A/N: Sorry about the REALLY, REALLY long break I had from FanFiction. During that 3-week (or was it 4-week?) period, I read millions of books and fanfics and ate junk food. :D Who doesn't love books and food? And I also discovered a new obsession: Maximum Ride. Haha, yeah, I know I'm late. Considering that the sixth book is already out for that series. :D
And, to top off my excuse, school started. And school = homework. Just a little fact for you, in case you didn't know.
And what's really ridiculous is that I had to read my own fanfic to get in my "writing mode," as I like to call it. I mean, who reads their own fanfic? NO ONE. _ It makes me seem like such a self-absorbed person. Sigh.
Last note: This chapter will be the spring holiday one, so people who've been waiting for this, this is for you.
Anyways, thanks to harrypotterginnyweasley for writing yet another great review for my fanfic! :)
- Chapter 11 -
I'll raise the ladle to your lips,
Drip water on your fingertips,
And stay although my heart says flee.
Will you look up and smile at me?
The day of spring holiday. Peder woke up, refreshed, almost expecting to see Esa sitting up in her cot. He looked around. No Esa. Meaning no Miri.
Peder sighed. Perhaps the girls would get home later today, though he doubted it. The woman he saw at the academy – Os later told him that her name was Olana – seemed very much like a lowlander who wouldn't follow the traditions of Mount Eskel. Peder shook his head. Imagining a spring holiday without the girls was like drinking soup and never feeling full.
Peder rose from his cot and dressed. Outside, the hills were green again. Goats grazed on the grass outside, and miri flowers bloomed. The sky was the perfect shade of blue. In terms of the weather, the day was beautiful.
Peder herded the goats and brought them up a hill. He squinted into the distance, trying to see the academy. He could actually make out its outline, and for one second, he thought he recognized Miri coming out. But he shook his head, hardly believing that he saw his best friend just when he looked.
But then something caught his eye again. The academy was suddenly surrounded by mountain girls, all running down the road to the mountain. How did they get away? Peder wondered.
No matter. The girls were back. Peder grinned, suddenly feeling a whole lot better.
"We're here, we're back!" the girls from the academy shouted as they arrived just after the empty barrel dance started. Peder turned around. He could see Esa and Miri and, in the back, Bena and Liana.
The villagers cheered, breaking the rhythm of the dance. Peder immediately rushed to Esa, hugging her and saying that he missed his little sister. Esa, eyes bright, hugged him back with her right arm.
The spring holiday was amazing. Honeyed nuts and roasted apples, salted rabbit and honey tea – all delicious. Frid hurled her stone in the contest the farthest she'd ever done yet. Everyone was happy, happy that the girls were back and happy that spring finally came.
Ribbon dances started. Bena immediately claimed Peder, insisting that she share her ribbon with him. After Bena, Peder looked around for Miri for two seconds before Liana came up and shared her ribbon with him. Peder smiled and nodded along with the both of them and secretly wished he could dance with Miri.
Finally, Bena and Liana let him go so that they could dance with other boys. Peder immediately spotted Miri without a partner and rushed to claim her ribbon. But Miri didn't look up at him and just stared at the ground.
Peder wondered what he did wrong. Did something happen in the academy that caused her to rethink their friendship? His eyes tightened, and he danced harder.
After a while, he stopped dancing with the girls, instead choosing to watch from a distance as the dances ended and the story shouts began. At one point, Os asked the academy girls for a tale.
Bena started, saying, "The girl with no hair left home to wander hills where she was not known." She pointed at Liana, who continued.
"An eagle mistook her for her fallen egg and carried her up to its nest." Liana pointed to Frid.
Frid shouted, "A quarrier plucked her from the eagle's nest, thinking her a good stone to break," and then pointed to Gerti.
Each academy girl invented a line as the story continued. Esa shouted, pointing at Miri, "Last line!"
Miri grinned. "With her bald head shining like a gold crown, a wandering prince mistook her for an academy princess and carried her away to his palace." And the story ended.
Peder wandered around the village center, eventually sitting down beyond the light by himself. Why had Miri not talked to him? Did she not want to be friends with him anymore? He felt like dying.
"Hi, Peder." Peder looked up. Miri stood in front of him, looking down at him with an expression he couldn't place. "How have you been?"
"All right, thanks." He looked back to his lap, feeling only slightly happier that Miri was talking to him.
"May I sit with you?" Something in her voice made him look up.
Miri sat down, hesitantly saying, "I'd like to hear about . . . how things have been . . . lately."
"Fine enough. A little quieter than usual without Esa in the house," Peder replied.
"How have your ma and pa been doing?" Miri continued to ask questions throughout the night. Eventually, Peder was telling Miri about the winter freely.
"Never thought I'd miss my little sister. Esa . . . and all the girls." In other words, Miri. He glanced at her face and then looked away. "I never thought that every day of working the quarry could get any worse."
"What do you mean, worse?" Miri's voice held skepticism. "Don't you like the mountain? You wouldn't rather be a lowlander."
"No, of course not," Peder denied, picking up a piece of linder. "I don't mind quarry work, really, but sometimes my head gets tired of it, and I want to . . . I'd like to make things, not just cut stone. I want to do work that I'm really good at, that feels just right." Peder stopped. He'd never mentioned to anyone that he wanted to carve from linder.
"If you could do anything in the world, what would it be?"
Peder thought and was about to answer but then wondered if he should tell Miri. She might think it stupid or dumb, he thought. "Never mind, it's nothing," he said, absentmindedly throwing the linder shard away.
"Peder Doterson, you had best tell me now. I'll hold my breath until I know."
Peder picked up another linder shard. Did he trust her? Would she laugh at him? Finally, he said, "It doesn't really matter, but I've always . . ." he trailed off, trying to find a way to explain.
"You know the carvings on the chapel doors? I've stared and stared at them the way I see you sometimes watch the sky," Peder said, looking at Miri. "As long as I can remember, I've wanted to make things like that, something more than blocks of stone. I sometimes . . . You promise not to laugh at me?"
"You know how I carve little things from thrown-off linder?"
Miri smiled. "Yes, you made me a goat once. I still have it."
Peder smiled back. "You do? I remember that goat. He had a crooked smile."
"A perfect smile," Miri disagreed.
"It's probably childish, but I like making things like that. Linder shapes really well, better than rubble rock. I'd like to make designs in the blocks, things rich lowlanders might buy to have over doorways or above their hearth."
"Why don't you?"
"If Pa ever found me making stone pictures, he'd whip me for wasting time. We barely cut enough linder each year to trade for food, and it doesn't seem likely that anything will ever change."
Miri paused. "It might." Peder looked up. Did she know something he didn't?
Miri looked away and asked him another question. Peder shrugged off the question and asked about her winter, suddenly curious about what she'd done. Miri tried ignoring the questions, but Peder sighed in frustration. "Why are you being so evasive? Tell me, I really want to know."
Miri paused, seeming to be waiting for a signal. She glanced at Peder, and he smiled. She rubbed his head and finally said, "You may be sorry you asked," and then told him about her winter.
Miri told Peder about her lashing, the first snowfall, the girls' escape from school. She told him about reading and writing and Conversation and Commerce. She spoke quickly, in a brusque manner. Finally she told Peder about quarry-speech.
"It sometimes works outside the quarry," she said and then shrugged. "Though it sometimes doesn't."
"Try it right now," Peder insisted.
Miri swallowed and glanced at Peder's face. Then, rapping her knuckles on the linder, she started to sing a love song. Peder smiled and asked, "What are you doing?"
Miri stopped and blushed. "I'm . . . I thought you said to try to quarry-speak."
"Yes, but you know you don't have to pound and sing, right? You know that in the quarry we happen to be pounding and singing while we work, but that we can use quarry-speech without doing all that."
"Yes, of course," Miri smiled. "Of course I knew that. Only an idiot would think you have to pound the stone to make quarry-speech after all."
"Yes, of course." Peder laughed. Miri laughed too and bumped him with her shoulder. What was she thinking about before that made her blush?
"So you don't have to pound, and the only singing happens inside," Miri continued. She then quarry-spoke to Peder, who suddenly remembered the afternoon he carved the linder goat for Miri. The vision felt like Miri – Peder could tell Miri quarry-spoke to him.
"That was strange," said Peder when the vision ended. "Is that what you mean by memories? It felt like quarry-speech, but I'm used to hearing the warnings we use as we work. This time, I was just thinking about the afternoon when I made that linder goat." His eyes widened, excited. "Is it because you spoke a memory? One that I knew, one that I lived, so it was so clear to me . . ." Peder was shocked. "Miri, that's amazing."
"I wonder why it worked now. . . ." Miri trailed off as she smooted her hand over the linder. Suddenly, she smiled. "Peder, I think I understand. I think it's the linder."
Confused, Peder asked, "What's the linder? What do you mean?"
Miri stood up and explained, "The academy floor is made of linder, so is this stone, and the whole quarry . . . you see? Those other times when it didn't work, I must have been outside or on rubble rock." Understanding slowly dawned on Peder's face. "Maybe quarry-speech works best around linder."
"Sit back and let me try." Peder yanked Miri's arm and made her sit by him. He noticed how their legs were touching and shivered.
Peder closed his eyes and concentrated hard on that memory Miri just showed him. Finally, after many seconds of frustration, he accomplished his goal: he could tell that Miri got the message.
"I couldn't figure it out at first. I'm so used to repeating the quarry warnings we always use."
"You told me once that quarry-speech was like singing inside, and that's how I knew what to do."
Peder shook his head. "Huh. A lot has happened while you were away." And all for the better.
"I'd tell you more if I thought I could do it before sunup."
Peder smiled. "I'm sure you would. It must have been very hard to keep quiet all those weeks."
Miri punched his shoulder lightly.
Peder stood off into the distance. "I can imagine you at the academy window, looking off toward the village, believing you could see it if you just looked hard enough. You always were a hawk, gazing at the mountains as if you could see a mouse running on a far hill, or at the sky as if you could count every feather on a sparrow's wing."
Peder felt embarrassed, admitting that he watched Miri so closely. He tried to change the subject.
"I've never told anyone about carving stone. I don't know how you got it out of me."
Miri laughed. Peder smiled at her laugh: he'd really missed it this winter. "Because I'm pushier than a billy goat mad. I won't tell anyone else," she added.
"I know you won't. I know that about you." Peder stared at her and reached out, holding the end of her braid. Miri's eyes widened slightly, and Peder brushed her braid across his palm. He frowned. "Do you ever wear your hair loose?"
Miri's voice creaked when she answered. "Sometimes. I did last year at autumn holiday."
Peder blinked; he remembered the day. "That's right. I miss all the time we had when we were younger, don't you? It'd be nice to go exploring the peak again, maybe on rest days," he added.
"It would. When I'm not at the academy anymore."
Mentioning the academy made Peder mad. He let go of Miri's braid and looked at his hands. "The academy. So, you might marry the prince?"
"Oh, I don't know. I'm trying to do my best in class so maybe he'd notice me." Peder clenched his fists. "I mean, he'd have to choose me from all the other girls . . . and I'm not trying not to be the princess or anything. It's just . . . he won't pick me." Her voice was slightly wistful as she broke off.
"Why not?" Peder asked, even though he didn't want to. But he knew that if Miri wanted to be the princess – even though she'd be married to the prince – he would want that for her. He'd want to give anything she wanted to her. "I mean, why wouldn't he? You're the smartest one in the class," Peder said in a matter-of-fact tone.
Miri blushed. "I didn't mean to make it sound like that –" she said, trying to be modest.
"Well, I bet you are," Peder interrupted, his voice rising. "And if he's half a prince he'll see that and then want to carry you off to the lowlands to put you in fancy dresses. But I don't think you need to wear lowlander dresses. You're just fine." Peder's face flushed. He stood up, trying to find an excuse to leave. "Never mind. I should get back to my family."
Peder turned around, wanting more than anything for Miri to say something back, for her to say something funny, something sweet, something that mattered. He sighed, and a moment passed. Then he started to walk away.
"I won't tell anyone about your stone carving," Miri blurted out. Peder stopped in his tracks. "But I think it's wonderful, and I think you're wonderful."
Peder paused. Did he really hear what he just heard? Was it just wishful thinking? He pinched his arm, making sure he was awake. A sharp pain confirmed his guess.
Well, what now? What was he supposed to do? Turn around and see if that was really what she was thinking? Did she know what he was thinking? Or should he just keep on walking?
Peder realized the silence kept on stretching on and on. He should say something.
Peder turned around. "You're my best friend, you know." He winced; it was a really bad line to say. Miri just nodded. "I wish I had something to give you, some welcome home." Peder patted his pocket, wondering if he left a piece of linder there or a linder carving. Nope. Nothing there. But he knew he had to give something to Miri, something to make this moment memorable. An idea crossed his mind.
"It's all right, Peder, you don't have to –"
Peder bent down and kissed her cheek. Her cheek was smooth and warm. Beautiful. He left, not wanting to see her reaction, wanting to leave as soon as possible before he blurted out how much he liked her, how much he wanted to be with her.
He walked away quickly and found a hidden spot where he could watch Miri. (A/N: I know, he's such a stalker. Haha.) He could see her, frozen where he'd left her, smiling ever so slightly. He smiled.
Britta walked up to Miri and asked her something. Apparently it was about how she was smiling, because Miri glanced at where she'd last seen Peder. Peder's smile grew.
Peder sat down at the edge of the fire and watched as the villagers held council. He could make out Miri, sitting by her pa and Britta, listening avidly to the conversation.
"But no matter how much linder we cut, Os, it won't be enough," Peder's pa said. "The absence of the girls meant fewer hands to help. My own boy has had to care more for the goats and the home, and that's one less stone this season. Isn't that right, Laren?"
Miri's pa nodded and remarked, "I feel the pinch this year."
Peder's heart thumped as he saw Miri stand up. "I have something to say."
Peder leaned forward as Miri nervously cleared her throat. "At the academy," she began, "I found a book that explains how linder is sold in the lowlands. Apparently, our stone is so prized that the king himself will only use linder for his palaces, and the only place in all of Danland that produces linder is right here. So because demand for linder is high and supply is limited, it's worth a great deal."
Miri looked around and cleared her throat again. "In the rest of the kingdom, they trade for gold or silver coins instead of just food and supplies. In the capital, a block of linder is worth one gold coin, and in turn a gold coin can buy five bushels of wheat."
Miri paused; Peder could barely hear her pa say, "Miri."
"I know I'm asking you to believe a lowlander book, but I believe it, Pa," Miri said, her voice rising. "Why would a lowlander write anything good about Mount Eskel unless it was true?"
Britta added, "Miri showed me the book, and I think it's true as well." Peder immediately felt gratitude toward the lowlander girl.
Os, shaking his head, said, "It's easy to believe the traders will cheat us as much as they can, but what can we do about it?"
"Refuse to trade for anything but gold or silver, and at decent prices. Then if they don't haul enough goods to trade for our cut linder," Miri said, "we can take their money down the mountain to buy even more." Peter idly wondered when Miri got this smart.
"There's a large market in a town three days from here. We stayed at an inn on my journey last summer," Britta added. "Gold and silver there would buy you much more than what the traders bring to your village."
"I can see the value in trading elsewhere," Os said, rubbing his beard, "but if the traders won't take our linder for gold . . ."
"If they won't, we threaten to take the linder down the mountain," Ma said. "If we trade linder in that market ourselves, we'll earn even more."
"No, no. We don't have the wagons or mules, and we don't know the first thing about a town marketplace," one of the villagers said. "What if we drag all our blocks there and no one buys? What if in the process we offend the traders and they never return?"
The discussion continued until Miri finally spoke up. "I don't think the likes of Enrik would let it go that far. I really believe the traders are making heaps of money from our stone. They'll know we could sell the linder for more in the lowlands, and then they would be cut out of any profit. What do you think, Pa?" she asked, looking up at her pa.
Miri's pa nodded. "I think it's worth the risk."
The villagers continued the discussion and consulted Britta about trade. "My father was a merchant," she said. "I can make sure they don't cheat you. But what if the king gets impatient for the linder, and he sends men up here to quarry the stone themselves?"
Peter snorted. Frid's pa answered her question, saying, "If all lowlanders have arms as skinny as the traders do, they'll have to rest between each mallet strike."
Ma added, "That's one thing we don't have to worry about, Britta. Let them come, and they'll give up after their first block cracks. We have linder in our bones."
The conversation never did end. Peder watched Miri half-close her eyes sleepily and gaze at the shadows of the fire. He'd never forget this day, because this could be the day that changed everything.
A/N: Bleh, this took me three days to write, all because of school. sigh So how's your school going?