Chapter Thirty Two

Chapter Thirty Two

Atkin felt a strange kind of energy, a kind of after wave from his speech, fill his body and come pouring out somewhere on his face. He blushed and then felt like an idiot. Shrug it off. It doesn’t matter, he told himself firmly.

Jacques was keeping his eyes wide open and staring straight into Atkin’s. Maybe it was childish, but he had the distinct feeling that he had just been told, in no uncertain terms, to get out. Even he knew he wasn’t going to get anything out of Atkin at this point. It was like dealing with Zena in a particular mood; cross a certain line, say the right words, and she just wouldn’t budge. Jacques could tell he’d just found Atkin’s line. Still he wasn’t leaving empty handed—if all he could take away was the victory of a staring contest, he wasn’t going to give it up.

Unfortunately, Atkin had very strong eyeballs. Jacques eventually had to blink, but before either of them said anything, Rouk appeared behind Atkin and put his hand on his shoulder. “Everything alright here?’

“Perfectly,” Atkin said, straightening up into his noble role again. “I think we’ve quite run out of things to say to each other.”

Jacques glanced between the two of them. “Yes, you seem to be comfortable here,” he said, not entirely referring to the land, “I will report back to the colony, and then…”

“We shall see,” Atkin ended coldly, “Rouk, would you show our guest out?”

Rouk leveled his gaze more severely at Jacques, who turned on his heel, trying to salvage some scrap of dignity. Rouk brushed past him on the way to the gate and watched as he left.

***

The remainder of the Council was waiting outside the Trade. They hadn’t planned it, but as the sun passed overhead, they’d all ended up there. Zena was the first. She stood right next to the building, only allowing herself to lean every once in a while. Sheena wandered around, in a kind of irregular pacing, seemingly fascinated with her footprints. Nora lay on her stomach propped up on her elbows, supposedly reading one of her mother’s books, but her eyes were out of focus.

“Can you people ever stop moving?” Zena asked Sheen, exasperated.

“Yes,” Sheen said shortly, “Good book, Nora?”

“What? I don’t know. I’ve never been much of a reader.”

“Can I borrow it?” Sheen asked. Nora carelessly tossed the book. Sheen picked it up and began to read, still walking, though more slowly.

“What makes you not a reader?” Zena asked Nora.

“I’ve just never liked it.”

“You probably just don’t do it the right way. Not if you read silently like that all the time.”

“You never struck me as a book person, Zena!” Nora giggled a little.

“I don’t read by myself if that’s what you mean. But story festivals are wonderful.”

“I thought you people didn’t have any religious texts,” Sheen said.

“We don’t have any writing we believe comes from the gods,” Zena explained, “but there’s tons of stories. We have festivals where we take turns reading them, sing some songs,”

“Get drunk,” Sheen interjected. Zena gave her a look. Nora jumped up. “There’s Jacques.”

He trudged to a stop in front of Nora. “Well?” she asked.

“No progress, Atkin’s got an ego as high as Mt. Yenin, and I’m tired as hell.”

“Ohhh.” Nora’s sigh turned into a moan as she turned to leave.

“We can talk tomorrow, maybe?” Zena said. She was just realizing it was near dinner time.

“Sure.” Jacques put a hand to his forehead in the most conscious gesture Sheen had ever seen him make. She walked him slowly home. Neither said a word.

***

Nora avoided home for a long time. She made her way slowly through Traveler’s Rest, lifting her hand once or twice to an aquaintence. The truth was, she didn’t have any friends of her own people. Listen to the way I say that. My own people. She reached the end of the main road and pivoted with a sigh.

Petto was sleeping. Probably for lack of something better to do. Nora made herself as small as possible, curled up in the corner. Sometimes I just want to crawl out of my own skin. Leave it hanging in a tree and don’t look back.

***

Trish watched from the wretched mountain. The one they’d made her claim. And what was it? Just a cold, ugly lump with a human-given name.

Of course, the land they took wasn’t much better. It was nothing special. But she couldn’t shrug off the feeling that it was meant to be hers. And she wanted it back.

Trish made her way down through the snowy rocks. Careful steps. Just as she’d been taught. The adults were all careful. It drove Onie and Mapi crazy, Trish could tell. They wanted to be little mountain goats, clambering anywhere they could find a foothold. She used to be like that. Not for the adventure, but for the thrill of breaking rules. The thing was, as she got older, she realized that disobeying the little rules didn’t matter much. A smack on the bottom, that was what it gave you. Sting easily forgotten the next day. And what fun was that?

The serious laws were was different. The borders got fuzzier and the disapproval bigger. To be a troublemaker = no glory. But to be a smart girl, bending loopholes and pushing buttons, well…

Of course, when you grew up there were no excuses for ignorance. Nothing reprimanded would ever be forgotten.

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