An excerpt from a Work-in-Progress novel by Karen de Lange
Liam Colley has lived isolated and alone since his exile in disgrace from the Associated Sovereignties. His life is disrupted by the arrival of Aleysa, a young girl from a nearby town. Discovering the extent of her psychic powers, he realises that she might represent his ticket home and sets about gaining her trust, starting off by cooking a spectacular meal using the food she has mysteriously brought with her.
Liam cooked a feast for them. Corn cobs drizzled with melted cheese; chicken wrapped in bacon in a spiced tomato sauce; strawberries dipped in chocolate. What he didn’t use he stored carefully in the cool box; hopefully it would keep a day or two.
Both the beers had gone by the time they sat down to eat; he rinsed the bottles out and filled them with water, giving one to Aleysa. She flicked hers sharply, waited a moment for it to grow cold, then drank deeply.
They ate in silence, greedily, savouring the medley of flavours. Afterwards, they cleared up in near-silence, each moving around the other to wash, dry and put away as though they had been doing it for years. When the place was tidy, Liam put some coffee on to brew, shaking the jar to tip out the absolute last of his precious supply.
Aleysa looked up as the smell wafted over to where she was sitting at the table. ‘What’s that?’
‘Coffee.’ The puzzlement on her face made him realise that she might need some clarification. ‘It’s a bit like tea. But tea is vile, and this isn’t.’
She craned her neck curiously as he poured his mug and brought it over to the table.
‘Here,’ he offered. ‘Try it.’
Taking the mug, Aleysa sniffed it and took a tiny sip. Liam laughed aloud at the disgusted expression on her face as she handed it back, shaking her head emphatically.
‘It can be an acquired taste. And this is the last of mine, so if you do acquire a taste then tough luck.’
‘I could try and get you some, if you like,’ she said.
‘Aye,’ he said. ‘About that. Where did all this spring from, anyway?’
‘Temple of Sirona.’
‘Aleysa!’ She looked up at the suddenly harsh tone of his voice. ‘Help me out here, will you? I promise, I’m not trying to get you into trouble. I just need to know what I’m dealing with here. Is someone going to come looking for you? What about your parents? Are they missing you right now? Trust me, I don’t much care what the answer is as mostly it’s your problem, not mine. But there might be something that is my problem, in which case I do need to know.’
He tried to conceal the twist of desperation inside himself. So much rested on this. Watching her carefully to try and gauge her reactions, he nearly missed the slight spark that kindled in her eyes. ‘Well?’ he prompted.
She cast her gaze down to her hands clasped in her lap, but he was almost sure that the reticence was an act. She hadn’t been shy about anything else so far.
‘Will you let me show you?’
Liam frowned. ‘What d’you... oh.’
Aleysa had brought one hand up and laid it, palm up, on the table.
He swallowed, turning over the possibilities. If he did this, would he be opening himself up to her? And, if he refused, would she just tell him what he wanted to know? Or would she leave? I don’t have much choice.
He laid his own hand – rough, large, fair – in her small dark one.
Had it not been for the moment he had discovered her emotions inside him, he would not have been prepared for what came next. He didn’t see her life laid out before him like a stage play; he heard no voice narrating her story. He just knew. Knew, as though he had lived it himself.
The day her grandmother had taken her to the Temple of Sirona – a place where the old and infirm were sent to die, no place for a young girl, but the only place that would have her. Her mother dead, her father unknown, her grandparents wanting nothing to do with her. Or maybe, as she realised now, afraid of her. At first, her days spent tending the sick, her education curtailed, but finding a small measure of satisfaction in the way she could soothe their pain, blocking it from their conscious minds. But then, so gradually, how the sisters of Sirona had seen that something was awry with her, something not quite the same as everyone else. A couple of slips on her part, revealing that she knew things she had no earthly right to know, and they were afraid of her too.
Banned from tending the patients, sent out of every room she entered, becoming invisible. Discovering that she could sneak out when she pleased and nobody would miss her. Hitching illicit rides on goods trucks leaving the town, just for the sake of going somewhere. Happening on the steep pass cutting through the ridge to the lake. Getting back whatever time of night she pleased, because nobody cared.
And the sly pinches, and the bruises, and the whispers, some that she was not meant to hear, some that she was. Half-caste witch, whore’s bastard and night-demon’s daughter.
He pulled away from her, making the table rock, pushing down the growing sense of exultation, hoping it didn’t show in his eyes. Keeping his voice even. ‘What do you want from me?’
She met his gaze steadily. ‘I want you to take me away from here.’
Karen's site and blog can be found here.