R Is for Rebel
IT TAKES HALF THE CONSTABULARY to bring me in to national school.
I lead them a merry chase, though.
Over croplands new-sown with barley and through a gap in the hedge that puts me in a sprawling, manicured pasture—they expect me to head for the greenwood, ha!—past the hanging tree with its lingering noose and toward the broad, rushing river. I’m halfway across the covered bridge when two of the big oafs appear at the other end, hulking against the flat gray sky beyond.
There’s no question of going back the way I came. There’s only one other choice, but it’s a good ten feet of drop, that current looks treacherous, and I can’t swim.
Captain Lennart pulls me off the guardrail as I’m about to jump into the surging black water below.
I want to say I see a ripple of sympathy cross Captain Lennart’s face as he’s marching me toward the school’s detention wagon. He’s the one who argued for clemency when my parents were convicted of treason, who insisted that the only decent thing to do was transport me to the penal colony with them.
But the judge took one look at me, trussed up like I was in that silly pink dress the lawyer made me wear, and announced it would be cruel to sentence me to my parents’ fate when I was still a child with a moldable mind, and a victim of their disgraceful influence as well. The whole point of the Education Act was to give Milean kids a proper chance in life by sending us to national school so we’d learn the deference and compliance and proper work ethic that would ensure our successful future in the Wealdan empire—things we’d never learn in our ignorant, superstitious households. My parents were already in violation of the act, and it was the Crown’s solemn duty to take me in hand and preserve my future from any further damage. That, said the judge, was the only decent thing to do.
Captain Lennart marches me up the wagon steps. His grip is secure but not painful, and I don’t bother trying to break away. Not with a dozen constables around and not without a head start. Once I’m in, Captain Lennart swings the door behind me and bolts it shut. It’s musty
but dry inside, not nearly the stinking, jam-packed crates from the Burning Days when Milea first fell. I must know a thousand songs about how the grandmas and granddas were hauled off to the workhouses where they labored till they died, carving out roads and mining coal to pay back the Crown for the cost of the invasion and seizure of their homeland.
This wagon has two small barred windows, one on either side. Now that I’m catching my breath, it’s starting to sink in. All of it. Those days on the run. Sleeping rough. Eating rougher. How far away my parents are already. How I’m ending up in the very place they fought so hard to keep me out of, where I won’t know a soul. My eyes start to sting, so I put my face up to one of the windows and sing “The Noble-Hearted Three” as loud as I can. I’m just at the part where the heroic rebels are hacking the locks off a prison wagon very much like this one to free their comrades bound for the gallows when a constable drums his fist on the outside of the wagon, right by my ear.
“Shut it!” he shouts. “Or it’ll be lashes for singing outlawed songs!”
I bite my lip, hard, because twenty strokes with a whip marks you in more ways than one, and most of these constables are using their service to fulfill the Crown’s military entrance requirements so they can train to become one of the graycoated butchers that pass for soldiers. I retreat a few paces while muttering swears in Milean, but real quiet
so the big ox can’t threaten me with lashes for speaking an outlawed tongue as well.
The constables are laughing now, wondering what kind of medals the Crown will pin on them for chasing down and bringing in the only child of the murderous, machine-breaking arsonists who were recently transported to the empire’s most notorious penal colony for the rest of their natural lives. Those brutes are talking loud so I’ll be sure to hear.
Well, they can send me to national school. Whether they can keep me quiet is another matter.