Learning the shadows

This week’s excerpt comes again from the early years. In fact, it seems I haven’t really been able to get out of the early years. I’m about 2/3rds through my word count, realizing there is sooo much more to write about. On the plus side, I seem to be on track to cross the finish line before the end of the month

I’d also like to toss out a little thank you to Elsbeth for an inspiration that I thought was going to be a little side scene and ended up being a major change in direction for one of the other characters. (no, I’m not sharing it here Wink )

Outside the sky was overcast and the rain continued to pour down covering the city in a dreary grey haze.  Most of the streets were empty, save for those that needed to be out.  In houses, apartments and inns across the city, people huddled around roaring fires to stay warm and dry.  The temple, while never truly quiet, was no exception.  The children were gathered in the larger common rooms, family units intermixing as friends from classes and meal mingled about.  Some groups played games, and others passed the time with stories.  Other groups, such as the one Talia sat in now, passed the time learning to sew and embroider.  Sherri had led the group earlier in the afternoon, until her duties called her away.  When a new caregiver arrived to take her place, Talia stayed.

Her stitches were rough, hardly straight at all.  More than once she sighed in frustration and began picking out stitches as she realized she had made a horrible mistake.  Eleri was patient, going over the various stitches, showing how easy it was to embellish a simple design.  Talia’s fascination outweighed her frustration, and she stayed after many had left for easier pursuits.

It was during one of the times of unworking what she had done that Julie plopped down next to her, all smiles.  “What are you working on?” she asked.

“A table napkin,” Talia said, tenseness in her voice as she tried to salvage the design.

Julie nodded, leaning in to look over her shoulder.  “And what is that suppose to be?” she said, indicating the incomplete stitches.

Talia dropped her hands in her laps, letting out a deep breath.  “It’s supposed to be a cat.”

“It doesn’t look like a cat.”  Julie said thoughtfully, “It that the head or the tail?”

Talia turned, glaring slightly at her friend.  “That isn’t either, that is the back,” Talia resumed her stitches, turning her back to the intrusion.

Julie nodded again, biting her lower lip.  “Which end is the head going to be on?”

“I don’t know yet,” Talia said, putting down her work again.  “I’ve tried both sides, and neither look right.”

“Maybe you should start with the head,” Julie said helpfully.

“Maybe you should go somewhere else.” Talia sighed again, not really angry.

Julie shrugged, “I could, I suppose, but Tomas sent me over to see if you wanted to go exploring.  He said he found something.”

Talia looked up at Julie.  There was a light of mischief in her eyes.  Often in the late afternoons Tomas had asked them to come exploring.  Usually they ended up in some forgotten or rundown area of the temple, other times it was out in the lesser-used areas of the grounds.  Once, Tomas led them into a series of narrow halls that connected many of the rooms in their wing by hidden doors.  They learned the way from the living quarters to the kitchen, and over to the lecture halls.  They had nearly been caught that time.  None of them had expected the late even class to be in session.  They had stepped out through the door behind a large tapestry.  The priest was going on and on about the political structure of the city and how it interrelated with the country and countryside.  It was much more advanced than any of the classes they had been placed in.  Curious who would find this interesting they crept to the edge of the tapestry to peek out.

Rather than a typical class of children or young adults, the desks and chairs were filled with other priests.  The children turned to one another shaking their heads slightly, understanding nothing of the speech, when they heard a soft click.  The door to the hidden passage had closed.  Tomas stepped back, but after a moment searching was unable to find the latch on this side.  He looked to the girls his expression one of confusion and defeat.

“What are we to do?” Talia mouthed soundlessly.

Tomas shrugged, “I don’t know,” he mouthed back.

Julie shook her head, frowning.  “We wait,” she whispered.

And so they waited, standing up against the wall, no room to move.  An hour passed and finally the lecture was ending.  They heard priests rising to go, thinking they were finally free.  Three voices remained, talking over some finer points of the lecture, their tone suggesting a disagreement, but never raising in anger.  The children look at each other again, Juile with discomfort on her face.  Talia quirked an eyebrow in question.

“Pee,” came the single word response.

Talia had to cover her mouth to hold in the laugh, as did Tomas.  Julie scowled at both of them.  She looked out into the lecture hall.  The three robed figures were half the room away, but they would have to pass by them to get to the door.  Juile nudged her shoulder.  “I need to go, now!” she said in the barest of whispers.

Talia nodded, her mirth subsiding.  This was becoming serious.  Tomas still wore a big, stupid grin.

Their side of the room was fairly dim, the lamps placed on the far wall, near the lectern.  Talia stepped carefully from behind the tapestry, keeping flat to the wall.  The priests were entirely engrossed in their discussion, two with their backs to the door.  Talia moved with a catlike grace, carefully avoiding the chairs and stool near the wall.  Within a minute, she was at the door; she motioned to Julie to follow.  Julie just shook her head, indicating the priests.  Talia raised her hands in an unspoken “why not”, and waved her over again.  Julie shook her head, moving back out of sight.

Talia let out a small sigh.  The priests were still deep in discussion.  Carefully, quietly, she opened the door and stepped out into the hall.  The hall itself was little brighter, only half the lamps lit at this hour.  She carefully scanned both directions, no one was about.  What was she to do?  If Julie didn’t get out soon, they would all be in great trouble.  There was no telling how much longer Julie could contain herself, or Tomas for that matter.  As with most boys his age, he often found the wrong things humorous at the wrong time.  She nodded to herself and decided.

She opened the door, making no attempts at stealth, knocking quietly.  The priests turned to the door, regarding her with questioning eyes.

“Um, excuse me, Fathers,” she said a slight quaver in her voice.

The elder priest, the one she recognized as leading the lecture spoke up.  “What are you doing here, child?  You are not allowed in this area.”  He strode away from the other two priests, towards the door.

Talia ducked her head, bowing in what she hoped was embarrassment.  “I’m sorry, Father.  I took a wrong turn and couldn’t find my way back to the main hall.”  She looked up to his face, trying to read his reaction.  “I heard voices, and I thought someone could help me.”

His frown softened, and eventually became a slight smile.  “Of course we can, child.”  He turned to his fellow priests, “Brother Maynard, Brother Charles, we’ll continue this discussion at tomorrows meeting.”

The other priests nodded, and passed by Talia, out into the hall.  The elder priest set a hand on her shoulder, speaking kindly.  “Now, lets get you back to your rooms, it is nearly time for the evening bell.  Your caregiver must be getting worried about you.”  He stepped ahead of her into the hall and Talia made a quick glance back towards the tapestry.  Both Julie and Tomas were looking out from their cover, Tomas smiling and Julie wincing.  Talia passed through the door, and it closed behind.


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