Chapter Twenty Seven

 

Chapter Twenty Seven

After a very long pause, the Usomians, following Venern’s lead, walked angrily out the door. As soon as it had slammed shut, the Council members looked at each other, waiting for Jacques to get up and lead the way. He remained seated.

“Well?” Nora said tentatively. “Are we going?”

“Why? They’re gone,” he said, visibly relaxing.

“They might be waiting outside for us to come out,” Zena pointed out. Sheen crossed to the door and squinted out a crack. “No, they’re gone.”

“Sure?”

“Yeah. Probably tired of the politics and went to get a drink.” Zena looked at her. “I was kidding.”

“Very funny.”

“So were Venern’s sneak-elf cracks.”

Zena stood up. “Look, I didn’t ask them to come here! I only mentioned it because I was trying to be official and keep them off my back. I’m not them, ok? I’m not out to cause problems. The sooner you all figure that out, the better. Anyway,” she continued, “don’t we have a bigger problem right now?”

All heads swiveled toward Nora. Instinctively, she stood and held her hands in front of her face, palms out. “I didn’t do anything none of you would have done!”

Sheen advanced behind her from the door. “Sit down,” she said. Her breath stirred a few wisps of Nora’s hair.

Nora sat. Sheen took Atkin’s seat and sat facing her, elbow casually on the table. “Now, why don’t you tell us exactly what you did over with the Irkas?” the others all sat down and leaned forward. “Besides leaving without telling us,” she added savagely. The others clambered over each other to fill the air with accusations.

“And thinking only of yourself,” Zena said.

“And your boyfriend,” Sheen corrected.

“Lying to a potential ally,” Jacques added.

“Who probably didn’t like us in the first place,” Sheen said.

“And not planning how you would waltz into a Council meeting with a whole lot of cover-up to do,” Jacques said.

“Exposing a new minority to a group of restless haters,” Zena pointed out.

“So in the end, turning three sticky situations into three potential enemies,” Sheen concluded. She smiled.

“ENOUGH!” Nora screamed. When the smoke cleared, she found herself standing, hands up and fingers splayed, looking a table of narrow-eyed Council members. They all look like lizards, she thought, almost making herself giggle despite the storm of disappointment raging around her. She spoke more calmly, “So I went to see my friend. I didn’t go near Atkin. I didn’t even walk anywhere in their stupid camp. I went in the woods behind it.”

“What did you talk about?” Jacques asked, a hand lightly easing Sheen back into her seat. Following his lead, Zena sat back, morphing from anger to stone-cold questioner.

“Nothing. I mean, nothing about the Council. I don’t think.”

“Remember,” Zena demanded.

Nora thought back. Meeting Trish had so thoroughly eclipsed talking to Cragg that she forgot how angry was at him. “I wanted to meet more often. But he said it wouldn’t be possible because Atkin’s really mad at the colony still and he wouldn’t be allowed to leave.”

“So Atkin hasn’t gotten over his little snit yet?” Zena laughed a little.

“I don’t think it’s just a little snit,” Nora said, “he mentioned someone named Rouk.”

“Who’s that?”

“I don’t know. He made me leave about that point. It sounded like Rouk is influencing Atkin, and Cragg didn’t like it.”

“Maybe this Rouk talked him into leaving,” Zena suggested.

“I thought that was you,” Nora said, delighted to have something snippy to say. Zena flushed a little.

“What about Trish?” Sheen put in.

“I was coming back and I stumbled on them. She lives in a cave with her uncle and another family. Apparently they used to be a big group but they were killed when the colony was starting.”

“Did you really fall through the ceiling?” Zena started to chuckle again, but Sheen cut her off.

“…killed?”

“Yeah. She says they were rounded up and put in a building, which I think is the trade, and then a sick sneak-elf was put with them and eventually they were almost all dead.”

“Who did this?” Sheen said. Nora was taken aback by the ferocity behind it and then realized it wasn’t directed at her.

“Soldiers, I guess. Whoever came to get the land ready. She was only about five, but that’s where she learned to speak our language. They don’t naturally. They were supposed to be moved or something, but wouldn’t go.”

“Damn right they shouldn’t have,” Sheen said.

“Sheen, what…” Jacques started.

“What is it with you people? Always kicking people off their land.”

“It’s not like the forest. They hadn’t been there that long,” Nora said.

“Doesn’t matter. That guy who was sick? I’ll bet you anything it was Heren.”

“Could have been a coincidence,” Jacques said.

“It wasn’t. Oh, the lovely work of government,” she said, nearly chocking on the sarcasm, “I can’t believe I’m even in this room! We came to a ‘new land’ build on someone’s blood and we sit here scolding Nora for making enemies. We certainly wouldn’t want to hurt anyone, would we?”

“Sheen, we didn’t do that. It was the army. Their whole job is war,” Jacques protested.

She looked at him for a long moment. “It’s disgusting,” she said finally, blankly, turning to leave.

The door slam hung around their ears, heavy and accusatory. Nora had a desire to swat it away but couldn’t quite form the justification.

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