Monday, February 11, 2013

Part 13

When we returned to the apartments, Caleb approached Jo with a tight jaw. He had been all smiles with me, but now I saw how worried he was. The two of them talked for a moment in low voices. I could not hear them, but I could only guess that they were discussing our appointment later in the day with the king's advisor.
     I stepped forward. "If I'm to be involved in something, I would like to be informed of what's going on."
     "Lena, I don't think you should be involved in this," Caleb said, turning to me. "There's just too much that can go wrong."
     "Aren't I more of an asset than a hindrance? Isn't that why you brought me here in the first place?"
     Although I'd been talking to Caleb, Jo responded, "Well, we were planning to train you a bit first, and to educate you in the complexities of the problem we're facing, so you wouldn't be completely helpless. You might have a silver tongue, but you can't talk your way out of everything if you don't know what's going on." He sighed. "And now you've gone and given a false name to the  king's advisor. Well, we can't go back now. Go with Caleb and get your story straight before you meet with the advisor."
      I nodded and turned away. Before Caleb and I were out of the room, Jo added, "And tonight I want you to start your training. Caleb will be your tutor for the politics of the situation. Dom will be in charge of physical training. And Arthur will be your third teacher. You will find you need some skills from now on that you've never had use for before. You will need to know how to hide in a crowd, how to follow someone without being seen, how to slip a poison in a man's drink without his ever noticing. Arthur will teach you these. I don't want you out on your own before all three of your teachers deem you adequate in these skills. We can't risk having you in the city when every listening ear belongs to the head of a spy."

Friday, February 8, 2013

Part 12

After our respite, Caleb and I continued on through the city. We were going to go straight to the open market to purchase fabrics, but decided to duck into a bakery for some bread in case we were still being watched. 
The bread was deliciously warm and crunchy, and I took bites of it from a paper bag as Caleb and I once again joined the throng of people headed towards the market. 
Apparently, market-day was a pretty big deal here. It was every saturday, and some vendors even traveled for two whole days to sell their wares here. 

It was incredible. My jaw dropped as soon as I entered the market. The colors, the smells. Although my stomach was full of bread, I couldn't help but crave the pastries nearest to me. 

Caleb laughed as I immediately handed over two coins for a large cranberry-filled bread-thing. 

"Careful, Lena", he said with a smile, "There's a lot more to see".

Monday, January 28, 2013

Part 11

Caleb and I wandered through the twists and turns of the city. It was early morning, but people were already out and about, chattering and going about their business. As we walked, Caleb kept up a running commentary, telling some story about nearly every building we passed:
     "If you turn that way, you can find the best pastries in the city. I don't know if the shop is open yet, but we can stop by on the way back. And over this way is where my friend Darrell used to live. He was part of the group, but he volunteered a couple months back to move closer the the Capitol. We don't hear from him much. It's usually too dangerous to break cover over there." So the walk went, and I simply stood by, taking in everything: the sights, the sounds, the stories. Back home I'd lived outside a small town where everyone knew everyone else. Although I knew Aloren was nothing compared to the large cities further from the border, I was entranced.
    "And that shop there –" Suddenly, Caleb cut off his narrative. "Lena, this way. We can't be seen."
     A man, half-hidden under his hood, strode down the street, eyes scanning the people on their morning errands. People scurried out of the way as he passed. Caleb and I turned the corner, but I could tell it was too late. He'd spotted us. I took a step backward and prepared to turn but Caleb stopped me.
     "Don't run. Then he'll know it's us for sure."
     Approaching Caleb and me, he said, "Hello sir, miss. I can't help but notice you look quite a bit like a young lady and her companion we've been searching for. Would you mind joining me for a drink?"
     I stood, frozen. My heart beat in my chest, and I could feel every thump shake my body. Then, before Caleb could respond, I began to speak.
     "Oh, but Dean promised me this morning that we could go to the market right as it opened. He said he'd buy me bread right as it came out of the oven from the store on market square, and he'd buy me a new hair ribbon! He promised!" The man raised his eyebrow. Terrified, I realized my newfound 'power' was failing me. I pressed on, willing the man to believe me. "Market day only happens once a month, and I don't want to miss it." I grabbed onto Caleb's hand and pulled at it, like a child begging for sweets. "Come on, Dean, tell him."
     With my touch, Caleb sprang into action. "Hang on just a minute, Sally. I'm sorry, sir. My -- my little cousin is just a bit overeager this morning. I surmise that this conversation needs some discretion. May I take your card and call on you this afternoon? I fear that anywhere we go now, we would only attract attention with her bouncing off the walls and asking me every two minutes if we can go yet."
     "Oh, please, sir! I don't think I could possibly wait this morning!" I added in. Caleb gave me a stern look, although I wasn't quite sure whether he was telling me not to push it or simply staying in character as the responsible older cousin.
     "Very well," the man said, passing over a small red card. "I shall expect you this afternoon, no later than three o'clock. You will be there." He turned on his heel and walked away.
     After a moment, we both let out the breath we'd been holding. Caleb squeezed my hand and stepped away.
     "I am impressed with your quick thinking," he said to me.
     "And I yours," I replied. "But who was he? And how can he be so sure we'll turn up?"
     "That man," said Caleb softly, "is the King's advisor. And if we don't turn up, he'll release our description to the city's guards as criminals and we'll be locked up within a day."

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Part 10

Someone called my name, gently, as I reached the landing. Standing by the front door in a similar outfit of brown slacks and white shirt, was Caleb. I felt my cheeks warm.
"I'm going to the open market to pick up the food for the week. I asked Jo and the others, and they said you can come with me. I mean, I thought you would like to see the city where you are staying. It really is beautiful, and the food is really good." Caleb smiled, then took my hand.
I involuntarily stepped towards him, about to reach for his other hand. Caleb dropped some gold coins into my palm and stepped away. "This is for you, if you want to get some cloth, or some sweets."
Embarrassed, I only nodded, tucking the coins into a front pocket and rubbing my arm.
"Alright then," Caleb nodded, "Let's go. We have the whole morning and afternoon to buy and to roam."
He opened the door, and we stepped out into the sun.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Part 9

The next morning was bright, and I was stiff when I awoke, shielding my face as I creaked out of bed. Jo had directed me to a small room up several flights of stairs. I shared my new bedroom with two other women, whom I saw as I emerged from my blankets, but hadn't had the chance to meet last night, when I'd simply fallen into bed before the gathering had dispersed downstairs.
     On the wooden table in the corner of the room was a pile of clothes, on top of which lay a scrap of paper with my name on it. I wriggled out of the borrowed night-clothes I was wearing and pulled on the practical brown pants and white shirt. I spotted shoes under the table as well. Someone had taken great pains to prepare for me.
     I slipped out the door as quietly as I could and made my way downstairs to face my new life; at last, I was among people like me.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Part 8

I smiled hesitantly. Jo and the others were even more cheerful than before, and continued to drink and speak in loud, happy tones.
I walked into the other room, searching for solitude. I needed to think.

A power with words? A way of convincing people of lies? I didn't like this. I didn't like this at all. This would would mean that I would never know whether or not someone really believed me or not. I could make friends who wouldn't normally like me, I could have anything I want.

My head spun and I sat in an overstuffed armchair. I heard someone enter the room and I cringed at the thought of the party entering my little sanctuary.

"Can I talk to you?" It was Caleb's voice. I sat up immediately, without meaning to. Caleb sat beside me, him features serious.

"Listen, I'm sorry about the whole 'kidnapping' thing. I'm sorry if we scared you, or if you were uncomfortable. Also, I hope you aren't too overwhelmed with your gift. I know Jo can come on strong sometimes, too strong. I mean, I remember how he was when he discovered what I could do. I think i hid from him for at least a week, because every time he saw me he got all enthusiastic and talked to me as if I was the savior of the world, or something."

My ears perked up and I stared at Caleb as he spoke. He could do something, also? What world did I live in...a place where there were powers.

I asked, "Can you also cloud people's minds?" Caleb smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

"No, but I can do this." He stood and walked over to the window. He pressed his hands to the glass and I held my breath, unsure of what would happen.

For a moment, there was nothing. Then, Caleb's hands began to glow a pale orange, than a deeper hue. Than deeper, richer. He moved away from the window, his hands still glowing like the sun. He was grimacing, and his eyes were shut tight, but he walked to the center of the room, then, in a single fluid motion, spread his arms out.

I gasped as the heat hit me. His warmth spread throughout the room, warming every part of me. I quickly shed my outer layer as I began to sweat.

Caleb sat back down, blowing on his hands, which were bright red.

"Caleb?", I asked softly, "You can transfer heat?"

"Yes. Or the cold. Or rain. Whatever the temperature is outside, and as long as I have a way of getting to it through a surface such as a window."

"That's amazing!"

"You sound like Jo." Caleb gave a weak smile. I noticed his hands again, still red.

"It hurts you."

"It's just because of the glass. It would hurt you, also, if you pressed your hands against something so hot."

Before I could say anything else, Jo ran in.

"Haha! I see Caleb has shown you what he can do. Isn't he the most incredible boy?"

Monday, January 21, 2013

Part 7

I stared at him. Naomi was a childhood friend, but I hadn't seen her for years. And what talent? "I'm sorry, sir," I began cautiously, "but I honestly don't know what you're talking about."
     He grinned at me. "I should have known you'd deny it."
     "No, I really have no idea what you're saying." What was he talking about?
     "Is it possible she doesn't herself know?" Dom asked. "Lena, have you ever suspected something unusual about yourself?"
     I raised an eyebrow.
     "Lena, tell us about the dinner you had last night. Try to convince the guys here that we treated you well."
     "What does that have to do with -"
     "Just try it."
     I was confused, but began to speak in earnest, doing my best to convince Jo and the others that the bread the night before was wonderful: so moist, so delicious, so plentiful. And the meat must have been high quality, so perfectly salted and spiced, not too hard or too chewy. Dom, Arthur, and Caleb had made excellent preparations; I could have wanted for no better meal.
     The reaction amazed me. Even though I knew that I was not quite speaking the truth, I saw the men nodding along with what I was saying. Some were even licking their lips. I knew I had a way with people, but never to this extent.
     "This, Lena, is your talent," said Jo. "You are utterly believable. I know that bread and dried meat couldn't possibly have been the best meal you've ever eaten, but it sounds so delicious that I can't help but think it must be. I myself have begun to crave that very same meal for myself. You cannot completely cloud someone's thoughts, but you are a force of great influence. What a power!"

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Part 6

My heart beat fast, thoughts immediacy turning to confusion as to what what so remarkable about me? I was not thinking about what the revolutionaries were revolting against, or the fact that my kidnappers were not kidnappers.
I had never found much use in myself, which is why I had thought solitude suited me. In solitude, there was no one to ask of my services, only to find them disappointing.

Yes, I had survived alone for two months alone, but with a huge storehouse of food and tanks of cleansed water. I had had no want for anything.

Caleb, Dom, and Arthur accepted drinks from the tenants of the apartment and slapped each other heartily in congratulations. For the moment, I was ignored, which suited me fine. Know I turned my attention to those around me.

I found myself focusing on Caleb, the young strong man who had held me steady the past few days. Now, knowing that he was not a kidnapper, I had the sudden thought that I could talk to him normally, perhaps become friends with him.

Caleb turned from the merriment and looked at me. Our eyes met for a moment before I turned away, cheeks pink.

"And now", the leader of the revolutionaries said, "Lena, please show everyone your talent. I've been wanting to see it myself, ever since Naomi told me about it. Please, let us see why we went at such lengths to bring you here."

Friday, January 18, 2013

Part 5

We stopped at midday in a small town, no more than a village, really. Caleb gave me a hooded cloak to help hid my face. I supposed the men wanted to take no chances with their mysterious pursuers.
     I had uneasily turned over the previous night's conversation in my mind as we rode all morning. Who would want me? It seemed there were more people looking for me than the three who'd captured me the previous night.
     We stopped at a small inn, cloaked despite the heat of the day. The smallest man ordered drinks for himself and the two others, and food four the four of us. Was this customary treatment of captives? I was again surprised by the unexpected care they took on my behalf.
     We ate quickly and without speaking much. I suspected that the men had plans to discuss, but did not want to speak in front of me, and within earshot of the others in the inn. When we had finished our food, the sandy-haired man dug out a few coins, while the other, who by now I figured to be the leader of the group, made his way to the opposite corner of the inn and sat across from a dark-haired man with a scar down his cheek.
     "Don't stare," Caleb whispered in my ear. "Dom's just getting our border passes." Despite his words, I could not help but look. The two talked quietly for a few moments, then the scarred man passed over several sheets of paper. He nodded across the inn at us, and our little band left the crowded room.
     We fetched our horses as quickly as we could without attracting attention, and we were soon out of sight of the town.
     "He says they've discovered her absence," said Dom. "We must ride hard."

I was an unskilled horsewoman, and after an hour or so, I felt ready to fall off the back of the horse, but Caleb held me steady and kept the horse at pace.
     We reached the border of Morden in the late afternoon. A wall more than twice my height marked the boundary of the nearest city, Aloren. My companions, however, seemed undaunted. They rode confidently up to the guard, and handed over the papers Dom had picked up at midday.
     The guard looked at us quizzically, and for a heart-stopping moment, I thought he would not let us through. Part of me marveled how quickly I'd grown attached to these men who had, after all, kidnapped me. But they'd shown me nothing but kindness, and I had a taste for adventure. Finally, the guard handed back the papers and waved us through.
     The streets of Aloren were narrow and winding, but Dom led us without once consulting a map. We rode to a small stable on the outskirts of town, where Dom paid a stablehand to put up the horses for the night. When I looked questioningly at Caleb, he explained,
     "The horses will be conspicuous where we're going. Better just to leave them here."
     As evening approached, we walked through the darkening city, turning through side-streets and alleys so often that I'd be lost in a moment should I try to find my way through town alone.
     At last we stopped in front of a dingy apartment. We climbed two flights of stairs, and Dom knocked three times on a worn wooden door. Footsteps and hushed voices approached the other side. Someone peered through the peephole at the four of us, slightly bedraggled from our previous night on the ground and our day of hard riding. The door opened, and a tall blond man opened his arms to us with a smile.
     "Dom, Caleb, Arthur! We weren't expecting you for another hour at least. Come in, quickly." He shooed us inside, and my companions greeted the group of men, whom they seemed to know well. The man turned to look at me. "And you must be Miss Lena. I am Jo, the leader of our company. Please set down your bags. You look exhausted. You are, after all, our guest."
     My head snapped up. "Guest, sir?"
     "We had to keep you in the dark until now. Had you been captured en route, we did not want you to be associated with us any more than you had to."
     "Pardon me, sir. Could you explain what's going on?"
     Jo looked around instinctively, then leaned closer. "We are revolutionaries. And you, my dear, are our secret weapon."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Part 4

We continued on, the strong man still holding me close to him to prevent my escape. 
By now, even if I cared to escape, I would be hopelessly lost.
So, again was the routine of horseback riding and dozing against the man. 

"Hey, you." He spoke softly against my ear, waking me. I turned, my face meeting the fabric of my passenger's tunic. My nose bumped against his chest and i realized how thin he was. Strong yes, but lean. He must be barely 20. 
I was surprised me had spoken, used by now to the idea that he would remain silent throughout our ride together. He smiled at my surprise and went on.
"My name' s Caleb." He fidgeted a bit. I turned to face forward, surprised still. He didn't say anything more, and I didn't speak either.