Of Sea and Stone
Genre: YA Fantasy
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Making Friends in Itlantis
In this excerpt, Aemi and Nol have just been assigned to a master and given their duties as slaves in the city beneath the sea. Aemi is already trying to figure out a way to escape.
I fell into step beside Nol as we headed down the long hall toward a door marked with the words INDENTUREDS’ DINING ROOM. Some of the letters were strange, but I could still read it. The written language was not too different from what I was familiar with.
Nearly a dozen servants sat at tables around the room, some eating stew from metal bowls, some talking, some half-dozing with their heads propped on one hand. The hum of voices died down as soon as we stepped into the room. All eyes fastened on us, and I felt the heat of their curiosity in their stares.
After a few seconds of silent staring, everyone returned to his or her tasks, and we were forgotten. I followed Nol to the stew pot. He dumped the watery meat soup into a bowl, his eyes fixed on the food. We didn’t speak, but I noticed the way his hand shook on the ladle. When he’d gotten his food, he went and sat alone at the far end of one of the tables. I went to the opposite side of the room and sank down into the first empty chair I found.
“You and the other new one don’t seem to like each other too much,” someone commented.
I looked up to see a thin-faced, brown-skinned young man with thick black hair and a scar down one cheek watching me over his bowl of food. He spooned some stew into his mouth and chewed, waiting for my response. A honey-complexioned girl with large, dark eyes and full lips sat beside him. She offered me a small smile.
“No,” I said, looking down at my bowl.
“I heard you arrived together. Do you know each other?”
“Don’t ask so many questions, Tob,” the girl beside him said. “It’s rude.”
Tob grinned. “Sorry. I had a bad fall a year ago and damaged my head, and now I can be a bit rash with my words. I don’t mean any harm. Mella here usually tells me when I’m being offensive.”
The girl, Mella, nodded at me in greeting. Her gaze flicked over me, and I had the feeling that she missed no details.
“Didn’t you arrive today?” Tob asked. He took another bite of his stew.
“Tob,” Mella said again. “Rude.”
“It’s all right. Yes, I arrived today.” I struggled to keep my voice stoic, but the words wobbled on my tongue.
“You sound sad. But don’t worry,” Tob said. “You’ll get the hang of things quickly.”
I sighed and tasted the stew. It was plain but filling, much tastier than the cubes from the ship, and I ate quickly.
“Don’t mind that mess,” Tob said as he watched me eat. “The cooks here have no finesse. They burn everything, and they’ve no imagination at all when it comes to ingredients.”
“Tob fancies himself to be a cook,” Mella said.
“Fancies? I could make a lobster pastry that would make you weep with joy,” he said. “If only they would let me touch the food.”
“I’ve heard some of your ideas,” Mella said. “Perhaps the cooks are wise to keep you away from it?”
“It’s called a shock cook,” he said. “They are popular in Primus. They make the strangest things delicious. It’s an art.”
Mella made a face. “I don’t want the word shocking used to describe my dinner, thank you very much.”
“You’d be shocked at how much you loved it,” Tob promised.
“Is Merelus a good master?” I needed to learn my place, my lines. I needed to know the lay of this land if I wanted to escape. If I wanted to find Perilous.
Tob shrugged. “He has his quirks, but he’s one of the better ones. We don’t see him much. He spends most of his time with his books.”
“He’s a scholar,” Mella said.
I wondered if Merelus was considered rich in this society, or if houses like this one were the usual fair in Celestrus. I wondered how the people of this place had come to live this way. How had they built such cities? Why did they live below the sea? But I dared not ask. I was supposed to be from this world.
“I heard you were from far away,” Tob said. “And you have an accent I’ve never heard before. Are you from one of the new colonies?”
“Something like that,” I said. “It was very remote.”
His expression sagged with disappointment as he realized I wasn’t going to chatter about the details. “Not even a hint?”
Mella poked him. “Every Indentured has the right to keep quiet about his or her past. You know that.”
Tob sighed. “True. But consider that decision carefully,” he said to me, grinning in a way that told me he was teasing now. “If you continue to be so tight-lipped about your accent, people are going to think you’re a spy for the Dron.”
“The Dron?” I shook my head in confusion.
Tob looked as if I’d just asked him what a fish was. “What clamshell have you been living in?” he demanded.
“Tob,” Mella said.
He ignored her. “The Dron.Our enemies.Blood, tears, endless promises of dismemberment? You know, those people?”
“Remote colony dweller, remember? I’ve been reclusive.”
“The Thousand Year War?”Tob tried, as if that would jog my memory.
I shook my head.
“The Itlanteans and the Dron have been enemies for centuries,” he said. “Enough blood has been spilled between Itlantis’s cities and theirs to fill an ocean.”
“Why are they at war?” A shiver trickled through my stomach at the thought of all those armies and men fighting below the surface of the ocean, unbeknownst to the rest of the world.
Tob shrugged. “Does anybody even remember? I don’t. I don’t think those bigheads in Primus do, either.”
“Tob sees little value in discussing politics,” Mella said to me.
“I’m capable of a discussion,” Tob protested. “I just have no desire for one. Besides, that’s what you’re here for.” To me, he whispered, “She wants to be a scholar just like the master.”
Mella elbowed him. He yelped and shot me a grin.