from At Setting
Notes: This is an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo novel At Setting. In this passage, Cora's blue eyes have been discovered and she and her father have been taken from their Village to the Tower. Cora's father is thrown into prison while Cora, due to her newly discovered status as an Ide, is being held under house arrest at the Idol's Palace until the Council decides what will be done. She has been advised by an errant Guard to ask for permission to accept a visitor, and now she waits to see who has made the request. A preceding excerpt can be found here, and a full synopsis for the novel can be read here.
The hours seem to drag on, but I lose myself in my drawing and before I know it the Guards are changing. I hear their shuffling outside the door and footsteps retreating down the hall. Once the new Guards are in place, I chance a look over my shoulder to the doorway and carefully examine their necks. I immediately see that one is my Sympathetic Guard and I am glad that I followed his whispered orders to ask for a visitor this morning. If I had waited until now, I may have drawn too much attention to him.
I smile to myself and go back to the drawing. This morning, they took away my pencils and instead provided me with a deep black substance. They call it charcoal. It frustrated me at first. I could not draw a well defined line; it seemed to lose its point quickly and degrade into a sweeping smudge of black. But after experimenting for the better part of a day, I’ve come to love the subtle shadows and delicate greys that I can create with the charcoal.
In truth, I had never drawn before I was imprisoned in the Palace. We never had money for the supplies and I certainly never had the time. But when I desperately tried to think of what activity would be becoming of an Ide, what first popped into my mind were the little drawings that Hillary used to do in her notebook during recess while the rest of the children ran wildly. She had always seemed so sophisticated, sitting on the steps of the school house drawing with the notebook in her lap. Hillary … I wonders how she is faring. I hope the blow to her head has not disfigured her to the point where she is unable to enter the
As these thoughts wander through my head, I put the finishing touches on my sketch. It is a depiction of the rows and rows of sunflowers that I saw in the
So lost am I in the world of my drawing that I don’t pay attention to the muffled sound of steps moving down the hall away from my room. But when two pairs echo back down the hall, I cock my head. I can distinctly make out the sharp, even steps of the Guard, but there is also a pair of footfalls that sound more reluctant and scuffing. My body tenses. Who will they bring? I do not get up quite yet, but keep my back to the door and listen.
I hear the set of footsteps get closer and stop outside my door. The Guards begin talking in low voices and I strain to hear their exchange.
“I don’t know what she wants,” my Sympathetic Guard was says with exasperation. “She only said for you to come right away.”
“But –“ the other tries to interject.
“Just go,” my Guard replies harshly. “I can handle these two. I don’t want a repeat of the last time.”
The second Guard doesn’t say a word, but I soon hear his rapid footfalls retreat down the hallway.
Then, in a low voice, “Hurry. You won’t have much time. Ten minutes at most. I will keep watch, but you much be quick.”
I spring to my feet and whip around to face the door, not knowing what to expect. My heart pounds with nerves, but I keep my head erect and wait for my visitor. My jaw drops when a moment later I see a sheepish Cade filling up the door frame.
“Cade,” I am shocked to see him, but breathe in his name as if my life depends on it. “I – I didn’t know that they would bring you!”
Seeing him causes a flood of memories of my father and all the afternoons they whispered together at the kitchen table of our now deserted bungalow. Tears well up in my eyes and before I know what I am doing, I fling myself at Cade with all my might. He staggers back a bit at my force, clearly as surprised as I am at my action. His arms quickly go to my shoulders, which he grips tightly as he gives me a little shake.
“Cora!” he says urgently, but not unkindly. “Stop this! You have to get off of me! Control yourself!”
I look up from where I have buried my head into the soft folds of his jacket, partly from embarrassment at my emotional outburst and part from relief to see a familiar face. I look up and my watery blue eyes meet his. Our gazes lock and for a moment I want to stare; it feels so good to finally be able to look into his eyes without fear. He looks back with apprehension. Probably trying to gauge how crazy I have become and whether he had made a mistake by coming here, I think. I come to my senses for a moment and remember that I should not be touching him just in case someone is watching. I gasp, bringing a hand up to cover my mouth and take a quick step back. But I don’t break eye contact.
“I’m sorry,” I say frantically, rubbing at my eyes, smoothing my hair, and setting my jaw, trying to compose myself back to the appearance of an Ide. Cade sighs heavily. I think I see a small smile play at the corner of his lips. I am not sure if Cade has ever smiled at me before, and suddenly he is not. He takes my arm and quickly guides me to face the window with our backs to the door.
“Is it safe to talk?” I whisper, glancing over my shoulder at the attentive Guard.
“You needn’t worry about Rodger. He’s one of us.”
So my Sympathetic Guard had a name. Rodger. I liked the anonymity better. Now that I know his name, I feel as if I am putting him in harm’s way, though I’m not sure how or why.
“What do you mean, one of us?” I ask, a little afraid to know the answer. Something tells me that Cade doesn’t mean that he is a Villager.
“Never mind about that now. We won’t have very long, so listen: you’ve been doing everything correctly and now you must continue to behave as you have been. I was so pleased to hear that you had come up with a way to make them see you in a different light without instruction.”
I think back to the hours spent singing, drawing and suppressing my emotions, all while trapped in this little room, not knowing what will become of me. “So what will happen now? When will I get out of here?” I whisper.
He looks surprised. “You won’t, of course. At least not for now.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, my eyes flying open with panic and my voice rising. I grasp Cade’s forearm and squeeze tightly. “What about father? And your mother? Cade, I—“
“Shhh!” he shushes me sharply. “Everything will be okay, if you just listen to me and do as I say. They are very seriously considering allowing you to enter
“What?!” My head reels. What is he talking about? I could never be an Ide; it is already too late. I missed the first two years of training. I don’t have a mother, let alone a sponsor. Girls have been disqualified for much, much less. “Why would they do that?”
“They may not have a choice, after what happened to Hillary—“
“Hillary!” I grasp the name. “What has become of her? Is she recovering?”
“Hillary is dead,” Cade says flatly. Then he bends his head close to mine and speaks very softly into my ear. “The Villagers rioted after you were taken away. It was as if they had lost two Ides in one day. The Coucil is afraid. If you continue with your good behavior, they will place you with the other Ides in Academy and let you finish out the final two years of training. You must do succeed, if we are all to make it.”
“All? What do you mean?”
There is a hiss from the door. Rodger is letting us know that our time to speak freely is limited; the other Guard is returning.
“There’s no time. Here, take this,” he presses a small key into my hand and my fingers automatically close tight around it. “Keep it well hidden. Don’t let anyone know you have it – not anyone.” He is already retreating to the door and I hear the footsteps coming nearer. “You will know when it is time to use it.”
Before I can speak another word, Cade is gone and I am left with a clenched fist and a feeling as though I will drown in this task put before me.