*this is a little project I started in one of my English classes about six months ago. Let me know if it should be continued!*
The wall has been there since the war. We aren’t permitted to ask about either of them. All we’re told is that we are safe here, trapped behind the cold stone. To ask about the wall or the war is to ask for punishment.
We aren’t safe here. Not anymore.
“I dreamt of the bird again,” I whispered to Mellie.
“Let Mother hear you and you’ll be sent back to Doctor Jasper,” Mellie hissed as she passed me the plate of eggs.
“What are you two whispering about?” our mother asked, tossing a stained rag on the table.
“Maia was just saying how excited she is to start working in the Gardens today,” Mellie chirped, smirking at me.
“Yes, what a lovely seventeenth birthday present, working under a hot sun for hours.”
I threw a biscuit at Mellie’s head when Mother turned her back to close the window. She always closes the kitchen window when we’re all eating. Mother refuses to tell me why, but Mellie says it’s because of the things I say. She tells me I could be tried for treason, or whatever. It’s become a daily “tradition,” like how people decades ago would put up dead trees in their homes and decorate them for a “holiday.” Even Father, who isn’t home much, accepts this routine and reminds me to “bite my tongue.”
After breakfast, Mellie and I left for a day in the Gardens. Since it was my first day, I had to go through training. Apparently gardening requires a full day of being trained how to use the tools and when to harvest the food and a bunch of other information that bored me. I already know practically everything since Father is Assistant Gardener. But being the daughter of a man in charge doesn’t exclude me from training. I also find out who my Trainer is, which is slightly more exciting than being taught how to dig a hole in the ground.
“Are you nervous?” Mellie asked, kicking a loose stone with the toe of her worn brown boot.
“No, I just hope I don’t get an idiot for a Trainer.”
“Bite your tongue, Maia!” Mellie groaned in a low voice, looking around to make sure no one heard.
“Oh, please! Like I could be put on trial for calling a Trainer an idiot. You’ve seen Woolf from the Builders, he’s a total knob!” I whispered, but only for Mellie’s comfort.
Mellie ignored me as we continued the long walk to the Gardens. It was early, but the sun was already high in the sky. There were a few younger kids chasing each other, kicking up loose dirt into the air. I remember playing that same game with my brother, Theo, before he was assigned to be a Guard. We hardly see him anymore. He was the only one who laughed at my jokes about the Trainers and never told me to bite my tongue. I gazed at the North-East Wall, the section Theo was assigned to Guard, but I couldn’t distinguish the hazy silhouettes of people standing on top of the high wall. There seemed less than usual.
“Hey, Mellie, how come there are so few Guards today?” I asked.
“You ask too many questions, Maia.”
I gave up trying to find Theo and instead shifted my focus to a sleek, black bird that was perched on the roof of a house. I stopped walking and stared at the still bird that gazed back at me.
“Maia? Come on, we’re gonna be late,” Mellie said, huffing in annoyance when she noticed I wasn’t beside her anymore.
“That’s the bird,” I said quietly.
I had never actually seen the bird; it was only in my dreams. Mellie walked back to me and looked around before tugging on my arm.
“Please, Maia. Don’t do this. Not here, not where someone can see you,” she begged.
“I’m just looking at a bird, Mellie. How could that cause any disturbance?” I said as I pulled free of her grasp. She began to wring her hands together and wouldn’t stop snapping her head back and forth.
“Because people know, Maia. They’re already watching you,” she whispered.
“Who’s watching me? What are you talking about, Mellie?”
She ignored me and quickly started to walk away. I had to jog to catch up with her fast pace. There was no point in continuing questioning her because I knew she wouldn’t speak about this again.
I looked up and saw endless fields of green and brown, sometimes broken up with the occasional apple tree. The fields stretched farther than I could see and seemed to touch the Wall that was several miles out. The Gardeners were already working; they’ve been awake since dawn, preparing for the last harvest next month. I could feel my skin starting to burn from the sun and wished I brought a hat.
“Mellie!” a deep voice boomed from behind us. It was Kearin, Mellie’s Trainer. He jogged to us and pulled the brim of his hat up a little so that we could see him.
“Hey, Kee. This is Maia, she’s new today,” Mellie said as she waved a hand in my face. She still seemed tense, like someone was going to suddenly shove a hot rod of metal against my forehead for being a traitor by tongue.
“Ah, happy birthday, then. Have you met your Trainer yet?” Kearin asked me, wiping the sweat from his upper lip with a dirt-stained towel from his back pocket.
“Uh, no… Could you help with that?”
“’Fraid not. They’ll find you soon enough,” he said before turning to Mellie. “Anyway, you’re helping me Watch today.”
“Why? We’re not Guards,” Mellie stated matter-of-factly.
“Good observation,” he joked. “Zakarias and his Huntsmen said there’s been some strange animals making appearances in the Outer Woods and they need the Guards’ eyes and ears, which leaves the Wall low on Guards.”
“Is Theo helping?” I asked.
“Most likely. Zakarias asked for most of the Northern Guards to aid his Huntsmen. They’re the best trained.”
“But strange animals? Like what?” Mellie questioned. Kearin glanced at me and smiled quickly before pulling Mellie away.
“Yeah, I’ll just wait here then?” I called to them, but they were talking in a serious manner, waving their hands quickly and striding with their heads bent low.
Zakarias is the Head Huntsman and he rarely asks for that many Guards for help. Whatever animals these are, they’re a big deal. The Outer Woods are forbidden territory for anyone who isn’t a Huntsman. I don’t know what happens if someone goes out there, mostly because they don’t speak about it once they get back. It’s as if they were scared into silence, by the Woods or the Hunstmen, I don’t know.
I picked up a cultivator that lay abandoned against a tree and lightly trailed it across the dirt. I didn’t realize that someone was watching until I looked up to ease the pain in my neck. It was a girl, possibly a few years older than me, with short black hair and a crooked nose. She looked strangely familiar, but I couldn’t understand why. She was leaning against the shed, legs and arms crossed. She was staring at me and I felt a rush of cold spread down my spine, even though I was sweating through my clothes from the heat. I noticed that no one else seemed to feel this cold wind, and the trees stood still. I glanced back at the girl, and she smirked before the Head Gardener Trainer walked up to her.
He pointed to me and wagged a finger in her face. Her bright eyes rolled slightly and she pushed herself off the shed and walked toward me.
“You’re a bit pale to be in the Gardens,” she said once she got to me.
I could see scars, almost like injection sites, on both sides of her neck. She stood about a foot taller than me. I shrugged my shoulders and scratched at my burning skin. We stood in silence for a few minutes and it wasn’t until I was sure my skin would erupt in flames that I said something.
“So are you going to train me or not?”
“Pull the weeds,” she ordered, throwing a pair of thick gloves at me. I dropped the cultivator and stared at her.
“Why can’t I just use this? It would get the job done quicker,” I asked, pointing to the tool. She smirked and crossed her arms again.
“Well look who’s been doing their homework.”
For once, I bit my tongue. No matter how much I talk about my father being Assistant Gardener, it won’t grant me any exceptions. In fact, it would probably result in even more work since bragging is against the Rules. Everyone has equal work in his or her assigned area of labor, and no one receives any sort of exception. The only people who do are the soon-to-be mothers. That’s the only way out of work, and then there’s an age frame. No one is allowed to be pregnant over the age of thirty. I’m not sure what happens to people if they disobey the Rule of Childbearing, but Mother goes silent when it’s mentioned.
I yanked the weeds for hours. The sun was searing my sensitive skin, but every once in a while I felt that cold breeze again and it soothed my skin. Everything around me remained still each time this wonderful breeze came, but I started to ignore that odd fact and relished it instead. I pulled the last weed and rocked back on my heels, breathing heavily.
“There. I’ve pulled all the weeds,” I said to the girl. She stood with her arms crossed—a stance that she seemed stuck in—and eyes narrowed, as if watching her surroundings like a fight would break out.
“There’s more along the South Wall.”
“What? No! I’m not pulling more weeds! This isn’t even proper training! You’re just making me do your job.” I pulled the gloves off and stood up to face her.
Something changed in her eyes when I said that, and it seemed to pain her. The brief look was gone in the next second, however, and she glared at me.
“Fine. Your training is done for today,” she said.
“Wait, what? Training takes a whole day. You can’t just stop at pulling weeds,” I replied, watching her start to smirk once again.
“Well you already seem to know everything, probably because your daddy is Assistant Gardener,” she mocked.
I clenched my fist around the thick glove, trying to calm myself down like Doctor Jasper taught me. Breathe in and out deeply, and pretend to be in a happy place. Not many people use my father’s position against me, although in class I was sometimes ignored or picked last. It was a topic that was, for the most part, rarely talked about.
“I have more important business besides training you,” she continued as she started to walk back toward the shed. I stood there for a few moments, and then decided to follow her.
“What business might that be? Is it about the animals the Huntsmen saw?” I asked once I stepped inside the shed. It was dark and various small hand tools swayed dangerously from the ceiling.
“Curiosity killed the cat, you know,” she said as she continued to the back of the shed.
“Isn’t that phrase from, like, centuries ago?” I stepped on a rake and put my hands in front of my face just in time to stop the handle from hitting me. I had a small scar between my eyebrows from the first time it happened.
“Regardless of its time of origin, you should still listen to the warning it gives,” she said in a low voice, now at the back of the shed where chairs were stacked to the high ceiling.
“Uh… what’s that supposed to mean exactly?” I questioned, watching her eyes dart to the open window just above us to the left.
“They’re watching you, Maia Lukarson. You need to be careful about what you say, and who you say it to. People aren’t who you think they are in this place,” she whispered.
I stepped back, suddenly feeling claustrophobic. That was the second time today I’ve been told that I’m being watched. I didn’t know what was going on, but it couldn’t be good.
“Who are you?” I continued to step backward, but she matched my steps.
“Azra. I’m not the one you need to fear. I’m the one you want by your side when a war breaks out.”
I stumbled out of the shed and quickly walked away from the opening. Azra stepped out seconds later as the Head Gardener Trainer came over to us.
“Didn’t scare her too bad, did ya, Azra?” he chuckled, wiping the sweat from his forehead with a heavily gloved hand.
“We’ll see,” Azra said.