Size: 6.00 x 9.00 in
When an enemy army threatens eleven-year old Mara’s home, she makes up her mind to save her family, one way or another. But when the knights protecting her village arrest her favorite aunt for witchcraft, she discovers that the difference between friend and foe may not be as obvious as she once thought.
This is a story of war and espionage, set in a low fantasy world. It is also about a child getting to know her mother and father in a new way.
Tropes: Conspiracy, Dystopian Governments, Enemy to Ally, Farmer to Hero, Pseudo European Society, Wise Mentor
Word Count: 95717
Setting: Crannock Dale, a farming town in the League of Caerlande
Languages Available: English
Chapter One: Metasmart
A week and two days before my twelfth birthday, the church bell rang.
Up until then, it had seemed like a normal day. Mamma had told me to practice my arithmetic. At first, I shook my head so hard that my braids flew, but Mamma sighed at me the way she sighs at Pappy. “Mara Elspeth Bennet, just yesterday your Grampy asked me whether you could divide, and I had to tell him no.” After that, I felt really small, so I let her write out some problems on my slate.
I took the slate and two pieces of chalk down Crannock Hill to Grampy’s mill pond and tried to make a start, but I hated division, so what I really did was sit on a big rock and smell the grass and watch the water turn golden in the late afternoon sun. Division doesn’t make sense to me. You have to figure out how many times one number goes into another, and there seems to come a time where you just have to guess. So, I dug the side of my slate with a fingernail and thought about other things.
I thought mainly about justice. Most of the girls in Crannock Dale learned their letters and maybe sums and that was enough. I was the only one who had to keep on with numbers, and I didn’t think it was fair. Just because Pappy went to school in Caer City is no reason. Once, I remembered, I said that to Mamma. Mamma told me I had a choice—if I didn’t learn arithmetic, I could grow up to be a farmhand’s wife. When Mamma says you have a choice, she means you don’t.
Another time, I complained about numbers to Pappy. He told me that the reason why I had to study things other children didn’t was that I was smart. I said I wished I was smart enough to get out of studying arithmetic. He said that would be metasmart. I think that’s a word he made up, but I like it.
Anyway, while I was thinking about those things, the bell donged. And it was Nurnsday. My first thought was to be glad because it wasn’t division, and maybe there would be some excitement.
The bell was supposed to ring on Yisday. First, the people in Minton Pass were supposed to ring their bell, and when we heard it, we were supposed to ring ours. Then the people in Merryhock and Glenet Bridge were supposed to hear us, and they were supposed to ring their bells to warn the villages farther down the valley. That was how we practiced spreading the alarm, so we would know how to call for help if the Pure Men of Waan attacked.
Once, when Pappy and Mamma and I were having dinner with Grampy, I said that if I was Queen of Waan, I would invade on a Yisday, so that when the bells rang, people would think it was just for practice. Everyone laughed, even my grandfather, as if it was a joke. I laughed too, because I was pleased to have the grown-ups listening to me, but I thought I really would.
Now I wouldn’t, because now I knew that queens aren’t important in Waan. No one told me that. I found out for myself. My uncle Tate bought a broadsheet pamphlet about Waanish depravities. It was full of words which I’m not supposed to say, but he forgot and left it on a chair when my mamma took me to his house for a visit.
While the grown-ups were talking, I read the parts of the broadsheet that were facing up. That’s how I learned that kings in Waan have lots of wives, and that they keep them locked up. They also have concubines and catamites, who count for even less. So, now I would never be on their side.
After the bell rang, there were a few minutes in which nothing seemed to have changed. The paddlewheel was still splashing around in the stream, and the same growling noise was still coming from inside the mill. Then I heard another faint chime. This one came from the hills behind me. That meant the Minton bell was ringing after ours, and that the alarm was spreading from south to north. And we never practiced like that, because Waan was north of us.
That was when I realized that something real was happening. And that was when I got scared. I wanted Pappy, so I got up from the rock and crossed the field to the terrace garden, where he was harvesting his nightshade fruit. Although I wanted to run, I kept my grip on my slate and stepped carefully through the tall grass, every muscle taut. I think I was proud of myself for not panicking.
Wooden ladders stood against the hillside, leading up through the curving green rows of the vines. As I got closer, I saw that Davy the hired man was already at the bottom and that my father was coming down after him. Davy was burly, but Pappy was lean. I noticed that they had left their big oval baskets of nightshade behind. The fruits on the vines were still green, but the ones in the baskets were the color of sunset.
Then I did run. I got to Pappy just as he reached the bottom of the ladder and I asked him, “What’s happening?”
Pappy stopped, but he did not say anything right away. I thought he might put his arms around my waist and lift me high, the way he did when I was little, and it would have been nice if he had. Instead, he put his hand on my head, with his long fingers down behind my ears. “Sweet, I don’t know.”
Then he squeezed gently into the soft spots at the back of my head. “The militia will muster at church. You know that. I have to join my company.”
“I have to go, sweet. Go to your mother now. Now.” Pappy took his hand away and jogged off toward town, with Davy alongside him. For a moment I stood there watching him run, and then I did as I was told.COLLAPSE