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HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Twenty-Three - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Twenty-Three
After Katniss kills Coin, there is a great deal of chaos. She is pulled into the training center by Coin's people, and they don't allow visitors. Paylor takes over, creating a committee to get working toward a permanent government. Haymitch and several other people are on it, though Peeta is allowed to beg off. Meanwhile, Plutarch is able to hack into the cameras in the training center and get a visual to his production booth. Katniss feels completely isolated, and doesn't even see it when people come in to clean around her. Peeta tries to get a message through by sending an image of a dandelion to her video screens. She doesn't seem to notice it, until an hour later, when she starts to sing.

This isn't ending up quite fitting the continuity of "Songs of Victory."


Chapter Twenty-Three
Peeta hears it first.

His shoulders are slumped as he sketches half-heartedly in a fresh sketchbook someone has found for him. Little images of Katniss appear and disappear under his fingers until suddenly, he looks up, eyes wide, at the screen.

Maybe I have heard it as well. I'm not sure. But it's so soft, so afraid of breaking the silence that it just slips into the production booth like a sigh.

"In the deep, deep valley
In the tall, tall grass
lived a broad-shouldered miner
And his wee little lass..."


"I'll get Ruth," Annie says and slips away, stopping to look at the screen again briefly before she disappears. Katniss's voice is raspy and dry and weak, but she continues to sing.

"Said the wee lass, 'Oh, Papa,
in the dark, dark mines
Have you seen a sparkling diamond
that will glitter and shine?
Does it catch the little flame-light?
Is it clear like glass?
Does it shimmer like a river
in the tall, tall grass?'

Said the miner to his wee one,
'I might have seen a sign
of a little sparkling diamond
in the dark, dark mines.
It sparkled in the flame-light
and was clearer than glass,
But it wasn't worth a daisy
in the tall, tall grass.'"


"Haymitch..." Peeta starts, but doesn't say anything else. He just leans close to the screen, brushes it with his fingers.

Ruth arrives a few minutes later from downstairs. She has set up a semi-permanent check-up booth for the wounded, and is working herself ragged to keep her mind off things without actually leaving the building. Her eyes go wide and she puts her hand over her mouth as she sinks into a chair. "She sang that with Glen. They sang it when she was little. What's happening?"

I can't answer it. Katniss finishes this song, then draws herself a glass of water and starts singing, "Deep in the Meadow," then goes into "The Hanging Tree." She seems unaware of the songs. She is somewhere deep inside herself. When the cleaners go in to leave a new hospital gown and a meal, she drifts past them, unseeing. She's not in her right mind, but something is happening.

We listen to her sing for a long time, then Anne asks us if we'd like to join her for dinner. She has been working with the restaurants in the mercantile district, and a few have opened. "I know no one wants to leave," she says, "but I think it's a holding pattern now. And she's safe." She bites her lip. "I'd really like to get out. With my friends. And they could use the business."

I don't think this will go over, but Peeta and Ruth were both raised by merchants, and understand the need for customers. We go out together. We talk about Katniss. We talk about bread, and elections, and a funny story that's been in the news about an actor who lost his pants in bizarre elevator catch. ("He probably did it on purpose," Effie says. "He's always been a clown.") Annie talks about "the children" -- the prostitutes she's been looking after -- and Fulvia tells us about her ne'er-do-well brother, who got out of debtor's prison and promptly got swindled out of the money she gave him ("I gave him my old apartment now. He doesn’t have the deed, so he can't sell it short"). About an hour in, Gale and Johanna join us -- Annie must have called them -- and we return to the subject of Katniss, and the songs she's singing.

I go home with Effie. We're back to me sleeping on the couch, and have been since I first came over. We haven't talked about the night I didn't spend on the couch. I guess a few weeks of me falling back into the bottle has made her re-think that. She has made space for my things in her closet, but I don't have that many things. She says she'll see what's open in the fashion district while I’m working with the refugee committee tomorrow.

"Are we living together then?" I ask.

She smiles. "Well... you don't seem to be in any hurry to find your own place. And I like having you here."

"You're sure it's all right? I mean -- people do talk, and -- "

"I don't mind if they talk. They always talked." She looks at me shyly. "Besides, they're not really wrong, are they?"

I shake my head, then kiss her. That's as far as it gets, but that's all right. There's time for everything. The idea of having time to take on anything like this is a luxury on par with anything money has ever been able to buy.

Peeta calls before he goes to sleep at Plutarch's place. Katniss is still singing. "Dr. Aurelius came by to observe," he says. "He said we shouldn't get our hopes up for anything fast, but he thinks she's trying to find her way back to who she was before everything went crazy."

I sleep calmly, dreaming about the deep, deep valley and the tall, tall grass. There is bright sunlight, and daisies come up around me. I'm sixteen, and I'm with my girl, Digger, though she's wearing one of Effie's lacy dresses. Katniss and Peeta are around somewhere, but I'm not concerned about finding them. They're all right.

I wake up rested.

I drop by Plutarch's before I go to the train station. Katniss is singing a ballad about the last man in Adelaide. Plutarch and Beetee want to start the trial, but we can't do it without a government in place. Peeta, to my surprise, asks if he can go with me to the station to help with the refugees.

"I just need to do something," he says. "Something that matters."

Plutarch gets an odd look on his face. I have learned that this look means he has some scheme in mind, and I am not surprised when Peeta and I get back in the evening that he has a room full of soldiers, Capitol citizens, and random children with winning smiles, all waiting their turns to get in front of a camera in the soundproof booth. Each has something very brief to say.

"It matters," Plutarch says, coming up behind me.

"What?"

"It's the new campaign -- 'It matters.' Fulvia and Cressida and I came up with it. We were thinking about that wonderful tape Katniss made, about when Peeta gave her the bread. I got thinking about it last night at dinner, and this morning, when Peeta said something about doing something that mattered, it all clicked. The bread mattered."

"It tends to when you're starving," I say, though I know he's not just talking about the food.

"It made a real difference in the long run. I'd put that little propo itself in, honestly, but with things being as dicey around Katniss as they are, I want to tone it down a little bit. So I'm asking people to come and just give us a sentence or two about something kind people have done for them. They turned out in droves." Plutarch smiles. He is in his element. "I have another campaign planned, too. This one's Annie's. It's called 'I Choose Freedom.'"

"What's this all about?" Peeta asks.

"Elections."

"Are you running for something?"

"No." Plutarch looks around, then gestures us back into the sound area. "Coin wasn't wrong about how angry people are. Right now, they're as likely as not to vote in the exact people who wanted to kill everyone in the Capitol in the first place, and we'll be right back where we were, except that we'll have voted ourselves into it. We don't have much time to turn that around. I want to get people thinking about how to live together instead of how many more people they can kill."

"Putting out the fires," I say.

"An apt metaphor, considering how we started," Plutarch says. "So, will you say something, Peeta?"

Peeta shakes his head, points to his healing but still visible facial burns. "No. I don't think anyone wants to look at me on television right now."

"You could talk about giving Katniss the bread!"

"No."

"Why not?" Plutarch asks, baffled.

I'm guessing it's because he knows how important that memory is to her, and doesn't want to turn it into one of Plutarch's political games while she's out of things, but I say, "Come on. It'll sound better if it all comes from the people who've been helped."

"Do you have anything?" he asks. "Effie thanked the little girl who saved her cat, and Beetee talked about how Wiress went and found him supplies when he'd given up on inventing something. I even got Johanna to cough up the story about the pine needles."

"You're not worried about her mentioning Katniss?"

"I think starting to put that kind of thing subtly into the message can only be good, as long as it doesn’t seem like we're trying to do it."

I almost refuse out of habit, but then I think again. I think about Coin saying that we could either re-start the Games or kill a million people. I think about the angry outbursts. I nod. I have something.

I wait my turn with the others. A little boy can't quite wait, and tells me how one of the Avoxes from the tunnels helped him find his parents, who'd thought he was dead in the bombing. Other people are telling each other stories as well -- lost keepsakes found for them, comforting gestures in the midst of chaos, water brought out when they were thirsty. My turn comes up, and I go into the booth. I say, "When I was tired and hurt, and carrying a boy who was nearly dead, a woman named Tryphaena Buttery opened her door and let me come inside..."

Plutarch and Cressida spend the night cutting together thirty-second bits, montages of what everyone has said, followed by the slogan, "It matters." These begin airing two days later, during evening programming. It quickly becomes popular. Plutarch starts receiving more clips from around Panem of people talking about little kindnesses done for them. He clips them together to add more to the regular schedule.

Another group creates a rival campaign, trying to say that "getting lost in the trivial" makes all the death and destruction "not matter." Plutarch wants to suppress it, but Paylor tells him to let it air. It airs. And has no impact at all, except to pave the way for the next campaign.

This one was Annie's idea. She is filmed at the lake shore (presumably doubling as the District Four coastline), and she is holding a basket of flowers. "My name is Annie Odair," she says. "When I was eighteen years old, I was reaped for the Hunger Games. My boyfriend at the time was beheaded in front of me. I only survived because I could swim. I fell in love with my mentor, Finnick Odair, who was prostituted by President Snow for years. I lost him in the battle for the Capitol. I was imprisoned here and tortured. I am angry." She crouches down and starts placing flowers on the lake. "But if I build my life around that anger, then I let all of those things control me, shape my life. I can be angry... or I can be free. I can't be both." She stands and looks at the camera. "My name is Annie Odair. I choose to be free."

Plutarch manages to get these from many prominent rebels, Capitol citizens, and entertainers. He gets Winnow Robinson, now shuttling back and forth between Four and Eleven, to do one, burying her gun in the sand. Rue McKissack's family does one together, which ends with the video Caesar found of Rue dancing with Seeder in one of Seeder's free ballet classes while they say "We choose to be free" in a voiceover. Polly Dalton sits by a well-controlled campfire in Ten, feeding it her grievances. Baize Paylor builds a cairn of rocks from hers, and walks away from it. A young singer I know by the name of Julian Day introduces himself by his real name, Stephen Bregman, then talks about losing his family the assault on the Capitol, then goes to sit by the lake and play a beautiful song on his guitar. To my surprise, Peeta actually asks if he can do one. He has drawn his horrors, and he tears each of them and throws the shreds into the wind. He delivers the final line from outside the door of his old prison cell, which he shuts with finality before walking away. Shortly after he finishes shooting it, I see him having a long, quiet talk with Gale Hawthorne.

Through all of this, Katniss continues to sing. Dr. Aurelius is allowed in to see her, but she seems not to recognize that anyone is there with her. She goes to the window and looks out at the snow, and sings. Ruth is allowed in to try, but she fares no better, and the keepers do not allow further experiments. Ruth sits in the production booth and weeps. Nothing anyone can say makes a difference, and I can't think of anything that would. This is the same thing Ruth herself did to Katniss after Glen died -- not recognizing that anyone was in the world with her -- and it is no less painful to her than it was to Katniss.

I stop sleeping on Effie's couch. There's no moment of being swept away, or even a decision, exactly. It just happens because we both need it to. I've never actually lived with a woman like this before -- there's always been someplace for one or the other of us to go after -- and I am surprised by how much sleeping actually goes on, and talking about trivial things (one night, we somehow spend an hour and a half talking about an old comedy that's been on television), and lying beside her while she sleeps, playing with her curls. With Effie, of course, there is also a lot of worrying about our schedules. She is still Effie. I'm still me, and I still get frustrated with it, but I missed it so much when she was in prison that I don't mind nearly as much as I pretend to. She's there to make soothing noises when my nightmares come. I get her calmed down and back to sleep when she wakes up having a panic attack. It's a good arrangement.

Hazelle laughs at me when I complain that no one ever mentioned this to me, and tells me that no one on the outside is likely to understand it anyway. She tries very hard to make friends with Effie, and it's mutual, but in the end, they just have nothing in common except for me. I do come home one day to find them laughing uproariously about something which I suspect has to do with this common ground, as neither of them will tell me what it is.

The saga of Sweetheart the cat ends when Effie and I decide to buy the apartment next door to hers, which used to belong to a man who was killed in the war. It is ostensibly my place, but I stay with Effie, and the Vole girls and Aurelian Benz move in. Effie makes the arrangement contingent on Tazzy going back to school as soon as we get the schools re-opened, and finding a new line of work. Tazzy is glad to oblige, and works hard with Annie to catch up on what she's missed. We cut a cat door in the wall, and Sweetie comes and goes as she pleases.

Outside of our bubble, the elections are drawing nearer. Paylor is running for president against a bloodied rebel from Nine who wants to "finish the war once and for all" and a Capitol bureaucrat who isn't even bothering to campaign to the districts, which he identifies to Capitol voters as "the barbarians." There are also races for representation in the new legislative body. I lobby to give Twelve representation, even though no one lives there at the moment. Plenty of people are talking about going back and re-building, and there are nine big empty houses already there waiting for them. They try to shanghai me into running, but I have no intention of continuing my association with a command structure. Thom Lewiston, a miner who worked with Gale (one of the ones who helped carry him to the Everdeens' after he was whipped) is finally recruited to run, though no one can be cajoled, threatened, or bribed into running against him. Annie runs from Four, in the world's most good-natured campaign against a fisherman who used to work for her father. Most of the campaigns are not so amiable, and there is more than one case of the local law enforcement teams having to break up fights between the factions. These start to fade as people begin to commit to the idea of "choosing to be free," but they don't go away, especially in some of the harder-hit districts.

It's a week before the elections when Gale comes to the production booth. He has been in and out, keeping an eye on Katniss like the rest of us, but this time, he's in his full dress uniform and carrying Beetee's tricked out bow.

Peeta comes out. "Are you going to do it?"

"I don't know. It doesn't feel right to stop being angry. That's why Jo won't do it."

"It's a choice," Peeta says. "And you...you would make more difference than most people. You know that. Because they see you as one of them. The angry ones, I mean."

They look at each other for a long time -- these two men who will probably never be real friends, but who have more in common than most lifetime companions do.

Gale nods. "All right. Yeah. Maybe it'll keep someone else from doing something that will follow them around inside their heads for the rest of their lives."

"Maybe," Peeta says.

Gale turns to Plutarch. "Can we go up to the mountains?"

I don't go with them. I stay with Peeta, listening to Katniss sing. Her voice has gotten strong over the last month, though she still looks like she isn't really there. She's singing a love song now.

"We shouldn't be leaving her alone up there," Peeta says. "I don't care about the politics."

"She hasn't seen anyone who has been there," I point out. "Not even her mom."

"She feels alone, so she thinks she is alone," he says. "It's not right."

"I know. Have you talked to Aurelius about going to see her?"

"He says I could still be triggered. Make things worse." He sighs. "Haymitch, I don't think they can trigger me."

"The false memories are gone?"

"No. But I know how to recognize them. I didn't believe Katniss when she said I could just do that, but she was right. I can tell which ones are wrong. Which ones don't fit. When they come up, they just make sad, not angry. I want the real ones back. And sometimes I still have to ask. Real or not real? It's mostly about things that are happening, though. I don't always trust that I'm seeing them right."

"I think you still see more than anyone," I say. I invite him to come with me to help with the refugees. He's good at getting people to feel better while they wait for the ad hoc bureaucracy to get them moving, and it seems to help him when he does it.

By the time we get back to Plutarch's place, he is cutting together Gale's "I choose to be free" spot. Johanna is there. I ask if she's decided to do one. She asks if I have. We both know that neither of us really knows how to function without being angry. Besides, I have a feeling Plutarch would decide I should start pouring out bottles of white liquor to symbolize letting go of my anger. I have so far managed to stay sober since the day Coin died, mostly by keeping busy and filling any downtime with worrying about Katniss or being with Effie, but having enough bottles around to suit his taste for excess would just be inviting trouble.

Plutarch and Gale come out. I notice that Gale isn't in his dress uniform anymore, but don't think anything of it.

"We're going to focus this in Two," Plutarch says. "They love you there, especially after that stunt with the Head Peacekeeper."

"That wasn't a stunt," Gale says. "It was my job. I was supposed to be helping out. He had people trapped up there."

I have no idea what they're talking about, and neither of them clarifies.

Plutarch waves it off. "I'm also going to concentrate on Nine. I don't know what they're doing out there, but whatever it is, they need to knock it off. Fires in rival campaign offices. And that thing they did with their victors." He bats absently at the air around his head, like he's trying to swat an invisible fly, then cues up the video.

"I still don't know about this," Gale says while it loads.

"It's your brainchild. And it's good."

The spot comes on. It opens on a mountainside. Gale is wearing his dress uniform and carrying the militarized bow. I expect him to start shooting arrows off into the distance as he lists the things he should be angry about, but he doesn't. Instead, he sits on a rock and says, "My name is Gale Hawthorne. My father died in the mines when I was thirteen. My best friend was sent to the Hunger Games arena. My district burned to the ground, and more than eight thousand of the people I grew up with died."

He takes off the jacket of his uniform, revealing the plain tee shirt he's wearing now. "I went to District Thirteen, angry and wanting revenge. I was used, and I let myself be used. But I'm done with that now. I'm done spending my life thinking about everything that's wrong. I'm done trying to right things that can't be righted because they're over. There's no one left to be angry at." He pulls on a battered old jacket and switches out his military cap for an old knit one. I somehow doubt it's the one he actually wore in District Twelve, since he left in high summer and everything that was in his house is ashes, but it will pass. He sets down the militarized bow and picks up a simple hunting bow. "My name is Gale Hawthorne," he says again. "And I choose to be free."

He gets up and walks away from the rock, the camera following him as his uniform and the heavy duty bow fade into the background.

"So you're leaving the military?" Peeta asks.

"I'm going into civilian service as soon as we have a real civilian government." Gale shrugs. "I respect what they do. I'm glad they're around to do it. But I don't have any business doing it myself. Not when I'm still just trying to get payback."

"There's more to you than that," Johanna says. "How can you not know that?"

"You don't understand. About the bombs."

"So you're a little too good at trapping," she says. "But you know what I do understand? You carried me out of prison on your back. I know I wasn't in the mission. The mission was to pull out Annie and Peeta to get Finnick and Katniss in line. I heard you arguing with Coin about that. You didn't know me. And in the condition I was in, you definitely weren't out to get anything from me. You did it because it was right. I hate that you don't see that."

Gale looks at her uncertainly. I honestly have no idea what's going on between them, and I don't ask.

This is the last of the propos. It has an effect in District Two. Gale apparently did a lot of atoning while he was assigned there. Like everything else we've tried, it has no impact in District Nine.

Paylor wins the presidency fairly easily. She's been a very visible face, and people find her reassuring. In her acceptance speech, she swears that, whatever the new legislative body decides, she will not be president for life. She instructs them to work in a clear and concise law of succession.

District Nine is the only district to elect a warmonger. I really don't know what their grievance is, but the woman they send swears to her district that she will fight for the continued punishment of Capitol criminals. Districts Three, Ten, and Thirteen send hardened rebel soldiers, but with none of the incendiary rhetoric. District One actually elects one of its Capitol liaisons, and the Capitol, of course, elects one of its own. The rest of the districts seem to have gone for the more reasonable sorts. District Two sends the scarred man who Katniss talked to during the battle. Annie is chosen for District Four, the only victor in the new government. Rue's father will serve for District Eleven.

Paylor brings them to the Capitol immediately. Because Katniss's case is pending and she has been in confinement with no conviction for so long, she instructs them to decide how to deal with her immediately.

It takes them three days to come up with the charges. She will be tried for murder, treason, and vigilantism. The trial will be presided over by a judge from Thirteen and a Capitol judge. Plutarch convinces them to drop the treason charge before the trial even starts, on the grounds that the government was not legitimate, and treason would be impossible to establish. "Treason to who?" he asks. "To the Capitol? To Coin? To the rebellion? Katniss Everdeen's act may have been many things, but it cannot be defined as treason."

That still leaves murder and vigilantism.

The subject of the debate continues to sing.

The trial begins.
12 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
redrikki From: redrikki Date: May 19th, 2013 09:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Vigilantism. Now that's an interesting charge.

That aside, I like this. I like the propaganda campaigns and putting out the fires. And now I want to know what Gale was up to in Two.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 19th, 2013 10:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Now that's an interesting charge.

Kind of hard to argue with, too.
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 20th, 2013 02:26 am (UTC) (Link)

Since You...

Have been the one writing this, what is your take on District Nine? What has made them so messed up and what is going on in their heads?

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 20th, 2013 03:36 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Since You...

Sorry... just don't know anything about them, so I figured they'd be as good a bad guy as anyone else. Let's say, hmm... Their victors were kind of rotten to them, and Snow deliberate wrecked a crop and then taxed them for it.
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: May 20th, 2013 09:51 am (UTC) (Link)
I really like Gale's propo.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 20th, 2013 03:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think he means it, too.
barbara_the_w From: barbara_the_w Date: May 20th, 2013 07:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
So many slow growing things: Haymitch and Effie's relationship (although I cringe at what's going to break it apart)
Gale and Johanna moving on
Peeta, understanding the false memories
Panem, trying for peace (this thing they do not know or understand)

And I'm glad there's Nine. There should be a Nine because there always IS a Nine. The people who are so hungry for revenge that they keep feeding their pain. It's addictive and they're as caught in it as Haymitch is with white liquor bottles.

ETA: It made me think of this, from LM Bujold:
"Ah. I see. So the difference between a criminal and a hero is the order in which their vile crimes are committed," said the Professora, in a voice dripping false cordiality. "And justice comes with a sell-by date. In that case, you'd better hurry. You wouldn't want your heroism to spoil."
―In response to a statement that the deaths of five million Barrayarans was 'longer ago'

Edited at 2013-05-20 09:13 pm (UTC)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 20th, 2013 11:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
(this thing they do not know or understand)

That's where it's good to have a Plutarch around -- the one who does understand and tries (albeit clumsily) to share.

There is always a nine, isn't there? And addictive issue really gets some play. There were addictions all over in the books, weren't there?
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 21st, 2013 01:53 am (UTC) (Link)
I really like your interpretation of Katniss' imprisonment; especially tying it back to Ruth's own mental breakdown.

And I'm so nervous about Haymitch/Effie. "Do you want to know who else won't be there?"
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 21st, 2013 03:43 am (UTC) (Link)
The more I thought about it, the less I could imagine them actually leaving her in solitary for months. It didn't make sense. But Katniss not seeing people when she was mentally unstable? That, I totally can believe.
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: May 21st, 2013 10:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've enjoyed the last two chapters and can't wait to see how you'll wrap this story up.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 21st, 2013 11:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
I hope it doesn't disappoint.
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