Author's note: It's been quite some time since I have submitted, but thanks to the new book, I have some new stories to play with. Inspired by Joanna Newsom's Monkey & Bear - Cover art from Lauren Ruth Ward's Sideways. Reviews and comments welcome!
With bellies full of fish and potatoes, Coriolanus and Lucy Gray trudged onwards, leaving the lake behind. The late afternoon brought more heat and bugs, making the pair wish for a sympathetic cloud to shield them from the sun. Coriolanus had forgone breakfast to make an early escape and he was thankful for how quickly the katniss had ripened since their last visit. He would be living off of berries if it weren't for Lucy Gray's skills – he was discouraged that there hadn't been time for any wilderness or survival training back in 12.
He was going to miss the structure and scheduled nature of his life, though. As he and Lucy Gray marched forward, he wondered if he had passed his Officer's exam. How different would the life of an Officer be and how many fewer toilets would there be to scrub?
Eventually, they found a small clearing and set down their bags. Lucy Gray turned an outstretched flat palm to the sky and closed one eye, squinting against the sun. Coriolanus watched her tick her hand downward and mouth something to herself. She turned to him and said they had about an hour left of sun light – they could keep moving, or take that time to settle in the for the night.
Coriolanus realized how this had been the furthest he'd ever walked in one direction. The Capitol was a maze of lefts and rights and roundabouts in which ups and downs, tunnels and bridges intertwined. Even here in 12, his training had only allowed him to run in a large circle for only a few miles for an hour tops.
That night would be their first together – truly alone, save for the scarce Mockingjays that peppered the forest. Out here the birds weren't as practiced as those closer to civilization – but they still experimented with Lucy Gray's notes in their beaks when she hummed a tune as she worked at unpacking their bed rolls and pulling her dusty boots off of her feet.
They excitedly echoed her cries later that night, which made Lucy Gray burst out in laughter, creating a layered effect of ecstasy and humor among the Mockingjays. It angered and embarrassed Coriolanus – he was the reason for her song – and those stupid birds were bastardizing it.
The songbirds made Lucy Gray think of home and she began talking through her list of wonders about this and that and who as she lay beside Coriolanus, barely covered by thin fabric that had still taken up too much space in her satchel. Coriolanus softly put his hand over her mouth to stop her rambling and turned her face upwards to the night sky and told her to not look backwards – but to look up at the brightest star because their dreams lie north.
A few days later, as packs hung simply from the couple's shoulders, barren of rations and water, a familiar smell filled the air; a campfire. Coriolanus grabbed hold of Lucy Gray's orange scarf that was tied around her waist, and held her back from running on ahead. It wasn't smart to run up on people, especially out in the middle of nowhere. He felt uneasy and a little scared, and Lucy Gray saw this, so she started to sing instead.
Deep in the meadow,
Under the willow.
A bed of grass,
A soft green pillow…
Lay down your head,
And close your sleepy eyes,
And when you awake, the sun will rise.
Coriolanus let her go and they continued to walk forward towards the campground. It was a simple song. A nice song. A 'we mean no harm' song, he thought.
Here it's safe,
Here it's warm,
Here the daisies guard you –
Lucy Gray had been right. Her song lured the tenants out from behind the trees and soon the wandering young fugitives were welcomed with warm smiles and hugs. Coriolanus and Lucy Gray found a small commune of about a dozen people. Come to find out they too were from 12. The group had left just before the Reaping. Since their party was so large and they experienced a few injuries, their pace was a lot slower than the youngsters.
The group recognized Lucy Gray, which made the integration a lot smoother for Coriolanus. He didn't sound like them, and they knew he wasn't originally from 12, but it didn't matter. No one was originally from 12. Also, there were no more Districts up here.
The troop had plenty of food and rations to share, and with each song Lucy Gray sang, they piled more food on her and Coriolanus' plates.
Albeit a safe place with food and shelter, their dreams did not belong to the family in the woods – they had to keep moving. Their packs heavy again, they set their sights for the next hill.
The following weeks they stumbled across more migrants, and not all being from 12.
While Lucy Gray sang, Coriolanus spoke with the expatriates and learned everything he could about their home Districts. He found a lot did not line up with what he had learned in school, and there had been significant oppression in each District he encountered.
One group had been all they way from 4. He asked them why they hadn't sailed away. The open waters were more dangerous and unforgiving than the earth; there was no cover or shelter to protect you from the predatory forces of the Capitol. Even if you did get past the forbidden zone, the sea monsters that lie beneath the heavy waves would destroy you.
Coriolanus found their reply to be a bit childish and quite the tall tale. However, after seeing what Professor Gaul was capable of in her laboratory, was it really wrong to believe that there were bigger monsters out there? The citizens of 4 certainly believed it enough to trek hundreds of miles by foot to avoid finding it out for themselves. Plus there had been rumors that 13 hadn't been destroyed after all. The pilgrimage led people to the northeast corner of the unknown.
Lucy Gray and Coriolanus had cooperated with one another since the day he met her at the station, forging an understanding of survival. Lucy Gray wasn't a stranger for putting on a show to earn her bread, but she felt some nights were more forced. Coriolanus yelled at a woman who didn't seem interested in the act – he shouted at children who left to their tents after Lucy Gray's song without leaving anything at her feet. They didn't stay long at those camps and their bags were light again.
The nights when they were alone, far from the last camp and the next still an unknown, they laid uncovered in the darkness; nearby, a few embers burned bright enough to highlight their features. Coriolanus stroked her chin, making sure her gaze was fixed on the shining beacon in the heavens. He kissed her and told her they were almost there – their dreams within their grasp, but she had to keep singing. She had to keep dancing. Otherwise they wouldn't survive another week. She didn't want to let him down, would she? He'd then tuck his head into the crook of her neck as he rocked back and forth, and whispered how much he loved her as she looked up at the stars.
The next camp was the biggest and most established. Mixed with several Districts, it had much more to offer. There were even a few semi permanent structures in place. People had started to get tired of wandering through the nothing and figured this was the furthest they have been from anything resembling the Capitol, so it must be a good place to stop a while.
This was where they would stay for a few days, and have a proper rest. Lucy Gray needed some time to darn her stockings and figure out if she could have one of her shoes fixed. The walking had tattered every stitch on their bodies. Coriolanus figured he could trade his trousers for a smaller pair. The sparse meals and walking had earned his belt two new holes.
To their surprise, there were other musicians in the population. Lucy Gray took to them immediately. Coriolanus hadn't seen her light up so bright since she spotted him in the crowd for the first time back in 12.
The group consisted of a dark woman with a washboard, an old man with a banjo that was down to it's last two strings, a fiddler who was a boy that couldn't have been more than 10, and dark haired young man about twenty-five who cradled a guitar. Lucy Gray had found her surrogate Coveys. After she introduced Coriolanus to the group, she didn't turn back to him again until the little boy began yawning so hard it got Coriolanus yawning too. Loudly.
Lucy Gray realized it was getting late, but she had to ask the man if she could play one song that night on his guitar. She ached to feel the steel strings and the deep vibrations against her chest. The man smirked and asked for a kiss first. Without hesitation, Lucy Gray hopped up and grabbed the man's face and laid a giant kiss on his mouth. He whooped, hollered and slapped his knee. The whole circle laughed and cheered as he handed the guitar over to her. Coriolanus had the conversation with Lucy Gray already that she flirted and played with her audience to make ends meet, but he didn't like this kind of flirting.
Lucy Gray sat back down next to her partner, and while she got reacquainted with the instrument – plucking the strings softly with one hand while she ran her left hand up and down the pressboard neck, feeling it's mass under her right arm - she began to properly introduce herself by telling them the story of the Coveys and how they each had a ballad for their name.
That night was different from the others, just like the camp. Coriolanus wasn't sure if it was because of the size of the audience, or because she finally had an instrument. She loved to talk and tell her stories everywhere they went, but that time it felt more comfortable, more like home.
She asked the young fiddler what his name was and he said Tom. She patted the ground beside her and he took a seat. She told Tom there was indeed a ballad with his name, but it was a bit too sad to sing for him just yet. She just hoped he wouldn't get caught up in the same kind of love triangle the Tom in the ballad had. She looked up at the man who loaner her his guitar, and he knowingly smirked and winked at her. He mouthed, "Oh, poor Tom Dooley," which made Lucy Gray giggle.
She asked the man what his name was. He told her for another kiss, he'd tell her. Coriolanus quickly put his hand on her leg and gave a hard squeeze. She won't be bartering with kisses anymore. Lucy Gray took the cue and quipped back with how that coupon was all used up. Except for Tom, he had unlimited kisses, and she planted one on top of his head, making him giggle and blush.
The man took a swig of something from a small enameled mug and shook his head, and gave her a defying look. Lucy Gray shrugged her shoulders and told her audience she would find out another day, but for now, she had to finish introducing herself. Coriolanus watched the man for all sixteen versus of her silly ghost story of a song, which was her namesake. After the last note, he whispered in her ear it was time for bed and tugged at her orange scarf that was looped around her waist.
Lucy Gray told everyone she had best get before she turned into a pumpkin. She wasn't sure where that saying originated – just like many others – all she knew it meant that little boys and girls shouldn't stay up past midnight.
It was Coriolanus who handed the guitar back to the man, refusing to let it go for a moment when the man grabbed the neck of the instrument. Coriolanus' gesture and look he gave was enough to stake claim of the girl from 12.
Their supplies grew in the following days. They finally had a tent to put their bedrolls under. Lucy Gray even managed a new dress and Coriolanus a suit jacket that Lucy Gray insisted he wear a flower in the lapel.
Since Lucy Gray had become the new lead in the pieced together camp band, their share came much easier. She knew how to talk to the crowd, interact with them, and make them feel special. This all reminded Coriolanus of the zoo when she would reach through the bars and shake the children's' hands. Another group of sponsors, he thought, no different at all.
While she busied herself with the camp, writing everyone their own ballad, Coriolanus tried to find out why this location became a stopping point for a lot of people. More and more homesteads were being erected. People said they were close to 13, but how close exactly? If they were so close, why set up residence here? Why not go in? Were they going to wait for the radiation to settle? Get the next generation ready to move in when it did?
Everyone gave him the same answer. They didn't know where it was. They knew it was there, but not exactly. Those who did survey the land found only craters and debris. But there were stories that it still existed – you just had to know where to look.
At night, they still lay uncovered, but the scratchy canvas fabric hung above their heads, blocked Lucy Gray's view of the stars as Coriolanus whispered in her ear. The time he spent with her alone was his time and his time only. He didn't want anyone to know what he knew, like the shape of her, the taste of her. People would hear her sing, sure, but this song in particular, he didn't want anyone to hear. These lyrics were for him and him only, even if they were muffled against the palm of his hand. That was a habit when the Mockingjays heard – they only wanted to turn something special of his into a joke.
The camp was about a mile away from a flooded quarry. He had gone down with Lucy Gray on one occasion but he still wasn't comfortable swimming. She would swim to one end and back to the shore, again and again. Coriolanus had struck his foot on a rock while treading and hated the swimming hole ever since. It wasn't soft like the lake in 12, where only grass would get wrapped around his ankles.
Instead he would watch her from the shore, where his standard issue boots protected his feet. He'd marvel at the huge, smooth, walls of the slate quarry, curious how man could have dug into the earth in that way.
Once, he lost sight of Lucy Gray.
He was frightened at the thought when she disappeared – too far on the other side to see exactly where she was, and too far to swim after her. He paced on the shore, wondering what to do, considering asking the women washing their clothes on the banks for help. A few more minutes passed when she reappeared, waving her arms while her shouts echoed off the slate walls. She laughed and hollered as she swam.
When she made it back to the shore, she told Coriolanus what she had found. It had been a squeeze, but there had been a cave, and he had to come with her. Immediately, he shut her up. Yelling about how unsafe it was, and how stupid she had been. Everything they had been through she risked it for a stupid swim. The washerwomen looked up briefly from their linens, and almost shrugged in agreement. A few people had already died jumping from the cliffs into the water. It was known as a dangerous place, long before Lucy Gray had done her exploration. He forbid her from even swimming in that quarry again.
At the camp, everyone had jobs to do. It was a hive of bustling activity during the day where trees to be cut down, food to be foraged or hunted, clothes to be washed and repaired. Coriolanus tried to fit himself in where he saw fit, but found some of the work to be tedious. He hated getting splinters under his nails, or his shirt torn on branches, or getting leaves in this curly hair. Washing was heavy and wet, and cooking meant smoke in his eyes.
He pondered if he should share his Peacekeeper training with the others. He knew some of the men had guns, but there wasn't much ammo to spare for target practice. Expeditions were risky due to the fallout. Instead, he did what he knew best, and that was talking about Lucy Gray. However, they had been there for the better part of two weeks already and Coriolanus was starting to run out of stories to share with the residents. His job as her manager was slowly becoming obsolete.
One night, he sat watching one of Lucy Gray's shows, while sipping on strong clear liquid from a small enameled mug. Saro Jane scrapped and tapped at her washboard in time to Sloop John's two stringed banjo. Little Tom reminded Coriolanus so much of little Maude Ivory, he felt a twinge of guilt that they had to leave them behind. He was hopeful the Covey clan would make their way out of 12 like he and Lucy Gray had done a summer ago.
Lucy Gray would go back and forth on the guitar, sharing it with her band mate. She joked that he would forever remain nameless to her because her kisses weren't for sale. But Coriolanus swore he heard her thank her band mate by name when he handed her his guitar.
Coriolanus threw his mug into the fire, causing the blaze to flash green, and stumbled away from the gathering. He scooped up a small lantern from a picnic table and took it with him as he ventured into the trees in no particular direction.
If her kisses weren't for sale – what else did she offer him to learn his name? Did she suck his dick instead? Ghaddam whore. Probably has a ballad for his cock too. He started kicking loose branches and rocks that lay in his path, muttering and swearing as he went along. He found a particularly straight branch that he picked up and held as a baton. Setting his lantern down, he was able to hold it with both hands, and assumed the position he was taught as a Peacekeeper. Push, push, jab, swing. Push, push, jab, swing. Riot movements. If they didn't comply with your actions, then let 'em have it. He shuffled to a nearby tree and used it as his opponent.
Dirty–fuckin'–District–Douche, he yelled the tree with each swing, making bark fly with each strike. He swung until the little branch broke against the bold Poplar. He chucked the remaining piece back to the forest floor and closed his empty hands into fists and started punching the tree.
His outburst was interrupted by a voice in the dark. It was a young man about his age, but taller, with an oddly familiar angular build. It was hard to tell exactly who it was, but the voice was friendly enough. He thought of Sejanus, who only wanted peace, and the freedom Coriolanus was experiencing now, without him.
Coriolanus wiped tears from his eyes and quickly apologized for disturbing the young man. The voice introduced himself as Lucius and he reassured Coriolanus it was of no matter. Lucius went on to tell Coriolanus he recognized him, and he recognized that he was with Lucy Gray.
Lucius walked quietly besides Coriolanus for a while, holding his lantern waiting for Coriolanus' breathe and pace to slow. He continued the conversation about how lucky Coriolanus was to have Lucy Gray – how beautiful and perfect she was – But Coriolanus should be careful; Lucy Gray had been sneaking off to the quarry. Everyone knew how Coriolanus felt about that swimming hole, but Lucy Gray would be seen washing her linens and laundry and taking a quick dip in the mean time while the threadbare fabric dried on the rocks.
That was it. That was another blatant disregard to their trust she wrote those songs about. She wants to kiss everyone and go swimming? I'll tell her she stinks of muck and algae. That quarry is a cesspool of filth, just like she is. What an embarrassment to him that she would betray him like that – if everyone knew she was down there, what where they saying?
Coriolanus snatched his lantern back from Lucius and quickly started to head back. He'd smack her in front of everyone, just like the Mayor had done. Lucius ran after Coriolanus through the trees; the glow of the campfire could be seen in the distance. Coriolanus was deaf to Lucius' dialog as he pounded along, flexing his bloodied knuckles in anticipation of their destination.
When Coriolanus arrived to the center of camp, the stage was already cleared. A few people were picking up benches and folding up blankets, resetting for the morning routine of breakfast.
He spun in circles, and started to yell for Lucy Gray.
Once Lucius caught up with Coriolanus, he grabbed him by his shoulders to stop him from swinging wildly. Lucius came into focus and was finally heard saying something about Lucy Gray, something Lucius wanted to tell Coriolanus for a while now. Lucy Gray hadn't been going to the quarry alone, but with that guy.
Coriolanus shrugged the Lucius' hands off of his shoulders and in turn, grabbed on to Lucius. Coriolanus demanded to know whom Lucy Gray had been with. He was shouting so loud and repeating himself, the young man had to yell the name, several times, for Coriolanus to register it.
Cameo Coin! Cameo Coin, I tell ya! Her fuckin' guitar guy!
Lucy Gray was in the cool water, where only the moonlight showed the way. She could swim to the other side with her eyes closed if she wanted to. Her and Cameo had explored that cave countless times, especially under the cover of dark. She knew Coriolanus wouldn't follow – she knew he couldn't swim after her and she knew he was afraid of spelunking in those caves.
Cameo splashed ahead, but she stalled. They were far enough out, and far enough away, she could afford a moment. She turned onto her back and stared up to the sky, floating weightless, letting her bare toes and chest bobble up out of the water to feel the even cooler air kiss her skin.
She stared at the brightest star in the sky and thanked it for being her guiding light. It was selfish to not look backwards and remind herself where she came from, and not remember the Covey spirit that drove her out of 12 and into the embrace of 13.
The next morning, Coriolanus took a small raft out to the other side of the flooded quarry, looking for any openings or clues as to where Lucy Gray had gone. Something did catch his eye just below the surface of the water. It was too far to reach while on the raft, however he was confident enough in his swimming abilities to allow himself to slip into the water and under the surface for a few feet to retrieve the object.
He shook his head like a dog and spit the rusty flavored water from his mouth upon resurfacing; he pulled the item up onto the raft for a better look. It was the bright orange scarf he had given Lucy Gray.
He kept that scarf wrapped around his fist the entire journey back to 12. Coriolanus wasn't worried about an A.W.O.L. sentence. He had names of known rebels and defiant citizens and could give information of the known hideout for said rebels. He would tell the authorities he had been held against his will for the last two months. He would then tell them of overheard intelligence of escaped District citizens making their way through the Wilds to what they think is District 13.