Excerpt #21: Beyond Wisherton

From the author:

I posted a portion of chapter 1 in a brief blog about how it was easier to come up with names when I wasn't worried about them sounding realistic. This is a longer excerpt, containing the entire first chapter. My kids named three out of four of the main characters.

From the book:

Yavic and Lolly Find Out
Chapter 1 —  Yavin and Lolly Find Out
    “I think I have a gift,” Sevra said, her eyes pleading with her brother to understand, “but I swear I don’t know how I got it.”
    Yavic couldn’t make any sense of what his sister said. She never did anything wrong. She was the last person who would ever be tempted to join the Herders. She was the last person who would even joke about it. “What are you talking about?” he asked.
    “A gift,” Sevra hissed. “I have one.”
    She did not have a gift. Yavic was quite certain of that. Sevra had barged into his room while he was trying to do his homework. She’d looked into the hallway and closed the door behind her. She was sitting on the end of the bed, wringing the corner of his blanket tightly between her hands. Sevra was clearly upset about something and whatever it was, it was probably more interesting than the equations he was supposed to be solving. Yavic turned in his chair, away from his desk and towards his sister. “What makes you think you have a gift?”
    “I don’t think it,” she said. “I know it.”
    “You said you thought it.”
    “I was… trying to prepare you.”
    Yavic sighed at her overly dramatic tone. "Prepare me for what?”
    “For…” She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “This.”
    “This? You wanted to prepare me for a boring conversation?”
    “No, for…” Her head jerked sideways to look at the door as it opened.
    “What are you guys talking about?” Their little sister poked her head through the door. Lolly’s deep brown eyes were wide with curiosity. Everyone else in the family had green eyes. And a safer level of curiosity.
    “Get out!” Sevra snapped.
    The eyes shifted in response to the reprimand. Lolly closed the door slowly, watching her siblings the whole time.
    Sevra was battling too much fear at the moment to register any guilt for dismissing her sister so roughly. She still wasn’t sure it was a good idea to tell Yavic. Lolly was only eight years old. There was no way she could keep it a secret.
    “Sevra,” Yavic said, “what is going on?” He was looking at her with more concern now.
    “I have a gift.” It got a little easier to say each time. Easier, but no less terrifying.
    “You said that already. Why do you think you have a gift?”
    “I’m too strong.”
    “How strong?” he asked.
    “Too strong.”
    “How do you know you’re too strong?”
    This conversation was not going at all the way Sevra had pictured. She expected Yavic to be as freaked out as she was as soon as she told him. She felt an odd sort of gratitude towards her older brother for peppering her with annoying questions instead. She suddenly wanted to laugh.
    “Stand up,” she said.
    Yavic did as she requested.
    Sevra also stood and she picked him up.
    Yavic didn’t think that proved anything. Though he was fourteen and Sevra was only twelve, she was two inches – all right three – taller than he was. It wasn’t inconceivable that she would be able to pick him up. The fact that she didn’t appear to struggle at all only made Yavic embarrassed about possibly being too skinny and not concerned that his sister might be “too strong.”
    One look at her brother’s face made Sevra put him down. “What do I need to do to prove it to you?” she asked.
    “Um…” Yavic surveyed the items in his room. There was a chest in the corner. It was mostly full of books, and he knew he couldn’t lift it. “Try that chest,” he said.
    Sevra nodded and walked over to it without a word. She lifted the chest easily. Then, to make absolutely sure he believed her, she balanced it on one hand like a waitress with a tray of drinks.
    “Wow,” Yavic said.
    But his voice had an echo. Lolly’s face was back by the door. Her expression awed. “How’d you do that, Sevra?”
    Sevra quickly put the chest down. The damage had been done though. She sank to the floor with her head in her hands. Panic threatened to swallow her whole. They would find out. This night could be the last she spent in her own home.
    Yavic motioned Lolly into the room and tried to take control of the situation. Sevra had a gift? He knew in his heart it wasn’t possible. There was no way she could have done anything to earn a gift from the Herders. But how else could she have lifted that chest? They had a serious problem. Lolly knew, too. That made the problem about three hundred million times more serious. Maybe four hundred million times.
    He looked up and down the hallway before he closed his door again. The last thing they needed was for Samtry to wonder what the rest of them were doing. He put a chair in front of the door to at least give them some warning. “You cannot tell anyone,” he said to Lolly. He tried to convey the importance of the command with his tone and his expression. Though if Sevra’s crumpled form and whimpering sounds didn’t convey that they were in trouble, there was probably nothing he could add.
    Lolly’s initial amazement had already disappeared. She swallowed hard before she addressed her brother in a faint voice. “Are they going to take her?”
He shook his head firmly. He had no idea how he could make that true, but he was going to try. “Not if we can help it,” he said.
    Yavic lowered himself to the rug to sit next to Sevra. Lolly followed his lead and looked between them. No one said anything for what felt like a long time. Sevra quieted at the show of support. Her hands still mostly covered her face though.
    “How did she get it?” Lolly asked.
    Yavic glanced at Sevra, who did not have her ears covered. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m sure it was a mistake. Some kind of mistake.”
    Lolly nodded with conviction.
    Sevra saw it between her fingers. She saw that neither her brother nor her sister believed she had crossed over. A bit of the pressure squeezing the breath out of her loosened. She put her hands in her lap. “You believe me when I say I don’t know how I got it?”
    “Yes,“ Yavic said.
    “Of course,” Lolly added.
    “Thank you.”
    The way Sevra was looking at Yavic made him uncomfortable. It looked as though she was about to hug him or something. “Look,” he said, “we all know you’re the good kid. It’s really obnoxious the way you go around trying to please everyone all the time. It isn’t shocking to think you haven’t turned your back.”
    “Maybe it was an accident,” Lolly piped up.
    “You can’t turn your back on the Creator by accident,” Yavic said. “Everyone knows that.”
    Lolly stuck her chin out stubbornly. “Maybe the Herders didn’t know it was an accident?”
    “Really? They have the power to read the direction of our hearts right through the walls. The power to mysteriously deliver the rewards. But they can’t tell who means it?” Yavic thought he laced the words with enough condescension to deflate Lolly’s idea.
    She was forcefully shaking her head though. “Maybe,” she said, “maybe it was the Herders’ accident. Maybe they meant to give it to someone else named Sevra.”
    Yavic just rolled his eyes at that suggestion.
    Sevra had been letting them talk, but it wasn’t doing them any good. “Okay,” she said, “I don’t think it matters how I got it. The important thing is what I’m supposed to do now.”
    “Should we tell Mom and Dad?” Lolly asked.
    “No!” the older siblings said together.
    “Why not?” Lolly looked at Sevra. “They’ll believe you, too.”
    “That’s exactly why we can’t tell them. If they try to defend me, they’ll be taken, too. Just like Mom’s parents.”
    Keeping this from their parents didn’t feel right. Lolly reluctantly agreed. She hated the sadness that invaded her mom’s eyes whenever anyone spoke of her brother or her parents. Sevra’s gift would hurt her. “What are we going to do?”
    Yavic turned to Sevra. “Can you hide it?”
    “I’ve been hiding it for at least a year,” she said. “But there have been some close calls and it’s getting harder and harder and… that’s why I had to tell someone.”
    He thought maybe he should be honored that Sevra had chosen him to tell. This was too big though. He sort of wished someone had been someone not named Yavic.
    “What close calls?” he asked. Talking felt a little bit like doing something.
    “A few weeks ago was the worst. Remember how I got in trouble at school because I wouldn’t do something the teacher asked?”
    “Of course we remember,” Yavic said. “Mom and Dad nearly fell over in shock when you brought home the demerit.”
    “She asked me to bring over the fitness box. I knew it was full of balls, balls that anyone in my class could have lifted easily. But I got this fear – just out of nowhere – that it was some sort of trick. I convinced myself that she’d replaced the balls with something really heavy to trick me into displaying a gift in front of the whole class.”
    “You couldn’t just open it first to see what was in it?”
    Sevra glared at her brother. “Of course that makes sense now. I was way too busy panicking at the time to come up with any reasonable ideas. In fact, I’m almost always panicking. Every time I pick something up, I’m wondering if I should be able to. And should I make it look difficult? What if I make it look too difficult? What if that makes someone guess that I’m faking? What if something heavy falls near me and I catch it without thinking?”
    That last one sounded pretty unlikely to Yavic. He was beginning to think his sister thought too much. She needed to relax. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to relax if he was the one with a gift though. It was scary enough to know someone. “I wonder if it’s true,” he said rather absently.
    “If what’s true?” Lolly was eyeing him hopefully, sort of as though she was hoping he’d change the subject altogether.
    Sevra was looking at him without hope. It was unkind to grasp at straws in front of her. His instincts were telling him to grasp at anything though, anything that might fix the problem. “Well,” he said, “people were talking at school a while back. They were saying – I didn’t think it could be true so didn’t pay close attention, but – well, they were saying that they’d heard of a person who got a gift and managed to get the Herders to take it back before anyone found out.”
    “Really?” Sevra sat up much straighter. “How? I’ve never heard anyone say that. How’d he do it?”
    “I don’t know.” Perhaps Yavic should have done a little more thinking before he brought it up. “It might just be a made-up story.”
    “But what if it’s not?” Sevra said. “What if there is a way?”
    “Ask them,” Lolly said. “If they can see when you turn to their side, then they can see the question. Just ask them to take it back.”
    Sevra closed her eyes. “Lolly,” she said, “don’t you think I’ve tried that? If it was that easy, I’d have given it back months ago.” Tears dripped from her eyes as she opened them again. But there was a frightening determination there as well. “I must need to give it back in person. I must need to ask – to beg – in person.”
    “That’s crazy,” Yavic said.
    Lolly backed up slightly.
    “No, it’s not,” Sevra said. “I can’t live in fear of being discovered any longer. I need to go to the Herders, and I need to make them take this gift back.”
    Now Yavic was sure he should have thought more before he opened his mouth. “You’re talking nonsense, Sevra. They’ll make you a slave if you won’t join them. You can’t negotiate with Herders. How are you even going to get past the wall? The guards? What are you going to tell Mom and Dad? You’ll never get the Herders to take it back. What if they just kill you for asking? How would you explain that to Mom and Dad?”
    Her resolve appeared to soften a little with his questions. Or against his lack of logic. “I have to do something,” she said meekly.
    It was Yavic’s dumb idea. If Sevra was going to do something, he was going to have to go with her. He could at least try to protect her. That sounded silly knowing that she could pick him up. But it still sounded like the right thing to do. “All right,” he said. “But not yet. We’ll need time to… plan. I’ll ask at school tomorrow to see if I can get any more information. You… maybe… look for information at the library. Maybe a map.”
    Sevra looked at him like he was a toddler. “You really think I could find a map beyond Wisherton?”
    “No,” he said, exasperated that she thought he would think that. “But maybe there’s one of the wall itself or the guard towers or… we know so little, anything might be an improvement.”
    “How do I help?” Lolly asked.
    “By keeping your mouth shut. You know how important it is that you don’t tell anyone, right?” Yavic waited for confirmation.
    Lolly gave only a dismissive nod. “Yeah,” she said. “I can pack some food for our trip, too.”
    “Our trip?” Sevra’s eyes bugged out. “You’re not going.”
    Yavic had been about to say the same thing. Before Lolly could even protest, he realized how unfair it would be to ask her to stay behind knowing what she knew. As soon as their parents discovered they were gone, they’d grill Lolly and Samtry until everyone knew. There was no way around it. Lolly would need to come in order for the secret to come. Sevra nodded at him quietly. She understood. She also understood Lolly could not be trusted to be discreet about anything.
    “You can come,” Yavic said to Lolly, “but don’t do any packing. Mom and Dad will be suspicious if we start packing too early. Let’s try to be smart about this.”
    Lolly nodded more seriously.
    “We’ll find some information.” Sevra waved her hand between Yavic and herself. “Then all of us will meet back here tomorrow night.”
    “Okay.” Lolly appeared satisfied to be included in the meeting phase of the plan.
    Yavic stood and motioned to the unfinished assignment on his desk. “I should get back to my homework.”
    “We’re going to help you, Sevra.” Lolly hugged her sister, then ran to unblock the door and leave.
    Sevra moved more slowly. She paused at the doorway and looked back. “Thank you, Yavic.”
    “You’re welcome,” he said. He wasn’t sure she had anything to thank him for though. He had a bad feeling that they were about to make the problem a lot worse.

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