Seeing the video and pictures out of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is pretty much the last straw in a summer of straws. I visited Puerto Rico on a cruise a couple years back. My mother spent time there as a young child, with her grandparents who were missionaries. That doesn’t mean I have ties, but I can’t look away either. I am furious and distressed and overwhelmingly sad all at the same time. Not just because of the tragedy but because there’s seems to be no rush to help. I even had a woman to tell me, when I pointed this out, to breathe. Because, yeah, breathing is going to help those people instead of, I don’t know, writing my congresspeople to DO SOMETHING. And I am taking breaths. I’m just about hyperventilating.
Anyway. I don’t want to write a whole post about this. In the end the only thing I’ve really got to offer the world is my writing. It’s hard as hell in times like these to write; my instinct is to try to get there and help, but I have no clue as to how to do that and will most likely only mess things up. That’s not my path in life. So. It’s the writing. That’s what I’ve got.
Here’s an excerpt from 20 pages into Children of Liberty. Maybe it’ll take your mind off this summer’s tragedies for a couple of minutes.
“This is heavenly,” I say after the first forkful of Tansy’s roast duck with raspberry sauce. “I’ve never had anything this good in Temple City. Or Central City for that matter.”
Two pretty red circles rise in Tansy’s cheeks. She beams at me. “Really?”
“Really,” I answer. We’re sitting in the dining area of their two-room log cabin. This furniture is handmade as well. A huge stone fireplace heats the entire room—dining room, kitchen and living area.
“Tansy’s a very inventive cook,” Maya says. Her voice is cool and even, but nobody could mistake the pride in it. “No matter how short we are of supplies, she always comes up with something delicious.”
Tansy offers me some bread. “You’re lucky. Yesterday was baking day. We only have enough flour for one loaf a week.”
I’m a fugitive from the law and my life isn’t worth the chair I’m sitting on. That’s hardly lucky, but I try to keep my usual cynicism out of my voice. “I’ve always had good fortune when it comes to running from bears and falling down cliffs.”
Maya raises her eyebrows. Oh well, at least I tried.
Tansy laughs. “If you’re going to make it a habit, do it on baking day.”
“How about I forget the falling part, and just arrive on baking day?”
“You are welcome any day, High Priestess,” Tansy says warmly. Then, for the third time since we sat down, her eyes rest on my Temple tattoo.
I’ve eaten enough that I can stand putting down my fork. Turning my right arm over, I push back my sleeve to show it to her. It’s a gold facetted circle, cut into ten pie pieces to represent each of the Temple’s sects, which are the governmental departments of the Order. Each pie piece is colored with a corresponding sect’s color: 1st, the Guard, is royal blue, the 2nd, Arts and Education is rose pink, and so on. All Temple members have a tattoo of the circle, with the sect they belong to colored in. Only the Prophet, High Priestess and Apprentice—the next in line for Prophet—have all of the pieces colored.
Tansy gasps. “Oh, it sparkles!”
“It’s the kind of ink they use,” I say. I move my wrist for effect and watch it sparkle in the light, courtesy of solar panels on the roof. The tattoo really is gorgeous. Or would be if it didn’t represent oppression, cruelty, and my six years of living in fear. “Go ahead, you can touch it.”
She runs her fingers over it, and then smiles shyly at me. When she’s done, I dig into my dinner again. “So, Maya,” I start casually, “you said Temple City is three days away. How often do you visit?” And who do you visit, my worried brain adds. Friends on the High Council? Inquisitors?
“It’s three days by horse,” Maya says. “You’ll want a couple days to mend first, so that’s five days.” She peers at me. “Will the Prophet be worried about you?”
Very much. But not in the way she thinks.
I need a good answer, though, one that will satisfy curiosity, not inflame it. My head is still so foggy. A minute goes by. A minute and a half. What do I say?
“Maybe Priestess—” Maya starts just as a thought hits me.
“He thinks I’m in SouthMid.”
She starts, then frowns. “Why does he think that?”
Why indeed? And why was I running for my life from a mother bear in the middle of the wilderness? I need a good lie. The best are based in reality. There was a train accident, and I ended up here.
There’s no reality in that, and trains don’t run near the mountains.
I was on a camping trip and got lost.
Closer to reality, but who was I with? The High Priestess would never camp alone. Honestly, the High Priestess, or at least this High Priestess, would never camp, period.
I was on a picnic—
“Try the truth,” Maya says. She speaks coolly, as if she isn’t calling me a liar. I should respond with indignation; the High Priestess is not to be questioned.
Except by Grayson. And the Inquisitors.
I’m not indignant, and I am no longer the High Priestess. At best I’m a dissident, which is just a nice word for traitor. “I ran away.”
Maya raises her brows.
“What?” Tansy asks, perplexed. “But why?”
“I needed some time . . . alone. To think.”
Tansy blinks. Socials, even in terrible situations, would run to other people, not to the wilderness.
Maya puts down her fork with careful precision. “They must be searching for you.”
“I told the Prophet I was going to SouthMid.” That lie works now, and I’m vaguely pleased with myself. Given enough time I can weave lies as soft as silk.
“I’m sure they’ve discovered you aren’t there.”
“Possibly,” I say with a wave of my hand, “but they’d never think to look for me here.”
“So you pretended to board a train,” Maya says in clipped tones, “but instead borrowed a horse. Then rode out into the wilderness with no provisions to speak of. No tent, no lighting. No food. Because you wanted to think?”
“When you say it like that it sounds stupid.”
“I don’t know how I’d say it so it wouldn’t sound stupid.”
“Maya,” Tansy hisses. “She’s the High Priestess.”
“I don’t care if she’s God herself. She’s lying.”
Damn. Now what? She’s not buying my lies, silken or otherwise. “I did run away,” I insist. “And they aren’t looking for me here.” Because nobody in their right mind would do what I did. But I am not in my right mind and Maya is realizing that. She continues to stare at me with that penetrating gaze. She’s waiting for an answer, a truthful one. She reminds me of Jarvis, whom I trusted with my life. Maybe I can trust her too.
At any rate, I’m out of options.
I shove aside the pain that thoughts of Jarvis always bring and hold Maya’s gaze. “I’m a fugitive. The Temple suspects me of spying on the Prophet. I escaped before the Inquisitors could take me in for questioning.”
“Oh,” Tansy breathes. “Pa told us horror stories about the Inquisitors. But surely . . . surely they would treat the High Priestess with reverence? Follow every clue until they discover who is really responsible.”
Neither Maya nor I break our gazes. After a few seconds, her eyes flicker. “She wasn’t set up,” Maya says. “She did it.”
“No,” Tansy says doubtfully.
I just shrug.
Maya sits back and I watch as the tension in her muscles drains away. With it goes the unnatural aging of anxiety, leaving behind a woman who’s probably five or six years my junior. “Well I’ll show you the way back, but you’re welcome to stay with us if you’d rather.”
You’re welcome to die here. That’s what she really means.