I finished the first draft! Much work remains to be done, but here is a snippet from the middle of the first section of the book. Because I quite like this scene. And because I can.
Mikandra strode to the wardrobe and flung the dress onto the floor. She slammed the wardrobe door. She took the wad of paper with the text of the play–a stupid old-fashioned drama about some ancient event in Miran’s history–off the night stand and flung it on the bed. Papers flew like butterflies.
Stupid play with its pompous, self-righteous language. Stupid events in the past which still caused people to have hangups about participating in gamra society. The boycott had not started because the other gamra entities had cut off Miran, but because Miran was continuously obstructing foreign investment within its borders with arcane rules.
Because the council was stubborn and inflexible and old-fashioned. And then they were surprised that other nations got angry.
The Invasion indeed.
She spread the papers out over the bed.
Stupid noble arrogance.
Stupid notion of being all nice and pretty and utterly useless.
So, she was not good marriage material, huh? Only to be passed to old creepy men who wanted a plaything. So, when she tried to be useful regardless, they treated her like this, huh?
Shut up and learn your lines, huh? Live the rest of your life in some sort of stupid fantasy oblivious to the burning of Miran’s society around it. Pretend Miran was still at the top of its glory. Pretend everything was like before The Invasion. Like the Coldi cared, like the Trader Guild cared. Those people were just laughing at Miran.
Clothes, plays, music, arts.
While in the poor parts of the city people froze to death and homeless were left to be eaten by wild animals. And then the nobles sent their girls into the hospitals to put bandages on their wounds?
And that was Miran’s noble culture?
She went to the mirror, picked up the eye paint brush and dipped in the paint. She wrote on the wall If you want to shine, be like a star.
There, that was better already, a much better use of eye paint than putting it on her eyelids where it irritated her eyes and made her look as if she’d been crying.
Bah, crying was for helpless damsels.
But that still didn’t make the decision any easier. She let her shoulders sag. It was easy to be angry in this room. Being angry when facing Father was a whole different matter. Or saying that she didn’t want to be in that play when Mother was crying.
There was a knock on the door. Mikandra looked from the door to the wall. If that was her father again, he’d be even more angry for painting on the wall. If that was her mother, she would say how disappointed she was in her eldest daughter. If it was Rosep, he would complain about having to re-paint the wall and tell her father.
There was another knock.
“Sis, it’s me,” a small voice said. “Open up, please.”
Mikandra sighed and went to open the door. Her sister slipped inside. In the low light, her face was a pale oval. She glanced from the dress on the floor to the papers scattered over the bed to the text scrawled on the wall. Her eyes were wide. Scared.
Mikandra sometimes forgot how young Liseyo was, and how much what Mother and Father said was still law to her.
“Why is it so cold in here? Hasn’t Rosep lit the fire?”
Mikandra gazed at the dark hearth. The fire was producing lots of smoke but no flames.
Annoyed, she poked the smothering fire bricks aside and fanned the tiny glow in the coals underneath. Flames licked the corner of the fire bricks.
Liseyo sat down on the bed amongst the scattered papers. She picked one up, and then a couple more, shuffling the sheets in order.
“Mother borrowed this text off Gisandra Tussamar. It’s very old and precious.” There was a tone of accusation in her voice, a tone that said that the noble lady would not appreciated if her precious play got flung over the bed out of order. She was right of course, and that was the annoying part.
“Don’t you start, too, Liseyo.”
“This is my favourite re-telling of The Invasion. I’m going to play Dinandra.”
“Isn’t that a role for someone older?”
“They’ll make me look older, with white paint in my hair and lines drawn on my face. I get to wear a really nice old-fashioned dress. I think you should join, too. It’d be great fun.”
Mikandra sighed. “It’s a hideously skewed view of history. There are plenty of documents in the library which say that there was no invasion at all. That the Coldi who came were weak and hungry. They say that the Mirani defenders killed a lot of them before the Coldi could make it clear what they wanted. It’s not as if they spoke our language. Flaming creatures came down from the sky indeed. Where is the truth in that? They didn’t shoot and weren’t aggressive. The truth is that Miran had the watchtower, the watchtower keeper used telescopes. Asto is by far the clearest point of light in the sky, and the Mirani council back then knew that people lived there. So why were they still surprised when these people came?” She spread her hands in frustration.
Liseyo’s mouth twitched. “Does it matter if it’s accurate? It’s just a story.”
“None of the historical plays is ever just a story. There are children in the audience, and this stuff is being taught to them as fact. They hear that Miran was glorious, yet the evidence is that it was not. We are far more healthy, better-clothed and better fed than the people back then. They hear that Miran was attacked, but the evidence is that these people came for help, not to conquer.”
“Baaah, you’re no fun.”
“This has nothing to do with fun. It’s about the way we learn to see people from outside Miran, and those views start when children are taught this sort of crap.”
She let an angry silence lapse.
Liseyo’s eyes were big. “I just wish you wouldn’t talk like this. It makes me scared. I don’t like it when Mother cries. Father is really angry this time, a lot more angry than he was when you refused to go to the theatre. Why do you do this?”
Mikandra sat next to her sister and closed her in her arms. Her shoulders were so thin. “Oh, Liseyo, I’d tell you, but you’re not old enough to understand.”
“That’s what everyone in this house says, and I’m sick of it. Try me. Why do you hate everyone so much?”
Was that what they thought? “I don’t hate everyone. I just want to make a difference and do something that helps.”
“Being in the hospital makes a difference. There are a lot of sick people who need you.”
“It’s all fake, Liseyo. Everything we’re allowed to do as girls is fake. The theatre, art, music, healing, nothing makes serious money or is anywhere near places where real decisions are made. Nothing is really important. While we’re in the theatre rehearsing the plays of centuries ago or in the wards covering up the problems of the city, they make decisions on our behalf, and nothing gets solved. Being in the hospital is just putting dressings on infected wounds that people wouldn’t have if they had houses so they weren’t sleeping in the street and attacked by maramarang, or if they had heating. I want people to stop the glorifying of Miran. I love Miran, but there are things wrong that we need to make better. I don’t think we can do that alone.”
“So, does that mean you’re going?”
Mikandra shrugged. For a moment she wished she’d never received that offer. Everything else she’d done in her life in the way of protest was gentle and reversible. She’d cut off her hair when Mother complained about her wearing it in a ponytail, but it had grown back. She’d walked around in hunting clothes in the city when she’d hidden that stupid dress Mother wanted her to wear so well that no one in the house could find it.
But she had never done anything or said anything that challenged her life with her parents and sister in a way this did.
If she went to Trader Academy, there would be no way back to this house or this room. She would have to be fully independent, and, since she would not find a husband to share her living costs, she would have to earn enough to support herself.
Money frightened her and the thought of not having any frightened her even more.