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   Chapter 2 Rabbit A Talent Mark Novel

Rabbit: A Talent Mark Novel By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 18352

Updated: 2018-03-13 12:07

Chapter 2

While she bathed, Harmony returned with the promised clean clothing and basket. She also brought a towel. The items were left by the edge of the screen, allowing her to retain her privacy. It was with a profound sense of relief that she toweled off and dressed in the fresh clothes. She made sure her pouch was well concealed beneath her clothing and gathered her dirty clothes to go into the basket. She frowned as she touched them, hating the touch of the grime against her freshly cleaned skin. The only thing she retained were her boots. The clothing was not as fine as she had worn in, but its freshness made it feel superior.

Before leaving the bathing area she reached back into the water. This time instead of thinking about heat, she thought about cold. She thought of the winter winds that swept down from the mountains, carrying snow and whipping the sea into a frenzy of white peaks. She thought of the ice she would have to break on the water basin in the morning just to wash her face. The little remaining heat evaporated from the tub. She removed her hand and smiled a small smile for just herself. She pulled her hand from the water and began braiding her clean, but still wet hair.

She pushed the screen to the side to show that she was dressed. Harmony saw what she was doing and handed her a small length of ribbon to tie off the end of the braid. Harmony showed her how to drain the basin and then had her rinse out the tub before they left the well room and returned to the parlor. As they climbed the stairs the tension once again wound tight around her spine.

In the parlor, Harmony indicated she should take a seat while she resumed the seat she had occupied when Grayson had brought her. A small cart containing a pot of tea, two cups and a tray of assorted savory and sweet snacks had been wheeled in while she bathed and she tried not to eye it hungrily. Harmony poured the tea, handed a cup to her and indicated she was to take what she wished from the tray. She took two of the savories and tried to take delicate bites between sips of tea. Harmony sipped her cup and watched for a moment.

"You are aware that Lord Tessian purchased you from the Traders?" Harmony asked. She swallowed and nodded. "In the past our Lord has purchased other girls with the talent. Several of them reside here with me. I am what you might call your guardian, for lack of a better term." Harmony paused and sipped from her cup.

"When the others were brought here they too did not speak. In time they chose to break their silence. I do not know if they were silent because they chose to be or because of an unfamiliarity with our language. They have not felt the need to explain their silence, nor do I feel it necessary to ask. Whether you remain mute or not is your own concern." Harmony paused, allowing time for processing.

"Now Grayson referred to you as Rabbit. Does this name suit you or is there another one I should call you?" She thought about it for a moment and nodded.

"Rabbit then?" She nodded again. "Very well then from now on you will be known as Rabbit." The words had a formality to them.

'Like a naming ceremony, ' she thought. 'Harmony does not seem surprised. Of course I am wearing Badger's outgrown clothing. Perhaps the other girls chose to keep the names given them on their journey here. So here I will be called Rabbit not Norah.' She gave herself a mental shake. 'Norah does not exist here. Here is only Rabbit. I am Rabbit.'

"So Rabbit, you were purchased because of your talent. Each of the girls here has a different talent and set of skills. They work to use those skills for the benefit of Lord Tessian. You will be expected to do so as well. Do you understand?" The newly named Rabbit nodded somewhat hesitantly. She mentally ran through the list of skills she had been trained to use. If she used even half of them it would mark her family. People might know who she was. She would have to be careful to limit what skills were shown.

"May I see your talent mark?" The question was phrased politely and Rabbit wondered if she would be allowed to refuse. Slowly, she held out her wrist, turning her mark upward. Harmony leaned over the mark and stared at it for a moment. Slowly she eased herself back and Rabbit returned her hand to her lap. A frown creased between her eyes.

"That is not a talent mark I am familiar with, " Harmony said. She smiled. "That should make tomorrow interesting. Tonight, I want you to rest and become acquainted with the others. In the morning, after the morning meal, we will take you to the work areas and see where your skills lie." Harmony smiled again and Rabbit realized the older woman was trying to win her trust. She had seen her father use a similar tone on a skittish horse. As they finished their tea, Rabbit wondered why the woman bothered. Overall, she was too tired to really think much about anything.

Once the tea had been finished, Harmony gave Rabbit a tour of the place she would be expected to call home for the foreseeable future. In addition to the parlor, library and well room, the suite featured a secondary less formal parlor, which Harmony called a sitting room, a small kitchen, a stillroom, a storeroom and two bedrooms.

One bedroom was occupied by Harmony. The other had a row of six beds. While no one was in the room at the moment it was clear that the room was well used. Little touches here and there personalized each area of the room. Here a cloth doll leaned against a pillow. There was an embroidery piece still only half finished. Five of the beds had been personalized. One had not. Harmony led her to this bed. It was closest to the door and Rabbit could see a few scratches in the floor stones where each of the beds had been shifted to make room for the new addition.

"This is your bed, " Harmony confirmed. "The box at the foot of the bed is yours as well so that you have a place to store your belongings." Rabbit looked at the empty box at the foot of her bed. Aside from the clothing Harmony took to be cleaned, she didn't actually have any possessions.

'And once they have been cleaned and returned I will be wearing them so that Badger can have her things back. I suppose I can put my boots there when I go to sleep.'

"Don't worry, " Harmony assured her. "Soon enough you will find you need the space." Rabbit nodded as she was unsure how else to respond. "Now why don't I leave you here to rest until the other girls return?" Harmony patted Rabbit's shoulder gently and left her alone. Rabbit thought about looking at the other beds to determine what sort of companions the others would be, but decided against it on the grounds that she would not care for other people going through her things.

She decided that resting sounded like a good idea. She slipped off her boots and climbed into bed. Rabbit sighed softly to herself as she stretched out fully; making the first audible sound she had allowed herself since her capture. The cage ponytail man had kept her in had not allowed for stretching out, merely crouching or curling up. From the smell and the jokes the others made she had gathered the cage was more accustomed to holding rabbits than people.

'Probably why they named me Rabbit to begin with, ' she thought. She yawned hugely and felt her jaw pop in response. She shut her eyes and felt sleep suck her down into its dark depths instantly.

She drifted in the dark, dreamlessly until she heard the voices. They were light girl's voices, softly chatting. Memory slipped into the dark and she began to dream. She was sitting in one of the upper fields with her younger cousins, Vanessa and Rebecca. The sun was warm on their skin but not hot. Summer's heat had broken, but fall had yet to fully claim dominance. While the mountains had started shifting their colors, this field still held on to its late blooms. The three of them sat in the field, only Norah's head rising above the tall prairie grass.

The little girls, five and seven respectively were sitting to either side of her and peering into her hands. Norah held a small piece of red glass, no bigger than her thumb nail. As the little girls watched she brought forth heat to her hands and the glass began to liquefy into a small pool, bright as blood. She deftly maneuvered the molten glass, stretching and shaping it with quick movements and sure intent. The glass took on the form of a red flower, a kecah, that grew in the highest reaches of the mountains and then only at the hottest part of the summer.

"Do you have the metal?" Norah asked. Nessa pulled a bit of scrap silver from a pocket and passed it over, her eyes wide with admiration. Norah rolled the silver between her fingers, infusing it with heat and stretching it into a long thin pin. While both the pin and flower were still warm, she pressed the metal into the back of the flower. When the two were attached Norah eased the heat out of both pieces, now one. She reached over and pinned the glass flower to Nessa's blouse.

"Earth to earth, " Norah said. Nessa rubbed the still forming m

ark on her wrist.

While the basic lines of the Gahda were present at birth, it was with time and training that they deepened. Both Nessa and Becca were in that stage where the fine white lines were starting to turn pink. As they grew, the pink would darken to red and the red would darken to the same color brown as the freckles that danced across their cheeks. Nessa's marks were in the shape of a small bowl with a mound shape like a loaf of bread rising from the top. When she was grown she would be able to work with the earth in much the same way as Norah worked with fire. Norah turned to Becca.

"And what about you little fish, " Norah asked. "Did you bring anything?" Becca, always the shyer of the two reached into her pocket and pulled a small silver stone and a scrap of metal.

"Benji said it was hematite, will that work?" She held out her hand, the pinking marks on her wrist showing a small bowl shape with three squiggly lines inside indicating water. Had she been born to air then the three lines would be vertical and risen from the bowl.

"I think we can work with that, " she told her with a smile. The girls leaned in again as Norah began to work. The stone did not pool up the way the glass had, as stone resisted the heat more. Instead, it softened like clay and Norah shaped it into a small silvery fish, using her thumbnail to inscribe scale marks and an indentation for the eye.

As she had with Nessa, she shaped the metal into a pin, attached it to the back and when the piece was cool, pinned it on the younger girl's blouse. Norah started to speak, to suggest that they could perhaps go and see if they could find any pretty stones or such by one of the nearby streams when a shout caught her attention.

The man's yell caused Norah's head to snap up, her words dying as she realized the man was a raider, signaling to his companions. Norah realized she had been spotted but the little girls had not. She knew they were not too far from one of the retreats. If the girls could get there before the raiders, they would be safe. She told them to stay low and make as little movement as possible in the tall grass, but to head quickly to the retreat. The girls were wide eyed with fear but did as they were told.

As they moved off, Norah stood. She glanced at the trio of advancing raiders and began to run. She angled her course away from the retreat she had sent the girls towards, but in the direction of a second retreat. It was further, but she just might make it. Her feet flew over the ground, her skirts whipping against the long grasses and all three of the raiders followed her. She stopped looking behind as it slowed her down and speed was what she needed.

She was fast, but they were faster. The retreat was still more than twenty feet away when one of the raiders tackled her, bringing her to the ground hard. In a blink her hands were trussed behind her back, a gag was placed in her mouth and a bag pulled over her head. The raiders didn't know what her abilities were and they would take no chances of her using what she could against them. She bumped her head on a rock when she was tackled so she was somewhat dazed as they began to lead her away. Her only thought was relief that they were moving away from the retreat were her cousins hid. Panic started to bubble through her after that though and she mentally recited Mammon's lessons to keep the fear at bay.

The sounds of the girls' voices increased slightly.

"I think she is having a nightmare, " a voice said softly. The words were those of the outlanders, but the accent was that of the Desa, one of the hill clans.

"Might as well wake her then, " a second voice replied, this one containing the broad flat vowels found near the marshes. "It will be time for the morning meal soon and as she slept through dinner she's bound to be hungry."

"And Harmony will want her tested, " the first voice responded. Norah blinked awake starting a little at the strange faces.

'I am Rabbit, ' she thought. 'There is no Norah here.' The faces swam into focus and she sat up. The other girls smiled shyly at her as she rubbed her eyes.

"You must have been tired, " said the one with the Desa voice. "You slept through evening meal." Rabbit's stomach rumbled and there was a round of polite giggles. Rabbit blushed. "It will be time to eat soon." She was promised. "I'm Badger, " the girl introduced herself. She had sleek brown hair tied back with a simple bow and allowed to fall nearly to her waist. Rabbit estimated Badger was a few years older than she was. Looking around the circle of faces, Rabbit got the impression that she was actually the youngest of the lot and wondered how long some of these girls had been here.

'Long enough that they are more women than girls, ' she thought. Rabbit nodded at Badger showing she understood. Badger did not seem put off by the non verbal answer.

"This is Mouse, " Badger continued the introductions. Mouse appeared the same age as Badger and had brown hair as well but where Badger's was smooth and sleek, hers was a riotous mass of curls. Again Rabbit nodded, Mouse ducked her head and smiled shyly. "This is Wren."

"Welcome, " said the girl from the marshes. Rabbit smiled.

"I'm Tortoise, " said a girl with hair the color of wheat and eyes that were a watery green. "But everyone just calls me Tor. And that is Robin, " Tor pointed to the last girl whose hair was a strawberry blond. Rabbit was beginning to think raiders and traders were not very imaginative in naming their captives.

'Of course they might not want to give people considered property the same names as the people they know.' The row of girls eased back as Rabbit sat up and swung her feet over the side of the bed. She reached for and pulled on her boots. Some of her hair had pulled from the braid as she slept and the other girls watched her silently as she un-braided her hair, ran her fingers through it and re-braided it. With her hair as fixed as it was going to be, Rabbit looked around.

"Over there, " Badger said pointing to the wash basin, correctly guessing what Rabbit was looking for. Rabbit slid off the bed and the girls cleared a path for her. The basin was empty and it had a small plug in the bottom, the same way the bath had the day before. There was a pitcher in the stand next to the basin. Rabbit poured a little water into the basin and used it to wash her face. It was cold but she resisted the urge to warm it.

As she blinked water out of her eyes, Tor handed her a slightly damp towel. From the looks of the other girls they had completed their morning abolitions earlier. Rabbit nodded her thanks to Tor and stretched the towel out to dry on one of the nearby racks. She pulled the plug from the basin and let the water drain.

"We each take turns filling the pitcher before bed so that we can all wash in the morning, " Tor told her.

"Once you know your way around a bit, we will add you to the rotation, " Badger added. Rabbit nodded her understanding and had the feeling Badger was the leader of this little group. She mentally shrugged. At the moment her full bladder was of more concern. As she started looking around again Badger guided her in the appropriate direction to a near by closet containing the appropriate equipment. That task complete she returned to the room where the girls were softly chatting to themselves.

'They seem happy enough, ' Rabbit thought, still wondering what the day would bring. A bell chimed and everyone began walking towards the door. Badger gestured to her.

"That's morning bell. We need to go now, " she said. Rabbit followed the line of girls into the sitting room. In the center of the room a round table laden with food had been placed. Rabbit's stomach rumbled again, much to her embarrassment. Harmony was already seated at the table and smiled as the girls arrived. Each girl took a seat. Rabbit hung back a little not wanting to take anyone's accustomed place. The empty seat was between Tor and Mouse and Tor indicated she should take it. Rabbit smiled at her and took a seat.

"I see you have all met Rabbit, " Harmony said as she began to pass bowls and platters around. The morning meal seemed to consist of a porridge like substance and some kind of yellow cakes. There was both honey and cream to add to the porridge and she was encouraged to use as much of both as she liked. She took a taste of the porridge and found the taste odd but pleasant.

"They use corn here instead of wheat, " Mouse said in a voice barely above a whisper. Rabbit smiled at her and Mouse blushed.

'Southern reaches, ' Rabbit thought placing the accent. 'And painfully shy to boot. Quite a collection.' She found herself wondering where Robin was from since hers was the only voice not heard. There was talk at the table but it was subdued and Harmony's voice was the lead as she encouraged the others to make Rabbit feel at home. Rabbit got the feeling that Harmony trusted the other girls to teach her the rules as well since no one spoke of what was allowed and what forbidden.

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