Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven

“Ok,” Atkin said, “let’s begin.”

“Yes, I agree we shall start this very solemn task,” Zena replied, mimicking his serious tone. Then she rolled her eyes when he glared at her. “You need to lighten up. All of you.”

“Mm. Can we just do this?”

“Fine, fine, whatever.” They were working together to create a unique ceremony using pieces from each religion for the wedding on Fawn and Timnere, set for a week away. Fawn had blanched at the suggested date, but Zena reminded her that no one had anything else to do, and there wasn’t really much preparation anyway besides the ceremony and some food. At this Fawn smiled and leapt up to coerce her friends into helping. At the council’s suggestion, Zena and Atkin had teamed up, though not without some grumbling.

***

Sheen walked slowly to Traveler’s Rest and tapped cautiously on Nora’s door.  It took a while, but eventually the damp wood creaked open to reveal a little girl who watched Sheen with wide eyes.

“Are you Petto?” Sheen asked.

“Yes.”

“Is Nora here?”

“She went to see Cragg. Do you want to come in?”

“Sure.” Sheen inched forward, and Petto opened the door to its full width. “Thank you.”

“Mother said to give people hot drink,” Petto said as she pointed to three stools clustered around an over-turned crate, “so sit down.” Sheen obliged her and watched Petto fill a cup from a pitcher atop the stove. Then she handed it to Sheen, who took a sip. It was ice-cold, but not quite plain water.

“It’s blueberry flavored,” Petto explained. She poured herself a cup and sat across from Sheen, eyes never wavering from her face. For her part, Sheen examined the girl. She was unquestionably Nora’s sister, with the same small and perky nose and pointed chin, but while Nora’s made her look stuck-up and guarded, Petto’s face seemed only little and pixie-ish. Her eyes were gray and wide, and her hair perfectly straight and auburn. It shined in the light from the single oil lamp hanging on the wall.

“You’re an elf,” Petto said suddenly.

“That’s not actually what we’re called.”

“What does your name mean?”

Startled by the quick change of subject, Sheen said stupidly, “what name?”

“Yours. Mine means lake. A-mear-i means lake.”

“Oh. Well, Sheena means praises God.” Sheen could barely keep the contempt from her voice.

“Do you want more hot drink?”

“No, that’s okay.”

Petto’s forehead wrinkled at this, and she grabbed Sheen’s cup anyway.

Right then, Nora walked through the door. Staring directly at Sheen, she told Petto, “I told you not to let strangers in.”

“I forgot.”

“Would you go play in the bedroom, please?”

Petto left. Sheen stood up. “I’m not a stranger, and she asked if I wanted to come in.”

“She does that,” Nora looked weary as she rubbed her eye and temple, “she doesn’t have anything to do all day.”

“Maybe you could play with her instead of visiting the Pieshop.”

Nora dropped her hand. “What did you want?”

“To talk.”

“About…”

“Stuff,” Sheen scoffed at her own word, “you. Me. The council.”

Nora held the two cups out the door, emptied them into the snow, and put them into a wicker basket near the stove. “I don’t want your sympathy.”

“Good. I don’t want to give it to you.”

“So what do you want? My vote? I don’t understand why you’ve been hanging around me. I have plenty to do without making you feel good about yourself. If you aren’t going to talk to me as an equal, then get out.”

Sheen didn’t move. Nora threw up her hands. “So what do you want?”

This time, she thought as she spoke. “Everything…the council is spinning out of control.”

Nora folded her arms. Sheen continued, “We all have the same goal, but…we don’t know how to make it happen. So we attack each other.”

“I can’t be a peacemaker for you.”

“I’m not asking you to be,” Sheen rapidly assured her, “Jacques can do that,” Nora snorted and Sheen continued doggedly, “I want you…for an ally.”

Nora smiled. “There we go. An honest request. That wasn’t so hard, was it? I accept.” She held out her hand. Sheen shook it. “Let’s go recruit Jacques.”

“What?”

“We need all three of us, duh.”

“For what?”

“Pet?” Nora summoned her sister, who emerged from the other room, “Sheen and I are going out for a bit.” Petto hugged her sister, who bent down and kissed her on the head. “Don’t open the door to anyone you don’t know.”

Still nonplussed, Sheen followed Nora outside. After she shut the door, Nora said, “all the crap you were spouting about the council falling apart? It’s true.”

“I know. That’s why I said it.”

“Well, I wish we could just convince Zena and Atkin to work together, but that’s not happening. We need a majority. Push things through, work on the democracy later.”

“Zena and Atkin aren’t on the same side.”

“No, but they could be if they wanted to, and anyway their arguing is just a big filibuster.”

“I see your point.”

“Good. Because Jacques will listen to you.”

“And you.”

“Somehow I doubt it.”

“I don’t.”

“He probably just thinks I’m only good for angry speeches. Didn’t you?”

“Well…”

“Exactly. Whereas you happen to be the most sensible person on the council, and everyone knows it. Particularly Jacques.”

Sheen didn’t say anything, mostly because Nora’s whole argument was pretty persuasive, but also because she was letting her last words hang in the air. “particularly Jacques. What the hell is that supposed to mean? Is it true? She was distracted when Nora, who had been leading the way along a narrow back way to the Slope, stopped short among the first houses. “Do you know where he lives?”

“Yeah.” Sheen stepped in front of Nora. Casting about for a subject, she said randomly, “so, you and Cragg…”

“Nothing. We’re friends.”

“I’m not sure that’s what Atkin thinks.”

“Who cares what Atkin thinks?” Nora said hotly.

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