“It couldn’t be,” I whispered.
My fingertips tickled the edge of it and I reached a little further until my fingernails scraped the top.
I dragged the metallic thing along the floor, barely grasping it with my fingertips. I prayed to Eloh that it wasn’t what I feared it was.
“What’s going on?” Ella, who slept in the bed next to us, popped her head up off the pillow. I had thought she was still asleep. “You drop something under the bed? Need help? I’m a little smaller than you and can slide underneath.”
Normally Ella’s company would be a good distraction in the morning, but the new girl was too eager to make friends and today I didn’t want to deal with her. I shook my head, hoping she would go away. Right now I needed to be alone. I slipped the object closer until I could see my hand on the floor, peeking out from under the bed. I palmed it before anyone, myself included, could see what it was. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Ella inching closer.
“Ivy must have gotten up really early this morning. I didn’t see her leave. Did you?” Ella glanced at Ivy’s empty side of the bed.
I shook my head again, hoping Ella would get the hint. Unfortunately nothing short of a rude comment would turn the new slave girl away. Hoping there was nothing to hide, that the metallic item I felt under my palm wasn’t anything more than a piece of trash, I pulled my fist tight and stood up.
“What is it?” Ella asked, peering at my hand. She reached out, but I jerked my hand away, hiding it behind my back.
“Nothing.” I shrugged my shoulders, trying to avoid looking concerned.
“Ivy’s up earlier than normal. You’re being secretive.” Ella paused, her strawberry eyebrows arching. “It’s not a token, or is it?”
“Shh.” I grabbed her by the arm with my free hand. I glanced around the room, hoping no one heard her. Luci yanked her dress over her head, wiggling to pull it over her ever-widening hips. Geannie fought with Terah over an apron. Everyone seemed enveloped in their own dramas, at least enough to ignore mine.
I pulled Ella down on my bed next to me. We sat quietly, both of us staring at my fist. My palm hurt as my fingernails dug into my skin. I was afraid to open my hand. Maybe if I squeezed hard enough it would disappear, just like the coins Ian, my master’s servant and fool, would lose and magically find behind someone’s ear.
“You need to look,” Ella said. She patted the back of my hand. It didn’t reassure me.
But I knew she was right. If I sat here much longer, Ranee would punish me. It wasn’t going to disappear, no matter how much I willed it gone. I took a deep breath.
I opened my fist and looked at it. The token. I held my breath and closed my eyes, not willing to believe what lay in my hand, the emblem left behind every time a slave was kidnapped. We didn’t know who or why but for years, intermittent reports had popped up all over the kingdom of slaves disappearing at all hours with only the token left behind.
There were rumors, of course. Some people thought the Sons of Silence, a band of outlaws, kidnapped slaves simply to anger the local authority. Others believed in the old tales and prophesy of a savior freeing slaves until an army large enough to overthrow the Malborn was built. While there were more theories than kidnapped slaves, it hadn’t affected me. Until this morning.
I glanced back at my palm. Even though I’d only heard whispers about these coins, it couldn’t be more obvious that this was exactly what everyone had been whispering about. Round, rough, and metallic with an unmistakable word engraved on one side: anathema. Flipping the coin, Ella and I examined the engraving of a man and a woman holding a baby framed by the outline of the island we lived on.
I traced my fingernail along the outline of the infant’s face, wondering if my parents had ever held me in such a loving embrace when I was a baby. Its head snuggled into its mother’s shoulder and playfully rested one chubby foot on its father’s arm. I smiled at the happy baby.
It winked at me.
I dropped the coin and watched it roll across the wooden floor. I rubbed my eyes. Since when did inanimate objects wink? Something had to be wrong with me.
“It must have been on the bed.” Ella snatched the coin from the floor before it could roll away and held it in her hand. “You know they always leave this token in place of the slave they take.”
|Molly C. Quinn||as Reychel|