“Kezia? Kezia! Come on, we have to get out of here,” Elai’s urgent whispers carried up the great wall to Kezia’s ear, where she was scrambling with great difficulty up the sheer face.
“Just a minute!” She hissed back “I’m so nearly there now.”
She gripped the wall, filling her fingernails with dirt. With each heave she broke a new bead of sweat. They really meant to make it hard to get in and out of this place, she thought. Still, knowing that any of the Outsiders would struggle similarly to get inside The Guarded City was a comfort. She’d heard tales of the Outsiders since she was a child- exiled murderers, thieves, kidnappers, beasts. And of course the Witches. Everyone had heard about the Witches that haunted the Red Wood. Kezia knew she played a risky game even climbing this wall, and for security reasons it was strictly forbidden…but still, if she could only get one look at the outside.
Finally, after reaching into the darkness for hours, her hands found the tip of the collosal stone wall. She breathed an exhausted sigh of relief, found a secure lodging for her foot, and heaved herself up onto the top of the wall. It was wider than she’d thought. Panting for a moment, she lay on her back trying to recover. She could hear Elai’s frantic shouts from below, but could no longer make out what he was saying. Cautiously, she peered over the edge back down to where he was. Elai appeared as a tiny spot at the bottom of the wall. She could see him pacing back and forth now. Then, as if spooked by something, she saw him run. No matter, she thought. He was always freaking out about something. She turned and looked out across the expanse that was the other side of the wall.
The sky carried on forever. In the darkness, very little could be seen but the outline of great trees against that starry backdrop. Kezia had never seen trees so tall – the trees within the city were normal sized, perhaps twice her height, predominantly fruit trees on land designated for farming. Trees that the fruit could easily be picked from with the help of a ladder. The tips of these trees lay only a few metres below the top of the wall. She could hear them swaying with the breeze.
Somewhere, to her right, something huge moved. It sounded like the wind, with rhythmic crashing, a hushed hissing whisper. And where that sound was coming from, small fluffs of white could be seen dancing on the emptiness. Kezia’s curiosity overtook her. She began to walk towards that sound.
Before she could get far, her foot caught on one of the stones jagging at the top of the wall. She felt herself fall, grasping out for something, she tumbled off the great wall into the trees below. Pine needles cut her skin as she tumbled faster and faster, her fingers groping for something, anything to break her fall. Eventually, she managed to grip a branch, and with a shoulder splinting thud, she stopped her descent, slamming into the trunk of the tree as she did so.
Panting and panicked, she glanced around her. The pitch black of the night she could see nothing that would help her get out her predicament.
“Shit,” she said out loud. Why didn’t she ever listen to Elai. He’d told her not to climb the wall. Haunting thoughts of the witches clambered at her brain. The murderers and villains she’d read about in stories could be but metres below her, in the dark tangled forest where she was now held suspended. But no, those thoughts were not helpful. Sitting there worrying would not solve her problems. She needed to focus all of her energy on finding her self a path out.
As she concentrated her mind, a glimmer caught the corner of her eye. Something shivered there, like ripples across water. When she went to stare directly at it, it disappeared, then as she averted her gaze again, it existed there in her peripheral vision. Staring ahead, she reached her hand out to her right where she saw the glimmering. As her hand hit the wave, she felt the slightest of pulls. It reminded her of the small brook that ran past her parents house – the movement of the water was so calm and gentle that it was not enough to move you, but undoubtedly it urged you somewhere.
She moved her arm further into the force. Soon, the whole of her arm, right up to her shoulder was feeling this force, this urging of movement. Once again, curiosity dominated her. She inched further towards it, trying to understand the feeling. With a lurch, the force increased. Kezia’s whole body was pulled into the stream, like some unexpected gust of wind had thrown her. Once again, with a feeling not dissimilar to water, Kezia was washed downstream. The force had pulled her off her branch, swept her right across the bridge between the trees. She felt it wrap around her legs like a rogue wind, suddenly blowing her right leg into an angle, so it bent at the knee. Then, just as quickly as it had come, the force had stopped, and Kezia realised she was perched, perfectly balanced, on another tree branch. The force had moved her, then planted her safely in her next destination.
She was now balancing on the thin strip of branch, arms out to her side. Panting now, and careful not to move, she looked down. As she leaned to her left, that glimmer appeared below her again. She straightened back up again. What was this? Was this some kind of witches magic? She looked over to her right, and, just as it had on the other side, the glimmer appeared. It seemed to follow her movements like some shimmering safety net. She stared straight ahead – she could see the map of the stars again, which told her she now stood at the top of the tree scape. The top of the wall must be nearby.
Then she saw it again, that glimmering stream of air, this time mapped out in front of her like a road. It ran from her feet, several metres in front of her, turning and twisting around tree branches, hinging to the left at a point, then illuminating her destination; the flat top of the wall. She took a deep breath, and chose then to trust instinct over fear, a decision that would come to dictate and characterise the rest of her life.
As she stepped forward onto the glimmering slip stream path, she felt the force carry her limbs, guiding them as if hypnotised, to the next branch on her journey. This time, she felt her legs push off the branch, as if they worked independently from her mind. She realised there was no force there, only the force of her own momentum that was being encouraged by whatever mystical substance this was. She felt her feet kick off from the branch and launched herself into the air, her torso stretching out.
She felt another moment of panic and she moved through the air, unsupported. I’m falling she thought. Then, she felt her fingers compelled to stretch out mid-flight, and they grasped another branch that she had been unable to see. Again she felt momentum build, and without stopping here, her body merely used the branch to swing her into a different direction, launching her into the darkness.
Here, she felt something solid beneath her feet. But again, she felt nothing that compelled her to stop. She ran now, feeling her feet leap and dance over knots and gaps that she hadn’t even known were there. Several more times her body flung her from branch to branch, sprinting and flipping and dancing through the air and the network of wood and pine needles until, unexpectedly, she halted. Panting, she searched for the reason behind the stopping. She moved her arms in the darkness – nothing. She tapped her feet on the ground- she could feel stone, she was on the wall, and not only that, but she was millimetres from the edge. Her body and been compelled to stop moving seconds before it plummeted, again, off the edge of the wall.
She looked down. She could see the light in the cottages below. The working day would soon begin. She turned again and looked out across the great expanse – the sun was beginning to rise, casting light blue over everything. It was then that she understood the size of the world she lived in. She had never seen so many trees – they seemed to carry on forever. Her teachers had been right, beyond the wall, there really was nothing but miles and miles of haunted woodland. But something else too – from the light of the rapidly rising sun, she stared now at those white whisps that carried with them the sound of whispered breathing, in and out, in and out again. And as the light increased, she saw then a huge body of water. Not water like the brook, or like the type from the well. Angry water. More water than she had ever seen in her life. It ran alongside the woodland; where on one side she could see nothing but the endless expanse of trees, on this side it was the same with water. The water sloshed and raged and hissed at her with the power of nothing she had ever known. It billowed up into what looked, to Kezia, like great white horses, only to come crashing back down upon itself again. What made that water move? Was it alive? It sloshed as if it was in a giant bucket, yet the earth itself was not moving to cause such motion.
As the sun rose, it dappled the expanse of water with glitter. The sight was so beautiful, those lights dancing on the moving waves, that Kezia stared long after the point that she should have. Eventually, the world was bathed in the orange light from the sun. She saw a mass of rocks that jutted out across the water that rose up to meet the sky like another giant wall, just like the wall that she stood on. With horror, she noticed that standing on top of that wall was a figure, staring out across the water and across the trees to where Kezia herself had seen.
She went cold. The bravery her sense of awe and wonder had given her dissipated, and instead her mind was filled once again with fear of the Outsiders, the witches and the murderers and the thieves. That figure looked out at her from across the expanse, and she could feel the siginificance of their gaze across the miles between them. Her insides chilled, she gasped, and she dropped to her knees.
She looked over the wall. Elai was back.
“Come on, get down, they’ll see you!”
She heard the familiar clink of the armour of the City guards. With one more glance at the other wall, she saw the figure was gone.
She swiftly began her descent of the wall, goosebumps dappling her skin. What magic had she engaged with tonight? And worse, who had seen her do it?
Kezia dug around in the soil, her small hands finally gripping a the large bulk of a potato. She pulled it out of the earth, brushed it hurredly against her clothes and threw it into her basket with the rest.
“I’m telling you Elai, you’ve never seen anything like it,” she whispered “the trees just keep going and going and going until your eyes can’t see any further. It’s incredible. You gotta come look tonight! I’m heading up-”
“Shhh!” He cut her off, and moments later she heard the thud of military boots against the earth behind her, the slow stomp stomp stomp of the Field Patrol. She kept her eyes down at her work. Eventually, the boots stomped past, and Elai leaned in.
“You’re acting like an idiot Kezia,” he spat “Do you have any idea how close we came to getting caught out after lights out? Old Grimble caught me at the foot of his front garden, wanted to know what I was looking at at the top of the wall. I had to tell him I was sleepwalking – worst excuse I’ve ever used but it’s not like I could tell him I was following you up the flipping wall is it?”
Kezia snorted a laugh.
“Oh calm down Elai. Old Grimble can’t even remember to bring his food vouchers in to town in the morning, you really think he’d…” She quietened as she heard the stomp of boot approaching again, this time faster. They stopped behind her.
“Kezia Watson, stand up please.”
Kezia turned her head to look up at the towering figure of Mistress Leavy. She stood, slowly, brushing her dirty hands against her trousers as she did, averting her gaze back to the floor.
“I sincerely hope that wasn’t your voice I could hear again? We’ve had a few discussions about talking during working hours, I’d hate for you to land extra time again.” Kezia looked at Leavy. She was a tall woman, even for her type. Kezia only came up to her chest, she was a good few inches shorter next to her than even she was used to. All the Greyfleck Valley type were shorter than the Guardians of the city, but Leavy was peculiar in her height. Her face was not unkind, though a little pinched. Mousy brown hair was pulled into a bob at the nape of her neck, as was standard for the Guardians when uniform. Her sword was sheathed at her waist, one hand always on it's hilt, always at the ready. Kezia envied her.
“Greyflecks are not fighters,” her father had told her. When she was young, she’d said him she’d wanted to be a soldier, carry a sword and protect the city like the Guardians did. He’d laughed. “We’re not built for that,” he’d said “that’s why we need them here. They protect us from the Outsiders, and in return we grow and pick the food. It’s the way things are. We work together with our own strengths.”
Kezia realised she was staring at the hilt of Leavy’s sword. The soldier was giving her a quizzical look.
“I’m sorry miss,” Kezia said, dropping her gaze to the floor again.
“This is important work Kezia. You know there’s a food shortage. We have a responsibility to get this food out to the elderly and the sick, you know that. Please, keep your conversations for your own time,” she nodded at the other guards,“especially as you know everyone’s not quite as forgiving as I am.”
Kezia looked down the crop line. At that moment, Guardian Jolster, an imposing and dark looking guard with steely grey eyes, was heaving a young man out of the line. She half expected to see Jolster issue an added hours slip, however, within seconds, his sword was pulled and was pressed against the young mans throat. The young man was now in tears, and Leavy was running towards Jolster pulling her own sword.
Jolster, one hand on the hilt of his sword, stuffed his spare hand into the boys pockets to pull out two withered looking potatoes.
“Theif!” he bellowed. The words echoed across the field, and the guards were now rushing to the scene, swords at the ready. They dragged the young man off, his heels scraping along the floor behind him, he glid past Kezia, who was stood mouth agape. They hadn't seen a thievery attempt in the field for years, but times being as they were, she figured it was hardly surprising. It was something that happened, they all knew that. But they also knew what it meant to get caught...
“I’m sorry,” she heard the young man sob “Please…please don’t. I wont do it again I swear, please! We’re just so hungry!” She heard the his frantic cries as he was escorted of the field.
Elai dragged her to the ground again.
“What are you, stupid? Get your head down and get back to work!” he hissed.
She did as he suggested, her face burning with shock and worry.
“It doesn’t seem like we’ve got a flaming food shortage,” She said, stuffing her basket with more potatoes. The potato field alone stretched as far as 100 of houses. Elai didn’t reply for a while. She could tell he was thinking the same. When he finally did respond, it was only to repeat the message they’d learned in school every week:
“We do not tolerate thieves.”
She looked up at him from the corner of her eye. Sometimes, his acceptance of the way things were annoyed her to the point of wanting to scream. She watched him, his thick chestnut hair partially covering his eyes as he worked, and she was about to launch into one of her usual rant against his acceptance of the order, when she noticed his square jaw was jutted out at an angle as he chewed the top of his lip. She saw the white streak of a tear cut through the mud on his face, and she respectfully averted her gaze.
They all had different ways of coping, after all.
After some time had passed, she spoke again.
“I’m going back up Elai,” she said.
She heard him sigh in frustration as he threw four more potatoes into his basket before he stood up and marched towards the weighing counter.
She understood his anger. Of course it was risky , of course she understood that the crime of violating the security of the city, like that of thievery, was punishable by death. She knew that this was dangerous and, yes, stupid. What if she fell again? And that strange force that that had brought her home through the trees back to the wall– what if that had been witch magic? The risks, of course, were great. But how could she make him understand the beauty and awe that lay on the other side? She simply had to find a way of convincing him to come with her.
A familiar siren sounded across the field, three solid beeps from the town megaphone that signalled that it was time for evening lessons. Kezia, along with the other young farmers who were required to attend their daily schooling, stood up and carried her basket to the weighing counter. The working week was over, and that meant pay day. After queuing in the silent line for several minutes, she placed her daily pickings into the round brass container.
“Kezia Watson,” she said “employee number 5,789.”
A beady eyed woman with a straight mouth and round rimmed glasses, nodded at Kezia from her position seated on the other side of the counter. She began rifling with fluent ease through the colossal file that rested behind her. Eventually, she slammed a thin form onto the table. Kezia could see her name written in black ink at the top, and below that her personal details:
Name: Kezia Watson
Address: House 36, Row B
Employee Number: 5,789
Position: Potato Picker, student.
The beady eyed woman squinted at a dial that sat on the base of the brass container that Kezia’s potatoes now sat upon. She licked her pen, scribbled some numbers on a sheet, and muttered to herself as she calculated exactly how much Kezia had earned that week. Then, after opening a drawer, she pulled out a small hessian sack and began filling it with coins.
“ 58 bronze pieces this week,” she said “you wanna pick quicker than that my love. Next!”
Kezia moved away from the counter, her heart sinking. She wasn’t bringing enough in for her family. She knew that. Her father was aging quickly, and it was only a matter of time before they would let him go from his position at the orchard. His swollen joints were battered with arthritis after years of hard work. He’d been dedicated and promising enough to land himself a position as a manager, which was easier of his hands and feet, and would permit employability for a few more years than labouring would. But despite that, his working life was coming to an end, and soon, just like Old Grimble, the only thing he would be able to bring into the house would be his weekly food vouchers that he could exchange each morning for the basics. They were enough for one person to get by on, but barely, and they would not help towards the cost of clothing, school books, or the required household taxes.
Elai was right. Kezia just needed to get her head down and work, and stop daydreaming about seeing the other side of the wall. There were more important things to worry about now.
She shoved her money sack into her pocket and ran to catch up with her class mates who were swiftly exiting the field, hurrying in order not to be late for history. She could see Elai up ahead, shoulders still hunched in anger. With 3 siblings and a mother who had passed away years ago, she knew Elai was suffering under even more strain than most people. Pulling up alongside him, she linked her arm in his.
“I’m sorry,” she said “I know I’m being annoying. I’ll leave it now, if it makes you feel better.”
He looked up.
“There are people out there who they can’t even find employment for,” he said “and that’s not to mention the thousands of us they couldn’t fit inside the Guarded City. We’re the lucky ones Kez, we have jobs, and food, and some money at least. And we’re safe here. I just don’t understand why you want to risk all that?”
“I know,” she said. “I’m sorry. I have to focus. I won’t go back up. I promise.” She gave him a weak smile. After a few moments of searching her face for honesty, he finally returned the smile, and pulled her arm as he hurried forward.
“Come on,” he said “I’m really not in the mood to get another lecture on the importance of punctuality from Mr Staunch.”
She snorted a laugh as they sped up. Above her, small white clouds speckled a perfectly blue autumn sky, but towards the edge of the horizon she could see the deep grey of a storm coming. She stared momentarily, until her eyes were dragged further down to the ever pressing loom of The Wall. She tore her eyes away, but could still feel it there. It’s shadow hung over her like a forgotten word, always at the tip of her tongue, but never quite uttered. She could feel it tugging at the back of her mind, calling her back. No, she thought, I will keep my promise to Elai. But even as she told herself this, she knew it wasn’t true. Sooner or later, she would have to go back to The Wall.
History group 7G
Provide a brief history of Human and Greyfleck interactions, focusing in particular on the formation of the coalition and treaty of 1234. Why was this coalition necessary and how has this historic event come to affect the modern lives of both species? Use examples if necessary.
As halflings, Greyflecks are smaller in height and stature than their human counterparts. They have always lived alongside humans, although their societies were not documented to have mingled in the way that they now do. At the beginning of the 1200’s, the Halfling races were particularly vulnerable to the abuses of power under the hands of magic wielders. Their inferior strength and inability to fight left them open to abuse, and as a result thousands were killed at the hands of Witches, who were intent on driving anyone they deemed inferior out of the Red Wood.
Thousands of refugee Halflings, led by Arneld Greyfleck, began making their way to the Human city that lay in the heart of the wood, the city we now know as the Guarded City. King Cassiah, the leader of the Humans, offered the Halflings sanctuary and protection in exchange for help with running and managing the city. A treaty was signed, by Greyfleck and King Cassiah that bound both races into obligation to one another. The Humans would provide military protection to the Halflings and risk their lives ensuring no-one (or no thing) would be able to enter or leave the city, thus the Halflings would be safe from persecution. The Greyflecks, as they came to be known, would provide their services in return by growing food that would be shared equally amongst Greyflecks and Guardians alike. The two races thus put their natural abilities to good use and now live alongside each other in a mutually supportive organised structure. The Guardians built The Wall, and the Greyflecks cultivated farmland, and this has been the way of things since.
Whilst the two races continue to live in separate parts of the city, as is respectful of their differing needs and requirements, the agreement has changed somewhat as understandings of economics and fairness have modernised. The Guardians now offer education, health care and housing to the Greyflecks, alongside military protection. In exchange, the Greyflecks pay a household tax. This tax is in recognition of the original sentiment behind the treaty- that both races will live in mutual support, and neither one shall give more than the other. This sentiment is also reflected in Guarded City law, which recognises thievery as one of the most abhorrent crimes an individual can commit.
Despite a mounting pressure from outside evil, the coalition between Humans and Halflings within the Guarded City remains strong. We continue to be aware that when we work together in line with our natural abilities, we remain protected, impenetrable, and, above all, safe from abuse.
Kezia put down her pen. “Halfling,” she muttered. She stared at the word. They make us sound like tiny people, she thought. It was true they were smaller than the Guardian’s, but only by a foot at most. And besides, she’d seen some pretty small Men too. She knew it was the correct terminology, and in order to pass the History element of her studies, she needed to write what her teachers expected. But the word had always made her cringe. Halfling. Half of what?
Her stomach growled with hunger, and she looked over from where she was, sprawled on her stomach by the fire, towards her mother who was chopping vegetables in the kitchen. Three potatoes, one leek, two carrots and half a cabbage. Vegetable soup for dinner again then.
Kezia pushed her essay away from her and let out a groan as she flopped her head onto the rug below her. Her father looked up from his armchair, where, as usual, his head had been buried in a book, a pipe protruding from between the grey bushy mass of his beard.
“What’s up kiddo?” He assessed her over his half-moon spectacles, his curling white eyebrows almost comical. She squinted at him.
“You know you are the hairiest man I’ve ever seen,” she said.
He laughed and pretended to throw his book at her.
“It’s you she gets this cheek from Marnie,” he called to her mother, who looked up to give Kezia a stern smile, her strawberry blonde hair falling across her face as she did so.
“Watch it Kez,” she said, her smile not quite vanishing in time to be convincing. She averted her gaze to Kezia’s father. “Bron, I told you to slow down with that pipe! We don’t have the money to be replacing your Smoke at the moment, and we all know what you get like when you run out. Ration it!” She exclaimed, before turning back to her chopping.
Bron made a face at Kezia. She stifled a giggle.
“Go on,” he said, serious again now “what’s going on? You struggling with it?”
“Only the content,” she replied. He gave her a quizzical look.
“It’s just all shit isn’t it? All this talk about fairness and equality. I pick dozens of potatoes every day, but I get only a few bronze coins. And by the time we’ve paid our tax, we’ve only got enough left to buy a couple of bits of veg. We’d be better of just keeping the sodding potatoes I picked…”
“Kezia!” Her mother hissed, stopping her cooking to glance out of the window.
“I’m not talking about stealing,” Kezia sighed “don’t panic. I’m just saying, I sometimes wonder what we’re paying for, when we’ve barely got enough to eat.”
Bron pulled his pipe from his mouth, smoke billowing around his face as he did so, and closed the book on his lap. He rubbed his forehead as he looked at his daughter. Her wide green eyes and button nose gave her a look of innocence, yet he knew all too well it was deceptive. Even as a child she’d been forthright, outspoken, and far too keen to question everything. Her passion and gall had always made him proud- she was a good worker, and strong as an ox, and her cheek entertained rather than offended him. But her anger and outspokenness had worried him on more than one occasion. He’d hoped she’d grow out of it, hoped it had been a matter of teenage rebellion, but now she was nearing adulthood, and her frustrations had shown no sign of easing. She would be nearing 18 soon, and the added concern of how to find her a husband was now weighing on his mind. How could he find her a suitable home to live in when she spoke her rebellious mind so openly? Perhaps the time had come to reason with her.
“Kezia,” he said “there’s more to living than just eating. The taxes we pay go towards this house, and your education, and the food vouchers I’ll get when I retire…”
“Yes yes, I know all this,” Kezia interjected “Believe me, it’s written here.” She tapped her finger on her essay. “But we could always build our own houses… and I could get enough food to help you after you’re too old to work. And the education bit…well…you could teach me all I need to know! It’s not like I need to know half this stuff anyway…”
She trailed off. Bron was shaking his head, a new plume of smoke tumbling from his mouth. He chuckled.
“How would you build a house?” He said “You wouldn’t even know where to start. As for the food – whose land would you grow your crops on? We’re tenants here Kezia. This is not our city, it is their city. We owe them for the space we occupy and for the services they provide...”
“But maybe we don’t have to!” Kezia cut him off, sitting up now. “Maybe we could get our own land, and live in our own way.”
“And what about them?” he said, beginning to lose his temper. “How would you deal with the wolves, and the Witches and the madmen on the other side of the wall?”
Kezia lowered her gaze to look at her own palms. She had no answer to that question. Bron tilted his head and smiled at her.
“We aren’t fighters Kezia,” he said, more softly now. “Life with the Guardians may not be ideal, but it is a life at least. We either accept this, or we perish on the other side of The Wall. No matter how you choose to look at it, we need them.”
She looked back up at him, his creased grey eyes smiling at her from under his bushy eyebrows. He was a happy man, that could not be denied. Why couldn’t she, Kezia, just learn to be happy with her lot in life too?
There came a tentative knock at the door before it was gently opened, a head of white blonde hair peering around it.
“Is this a bad time Bron?” The guest spoke.
“Ah! Mykel!” Bron said, rising from his armchair by the fire “Of course not, never a bad time for you. Come in my friend! Marnie has just prepared some of her famous soup, would you care to join us?”
Mykel entered now, stooping to step through the doorway, his light blue eyes shining as he grasped Bron’s hand in a firm shake.
“I won’t, though I thank you,” he said “I’ve already eaten with the other Guardians. But as I remember we had a need to speak business- I was passing on my way back to our town, I have a bottle of Vanilla Brandy that needs drinking and I thought, why not kill two birds with one stone?” He grinned, holding up a dark round bottle that glinted brown and red in the firelight.
Bron laughed, clapping Mykel on the shoulder “Perfect! Perfect!” he said “Come, take a seat here…” he motioned towards his armchair, limping towards one of the chairs by the dining table in the corner.
“No, no! – good evening Marnie, how are you?” Mykel bent to plant a kiss on Marnie’s cheek who was now removing the bottle of brandy from his hands ready to pour some glasses “Bron! You sit back where you were, I’m going to warm myself on the floor there by Kezia anyway, if you don’t mind.” He smiled at Kez. “How you doing?”
Kezia smiled back, shuffling up to make more space by the fire as he sat next to her. She held Mykel’s icy gaze, blushing slightly at his impeccably smooth skin and wide smile. As a man not long past his mid-twenties, he was young for a Guardian, and a Commander at that. He’d found his way into the position as a reward for an act of extreme bravery that Kezia wasn’t sure the details of. He had a way about him that put everyone around him at ease, even the Greyflecks, and it left Kezia wishing that all the Guardian’s could be a bit more like that. Maybe she might feel more…safe. She turned her head to look into the fire, breaking their eye contact. She suddenly felt incredibly self conscious.
“You’ve entered our conversation at the perfect moment Mykel,” Bron said “Our Kezia here is struggling to understand exactly why she can’t just do everything herself.” He chuckled.
Kezia turned away from the fire, flames reflecting in her eyes as she gave her father a very hard stare. Bron’s laughter died down. “It’s hard for her to understand certain…restrictions that are placed on us.” He continued, nodding a thank you to Marnie as she handed him his glass of brandy. “Restrictions?” Asked Mykel, smiling as he took a sip from his own glass.
“Oh, you know,” Bron continued, swilling the deep oily liquid in his hand “she’s yet to fully understand the economics of things…”
“I understand,” Kezia interrupted him, keen for him not to make her look any more of an idiot than he already had “I just…” She looked back at the fire. “It sometimes just feels like we’re kept here, like we’re their pets.”
An awkward silence followed, filled only by the sounds of the crackling fire and Marnie’s soup simmering gently on the stove. The tension was palpable.
“Mykel, I am sorry,” Marnie spoke softly, her voice filled with embarrassment “I don’t know what’s wrong with…”
“Marnie, it’s fine,” Mykel cut her off, and when Kezia looked up at him, she saw her was staring at her, a look of puzzlement on his face “are we really so bad to live with?” He asked, and she saw the faintest glimmer of hurt in his eyes.
“Not everyone,” she mumbled, looking away again. She could smell the vanilla brandy in the air, mixing with the woody perfume of her father’s smoke. It was making her dizzy. The awkward tension and the heat from the fire were making her uncomfortable. She wished everyone would just stop staring at her.
“You know what Marnie,” Bron said “If we want our daughter to start thinking like a grown up we’d best start treating her like one. How about a tipple of this brandy, Kezia, eh?” He smiled at her, cheeks already turning pink from the alcohol. Kezia looked over to her mother who reluctantly nodded and began to pour her a glass, rolling her eyes at Bron.
The first sip was like a gulp of liquid ember, burning and stinging her throat as it slipped down and causing Kezia’s eyes to water. But gradually, the burning sensation began to turn into a warming sensation, and the sweet comforting notes of the vanilla became more and more apparent. A softness came over Kezia, like a hug from the inside out, and she felt her limbs and eyes long for a slumber she wasn’t quite ready for.
After dinner was eaten and tidied, Marnie retired to bed with a candle and a book, and Bron and Mykel stayed at the table to talk finances and business. Kezia curled up in her fathers chair, and with the inner warmth of the brandy, the faint orange firelight, and the deep gentle sound of men’s voices guiding her, she drifted off to sleep.
She was running, feet pounding the strong sturdy branches beneath her. She felt the force rather than saw it now, and launched fluently in and out of it’s current navigating her way through the maze of twigs and leaves. She leaped into the air, her hands grasping a branch and swung herself round once, twice, three times before letting go, tumbling through the night and landing silently onto the forest floor. Grinning to herself, she ran towards a nearby try. She bounced off it’s trunk with one foot, then off the trunk of one adjacent to it, and carried on this way until she had reached the dizzying heights of the treetops again. Still grinning wildly, she danced across the very top of the trees, the stars whizzing past her like tiny fireflies. Never landing for long enough to place any weight down, the leaves below her merely rustled as if in the breeze. She was wild. She was free. She was where she should have been.
Something warm and soft hit her in the face and wrapped itself around her head. Screaming, and clawing at it, she finally managed to pull it away from her. In her hands, she held a giant crow, it’s white eyes seeming to pulse as they stared at her. It’s great wings flapped and flapped in fury as its talons reached towards her eyes, trying with all it’s might to scratch her. In her shock, she lost her balance and tumbled through the canopy. She tried to hold on to the crows body, hoping it would keep her up in the air. Instead, she merely took a chunk of spiky black feathers in her fist as the bird shook her off. The furious thing launched up into the air, watching her with those stiff eyes as she fell towards the earth, further and further and further down.
But as she landed, it was not the spine cracking thud she was expecting. Instead, she seemed simply to glide and land, soft as rain, into someone’s arms. She looked up. White blonde hair, ice blue eyes and a wide smile greeted her. Mykel held her close to him. “No more flying for you Kez,” he said “It’s dangerous.”
She woke with a jump as she felt a hand on her shoulder. Looking up swiftly, she saw Mykel’s head bent over her.
“Sorry to wake you,” he whispered, straightening up awkwardly “I was just trying to cover you with a blanket, the fires going out…”
Kezia looked over to the dining table. Her father sat on a chair, head lolled onto his shoulder, deep snores emitting from his throat.
“He drank all your brandy!” She hissed.
“Of course he did,” Mykel laughed, and Kezia smiled back at him. “I’ve got to go, I’ve already stayed much longer than I should have.” He turned, walking towards the door.
“Mykel,” Kezia called after him. He looked back at her. Perhaps the brandy was still having an effect on her, or maybe in her sleepiness she felt even more reckless than normal, but she found herself saying: “Will you come back soon?”
For a moment, Mykel looked surprised. Then he smiled at her, nodded silently, and reached behind him for the door handle. Kezia, burning pink, pulled the blanket up to her chin.
“I don’t think of you as a pet you know,” Mykel said, still smiling as he slipped out of the door, pulling it softly closed behind him.
Kezia grinned to herself in the dimming light, and rolled onto her side in the soft armchair. Something stabbed the inside of her hand sharply, disrupting her sleepy pleasure. Slowly, she unfurled her clenched fist. There, in the centre of her palm, scrunched and disheveled, a pitch black feather stared up at her, it’s deadly darkness shining with the red of the fire.