I’ve been a “guest” at the Côte de la Brume Castle for a little over a week. The women Harper and Lemongrass refer to as the Sightless, moved me from the castle’s dungeon to the room in the far tower. It’s got an amazing view of the ocean. In the afternoon’s, when the fog’s been burned off, I can see where the Earth curves in a dark blue line. I don’t have much, but I have that to look forward to almost every day.
“Why haven’t you tried to escape?” Harper asks. Accusation makes her tongue sharp, but she keeps her voice to a whisper, afraid of being struck by one of the blindfolded women.
A clump of dirt hits her shoulder. “Leave her alone.” Lemongrass’s lips don’t move much, and she continues walking hunched over with her hands wrist deep in the recently churned dirt. She’s practicing Earth Weaving, her power bringing green shoots to the surface followed by the hint of vegetables.
“Yeah,” I say, “Leave me alone.”
Harper glares at me. “You’re taller and stronger than both of us, Porter, and we’ve tried to escape a number of times.”
She keeps her head down, working on separating the salt from the seawater to use on the garden. I’ve seen her work faster than this a hundred times. Today she’s pretending that this is taxing her far more than it actually is. I kind of want to know why. I kind of don’t care what game she’s playing.
“Fat lot of good that did you,” I say mockingly. “Especially since you’re locked up in the dungeons at night while I sleep in the tower.”
Lemongrass interrupts. “Just because you’re in the tower doesn’t mean you’re not any less of a prisoner.”
She’s right, and she’s also wrong. While none of us are allowed outside the castle walls, this is the most freedom I’ve had since my family sold me for being a Metal Weaver. Metal Weavers can break down anything’s elemental components just like an Earth or Water or Air or Fire Weaver, but most of us tend to follow a darker sport and use blood in our work. I stare at the thin white scars that crisscross my hands and feet. I’ve done my share of blood work. Better to use someone else’s, but in a bind, I carry the materials I need inside.
Professor Rolm coughs and walks in our direction before I can make a pithy reply. I return my attention to the task at hand, namely stripping piles of decaying plants and unusable dirt of carbon. Then, I mix the small pieces I collect into an even larger chunk of graphite. The sun’s made one of its rare appearances. It, plus Weaving, makes me hot and sweaty. I kind of wish Harper would upturn one of the buckets of water over my head.
“Good afternoon, ladies.” Professor Rolm’s in a good mood.
I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that she’s collected three Weavers at the castle who are busting their asses doing whatever little chore she gets into her head we need to do.
Harper and Lemongrass say, “Good afternoon, Professor Rolm,” but don’t stop what they’re doing.
I plunk the shiny piece of carbon on the table and brush off my hands. Crossing my arms, I look at the professor. Her hair’s pulled back in a bun like all of the women of this castle wear. The only difference is that she doesn’t wear a blindfold. Well, and she’s still got both of her eyes. Lemongrass said she’s been visiting the castle as long as she can remember. She doesn’t know where she goes at night or what she does on her day off. She only knows that Professor Rolm is the only one allowed to speak with us and teach us more about our Weaving. What I haven’t figured out, yet, is if Professor Rolm’s a Weaver herself.
“Porter, I’d like you to follow me to the kitchen.” It’s not a question. I don’t have much more to do here anyway, and I’d like to see the kitchen.
“Sure thing, Prof.”
“Whatever you say.”
Professor Rolm tsks at me. “Follow me, please.”
We cross the courtyard, the stones fitting neatly together to make walking over it by human or horse smooth. The sound of the soles of her shoes on the bricks makes a neat echo against stonewalls. My bare feet slap behind her in a far less quaint. A couple of crows fly from the southeast tower, over our heads, and flap a landing on one of the outside walls. It’s weird that they hang around here. In my old life, we were told that crows were signs of death. They’re supposed to hang around cemeteries.
Professor Rolm waits at a door in the building ahead. I duck my head to enter. Once inside I really start to sweat. Everywhere I look there’s activity. The woman closest to me is kneading bread into loaves and placing them on long wooden paddles. Another woman is stirring a huge pot over an open flame. Other women are busy plucking chickens, shucking corn, and snapping beans into bowls. This castle must be home to far more women than either Lemongrass or Harper is aware. The foods they’re preparing now could feed a small village easily.
I follow Professor Rolm to a corner where a tall, thin woman is making short work of a slab of meat. Various carcasses hang behind her. One of them is going to be made into salted pork. The smell of blood is thicker over here. It makes the power inside me tingle to be released.
“In addition to the carbon, we’d like you to Weave out as much iron as you can from these slaughtered animals.”
“It doesn’t seem like there’s enough blood here,” I say, looking around.
Professor Rolm snaps her fingers. Another woman emerges from behind the hanging carcasses and joins the woman chopping the meat. They disappear for a second. When they return they’re each carrying two large wooden buckets filled to the brim with crimson liquid. They’re careful not to slosh it and lose any to the stone floor and place them along the far wall. It’s amazing how they know this space so well without their eyes.
“I’ll get to work then.”
The Professor nods once and turns to leave. She stops and returns her gaze to me. “Porter, take the iron and the graphite that you’ve collected today and bring them to the main hall when you’re finished.”
She shakes her head and leaves without correcting what she finds is a rude streak.
I sit down on the three-legged stool near the buckets of blood. The heady aroma of so much metal makes my whole body taut. On edge. Blood Weaving is a punishable offense where I come from because people there are afraid of it. The thought that I’m about to commit a crime but not-a-crime is incredible. It’s like I’m standing at the precipice of a great height.
So, I give in to the temptation and release my power down my shoulders, into my forearms, before it gets to my fingers, I plunge my hands into the first two buckets of blood. It’s warm and thick and full of iron. The Weaving is easy, as it always is with blood. In less than a minute I have a piece of pure iron in each of my fists. I’m pulsing with Metal Weaving energy. I pull my hands out of the buckets and a woman appears at my elbow. She holds out her hand, so I drop the two pieces into her palm.
Eagerly, I again plunge my hands into the next two buckets. Far too soon I have two more fistfuls of iron. All the Weaving I’ve done today makes me want to give in to the power. To bury my hands deep into the earth and pull at the very core of the planet. Scientists believe it’s made of pure iron. A planet as big as this would yield an enormous piece.
I’m pulled from this thought as the woman grips my shoulders and pulls me back. She wipes my arms off with a bloodstained cloth. She quickly wipes off the pieces of iron and returns them to me. Without much thought, I combine the four pieces into one large mass of glittering perfection. I hardly notice that the woman disappeared from my side and has returned with a plate of cheese and fresh fruit. I haven’t eaten fruit in such a long time that I barely taste it as I shovel it into my mouth. Once everything’s gone, I toss the iron into the air and catch it neatly as I walk out the door.
When I make it back to my workbench, Harper eyes me suspiciously. “What are you doing?”
“Anything to keep me out of the dungeon,” I reply. Then I grab the hunk of graphite and leave to find Professor Rolm.
She’s in the main hall, just as she said, reading a book at one of the long tables near the huge stained glass windows. They depict a garden scene with beautiful birds and animals. It tells a story. One I’ve not seen elsewhere. Before I can start at the first window and try to figure out what kind of story it is, Professor Rolm closes her book and stands.
“That’s not enough material to finish the project,” she says. For a split second I’m sorry that I’ve disappointed her. “At least we have plenty of time for you to finish.”
“What am I supposed to do with these?” I say, holding up both my hands.
She walks over to me, guiding me closer to the hearth where a bucket of water and a blazing fire wait.
“Weave me a pair of manacles.”
… to be continued.
For more amazing art by Catherine Langwagen, please visit her Deviant Art page (cassiopeiaart.deviantart.com). Stay tuned for Jen’s answer to this prompt on Wednesday. Follow us on Twitter to get updates and news.
Artwork © Copyright, Catherine Langwagen 2011. All rights reserved. Used with permission.