as skies do when you least have time to be pinning it back up again. So i have graciously lost the dash to 20k to my nemeses in Bermigui. But here’s some tidbits of where i’m up to now…. 16k, and i’ve still some time to catch up!

(just remember as you read this that NO editing has been done, NONE AT ALL. I haven’t even re-read it. So this is about as raw as i get)

Chapter 2

 

The guest start arriving shortly after lunch, why I don’t know because it’s a dinner party but I soon have my suspicions. My bag’s packed and sitting beside the front door. I can picture Mike and Amber’s bags beside their doors in town. It’s a sign of pride amongst families, when their oldest prepares to leave for the mountain. Pride prickles in me too but I quash it down – I don’t like this so why would I be proud about it?

The entertaining patio is crammed with people, most of them here to congratulate da on having a child come of age. Some to share in the joy of Dae’s betrothal and more than a few of Sam’s family here to display their wealth. Dae is playing coy – she’s sitting at the table in a delicate white dress with thrills and ribbons. Her hair’s braided with little bows weaved into the perfect blond plaits.

I glance down at myself in my brown all purpose pants and white work shirt. It’s only half clean – a site effect of doing my own washing and not always being as thorough as I should. We’re like hot and cold – complete opposites and yet we’re identical twins.

Da walks behind Dae, he leans in and kisses her affectionately on the cheek. Dae giggles as da whispers in her ear. I look away, my cheeks burning. I know what he’d be whispering – things like ‘just relax cherry pie, everyone’s here to see you.’

What he told me earlier was ‘chin up and put on a good front, you won’t see these people again for a good many years to come – give them a memory for the family to be proud of.’

Ma had brought me a dress – not as frilly and delicate as Dae’s – but something more feminine than the pants and shirt I’m in… I sat it on my bed and dressed in these clothes instead.

I am chosen as the Szein for my family. I am going to leave at dusk and walk the road with the other five my age and now I know that I will not be coming back in five years. Just by the hard look in my da’s gaze as he glances across the room.

He was not a Rider, but he wanted to be. He fought to Ride, he stood in the riders stables and challenged today’s Riders and was sent back to his home village when four fingers from one hand were sliced clean off by one of the immortals. In Sarli’s hierarchy he came home with honour – but I like my fingers and all my other limbs for that matter.

“You look thrilled,” Mike slides in beside me.

We both lean against the outside rail, looking over the smiling faces.

“If you could describe tonight with just one word what would it be?”

“Really, um, one word? If I could use two words I’d say hurry up, as in come on lets just start walking already.”

I nod, he’s right if we can’t slow time we might as well get on with the task.

“What about you Analia? Two words tops.”

“Nightmare’s only one word.”

“Nightmare? That’s extreme. We’re not going to be thrown in the deep end. They’re going to train us and feed us and we’ll have our friends.”

“How do you know?”

“What do you mean, you’ve heard the stories. What don’t we hear about the place before we get there?”

I open my mouth, words on the tip of my tongue, just as da’s shadow hovers over us. Not that it’s a huge problem, Mike will learn of the pitfalls of those stories soon enough. We all will.

“You two should eat, it’s tradition that no food it carried from home.” Da announces, he’s smiling but he’s looking at Mike and not me.

I’m not hungry but I walk around da and descend on the open platters of food. Pilling what I spent half the day cooking onto a plate.

It’s not until later, as the afternoon becomes evening, that ma slides in next to me. The jasmine flowers weaved into her shroud me in the scent of beauty – a scent out of my reach. I breathe deeply, enjoying the tickle of my senses.

“Five years baby, be strong, learn a lot and in four and a half years your father and I will have our eyes open for a suitable husband.” She whispers the words, like a promise.

A lie.

I wonder if she knows the facts that Sarli recently enlightened me on?

I want to correct her, but what good would that do. It isn’t a curse but an opportunity – one steeped in misconceptions maybe but not the end of life all together.

I throw my arms around ma, she may be wrong and she may be sending me off to a destiny I don’t want but she’s my ma.

The first voice raised is my da’s, his melodic tones hush everyone but quickly the song spreads.

“Children of the mountain raise to your feet, this is the evening of your journey. Walk with the guards up to the wall and embrace the path of a Szein…” the song gains in volume.

It’s our queue to leave. I look at Mike and shrug, nothing for it, nothing we’re supposed to do.

I grab my pack at the door, slinging it over my shoulder and waving back behind me. Mike skips out the door, waving with big over the top motions. He doesn’t say anything either – he’s not supposed to.

Dae dashes out the door. Wrapping her arms around me and burying her face in my hair.

“I will miss you. Thank you.”

“What for?”

“I know you had no choice but you’ll be good at this Analia. I’m grateful.”

I nod, hugging her back.

Is there any point in longing for what she has?

Any point in telling her that I wished she would take my place – we’re identical, the idea isn’t implausible. But she never offered to take the weight of this burden from me and I can’t ask it of her. She’s very right, da has raised me for this. I won’t miss ribbons or bows or books being read to be, fairytales and someone brushing my hair or washing my clothes, I won’t miss sleeping in and playing games in the garden. I will miss my family but this is the only path before me.

“Goodbye.” I whisper, kissing her cheek.

Mike’s already halfway down the road so I jog to catch up. The song inside is still ringing out into the fields and gardens. They’ll sing in rounds until the sun has set – then I’m on my own. It’s a stupid tradition really, I’m on my own now, but it feels special somehow.

Mike’s hanging on the gate, kicking his legs in the overlong grass.

“Come on, there’s six of us right?”

I nod, still walking and wondering what he means by ‘come on’.

“So if we walk down the middle of the village we’ll be able to gather everyone and I have to get my bag from my place.”

I agree, with little other option, and Mike launches himself off the wooden railing. The dirt road feels cold, an internal emotion stirring from somewhere deep in the pit of my stomach. It’s a bad idea to start feeling sorry for myself now.

“Hey Mike who else is of age this year?”

“Me, you – ”

“Yeah I knew that much, who else?”

“I’m getting to that part. There’s also Ranee the millers daughter and Pan you know him don’t you?”

I shake my head.

“Oh, his dad works for the lock smith, let’s see that makes four of us – there’s two more right?”

I nod.

“The butchers son Rowland and the butchers assistant’s son Ricco.”

“So Ranee and I are the only girls. Great I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come.”

“Na, I wouldn’t worry about it. There’s no way that first born’s can be more boys than girls.”

It doesn’t take long for the buildings of the village to dot the horizon amidst thick reserves and gentle rolling green countryside. There’s at least four other houses singing for their children. It gets under my skin, irritating me but I can’t put my finger on it. It was sentimental to hear my father sing goodbye but we haven’t really socialised a lot before – me and these other first born’s, so it feels weird to hear their parents sing.

There’s this odd little air of both pride and secrecy about the Szein system. Our families latch onto the honour, train the first born’s as each family sees fit and yet we don’t talk amongst each other of what’s to happen. Da rarely spoke of his experiences the stories he told were always of others. And there are plenty of stories. Each night as we’d gather in for dinner he’d tell a new one. Sarli and I would be carrying in bowls and plates of foot and everyone else would be sitting around the table in the dining room. In winter the fire would be burning, in summer the windows open to let in the breeze.

It strikes me that Sarli was always treated as a made – a mere servant – she’d cook and serve and then disappear until we were finished. Even though she served her time in the castle da never said a kind word to her. He tried his best not to say anything to her at all. When he did speak to her it was to chastise and reprimand her. I mill over the possibilities, others in the township who haven’t married, who haven’t homes of their own, whom no one talks to in kindness.

“Mike do you know the guy in the barbers, not the barber but his assistant or whatever?”

“Not personally, I don’t know his name why?”

“I was just thinking, where does he live?”

“I don’t know, don’t apprentices live with their masters – you know like the metal smiths apprentice has a little house on top of the smithy?”

“But is he an apprentice? He never cuts anyone’s hair.”

“Like I said I don’t know Analia why?”

“And have you ever seen the barber talk to him?”

“Yeah, he says – here, here. Here!” Mike imitates the overweight and balding barber by waddling and pulling his hair back supper tight.

I can’t help but laugh but he’s right. The only word I’ve ever heard said to the boy is ‘here’. The barber points and orders a job done with that one word.

There are others too, a young women living in the store room of the fruit market building and the De’Lacies have two nannies that live in a small quarters off their house – one of them would be at least forty and still not married.

We follow the noise through town, well Mike seems to be I just follow him. When I actually look up and take some notice of what’s going on I realise he already has his pack and we already passed his house.

“Mike didn’t you want to say goodbye to your parents?”

“Na, I already said my bit this morning and they’ll be singing by now so I can’t say anything to them anyways. Did I tell you what my da said?”

“What?”

He coughs, lowering his voice dramatically to imitate his fathers. “Now son don’t come home until they kick you out, give me your word.”

“Well well, two more with packs on their backs, can only mean one thing can’t it?”

I spin around, emerging from a rather noisy house are two boys. Dressed much the same as we are but wearing heavy travelling cloaks too. The kind my da couldn’t afford and Mike would consider himself too tough to wear.

“Roland and Ricco?”

“That’s us. Who managed to grab some food?”

I watch as they produce hand full’s of rolls and chicken from their pockets. Two thoughts stream through my mind. Hop awful their pockets are going to smell when this journeys over and the fact that travelling with food isn’t allowed.

“You’d better eat that quick, I’ve heard stories of our escorts and they don’t take too kindly to rule breakers.” Someone declares.

Mike and I both spin around, looking behind us at a girl, Ranee, and feeling a bit stuck in the middle.

“Yeah yeah, we’re the first borns. Smarter and faster and braver and more highly valued than our siblings. They’re not going to hurt us even if we do break the rules. What would be the point of sending for us if they were?”

It’s plausible logic, except for the fact that my da is missing four fingers, that had to have hurt.

“Your da wasn’t a Szein was he?”

“Nope.” One of them says as he shakes his head and attempts to pull apart his roll and play catch with the chunks of bread.

“And your ma?”

“She’s never stepped foot on the mountain before.”

“Well that explains it then,” Mike tuts, strolling off down the road.

I follow, the minute I step out of one chorus of singing another fills the street. It’s not that it’s a bad song or even being poorly sung, I remember hearing it years ago and crying. There’s a mix of deep notes and meaning full words in each phrase that tugs at the heart but I squash that feeling down. This trip, this whole system feels like a bad idea. Each step I take feels like a step in the wrong direction. I can see that it isn’t the same for the others. Mike’s made friends with Ranee, joking and laughing about something they have in common and behind me the two cousins are still arguing and playing games that involve food. I’m stuck in the middle contemplating life a little more than I should.

“What’s up Analia?” Mike slips back a few steps and keeps pace with me.

“Nothing, I’ll tell you later.” I shrug it off.

“Who are we missing?” Mike enquires, there should be one more to walk the road with us.

“Pan,” Ranee cheers, jogging upto the figure who rounds the corner right on cue.

“Hi all,” Pan waves and smiles a little shy.

It’s interesting how we’ve paired off, Ranee and Pan chatting a little ahead of us. Me and Mike looking around in deep observation, Roland and Ricco behind us still laughing and eating.

The last house in the village slips by us, I watch it go… an odd way to think of things given that technically I’m the one going not the houses or the village, but still it feels like this little village and the life that it created for me is all gone.

Mike stops, swivelling and nudging the cousins aside so he has a good view of the town. We can still hear the singing, sunset colours have lit up the sky in brilliant hues as if even the earth and horizon are saying goodbye to us. No one’s in the street though. I don’t remember there being an exact story to explain why people stay in their houses and sing into the darkness when the children head for the mountain but there has always been an air of safety surrounding these days. Even when I was very young I remember being told to stay indoors and lock the windows and draw the curtains when we heard singing. I never imagined the escort entering the town or those that were first born were suddenly dangerous, but I was worried and nervous just the same.

Now that I am the one outside and the rest of the town is snuggling up inside I feel oddly ostracised, what would they do if I walked back in to town?  What would the consequences be if I decided to go home?

Has it ever happened before?

“Goodbye,” Ranee whispers, blowing a kiss on her delicate fingertips.

“Bye,” the cousins chime, their mouths full.

“This is it,” Mike looks at me, “should we keep walking?”

For a minute I feel like maybe he read my mind, how I don’t know because he has no magical abilities to talk of. Children born with magical abilities fall under a different banner all together. They don’t get to be classed as child number one, or two or three in the family – they’re somewhere between a slave and a burden and often sent to schools far off in other realms. So I know the whole notion of Mike reading my mind is impossible but for half a second I feel like just maybe he’s thinking what I’m thinking. That walking back into town is on the cards and sleeping in my own bed and waking up from this twisted dream just might happen.

“Yep, the further from here that we get before dark the closer to the mountain we’ll be before dawn.” Ranee almost sings the words, in tune with the singing radiating from the village.

“Good thinking.” Mike smiles.

And my bubbles burst.

Chapter 3

            The evening’s walk was nothing compared to what trying to move in this darkness is. We stumble and trip and ghost stories begun to get told – by Ranee of course, then we stumble some more. The two cousins, Roland and Rocco, squeal like girls. Mike’s flirting – which I can only tell by the fact that his flirting is similar to my sisters – and it’s not with me! But that could be classed as a good thing.

            “Ranee’s good, I’m glad she’s come along. We could have had a girl like that fool Rocco but nature chose Ranee to be first born,” Mike mutters, see just like my sister.

            I nod, he’s got a new friend which is after all one of the perks he was going on about before we left on this trip.

            “Guys what was that?”  Rocco demands, running in front of us and making us stop.

“Nothing, we were just telling you stories about dragons and Kogans, there aren’t any real ones here… but there might be some on the mountain.” Ranee teases.

“No really, I hear it too,” Roland shushes us.

I admit there’s a thrumming coming from behind us that I hadn’t noticed before. Not a single sound that I can pinpoint but a noise just the same.

“Do you think we should get off the road?”

“It’s nothing guys, let’s keep walking. These boys are just soft, they’re just after an excuse to sleep.”

I’m watching the road behind us, intently, not that the dark night offers much to see by but maybe I’ll see something just the same.

Suddenly a tree down the road thrums and shakes violently. Making all of us jump and squeal. Still we can hardly make anything out. We all shuffle to the edge of the road anyway, huddling in close and trying to distinguish something in the black night.

“It’s a horse?”

“Our escort?”

“No it’s too big to be a horse!”

It doesn’t take long for the creature to come level with us and more detail to be visible. It has a rider, a tall skinny kind of guy, but it’s not quite a horse. It’s wings are broad and leathery and tipped with a claw, its legs have leathery sections protecting the knees and similar sections protection other areas of vulnerability like it’s chest and hind quarters and face. It tilts it’s head slightly our way, huffs, then looks back in the direction it’s travelling.

“Not a horse,” Ranee gasps.

“Yep, you’ve got that much right.” We jump and squeal again.

With all our attention on the beast in front we hadn’t noticed the dark shadows of kids our age following behind him.

“Let me guess,” Mike cheers up, “our escort?”

“Yep, come on up guys, walk with us,” someone else greets us.

We don’t hesitate, there’s no point, and walking with others does sound better than continuing on our own – given that we don’t really know the way. I don’t think anyone does. The idea is to walk towards the mountain. The escort will find you and you follow the escort up the wall. That’s all there is to it. Simply enough – really.

I wish that was all. We just have to get there and our jobs done.

I glance around me. Even others, plus us six making a total of seventeen.

Slowly as the night wares on we collect others. The rider in front keeps the same pace and fails to respond to questions or requests – even those for toilet breaks. His mount however does let a few of us know that getting too close isn’t tolerated. Ranee tried to touch it’s wing and wound up with the top half of her pack sliced in two. More than enough warning that the thing isn’t friendly. The Ricco tried asking the rider for food and gets kicked in the chest.

Our escort doesn’t stop or even check if he’s ok, the guys just keeps on riding, chuckling quietly to himself. It takes three of us to pick podgy Ricco up off the ground and we then have to take it in turns to basically drag the kid along the road. There’s no way we’re carrying him.

There’s glimmers of sunrise starting to tint the world before we realise how far we’ve come. The misty mountains emerge, filling half the skyline with sheer cliffs and massive height and even more space with the mist around the mountains peaks.

We’re all equally ask shocked. We like below this thing – no matter where in the realm you are you can see it and if not the mountain itself you can definitely see the mist it generates. We’ve just never seen it this close up.

It’s still several long minutes before we reach the famed wall. And now I understand why it’s famed as soon as I’m standing under it. It’s huge, taller than I imagined, and made purely of solid stone blocks as broad as I am and taller that my little sister. This isn’t a wall like at home, it’s nothing like anything I’ve ever come across. But I’m not sure if it’s built to keep things out or in.

The wall’s not the only thing were keeping an eye on. Not that we’ve more like we can also see a whole lot more clearly what our escort looks like and he/she/it isn’t the type of animal that would impress girls like me – or Dea – but a fighting animal. There’s a blood shot quality to it’s eyes that don’t seem to settle on any one thing but take in it all then proceed to look clean through the unimportant bits.

“Wait.” The rider growls and we all freeze mostly out of pure shock.

“For what?” The cousins chuckle and whisper to each other.

The rider hesitates at the gates through the wall, his mount pacing a little underneath him. Eager to be getting somewhere else.

A few of those with me do the same thing, jittering and lifting their weight from one foot to another. Waiting but for what we can only imagine.

“Alright you lot, form one line.” The voice echoes from within the walled space, announcing someone of importance before the man int he heavy cloak emerges.

We all shuffle to do as we’re told.

“There are three rules in this place, work quickly and quietly and never take your eye off the sky. Danger is never far away here and the only way you will survive is by being smart and fast and listening. Right, you stables, you mess hall, you smithy, you gardens…” As he designates each location or job he tables a kid on the head and someone standing just inside the wall raises a hand. Not really becoming or being friendly but I think we’re all too far beyond caring for hunger and tiredness to notice how cold and inhospitable the gaggle of adults is being.

“You messenger, you wagon shed, you cleaner, you kitchens, you masonry, you stables,” he taps Mike on the head and I can see Mike literally exhale and relax.

As he taps me on the head I’m holding my breath, nothing that has so far been mentioned sounds all that bad to me but then he might say something like ‘shovelling manure – for the rest of my life’ just for me.

“Gardens, you…” I tune out, I have my task – in the gardens isn’t so bad. Actually I love gardens. I can do planting and weeding and watering and mulching and all the other bits and pieces that come with gardening.

There’s a twinge of loneliness that threatens to unfold inside me but I reason with it, very few people have been given the same task so we’re all being split up.

Mike’s rubbing his hands together, all eager for working in the stables. He’s glancing left and right as if looking for the actual stables. There aren’t any in view though. There’s a solid wall, a dirt road which we just arrived on and another dirt road that follows the base of the wall. Inside the wall there are glimpses of cobbled streets but it’s nothing like the village we walked from.

“Szein’s follow your task masters – your tasks will not change over the next five years. When your five years are up you can choose to request an apprentice or go home. We ask one thing of every single living thing on this mountain – that you do your task to perfection. There is no option number two.”

Beside me is a gaggle of other ten year olds, behind us all is the task masters and before us is the world from our slightly elevated position. We can see some of the valleys but mostly just trees and the one road.

The task masters turn, walking off without conversation amongst themselves or with us. To my right someone grabs at one of the masters sleeve.

“Where’s the toilet?” She asks.

“You will go when I tell you you can go!” The task master growls with such veracity that we all jump and half of us squeal.

One of the other tasks masters chuckles, “looks like we’ve got a soft clutch,” she announces but she doesn’t look at the growling guy or the crying kid. She just continues on up a cobbled path to the left.

I set my gaze onto my task master and follow them like midday shadow. Slowly other masters and their shadows peel off from the main group, heading off in their own directions. The further into the city we walk the more I realise that these streets are less like streets and more like tunnels. They have rooves and covered portions that create a lot more shady spaces that sunlit spaces.

There are quite a few horses moving about, and a handful of carts, but no more interesting immortals like the beast that escorted us here. There are a few other things that really set this place a part from home. Like the fact that every single window is covered. Some with obvious bricked in sections, others with boards and heavy wooden shutters. There are no other pets, no cats or dogs, and very few people milling about outside. There is people and markets and community action  in undercover sections, some young kids but really no one ten or older.

I’m practically ignored but people move out of the way for the task masters. Even the carts and horses move to the side and I guess if they all have horrible tempers I can understand why.

We round through the city, everyone else disappears to whatever or wherever they have to go and it’s just me following this cloaked guy whom I don’t even know the name of.

We walk up to a wall and stop at a huge double wooden set of doors. He opens them, not wide open but just a crack, looks through into the unknown and sets his gaze onto the nearest person.

“Here, Gabriel take this one and get her up to speed.” He orders, pushing me into the garden and shutting the door behind me.

I’m in a garden yes but it’s nothing like the garden back home.

For one thing the ground’s covered in small pebbles, the gardens are surrounded by wood, the roof is three quarters covered by solid stone and instead of people gently leaning into green gardens there’s a lot of dirty looking and very tired seeming people between my age and probably about seventeen or eighteen years.

Gabriel’s a short girl, about my height but obviously older, with deep blue eyes and tight curly hair. She would have been considered highly desirable but here she just simply fits in. There’s grass in her hair and dirt smudged on her cheeks. The knees of her pants and the elbows of her shirt are covered in leather sections. I hadn’t thought working in a garden would require specialised and protective clothing.

Everyone’s looking at me in the most unnerving way. Like I’m a plaything, a mouse, surrounded by cats. My heart rate jumps up a notch from sheer nerves and I wipe my hands over the legs of my pants, trying to wipe away the sweat on my palms.

“What’s her name?” Someone yells from the back of the building.

A garden in a building, it sounds even stranger when I think of it that way.

“I don’t know,” Gabriel barks back, the tone of her voice contrasts sharply with her pretty looks.

“I’m Analia,” my voice is almost a squeak which frustrates me because I had opened my mouth ready to announce to them all who I am and hopefully stop some of their staring. It didn’t work.

“Huh.” And “What?” are called across the space, echoing somewhat off the walls.

“Analia didn’t you boys hear what she said! Open your ears!” Gabriel turns to growl at the other gardeners.

“I heard.” Someone says behind me, making me jump and swing around with such speed that the world takes a second to catch up.

“And who said we care?” Gabriel mutters, grabbing me by the wrist and dragging me away before I have a chance to properly look over the boy. “Come on,” she grumbles, tossing my hand away and I guess expecting me to follow her.

I do, follow her that is, what choice do I have?

She walks around the outside of the wooden plant beds, sticking closely to the wall. On the far side of the room she opens a door, just one in a set of big wooden double doors pretty much the same as the ones I was shoved through by the master.

We step through into another garden room, littered with another gaggle of kids between ten and seventeen years – give or take a few – and again I get looks of interest, spite, curiosity, hatred and other mixtures that I can’t track a source down for. It’s not like I’ve come here in any sort of bad copacity. I’m here to work and do my task and do as I’m told just the same as everyone else it. So why is one kid throwing stones at my head, and another sticking his foot out to trip me and another whispering nasty names at me as I pass? What have I done that is so wrong or different to everyone else?

I’m completely confused and by the time we’ve passed through the fifth garden type room I’ve given up looking at anyone and walk with my head lowered and my gaze on Gabriel’s shoes.

It does mean I’m an easier target but even my submission can’t keep me save. Yeah with my gaze lowered I’m not emotionally being bullied by their expressions but I’m still coping sticks and dirt and flying manure and all sorts of other whacks and knocks that I just can’t see coming.

Finally we step through a door and not into another garden. We’re in a hall. By the feel of things we’re deep inside the lowest portion of that giant wall that surrounds the city. But that’s just a guess. Really this place is a maze.

It’s the same type of stone work as the outside wall and all the walls in the gardens and it’s dark and lit by candles which would make sense because no one anywhere has any kind of windows.

“Where are the windows?” I find myself asking into the cold empty hallway.

“Windows let in nothing but danger and fire breathing immortals. What good can come from a window?” Gabriel harshly slams the door shut and walks past me.

It doesn’t take long for doors to appear on the right hand side of the hallway but the left remains solid and uninterrupted except by candles.

It makes sense, the no windows things, but for all the stories I’ve been told I realise now that not a lot of description was put into them. Nothing was said about windows being a danger and piles of wax building up underneath candles that must burn 24/7 – actually this hall is more like a combination between my imaginings of a dungeon and the caves my ma yells at me for exploring. The wax is very stalagmite and stalactite type.

“These are our dorms. There’s four people to a room and everyone must keep the rooms clean. The last new kid we had didn’t get that memo and within a day he had his bed, blankets, belongings – everything – burned. The masters treat discipline with respect above all else. Here, there’s a spare bed in with me,” she stops at a door and points into the room.

I hesitate, looking around at the cramped quarters. There’s four beds alright, with barely enough room to move between them. At the foot of each bed is a wooden chest and on the end of each bed the blankets and pillows are folded and piled neatly. There’s no windows in here either and a single candle sits in a holder protruding from the wall.

A mixture of incomprehensible grumbles wants’ to escape me but I bite it back. Now I get the whole lifetime of having the smallest room in the house, and the fact that whilst my sisters had roses and pinks and embroidery on their quilts I had grey bedding without decoration. I get it, da and ma were trying to prepare me for this, I understand and I hate it.

“Come on, you have to be quick around here.” Gabriel rips my pack off my back marches into the room and dumps it into the third chest.

Just as quickly she’s off down the hall again.

“Wait,” I call, jogging to catch up to her. I want to follow with a thousand questions. Like who else shares the room, when can I eat, where’s the bathroom, and more. “Why was everyone so …” I search for the word, “mean?”

“Not many of us here are just plain mean, you’ll get the hang of it. There, that’s the washroom.” Gabriel points through a large open doorway then she leaves.

That’s it, that’s my introduction to this place. A fast paced walk through I have no real idea what and a few ‘there’s. I have a bed, a room and now I’m being told to wash. I don’t argue.

Gabriel’s gone so I wander into the washroom slightly apprehensive. What if there’s another hallway and mess of rooms to negotiate or a whole bunch of people in here? I dare say getting lost in this place is rather easy and very possible.

But what choice do I have? Thankfully the room is easy to negotiate. On one wall is a huge shelving system, piled up with towels and soaps. Just the ordinary kind nothing special. Much the same as home, except at home I would have the ordinary kind, the plain towel and the plain soap and everyone else would have the floral scented soaps and the sandalwood soaps and the towels with embroidery. Here we’re all the same and again I can see where ma and da’s good intentions came from.

Would it really have made my transition so much harder it I had had the finer things in life before now?

I’ve no clue so I give up on the thought and grab a towel. Then I head to the baths. There’s twenty of them, big huge cast iron ones. I’d hate to see this room filled with all those kids outside.

Advertisements