Chapter Five

Chapter Five

And so the Council of—the council of—the Council of the Colony is trudging through the snow, going on a mission to count heads. I signed up to be a politician, not a secretary. Bitter thoughts filled Zena’s head as she followed Jacques to Traveler’s Rest. She’d taken the lead originally, but gently he’d stepped in front of her and she found herself reduced to glaring at his ragged coat. Behind her, Sheen and Nora were talking, and Zena found herself listening.

“So…you have a sister right?” Sheen asked.

“Yeah. Petto. I mean, Ameari. That’s her real name,” Nora said.

“How does Petto come out of Ameari?”

“She was named after someone my mother knew. I came up with Petto, actually.”

“Really? How?”

“Well, I never liked how she was named after someone, so I thought she needed a new one. My mother always called her ‘pet’. So I played with the sounds until I got Petto. My mother actually adopted it.”

“That’s nice of your mom.”

“Yeah, sure…”Nora gave Sheen a funny sideways glance and quickened her steps a little.

***

Cragg jumped on Atkin as soon as he got back to the Pieshop. “How was it?”

“As I expected. Everything took ten times longer than it should have, thanks to Zena and her crap.”

“Everything? Didn’t you just take a census?”

“How do you know about that?”

“What else is there to do here besides follow the council around? How did Nora do?”

“Fine.”

“Fine? Just fine?”

“I wasn’t paying much attention to her. I had other women to handle. Meaning Zena.”

“Yeah, I figured that. I thought she would be nicer once she got what she wanted.”

“Nicer? She won’t have what she wants until she rules the whole colony with us kissing her feet. Have you even met Zena?”

“Not exactly…”

“Lucky you. Trust me, cousin, you really don’t know what you’re talking about.” With that, Atkin strode purposefully away toward his tent.

“Yes, I can see that,” Cragg muttered under his breath. Then he shook his head slightly at such a corny and unprovoked response.

***

He found her perched in the only tree found in Traveler’s Rest. “Nora!”

“Cragg! Hi.”

He hoisted himself onto a lower branch than hers. “So? How was it?”

“Atkin hasn’t told you already?” without waiting for a response, she continued, “because it was mostly him and Zena sniping at each other the whole time, Jacques trying to keep the peace, and Sheen brooding.”

“Sheena? Brooding? I would have thought she would have taken command.”

“Is that her real name?”

“I think so.”

“Oh. Well. I can’t figure her out. Mostly she didn’t say much. Except for annoying comments. ‘Where did you come from, Nora? Didn’t your boyfriend make you?’”

“In that exact tone? The imitation mocking one?”

Nora blushed a little. “Oh, don’t do that. You know what I mean.              Then, later, she tried to act all big-sister, caring friend to me. ‘What’s your sister’s name, Nora? That’s so cute. Your mommy must really luvv you, Nora.’”

“Again with the tone. Please tell me you didn’t do that at the actual meeting.”

She kicked him lightly in the shoulder. “Nope, Zena had it covered. I was dead serious when I told her to shut it.”

“Good for you.”

***

Sheen woke up slower than usual. The council had disbanded after taking names, and she had gone straight home. She hadn’t intended to take a nap, but these things happen, and as a result, it took several moments to remember where she was. Slowly she sat up on the cot, coughed, and slid a rubber band from her wrist to her hair. She stood up and felt a little dizzy. Of course, she scolded herself, I haven’t eaten since at least the morning before the election yesterday. Her stomach growled as if in angry protest. A good scout wouldn’t need food every day. Still, she took a couple of jerky sticks from the meat basket as she left the hut.

A few minutes later, she found herself wandering around on the Slope. She didn’t come here very often. It was full of drunkards, atheists, a few determined Laiosan missionaries, and everyone else not welcome in the rest of the colonies.

Sheen knew a lot about the different areas from all of her hobby sneaking, and the Slope was easily the most disorganized of all of them. The Ledges and the Pieshop each had an orderly system of pathways and houses, and people at least tried to keep things neat on the Dirty Hills and Travelor’s Rest, but the Slope was just a clump of lean-tos and shacks with a confused mess of  footpaths winding amongst them.

She walked so slowly along the paths, unsure exactly what she was looking for, that a person behind her said roughly, “Move along, I’m not here sightseeing!”

She turned to face a kid with an obnoxiously dirty face and a questionable smell. How sketchy can you get? “Sorry, I just…do you know where Jacques lives? I think his dad’s name is Stefan.”

Was Stefan. That drunk ain’t gonna make it two days into the war. I don’t think the army’s gonna be handing out booze every day.”

Well, that’s a kind of awkward… “So you know where he lives?”

“That kid’s famous these days. Hey, aren’t ‘cho the elf on the council withim?”

How kind of you to notice. Were you Stefan’s drinking partner? Because you sure smell like it. “Yes. I’m Sheen. Now could you please point me in the right direction?”

He turned her around by her shoulders, pointing her down the slope. “That way and to the left, girlie. Need help finding it?”

“I doubt it.” She left without thanks.

***

She found a small lean-to made of some boards and canvas sporting a crooked sign on the slanted doorframe. The sign read “Deptishun, Stefan and Jacques.” Sheen knocked on it, as there was only a haphazard chunk of canvas for a door.

“Come in,” Jacques’s voice called from inside. She did, saying offhandedly, “Do you say that to whoever knocks? Because that’s a little risky.”

Jacques was seated cross-legged in the corner, fiddling with something. He tucked it behind him as she entered. “The people I wouldn’t want in don’t bother knocking. Especially when you don’t have a real door.”

“Oh.” She glanced around the tiny room. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to be so, so…”

“Zena-ish?” He supplied. She laughed and he smiled. “That’s fine. At least you admit it.”

“What a meeting. I didn’t realize I’d come out of it wanting to strangle everyone.”

“Everyone?” he asked. There was a pause. “Oh. You wanted to be chair, didn’t you?”

She shrugged. “It doesn’t matter I guess. Nora had a point, even if it was a little…off-color. From my view anyway. I suppose you didn’t see it like that. I’m just sensitive.”

“Go ahead and sit down,” he told her. She did. “Do you always talk so much when you don’t know what to say?”

“I’ve never thought about it.”

“So, why are you here, anyway? Something official?”

“On the first day?” She shook her head. “I…just to say hi.”

“Allow me to introduce a topic, then.” She didn’t object. “Nora.”

“Nora. What about her?”

“What do you make of her?”

“That she’s only in this because her boyfriend made her,” Sheen said immediately, “She’s as jumpy as a rabbit most of the time.”

“We kinda owe her for that little outburst, though.”

“Yeah. But I don’t think she’s looking for friends.”

“Maybe she’s proving something. To herself.”

Sheen snorted. “That’s a pretty pathetic reason to be in a leadership position.”

“Is it?” Jacques said after another awkward silence.

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