Author: Jessica Wright PM
When Temperance is kidnapped by two men for her powers, she must figure out how to get away, how to deal with a blonde boy named Chastity who won't leave her alone, and find out the truth of the state of her country. Trashy teen fic novel for the win!Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Romance - Chapters: 3 - Words: 8,979 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 07-23-12 - Published: 04-24-12 - id: 3016571
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Temperance felt her hands curling into the wood of the railing by the stairs as she listened to the debates going around her in a wealth of variety of female voices—high ones, low ones, young ones, old ones. Ones that rasped, ones that whispered, ones that squealed. She wanted to scream. She wanted to beat against the walls and cut through the iron bars on the windows so she could leap out and fly. Or fall. It wasn't death she specifically wanted. Just a chance not to be there, in that high vaulted home with its stone walls and wood floors, and the quiet halls full of industrious women slaving at their work, all for her. That was what she could never understand. How could anyone do all this for one person? And why could there never be any males? Some days she thought she could cry just for want of one masculine tone, floating to her with low and rough and haggard tones. The mere idea of it sounded beautiful. But there was nothing male in her life at all. Everything involved females—soft colors, thin veils, soft and fine fabrics—and Temperance was beginning to wonder how someone could stand it. And whenever she tried asking for something, like wool for a scarf, the women would always laugh and pat her head and tell her she'd settle down soon.
Settle down. As if wanting something that wasn't pink and frilly was a trait you grew out of! She'd been in this environment for two months and she already suspected they were lying to her to stop her from jumping out the window.
Then again, maybe that was the reason for the bars—maybe some girl before her had tried it. The thought made her bite her lip, already swollen from the treatment. She worried it a little between her teeth, then released it as she heard footsteps coming up the spiral staircase. She already knew the lecture she'd get for that treatment. She also knew what she would be told if they found her standing by the window, so she flung herself onto the bed and tried to ignore the feeling of pink silk against her skin. She had her face buried in the fluffy pillows as the door creaked open, and she counted the swishes of skirts. Three. Ah, it was the Mothers.
Insistent hands tugged her upright, and as she attempted to blink the black hair that had fallen over her face—they did let it get so long—she felt someone tugging the pale blue nightgown off her body as if she was a mere babe, unable of moving enough to do it herself. She bore it without a word and let herself be moved gently to stand upright, and as the hair was brushed from her face, she stared sullenly at the face of Mother Joy.
"You look so much prettier when you smile, Tempie." the woman told her. Temperance reflected that she couldn't say the same about Mother Joy. She had a narrow pinched face, and her hair was bunched up onto a bird's nest of a bun on the top of her head, all ratted and grey. Even her wrinkles looked like they had frown lines. Temperance did not smile. She hated being called Tempie.
"Oh, leave it be," said Mother Patience from behind her. That didn't surprise her. Mother Patience was always the one who started talking for Temperance as if the girl had no free will of her own. "She doesn't have to smile. It makes her look more mysterious that way, anyways. And with that black hair of hers…it's a shame your mother was foreign, girl. Your father had such nice coloring. Hold still!"
As Temperance had not, in fact, moved, she said nothing, but she did glower as Mother Patience, who was short and plump and had the blonde hair that she treasured so much, crossed in front of her line of vision to fetch a white robe. Temperance hated the white robe. She'd always spill things over it and then get scolded for not living up to her namesake. But it was so pristine. She didn't get how to avoid it. Still, standing naked in the not-exactly-warm stone room, the seventeen-year-old was hardly going to protest as they pulled it over her head. Then her hair was pulled back and she could feel Mother Patience's hard brush strokes tugging her head back as Mother Joy bustled around her, straightening out the wrinkles in the folds as a third woman—Mother Eloquent—came to stand in front of her with her bag of makeup. Mother Eloquent was taller with brown hair and, in the interests of trying to achieve her life name, had taken a vow of silence for the month. This was the only one who Temperance liked, so she smiled back with a minimum of reluctance even as Mother Patience continued to yank her hair back. Temperance's hair never behaved, she already knew that, so she dealt with it and just closed her eyes to wait. Eventually the six hands ushered her in front of a mirror that Temperance kept covered and instructed her to "look, now, won't you be a dear?" She cautiously opened one eye. Her reflection did as well—one dark eye set in tanned skin, with her hair pinned carefully away from her face and flowing far down her back, and she knew that the long flowing qualities of the robe flattered her figure. Well, what little of one she had, being seventeen and still as flat as a board. The wide dark face turned into a scowl, and Mother Joy was instantly there to scold her on creating frown lines, a topic which Temperance considered her to be an expert. And then she was being ushered down the stairs.
"So what's the event for today?" she asked of Mother Patience, who seemed most inclined to get her out the door and was always willing to talk about anything.
"The parade, don't you remember?" Their feet sped down the stairs. Had it not been for the hands on her elbows, she knew she would have fallen at the speed they were going. The robe wasn't made for walking. It fell far beyond her feet to a practically unsafe level, and Temperance had to pause to tug her hands free so she could fist the material in either hand. Only then did she feel safe to continue, but she could still feel all six hands hovering around her frame. Two months and she'd already gotten used to that. Mothers Joy, Patience and Eloquent were her constant companions—their shrill, quick and chatty voices rang in her ears from the moment she woke to the moment they doused the last candle. Sometimes her own voice, low for her age and tempered with the melodious tones granted her by a passable singing voice, sounded so out of place among them that she was startled into silence.
"Of course." She should have remembered the parade. It was the event of the year. People would gather around to see their seeress, to touch the beautiful white robe, but never to hear her speak, as the voice of a seer was only to be heard by the priestesses who guarded her.
Although, for Temperance supposedly being their treasured seer, the priestesses never seemed to pay much attention to her.
They had travelled into the city in a caravan a week ago, with Temperance being carried in one of the sedan chairs she'd always enjoyed watching as a girl. She hadn't realized how stuffy they could get. The curtains stopped her from seeing the sites and trapped the heat in, and the only good thing of the situation was that Mother Eloquent had rode with her, and Mother Eloquent couldn't speak, so Temperance could brood in peace. She'd never been to the city before. She'd grown up in the country, and so when she had first heard about going, she'd been quite excited. Once in it, with the noise and the bustle and the shaking as the sedan chair moved out of the way of the passing crowds, she just wanted to leave. But as soon as she'd arrived, her work had begun. She'd seen the king, who was plump and young and inclined to sweat and not at all like she'd pictured when her father had told her stories of the graciousness and nobility of his Majesty. She'd met the nobles, who had all watched her with respectfully, but they'd been tinged with the greed she saw on Mother Joy's expression from time to time. She hadn't been allowed to speak. But that was all right. She wouldn't have known what to say anyways. The next day she'd gone to some dinner, then to bless a temple, then to sprinkle the holy water on the peasants they determined were safe enough for her to interact with, and so on. She'd gone through the motions that she'd been taught, that she'd seen as a girl, but her mind had been miles away. It wasn't hard. They said it made her look mysterious and brooding when she let herself go like that. Very like a seer, Mother Joy said, with the enunciation that indicated she was pleased. So Temperance shrugged and continued daydreaming of fields and clear starry nights when she'd lay beside her father and find constellations with him.
She was only brought back to reality when she realized there was a small pill being held out in front of her by a very anxious but smiling Mother Eloquent. Temperance stared down at it, then back at the nervous Mother.
"Not today, please." As always, her voice sounded strange among the others. Quiet, timid, and so strangely low and foreign. She cleared her throat and tried again. "The parade will only last a few hours, surely—"
"We can't have you having a fit here, love," Mother Patience said briskly, and picked up the pill, stuck it between Temperance's teeth, and then took a cup to pour some water into her mouth before she could protest. Temperance coughed, but the pill went down anyways. And then the hands had caught her again and she was being guided out into the courtyard. She briefly caught a glimpse of two white horses and then she was being pushed into a beautiful golden carriage, finer than any she'd seen the nobility in. It had no top, so everyone could see her. She wasn't sure how she felt about being gaped at, but anything was better than being closed off again, so she stepped in with what little dignity she could, only pausing as she heard the ominous rip of the fabric. She looked down and, sure enough, her bare feet had gotten tangled in the fabric of her robe. Mother Patience was turning red, and Mother Joy's chest was inflating like an angry sparrow's, but Mother Eloquent saved the day by giggling and waving the other two away before stepping into the carriage with Temperance. The Mother leaned forward to squeeze her hand, and then leaned back so she could wave the driver on. Temperance smiled back and sank back, letting her eyes shut. They left the courtyard. The roar began.
The man with the russet red hair had a bundle of money. The innkeeper could hear it jingling at his waist whenever he shifted his weight. He also had a big sword—the occasional shift of the cloak revealed the hilt, which was well made but serviceable. These facts indicated two things to the blacksmith. One: the man was wealthy enough to be quite good for some entrepreneurial robber in a town with a crime rate higher than the rate of employment. So the second fact followed that the sword wasn't there for show. These added up into one crystal clear solution. This man was going to offer him an easy way and a hard way, and it'd be far better to take the easy way.
Still, some semblance of protest had to be shown, just for the idea of the thing.
"You know I can't let you up there," the innkeeper said, and then hesitated. The man's manner, style of dress and general…hairiness indicated that he was a foreigner. Maybe he really didn't know. "I mean, ever since some nu—"
Bushy brows rose, although the man's expression kept its unnervingly stony cast. The innkeeper backtracked.
"I mean, disappointed citizen, of course, took a dim view of the seer and shot at her—well, what I mean is that they keep the roof all shut up. I can't do anything about it. It's against the law for anyone to go up on the roof. Even if it just is for a, uh, good view."
That was the excuse the man had given, but the innkeeper had seen his share of weapons, and that bulge under his cloak looked suspiciously like a quiver.
Then again, the hand that pushed back the cloak was most definitely grabbing a sword.
"I have nothing against the seer," the man said. The innkeeper was no longer watching him. He was watching the large hand as it idly slid down the hilt of the sword, blunt nails tapping against the metal and continued to stare, mesmerized, as it then strayed to the opposite side, to a coin purse. "I just want to get a better look." The hand removed one coin, two, three, four, five, six; all glinting gold against his reddened skin and held between his fingers with care. He lifted his hand up to his face, and the innkeeper's eyes followed them up fast enough to notice the flicker of a ghostly smile on the strange man's face. "Why don't you take these," he suggested, "to make it worth your while? Besides, what's the harm? In the worst case, you could always take the gold, and when the guards come knocking, tell them you threatened me into it." The gold flickered and vanished from view as the man folded the coins into his palm, but the glint seemed mirrored in his strange eyes. "I could even tie you up to make it more convincing."
The innkeeper swallowed. Six gold coins meant he could afford a real dowry for his daughter. And what did the seer mean to him anyways? They came and went so quickly these days—some said the visions weakened them, or something. Besides, he just wanted to see the sights, right? No harm in a foreigner. Didn't know their ways. Besides, that sword really did look nasty.
"First door to the left," he said.
It was a busy day, the type Josef was no longer accustomed to seeing. The sun was bright, glinting off the metals polished to a shine for the parade, and he was forced to shield his eyes to get an accurate look at the area. The noise bothered him—all jangles and cheers and whoops of joy. It was certainly a happy country for having just had their main religious figure replaced. But perhaps they viewed her replacement as a renewal. Josef couldn't see her yet, but he knew enough to be patient. She'd come. He just had to wait it out. So he leaned against the raised edge of the ceiling and observed. He could smell the cinnamon of the baked goods being sold, hear the sizzle of meat and sniff the savor that wafted to his nose. He could hear the jingle of jewelry as women danced through the center of the narrow streets, hear the cling of armor as soldiers followed. Not all were ornamental, Josef noticed. Oh, their weapons looked harmless enough—more gilt than steel—but their eyes scanned the crowds and the rooftops. For threats, most likely. Josef could recognize the signs. Gods knew he'd done it often enough. He sank down into a crouch and remained there, listening and waiting, the pounding of his heart overriding even the roars of the crowd. Better to stay there. He wasn't here to gawp at the swirl of colored silks and the march of a well-trained army. He wasn't here for the sights, smells and sounds. He had another purpose. He shrugged off his cloak and began rummaging through the pouches. A square of white cloth was fetched, and this he tied over and under his long auburn hair. Another square, this time of red, went around his mouth until only his eyes glinted. Then came the crossbow, disassembled to be smaller, and he began to quickly assemble it with calm, practiced gestures. He kept his head tilted to the side, just listening to the crowd. The seeress, he'd been told, was the only one with a cart driven by horses. It was an honor no one else was allowed. Well, that was fine by him. Horses in a crowd were easy to spook and provided an excellent distraction. They'd serve his purposes well. He finished fitting together the crossbow and carefully slotted in an arrow. Only then did he turn back to the ledge. He leaned back against it, out of range of the guards, and held the weapon up by his head. With his eyes shut, he listened. And he waited.
The pill always made Temperance feel as if she was floating. Not necessarily floating in the air, but floating through her own life. She felt disconnected from her body. Her feet moved without a will of her own, and although she could see a hand waving in front of her, she didn't believe the evidence of her eyes that said it to be hers. Perhaps that was the reason she watched her own kidnapping with so little interest.
It started simply. Or simply to her, because she was watching with a head that was clear and detached. They were turning a corner—the one that was so narrow that the horses had to strain their harnesses to press closer together—when an arrow suddenly whizzed from one of the nearby ceilings. It hit one of the horses in the flank. Red blood stained the white of its fur. It reared, bucked, sent people fleeing from it as they attempted to press themselves against the wall, tried to get away from its flashing hooves. The other horse was beginning to panic. One of the mothers had come to try to comfort it—was yanking on the reins, trying to get it to settle. But the injured one kept thrashing until, at last, the yoke broke. It bolted. Temperance could feel the carriage jerk as it dragged the harness with it. The other horse wasn't trained to hold in this kind of siege. It bolted too. Temperance was thrown off her feet and back into the wooden frame of the carriage. She could see more arrows flying into the crowd, sending them scattering. People were screaming.
And in the midst of all this, she saw a figure standing on a balcony nearby, dressed in a flowing tan robe. The carriage got closer and closer to his approach and then, like a spring releasing its tension, the man jumped. The carriage shuddered at the impact. And a man in a turban with bright brown eyes picked himself off the carriage floor. He bared very white teeth in a smile and made a gesture as if to tug a forelock in respect.
"Madame Seer," he greeted. Then he grinned again and climbed onto the front seat. Temperance turned her head to watch as the Mother in the front seat was thrown off, and then they were careening around a corner she'd never seen before and hanging on for dear life. From another roof, a figure in red leapt off and hit a tent top, rolling off it to land on the ground. He picked himself up and took off running again, after them. He slid something that looked like a crossbow over his shoulder. The turbaned man pulled hard on the reins, making the carriage skid as it slowed. He was looking over his shoulder and shouting at the man in red.
"You blue-blooded son of a muraka! Hurry up!"
The man in red—who was not tall, but bulky and only made more so by his armor—said something back to the turbaned man that sounded equally as rude, grabbed onto the side of the carriage and swung himself up onto the seat next to him.
"Drive," the man in red snapped. And the carriage took off again. Temperance just let herself be pressed against the backseat and listened to the cries of the Mothers, of the people she was supposed to protect in some intangible way, and closed her eyes. They only opened when she felt hot breath on her face.
The man in red was in front of her, just sitting there. One hand was grasping the seat by her head, and the other pressed against the cushion by her waist. She just stared at him, noting the flutter of the cloth covering his mouth, the flap of the white cloth on his forehead, and the intensity of honey-colored eyes. He removed the hand by her head and snapped his fingers in front of her. She didn't flinch.
"Drugged," he said briefly, turning over his shoulder to address the turbaned man. "We should probably attempt—"
Whatever he was going to say didn't make it out of his mouth, because before he could say a single word more, she lashed out with her knee and caught him in the chest, sending him tumbling back. Then she had thrown herself out of the cart and had hit the ground, rolling. It hurt. But the pill had a way of restraining pain. So she stumbled to her feet and quickly took off running again, her bare feet scraping against the stones of the cobblestones. Her robe kept tangling around her legs, but she didn't care. She might not have been thinking emotionally, but even her logical mind on the drug could recognize why it was good to run from a kidnapper. But without the adrenaline that came from fear and terror, she couldn't move as quickly, and she heard the man tumble from the cart behind her.
"Murad!" she heard him yell. "Get the horse!" And then his feet were thudding after her very quickly. But she thought she might yet win, might yet beat him, but her robe caught under her feet, and she was sent sprawling to the ground. A firm hand closed around her wrist, and she was hauled up to her feet, no matter how she tried to struggle against him. But the logic made her recognize that she had no other options, and so she eventually stopped struggling, especially as she was pulled flat against his chest and felt the clink of the interwoven rings of metal. She fought a little more as she heard sandals flapping, and the skids of a man trying to stop too quickly.
"You caught her," his accented voice was out of breath.
"Without any help from you." The bulkier man was also panting. Later, she'd be gratified to realize this, but with the pill, she realized that it afforded her the opportunity for distraction, and tried to renew her struggles with an elbow to the man's ribs. His breath wheezed out, but his grip remained firm, making her think of him as more of a rock than a man. Not that it mattered, because around her she could hear the call of the guards and the shouting of the Mothers. Soon she'd be going home. The man in red met the man in the turban's gaze.
"We have to move," the latter said.
"I know." And then, holding an arm around her neck to keep her still, the man in red fetched a dagger from his waist, and hit her on the head. Her knees crumpled under her as her vision blacked out.