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Chapter Four - Shadow's Daughter by Shirley Meier

Chapter Four


Sysbat Karlovna stood in front of the class reading a history. Nobody liked to sit close to her, even if she did mumble, because she sprayed everybody in the front with spit. Megan didn't think Sysbat liked reading aloud much, and didn't really listen. Instead she thought about her papa and mama. The Haian had come back a couple of times in the last two days.

"… the Zak leader, Dayovich, realized that the independent—can you say that word, children?—the independent tribes of the Zak could never win against the Armai, and swore that we would be one nation, one people…"

Ness had tried to talk to Papa's friends but had come back both saddened and angry, saying they put her off. "Scared stupid that they'll lose their places if Vyaroslaf ever finds out about it," she'd said. "And all of them thinking the others would help more than they. They gave us money, because they're not that scared, but getting them to take legal action with us against a new Guildmaster? Phhaugh!"

She was angry enough that Aunt Marte didn't even say "I told you so." She'd just watched Ness, like a lizard. Then she said, "The family… we can't afford an Advocate by ourselves. Besides, Vyaroslaf could out-bribe us now, with the Guild coffers behind him." Mama had stopped and stared at her, then went to look after Papa without answering back.

After the door was closed behind them and Megan held the basin for Papa's bandages, she saw Ness try to hold back her tears. Lixand was often delirious. Megan had gone to play with Rilla as her mother had asked, but heard Mama sobbing into the clean bandages she'd been holding.

Megan curled her toes inside her socks, hoping that what Mama had said—that they'd have a home again once Papa got better—was true. She looked around the other children listening to the history.

Sysbat Karlovna had a thread trailing from the hem of her robe that swayed back and forth as she read. "… and when Iyesi was an empire, we were one people again." Sysbat put the book down and told them to stand to recite. History goes a long way back. Almost all the way back to when the world burned. I like history better than the arithmetic that comes next.

"First there were Zak. We had a K'mizariza, the age of Great Kings. Then came the Republic when the mob ruled. Then came the priests' Seven Hundred Years of Holiness and Corruption. Then came the Years of The Three—Priest, Priest, and War Leader. Then came the generations of the SmiurgTeik, our Beloved Dragon Lord, the Woyvode."

Megan scratched her back, telling herself she should pay attention. I promised the Goddess I'd be good so she'd keep the Dark Lord from taking Papa away.

Rosziviy smirked at her across the circle and Megan made her face stony. Ursella winked and Megan felt a little better.

The day's heat sat inside the house where the night breeze couldn't touch it, though all the windows were open. The herbs on the ceiling rustled, but the breeze never came down inside. Megan lay on her pallet next to Rilla, watching the light under the door of the spare room, where the Haian was. The door was closed, although the back room was stuffy even with the windows open.

Rilla was asleep. Earlier that evening Aunt Marte had hit her for being bad, though all that she'd done wrong that Megan could see was sing too loud. She had the marks of tears on her face and a bruised cheek. Mama's been with Papa all day and didn't see and stop Aunt Marte from doing it.

The dark pressed down on Megan as if it didn't want her to breathe. Aunt Marte's house doesn't like us either.

The Haian was doing something that clinked and rattled and made a strong smell as if the still was working. Rilla rolled over in her sleep and whimpered because of her bruises.

Megan looked over to Aunt's wallbed where she was asleep, too. She'd drunk a wine jar empty, staggered around and slammed a few doors, threw up, then went to bed. Her tunic got vomit on it and she didn't even put it in the bucket with water. It stinks, she thought, and woke up with a jump from where she'd dozed.

The door clicked under Aunt Marte's snoring. The Haian stood by the table, leaning on it, looking tired. Mama had a whole bundle of bedclothes and there were dark splotches on the white sheets.

The smell wasn't as strong anymore, but it was mixed with another smell like rust or the smell of a skinned knee. Marte's snoring was muffled by the closed doors of the bed.

"I'm sorrie I could do no more," the Haian whispered, glancing over to where the two children were supposed to be sleeping. "He has hees life, and ay femily to care for heem. I weesh I could have done more."

"Thank you," Mama said. "You did the best you could."

"He needs quiet end weeth luck eet will heal up weethout eenfection. I will kip an eye on heem unteel the stump heals over."

Ness walked the Haian up the steps to the door. "Thank you. I'll walk you to the gate."

"He will be asleep for at leest enother hour. He might wake efter thet and go beck to ay more naturel sleep. The drug for pain is on the table. Eef he develops fever again, call me."

The door shut behind them, and Megan got up and went to see her papa. It was very hot and still in the back room, and he lay on his back, sweat shining on his skin in the candlelight. Megan's shadow flickered across her father, making it hard to see, and the edge of the wallbed made a dark shadow across his burned arm.

She felt better because she could see his chest rising and falling. He's alive. He looks better. He looks like he'll wake up and be fine. His left hand lay across his chest.

She put her hand over the wooden sill of the bed before she looked. His shoulder stuck out in a strange way and his chest seemed dented in. What happened? Then she saw that it wasn't a dent, it was her papa's shoulder, but his arm wasn't where it was supposed to be. It isn't there at all.

Her hand was on the mattress, smooth and cool under her fingers. His shoulder was bandaged white and smooth and round like the eyes in Koru's statues.

"Megan." Mama came up behind Megan and lifted her up, and she hid her face in her mother's neck.

"The Haian took his arm away, Mama. She took it away."

"Yes, Megan-mi. He would have died if she hadn't. She did it to save him."

"Did Papa say he wanted that?"

Mama sighed. "If he wakes up before you have to leave for school, you may sit with him. If not, you can talk to him after school."

"Yes, Mama." Megan yawned. Ness carried her daughter back to bed next to Rilla. Rilla's sucking her thumb. I'm not a baby to do that.

Megan hugged Brunsc until his sawdust squeaked, watching her mother's shadow bounce around the room as she tidied up. Ness took the candle back into the spare room, and when she blew the light out it was like a puff of dark.

Megan hugged Brunsc. He's got teeth. Hell keep me safe from Aunt Matte's house and from Haians who need to take people's arms away.

Papa's going to be all right. He smiled at me this morning. He'd eaten and sat up in bed and Ness cried happy tears. Those kinds of tears Megan liked. Marte stood in the door and looked at them all, hugging each other. The smile on her face had supposedly been for the family, but Megan suspected that Marte would rather Megan or Ness had been hurt instead of her brother, as if they could have taken his place.

Megan jumped over a puddle as she ran to school. She'd given Brunsc to Rilla because she needed him more. I'm a big girl with a nice mama and papa and I don't need bears with teeth. Rilla had cried a long time a couple of days ago, because Aunt Marte hit her again and yelled at her while Ness was at the market. Brunsc would help.

Yim, the Koa Alley baker's boy, had his stand open to sell breakfast; stacks of sticky buns with honey running down them, and loaves steaming in the cool morning. The market-drovers who came in every morning by dark stood between the baker's and the kahfe stall where there was a street lamp still lit—unless the weather was bad, when they stood under the counting-house overhang.

Their horses would pull back their lips from the cold water in the troughs, breath blowing steam in the air, like their masters slurping thick, hot kahfe out of Nanty's chipped mugs. The drovers would laugh loud and wipe honey-covered fingers on their baggy pants. Megan had been afraid of them at first.

Megan wiggled between people's legs, and ran past one of the Honey-Giver's Shrines, whose Bearcub statue looked like her Brunsc. Rilla's Brunsc. She wouldn't have time to stop at the Shrine and pet Him this morning. Her books bounced on her back as she ran. She'd started taking them home with her, because ink and sticky things had mysteriously kept getting spilled on them while they were in her box, or they would disappear. Sysbat didn't even try to do anything about it anymore, acting as if it were Megan's fault.

Megan tucked her jump rope more firmly in her belt so as not to lose it, looking forward to mealbreak when she and Ursella could skip. The Baba doll that Ursella had given her stood on the shelf over Megan's box, and no one dared touch her because then both Ursella and Megan would have been after them.

It was foggy this morning, long fingers trailing along The Stairs. Up the street the leathermaker's sign creaked in a slow breeze. Megan dawdled a bit along the Sneykh and poked in the mud along the banks with a stick. I don't ever walk up Szyzka Lane anymore. She had once, and saw the black place, a hole with bricks, and grass growing in it where their house had been, like a rotten tooth-hole in the ground. The trees were all dead too, though the Brewery had been rebuilt.

She heard the boom of the Garrison drum up the city and started to run again. That meant the morning guards were coming on duty to protect the Woyvode (long life to him) and if she didn't run, she'd be late.

Ursella wasn't waiting for her at the Student's Gate the way she usually was. At first Megan thought she was late, but everyone was still out in the children's hall when she panted downstairs. Maybe she's sick today. Maybe she's late. Maybe she had to help her papa sell bowls in the shop or unpack things.

Megan didn't partner with anyone when they were called to line up, waiting for Ursella, then saw her best friend and Danacia come out from under the ramp and line up together. Megan ended up next to fat Piatr, who nobody liked. Why didn't she wait for me?

Ursella was whispering in Danacia's ear and they giggled together. Sysbat Karlovna clapped and they filed into the classroom. I have a class, in a bit, with Sysbat Tenaru in the library. I'm glad I do. I'm glad.

At the mealbreak, Ursella sat down next to her. "I couldn't pair with you this morning, sorry."

"It's okay," Megan said munching on her piece of sausage. I don't want to talk to you.

"I wanted to give you this back." She held out Megan's marble bag and stylus. Megan stared at her, her throat closing thick and tight.

"You don't want to be my best best friend."

Ursella looked down at her boots, picking at the splinters on the bench. "I can't."

"You swore." Megan took a drink of water and dabbled in it with her fingers so she wouldn't have to look at Ursella, looking at the black specks in the bottom of the cup instead.

"Danacia asked me to be her best friend, and she's always with Rosziviy who's always fighting with you, and Danacia gave me the blue bead-rings I always liked so much."

Ursella held out her right hand, four blue beads on thin wire, one ring on each finger, with a blue ribbon looping between. Everybody had said they looked good, even if there were ribbons instead of chain, and everybody had wanted ones just like them.

"And I want my Baba doll back."

Megan got it and gave it to her. Papa would say that they bought her. Then she stood there holding her cup of water while Ursella looked at the floor and the doll and the rings. "I liked having you as a best best friend," she said at last.

Megan reached out and dumped her water on Ursella's head, and she slapped Megan who hit her back…

Everybody else gathered around them in a ring, pushing them closer together, yelling, "Fight! Fight! Fight!" And Sysbat came and pulled them apart, trying to make herself heard. Megan could hear Rosziviy yelling that it was Megan's fault—"She's always the one fighting…"— as they got taken down to the K'mizar's office, where they both got three swats. When they left, carefully far apart, Megan put her chin up and clenched her teeth. She could feel Ursella's look and walked faster, not listening to Sysbat's lecture. I don't even want to cry. I don't care. Ursella's being dumb. She deserves it more than I do. She's not my friend. She swore. She promised.
2010-07-19 18:44 Читать похожую статью
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