It was another birthday. One without my mom. One where Father forgets to show up on time. One where only Deidre and Captain Murtagh try to cheer me up.
The one where someone died.
But let me go back to the beginning.
It’s my 14th birthday. You know the age when you feel almost like an adult but not quite. The age when you feel like you are not a child anymore but that doesn’t mean you can’t have moments where you still act as a child.
The ancient tapestries hanging on the stone walls flap from the wind that bursts through the Main Hall. Wind that brings with it the scent of old wood, dust and freshly baked pastries.
The long metal tables are mostly empty. In the back, a few oblivious High Society members linger, until Nic glares at them. At twenty, he has that author active aura around him that reminds me so much of Father. Then the courtiers suddenly have to be somewhere else.
Only one table has a white silk tablecloth on it. In the middle, a large bouquet of white star flowers with long green leaves brings color. Boomberry tarts, the size of my palm, invite me to dig in. And I would dig in. If only Father would be here.
But he is not.
I have no doubt that another important political issue required his presence that he couldn’t just walk away from. It’s always an important political issue.
I glance at the empty plate with boomberry tart next to me—mom’s plate. My throat tightens and my eyes burn. I swipe across my face. I will not cry. I am too old now to cry.
Loud commotion sounds, coming through one of the open doors of a dining nook. Commotion that gets louder and louder as it rushes toward us until a dozen men burst into the hall.
Captain Murtagh jumps to his feet and over the table as if it’s not four feet wide, his serrated pirate sword, with a rifle attached to it, already out and aimed at the mob.
Deidre, with arms out shields Nic and me.
“What is the meaning of this?” Captain Murtagh asks.
The men, dressed only in ragtag outfits that barely cover their body shout back. But their words get lost in the cacophony.
When they point at Nic, it is clear why they came. They want Nic.
“Why?” I ask. “Whatever did he do to you?”
A tall man with two missing teeth snaps, “It’s not wha’ he did.” Another man with long greasy hair and dirty hands adds, “It’s what his father did.”
Nic’s face pales and it seems as if he knows what’s going on. I ask him, “What do they mean?”
Nic shakes his head as if that’s enough answer, but I put a hand on his forearm. “Please, just tell me.”
Nic sighs. “Father doubled the work hours for the miners in the crystal diamond mines.”
Oh, no! They were already working a 16 hour shift now Father wants them to work 32 hours straight?!
“No wonder they are angry,” I mutter.
Deidre looks back at me. “Them might hav’ a reas’n but yo’ know this’ ain’t right.”
I do know that! Father’s restrictions to maximize the profit of the Crystal mines have caused more problems than not. He needs all those crystal diamonds to keep bribing his way to power in the Pax Septum Coalition. Always more power.
The group of men spread out, as if trying to surround us.
An elder miner with hunched back steps forward, holding his hat in his cracked and veined hands. “We canna’ work a day and a half. We’ll die from exhaustion or from the crystal lung disease as sure as the two suns round our sky every morning. The Ma’ha has to relent!”
Agreement sounds from the group of miners and with a burst of angry shouts, they advance on us more.
Captain Murtagh lunges in their way, doing his best to block the miners from us.
A young boy—couldn’t be older than me yet his face so weathered and sunken that I thought he was in his thirties at first glance—swipes dirty blond strands out of his dark dust covered face. “You have to do something! We canna work like this! Please!”
His pleads tear at my heart as if he is holding it, wringing it, instead of his hat. “We have to help them!” I shout, trying to go around Deidre and Captain Murtagh but Nic yanks me back with an arm around my shoulders. “Let me go!” I say, struggling to get away from my brother.
“They will kill you Lia,” Nic says, “and I’d rather die than let any harm get to you.” He removes his arm from my shoulder. “Now stay put.”
Captain Murtagh shouts, “Leave now before the guards show up and arrest you!”
The crowd laughs at him. “We don’t see no guards!”
A burly man who is more fat than muscular pounces, with his fists raised. “If you dunna help us, then we will make yo’!”
The other miners shout in agreement and close on us. Some holding makeshift staff or large rocks.
The captain points his pirate sword at the fat man who must be the group’s leader. “Do not come closer or you will regret it!”
“We a’ready regret being born on Fye island,” the leader says with a bitter laugh.
“I mean it!” the captain shouts and cocks the shotgun on his sword, taking aim.
The burly man bares his black teeth at the captain. “You donna scare me,” he snarls, “I face death everyday in the mine from collapsing walls or gas explosions.”
The leader reaches out to swipe the captain’s pistol away with a large hand, when a shot rings out.
The burly man looks down at his big belly covered in a dirty and sweaty shirt that now sports a fast-blooming blood stain. Then he drops to his knee and falls face down.
The group as if deflated from their anger backs away. Then all of them turn on their heels and escape through the open door where they entered only minutes ago.
The captain lowers his swords and we all look at Nic.
My brother stands, shaking and holding a smoking laser gun.
“He was going to attack… he was going to attack…” Nic mutters over and over. The gun shakes so badly in his hand that it looks as if it will drop on its own but Captain Murtagh gently takes it from him. “It’s over now lad.”
Deidre buries her face in her hands and I look at the fallen miner. For his family and for the others, It’s definitely not over.