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The Dark Hills Divide: The Land of Elyon #01by Patrick Carman
Following my afternoon nap I was feeling energized. I joined my father, Ganesh, and Nicolas for dinner off the smoking room in the main dining area. It was good to spend time with them, especially my father, who was looking a little worn out.
"I'd ask you to pass the bread, but you look so beat I'm not sure you could get it all the way over here," I said.
"You should join the jesters class in session downstairs. I hear they're looking for a good teacher," said my father. He did look tired, and even his comeback came off weak as he tried to bring some mental energy to the conversation.
"That's all right, Daley, you keep trying. Determination is one of your best qualities," said Ganesh.
"A distant third to my charm and good looks," added my father.
We talked and ate for over an hour, enjoying the easy quality of our evening meal. It was the most free-spirited gathering of the day, and we all looked forward to it. Nicolas was captivating, and he fit right in with all of us. He shared funny stories about Warvold and we all laughed, and he knew when to let someone else have a chance to talk after he'd been going for a while. Warvold had been late to fatherhood and Nicolas was a youthful twenty-five. He was a good-looking fellow, tall with trimmed dark hair and no beard or mustache.
"Did I tell you I promoted our new friend Silas Hardy?" asked my father.
"Who?" I replied.
"That nice deliveryman we raced on the way to Bridewell. I've made him our private courier, which means he carries letters for me whenever I want and burns all of the ones Ganesh tries to send out. Hardy and I are committed to saving poor Ganesh from embarrassing himself."
"Daley, you've got tongue enough for ten rows of teeth," said Ganesh.
"And you're so ugly your mother had to slap herself when you were born," said my father. This went on for some time, the details of which are not worthy of repeating here.
I wanted to get the conversation back over to Nicolas, so after a while I interrupted with a question. "Nicolas, can you tell me about your mother, Renny? I know almost nothing about her and I'd like to learn more."
Ganesh and my father settled down and reloaded their plates while Nicolas drank his wine and gathered his thoughts.
"Let's see...my mother was tall and slender and pretty, with dark hair and good teeth. I always remember her good teeth, I'm not sure why. Funny how our memories work, isn't it? Holding on to the strangest details about a person." He paused to take another sip of wine, and Ganesh kindly refilled the glass.
Nicolas gestured his thanks and went on. "She was terribly interested in precious stones and jewels. My father had quite a collection of rare gems from his travels. Some he traded for, others he won gambling. I'm told he was quite a hotshot at cards and dice, and I suspect he crisscrossed the globe taking advantage of rich, young rulers wherever he went.
"Renny began making her own bracelets and rings, just trinkets really, but she was good at it. I think most considered her a craftswoman of a higher order. Later she became interested in tiny detailed etchings on sapphires and rubies called Jocastas, and the art remained her passion until she died." Nicolas pulled a necklace from beneath his shirt with a large stone attached.
He held it out so we could look at it clearly. "You can't see the real detail, because it's covered by a pattern that hides the real essence of the piece. On the surface you see an elaborate etching, but if you had a powerful magnifying glass, you'd also see that the Jocasta within is a rendering of our family seal: a crown of thorns." Nicolas showed the stone to each of us up close, and then turned it to look himself, straining to see the details below the surface.
"I was in such a rush to get here I left my glass in Lunenburg. Otherwise I would show it to you. I don't know how many she did — maybe thirty. The locket my father wore has a similar-looking pattern, only the Jocasta is two tiny hearts with an arrow through them, symbolic of the bond between my mother and father."
I found the idea of the Jocasta fascinating and wondered aloud if Nicolas knew if she had done any more that were still in existence.
"They took an awful long time to make, sometimes months for just one, so there weren't may to begin with. For all I know she made only a few instead of a few dozen. She gave them as gifts to close relatives and friends. My aunt has one, and there are a few in with the family jewels, but that's all I know of.
"In any case, without a powerful magnifying glass, you wouldn't know a Jocasta gem if it was sitting in your hand." Nicolas drank again form his wine. I recalled good wine as something Warvold enjoyed. It was clear his son was fond of it as well. "When I return home I'll bring my glass so we can look at this one, or I suppose we could send Silas off to get it, since there are only letters from Ganesh to deliver this week."
The three of them were quickly back at it again. I wondered how long it would take for my father and Ganesh to begin calling Nicolas by his last name, or if they ever would. It seemed that with them, you were a Daley, a Ganesh, a Warvold, or a Kotcher. Being called by you last name indicated you were an important adult to these men. I doubted they would ever call me anything by Alexa.
As they continued into the evening, wine flowing as freely as well-timed insults, I slinked out and went to my bedroom. I had seen my mother during the funeral, but she had stayed for only a day. My mother, much as Grayson and me, hated crowds, and this was the biggest crowd in the smallest space she or I had ever encountered. The walls had made it seem as though we were millions of ants locked in a glass jar, stepping over and crawling under one another.
I had to send her a letter — a letter I really did not look forward to writing but longed to be finished with. I dressed for bed and tidied up my room, flitted about in an effort to avoid my desk. I even reclined on my bed and started reading Warvold's book, which I had snuck out of the library, hoping I might tire out and fall asleep. But my guilt overwhelmed me. Sitting at my desk with pen in hand, I thus began:
I do hope your trip home was not too long. I suspect you encountered more dust than either of us knew could be kicked up by carts from here to Lathbury. I'm sure you endured a long day of travel, but it feels good to know you are home safe and sound.
Things have settled down here, almost back to normal. I enjoyed dinner with Father and Ganesh and Nicolas this evening. Everyone seems taken with Nicolas and I think he will do just fine. Father is tired, working too hard again — but we are getting along well, and we find our spare moments to wander off together often enough for the both of us.
I must tell you something now that I hope you will not punish me too greatly for upon my return home, though I will deserve nothing less than a sound thrashing with a willow. I wanted desperately to see farther outside the wall on my visit than I have been able to in the past, so I took your spyglass from your drawer and brought it with me. It gets worse. Pervis Kotcher saw me using it, and he took it from me. Later, he returned it, but not before smashing the glass out.
I am sorry, Mother. I promise to work day and night until I earn enough to repair this precious item that belongs to you. I know I was wrong to take it without asking. Can you forgive me?
I'm off to bed now, lots to do tomorrow. Grayson says hi.
I folded the letter, addressed it to my mother then dripped wax on it from my candle and applied my seal. I would give it to Silas at breakfast.
I went back to my bed and began flipping through Warvold's old book. I felt sleepy almost immediately and placed the book under my pillow, afraid that Pervis would be lurking around my room in the middle of the night, looking through my things. Which reminded me, what did he mean when he had asked if someone had contacted me from outside the wall? It was an odd thing to say, and I rolled it over in my mind for several minutes until I drifted off to sleep.
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