6007 words!!! great start – but it is my day off so it probably isn’t a sign of things to come.

I will warn that this is Nano, so unedited, not even re-read yet.

************************

“Ah Analia, I was wondering if you would have time to help me today.” Sarli greets me, her gaze remaining on the boiling gravy.

I giggle, “looks like you need me.” The room is overloaded with supplies. Everything from sacks of flour and sugar covering the floor and making moving hard to a pot of honey and mountains of carrots and potatoes. Some of this stuff we haven’t had in the house all year.

“Aye I do lass. Can you believe all this food. And the mistress has requested cakes and puddings – when do I have time to bake?”

I slip into the stool at the far end of the long table. Setting to work peeling carrots and getting them ready to boil – as soon as there’s room on the stove.

“So what’s the special occasion?” I ask.

The question’s loaded enough to get Sarli’s full attention. She looks back at me, her wooden spoon still keeping a constant motion through the gravy.

“Well come on, carrots – I don’t need carrots.” I grumble, thumping the peeled carrot in my hand down on the bench.

“I know exactly what you’re asking me Analia but –”

“It’s not for me, da will have you believe it is – ”

“Hush child, you’ll bring pain to us both.”

“I don’t care Sarli.” I mumble but she’s right. Da’s heavy hand extends not just to me but to those around me.

Sarli picks up the big pot and sits it on the heat tray on the table. Her eyes are dark, with heavy circles around them. Eye’s that have been crying instead of sleeping.

“It is the way it is.” Her voice is heavy, raspy and sad.

I nod. That’s what they all say. There’s five of us from the village this month. Five new slaves for the crown, something else I should never say aloud.

“You will make your family proud Analia, I know you will.”

“As what? A cook, for someone else?” I bite my tongue but it’s too late. Instantly I hate myself, “I’m sorry Sarli, I didn’t mean that.”

“You need to have a much more open mind about this Analia. It’s been five years since I left the mountain, and fifteen years since your da left. A lot will have changed and only those that are flexible enough to change too survive with the least bruises.”

I nod because I owe Sarli that much, but that doesn’t mean I believe it. What’s there to be flexible about? I’m going to live with a couple of hundred kids between 10 and 15 years old who are all intent on proving themselves.

I push the pot full of carrots across the table, Sarli grabs it and sets it on the stove. I’m not even thinking about what I’m doing but I’ve been working in this kitchen since I was two so I dare say I can safely prepare food in my sleep.  

“Do you want me to tell you a story?” Sarli asks.

I almost laugh, there once was a time when I would have cheered at the suggestion. Sarli’s stories used to excite me, the notion of living in a castle enchanted me, the idea of adventure and excitement. The reality now feels so different, too close for comfort. It doesn’t help that as I’ve grown older the works grown harder – da’s attempts at ‘toughening me up’ and ‘getting me ready’. Dae’s sitting in the shade day dreaming and enjoying the sunlight whilst I’m peeling potatoes in the darkness and cold stone kitchen, Lee-la and Anna are braiding ribbons and decorating corn dolls and I hate that – I hate that because I’ve never had one. I’ve never had a ribbon or been spoken of in terms of betrothal. I am destined to be tasked and as such I’ve no need for fun or trinkets or a future.

“Well I’ll tell you one anyway. I’ve been keeping this one until you were ready and I feel maybe today is the last chance I will get to share it with you. I heard one of the other destined Szein’s mention books and learning for the apprentices – after you have finished your five years. I’m going to make light work of that bubble. The stories say that the libraries were burnt down, but the fact of the matter is the battle is more important to the crown now. The Riders are more highly respected than the crown.”

“What do you mean, da will settle for nothing less than a daughter in the Riders. The first female rider but …” I shrug I couldn’t care less for the task, “How does a Rider become a Rider if they can’t learn anything anymore?”

“Oh they learn, the same way your da’s been teaching you.”

I nod, by work, work and more work and the threat of a slap up the back of the head or a kick in the butt if I don’t move quick enough.

“But the story, when I turned fifteen and the Masters of the Tasks sat at the head of the dining hall we were asked to stand before the them and request our tasks for apprenticeship. Everyone is told of how after five years you can go home, after five years you are free. Thing very carefully the whole time you are there Analia because I didn’t. I stood up with about ten others and requested to go home. There is three types of shame when you leave the mountain. If you leave from injury and you can no longer work but you fight to stay you are accepted by the community, if you fight to stay but are not picked by the Task Masters you may still marry and purchase land, but Analia if you choose to leave you can never marry and the crown will not let you purchase land.”

My jaw drops, five barely bearable years just became ten or fifteen – if I’m unlucky enough to be kept on. Da’s heavy footfalls announce his imminent arrival.

“Analia no matter how much you hate it fight to stay – there is far worse out here in the real world.” Sarli whispers.

I nod, it’s the only reaction I can muster.

Advertisements