Chapter Twenty Six

 

 

Chapter Twenty Six

Trish grudgingly asked Nora to stay the night after her Uncle and the other two adults (Kyri was the woman, Hesh the man) convinced her. Nora assumed they did so because it was so cold outside, and it would take her at least two hours in the dark. They didn’t have any extra bed mats. Trish had been more than willing to describe to Nora exactly how much  of their stuff they had lost when they were held in the wooden building that Nora suspected now served as the Trade. Trish’s constant antagonizing of the colony was beginning to get very annoying, so Nora made a point of eating very little food and not issuing any complaints.

As the rest of them talked she watched, the same way that she used to watch the Council members when she was bored. That boredom seemed like such a long time ago.

It was clear that Trish and her uncle, whose name was Erreth, were in charge, but while the adults followed Erreth because they seemed to respect him, and he didn’t exert a commanding presence but actually said little, the youth definitely deferred to Trish. They were all quiet, but not speaking the language, Nora couldn’t tell if they were quiet by nature or if it was a cultural thing. Mapi barely spoke and sat on the edge of the group, clearly a loner except for once when Onie, who was definitely the liveliest, went to play a simple game with him. Shayish, the blonde girl, stuck to Trish like a bur. Nora might not have guessed that Kyri and Hesh were her parents if she hadn’t known. Shayish certainly didn’t look like either of them, though Nora had a hard time getting past her hair. It was so…Kenezai-like, thought the rest of her features weren’t. As a matter of fact, Nora couldn’t figure out who any of them resembled. They didn’t have delicate features like the Usomians, or hard-lined features like the Kenezai, or simple and smooth features like the sneak-elves. They didn’t look like they belonged anywhere.

***

Nora approached the corner of the cave they pointed her to sleep in apprehensively. It was hard to sound grateful when you were looking at a bed of ice, rock, and snow, but she found that once she lay down and held her position, her body adjusted to the lumps. Besides, she’d exercised much more than normal that day.

Trish shook her awake just after dawn broke. “Come on. We have to walk to your colony.”

“Uhh,” Nora moaned, yesterday’s bruises stabbing her roughly. Trish slapped her lightly across her cheek.

“Hey!”

“Wake up.”

After a little food, mush probably made from ground-up reed, they were off, Nora still grimacing inwardly over the unappealing breakfast. It didn’t taste like anything but heat and a little burn. She had also forgotten the morning rituals, which wouldn’t normally bother her, given the very small amount of stock she put in them, but that it had been one of her mother’s requests. One of her final requests, probably.

She then spent the next hour sluggishly following Trish over the mountain and cursing herself for having thought such a thing.

Trish moved fast, (Nora was yet again reminded of Sheen) and didn’t appear to give any thought to maybe stopping and letting Nora rest.

She did stop, finally, when they rounded the side of the mountain. They were just a bit higher than the Ledges, and Trish, who hadn’t been this close to the colony in years, halted, unsure what to do. “What now?” she asked.

Nora took her sweet time ambling up alongside Trish. “Follow me,” she said simply. Trish only glared a little bit. Glare all you want, but this is my territory, Nora thought vindictively. She led Trish around the Ledges and the Slope, heading for her house. She held the door open for her guest. “Stay here. I have to get my sister.”

“Fine.”

The house of Petto’s friend was quite near hers. It took only a minute to step over there and fetch her sister. Of course she had to face Kameli’s questions of “where were you? You said you’d get her last night. What took so long?”

“I was held up, and got back so late I figured you were all asleep.”

Kameli really didn’t seem happy with this explanation, but it was all she was going to get. There was no way Nora was explaining to her that she’d illegally gone to see Cragg on a whim and had then fallen through the ceiling of a hidden group of people living in a cave who had been allegedly kicked off of their land for the colony. Nora still had to figure out how she was going to explain most of it to the Council.

Petto only asked once who Trish was, and seemed satisfied with the explanation provided her, that Trish was going to work with Nora on Council work. Petto probably assumed that Trish was from Traveler’s Rest too.

As they took the short walk to the Council House, it being about eight twenty, Nora remembered her cover-up. She almost asked Trish to help lie, and then remembered she’d told a few lies of her own. Shit.

She took a deep breath as she pushed the door open. The first part of her “Sorry I’m late, but look who—“ was out of her mouth before she got past the doorway. And then she saw who else was in the Council House.

Jacques, Zena, and Sheen were sitting in their usual spots, looking very uncomfortable. Ringed around the small room were at least ten Usomians. Nora recognized some of them from the wedding disaster. Oh, crap. Why do I get the feeling that this is exactly who we don’t want here?

“Nice of you to join us, Nora,” Zena said pointedly.

“Who’s that?” Jacques asked.

“My name is Trish,” she said, stepping up to be next to Nora, “I live in the mountain you call Mt. Yenin.” She said it regally, but to Nora added, “You didn’t say the Council was so big.”

“It isn’t,” Zena said.

One of the Usomians was sitting sideways on Nora’s chair. He took this moment to speak up. “Wait, you found her in the mountain? We’ve got our own personal sneak-elves!”

“Nice. You know a sit-in is supposed to be silent, right?” Sheen said, obviously disgusted.

“Oh, now there are rules?”

“Get out of my chair,” Nora said.

“Please?” he made a fake puppy dog face.

“Out.”

He slowly swung his legs to the other side and got up.

“Thank you,” she said, sure to let her annoyance show through. She sat down and decided to pretend that the Usomians weren’t actually there. “Why do we have an audience today?”

“They decided to protest,” Jacques said helplessly.

“Oh, fantastic.”

“Protest what?” Trish sat down in the only empty seat, next to Nora. They all pretended to not be bothered by it.

“Not bringing Atkin’s group back by force.”

“Those are the ones who left, right?”

“Nora,” Jacques began, “perhaps you could explain who this is.”

“Trish,” Sheen supplied, “she lives in Mt. Yenin.”

“I know but…” he said, “did she just show up and ask to see the Council?”

“Nora fell through my ceiling,” Trish said.

They all looked at Nora. “Your ceiling…for a cave?” Sheen asked.

“She smashed a reed screen we had up over the airway.”

“And this is on Mt. Yenin.”

“Yes.”

“Where on Mt. Yenin?” Zena took over the questioning.

“South side.”

“Nora…” Zena looked at her like a naughty child, “do we need to know what you were doing on the south side of Mt. Yenin?”

“No,” she said.

“Weren’t you…on your way back from talking to the leavers?” Trish asked Nora.

“Nice name, the leavers,” Sheen commented off-handedly, “but I sincerely hope you didn’t just go to negotiate by yourself without Council approval.”

“I didn’t talk to Atkin, if that’s what you mean. And no one saw me.”

“Aside from who you went to see,” Zena clarified.

“How I hate it when people say no one saw you. You can’t know that unless they tell you, and normally they don’t. Until they use it against you.” They all stared at Sheen after she said this. “What?”

“Wait, we’re talking about Cragg, right?” Jacques asked the group at large.

“Who else?” Sheen said.

“Lemme get this straight,” the Usomian who’d been sitting in Nora’s chair and was now standing awkwardly behind Zena said, faking concentration, “Nora here went to visit an Irka without being told to?”

“Venern, just shut it,” Zena snapped.

“She did?” Trish said. They’d all forgotten about her and now sat quiet for a moment.

“I’ve never seen a guiltier face,” Jacques said wisely.

Trish looked at Nora’s blush and then stood up, slammed the chair into the table, and stormed out the door.

“Ooh, that didn’t go so well, did it? Touchy creatures,” Venern leered.

Jacques slammed his palm on the table. “That’s it. Meeting adjourned. Council members come to my place where we can all yell at Nora. The rest of you get out!”

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