|Jackie of the Beanstalks
Author: ASLee PM
[For NaNoWriMo] Jacqueline's village is hidden among huge smelly beanstalks that hide them from the giants that one hundred years ago hunted humans to near-extinction. But with food resources dwindling in their hideaway, Jackie only finds one decision capable of making her life worth something before she starves to death: to go out and kill a giant.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Fantasy - Chapters: 8 - Words: 48,333 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 11-24-12 - Published: 11-03-12 - id: 3071209
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Considering all that Jackie had put herself through, the presentation before the council should have been nothing. However, she still felt herself shaking after talking to them. Maybe it was because she hadn't succeeded with them as she had against behemoths and giants that she felt terrible. Even still, she managed to leave looking as though it hadn't mattered, head high. As they exited, Harvey patted her on the shoulder.
"We haven't lost quite yet," he said.
"Oh I know," Jackie said, not so convincingly. She had ideas but doubt had only been strengthened, not diminished.
Lionel felt only the heat of the situation and felt despair. He hung his head in defeat. Percy gasped him by the shoulder and gave him a firm but encouraging nod. His other hand woven with Eliza's, he brought himself before Jackie.
"If we need the metal as much as you think we do, then we shouldn't sit around and wait hoping they're going to see it our way," he declared.
"I don't plan to."
"Good! Then, let's do what Eliza practically suggested. Let's get the support of the village behind you. The elders lead the village by the people's grace. They can't afford to oppose the majority."
"I think you'll find the elders capable of swaying a crowd. But I agree with you. I may be the one supposed to come up with the ideas, but if you don't mind, how do you propose we proceed?"
Percy smiled, pleased to be looked to. He looked to Eliza for agreement with his words as he explained his plan. "I think going door to door might be a brilliant plan if everyone knew who you were. Many, even though it's the same village, don't know what you look like. But everyone knows the name of the girl who started this revolution. So I say we should collect everyone we can to speak with you and hear your case."
"When villagers are much more emotional and prone to rioting? It could be dangerous."
"It will certainly be dangerous for someone," Percy agreed. "I'm just counting on that being the other guy. I bet almost everyone in the village has eaten the meat you helped get. I bet they're all thankful. When we would go on hunts, we ate pretty much all the meat we got just to keep going. So for any of these families to get a real cut is something."
Jackie had to agree from experience and nodded. "Alright. Well then I assume we're splitting up. I'm going to go with Lionel to his father first."
They agreed upon the plan and split to reconvene that evening, hopefully with a sympathetic crowd. Harvey stuck with Jackie as she more or less expected. Both of them followed behind Lionel as he led them through a part of the village Jackie couldn't remember going through. It wasn't that it looked different but even in a village of a hundred and something citizens, Jackie couldn't plausibly have been all over it unless she tried - which she hadn't. She had only worked at the field closer to her home, been to her nearby neighbors, and down the paths that led to the river. These houses Lionel took her past looked the same as many others. The ones closest to the Elders' Hall were similar in original construction, patched when needed by more modernly available materials: clay and beanstalk leaves. The farther away from the building, the more they were like Jackie's home: a small circular one-roomed building made of clay bricks with only make-shift doors.
Soon they came to a ring of houses that were set a bit off the path and curved in a semi-circle so that the homes created an open space between the lot of them, a sort of courtyard. On a relocated tree stump - clearly for the purpose of a seat - sat a weathered man working patiently with a rock to his sword, laid gently across his lap with great loving care. Each strike created small sparks as he worked to keep its edges sharp. Although he was not as old as Jackie's father, he still had the look of defeat about him. It was in the way his skin creased on his forehead, the way his hair curled in a bed-ragged manner; it was in the way the corners of his lips twitched in their frown as though he were constantly plagued with horrid thoughts. This was a man who, although seemingly calm, on closer inspection, was miserable.
"Dad!" Lionel exclaimed and rushed over. Even as a boy of nine, it was clear just how much he loved his father that Jackie had to smile. The man's face lit up and like a dark cloud had been lifted, he let the sword and rock fall from his lap with abandon. He opened his arms and grasped his son tightly, lifting him off the ground. At the interaction, Jackie could not help but question why Lionel left in the first place. Especially when he was still young and clearly much to still be happy about here.
When his father finally released him, Lionel gestured to Jackie. "Dad, I want to introduce you to Jackie."
Jackie braced herself for accusations. Surely this man blamed her for the loss of his son. He looked her up and down with a stiff look. Closing the distance between them, he smiled and held out his hand. "It's nice to meet you, Jackie. I'm Lionel's father, Chase."
She blinked and paused in surprise but managed to recover enough to shake his hand. "You're not angry?"
He laughed. "Angry? You've kept my son fed and safe. Why it was I who encouraged him to go when he asked. Why would I be angry?"
It didn't lessen her surprise to any degree. "You let him go?"
"I did not think it would be a surprise. Lionel wanted to go when the first delivery of meat came and we heard what was happening. I would have gone myself but the elders threatened all the men who wanted to leave." When Eliza told the story, she hadn't mentioned that. "I couldn't ask my son to stay here when I wanted to leave so badly. He's old enough to learn the ways of the world and to take his own risks."
Jackie hardly would have come to that conclusion on her own. She shook her head in amazement. "So then Lionel won't be staying with you?"
He thought on it a minute, reevaluating the conclusions he had already come to. "If you're leaving again, I won't stop him."
"Yes, we're just here to see if we can gather any unused metal for our forge so that we can make weapons."
"We killed a giant!" Lionel added.
His father's eyes grew wide. "Not him," Jackie cut in.
His father sighed in relief. "Well, I don't know what can be done about those materials. The fact that you'd dare a forge makes me uncomfortable enough. I can certainly ask around for you?"
Jackie nodded. "I couldn't ask for anything more. We're gathering at the northern field at sun down. I hope to see you there. Bye for now, Lionel."
Lionel nodded and waved. "See ya."
As Jackie stood before the group of people gathered before her, she felt the wave of attention like nausea. Unlike the group back at her camp, this was not necessarily a group of supporters. Somehow, she managed to loosen her lips and spill the story that was her adventure. She made the same plea to them that she made to the council, one for metal to make weapons in the forge they were building. But unlike before the elders, Percy, Eliza, and even Harvey added to the story and the plea as they could. It was the sort of campaign Jackie could never have imagined for herself. It offered a hope stronger than one for the herds to return. It offered them a hope they had only heard in stories, when the world had been opened to them, where trade and commerce flourished, where prosperity was achieved on some level by all. These were the sorts of things people thought of as they listened, even if some of them heard and dismissed it as a pipe dream. But above all, she was not booed, even by those who disagreed.
Probably the most peculiar thing was after they had spoken their peace and the people were given the chance to digest what they had been told, an old man approached her. "You almost got me," he said, wagging a finger at her. "You almost got me to part with my sword. But then I realized that if you failed and ended up lying in some unmarked grave, I'd never get my sword back and my descendents would have no weapons to defend themselves with."
He didn't even give her a chance to try and change his mind or even to apologize. Once the words were spoken, he sauntered off and disappeared into the crowd.
Through the crowd, Jackie's mom came up and found her. Her mom didn't say anything. She just looked at Jackie and smiled, holding out her arms. Jackie smiled back and found there was something about her mother being there that made her want to cry. She was happy to embrace her mother if it meant she could hide her watering eyes in her mother's blouse. Her mother rubbed her back, knowing what she needed. When Jackie had control, her mother let her pull away and she looked Jackie in the eye, her expression both contemplative and understanding.
"Just give the people time, Jackie," she said. "Right now everyone's thinking about their weapons or their gardening tools. You know we can't part with them. But what you can do is hope that when each of them goes home, they're going to go through the trinkets that have been passed down to us and decide what they can part with. You have to believe that they will and maybe something will come your way."
Jackie nodded, too relieved and grateful that her mother was helping and not reprimanding her to speak.
"Bring your friends, Jackie. We've got some dinner prepared for you all."
They didn't eat in Jackie's family's hut as she thought they would. Instead, they ate in the street, blankets spread around to make a great big picnic area. As usual, everyone shared the meal. The first of the crops was starting to come in, carrots. The carrots were served with the weeds, mixed with some honey from a honey comb one of the women had found. Jackie smiled as she ate it, thinking of her memories. More than that, she smiled as she watched Harvey play with his food.
"That's rude," she whispered. "Eat your food." Harvey made a face at her, less than pleased at his meal. "This is all they have, Harvey."
She had always felt there was something magical about eating carrots. She didn't actually like the taste of carrots very much. However, it ranked above weeds. Also, what the carrots stood for always made them more appetizing. Once the carrots were ready, the others wouldn't be far behind. The carrots were the gateway to better vegetables and a symbol for what was to come. The carrots were a promise. Jackie, with all her goals floating around in her mind, was all about promises …and making them come true.
Under Jackie's expectant gaze, Harvey ate the meal even if he didn't enjoy it. She found herself wondering what his village had to eat. He nor any of the others had actually said. She had always assumed it was around the same. Especially since her village was larger and as a result, fed more people. Around her, all the people were happy even though there was no trace of meat in their meal. They were thankful for what they had. They were thankful for the hope Jackie gave them. Jackie in all her endeavors hadn't found time to be happy. Watching the families around her, she began to feel the hope, the chance to do both.
Come morning, the council of elders met them outside the hall with a throng of villagers gathered to hear the answer. All seven of the elders were present, six standing just behind Eliyah as he stepped forward to speak.
"Our resolution to protect this village has not waivered, even with false hopes being brought into our village. We will continue to do so through hard times and better. Because of this, we cannot spare any supplies in any form. It is to this end that we further demand the return of weapons previously and wrongfully taken. Should the guilty party resist, force will be used. In addition, the guilty party shall be expunged from our society, which exists best in secrecy. Those caught supporting these outlaws will be punished."
Jackie's nostrils flared, her face flushed, as she sucked in a deep breath, a hand going to her father's sword at her waist. She felt her companions go rigid in concern and anticipation at the threat as well.
"Now as we have no acting officials of law, I ask among the crowd who will volunteer to enforce our ruling? Who will help bring our village justice and secure what is rightful ours?" Eliyah continued.
A murmur went up from the crowd, largely in opposition. Jackie could not relax, however. She waited for a volunteer to step forward. She knew one would. To someone, it could be an unflawed logic.
"Let's go," Percy whispered to her, a hand on her shoulder.
It was hard to dissolve at the front of a crows but they edged to the side. Jackie didn't know which foe to fear more, who to expose her back to.
"Who will let these children leave with goods that belong to the people?" Eliyah called out again, his voice urgent as he watched Jackie and her group flee.
Finally clear, they headed North through the village at a swift walk. They didn't - or at least Jackie didn't - want to run out like criminals. Even though the sword and dagger were her father's, she hardly felt guilty for taking them. What was her father going to use them for? To kill a rabbit? That was what snares were for. If anything, she did feat what the man would say to her. He was an authoritative figure in her life but he was hardly there for her to connect with him. He was always tired, always irritated. She would not feel less for losing his love.
"Jackie, wait!" a haggard voice called.
She looked over her shoulder and saw her mother running towards them, several villagers behind her. She knew her mother would never choose to accost her so she slowed down and waited, even if her group's nerves were on edge.
When her mother approached, she had to lean over, hands on her legs, to catch her breath. "We have some things we'd like to give you."
Jackie flashed a small smile at the compassion. "Thank you."
He mother handed her a small bag of burlap. "There are some metal coins in there. Not what you were expecting but I hardly imagine we have a use for them."
Another woman stepped forward and put a dented copper bowl into the sack. There were a few other bits and pieces donated but not enough to melt down into a weapon.
Finally a man came forward and held out a helmet with a plume of horsehair. "I used to fancy lookin' at this up on my shelf. But I suppose there's a purpose for this now."
Jackie couldn't help but give the man a hug. This was probably the man's most precious heirloom and he was parting with it on their behalf. There was nothing she could say to express her gratitude. When she pulled away, there were tears in his eyes.
"I'll take good care of it," she promised. Harvey took the bag from her so that she could just hold the helm as though such an action could be proof.
Lionel and his father, Chase, weaved their way through the small crowd. "I'm coming with you," Chase said. He noticed Jackie's shocked face and elaborated. "Lionel told me what you've been up to. Making bows was pretty ingenious but if you're going to have archers, they'll need proper training. You'll be able to increase the distance they shoot. I'm also fairly strong at constructing arrows and bows."
"What about the threats?" Jackie asked.
Chase shook his head. "I have no one left behind for the village to hurt. As for myself, I accept the risks. When your army's composed of a bunch of kids, you can use someone like me. I promise not to be a real parent but I can bring experience."
Percy opened his mouth to butt in but Eliza squeezed his arm. He wanted to add that he had training and experience for being a "kid". With Eliza's commanding gesture, however, he kept his mouth shut.
"We'll be glad for all the help we can get. But now, we've got some ground to cover before dusk. The sooner we get back, the sooner we can get started on my plans."
Jackie didn't give Chase time to ask questions. Even though this was not a hunt, she still didn't like when her followers asked questions as they walked. She just wanted the quiet focus. Harvey, knowing her feelings, grabbed her hand and gave it a quick squeeze as they left before letting it drop again. "We're going to make it," that squeeze said, "don't take everything to heart."
The whole camp seemed to have stopped production while they were away. Almost everyone was there to greet the group, to watch them come back practically empty-handed. Harvey and she had traded possessions. He carried the bag and she carried the helmet tucked under her arm. They had teased her along the way, trying to convince her she should put it on. Perhaps it was the way the man presented it or maybe it was the unique item itself, gleaming bronze in the sunlight with a fierce eagle engraved on either side. Regardless, the longer they walked, the surer she was that she couldn't have it melted down for weaponry. The crowd seemed curious but more so because they wondered where the rest of the metal was. They had thought she would have been victorious.
Hal pushed forward from amongst them until he reached Jackie. He apparently hadn't realized Harvey had went too, fixing a critical glare on his younger brother. Perhaps he had thought Harvey went to the Burrows instead. He looked back to Jackie. "How'd it go?" he asked.
Jackie shook her head. "Not so good. I've got trinkets and this helm."
He eyeballed the mostly empty sack and shook his head. "Well, the other group would have only just made it to the Burrows – or will by this evening."
"I don't think I can wait for them to come back," Jackie said. "Where's Gideon? It's time I spoke with him."
Hal did not approve in the least. "You have to give them a chance. You can't assume they'll fail because you did."
"I will make my decision when I speak with Gideon. In the meantime, Lionel's father, Chase, came back with us. Will you show him around? He's offered to help teach and train archery."
Jackie didn't give him time to reply, simply assuming he would do as she asked – or hoping anyway. Another in the crowd pointed the way and Jackie took it from there. She imagined she could figure out what a forge looked like in her own camp.
Hal rushed forward and grabbed her on the arm to stop her. "Jackie, what is up with you?"
She spun around, offended he yanked on her arm. "You mean because I'm not listening to you? I'm responsible for this camp, for everything that happens to these people. I'm doing just that. Hope isn't enough to delay. Regardless of our relationship, I still value my own opinion over anyone else's."
"That's your mistake, then," Hal retorted.
Jackie cut him off before he could continue. "If you want me to trust you with anything again, I suggest you back off. If your feelings are getting in the way, I suggest you forget about them." Jackie was having trouble trying to imagine the last time he hadn't made her angry since this dream had really taken off.
"I assume you already have then." He stopped, his head hanging a little as he came to the realization.
"I had no choice," Jackie said.
"Yes, yes you do!" He reached forward to grab her arm.
She shook her head and moved out of his reach. "They were never really there. I don't see a future for myself when this is all done. Those moments when I do, you're not the one holding my hand."
Hal was visibly hurt, his eyes taking on a glassy sheen. Jackie tapped a foot as her mind tried to make her feel bad. She shook her head and continued on.
She continued the journey to the forge by herself. She still kept the helmet tucked under her arm, carrying the sack in the same hand. Her other arm was still in a sling, recovering from her injury. The forge was not inside any building. It was a large circle of stone as tall as a table. At its back, it had a short, small chimney about another table's worth higher. How they got all those haphazardly-shaped stones to fit and hold together was beyond her. There was a dirt path leading from the stream up to next to the forge where a large rock with a flat top had been placed – or rolled. She could see the marks on the top showing the great efforts they had gone through to clean off all the dirt, mud, and debris. The middle of the forge was a pit with a generous layer of wood ashes in the form of crude charcoal. On the side, a small opening could be seen to churn air into the forge.
Beside all of this was a young man with medium brown messy hair with an old sword across his lap, running a small stone that fit in his hand along its edges to sharpen it. As his feet were a set of tools for chiseling and a hammer. Jackie assumed this was Gideon.
"So let's get started," she said, using the edge of the forge as a table.
He startled but come over promptly. He took the bag from her to prevent her from dumping them out. He took the pieces out and examined them, the copper bowl in particular.
"I know it's not much," Jackie said before he could begin to speak. "But I figured they could maybe be used to make arrow heads. Our stone and bone arrows turned out rather poorly. "Either than or the giant had a high pain tolerance."
"Yes, yes" he replied, his voice fast and higher pitched than she expected. "I started with those sorts of instructions."
He ran back to his seat and brought back over a book she hadn't noticed. He flipped through the pages until he arrived at what he wanted. He pointed to the pictures of how to make the molds. All around the pictures were very neat and small letters. They were not what she expected. She would have imagined words to be a series of pictures, something she might have been able to learn. This, this was not something she could understand how anyone could learn. It was beyond her comprehension. All she could do was look at the pictures and nod.
"I have a couple – no, maybe two instructions that I feel confident enough to follow," he said. He was so excited that it took him a moment to calm down and arrive at a question. "So any plans on melee weapons?"
"Well how do you feel about swords? How easy is it to reforge a sword? If you question if you can do it, then it would be safer to work on arrowheads. That's all the extra metal we have."
Gideon tapped a finger on his chin, his eyes up to the sky. "I'm not sure. I do know that I've found a simple enough way to sharpen the blades. That may have to be enough. I will read up some more. I have a plan for a hand and a half sword ready if possible."
Jackie nodded, even if she didn't quite follow him. "Well I'll need an answer soon. I need the forge ready to go tonight. As soon as it's dark, we'll get stated."
"There are other tasks to be completed while you man your forge," she explained. That was all he needed to know.
"I'll… I'll have your answer in an hour," he said.
Jackie nodded curtly, like a bow. "Thank you."
When Gideon gave her the answer, she found herself surprised he couldn't have come to the conclusion days before. She had to stop and give him the benefit of being new at this and caught up in the excitement. Gideon told her that when the metal was already pounded out into a shape, into steel from iron, he feared reheating and shaping it would make it too weak if it didn't warp and misshapen. He had five whetstones that could be used to sharpen swords.
The answer might have seemed reason enough not to run the forge but Jackie had convinced herself differently. She needed arrowheads that could piece. The less people who had to get up close to a giant, the less that got hurt. So she still told him to prepare to start at nightfall. In addition, should anything come their way, if he knew how to run the forge, it would be all the better, rather than just guessing.
Jackie gathered a few that she trusted to inform of her plan. It would be their responsibility to help carry it out. She had them gather around a patch of dirt with a couple of rocks for markers and a stick to gesture.
"Tonight Gideon's going to light up the forge. Even at night, it's still going to create a lot of smoke. For all we know, the giants could be out looking for us. We need to set up a patrol rotation throughout the night. Should be a total of five patrols out at a time with a party of four." She pointed to the middle rock, the camp. Then she gestured to a couple rocks set away from the camp in a star pattern. "These are where they should be positioned. No patrol should engage if they see a giant. They are to report back to camp immediately. Anyone whose patrol is not on duty should be resting as the rotation will last all night. They can eat when they come back from patrol.
"We have five sharpening stones from Gideon. These van be used to sharpen weapons. I will be in charge of these and will be doing so throughout the night. I will be by the forge if there is anything to report."
As much as Jackie wanted to be in the field, she wouldn't be of much use with arm - since she would break her own rule of no engagement. Also, being the leader, she needed to be in the center of things. They all expected her to be here. Nodding, they all agreed.
"Choose patrols yourselves or let the camp divide, it is up to you. Just make sure the rules are clear."
When dark came, Jackie helped Gideon get the forge started, churning air into the pit. The fire, when barely started, already was drenching her in sweat. By the time he had it where he needed it, she stepped away and the night air couldn't cool her down fast enough.
She sat herself a little ways away from the forge on an overturned log. The forge was positioned near the training yard where many of the members had often lounged and chatted. Jackie, against doctor's orders, took her arm out of its sling so she could use it to hold a sword still as she dragged a whetstone across its edge. It had been one large stone and Gideon's book had talked about a contraption built with it to sharpen faster. However, it had been too vague so they broke the stone into handheld pieces.
Harvey hadn't gone on patrol yet but sleep was low on his list of priorities. He got tired of waiting in his assigned patrol group and picked his way through the camp. He spotted Jackie sitting on a log. Jackie didn't notice Harvey as he slipped beside her. Her face gently tilted up, showing the delicate curve of her jaw. Her eyes glanced at the stars, her lips slightly down-turned in thought. Harvey's stomach knotted looking at her and his breath came shallow. He slowly reached his hand over to caress her face. She jumped as he lightly brushed her cheek. She steadied as she took him in, still seeming serene as though her mind were in a distant place. He reached again, lightly running the back of his fingers against her face. She leaned her head into his hand and he turned it to cup her cheek. Her sad expression was hard enough for him to bear. Keeping a hand to her cheek, he leaned over and kissed her gently even though his whole body burned, wanting to melt into her. He drew breath and kissed her again, noticing her whole body start to tremble.
Harvey pulled back, letting his arm drop back to his side. "What's wrong?" he asked gently, almost in a whisper.
She shook her head, her lips trembling, eyes watery as her face contorted into a look of grief. "I can't do this, Harvey. We can never do this."
"What do you mean, Jackie?"
She looked down in her lap. She couldn't even look at him. "Please, just go," she said quietly. Harvey couldn't fight the pain he was feeling. He bit his lip and shook his head, fighting back anger. All he could do was what she ask least he do some real damage to her feelings.
Jackie left the whetstone in her lap, bringing up her good hand in a fist over her mouth and shook her head against it. What Jackie couldn't tell Harvey is that she had let herself feel it this time. She hadn't surrendered to the part of her body that didn't want to feel. She had opened the part of her body that did want to feel, the part of her body that made her want to crawl into his lap and slide her arms around his back. The part of her body that threatened to tear her apart in frustration when she refused him. That was the part that scared her as she was forced to douse the flames rising in her own body. Jackie couldn't afford a reason not to die. She had to succeed. She couldn't do that if she couldn't bear to leave him. Her body began to shake from hyperventilation and she buried herself in her task, begging the tears to stop.
A/N: so I hope I didn't annoy you by throwing off the romance in this sort of tug-o-war battle. It's something I have to work on. Where the story's about to go, there isn't much room for building romance so it kind of needed to be at least almost there (obviously, we're all the way there just with a "hey let's take it slow and see other people" shove). Jackie isn't, as explained, ready for romance but I can't write a story without a love interest, am I right? The issue will be how to improve it (improve as in what I've already written. The already established romance has its escalation currently planned out). To make it so you're not annoyed but right there with me. It's something to ponder on in editing. In the meantime, if you think of a better way to present it, let me know. If it feels cheap to do it in a review ("you just tryin' ta sucka me into a review! :O "), I accept pms too :D