Authors: Jenna Helland
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Eleven-year-old Navid Leahy awoke to darkness, his dream of slaying giants still rambling through his mind. It was a sweltering summer morning even though the sun was just beginning to rise. Navid's skin was sticky with sweat, and his hair was so damp, it felt like he'd been caught out in a summer storm. At some point during his fitful sleep, he'd kicked off his sheet and dropped his stuffed rabbit, which he wouldn't admit to anyone that he still kept with him during the night.
The eastern sky was rose-colored just above the ragged rooftops of South Sevenna. Through his open window, Navid could see the towering masts of the ship rising above the rooftops several blocks away in Mast Square, and his heart lurched. Today was the day he would confront Aron, his former friend and current enemy, near the square. In years past, the two spent many happy hours playing around the grounded ship and even more hours debating the mysterious circumstances that might have brought it so far inland from the harbor. But Aron had turned spiteful and mean, and Navid refused to be the target of his hate anymore.
Navid slipped out of bed, pulled on his too-short trousers, and ignored the wash basin in the corner of the tiny room. He thudded down on his knees to search under his cot for his woolen socks. They made his feet itch in the heat, but without them, his leather boots rubbed his heels raw. Someday, he'd like a pair of the canvas Litball shoes like the Seminary Lads wore. But such things were only sold in North Sevenna to the wealthy sons of the ruling class, and anyway, Navid knew he should be grateful to have his boots. Most cottager children spent the summer barefoot, but Navid didn't want to cut his foot and have it get infected from the filthy streets, like his friend Will, who was stuck inside for weeks and almost lost his leg.
“I bet Kilkeer didn't wear shoes,” Navid whispered to the dark house as he crept down the hall pretending he was the ranger from the giant-slaying saga, the most important story to the cottager peopleâ
people. Their teacher, Mr. Baine, had been telling them the story at the end of their lessons. Kilkeer was the greatest cottager that ever lived: wise as a spider, fierce as a wolverine, and cunning as a wolf. Unexpectedly, all the other students already knew Kilkeer's heroic exploits by heart, and while Navid knew the gist of the story, he'd never heard the details before.
As he stealthily approached the kitchen, Navid unleashed an imaginary bow and silently crept into the Great Northern Forest, just as Kilkeer did at the beginning of the saga. His people were being tormented by the Giant of Red Lake and only the bravestâ
“Ah!” Navid yelped, surprised to see his father, Brian Leahy, sitting at the table, sipping a mug of coffee and reading a newspaper.
“Good morning, Navid,” his father said, nonplussed by his son's dramatic entrance. “I didn't mean to startle you.”
Navid surveyed the tidy kitchen, which was his favorite room in the house. There was a large wooden table where they could host friends at mealtimes and two rocking chairs in front of the open fireplace, which was always cold during the summer months. A small fire was already burning in the cookstove and a pot of porridge bubbled on top. The back door was cracked open to let in a nonexistent breeze.
“Am I late?” Navid asked with dismay.
It was Navid's morning chore to fill the wood box for the cooking fire. Usually, the 6 a.m. chimes from the Seminary bell tower across the Lyone River woke him up. But sometimes, especially if he'd run a lot of errands during the day, he slept through the bells.
“I did it for you today,” Brian said. “I've got to meet Michael, and I needed coffee.”
“Thank you, Papa,” Navid said, feeling slightly guilty. His father ran a pub, the Plough and the Sun, and often worked until the wee hours of the morning. Brian had dark circles under his eyes, which probably meant that he hadn't been to bed at all.
“Is that Michael's paper?” Navid asked, catching a glimpse of the smeary headline emblazoned on cheap paper stock: S
UPPORT IN THE
! Their friend, Michael Henry, published a newspaper, which was an illegal activity for a cottager. If Michael were caught, he would be arrested by the Zunft, the ruling class who ruled Seahaven, a collection of islands where only the elite were free to do what they pleased. Navid and his family lived in Sevenna, the sprawling capital city, but as cottagers, they had no rights at all.
Brian nodded, crumpling the paper and tossing it into the fire. Just possessing a cottager newspaper could land a man in the Zunft prison compound north of the city.
“Can I come with you and see Michael?” Navid asked as Brian finished the last sip of coffee.
“Not today, son,” Brian said. “I'm sorting out a touchy problem.”
Navid was disappointed. Michael was a leader to the cottagers, and when he spoke, he always drew great, cheering crowds. And best of all, he was a regular at Navid's house for dinner. Navid believed that his friendship with Michael was part of the problem with Aron, who was obviously jealous that Navid knew the most important cottager in all of Seahaven.
“But you can meet us at East Ash Garden around noon. Michael will be speaking against Hywel.”
“I thought he liked the chief administrator,” Navid said. Michael's incendiary speeches against the Zunft were legendary, but Toulson Hywel had been the most tolerant Zunft leader ever, or so Navid had heard many people say, including Michael.
“Well, he did. But now he doesn't think Hywel is going far enough.”
His father was worried, which meant there might be a fight or a riot or, worse, soldiers making raids in the district.
“Is there trouble coming?” Navid asked. “I mean, more trouble than usual?”
“Not if I can help it,” Brian said. He sighed and rubbed his weary eyes with a callused hand.
Navid didn't bother his father with any more questions, but he would plan his day around the speech. His mother might have errands for him to do, and if not, he would swing by Piper Leaf Market to see Will. Maybe Will would go with him to fight Aron. Navid wasn't supposed to meet Aron untilâ
“Did you hear me?”
“I'm sorry, Papa,” Navid said. “I was thinking about something else.”
Brian motioned for Navid to sit across from him.
“Is something bothering you? Something I should know about?”
Navid squirmed in his seat. He didn't want to tell him about Aron. Brian Leahy was considered the peacemaker of South Sevenna. Cottagers, even from far-flung districts, came to him with problems concerning their kin and neighbors. And Brian would not be pleased if Navid had an issue with a boy from their own street, particularly someone who had shared meals under their roof. But his father didn't know what Aron had been saying about their family. Navid couldn't let it stand.
“I was thinking about Mast Square and how the ship got there,” Navid said. It wasn't a lie, exactly. His showdown with Aron would be near Mast Square where the now-defunct conveyor stretched from the cobblestones to the roof of the three-story building that overlooked the Mast Ship. Navid and Aron had played on that roof many times, but no one had ever dared scale the dilapidated conveyor.
His father squinted at him and then relaxed. “It's a great mystery, I agree. Don't you have school today?”
It wasn't real school, but Navid knew what his father meant. The Zunft only allowed cottager children to attend school through age ten, but one of his father's friends, Gavin Baine, held classes for children in the neighborhood several hours a week.
“Not today,” Navid said. “Mr. Baine had a conflict.”
Gavin was also a journalist and helped with the newspaper. Navid liked him as much as Michael, but he wasn't as famous or as bombastic.
“He's certain to be at Michael's speech,” Brian said. “What are you learning these days?”
“Mr. Baine's been telling us the Kilkeer Saga, and we're at the part where he ventures into the Great Northern Forest in search of the Giant of Red Lake.”
Brian seemed disappointed. “I'm surprised that's what he's teaching you.”
“Well, only the last ten minutes of the day and only if we did everything else well.”
“Good,” Brian said. “Focus on your numbers, Navid. One day, we will need engineers as much as the Zunft.”
“You don't like the saga?” Navid asked incredulously.
“I like the saga well enough,” Brian said. He picked up his flat cap and adjusted it on his head. “But I like it in the evening after chores, not during the work day when the sun is out.”
Brian was fortunate not to work directly for a Zunftman, and he tried hard to keep the pub goingâand therefore keep his freedom. Industriousness mattered more to him than grand stories of heroism. Still, Navid couldn't resist jumping to his feet and brandishing an invisible sword at his father. Brian hesitated and then raised an invisible sword of his own.
“Kilkeer had only just entered the forest when he was set upon by the Zunft,” Navid said, lunging at his father.
“The Zunft didn't exist back then,” his father said, dodging and offering a counterstrike.
“Bandits, then,” Navid agreed, although in his head, they were still the black-uniformed soldiers that he took great pains to avoid whenever he was out in the city. “You must not distract me from my true battle with the giant.”
Their swords clashed around the table until Katherine Leahy appeared in the kitchen doorway. Brian dropped his play-sword, kissed his wife, and waved goodbye to his son.