“And this… Sheldon boy,” Yvette said, cutting her pancakes delicately,making every statement a velvet cloth draped over a razor as she interrogatedher youngest daughter, “He comes from a good family?” Idalese attempted a smile. “Well, his parents own a cabin up in ThreeLakes,” she said. “A landed family.” If she didn‟t know any better, she might have thoughtshe detected a trace of pride in her mother‟s statement. That was the danger.
“The cabin was passed down from Sheldon‟s Great Grandfather.” “At this rate, we shall have to stall your wedding: it won‟t do for theyoungest daughter to be married off before the oldest.” Yvette dabbedher mouth with her napkin.
Idalese wilted in relief even as Nymea shot her a supremely dirty lookacross the table. She‟d claim to be sick to get out of these morninginterrogations, especially when her mother was analyzing prom for anypossible trace of wedding bells, except for the fact that it would bring herparents‟ attention to her even more. And Nymea would, no doubt, dosomething nasty to get it back.
“The only thing those girls are good for is marrying off,” Antoin said, puttingdown his fork, “Not a brain in their skulls or the sense the green ones gave arabbit. We should have been getting offers for Nymea for years now.” He wipedhis mouth, and Idalese automatically served him another pancake. “And theboy‟s lazy,” he added as an afterthought, having run out of complaints early. “Rean!” he bellowed at the door, “You‟d better be out here when I‟ve got thepaper, boy!”
As if she had never been interrupted – though she had stopped speaking whenAntoin had begun – Yvette fixed her attention on Nymea. “Did you meet any young gentlemen at the dance?” she asked, as if daring heroldest daughter to disappoint her. Nymea scowled and stabbed at her plate – discreetly, as infringements of tableetiquette were hardly the way to get Yvette off her daughters‟ backs – and Idalese couldhear her voice dripping with dark resentment and hatred when she replied.
“No,” Nymea admitted, “but Rean did.” Idalese kicked her under the table, but Nymea only smiled a vicious smile.She supposed that she should be happy that she had stopped being the target ofher sister‟s wrath, but… life was just so difficult with Nymea in the house, andshe had no illusions that it would improve once both her older siblings left forcollege. Once she was the only person under her mother‟s watchful eye, she‟dfall even further short of expectations than she did now.
“Don‟t be ridiculous, Nymea,” Yvette said with a stern sniff, “Unnatural,immoral behavior like that is not a joking matter, especially when you aremaking such crude comments about your own brother. If this is how you speakwith your peers, it‟s no wonder that you never have any young gentlemeninterested in you, just opportunistic young cads.” She took a delicate sip oforange juice.
“Your brother attended the ball with that Elvensong girl, and that, to my mind,is the right way to go about this. He is courting a lovely girl – an elven girl, whosefamily is very respectable, and whose father holds a prominent position in thecommunity. If you hadn‟t burned bridges with her, you might be keeping equallyrespectable company, Nymea.” Idalese kept her head down throughout the whole lecture, wondering once moreif her parents would ever start living in the current century. It wasn‟t likely.
Nymea scoffed, “Ara? Her parents are peasants.” Yvette‟s gracious smile shrank a few millimeters and grew brittle for amoment. “We must make every effort to be gracious to the noveau riche.” In the kitchen, the sink dripped.
“Once the three of you are all married off, we will have taken the first step towardsrestoring the family name and fortunes, cruelly stolen from us these many years,” shepronounced grandly, and Idalese rolled her eyes at her pancakes. “Noveaux riche matterslittle for a woman, since she will marry into a title which will make her position far morelegitimate. You two, however, must marry into position – I do believe, Nymea, that if youapplied yourself you could easily secure an engagement to the young Elkthorn Heir. Wewill have to ask your brother to arrange a meeting via his sweetheart, since you cannot. Ihear that her mother is a great friend of that family.”
Rean came in, hair rumpled, and sat down to the plate of pancakes thatIdalese pushed in front of him. He‟d beaten Antoin only by a couple ofseconds, because their father tromped in with the paper, gave his son asuspicious look, and picked up his empty mug for inspection. Conversation inthe room stopped. “Coffee,” Antoin said, and Idalese went and fetched the pot.
“Good pancakes, Ida,” Rean said upon her return, eating as fast as waspermissible under his mother‟s stare. “Fatty always makes pancakes,” Nymea sneered, “These ones can‟t be anydifferent.” “Don‟t call her fatty, Nymea.”
“She is. She‟s going to end up round like a hippo and just as ugly.” Since neither of their parents seemed likely to intervene – their mother wascarefully not looking at them, sipping her coffee with an expression that deniedthe possibility that her children would ever disagree, and they hadn‟t yetreached the point where their father would order them to shut up so he couldread the paper in peace – Nymea was making a game of taking this as far as itwould go.
“Why don‟t you tell mother about your date last night?” she asked, sweetlyas a poisoned apple.
Rean choked. “Date? What date? I‟m sure I don‟t know what you‟re talkingabout, Nymea,” he said, finishing by calmly taking a huge gulp of juice towash his pancake down. He was clearly disturbed, but that was just because hewas having breakfast with the family. Ida wished that she had an excuse to tryto avoid it, like he did, but since she did all the cooking, it was literallyimpossible to skip breakfast. Nymea was certainly choosing today to make himsquirm, though.
Their mother had brought her attention back to the table, specifically toRean. “No date?” she asked, “I thought you were going to the ball with thatElvensong girl.” “Oh, Ara,” Rean replied, visibly relieved, “We‟re not dating, we‟re justreally good friends.”
In his place, Idalese would have lied to put off the brittleness of theirmother‟s inevitable disappointment. Of course, in his place, she would be theone expected to continue the illustrious family line, needled about bringinghome suitable girls on a daily basis, the only son and heir, the future – shedidn‟t think she‟d be able to take it. And their mother was gathering her breathto say something really cutting, she could tell.
Everyone had stopped paying any attention to Antoin, who had beencompletely absorbed in his newspaper. Now, he looked up, and stared at Reanfor a long moment before slapping the paper down on the table and pointing toan article. “Explain that, son,” he demanded. * * *
Aranel was still rubbing sleep out of her eyes when she stumbleddownstairs that morning, and she was mildly surprised to see her parents stillat the breakfast table. Achenar was busy trying to feed Ariadne without beingdecorated in banana and cheerios. “So, what‟s up?” Aranel asked her family, catching the sudden shake ofAchenar‟s head too late.
“Your name,” her father said, tossing the newspaper at her place at thetable, “is in the newspaper. Is there something you‟d like to tell us?” “Sweet, I‟m in the paper,” Aranel blurted out, picking it up, before it sankin that those words weren‟t the best idea in this situation. She saw her parentsexchange a look. Across the table, Achenar was facepalming quietly, whichmade Ariadne giggle.
“More, Neenaw, More!” Aranel read the article and the smile that her baby sister‟s antics hadbrought to her face slowly disappeared. At about the point where Rean andTrevor‟s names were prominently featured as the couple that had almost beenkicked out of the dance, it reached a state of negative existence and became afrown. “I take it that you understand?” Viridia said, quietly.
“Yeah… I‟ve got to go call Rean, warn him that he‟s mentioned in thepaper --” “I meant that your behavior last night was out of line, Aranel,” her motherreplied sharply, “You publically humiliated one of your school‟s trustees,encouraged your classmates to ruin a school function, and led a large numberof students to be cited for breaking curfew and disturbing the peace.”
That last bit, Aranel thought, was a little bit overboard. The partying hadn‟tgotten out of hand until long after they‟d left prom. “I didn‟t invent the afterparty, mom,” she protested, “and I never said thatanyone should tear down the decorations or put soap in the fountain – people didthat on their own. It was a walk-out protest, not -” she checked the paper, “not „asmall riot,‟ like this stupid reporter says. A couple people knocked over a fewtables, somebody pranked the fountain, and a few balloons got popped. Half of thatprobably happened when prom was actually going on, not on our way out.”
“Yet you still publically humiliated Trustee St. Julien and his family.” That was the point where Aranel started to get mad. “He was publicallyhumiliating Rean! Somebody needed to stop him – I just called him out on it. Iwanted him to know what it was like!” “Well, you‟ve certainly succeeded in giving him a taste of humiliation,”Viridia replied acidly. Achenar was paying very close attention to the crumbson his plate.
“Mom, I can‟t believe you‟re defending this guy. He‟s a total asshole – he‟s abully, and it‟s his fault that some of the kids at school get off scott-free forwhatever they do, because they‟re connected to him somehow – and he‟s beengetting away with being a complete asshole to people for years because he‟s atrustee - Mom, somebody had to stop him. Besides, you weren‟t there, you didn‟tsee the way he was going after Rean – just ask Achenar if you don‟t believe me.” “Hey! Leave me out of this,” Achenar said.
“Your brother is in trouble as well,” Viridia interjected, with a sidelong glancehis way, “In fact, the only one of the three of you who isn‟t in trouble for taking offin the middle of the night without my knowledge is Anariel, because she at leasthad the foresight to call me and tell me that she was spending the night withLydia.” Quickly, Ara thought back to the night before. “You weren‟t angry about itwhen we got back.” “That‟s because I thought you‟d been at Prom the whole time!” Virida hadstood up from the table and was now bristling like a hedgehog.
“So your problem is that I didn‟t call? Why did you bring the rest up then!?” Viridia was just drawing breath to reply when Haldir spoke up. “You didn‟t have to humiliate the man, Ara,” he said quietly, and for a secondthe only sound in the room was Ariadne crying at full volume. Viridia, with a glareat her oldest daughter, went to scoop the toddler out of her highchair. Achenar tookthe opportunity to take his dishes to the sink and hightail it out of the room.
“Dad, what else was I supposed to do? He‟d have kicked Rean out of thedance, and he‟d have just kept on bullying students. Everyone knows he doesit and nobody does anything – I needed to make people stop ignoring that theschool system has been getting away with discrimination like that.” Haldir gave her a level look. “How important is getting kicked out of aschool dance, Aranel?”
“Not very, but still – it‟s a matter of principle, dad. If we let people like thatget away with throwing their weight around at a school and making students‟lives hell, they go on to support laws that enforce discrimination and racismand sexism and orientationism and classism, and the world just keeps hatingeach other for no good reason. They need to know that it‟s not okay, and thatpeople who they have power over can fight back. Besides,” she added as anafterthought, “You‟re the one who told me to fight with words.”
The look she got from her father was equal parts amusement andexasperation. “That is not the spirit in which those words were intended.” “Well, it was better than decking him. What else was I supposed to do?” “Let your friend handle himself, for one.” “They‟d have used anything he did or said against him,” Aranel protested,“The whole school system is set up so that students don‟t have any rights andtheir parents don‟t know what‟s going on.”
“Rean‟s parents could do something about it. If Rean‟s sexual orientation wasthe only reason he was kicked out of Prom, they could file a discrimination suit –one which, win or lose, would cause Trustee St. Julien to stop singling studentsout.” “Rean‟s parents don‟t give a rat‟s ass about him,” Ara replied, slouching downin her seat. “Aranel Elbereth, language,” Viridia said warningly, “do you really want yourbaby sister repeating that? And you know that‟s not true.”
“Only when necessary,” Ara muttered under her breath. “What was that?” “You don‟t know Rean‟s parents,” Ara argued, “you haven‟t seen how theytreat him when there‟s no other adults around to call them on it. You onlyknow them from when they‟re acting for the neighbors and pretending theyhave the most perfect family ever.” She could feel the sarcasm almost oozingfrom her pores as she said it.
Viridia and Haldir exchanged glances over their daughter‟s head. Theiryoungest daughter, who had been pacified for the moment by a handful of drycereal, chose that moment to open her hand and drop everything on the floor.Cheerios rolled everywhere and Ariadne giggled. “Mo‟s go smash,” she observed happily. “No, Ariadne, you‟re making a mess again,” Viridia reproved her tiredly, “wedon‟t do that, remember?” “No!”
Viridia sighed “Ana– Ara– Achen– someone get the broom and clean this up.” “Bell-bell!” “What?” Viridia asked. The doorbell rang. “Bell-bell!” “Oh, you take her,” Viridia said to Haldir, gesturing at the mess their youngestchild had made, “Wipe her hands, she‟s sticky again.”
“And don‟t you think that this conversation is over, young lady,” Viridiaadded over her shoulder. Aranel followed her mother towards the front door at a safe distance.
Rean shifted uncomfortably in the doorway. “Hi, Mrs. Elvensong,” he said,“I hope you don‟t mind, but… I sort of don‟t have anywhere else to go.” * * *
With not three, but four teens in the house, life got a little hectic that summer.Achenar practically lived at the Elkthorn‟s house when he wasn‟t on dates withArcadia, but given that Lydia had, to all appearances, taken up residence on thefloor in Anariel‟s bedroom, and that there were twice as many graduated seniorsringing the doorbell on a daily basis to see Aranel and Rean, it didn‟t make for asignificant reduction in traffic. It did, however, make for a surplus of somewhat-willing babysitters forAriadne.
This, in turn, allowed Haldir and Viridia to spend a lot more time togetheror with their neighbors and adult friends, and to spend some time talking aboutthings that didn’t always revolve around their children. Not that they didn‟t brag and gossip about them anyway.
Viridia had been disappointed that Aranel hadn‟t been allowed to attendgraduation, but considered it a lesson that Ara had needed to learn. She‟d beenindignant about Rean‟s exclusion, since unlike Aranel he hadn’t publicallyhumiliated a school trustee, but since Rean clearly didn‟t want to attendanyway, she didn‟t press the issue too far at the PTA meetings. And she‟dfound an unexpected ally in Chris Bachman, the mother of a friend ofAchenar‟s, who called trustee St. Julien‟s attitude inexcusable.
Unrepentant, Aranel had thrown a graduation party and given out fakediplomas, which were actually certificates thanking people for their support ofcivil disobedience, to her friends. Then she applied herself to scholarships witha single-minded determination that frankly astounded her parents. Though Viridia had initially predicted that Rean‟s parents‟ shock and angerwould wear off and the whole affair would blow over, June passed with nosign that the Greenleaf family was willing to approach the matter sensibly.
Despite the disruption to the Elvensong household, summer was workingout mostly as planned for Lake Valley‟s upcoming seniors. Of course, the planrevolved around working at the Elkthorn Inn more often than not or, as istradition with teenaged employees everywhere, only pretending to work. Somehow, the Inn had become a teenage hotspot, despite the fact that mostof the teens who arrived had little interest in furniture, arts and crafts. Callaknew better than to fool herself by trying to insist that it didn‟t somehow havesomething to do with the fact that Elirand spent most of his sales-floor timehitting on classmates.
The other part of that, the one that Calla would just as soon not admit wasgoing on, was that Arcadia Ebadi had become a store regular, and she and herlittle floral tank top and cutoffs spent a lot of time looking at the pictures – andrequiring Achenar to look at them with her. Or maybe they were just talking. It wasn‟t as if Calla was spying on themor anything. Though, she couldn‟t help having to restock just behind the next wall, andshe certainly couldn‟t help overhearing that the subject of Marine Biologycame up a lot.
“So I guess all I‟ve got to do is wait,” Arcadia said, “I‟m almost done with myessays and such, but I can‟t apply to Academe Le Tour, even early decision, until theend of August.” “I think the dolphins will wait at least that long,” Achenar replied. “Yes, but the research might not,” Arcadia replied, “all of the really good researchinto psychology and language capabilities is just starting, and -” “All right, all right, I get it,” Achenar replied, laughing. “You‟ve got one more yearuntil you can go off and prove that dolphins are sentient beings, and you‟re excitedabout it.”
“Well, yeah. Did you know, several different dolphin species aregenetically close enough to produce fertile hybrids?” “Not until you told me.” “Well, they‟ve been doing studies on hybrids – false killer whales andbottlenose dolphins, specifically, the babies are called wolphins – and they‟vedetermined that even though the false killer whales are about twice as big asbottlenose dolphins, the hybrids are fertile, whereas bottlenose hybrids withthings like, say, spinners‟ dolphins aren‟t.” “Right, but what does that have to do with their intelligence?” Achenarasked. Calla moved off to restock elsewhere, hearing laughter behind her.
Calla managed to pay no attention to anything but the stocking, until she came back tostraighten frames and found Arcadia still hanging around, though Achenar had been calledaway to deal with an actual customer. “Calla!” the bespectacled girl exclaimed, “are you busy?” “Kind of,” Calla lied, then immediately felt bad. Not six months ago Arcadia had beenone of her favorite classmates, and they‟d had many a long conversation about classes,science, and the possibility of a new season of Hyperspace Adventures actually beingreleased before they all turned grey. But ever since prom, Arcadia had talked to Achenar about that, and the only thing sheever wanted to talk about with Calla was Achenar.
“Not too busy, I mean,” Calla amended, “I mean, I am working for myDad, he won‟t mind too much if I stop to talk to a regular customer.” True to form, Arcadia managed to irritate Calla just by opening her mouth. “Oh, good,” she replied, “I‟ve got to make this quick, anyway – do youknow where Achenar‟s applying for colleges?” Calla stood there a moment before she even managed to consider thequestion. All three of them were going to SSU together – at least, that‟s whatshe‟d assumed. There had been talk – months ago – of skipping the dormsentirely and getting an apartment.
“I think he‟s going to SSU,” she replied, trying not to think about it toohard. “You know, like his sister.” Arcadia wilted visibly. “Yeah, I guess he wouldn‟t want to – well, mostpeople go to SSU anyway. Just, you know, he really could get into AcademeLe Tour, and they have this great aerospace program. I know he‟s interested inrockets -” “He‟s been into rockets since we were six,” Calla interrupted herunnecessarily. “There was a point when we couldn‟t get him to talk aboutanything else.”
“Yeah, I know, you probably knew that already,” Arcadia admitted,“After all, you are his best friend. I mean, you‟ve known him so long,you‟re practically his sister. Like a less scary version of Aranel.” “I‟m his best friend, not Elirand?” Calla asked, throttling her penbehind her clipboard. She didn‟t want to concentrate on why Arcadia‟sstatement made her want to kill her writing utensils. Arcadia laughed. “Well, your brother – no offense – but he‟s not oneto pay a lot of attention to other people unless he‟s flirting with them.”
Which was technically true, but wasn‟t helping Calla to actually likeArcadia. Then again, the comment probably seemed much more offensive thanit was, given who it was coming from. “I thought you said that you were really short on time,” Calla replied. “Right! I got sidetracked – anyway, there‟s this massive applicationorientation meeting next weekend for Le Tour, and I wanted to know if youknew if Achenar was interested in applying there. I know it‟s a bit early, but Ithink he‟d really like it and I was going to ask him to go to the meeting withme.”
“Next weekend?” Calla asked, “Oh, no, sorry, we‟re going camping.Maybe you could ask him some other time?” She could feel her voice edgingtowards sarcasm and turned away from Arcadia to straighten the nearest thingthat didn‟t need straightening. “Oh. Well, it was worth a shot,” Arcadia replied. “I guess I‟ll have to sitthrough the boring orientation meeting on my own, then.” What a terrible thing, I feel so sorry for you, Calla thought. “Looks like it.” “Yeah. Say, what colleges are you applying for?” “Sim State University.” * * *
There was no doubt in anyone‟s mind, even after the grueling four hour busride, that going up to Hollow Mountain had been a mistake. The threeteenagers had ditched their stuff in the campsite‟s lockboxes and immediatelyproceeded to the main hub of tourist attractions, the Cedar Plaza informationcenter.At present, they were staring at a section of tree trunk that was tallerthan any of them. “This says that the famous woodsman Paul Simyan cut this tree down,”Calla said, eyeing the sign by the log skeptically. “I don‟t believe it.
“There‟s a legend for everything if you look hard enough, Calla,” Achenarreplied, “and if you think about it, we don‟t have any idea of what is and isn‟tpossible in the world. A hundred years ago it was impossible to send a sim tothe moon. And our own parents traveled between dimensions, and they comefrom a world full of magic.” “Yeah, but… a blue ox?” Calla scoffed. “As long as the food around here isn‟t mythical, I‟ll be fine.” Elirand said,“I seem to remember that they were advertizing Paul Simyan size flapjacks…”
Of course, they spotted a log roll on their way to the flapjack stand, and,given that it was one in the afternoon and sort of hot out, they had to give it atry. In this case, “give it a try,” meant “set up a tournament to declare one ofthem king of the log, or, in case Calla won, Queen.” If it was good enough forlumberjacks, it was good enough for them, though privately Achenar was veryglad that he wasn‟t up first for a dunking. “Hey, Elirand, prepare to meet the fishes!”
“You‟re going to be Queen of the fish when I get through with you,Calla!” “Elirand, that was as lame as your attempts to knock me off a log aregoing to be.” “Then bring it on!”
“Woot! I‟m Queen of the Log!” Calla yelled,before slipping and falling right back into the waterwith her twin.
Elirand was declared king of the log, with Calla and Achenar tiedfor second place. After everyone was dried off, they headed off to theaxe – throwing games.
“It‟s time to prove to Elirand that just because he‟s gotten a scholarship formaxing his body points, doesn‟t mean he‟s going to automatically wineverything,” Calla declared as they reached the targets. “This game, forexample, involves actual skill, so, since none of us has ever played before, weshould be evenly matched.” Elirand scoffed in the background. “No matter what happens, I‟ll still beKing of the Log.”
With Calla named Queen of the Axes and a renewed appreciation forpancakes and grilled catfish, the three teens headed directly for the trails,hoping to get a hike in before sunset. Hollow Mountain Trail was supposed tolead more or less directly from the information center back past their campsite,though it continued on into the hills towards the mines for which the town ofHollow Mountain had been named. The mountain trails were beautiful, but a four mile hike was much longerin the mountains than over flat land, and dusk fell quickly beneath the pinetrees.
Eventually, they had to admit that they were at least a little bit lost. “We‟ve been past this tree before, Elirand.” “No we haven‟t. This one‟s on the left.” “Yes, we have – we were going the other way.” “Yeah, but we were supposed to be heading up over the knees of HollowMountain,” Elirand protested, “And we‟re still going up, mostly.” “That‟s my point,” Achenar replied, “shouldn‟t we be headed down bynow?”
“Oh… well, what about that way? There was that trail up behind thosetrees that Calla thought was too small.” “I did not, I said it looked more like a deer trail than a real trail,” Callaprotested. Achenar headed through the trees, leaving them to bicker. “It goes on sort of south-west and it gets a bit bigger,” he announced frombeyond the needles. “Achenar, it‟s not on the map,” Calla protested, “It can‟t be a real trail.” “And the one we‟re on is?”
“All right, fine, but if you lead us to a bear…” “We‟ll be certain to ask it for directions, Calla,” Elirand replied, and thetwo of them joined Achenar on the trail. They walked for five more minutesbefore emerging into a clearing bathed in the light of the setting sun, wheretheir trail branched off into two others, both of which lead south. “This place isn‟t on the map,” Calla said, squinting up at a notched peak totheir right. “I think we need to head south.” “Yeah, but which way?” Achenar asked. “Does it really matter?”
Calla just rolled her eyes at Elirand. “Let‟s take the one on our right, then,” Elirand said, “It‟s furthest south.And besides, I think I can see lights that way.” He grabbed Calla‟s hand.“Come on.” “Fine with me. Let‟s do this before the sun goes down,” Elirand replied.“Though, I really wonder where that other trail goes…” “Probably nowhere,” Calla replied. “Come on, Elir!”
It was fully dark when they reached the campsite, but the moon wasalready up so they could still see the tents down below, and the fire at thecenter of the campsite. “See?” said Elirand, “I told you that we‟d make it on time.” Nobody bothered to correct him. Both Achenar and Calla were hungry andhad sore feet, in that order. Besides, the prospect of their own sleeping bagswas much better than that of a night spent out in the darkness of the mountains.
The last batch of young children at the campfire left as they approachedwith their hot dogs and buns, but the guide remained behind, staring into thefire, as they sat down and prepared to make short work of their dinner.
“You don‟t want to go out on those trails to the north at night,” he toldthem, by way of greeting. “I couldn‟t help but notice you sprinting into campat the last of the light.” “Yeah,” Elirand admitted, shamefaced, as he speared a hotdog, “we got alittle lost.” “Well, up there‟s where we get all our bear sightings,” the guide said,“Bigfoot too, but that‟s just a myth. Smart young people like yourselves oughtto be more careful – more people have gone missing on that trail than anyother.”
“It‟s not very well marked,” Elirand mumbled around a mouthful ofhotdog. “Well, we know better now,” Calla said, ignoring her brother, “Thank youvery much for the warning, though. If we‟d known it was so difficult, we‟dnever have tried to walk Hollow Mountain Trail so late in the day.” The guide‟s eyebrows raised. “So long as you‟re not those young thrillseekers that go looking for the entrance to Hollow Mountain mine,” he said.“You‟ll be getting only sorrow from searching. The mine is cursed, you see.”
“Cursed?” asked Elirand, this time with his mouth empty. “Why wouldanyone go looking for it, then?” “Well, because of the ores and gold they found down there when the minewas still operating,” the guide replied, “Mind you, it‟s not likely there wasmuch left down there, or that someone without the right training could find it.But legend has made it out to be a wonderful treasure, the kind that people killand die for.” “What legend?” asked Calla and Achenar at almost the same time asElirand asked, “What treasure?”
The guide considered it for a moment. “I don‟t know if I should tell you,”he admitted, “more people have been lost on those trails looking for thetreasure than ever died getting it in the first place.” “I think we‟ve just proven to ourselves how bad we are at navigation,”Calla replied, with a sidelong glance at both of the boys. “And since you‟ve already started, you can‟t just not tell us,” Elirand put inearnestly. “We want to know what the big deal is. The tour guide sighed and stared into the fire. “Right,” he said, “well, ifyou really must know, best you get the true tale of the tragedy of HollowMountain Mine.
“Hollow Mountain is, and always has been, a mining town,” theguide began, “When this town was founded a hundred years ago, themine at Hollow Mountain was one of the most prosperous in the North,and the Blue Mountain and Coal mountain hadn‟t been opened. Theminers worked hard in the dark under the mountain and when theycame to town they had money to spare and spend, dancing and drinkinglong after dark by the light of bonfires and gas lanterns.
“Now there was a man who oversaw all the work in the Hollow MountainMine, called by his workers Alastair Harrison. He worked as hard as any of hismen, often joining a gang for a while to lend a hand before moving off tocheck on the next one, but his real talent was for finding new veins of ore. Thesuperstitious had it that he could hear the metals singing to him from withinthe stone.” Calla and Achenar exchanged an incredulous glance, which the guidedidn‟t seem to see.
“He was a good man and fair, Alastair Harrison, but he expected his mininggang to work as hard as he did. There was no room for mistakes, not when hewas opening a new shaft or shoring up a new tunnel. Men who weren‟t cut outfor the work got sent home right quick, and so did the ones who had apredilection towards causing trouble. But even a very good man can‟t seeeverything, and it‟s only human to make errors in judgment.
“There was one in Harrison‟s camp, Samuel Carn, with a mind bent onmischief, only he was smarter and more subtle than the rest. He wasn‟t a greatminer, but he wasn‟t a bad one either, and one way and another he got himselffriendly with the boss, and managing one of the gangs.” Despite the fact that the tour guide hadn‟t yet gotten into the promisedhorrors of the tale, something about the sincerity with which he spoke of itmade shivers run down the three teens‟ spines.
“That in itself wasn‟t a bad thing - Carn knew his men well enough and hewasn‟t one to ruin a good thing – but it gave him access to the papers of themining company, and Harrison went out of his way to teach him Geology, andmaybe he got to knowing things that let his mischief grow. Maybe he grewjealous, envious of the ores and odd gem that he lifted into the light and thennever saw again. Either way, he had his gang digging deeper and further thanwas wise. Maybe he found something, looking all that time into the dark, thatlooked back at him.
“Nobody living knows what happened that day, but the workers whoescaped the blast agree: Samuel Carn attacked Harrison and two othermanagers with a shovel, then set the dynamite and he blew himself, his gang,and Allastair Harrison‟s mine to smithereens. The miners dug for four daysback down the main shaft, hoping to find survivors, but the rocks were toounstable to go far and all they ever found were bodies. “To this day, Hollow Mountain Mine has never been reopened.”
“Well,” said the tour guide as he straightened up and held his palms outover the fire, seemingly immune to his audience‟s sense of creeping horror,“That‟s all the storytelling that I have time for tonight. You three stay on themarked trails and don‟t leave the campsites at night, now.” With that, he left, headed out down the main road away from the campsite,leaving the three of them in the dark circle of legends and firelight underneaththe pale mountain stars.
Elirand was the first to shake the creeping horror off. “That,” he declared,spearing a marshmallow on a convenient stick, “Was better than ghost stories.” “You would enjoy a story about a cursed treasure,” Achenar commenteddryly. “Well, we can‟t all be future rocket-scientists,” Elirand repliedphilosophically. “S‟mores?” Both Calla and Achenar replied that they weren‟t very hungry, so Elirandbegan scientifically singing his marshmallows to perfection.
Calla and Achenar lay down by the fire to gaze up at the stars, and the threeof them sat by the fire long into the night, listening to owls in the trees and thesnores of their fellow campers. * * *
Back at home, night was falling, as it often did, on a birthday party. OrionElvensong was more than happy to join the ranks of the neighborhood teens,along with his best friend Gallagher Newson, who had already had his birthdayearlier in the rotation. Azalea Greenman and Sati Ramaswami had been invitedat his mother‟s suggestion, since Delphina was so close to Azalea‟s quadrupletyounger siblings, and Sati wouldn‟t have her birthday until right before schoolstarted back up.
“So yeah, I‟m pretty sure Daisy‟s dog is a wolf,” Azalea said, concludingher story of her older sister‟s untrainable pet. “Which would be cool, if hedidn‟t eat my shoes.” Gallagher yawned visibly and Azalea gave him the stink eye. “Fine, ifyou‟re so interesting, you tell us what went on this rotation. We‟ve alreadytalked how much we hate Mrs. Fisher‟s essays to death.”
Gallagher shrugged. “My brother Gavin joined the Army,” he said. “Really?” asked Sati, “Are they sending him out to the desert?” “No, he goes to Camp Skillman in a week,” Gallagher replied, “He‟shappy, but Ginger‟s not. Gabriella‟s mad – I think , she‟s never home anyway –and Georgia won‟t stop crying. She thinks he‟s going to get blown up.” There was a short silence after that announcement. All present were oldenough to know how possible that was.
“Well, anyway, your brother‟s going to get to go to college when he comesback, right?” Orion asked, attempting to lighten the conversation. “I mean, lastI heard, that‟s how the army does this.” “Yup,” Gallagher replied. “He‟ll probably go into some kind of business,that sort of thing.” “Hey, Orion,” Sati put in, “What are you going to choose as an aspiration?” Orion shrugged. “Well, I already know I‟m not a family sim.”
That got a laugh out of Azalea and Gallagher, both of whom had made nobones about aspiring to Romance. “Bet you anything it‟s Romance,” Azalea told Sati, “Just you watch. Thesetwo goons are going to spend the rest of their natural lives trying to pick usup.” “Time for cake!” Lydia yelled from the kitchen.
The party was, as everyone had expected, noisy and exuberant, especiallyafter the new teens and their not-yet-aged confederate got into the cake. Ana privately wondered if she‟d begun to enjoy parties or if she‟d simplyaccepted them as a fact of life when her family and her best friend‟s familywere so outgoing. Maybe it was just that she‟d already known everyone there,and that Lydia, by right of seniority and bribing Delphina with the frostingflowers on top of the cake, had managed to secure them a relatively peacefulspot on the couch.
Lydia finally finished fiddling with her fork and took a bite. “Hey, Ana?” she asked, “Stick around to help take down the decorations,would you?” “Planning on it,” Anariel replied. “Okay, good. Because after that, I have something to tell you,” Lydiadeclared cheerfully, and polished off her cake in a rush.
“What do you have to tell me?” Ana asked, mildly confused. “Things,” Lydia replied vaguely, around her last mouthful, “I can‟t tell youin here.” Despite her best efforts, Ana couldn‟t get another word out of her for theremainder of the party. And if she was completely honest with herself, that sortof spoiled it a little.
“So, your baby brother grew up,” Ana said after the clean-up, wheneveryone else had been sent home besides Gallagher, who only lived across theway anyhow. “It seems like we haven‟t been teens very long, though.” “It‟s been most of a year for you,” Lydia replied. “Orion turned out kind of cute.” “That‟s disgusting, Ana.” “I‟m not saying I‟d date him, Lydia, I‟m saying that your family‟s gotpretty genes.”
Lydia grimaced a little. “In case you hadn‟t noticed, Orion and Delphinaare the ones sharing more genes around here.” Ana just shrugged. “Delphina looks the most like Makir, that‟s all. Orionmostly looks like your mom.” There was a second of silence, until Ana said “As long as we‟re admittingthings -” “Makir‟s not my dad.”
“I sort of – What?” Ana was certain that she hadn‟t heard right. “Makir. He‟s not my biological dad.” There. She‟d said it. “My mom had mebefore she met him – I don‟t know who my real dad is.” There was a puzzled second of silence. “Well, did you ask your mom?” Anaasked reasonably. “She refused to tell me.” Lydia‟s voice sounded bitter even to her own ears. “Imean, it‟s sort of obvious now that I think of it, but I didn‟t have any idea of it untilthe beginning of the year.”
Ana sighed. “That‟s sort of a long time to be sitting on a secret, Lyds.” Lydia‟s first reply was a shrug. “I wasn‟t certain how I felt about it,” sheadmitted after a moment, “I mean, it‟s not like Makir‟s ever treated me anydifferent from Orion and Delphina. And, since Orion‟s only a year youngerthan me, I‟m pretty sure that it was over between Mom and my dad when Iwas really young. But I‟ve just been thinking about it and… well, it‟s kind oflonely, thinking that maybe your dad doesn‟t even know you were born.”
“Well,” Ana said slowly, trying to reason her way out of this mess, “maybethere‟s a good reason why your mom stopped seeing your dad, which could bewhy she didn‟t tell you who he was.” “Yeah, but – it‟s Mom. She won‟t let us answer the door or the telephonewith our own last name. For all you‟ve ever complained about your mombeing overprotective, mine‟s just plain paranoid about some things. I thinkshe‟s afraid that I‟ll run away to live with him or something.”
“Are you going to look for him?” “Well, yeah. I want to know, Ana. Even if it‟s messy and complicated, it‟sbetter than sitting here just wondering.” Ana thought about it for a minute, before deciding that no matter whathappened, she could always count on one thing. Besides, even if she couldn‟timagine being in Lydia‟s situation, she could imagine what it must mean toLydia, to realize that she‟d been sitting on such an unstable secret all this time. “I‟ll help you,” she said. * * *
Finally, August was drawing to a close. Boxes were packed, goodbyes weresaid, last minute registration information had been collected, and there wasnothing left for Aranel and Rean to do besides sit on the bench in the sunlight,waiting for their taxi.
There was still something hanging in the air, though, like a shadow, and it madeAranel uncomfortable in the silence. She wasn‟t a quiet person: she could do quiet,if she was trying to study or something, but when two people sat on a bench withnothing to say to each other… well, there were a lot of ways that could go wrong. Especially when the only reason one of those people was there in the firstplace, instead of at home with his family, was because the other person hadscrewed up massively.
“Hey, Rean?” she asked, when the fidgety silence became too much to bear. He didn‟t turn around and look at her, not yet. Come to think of it, he‟dbeen staring at the door for a while now, probably wishing that it was his door,and that it was his mom doing a horrible job of pretending she wasn‟t waitingjust behind it to see them off. He probably didn‟t wish that he was sitting on a bench with Nymea,though. That was sort of comforting, even if “better than Nymea” was settingthe bar pretty low.
“Yeah?” “Hey, I just wanted to say… well… I‟m sorry for… you know. Especiallywith your family and all.” God, she was bad at apologizing. She‟d made it a point to never get anypractice, because it was always awkward, and anyway people who were goingto forgive you usually got to it when they were ready, not because you saidsomething lame about wishing things had gone differently.
Rean sighed. “Ara…” he said, and Aranel braced herself. This was themoment when he‟d say it, and worst of all, he had the right. After all, it wasn‟tas if she had been the one to back him up when she‟d gotten him kicked out ofhis own house. It was her parents. He’s going to say we should just go to college and make new friends, shethought, and she was surprised at how much the thought hurt. Yeah, it wouldbe easy for her to meet new people, but that wasn‟t the point.
The point was, Rean was somebody she trusted, and she‟d just proven toherself that she didn‟t deserve to have his trust in return. It occurred to her that whatever he‟d set out to say, he wasn‟t saying it. Notyet. He probably didn‟t want to hurt her feelings – unlike her, he usuallythought before he said anything. “It‟s all right,” she blurted out, “You can say it. I probably deserve itanyway.”
“Say what, Ara? That I‟m angry because your harebrained idea got mekicked out of my house? Maybe that I‟m just damn disgusted that my parentscan‟t accept who I am? At least when they didn‟t know I had the illusion thatthey‟d come to terms with it eventually, even if it meant that I‟d have to put upwith Nymea blackmailing me until I was ready to tell them. Thanks for takingthat choice away from me, by the way.”
Ara winced. Deserved or not, that stung. “I… if I‟d known that all this wouldhappen…” “Yeah, well, you know what they say about hindsight.” Rean replied. Thesarcasm had faded from his voice now. “Really, though, I don‟t think it would havehelped. If trustee St. Julien had ended up throwing me and Trevor out of prom, myparents would have found out eventually anyway. If you hadn‟t made the paperwith your little speech, then my parents would probably have found out onMonday anyway.”
“Oh, and let‟s not forget, even if by some chance they‟d never found out afterProm, Nymea would have told them before I left for college and she couldn‟tsqueeze any cash out of me anymore.” Aranel chanced a glance over at her best friend and her mouth dropped open.He was smiling, and not in an ironic way either. “You know, I‟ve had a lot of time to think about it,” he said, “and yeah, I wasangry at first, but I‟ve decided that my parents, Trustee St. Julien, and above allNymea deserve my anger a bit more than you. At least you were trying to help.”
Aranel opened and closed her mouth a couple of times. “Okay, so I‟m notcomplaining that you‟re not angry with me,” she said, “but… um…” “You did make up for a lot of it by having parents willing to take me in,”Rean replied dryly. “Even if I know that part of it was that your Mom and Daddecided that you should have to take responsibility for the consequences ofyour actions, it‟s still been a hundred times better than a summer at homewould be.”
Aranel wisely shut her mouth. “Okay,” she said. Rean nodded once. “All the same,” he said, “I‟m going to have to ask youto not try to help me that way again.” “… Right.”
It had finally happened. Idalese was alone. She sat on the lower bunk in the room that had always seemed too crowdedwhen she‟d shared it with Nymea, a room that was so empty without the tackyfashion posters and the desk that her sister had hogged with her lipstick andher hairpins and her loud declarations of mine, don’t touch. It felt like amissing tooth.
She didn‟t miss her sister. Nymea had always been better than her, alwaysbeen loved by their parents in their own harsh and judgemental way more thanIda was, and she‟d been strong enough that it didn‟t really matter that theirmother‟s love consisted of seeing flaws and their father‟s love was alwayspostponed until a future date, when they were all grown and worth it, returningthe glory of the family name. Ida wasn‟t strong.
She wasn‟t capable of missing her sister. She regretted that her motherwould now spend nearly all of her time criticizing Ida, holding her up to thevanished ideal of the perfect beauty, the older sister who had gone out intofrightening empty world to seek her fortune and would probably succeed. It would be just Ida left for her mother to spin tales of vanished riches anddignity to now, because Nymea wasn‟t coming back. In a way, she hated them both for leaving her.
She didn‟t want to leave, to go out there into the world and get married andhold a job. All those things were too big for her: she‟d be lost, like a singlepenny in a donation box, or a four leaf clover in a field. But being at home stillfelt like she was constantly wearing her shoes on the wrong feet. It didn‟t hurt,exactly, but at the same time the fit was wrong. There was no place in the world that fit her. * * *
Author’s Note All of Arcadia‟s information about dolphins in this chapter is true. (To thebest of my research, anyway.) And thank God everyone‟s headed off for college, finally. My chapterskeep getting longer and my patience keeps getting shorter, I think. This didn‟ttake nearly so long to film as the last bit, (As evidenced by the fact that itactually exists right now,) but it felt quite long enough. Oh, also (though I keep saying it,) the Newson and Greenman storylinesare going to be updated soon on a “when I write bits” basis, though I can‟t ruleout their appearances in future chapters.