Chapter 9: Inside the Wall
We rode forward together into the darkness inside of the wall. As soon as we were past the gate, the giant wooden gate started closing. From this side I could see a metal arm connected to the gate that was pulling it shut, and that arm was connected to gears that were making the noise.
It made sense that the gate to the inside of the wall would use a mechanism to open it since the people in the wall were the ones that kept technology up. It also gave the place an air of mystery and obviously scared the citizens that lived within the city.
When the gate closed the place was thrown into complete darkness. Then a dim light started to glow from the ceiling. It was the yellow light of an electric light permeating the tall hall in which we were standing.
A person came hurrying in. I couldn’t tell if the person was male or female, but it was a young person. They were about ten years old wearing a plain white robe with long, waist length white hair.
“Sorry for the lack in hospitality. We haven’t seen exiles in ages. We were quite surprised when the door was knocked on and you two rode in. I was sent down to greet you, and to offer you a chance.”
“A chance, a chance at what?” Kevin jumped on her words and didn’t let her finish.
I guess I assumed the child was female because of the long hair. I would let that assumption hold until I knew otherwise.
She waited as if silently reprimanding Kevin for speaking. “As I was saying, we would like to extend an offer for you to live in the wall. You would never be able to go back into the city, but it is wrong for people to be forced out into the world beyond the wall. We, the people in the wall, watched the last man die in the ruins of the city outside the wall. We can still point out his bones to you. And the bones of his horse. He rode out and sat outside the wall until the radiation killed him as if he couldn’t imagine there being something beyond the radiation.”
The girl stopped and stared at the two of us for a second, and then continued, “And we would teach you as much as you could learn. You don’t seem like the type of people that would be as smart as the carefully selected and bred people of the wall, but we would still welcome you. We hate death as much as your people within the city welcome it. The people within are a sample of what people in the world used to be. We within the wall are from the smartest and brightest genes this world could offer.”
She paused again as if waiting for something. I wasn’t sure what to say. I had never thought that the people within the wall would want to keep an exile. It was a tempting offer. To not have to face the radiation outside the wall. To be honored and safe. To never have to worry about the king or being whipped again. It sounded like a dream come true.
Then I remembered my sister. I had to honor my family and all those who believed I was searching for a place beyond the radiation. I had to see if there was a chance of freedom beyond the wall. Kevin was looking at me, as if waiting for my answer. I took a deep breath, “I need to leave. I need to see if there is a place beyond the radiation.”
“What!” His rang out through the cold empty room.
I must have caught him off guard. Maybe he thought I had only chosen exile to live. He didn’t realize I had chosen it because I was too prideful to be killed in front of a crowd. He didn’t understand that now that I was given my honor back I had to fulfill the duty given to me by the people of the city. I looked at the flower I was still holding in my hand. Bryan’s farewell.
“I have to. They gave me back my honor and entrusted me with leaving the city to see if there was anything past the radiation. You can stay here. This isn’t your task. I would understand if you stayed. I just hope the people in the wall will help me figure out the best direction to go when I leave and teach me the skills I need to be able to figure out where to go. That is all I ask of the people in the wall.” The daisy in my hands was my promise. I would do my best to find a place of freedom for the people of this city.
“Why do you always drag me into things! Ever since we were children I’ve been following you into bad decision after bad decision. Why can’t you ever leave me out of it Elizabeth? The last one almost got me killed, and now we have this chance…”
“You can stay.” He always chose to willingly follow me. So maybe I was a little adventurous. Maybe I didn’t always think out the repercussions of my actions. But he always chose to follow me.
“No, I can’t. I need to watch over you and make sure you don’t get yourself killed by one of the beasts out there! You don’t even know how to fight. You don’t remember how to ride. A little bit of leather won’t protect you in the world out there. And I made a promise a long time ago to protect you.”
I smiled, “You follow through on your promises. So do I. I promised the city I would find a place beyond the radiation or die trying. I will not fail. Just as you have not failed me.”
He looked like he was about to explode. I would absolve him of his promise so he wasn’t so torn. I could handle myself. I had once been dishonored. “You are free to stay here. I absolve you of your promise to me.”
“No! It’s not that simple. If I let you leave you’ll die out there, and I can’t live with that! You are like the sister I never had. I can’t just let you go and get yourself killed. If you insist on leaving you are taking me with you!” He was so frustrated and upset with me. I wasn’t sure why he was insistent on following me. I could handle myself, no matter what he said.
“Fine. Follow me if you want to. I won’t stop you.” I turned on my horse and looked over at where the little girl had been, but she was gone. Another person walked into the room. This person was clearly male and just as pale and white haired as the girl.
“Lisa knew not how to deal with you. She is not used to strangers even though she has been training to be the ambassador to outsiders since she was born. Your indecision confused her. I am Roderick, your host in the dark world of the wall. What was your decision on staying? Lisa left before you made your decision.” He spoke quietly and in a deep steady voice. No expression show on his colorless face. These people of the wall looked like they had all the color washed out of them.
I looked over at Kevin, but he was watching me and waiting for me to speak up. “I made a promise to the people of this place that I would see if there was anything beyond the waste. I will fulfill that promise or die trying.”
The man didn’t even twitch a muscle. He stared at me; unmoving and unblinking until I finished speaking. Then he turned toward Kevin, “Surely you are smarter than this girl you ride with.”
Kevin shook his head, “I’m afraid not. I’m following this crazy girl wherever she chooses to go. I’ve sworn to protect her and help her, and we are in this together.”
I sighed in annoyance. I’d released him from his stupid promise he made so long ago. I knew he didn’t like me as more than a sister and I recognized the fact that he didn’t even realize my own feelings toward him, so why was he insisting on following me out into death? He could find some pretty pale girl living in the wall that was so smart she would leave him in the dust, but she would be fascinated with his dark and handsome looks. He shouldn’t follow me.
“Don’t follow me Kevin. Stay back. Don’t be dragged into something I am doing again. As you said I always drag you into stupid things. I almost got you killed already. Don’t let me actually get you killed.” I did want him to come though. I would miss him if he stayed. Even as I tried to convince him to leave a part of me was begging him to stay back. I did love him, and I hoped he didn’t fall in love with another girl because I wanted him to realize that he loved me. But I shouldn’t lie to myself. He didn’t love me.
He shook his head. “No Elizabeth. I will follow you, and you cannot stop me. I have fighting training and I am a good rider. You need someone to protect you and to remind you of what to do to get your horse to do certain things. We’ll ride fast enough so that we’ll out ride the radiation poisoning. We’ll be out of here before we get so much radiation that it hurts our systems.”
Roderick turned toward me and spoke tonelessly, “Elizabeth, he is devoted to you. To stupidly follow you out. The whole world was blown up. There is nothing else out there unless maybe the government managed to build other cities before the war happened, but I doubt it. It took so many resources to build this city that I believe we are the only humans still left in this world. Do you still want to doom yourself and your companion and your horses to certain death?”
I smiled slightly. “Roderick, Nothing is ever certain in this world.”
My father used to say that. He said that to me before his execution. He used to add, “Everything has its time and its place in this world”. In his last words to me he had added “my time and my place has come here and now. Don’t be sad for me. Live the life you are given.”
The pale man shook his head, “Death is certain. You people inside the city believe in a God, but there is no God. There is nothing after death. You live in a fantasy belief that some great eternal being cares about your honor and your eternal soul, but there is nothing. After life there is simply death.”
“And how do you know that? We believe in a God by faith. Just as you ask me how do I prove he exists I ask you how do you prove he doesn’t?” I wasn’t sure why I was questioning this brilliant man from the wall, but I felt like I had to defend my beliefs. As if not defending them was wrong.
“I prove it by the fact that no one has seen signs in my life time of a higher being. Everything can be explained by science. But even if you won’t let go of your beliefs; death is still certain outside these walls and the protection of the bubble membrane that keeps the radiation outside of the city and this wall.” He was stubborn, but so was I.
“All I want is the best knowledge of where to go and how to figure out where I am heading out there so I can escape this place. Can you help me with that?” I glared at him challenging him to either help me or send me out of the wall without any help. Either way would work.
“We’ll help you. We’ll even make sure you have as much food as your beasts can carry. Leave them here and we’ll take care of them.” I looked down at the horse I was on. He stood there so quietly waiting for me to dismount.
He was standing at the position where my father used to stand when I came in from a ride, right next to the head. I couldn't remember what my father looked like, just his presence there in front of me and his voice. As his presence and image took over my thoughts, I could hear him saying, “Elizabeth, you must always understand why your horse is afraid. To him the dark area under the shadows is a place full of monsters waiting to eat him. Horses born into light don’t want to go down into the darkness.”
In the memory, I was standing next to pony, looking up at him. I was so angry that the pony wouldn't do what I wanted it to do which was to go into the shed to grab a treat for it. He smiled down at me, and gently took my pony’s reins from me.
“But dad, how do I get him in then? I just wanted to get him a treat and he’s too stupid to know that.” I was certain I was right and my father was wrong.
He shook his head even as he spoke, “No sweetheart. Your pony is simply following his instincts to fear the darkness. The best way is to treat him with patience and calmness.” My father moved back next to the pony and spoke quietly to him and rubbed his neck. The pony went from standing with his legs splayed out in a guarded position to letting out a deep breath and relaxing his knee a bit. His ears pricked forward and he walked in right next to my father even as I stood there watching in shock.
The memory faded and I was still sitting on the calm black horse. Someone had done a good job training him and had put a lot of love and patience into his training. I looked over at Kevin and I could see he had jumped off and was handing his reins over to a different pale person with that same white hair. It was like all these people in the dark had lost the pigment in their skin. A different person was standing in front of my horse, “I’ll take it from you if you would like to get off.”
I reached forward and patted the horse’s neck. I closed my eyes and swung my leg over while holding onto the saddle for dear life with my hands. I lowered my body along the horses side until I was at a dead hang, and then I dropped the last little bit feeling the impact of the drop in my feet as they hit the ground with a hard and sudden thud.
I handed the reins over to the person standing there, giving one last pat to the quiet creature sent out with me before looking around to find Roderick. In the dim light I could make out a person I thought to be him near a wall of the room, and Kevin walking toward him. I followed since Kevin seemed to know where he was going.
“Ahh, the one so desperate to leave the protection of the wall has finally decided to join us. What made you decide that it was time to join us?” Roderick flat intonation called out as I approached him and Kevin.
I simply shrugged and replied, “Well, are you going to help us?”
He laughed at my demanding words. “Come,” and he walked away expecting us to follow. I jogged a step or two to make sure I was right behind him not wanting to lose him in this dim lighting. I could hear Kevin's even steps behind me.
We passed through an archway and the light behind us faded away and the place was lit by nothing. I stumbled in the darkness and could only keep going following the echoing songs of the footsteps in front of me.
I ran right into something and to my chagrin realized it was Roderick’s back. Just as I was trying to back up Kevin ran into my own back pushing me into Roderick again, but he stood solidly and waited as we collected ourselves. I couldn’t tell what he thought of us as we made fools of ourselves in the darkness. The all-encompassing darkness that he walked through like it was as bright as day inside. But they did not know what it looked like outside in this dark and timeless place.
He started walking again, and again we followed into the darkness. I heard a click and dim lights on the ceiling lit up the room. We were in a small room with maps all over the walls, but they were maps I had never seen before with clear… was that flat clear glass without bubbles and flaws? How did they get such a clear material? I walked toward one of the maps and reached out my hand toward the material covering it.
“Please don’t touch the glass. We like to keep it clean and your touch will leave prints on the glass. I stared at it, my hand almost touching but not touching the map. It was a map I had never seen before.
Roderick walked up next to me. “See that circle to the left, that’s our city. And the rest of this is the estimated blast radius of the bomb that was dropped on the city known as Washington D.C., the capital of the nation that was once in charge of this land. Our city was built on the outskirts of that city. To the east will be only destruction until you reach the ocean. To the west you might have a chance if you make it to the mountains. “
“West, East? What does that mean?” It sounded like left and right except it also didn’t.
“They are directions. The world is round and left and right don’t work in the scope of the world.” The world was round? I had never actually… I guess I had wondered, but I had assumed it was flat. Or maybe I had heard it was round somewhere, but our world was so limited to the world within the city’s wall.
He grabbed my hand and led me over to a table with a round thing. I look over at Kevin who was still standing near the entrance of the chamber. He just shrugged as if saying he was not going to be able to learn directions; which was probably true since he was terrible even just in the city.
Roderick spun the round thing and pointed to a spot on it, “That map you were looking at is smaller than a point on this globe. A globe is a more accurate representation of the world”
I looked closed and noticed that it was green and blue. “What… what do the colors represent?”
“The green represents land and the blue is water. Where the land turns brown is a representation of elevation.” I stared at the globe fascinated and then I looked back at Kevin feeling guilty.
“Could… could you send someone to take Kevin and teach him survival skills for the outside world?” I could at least give him something helpful to learn.
Kevin gave me a grateful smile, looking slightly less uncomfortable. Roderick looked thoughtful for a second. “I think- Well we don’t know them, but we can teach him from the sources we have.”
“That would be great.” I smiled and Roderick nodded.
He went over toward the door and pressed a button and spoke at the wall, “Please send Raza to come and teach the City man Kevin skills for surviving in the wild." He let go of the button and turned back toward us, "She is the closest we have to a specialist in this stuff.”
Roderick walked over toward a shelf and grabbed what looked like a black slate used for teaching off it, “Now Elizabeth, you wanted to learn the art of navigation. We will start with learning how the whole world looks and longitude and latitude.”
I looked over at Kevin next to me, wondering if I should wait to learn this new information till Kevin's guide came. Kevin motioned for me to go towards Roderick, "I''ll wait here for my instructor. Go have fun learning your book stuff. I've had enough of books living in the City."
"Ok," I couldn't think of anything else to say and made my way over toward where Roderick was waiting.
His pale lips pulled into a smile and he looked genuinely excited as he turned the slate toward me and began to write on it. I leaned in, curious of about the strange symbols he was drawing. I forgot everyone else in the world as I learned how to navigate around the world.
I heard footsteps come, and go. At some point someone brought us a meal that seemed to be some sort of paste with a large cup of water. It was bland fair, but it was edible, and the water clean and fresh.
I was fascinated by this world I had never known before. A round globe and a whole world that these people claimed was destroyed in a nuclear war where all the countries of the world ended up firing on each other. And countries. Countries were such fascinating entities. I had never thought there was so much out there.
The world that existed outside these walls I had lived in my whole life was a world of mystery. I wished I could learn the whole world’s history. I wish I could learn about the governments of these places and their systems of honor, but I didn’t have time. It was already taking me so long to learn navigation, and I had to leave at some point.
There were also maps of the world. Flat representations of the round world. At some point more food was brought in and I was shocked. This food seemed to be leafy greens topped with a number of powders. I wasn’t even hungry and it was more food than I normally got in a day.
I was staring at the map not focusing on Roderick when he interrupted my reverie. “Elizabeth. You don’t have to leave. You’re obviously hungry for knowledge, and if you want you can stay here and learn as long as you like. You’re smart enough to almost be one of us. You could leave when you have learned as much as you want. They teach you almost nothing within the wall. You learn reading, writing, and math, but nothing about beyond the Wall. It’s as if they want the world outside the Wall to be an enigma for you.”
“They want us to fear the world outside the Wall. They want us to choose execution more than they want exile. Exiles they have to give precious resources to for a mission beyond the walls. And that’s why I can’t stay here forever. I still have to leave at some point.”
“But you can stay as long as you like. You can learn within our walls for as long as you want. You don’t have to leave until you want to leave. We won’t ever force you out of here.” His voice had changed from a flat toneless way of speaking to a much richer and sincere sound. The way it's tones pulled in on itself was begging me to stay. Moments ago I would have thought it beyond him to beg. All these people within the wall were so formal and upright. There was so little emotion shown, but I could see something sad and pleading in his pale blue eyes almost white.
“I will stay as long as I can, but at some point I have to leave.” I felt bad now for leaving, and I felt torn. I looked down at my plate that I was eating on and wondered how I could be torn between the outside world and staying in this dim quiet world of learning, but I was enjoying learning, and I had almost forgotten I was in a dark, quiet, and pale world.
He nodded as if it was what he expected me to say. The silence stretched on as we ate with only the sound of chewing to break the silence. Finally he spoke again, “We will spend another hour learning and then we will sleep. Lisa will take you to your sleeping arrangements. Tomorrow we will learn about land formation and climates of the world and a little bit about living and dealing with different climates. That will mostly be what your companion is learning about but it is necessary to learn a little bit about it to know about navigation. If you want at some point we can teach you a little about self-defense. It might be useful for you out there.” He looked away as he talked carefully not looking at me.
I shook my head. No. “I… I can’t. I could never. Women don’t learn to fight.”
He shrugged, “Women don’t wear pants out there, or do they? I think you are past the rules of your pitiful society. And women in our society can do anything they want from fighting; to learning; to wearing whatever they want. And I would think you more than any other woman inside the wall would be willing to put aside the bounds of society.”
I shook my head again but said nothing and felt very aware of the fact I was wearing revealing leather clothing.
We sat there awkwardly, and then he stood up. “Come. Let’s begin again.”
This span of time seemed to pass by in no time at all. Before I knew it Lisa was there standing in front of us with her hands on her hips. “You two are as terrible as a regular pair of scholars. You both haven’t even noticed me standing by the door for more than a minute. Are you sure you really want to leave us?”
I felt that strange draw to stay, but I shook my head. I had to leave, “I would love to stay here, but I must leave eventually, for the city.”
She shrugged and grabbed my wrist and led me away. I looked back and the lights in the room were fading away as Roderick stood there watching me leave, and then the light was gone. Lisa confidently led me through her dark world and I was reminded again of why I couldn’t stay here forever. I loved the outside world and its light, plants, and noises. I couldn’t stand this quiet world.
“Roderick likes you.” Lisa’s voice startled me.
I laughed at her simple childish thought that Roderick liked me. “No Lisa, I think he just likes teaching and I am an enthusiastic learner.”
Lisa shook her head, “I see past your delusions. He likes you. I’ve never seen Roderick soften around anyone and he softened around you.”
“Softened? What was soft about him?” I think Lisa was the delusional one.
She shrugged, “I saw his face. He was showing emotion. Roderick shows no emotion. He is attracted to your darker hair and your reddish skin. We only see your kind of people when we fix things at night. And he’s always been obsessed with you. He saw you on his first night trip into the city when he was a kid, and he thought you the prettiest girl he’d ever seen. He’s wanted to meet you since then, but he has followed the rules and never woken you up.”
“That just sounds creepy. And I’ve never noticed anyone watching me.” I laughed shakily. To think someone had been watching my sad and pitiful life.
Lisa shrugged, “He was always obsessed with your kind, my mother told me. He noticed you were intelligent and he fell in love with your spirit in the face of the absolute brutality shown within the wall. He has watched you grow into someone he admires and loves. Mother told me, and mother knows him better than anyone. He is my brother after all.”
“Wait, Roderick is your brother?” They were almost ten years apart in age. Maybe a little less, but still I was surprised by such an age difference.
“Yes, mother had me when she was thirty and Roderick when she was twenty-one. We also have another sibling, Carry, who she had when she was twenty-four. But Carry has trained in engineering and lives with the solar panels that help provide power. She knows how to build them, maintain them, and fix them. She often has to go out suited up in a lead suit to protect her from radiation. But you won’t meet her. She lives with the other engineering apprentices.” She shrugged again. Shrugging seemed very popular among these people of the wall.
“What age do people of the wall normally marry at?” I was curious about their strange culture.
Lisa stopped suddenly. “This is it.” She let go of me and opened a door into a dimly lit room. “The lights must have been turned on before we got here to make you more comfortable.”
I forgot about my previous question as I starred at the room. It was like my room when I was a child except the colors in the room were different. A four poster bed was on the wall in the middle of the room and it had a dark blue cover with gold flourishes threaded through it. A matching rug was in front of the bed and a carved wooden trunk sat at the foot of the bed.
To the left of the room were a vanity and a desk and to the right were a door and a wardrobe. “What is through the door next to the wardrobe?”
“That’s your own private bathroom. Those of us in the wall don’t need to stoop to using chamber pots and having a bathroom as decoration.” At that moment she sounded like a stuck up noble who believed she was better than anyone else. Except the people in the wall were actually better and they lived in the darkness. They kept our society functioning.
She turned to leave and then turned back toward me, “We normally marry at some time between eighteen and twenty, and my brother has many women who have tried to win his favor, but he doesn’t notice any of them. He has eyes only for one girl. If you leave I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes with you.”
Then she shut the door behind herself leaving with that last message that Roderick liked me. I would ignore that for now. For now I would focus on the comforts of the life in front of me.
I went into the bathroom and marveled over the simple but elegant bathroom in front of me. It had a bathtub with a shower and a smooth marble wall. The walls of the bathroom were painted a dark red to go against the light tub, sink, toilet, and floor. It was so simple and yet so beautiful. I walked over to the sink and turned the handle of the sink. Wonderful water poured out of the faucet. It was beautiful. I held my hand under it and laughed in delight. Running water! I turned it off and wheeled toward the tub with the shower head. We had never been allowed to even attempt to turn on the water in the bathroom of the house when I was a kid.
I touched the spigot for the tub and carefully turned it on. Water poured out of it and splashed onto it in a steady stream so different from filling a tub with a bucket. How did I make the shower work though? I felt around on the wall, looking for something to switch it on, and pressed a small button. The water streamed out of the shower head like a mini version of the rains coming out of the dome. I pressed the button again, and it went back to the tub.
This was greater luxury than anything inside the city had to offer!
I turned off the stream of water and spun around in delight. I ran back into the bedroom and through open the wardrobe door. Inside there was a night gown like the ones royal ladies would wear and beautiful simple dresses and… and pants and shirt combos. I hadn’t even thought about it, but the clothing of most of the pale people in the wall was as pale white as their skin and hair. And everyone wore pants and trousers. I guess… maybe the pants and trousers were to make me feel more comfortable just like the room. I took off the leather jacket and helmet, and then had trouble. Was the leather even meant to be taken off?
A knock came at the door and I quickly went over and opened it to find Roderick standing at the entrance of my door.
“Roderick. Hi. Umm, did you need something?” He as staring at me and coloring was rising up in his cheeks.
“Umm… Oh yeah. I was going to make sure you didn’t need anything. That ummm… You look good in that leather.” He stood there awkwardly now looking at the floor as if afraid to look at me. What happened to the unemotional and certain man I had met earlier that day?
“It’s the same as what I was wearing earlier. I just took the jacket off. Could either you or your sister help me with theses laces on the back of this… I think Christopher called it a corset.” He was still in there. All the people I had ever known were so close and so far away.
“Umm. I’ll help. Who’s this Christopher?” Was that jealousy I heard in his voice?
“Come on in. Christopher was one of the guards who helped me get ready for exile.” I stood out of the door so that he could enter. He hesitantly walked through the door. And then he just stood there awkwardly
“I just need help with the back laces undone. I can’t reach them. I can get the collar though.” He just nodded and came closer so he could undo my laces. Was he biting his lip? He looked nervous? Had he never been in a room with a girl before or something?
His cold fingers brushed my skin and I shivered from the cold touch. “Sorry,” he mumbled as he undid the knot at the base and then slowly loosened all the laces till he go to the top and then he said, “There. That should do it.”
I turned around with a smile feeling glad that the collar was still holding the corset up so that I wasn’t naked. I would bet that if it had dropped he would’ve spun and run out of my room. “Thanks. Clothing can be such a bother sometimes. At least I won’t need to put this leather stuff back on until we leave here.”
“You don’t have to leave.” He put his cold hand on my shoulder, and it took self-control for me to not pull away. It was an automatic reaction to want to pull away from people trying to comfort me.
“I do though. I have to go out there.” Lisa was probably right. I think he was showing signs that he liked me, but I didn’t know if he actually did or it was just all speculation. And I didn’t know if I liked him back. It was creepy that he had watched me growing up. But he was nice. And cute if you like extremely pale and washed out. But that was the thing. I preferred guys that had dark brown hair and at least slightly darker skin. I didn’t want a see through guy. But he was smart and kind of sweet. Could I like him without lying to myself?
Suddenly an image of Kevin slipped into my head. No, I liked Kevin. I would wait forever for him and, if he never liked me or married another girl I would stay a spinster for my whole life rather than marry someone I didn’t like. Maybe I could learn to like Roderick, but I didn’t see anything past friendship with him. His hand dropped off my shoulder.
“I guess I should… umm… go?” He looked as if he wanted to stay even as he asked if he should go.
I shrugged. I guess I was already picking up the wall people’s shrugging habit. “You don’t have to. You can stay if you want to. I think you might want to turn around if you stay though. I plan on changing out of this leather.”
“Umm, ok.” He turned around and I unbuckled the corset from the collar and then unclipped the collar and pulled it off before pulling the loosened corset over my head. “So what is your normal day like when exiles don’t come running in demanding your time?” I asked as I worked on getting the leather boots and pants off.
“I’m training to be teacher.”
“Mmhm. What does that involve?” I grabbed a pale night gown. I hadn’t worn a night gown in so long. A ribbon dangled off the waist and I pulled it around and tied it in the back.
“Well… I have to learn the basics of everything so I can pass on knowledge. I’m what you would call a scholar. I normally spend about half my day studying and learning. I go to other older scholars if I don’t understand something from one of the subjects. I spend the other half my day shadowing a teacher teaching classes to young kids and he teaches me about teaching afterwards. So you’re not wasting my time. I just see it as getting practice in.”
“You can turn around now. That sounds interesting, but don’t you have a focus or something?”
He turned back around and his face turned slightly red again as he took in my night gown. Men probably weren’t supposed to see women in nightgowns till they were married or something. That’s how it was within the wall unless you were dishonored.
“You umm… you look pretty in that… Yeah, I don’t focus on one subject. That’s for people going into a field. I want to teach younger kids who still have to learn all the subjects before they can choose a focus.” He was staring at me the whole time, and I was actually starting to feel uncomfortable from his gaze.
Finally he looked away to look around the room. “Do you like the room? And the clothing? Lisa told me she suggested that some dresses were put in the wardrobe because you might be more comfortable in them. The room is just one our unused rooms for single people. I hope you like the color blue…”
I shrugged and smiled, “Yeah. I.. I haven’t had anything so beautiful in a long time. I like blue well enough. Tell your sister thanks.” What else did I say? Sometimes trying to have a conversation was just hard.
He spoke up again, “I should leave… You are settling in well? I umm… Lisa will come and make sure you wake up in the morning so we have plenty of time to study.”
I nodded, “Yeah, I need to take a shower still.” I could help but smile with delight at the thought of getting to actually use a shower.
He waved at me while never breaking into a smile, “Bye then,” he turned away and left the room.
I waited a second then I went into to the bathroom and took the night dress off. I turned the shower on again, and stepped into its cold stream of water enjoying the amenities these wall people had. The water slowly warmed up into a pleasant and relaxing beat against my skin. Not only did they have running water, it was magically warmed up. I never wanted to leave this shower!
But I had to. I had to leave this shower, and this magical place where every room had a working bathroom which meant turning off this faucet and preparing myself for bed.
A towel hung near the shower, and I used it to dry my body and my short hair before slipping into my night gown again, and heading toward the bed that should belong to a Most Honored.
The bed covers were so smooth and soft that my calloused hands snagged against them. Luxuries like this weren't meant for a Dishonored, but I wasn't Dishonored anymore. With that thought I slid myself into the sheets that caressed my skin. and let the bed envelop me in its soft cushions.
But the falling asleep was hard. I wasn't Dishonored anymore. I had escaped the endless drudgery for life of dimly lit rooms and maps promising a large world beyond the wall. Tomorrow I would get to learn more! This bed was too soft!
I tossed to my side. It felt so wonderful, but I felt like I was endlessly sinking.
In the morning I heard knocking on the door. I groggily got out of the bed. I guess I had fallen asleep at some point, but it had taken so long, and I felt like I had run through the whole night. This thing was too soft. Maybe in the future I should just grab some of the sheets and sleep on the floor.
The knocking came again, “Coming!” I yelled as I dragged myself out of the covers and went to the door. I opened it and found Lisa waiting in the darkness outside my door.
“I’m here to help you if you need it. Your lack of a need for privacy quite embarrassed Roderick last night.” She spoke like an adult of the Wall with the same flat emotionless tones. It was too early in the morning for such monotone speech patterns.
“Umm, ok. I might need help with back of a dress, but that is it.” I stood back and let her in before heading over to the wardrobe and opening it up to browse through the choices. I picked a simple black dress from the wardrobe. It looked like it would be a floor length dress on me.
I took off the night gown and slipped the dress over my head. It had a zipper so I pulled it part way up, and then turned toward Lisa, “Hey Lisa, you want to come help me with my stupid zipper?
She nodded and quietly came over and pulled the zipper up. “It looks good on you.” I looked down at the dress, and from what I could see it flattered my thin emaciated body making me look slightly less emaciated and it had a heavy and full skirt that touched the ground. Thin straps went over my shoulders leaving the rest of the skin bare.
She grabbed my wrist and led me over to the vanity. “I don’t know what to do with your short hair. Most of us hardly ever cut our hair, but…” she let the sentence hang as she brushed her hand over the couple of inches I had.
“I normally just leave it alone, but I could brush it down if you want -” I started before she shushed me.
“No, I’m doing your hair and I’m doing your make up. I’ll just make your hair lie flat, or we could do a wig…”
“No wigs.” I would let her play and do make up on me and stuff if she wanted but I wouldn’t be so fake as to wear a wig. I liked my short ash brown hair no matter what length it was or what color it was.
She nodded seriously, “No wigs.”
She spun me toward her and then start applying stuff to my face. When she finished she applied some sort of gel to my hair and then brushed it down around my head. She spun me around to face the mirror and I was shocked. I hadn’t thought she would actually do that great a job, but she did. It was hard to tell that I was wearing make-up and that it wasn’t natural. My eyes stood out more though, my lips were slightly redder, and my face was more evenly colored. My hair was pulled to the side and back of my head in the style I knew was called a bob. She made it work on me even though my hair was a little short for a proper bob. I didn’t look half bad.
I wished Kevin could see me like this. Maybe if Kevin saw me he would see something more than the sister he always saw me as. Where was Kevin? Was he getting to live in the same luxury? Would he even want to leave?
“Wow…” I whispered as she waited for approval.
“Wow, is that all you can say right now?” I laughed at her demand for more praise.
“Thank you Lisa. I look simply stunning, and you did it without making me look fake. I am really, really impressed. What’s the occasion?” They wouldn’t have me get all dressed up for no reason would they?
“No reason. You’ll be dressing nice and wearing make-up every day you live here. I might even be willing to teach you to do your own make-up. You would like that wouldn’t you?” I shrugged not sure if I would actually like that or not. Then suddenly she smiled, “And thanks for the praise. I do think I did a good job.” She had that superior look again. She was not humble.
All the pale people of the wall were so strange. I guess they had nothing better to do what with being cooped up in the wall all the time. She pulled my hand and I stood up and followed her out of the room. Again we went down black halls until we came to the hall where Kevin and I had just entered the other day. It had dim lights turned on in the hall. Roderick was there.
“Ready to start training again?” he asked in the same straight tone he had used before last night. Ironically there was the teacher voice and the “I’m unsure of myself” voice.
“Of course. I need to learn as much as I can.” I was always ready to learn but this place and its people were so cold and unemotional.
He started walking and I stood there a second before Lisa shoved me and I followed him. I caught up with him before the lights went out. I reached out till I was touching him and then held his shoulder in the dark. He didn’t flinch or even seem to notice my hand.
We entered back into the map room and there was a pile of books on the table. “I have work to do today. I was told to have you read these books today. Tomorrow you may ask questions of me and get one on one attention again.”
He was standing there not looking at me and his voice monotone. Was something wrong with him? I looked at him standing beside me. “Is something wrong? Are you ok?”
He shrugged and looked away, “My superiors said I couldn’t spend so much time teaching you. I needed to not allow myself to get attached since you will be leaving. I shouldn’t waste resources on you. And I was showing emotion and emotional attachment to you. To create distance I will be leaving you here and getting you at the end of the day.”
He spun and walked out even as my hand reached after him. I felt… empty. I didn’t like being left in this spooky place by myself. I walked over toward the globe and spun it staring at the continents I had learned yesterday. We lived on that one… what was it called? Oh yeah. It was called North America and below is was South America. I ran my hand across the blue. Ocean. Such a strange and beautiful word made to fit with such a strange thing as a body of water that big.
This continent was small and its name started with an e, but for all that it and its countries were small, it was an extremely powerful player in the old world, Europe. That was the name of it. Below it… that wasn’t really a continent. It was part of the giant continent… Asia or part of Africa. I wasn’t really sure which of the two continents it was actually a part of. But it was called the middle something. One of those directional words. I would see if it was in one of the books. And below that was Africa. The last A continent was past another ocean and all the way in the… south. It was... Atlantic? No that was one of the oceans. Darn it. What was it? Oh yes. Artica… no that was just part of it. No, Antarctica. That was its name.
I felt a tear come to my eyes and I wiped it off quickly. Annie would have loved this place. Annie would have loved living in the wall. All the knowledge. To learn there was a whole ‘nother world out there. Another tear leaked out of the corner of my eye. I scrubbed it away. I looked around, but there was no one there to distract me and no one there for me to talk to. I remembered how I felt yesterday when learning. I remembered how these strange pale people didn’t show emotion and I schooled my face. It was time to not waste my time and to immerse myself in the books.
I picked the first one up and began reading. Food was brought in, but I didn’t stop reading. I finished one book on the different climates and survival techniques for those climates. I picked up a book on cultures of the world and started in on it. More food was brought in and I was surprised when Roderick was standing there carefully pulling the book from my hands.
“You’ve had enough for one day. It’s time to leave the books.” I stood up slowly and felt everything go black and splotchy for a second and I almost collapsed, but I got my bearings and the dizziness disappeared.
Roderick set the book down that he had pulled out of my hands. “Let’s get you back to your room.” He put his hand on my shoulder and gently led me by putting pressure on my shoulder. I was dazed and my mind in a different time and fascinated by the different cultures of the world and the different plants and climates of the world. It was such a wonderful and beautiful place, and we humans had destroyed it. We killed it. I had to see that one day. I wanted to see a blue sky more than anything
“I… it was such a beautiful world. Why did we destroy it? Why…” my eyes felt itchy as if they wanted to cry in lament for all that the human race had dared to kill. “I… I want to see a blue sky.” I whispered it as if it were a secret. My mind had gotten so engaged in the books it was hard for me to come out of that world.
“You will see the blue sky. One day you will see a blue sky overhead.” Just as I didn’t know how to receive comfort he didn’t know how to give it. He just held his hand awkwardly on my shoulder and led me on in the dark.
He opened a door and there was my room. “I couldn’t tell you when we met up today… I shouldn’t tell you now, but Elizabeth, you look absolutely stunning in that dress.” He didn’t change his tone at all as he spoke and as soon as he finished he turned around and walked out of the room leaving me staring after him.
What did that mean he couldn’t tell me and shouldn’t tell me? Why would they care if he had feelings or not? And who was they? Who was in charge of this society in the wall?
I took off the dress and quickly got ready for bed. I probably had another long day of studying tomorrow and I should sleep. I didn’t even know if we were running on the same schedule as the rest of the world or if we were running on some schedule created to balance sleep and active hours perfectly. Whatever it was; it was probably best for me to get some sleep.
I thought about sleeping on the floor, but I wanted to to use this crazy luxurious bed. I wasn't Dishonored anymore so I shouldn't act like one and I should act more like an Honored person.
I slipped under the covers and lay there for a while think about the men in my life. My father, Kevin, Bryan, Christopher, and now Roderick. And that man my mother had married. They were like a spider web that created my relations with people. And the important women in my life. My mother, my sister, Rachel, and Annie, even Reese. And now Lisa though she was more like an important girl. So many connections and interactions. I was emotionally damaged. These people in the wall were born or raised with social and or emotional problems it seemed.
I woke up the next morning to knocking wondering when I fell asleep. I was surprised at how soundly I had slept. I guess I had needed the sleep more than I realized.
The knocking came again and I got up and let Lisa into my giant, spacious room. Well, compared to my standards before I was dishonored it was small, but compared to the cell it was huge.
Lisa walked over to the wardrobe. “Do you want a dress or pants and shirt today?”
“Dress. I just don’t really feel comfortable in wearing men’s clothing.” I didn’t like the way they showed off my legs even though men had seen me naked before it just didn’t feel the same.
“You know if you never wear them you’ll never get used to wearing pants and a shirt. We can start off with baggier pants if you want. Ones that are almost like a skirt for each leg.” She was staring at me without letting any emotion show and it was kind of creepy.
“Ok. Fine. I will try your pant skirt things.” As soon as I agreed she reached into the wardrobe and pulled out a pair of black pant skirt things. I put it on under my night gown and realized they weren’t too bad. They showed as much leg as a skirt or dress.
Then she tossed me a black strapped top and a blue top. I stared at them till she came over. “The black top is called a tank top and goes under the blue top. Take off your nightgown and put it on”
She sounded patronizing as if she were talking to someone older or stupider. “Ok. I’ve got it. You don’t have to sound like you are explaining this to a child.”
She shrugged, “I feel like I am. You have learned so little living in the city.”
I had no retort for that and I quickly took off the white night gown and slipped on the tight form fitting tank top as she called it. Then I put on the brilliant bright blue top. The sleeves were three quarters length and most of it clung to me except the front which dipped low and had a bunch of material hanging in folds allowing the black tank top to be seen. Now I understood why this had to be worn with the tank top.
She again did my make-up and hair while staying silently or uttering simple commands like “sit”. Were conversations against their protocols or something?
Before I quite realized it I was being led out the door and into the hall where I had ridden in from the city. There waiting for me stood an immobile Roderick. Again he led me off into the dark and I followed him with a hand on his shoulder. We went back to the room, and this time a board on sticks of wood had been added in.
“Today we will review all you have learned and all you read in a book and then learn the use of a compass.” I was enjoying learning, but at the same time I was starting to wish I could do something more. I was starting to wish I could do something physical and active or just get a break from this constant studying, but I said nothing as Roderick easily went into teacher mode and started questioning me on everything I had learned while in the wall.
Food was brought in and we quickly ate before returning to reviewing the last little bit from the book I read yesterday. Then I learned how to use a compass and how to line it up with a map and with the directions of a map. North, East, South, West. Never Eat Soggy Waffles.
We started in on reading a small local area map when food was brought. We ate quickly and then continued learning about the features represented on a map and how to read it.
And then I went back to my studies. This cycle continued for days and the longer it went the less the two siblings seemed to talk to me about anything except my learning. I saw no one else, and I was going stir crazy. I was enjoying learning, but I was also feeling cooped up. The whole not having someone to talk with for a day was making me feel lonely. I started holding conversations with the air and imagining its’ reply. I started pacing around the room and counting the steps.
I became used to the soft bed. Well as much as one can get used to it. Eventually I finished all the books and I could correctly answer any question they threw at me. I couldn’t count the days or sleep cycles or whatever the system they used here because I lost track of the number. My hair grew long enough to be a proper bob, and then it grew below my chin.
I wished strongly that Kevin would come by at some point, but he never did. I couldn't bring myself to ask Lisa or Roderick about him.
One day Lisa pulled my leather exile outfit from the closet instead of another nice outfit.
“Why is the leather coming out?”
“If you want to stay now it will go back in the closet and be forgotten, but if you still want to leave it has been decided that both you and Kevin have learned the skills you wanted to learn.” She held up the exile’s leather offering me the choice to leave or stay in this dark silent world where I was going crazy.
I kind of didn’t want to leave, but I also wanted to. I wanted to b free of this stifling quietness. I wanted to see Kevin again. “Ok. If they think I am ready than yes, I still want to go. I need to fulfill my promise to the city that has probably already forgotten I made it. But I have to be a woman of honor. I can’t not go just because I am afraid.”
She nodded and brought over the leather clothing. I took off the nightgown and lifted my arms to slide on the corset. I put on the pants and then she tightened my laces.
“Will you and Roderick miss me, or will you rejoice that I am gone and your world has returned to normal?” I asked as she put the collar on me and I pulled the buckles in the front tight.
“I find you interesting and fascinating, but I will not miss you I think. I do not know you that well and you are an addition to my normal day.”
She sounded so factual and cold. But I had asked. I should have known she didn’t really care about me.
Then she continued, “But my brother will be devastated though he will hide it. He has worked hard to hide his feelings, but he loves how you have changed his world. He loves how willing to show emotion you are. I think - I think he might do something stupid today?”
“What might that be?” I pulled on the jacket and boots leaving only the simple leather helmet to be put on.
“I will say no more. I know nothing more of his plans just that he was devastated that you might be leaving us so soon. I think Raza, Kevin’s teacher might also be slightly upset. She enjoyed having a pupil as fascinated with combat and survival in the wild as she is.” She grabbed the helmet and pulled it over my head before leading me toward the door without first going to the vanity. I guess an exile doesn’t have to look nice. And that’s what I was. An exile.
We went back to the place where we started, the great hall. This time our two horses were waiting and Kevin was already there in his leather exile outfit.
I heard the clopping of hooves and a third horse came into the hall lead by someone in black cape with a crazy amount of fabric. This horse was a bright white refined looking creature with a small head and big eyes on an intelligent looking face. It wasn’t as big as the black giants, but she was big enough to carry the caped person leading her.
“This is Rascal. I took him from one of the wall stables. I’m coming with you. You need my knowledge more than the wall community needs it.” Was that - that was Roderick’s voice except I heard some inflection in his voice. Was he disobeying whoever it was that made the orders here?
“Please Roderick. Don’t do this. Don’t throw your life away!” Lisa's voice was laced with anger and hurt. Was Lisa begging? This was quite the day.
“I’m sorry little sister, but I have to go. I can’t stay here any longer.” He came over toward us leading the horse and walked up to his sister. He leaned down and wrapped her up in a giant hug.
I wasn’t sure what I thought about him coming along, but Kevin spoke up much quicker than me, “Of course we want your help. We would welcome someone with so much knowledge into our merry little gathering.”
“But… Can your skin handle the sun? And won’t the radiation kill you without a special suit? Or the sun might burn your skin.” Were those the only excuses I could think up? I had to think up something better. He couldn’t leave his wonderful world of learning. He wouldn’t be as happy in the real world.
“That’s why I am wearing the black cloak, to protect my skin. And as far as radiation goes I will be getting as much as you. And I found some old radiation pills in the storage rooms that will help decrease the effects of the radiation on us, though they will only give us three days. And I have a device that measures radiation. So we will know if we actually need to take the pills. We haven’t actually tested radiation outside the wall in ages. A simple radio will convey our findings back to the wall for as long as we live or are in range. Any other misgivings?” He seemed so excited to be going with us. Hadn't he been begging me to stay in the wall previously?
“Is there anything I can do to convince you that this is not your fight and you don’t have to do this? I really think you should stay in the wall. We’re going out there to look for land safe and free from radiation. You don’t have to go out there.” I didn’t want to be responsible his death. He was a scholar. He didn't seem to be the type that was into fighting or survival, and he was more sheltered than even I was since he had only ever lived in the Wall.
“Nope. The only way you can change my mind is if you stay. Just like Kevin, I will follow you.” His voice was way too chipper and excited. Maybe he thought this would convince me to stay.
“Fine. Mount up. Kevin thinks you are a good asset, so prove it. Let’s get this show out of here!” I clambered and climbed up onto my own horse as he just patiently stood there waiting for me to get up.
Lisa came running over, “I know you didn’t want to learn to fight, but you should carry a sword. The guys both have them as well.” She held up a belt with a short sword in a sheath attached to it.
I had no idea what a sword would do for me, but I wouldn't turn down her gift. “Thanks,” I took the belt and put it around my waist with the sword at my side.
Kevin easily swung onto his own black steed, but Roderick seemed to be struggling with it more than I had. Eventually he managed to ungracefully throw himself onto the back of his poor horse.
Kevin called out to him,“You sure you’re up for this Roderick?”
“Of course I am. What’s life without adventure?” He said as he worked on calming his beast. Once we were up Roderick led the way across the hall. As we went more and more of the hall became lit by the dim glowing orange lights, showing off the splendor of the hall that spanned the width of the giant wall.
Soon we came to a strange clear box that was big enough to hold all three of us and our horses.
“We go inside there, it locks, and then the gate inside that box will open” He shrugged as if this was no big deal, but I was confused.
A door opened into a strange plastic box and I could vaguely make out a person at the edge of it holding it open. We rode past them; only having to duck a little bit from the ceiling when passing through. The door closed behind us, and for a second I felt bile start to rise in my stomach as the darkness, but then light shone through a small crack in front of me. The gates opened to the world outside the wall.