…AND if I’m going to do this, I should probably give you at least some idea of who Ari Dillon is. So here’s something that will give you a bit about her character.
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Month 2, day 35 – 75 days on Thanah
the House of the Black Dog: the halls
It was late afternoon, a few days later, in the back halls on the way to the dining hall. Ari heard them coming before she saw them; the scramble of running feet, the growl of angry young voices. She missed the first one skidding around the corner, a boy of about ten that she recognized from her newcomers group. She flung an arm out and caught the next one, the leader, another boy about two years older. He swung at her, startled; she caught his wrist in her other hand, then shook him once to get his attention. The rest of his pack came around the corner and skidded to a stop, shocked and uncertain.
Ari turned her head to look after the first boy, and whistled shrilly. He slowed and half turned, then stopped. “Come on back here,” she said. The boy whose arm she held tried to jerk out of her grasp, but she tightened her grip. “Come on,” she said, and headed for a bench against the wall. “I’m not going to hurt you, and I’m not going to get you in trouble. I just want you all to stand still long enough to answer a couple of questions. Think you can do that?”
The first boy stood off from the others, ready to run again if it looked necessary, but he jerked his head in a nod. The one she held looked sullen, but finally nodded also.
“Will you stay here if I let you go, or do I have to hold onto you?” He looked at her warily, but gave her a second nod. “I’ll take that to mean you’ll stay.” Ari let go of his arm and he stepped smartly back out of reach but stayed there. She smiled at him, then turned to the younger boy. “Gary, isn’t it?” At his nod, she went on. “Why were you running?”
“They were chasin’ me, they want to beat me up!”
She turned to the second boy. “What’s your name?” The boy avoided her glance. “Come on, I’m not going to bite you. It’s just a name. Mine’s Ari.”
“I know who you are.” His voice was sullen, his words dark with meaning.
“Oh, now, that sounds like someone’s been saying bad things about me.”
The boy’s chin jerked up in response, defiance in every line of his body. “You have a mean lover. He beats you up. It makes our House look bad!”
Ari sat back, at a total loss as to what to say. After a long moment she just shook her head. “It’s not a lover.”
“Then who is he? Why do you let him beat you?” The boy edged a little closer, curious.
She looked him in the eye, unhappy about the turn of the conversation but refusing to lie. “I can’t tell you that. But I have my reasons.”
“But he beats you!”
“And beating someone is bad?” Gods, a way back to the original subject and off of her, good.
“Well—” the boy looked confused. “Of course.” He looked around at his friends, looking for support. They shrugged and nodded.
“What were you going to do when you caught Gary, then?” The boy looked shocked for a moment, then uneasily took a step back from her. She nodded slowly. “Why?”
“Well, he’s—he’s not from here.”
“Neither am I. Would you want to beat me up, too?”
“Is that why your lover beats you? Because you’re not from here?”
Ari looked down for a moment, a shiver running through her. “No,” she said quietly. “That’s not why. And he’s not my lover. That would imply I had a choice.” She stopped, startled at her slip. “Let me ask you something.” The boy nodded, frowning, thinking about what she had said. “You know how we got here, right? The Gatherer’s ship?” The boy nodded again, his pack of friends echoing the motion. “You know they just took us, right? They didn’t ask if we wanted to come, they just took us. Took us away from our homes, from our friends, from our families. One minute we’re at home, and the next we woke up here.”
“That—that’s not true.” The boy’s eyes were wide and full of doubt.
She looked at him. “In everything you’ve heard about me, did you ever hear anyone say I lied?”
The boy gave her a defiant glare. “Drona says you’re a liar.”
Ari acknowledged that with a slow nod. “Governor Drona and I have some issues. I have no control over what he believes of me, but what he believes isn’t true. Does anyone else say that?”
His eyes narrowed, thinking that through. “No-o…”
“That’s because I don’t. Not to anyone. Not ever.” Ari turned to the younger boy. “Gary, did anyone ask your folks if they wanted to come here? Did anyone ask you?” He shook his head, his eyes too wide and his face too white. She turned to the other boys. “Does he look happy to be here?” They looked over at him, seeing his expression, and they looked back at her, slowly shaking their heads. Gently, she added, “He’s lost everything he’s ever known. Everyone he’s ever cared about. Just like all the rest of us newcomers. D’you think it’s helping, you saying he doesn’t belong?” She gestured at Gary. “Look at him! He knows he doesn’t belong here. Yet. But he’s here, now. He’s stuck here, he can’t go home again, not for years and years. Maybe never. Don’t you think he’d rather make friends, try to make a new home?”
As one, the group turned back and stared at him for a long moment. Abruptly the older boy walked over to Gary and stuck out his hand. “Hi,” he said, “I’m Pallas. Welcome to Thanah.”
Ari watched as the group crowded around Gary. Children were amazing, she thought. Honest. Refreshing. Cruel without a moment’s thought, open and generous the next.
The kicker came as the pack of boys were leaving. Pallas turned back from where Gary was chattering away to the other boys. “You should leave him, if he beats you,” he said in matter-of-fact tones. “There’s plenty of better lovers right here in the House. Like my big brother, Aeso. You should meet him.” He turned away as Ari’s jaw dropped.
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