The Reader - Chapter 17

The Reader - Chapter 17

A Chapter by A.L.

Chapter 17

Emmeline immediately remembered that when faced with a possible murderer it was probably best to keep your weapon on you, not throw it to the floor. 

She wrenched her arm out of Titus’s grasp, scrambling for her knife and holding it out in front of her. She was about to open her mouth and scream for help when Titus shook his head fiercely. 

“Come a step closer and I stab this knife through your heart,” Emmeline threatened weakly. It was an empty threat. She had killed soldiers, but could she kill someone her age? Probably not. Titus, on the other hand, was an option for an assassin and Emmeline kept up her guard.
“If I wanted you dead I would’ve done it already, probably in the jail cell,” Titus said, raising his hands. 

For a “not murderer” he was pretty suspiciously dressed. He was wearing all black and a hood that obscured a fair bit of his face. Not to mention how many places he could have been concealing a weapon. 

“With all my friends watching? You wouldn’t have stood a chance,” Emmeline spat at him. The flame of Titus’s finger flared. 

“And at the party no one was watching? Give me a break,” he rolled his eyes and Emmeline let out a breath. Titus was right. He had been given plenty of chances to kill her, but she was still standing. 

“What do you want?” Emmeline asked, relaxing her knife but still keeping it in her hand. 

“For you to keep your voice down,” Titus responded wryly, his voices noticeably more hushed. “Listen, they completed the searches of our private areas. They found the powder in Marlene’s stuff.” 

“So she’s a murderer?” Emmeline asked in disbelief. 

Titus shook his head. “I don’t think she is. The thing is, I helped her bake the cake. I handed her every ingredient she put in, and when I left it alone to set for a moment she left with me. I was with her the whole time and she didn’t poison it. Someone must have slipped in when we let it set. She’ll probably be imprisoned or maybe even killed tomorrow, and I can’t stop it.” 

“Why are you telling me this?” Emmeline asked, both confused and exhausted. 

Before Titus could answer there was a creak upstairs. Emmeline tuned to Titus, eyes wide. 

“Look,” Titus whispered quickly. “Just because they think it’s Marlene doesn’t mean you’re safe. The assassin could still be out there somewhere. Watch your back - you’re still a target.” 

There were footsteps and Titus disappeared, leaving Emmeline alone in the dark. 

Newt appeared at the bottom of the steps, a lantern in his hand. “What are you doing, Emmeline? The food is upstairs.” 

“Thought I heard something,” Emmeline sighed. “Probably just a goat.” 

Titus’s warning had proved true. The next morning, the Elders announced that the murderer had been caught. The trial was at noon to decide whether Marlene would be put to death or merely imprisoned. Emmeline hoped for the latter. 

She knew Titus could have been lying. He could have felt strongly towards Marlene and wanted her to live. By telling Emmeline his story he stood a chance of Marlene living. 

But Emmeline was pretty sure he was telling the truth. 

Marlene was in tears as she sat down on the chair in the center of the Elders. Her eyes were red and puffy and her arms were tied together. Emmeline felt bad for her. 

Coral, Forrest, and Newt didn’t mention meeting Emmeline in the middle of the night. There was an almost unspoken agreement to keep quiet. If Lena had noticed the weirdness between any of them she didn’t say anything. 

“Welcome to the second day of trials,” Scarlet announced loudly but slowly. “We have thoroughly searched each of the suspect’s rooms. And we came back with one person who is guilty based upon the evidence discovered. Marlene, please stand.” Scarlet’s voice held no kind of sympathy and Emmeline felt terrible. 

Not only was Marlene being falsely accused of being a murderer, but whoever had framed her was still out there. Titus was right - Emmeline wasn’t safe at all. 

Marlene stood, wringing her fingers. A tear leaked down her cheek. Emmeline could see her tugging nervously at the sash on her dress too. The girl was an anxious wreck and for good reason too. 

“Marlene, state your full name and origin,” Scarlet ordered firmly. 

“My name is Marlene Rosen,” Marlene said calmly though her voice was raspy from emotion. “I am a Cursed from Golla.” She choked out the words, and they were obviously forced. Emmeline had forgotten about the Curse. Marlene had tucked her silvery hair over her missing ear so it wasn’t visible that it wasn’t there. 

“Marlene, we found powder made from crushed griffin talons in your possession. It was your cake that was poisoned. Do you deny performing these actions?” Scarlet asked. Emmeline wanted Marlene to stand up for herself, but she knew deep down the girl would not. 

“I didn’t do it,” Marlene whispered softly, not meeting Scarlet’s eyes. “I never bought or found the powder. I have no idea how it got into my stuff, but I didn’t put it there. And as for the cake, why would I poison Emmeline? Yeah, she’s a Reader and all, but in the grand scheme of things she’s not that important. I didn’t poison the cake.” 

The words about her being unimportant hurt Emmeline, but she was glad Marlene at least tried to defend herself. 

“It’s quite obvious that you poisoned the cake,” Scarlet scoffed. “Yet you deny it?” 

Marlene nodded sharply. 

Scarlet turned to face Emmeline, her expression grim. “Emmeline, dear, this is your attempted murderer. Because you were the victim of this crime we allow you to get a say in it. The Elders will vote quickly, and if the vote is indecisive you will decide for us.” 

The Elders all closed their eyes. It had to be the weird telepathy thing again. 

Marlene sent panicked glances Emmeline’s way, her eyes pleading for forgiveness or freedom. Titus was also sending Emmeline a look that begged on Marlene’s behalf. 

Too soon the Elders reopened their eyes. Scarlet opened her mouth to speak but closed it again and frowned for a moment. Finally, she began to speak. “Emmeline’s vote is not needed The Elders have concluded Marlene as guilty. Her punishment will be death-” The woman was interrupted by Marlene’s wails. 

No one spoke and the only sounds were Marlene’s somber cries for help and forgiveness and pleading that she had nothing to do with the crime. Titus shed silent tears and Violet seemed at loss for both words and her best friend. 

Emmeline was shocked. The Elders hadn’t even considered Marlene being framed, they had simply sent her away without another word. 

“The execution will be tomorrow,” Scarlet announced before staring straight at Emmeline. “We hope you will attend, my dear. This was all to help you. We’re on your side.” The words felt empty. 

Emmeline pushed back tears, she didn’t want to appear weak. As far as the others knew, Marlene was her enemy. 

Lena had gone already to visit her seamstress friend for Beckett’s tunic orders, so Emmeline and her friends were left to walk home alone. It was a terrible feeling to be walking out of the room unharmed while Marlene would be killed the next day. 

“That was … intense,” Newt mumbled as they rounded a corner. 

Clara and Beckett seemed to agree, even though they remained silent. They seemed the most shocked and hurt by the news. “She seemed nice at the party,” Clara whispered. “She said she thought my Blessing was great and praised me.” 

“You attract more flies with honey,” Forrest quoted wisely, but Coral elbowed him in the stomach. 

Emmeline kept quiet until Newt grabbed her arm. “Emmeline, are you okay?” 

“Marlene is innocent,” Emmeline blurted. 

“What are you talking about?” Coral asked her, confused. “Marlene poisoned you and nearly killed you. Shouldn’t you be happy you’re safe?” 

“But I’m not safe,” Emmeline protested, shaking Newt’s hand off . “Titus visited me last night - which for one proves how weak our security is. He told me that he helped Marlene bake the cake and he never left her alone. Both of them left the cake for a minute or two - which is plenty of time for a cake to be poisoned. Marlene didn’t poison me - she was framed.” 

Newt simply gaped at her. Forrest and Coral shared a confused look. 

“How do you know Titus wasn’t lying and he wasn’t the murderer?” Newt asked her, not even bothering to question her meeting with the other boy. 

“I thought that too, but Titus could’ve easily killed me last night or the night he freed us from the cell.” Emmeline felt embarrassed to be bringing this up. “I trust that he’s right - Marlene has no reason to want me dead.” 

“It’s too late,” Beckett said, his voice bland and emotionless. “The execution is scheduled. If they call it off, the Elders will seem weak and no one will trust them. They’ll lose their power and chaos will ensue, bring war only quicker.” 

“Thanks, Captain Optimism,” Clara sighed. “I wish there was a way to save her.” 

“There’s not,” Newt said quietly. “For now let’s focus on making our house as safe as possible. Emmeline’s right - if Marlene is innocent that means the assassin is still out there.” 

The group continued to discuss possibilities of future booby traps, and none of them noticed when Emmeline slipped away from them. No one saw the tears dripping down her cheeks at the hopelessness of the situation. 

No one saw the fractured Emmeline. The real Emmeline. 

The wind was cold on the hill and Emmeline was about ready to start a forest fire just to warm herself. There was no sense in going back to the house - everyone would bombard her with questions immediately.

No, Emmeline would wait until the sun set and then head back. She would make sure everyone was asleep before sneaking into the house and then pretend to not wake up in the morning. Maybe she could pretend to be poisoned again and she wouldn’t have to attend the execution. 

Emmeline had climbed the hill that overlooked the village for a break. The work had done her good - it felt nice to struggle at something. The climb took the breath from her lungs and made her calves burn but the view and the silence was worth it. 

Because she was missing her lesson with Wiley by brooding, Emmeline spent some time with a stick sketching shapes in the dirt and labelling them. Then she wiped them away. 

She occupied her mind with anything except for Marlene’s panicked face - or attempted to, anyways. She tried to think of the circus and how unfairly Master Zoro had treated her. She tried to remember how her and Newt had quickly been cast out of the normal children. She even tried to focus on her parents even though she knew she wouldn’t remember them. Not that she wanted to anyways. What kind of parents abandoned their child? 

But no matter what Emmeline thought about, her mind always came back to the trial and Marlene’s punishment. 

She kept pushing the thought away but it kept coming back.

Emmeline knew that if she had never gone after Beckett Marlene would still be fine. Then she reminded herself that Beckett would probably be dead and the war would’ve been started. 

She was so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t hear Clara approaching until the red haired girl sat down beside her. 

“Nice view,” Clara remarked in a cheerful tone. Emmeline didn’t respond, she almost wanted Clara to ask if she was okay. The girl didn’t, but she turned to Emmeline. “I’m not going to bother you about running off. I know why you did it and I’ll let you work it out by yourself. I’m here because I have a question and I also had some news and some theories.” 

“Start with the news,” Emmeline sighed, ready to have her ear talked off. 

“The King of the Silver Kingdom - King Dee - died yesterday. A few weeks ago he was injured, you’ve heard that, and he succumbed to his injuries.” Clara didn’t seem fazed by the news, and Emmeline wasn’t surprised either. 

She was scared. King Dee had no heir which meant the kingdom would be in chaos. Another advisor might be chosen for the time being, but Beckett was the only true heir. The war was closing in and Emmeline wasn’t ready to stop it yet. The kingdom would be looking for Beckett, but so would the Green Kingdom. 

“Okay,” Emmeline said at last. “What’s your question?” 

Clara inhaled deeply. “I know you Read me,” Clara said at last. “I want to know what you saw. You didn’t see, my … my ….” Her voice fell away and she stared at the ground. 

Emmeline knew Clara was asking about her death. She had every right to be curious. Emmeline decided to be honest about her visions. “I saw your family and I saw Johnny. I also saw you on a battlefield begging to save Beckett or something. Gwen pulled me out before I could see your death.” 

Clara was quiet for a moment and Emmeline saw a tear leak down her face. “Johnny,” Clara whispered to herself before wiping her face and looking at Emmeline. Surprisingly, she didn’t ask about the future. “You saw my family. Did they … did they hate me?” Her voice held a shocking amount of bitterness but Emmeline felt the same way about her family. Too bad Readers couldn’t be Read. 

“They didn’t have enough money to support you, and you probably would have died had they not sent you away.” Emmeline’s words were gentle but sickly sweet. Emmeline had no way of knowing Clara’s true family without invading her privacy more. 

Clara must have known it too because she dropped the issue. 

“I didn’t dream while I was asleep,” Clara said quietly. “There were no visions - only darkness.” It was off topic and far from what they had been talking about but Emmeline was glad for the distraction. 

Emmeline didn’t know what to say, however, so she kept quiet. 

Clara didn’t seem to mind leading the conversation. “So, I told you I have some theories, right? Well first of all, I think that King Rook is being possessed by Baelle.” 

“Makes sense,” Emmeline said blandly even though she was really considering it. 

Baelle was the Goddess of Witchcraft, which meant she had many magical powers of sorts. Emmeline remembered reading about Baelle whispering into the ears of rulers and encouraging warfare, which fit the theory as well. A war between the kingdoms would mean carnage for the Goddesses and a chance for Baelle and the other Rogues to take over. King Rook might not be so hostile if Balle wasn’t either controlling him or speaking to him. 

Clara waited for Emmeline to say something. “I think it all works out,” Emmeline agreed. “Very smart, Clara.” 

“That’s not all,” Clara continued with a smile. “I think that Baelle isn’t a true goddess.” 

This theory confused Emmeline. How could Baelle not be a goddess? Clara noticed her puzzled expression. 

“Do you remember the destruction of Viridia and Aregntia a few centuries ago? Like, have you heard of it?” Clara asked her.

Emmeline nodded. Viridi and Argenti were the two major locations in each of the kingdoms. Viridia and Argentia had been the patron goddesses until they had a war over something (no one was really quite sure) and they were both destroyed. 

“Well, if Baelle was really a true goddess she would be able to destroy Ibenily - even if she is a Rogue. Viridia and Argentia did it - Baelle and the Rogues could eventually take down all the other goddesses. It just doesn’t fit,” Clara explained. 

“So what do you think?” Emmeline asked, trying to wrap her head around Clara’s theory. 

“I think Baelle is a demi-goddess of a sort.” Clara crossed her arms as if waiting for applause. “She’s powerful, yes, but if I’m right that’s a good thing.” 

“Why would Baelle not being a true goddess be a good thing?” Emmeline asked, still confused but also starting to understand. “She’s still powerful, more powerful than any of us will ever be. Now we can insult her? I don’t understand.” 

Clara sighed. “You’re helpless without your prince, aren’t you?” 

“Which one?” Emmeline wasn’t sure if she was implying Beckett or Newt. And she wasn’t sure which was worse. 

“We’ll talk about that later,” Clara laughed. “What I was trying to say is that if Baelle isn’t a true goddess she isn’t immortal. We can kill her. We’re not fighting an invincible enemy, we never were. Baelle can be defeated.” 

Emmeline really hoped that Clara’s theories were correct.

Because if they were, that meant that Emmeline and her friends might be able to stop the war after all - even without Writing.

© 2020 A.L.

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Added on July 22, 2020
Last Updated on July 22, 2020
Tags: young adult, teen, short stories, death, fantasy, adventure, mythology, magic, fortune teller, prophecy



I've been writing for a little over two years now - just short stories and occasionally a book (by word count alone). My main works are sci-fi and fantasy, aimed at a teen audience. I'm still in high .. more..

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