. “I thought you might know what to do.”

“Not a clue.” She tossed the words as easily and bleakly as she’d thrown the paper into the corner.

“I’ll go then.”


He stayed. “I don’t have anything to say,” he admitted helplessly.

I do.” She gestured toward the corner. “All pointless, though.”

“I don’t think any words are pointless.”

She sat up with a flourish. “Very nice phrase. Shame it isn’t true.”

“I think it’s true.”

“Look who knows so much. You ever written pages of nothing, dreamed a whole dream of nothing?” She strode to the corner, picked up the pages. She tried to fling the pile at him, but it shattered, pages falling short, scattering from her outstretched hands. “I have. And they’re pointless. They move nothing, create nothing. They repeat only. No ideas. Nothing new.” She dropped to the ground, kneeling among her failed words.

Jacques moved slowly from his seat. He gathered the pages and placed them next to her, not daring to read them. Carefully he knelt facing her. “Sheen?”

She raised her eyes to his. His fingers grazed her shoulder. He tried to think of something inspiring to say, something to lift her off the floor, but the truth slipped out instead. “Why do I always have to rescue you from yourself?”

“Oh, god, Jacques, you don’t even know.”



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