(Today’s Through the Balustrade character sketch goes back to a time before Anna had joined the Outcasts. This is how she knew there was more…)
The new plebes came into view. They rounded the gate from the sentry compound as if just anyone could come into the Protectorate from a sentry transport. Anna examined each fresh face as it met the big wide-open world. None of them looked familiar.
She chewed on her lower lip and squinted. Not one face looked like it could be her son. The heavy dread squeezed at her heart again. Maybe she would never see him. Maybe she would never know his sweet face. And then the nub she tried to ignore came back. Maybe she would never even recognize him. How could she know what he looked like? The last time she saw him he was barely a year, and even that was a blur. She wasn’t even sure when that was or how old he was.
Settling back from her perch in the attic window, she closed her eyes and let the plebes march by unexamined. Not one of them knew anything but a nanny caring and guiding them. Not one of them was even looking for a mother.
No. The Guardians made sure of that.
Anna rested her head against the planked wall. Sacks of flour and sugar, and jars of spices lined the opposite side by the staircase. The dread still weighed on her heart. Why do I have to care? No one else seems to. No one else questions the rules or longs for this connection.
She got to her knees and looked out the window. The plebes had already started rounding the curve into the heart of the Protectorate. Some women carrying baskets of fruit and vegetables from the Viand cart stopped and watched as the young ones disappeared from sight. Their watching was interrupted by a sentry urging them back to their business. Sentries and rules.
“For the good of all, we give ourselves.” Anna glared at the guard. “What a lie. It’s not for the good of all. It’s for Hyperion. He takes everything from us and gives us nothing. Nothing.” Only in the vacant attic would she voice her angst and only to empty air.
Looking out past the barrier around the sentry compound, Anna reached with her heart for something more. There had to be something more.
A creak behind her pulled her back. That would be Olivia, the power-hungry Guide with nothing better to do than follow her workers around. Couldn’t she just trust a little more and mind a little less?
But Anna did not meet the glare of her Guide. Instead she stared into the face of man, younger than she. He was nearly to the top of the steps, and he had a burlap bag slung over his shoulder. His coverup was leather, but he wasn’t a sentry.
“Don’t scream.” He put a hand in the air and jumped the last few steps. “Please. I won’t hurt you.” He sat the sack down and then knelt on one knee. “Please mam. I mean you know harm, and I beg of your mercy.”
Anna got to her feet. “Who are you?” His sleeve was torn and bloodied. Caring for his wound could wait until she got some answers. “What village are you from?”
He stood. “I’m not from a village.” He said it simply, as if it were a normal thing to say. “I live beyond your boundary.”
“What?” Despite her question, she knew what he said was true, and she wanted it to be true. A light began to dawn inside of her. A light for which she’d been too afraid to hope. A possibility that there might be more.
Crossing the distance between them in three steps. He kept his hazel eyes fixed on her. His blonde hair had a leaf stuck in it. “I’m Jahn. And it’s no coincidence that we met today. I can see it in your eyes. You aren’t like all of them. There’s hope in you.”
Anna pushed back into the window frame and shook, more from some instilled obligation than from her heart.
“Your Hyperion keeps you all trapped in here, telling you how to live and what to believe. He has no tolerance for family, for relationship, or for love. You are just his pawns. His project to disarm the Leader.”
“The Leader?” She covered her ears and glanced out the window. If the sentry below could hear his treachery. They’d both be disciplined.
“The Leader. He’s who you’re looking for. He’s the answer to that question you won’t let yourself ask.” When she didn’t respond, he continued. “Look, I don’t know you. I came for supplies, but I don’t believe anything happens by coincidence, so me meeting you here has some purpose. Maybe it’s for your good, to save your life.”
A door creaked at the bottom of the stairs. “Anna? Anna are you up here?” Guide Olivia’s angry voice carried up the narrow passageway. Jahn took a light step back.
Anna cleared her throat and stepped around him. “Yes, Mistress Olivia. I just came to check the supplies.”
“Sure you did.” The grump in her voice told Anna exactly what expression Olivia wore, the sour, patronizing one that was usually accompanied by an infraction notice. “We are leaving.”
“Yes, mam. I’ll be right down.” Anna turned quickly back and waved off Jahn’s whispered thank you. “Let me see your arm.” She pulled a vial from her pocket and spread some serum on his gash. “It needs to be sewn.” She tore a strip from the bottom of her yellow coverup skirt.
“Are you a doctor?” He pulled back. He knew enough about the villages to know doctor’s came from the Plateau and the Guardians.
“No.” She tied the strip around the wound. “I just have a skill for this. Wait til I leave and then go.” She turned to leave, but he caught her by the hand.
“Thank you Anna.” It was weird to hear this stranger say her name. “Thank you. When you cross, cross at the rocks and follow the path. Stay amid the big trees, not in brush.”
She shook her head. What he said was treason and would destroy all her chances at attainment. They’d surely ship her off to some work barn until they felt she’d learned her lesson. Still a spark came to life, and she knew it. It brought a slight smile to her face and made her not so scared of Olivia.
“Good bye, Jahn.” She bowed her head and left him there. A possibility of something more.