Read The Threshold Child Online

Authors: Callie Kanno

The Threshold Child (10 page)

BOOK: The Threshold Child
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Adesina felt a flood of relief and ducked her head in
embarrassment when she realized how clearly it must have been showing on her face.
“So, I will see you again?” she mumbled.

E’rian took Adesina’s chin in her slender hand and tipped her face
upward again. “You keep asking that, my daughter. Why so uncertain?”

She searched for words that would downplay the abnormal amount of
emotion she was feeling. “I just do not understand how all of this works.”

A thoughtful expression came over E’rian as she looked at the
young woman before her. “Dreaming is a skill, in a way. You have been taught
and aided by this forest in your Dreaming, but that skill will remain with you
when you leave. If you have trouble, Ravi will guide you.”

Adesina nodded. E’rian released her daughter’s face and stepped
back. “Close your eyes, Ma’eve. It will ease the crossing.”

The young woman frowned, slightly confused, but did as she was
asked. When she opened her eyes again she was lying in the camp. Ravi was lying
next to her, his head resting on his front paws but his golden eyes wide awake.
Kendan was curled in the fetal position next to the fire.

She sat up, and Ravi raised his head to look at her. “Tell your
companion we will be leaving the forest today. He needs some reassurance.”

Adesina moved over to Kendan’s side and put a hand on his
shoulder. “Kendan, we will be leaving the forest today.”

A shiver and a sigh escaped from Kendan’s motionless body. Adesina
repacked all their gear and followed Ravi through the trees. Kendan gripped her
hand as if it were his only link to sanity.

Around noon the trees began to thin, and Adesina could see
sunlight filtering down through the foliage. The whispers also grew more faint,
and it became possible for the young Shimat to tune them out entirely. She
could see the end of the trees just ahead.

As they stepped out into the sunlight, the voices stopped
abruptly. It took a moment for Adesina’s eyes to adjust, but she was
immediately scanning the area for any prominent danger. Kendan, too distracted
to remember his training, heaved a deep sigh of relief. He closed his eyes and
focused on breathing in and out, almost as if trying to keep some strong
emotion under control.

Ravi waited patiently a few feet from where Adesina stood. He
nodded his head to the north. “The High City awaits.”

Chapter Seven: The High
City
 

They approached the High City from the northwest, circling around
and passing through a dense forest not far from the city gates. They stopped in
the middle of the forest and dismounted.

Kendan held up two curiously made bags. “These have false bottoms
where you can conceal your Shimat belongings.”

He helped her to transfer everything from her saddlebags with an
amused expression. “With all their high morals, they are still a very nosy
group of people. Be careful of that.”

Adesina nodded in acknowledgment.

He gave her some clothes to change into and made a small tent out
of their blankets to give her some privacy.

Her cover story was that she hailed from one of the northern
tribes. They were mostly nomadic people and there were over a hundred different
tribes. Both of these facts made it an ideal fictional background because it
made verification difficult. She had been given all the information necessary
to impersonate a tribe member. Now all she needed was to look the part.

Adesina repressed an incredulous snort as she held up the clothing
given to her. She had never worn a dress before, and she wasn’t sure she wanted
to start now. The skirt was a rough brown material and the bottom was lined with
a frayed, multicolored fringe. The bodice was cream colored and lined with the
same fringe as the skirt. The laces down the front of the bodice and on the
sleeves were a vibrant green. Adesina struggled with the clothing, hoping that
nothing was out of place.

She twisted her silver and black hair into an elaborate braid and
pinned it up, in the manner of the northerners. A piece of green ribbon
matching her laces was worn across her forehead as a headband. When all of this
was done, she took a deep breath and moved out from behind the blankets.

Kendan smiled when she reappeared. His first real smile since
before the whispering forest. “You look…” he paused, then his expression became
sad and he cleared his throat. “From here you must go on alone. Remember your
instructions, and report here in one month’s time. If there is an emergency,
send the signal.”

Adesina nodded, her mind was racing with all of the information
that she needed to remember. She slung the two bags onto her back and began
walking towards the city gates, leaving Kendan and the horses behind her. Ravi
kept up with her pace easily, humming quietly to himself.

“How do you plan on getting into the city?” she asked her
invisible friend.

Ravi smiled at this question. “Does this mean you have decided
that I am not merely a figment of your imagination?”

Adesina laughed softly. “No, I am just being practical. An
imagination such as mine would have an answer.”

“Hmph. Well, in that case, perhaps it would be a better question
to ask how the city could keep me out.”

She didn’t have an answer to this query, and discreetly let the
subject drop. As she came to the edge of the forest, she got her first look at
the outside of the High City.

The walls around the city appeared to be constructed from the logs
of large trees. The walls were quite a bit taller than what was usually seen
surrounding a city and they had been painted white. Sentinels were stationed
along the top of the wall every few feet, keeping a stern eye on anyone who
might approach. There was a single steel door set into the wood that served as
the gate. There were also a series of small huts that served as waiting rooms
for those hoping to get into the city.

The guards spotted Adesina the minute she stepped away from the
cover of the trees. She moved through the tall yellowing grass like a whisper,
and Ravi made even less noise. The sentinel above the gate eyed her
suspiciously as she approached.

The guard wore a uniform that was modest in cut and material, and
rich brown in color. He had a black sash draped from his left shoulder to his
right hip and a bow in hand. When he spoke, it was in the common tongue. “What
do you want, young woman?”

His tone made it sound like he was much older than her, but
Adesina doubted he was more than nineteen years old. He had chestnut hair and
mischievous hazel eyes that openly appraised her.

She assumed a meek expression and reminded herself to speak in his
language, but with the accent of one from the far north. “I wish to live and
work in the High City.”

The guard looked skeptical. “Why would one of your kind want to do
that?”

Adesina frowned in confusion at the way he asked the question, as
if there was more to it that what she was aware. “My kind? Do you mean a
northerner?”

Before the guard could reply, he was distracted by someone below
him on the other side of the wall. They conversed for a moment before the gate
slowly began to rise. An elderly man dressed in a simple black uniform and a
light blue sash greeted her and showed her through the gate.

“Come along, young one. Do not dawdle.”

Adesina did as she was told and walked through the gate. Ravi
followed her quickly and silently. The large room on the other side of the gate
was filled with tables and chairs, but was otherwise bare. The old man led
Adesina to the center of the room, but Ravi seated himself by the wall where he
could observe more easily.

The man offered Adesina a chair and sat down across the table from
her. “Please forgive Nordin. He has a strange fascination with…the north.”

The man noted Adesina’s bewildered expression and asked, “You are
from the north, are you not?”

Adesina nodded slowly. “I was raised in the Northern Tribes.”

The old man’s wrinkles became more pronounced. “Well, I
assumed…that is to say…you bear an unusual likeness to a certain group of
northerners of which we in the High City are rather wary.”

Her curiosity was immediately piqued, but she did her best to keep
it from her face. She had never borne a “likeness” to anyone before. She made a
mental note to find out more as soon as she was within the city.

“I am an orphan. I have never met anyone who looks like me.”

His face cleared with this information. “Ah, I see. What is your
name, child?”

“Adrie.”

He leaned back and rested his fingertips together lightly. “As I
am sure you know, Adrie, we of the High City are very selective of whom we
allow through that door.” He pointed to the door on the far side of the room,
opposite of the gate. “You claim to be a member of the Northern Tribes, but
even if that is true there is no way we can verify that story. Do you know
someone within the city who can vouch for your character?”

Adesina shook her head. The old man smiled and spread his hands.
“So you see, there is nothing I can do for you.”

The young Shimat did some quick thinking. She had to find a way
into the city. “Surely there must be some way that you can determine my
character.”

The old man hesitated. “Well, yes, we do have people who interview
prospective immigrants, but that is only done after someone of established
character vouches for you.”

Adesina carefully arranged her expression to one of
disappointment. “I have no family or friends.”

She saw his face soften with pity. Adesina lowered her glance and
forced her eyes to fill with tears. The old man reached across the table and
patted her hand. “There, there, child. No need for tears! I am certain there
are many other places you can go and find work.”

She made her breath shaky as she drew it in. “But I will not be
safe anywhere but here!”

He frowned in confusion. “What do you mean, young woman?”

Adesina forced more tears out of her eyes and spoke in a quavering
voice. “Ours was a peace-loving tribe, but our possessions were coveted by our
enemies. They attacked us and killed everyone! My mother, my father, my baby
sister…”

The old man’s eyes were filling up with genuine tears, but Adesina
pressed on with her tale of woe.

“I suppose they only kept me alive because of how I look. They
were going to sell me into slavery,” she sobbed.

He gasped in horror, and she hid her face in her hands, lowering
her voice to a pained whisper. “I escaped and fled to the High City. I knew I
would be safe once I reached here.” She paused for effect before going on. “If
you turn me away, I will surely be captured again!”

The old man now had a firm hold on her hand and was squeezing it
as if he would never let go. “Now, now, dear. I am sure there is something we
can do for you! I think we may forego that formality, if I get permission from
my superiors.”

Adesina thanked him while wiping her already dry eyes. The old man
excused himself and left the room. She glanced over at Ravi, who had an amused
expression on his face.

“You are quite an actress.”

She gave him a sarcastic look, but didn’t reply. She kept her
focus on the information she had been given to prepare her for her entrance
into the High City.

When the old man returned, several minutes later, he was followed
by four more men in black uniforms with light blue sashes. They seated
themselves across from Adesina and began asking her questions.

The man directly in front of Adesina seemed to be the one in
charge. He had iron-gray hair, but his face was surprisingly youthful. His dark
blue eyes had a very somber feel to them, and his thin mouth seemed to say the
same.

“Your name is Adrie?”

Adesina nodded, lowering her eyes deferentially. The man looked
pleased with her manner.

Adesina kept her face neutral as she watched the various hints of
expression that crossed his face. He was the key to her entrance into the city,
and she knew exactly how to manipulate this man.

“I am called Ston, and I am the head of the Entrance Council.”

She widened her eyes and looked at him with exaggerated respect
and a hint of awe. “I hope I have not inconvenienced you, sir, with my
request.”

Ston waved a hand magnanimously. “No, no. It is no trouble.
However, we do need to ask some questions. We must be thorough, you
understand.”

She nodded quickly. “Of course, sir.”

The next several hours were filled with the drone of Ston’s
arrogant voice, the scratching of several pens, and the flawless performance of
Adesina’s facade. The questions began with Adesina’s origins—the type of family
she came from, the occupation of her parents, her childhood, her education, and
so forth. They took special care to make sure that her presence in the High
City would not endanger any of its citizens.

When they were satisfied that her background was benign, they
moved on. They questioned her on her opinion over various subjects, asked her
reaction to hypothetical situations, and drilled her for details about her
future plans.

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