Chapter One


The wind was biting—Nora could almost feel the teeth. Her kneecaps shook out of control and she couldn’t stop shivering. Most days she wondered if it had been smart to come and live in a remote, cold, and slightly dangerous low-mountain range, but on days like this she knew it had been a bad idea.

As she neared the house, a small head poked out of the doorway and an equally small voice called, “coming Nora? It’s cold.” Nora knew that calling back would make her mouth ache from the cold, so she nodded and tried to move a little faster. Snow was always heaver when it was gathered on your feet. Another reason not to live among huge piles of the stuff.

Inside, Petto brushed the snow off of Nora’s clothes, asking, “Is it really cold? Do you need some hot drink?”

“It’s always cold here,” Nora replied snappily. This earned her a look from their mother as she took the metal bucket filled with snow that Nora had brought in. Petto, never downed by Nora’s pessimistic behavior, even though it was nearly the opposite of her own, gently guided Nora to her stool and peeled off Nora’s frozen gloves. Then she handed her a small wooden mug. Nora drank the tea without thanks.

“Is it cold enough to stop the wagon, Nora?” her mother inquired.

“Those carts will stop for a single flake,” was Nora’s first answer, but, feeling the silence that arose from the unnecessary comment, she added, “probably. Though it’s not snowing much, and if the wind stops it won’t be so bad.” Her mother placed the bucket on the metal cooking tray above the fire. Nora, shivering despite the hot tea, watched the snow inside melt and wished she could warm up as fast.

A man’s voice sounded outside the door. “Ivy? Can I come in?”

“Sure, Lars,” replied Nora’s mother. The red-cheeked, bearded man stood just inside the door, and didn’t bother to greet either of the girls, speaking only to Ivy, who said, without preamble, “Nora doesn’t think the supply wagons will make it.”

“Neither do I. Rotten time for them to be late, with the elections so soon.”

“By noon, half the colony will be down at the trade bothering poor Ken about it,” Ivy agreed.

“And what’s he supposed to say? That the folks in Uto are too afraid of a running nose to come out and bring us the food we need? And he wouldn’t say it, either, loyalist that he is. He’ll side with the scumbags from the city, who left us out here without proper provisions!” Lars’s anger escalated quickly, but Ivy barely noticed, so Nora didn’t either. He said nearly the same thing every time the wagons were late, which was often.

“The weather isn’t going to ruin your chances for representative, but fighting with Ken over the way he runs the trade might,” Ivy said sensibly. Lars looked at her for a minute, and then left without another word. After he was gone, Nora said, “I don’t see why he’s running for representative if you need to calm him down every time he gets frustrated about something.”

“He has strong ideas, and much of his problem is just nerves about the election next week.”

“Still, you’d be a better representative anyway,” Nora argued, “why didn’t you run?”

“I didn’t want the responsibility,” Ivy said, “and I have you two to look after.”

“we can take care of ourselves, mama,” Petto said seriously.

“Maybe so, little one, but you don’t need to be on the council to cooperate with people and make change,” Ivy reasoned.

“Yeah, but do a good job of it and they’ll call you a revolutionist, a protestor, awakening the people for trouble.”

“Maybe in Uto, Nora, but not here. We’re not yet set in our ways enough for there to be a need for change.”

Nora shrugged, signaling her end to the discussion. Though she wasn’t one to easily back down from an argument when her reputation was at stake, with her mother she could give up when she ran out of things to say. That happened often. She may have a temper and an opinionated mind, but Nora’s thoughts were rough, unpolished, and hard to shape into convincing words.

“Time for water…” Petto said. It was half a question, half a statement.

“Yes, good of you to remember,” Ivy said, “Nora?” Nora stood up from the stool and gathered around the bucket in which the snow had now fully melted. The three of them placed their hands in the ice-cold water as Ivy recited, “Anenesae, those who came before us, help us, by the power of your blessing, to see truth, hear truth, and speak truth in the ways of the Iniqu, and the ways that we know to be right.” Ceremoniously, they touched wet fingers to their eyes, ears, and lips and then crossed their hands over their chests. Ivy ended the ritual with the words, “by your blessings we are thus purified.”

As soon as she was finished speaking, the stillness was broken as Nora dried her hands on her clothes to get rid of the cold. She was going to say something smart about the blessings for truth being something that could give you hypothermia, but before she did, Petto asked, “Why isn’t there a nose one?” When no one answered, she clarified, “why don’t we touch our noses too?”

“Well you can’t smell truth, silly,” said Nora with only a trace of sarcasm.

***

Although the wind blew itself out that night, it still took the supply wagons two days to reach the colony. Jacques Deptishun was one who was there to meet them when they finally showed up. He was always there to see the food unloaded. Of course there were other cast-offs donated as well, there always were, but he just came to help carry the food to the Trade. Something about holding the boxes felt like an affirmation of the truth that there was food at all, and that he wasn’t forgotten. He was thinking about this feeling when his knees buckled a little under a box of potatoes.

“Got that?”

“Yeah,” Jacques replied before he actually looked to see who was speaking. He did a bit of a double-take when he saw who it was, because the voice belonged to a sneak-elf. Originally dwellers of the forest in western Kana, their community in the colony was about as far separated from Jacques’ as could be—both literally and figuratively. Jacques had never been to the “dirty hills” where the sneak elves lived, and probably wasn’t the only one from his neighborhood who hadn’t.

“Never been to the hills before?” the girl sneak-elf asked rather pointedly, as Jacques realized he was staring just a bit much, “which part’ve the colony you from?”

“The slope. I don’t get out much,” he added hastily, “My name’s Jacques. Jacques Deptishun.”

The girl continued unloading boxes as she replied, “I’m Sheen. What’s the last name mean?

“No idea. I think my dad just made it up, to be honest.”

“Why? Didn’t he have one?”

“Nope. Or else it wasn’t impressive enough. I think he wanted to impress my mom when they met or something.”

“Why couldn’t he just tell the truth?”

“She was from a much better family than his…it’s just something a guy would do, you know?”

“Sure.”

***

“Zena, would you go get the new meat ration from the trade? I thought we could have a small feast tonight for Neo’s birthday.” Alvis said.

“Yes. Should I bring the whole new ration?”

“Might as well,” Alvis suggested, “it saves a trip. And it’s cold enough that we don’t have to worry about it spoiling.” She smiled faintly, but Zena didn’t laugh at her mother’s thin joke. Instead she left the house, pausing briefly at the doorway to glance at the symbol of Kyrine above it and touch her lips reverently.

Zena let herself unannounced into the house of her brother Arav. A little boy with soft blond curls, still unsteady on two feet, wobbled his way toward her and tugged lightly on her tunic. Momentarily distracted from her mission, she lifted him to her hip. “Hey Neo,” she whispered, “you’re one today.  You happy to be one?” she smiled at her nephew, and he would his hand in her hair.

“Zena!” Kacela said, her voice full of a delight that Zena deemed unnecessary. She lowered Neo to the ground and surveyed her brother’s wife. “I’m going to the Trade,” she said, “do you need anything I can pick up?”

Kacela beamed. “That’s so sweet. But I don’t need anything right now.”

“I’ll be going then,” Zena said shortly, “blessings of Kyrine on your house.”

“May the fortune of Kedra go with you, Zena,” Kacela responded customarily.

Zena took the most direct route to the trade. The monthly supply wagon was unloading, and it took only a glance to see that the meat portion was already gone. She walked unnoticed into the actual trade building.

The building was split into two parts, a small shop in the front and a storehouse in the back, connected to the front by a counter. As Zena had expected, it was deserted except for one boy at the counter. He had neatly trimmed and combed brown hair, but his tunic and pants were plain and dull. The only flickers of color came from charm necklaces hung around his neck and bright string bracelets tied around his wrists and ankles. She pretended to be interested in the cloth and other trinkets displayed on the walls as she watched. He was surveying her with equal discretion, and she saw his mouth tighten as he watched her brightly-colored cape swish with each movement.

Finally she approached the counter. “I want a meat ration. Family of Eryk. Three people.”

“Find it here and mark the month,” he instructed, pushing a clipboard toward her. She did so quickly, and then leaned her elbows on the counter and leisurely watched him get a three-person meat ration from the cooler at the back of the storehouse. “How are things at the pieshop?” she called across the room. She saw his shoulders stiffen a little, but he didn’t answer her taunt. “What’s your name, anyway?” she asked him when he returned with the frozen package.

“Atkin, son of Merq. When do the gods get here?”

“They don’t come here, kinny. Aolinma and land merge when the barrier is broken.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“What, is your name too sacred to be spoiled?”

“I don’t really see the point of the conversation,” he said, “what’s to be gained by insulting each other’s religion?”

“An excellent question. It wouldn’t be necessary if yours wasn’t ridiculous.” She turned to leave.

“May the invisible beings who live across the sky go with you,” He called as she left.

***

“Nice girl,” Sheen said as she and Jacques carried the last two crates into the store. Atkin relaxed, hopping over the counter to help them with the crates. Away from the threat of embarrassment, his face flushed a bright red.

“Who is she, anyway?” Jacques asked. Atkin shrugged. “Someone from the family of Eryk.”

“It must be Zena, then. Eryk and Alvis are quite respected on the Ledges,” Sheen supplied.

“How do you know all of that?” Jacques asked, realizing too late the idiocy of the question as Sheen looked at him. “Sorry, I just…forgot,” he added lamely.

“You forgot I’m a sneak-elf?”

“I wish people would do that to me,” Atkin cut in wistfully, “forget where I’m from.”

Jacques blinked. “I just did.”

“You ought to be on the council.”

Anyway,” Sheen continued, “are we going to sort the stuff in the crates?” they sat down on the floor in the corner of the store as she finished her story. “It was big news when their son got married.”

“Who?”

“Eryk and Alvis. Arav got married almost two years ago, and they have a son now. Zena’s his aunt.”

“Do the other godlings talk about her?”

“What do you mean, godlings?” Jacques asked.

“It’s their religion,” Sheen explained, “and actually, she’s kind of a scandal. They joke about her wanting to be on the council.”

“A woman on the council?” Atkin was incredulous, “It’s not done.”

“Not in the Pieshop, maybe,” Sheen countered, a little nastily, “I’ve thought about it in a few years.”

***

At her mother’s urging, Nora covered herself in fur, preparing to trudge through the hostile cold to the trade. She was in such a foul mood that she didn’t even register the sun breaking through the clouds and actually warming the air for a change. She did notice the group of about six soldiers huddled around the now empty supply wagon, however.

She vigorously stomped the snow off of her boots inside the building. When none of the three teenagers sorting ragged clothes in the corner looked up, she banged her feet together even louder. All the acknowledgement she got was from the sneak-elf, who looked at her with a quizzical smile. “Snowy out?” she asked innocently. Nora got a distinct idea that she’d been watching her from the moment the door creaked open. Sneak-elves.

One of the boys, dressed in Kenezai clothing, jumped up. “Let me help you,” he said, taking on the role of a gracious store clerk, “You’re Nora, right? I’m one of Cragg’s cousins.”

“I kind of recognize you. It’s…I can’t remember your name.”

“Atkin. Son of Merq.”

“I’d like a vegetable ration. Three people.” While he went to get the food, she marked “Larkin, Ivy” on the clipboard. She did it quickly, accustomed to the gesture, and then became aware of the awkward silence slowly filling the room. Sure that the sneak-elf, at least, was watching her, she refused to look at the pair in the corner, so she directed a question at Atkin’s back. “What’s with all the soldiers?”

“Soldiers?” he replied, handing her the package.

“They came with the supply cart. Dunno why there’re so many,” the boy in the corner offered. With his words, Nora was forced to turn around.

“Probably to protect the cart from looters,” the sneak-elf said.

“Yeah, maybe,” Nora said shortly as she left.

***

“Hey, how come you’re so layered up?” Cragg asked outside the building. Nora glared. “You headed inside?” she asked.

“Nope, I’m not on any errands. Just took a walk. I got sick of my house. Care to join me?”

“In this frozen hell? No way.”

“It really isn’t that bad today. Take off your scarf. You must be smothering.”

Nora vehemently shook her head. “Cragg, you may be my friend, but why do you have to be so damned cheerful all the time?”

“Aren’t you a raincloud today? I don’t understand…” he was cut off by a rough shout from one of the soldiers still gathered around the wagon.

“Alright, you lot, gather round!”

“Yeah, we got important announcements to make, so pay attention,” added a second soldier. The first one’s decent-looking, but he’s got an oversized mustache and an undersized head, Nora thought distastefully.

“Who is the head of this colony?” the first soldier asked of the group. No one spoke for a moment, and then Lars, who was leaning against the wall of the building, said, “Rianne Deniquae’s the chair ‘f the council.”

“She’ll do,” the soldier decided, “bring her here, and announce to all inhabitants that there is to be an important declaration in this place very shortly.” A third soldier, with a rough chin and patchy hair, added, “They’ll not be wanting to miss it. Gonna ‘fect ev’ryone, it is.” His voice was hoarse, as though there was a laugh hiding behind it.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Claire
    Dec 08, 2011 @ 15:07:26

    Hi Sarah! I love this story. It is great! It is one of those books you just cant put down after you start reading it! I am really impressed with this story. The plot line, the characters and the form of writing. You have always been a wonderful writer. Good job!! I look forward to reading more.

    Reply

  2. alyeshageorge
    Jul 05, 2012 @ 19:38:38

    This is amazing! I love the sound of your characters names they’re great 🙂

    Reply

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