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HG: Rites of Fall, Chapter Six - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
HG: Rites of Fall, Chapter Six
Danny interfered with Peacekeepers, and ended up at the whipping post. He passes out after fourteen of twenty-five lashes.

Chapter Six
I don't know how long I've been out when I start to be aware of people around me. I am lying on a table on my stomach, my face turned out so I can breathe. I am aware of pain, but there's so much of it that I can't really locate it in my back yet, though I know that's where it's coming from. I can feel heavy wet cloths on top of me, and I can smell a lot of what seems like liquor.

Someone is holding my hand, occasionally stroking my arm. I don't know who. It's a smallish hand, so I guess either my mother or Ruth.

I can't open my eyes.

"He awake yet?" someone asks. I think it's Haymitch's voice.

The voice of the person holding my hand says, "No. There's no change."

It isn't Ruth or Mom. I think it might be Mir.

"Yeah, well, your sister says you have to get back to the shop."

"Is she kidding?"

"I don't think so."

The warmth in my hand leaves, and I feel the hand rest briefly on my face, then Mir (I'm reasonably sure now) says, "Thank you. I… I'll come back."

I try to say she can, but I can only get my mouth to open and close a little.

There's a rush of footsteps, then I hear a chair scrape back.

"You're hearing, aren't you?" Haymitch asks. "I can see your mouth moving."

I try to open my eyes again. They flutter, and I get a blurry view of a basement. The apothecary basement.

"Yeah," he says. "I see you. Guess you're not in shape to say much. That's okay. You should've seen me after the Games."

"Sor…" I manage to breathe out, but my eyes close again.

"Sorry?" I hear Haymitch get up and shove the chair back, then I hear the something smash. Then I hear more smashing. I push my eyes open and see Haymitch doing a great deal of violence to Mr. Keyton's counter stool. He throws it out of the way then puts his hands in his hair. "Danny, if you ever use the word sorry about this again, I'm going to thrash you myself."

The noise has woken me up a little bit. I try to find words. "I… didn't… nose… clean."

"That's okay. You're not doing anything for… for any of this. Not again."

"My… call."

"I don't specially enjoy seeing you bloody. I'm not going to watch you get hanged. You're about the last friend I have."

I want to tell him that this is most likely useful, that I can act like they've cowed me and I'm scared of them, and they'll believe it -- they want to believe things like that -- so it will all be easier, but I can't even seem to get out a few words to start the thought process. I just blink a few times.

Haymitch goes to the counter and gets a large bottle of white liquor. He takes a swig, then says, "Ruth says this will keep the cuts clean. You've been screaming, so I guess it'll hurt. Wish it didn't, but it's time."

I brace myself.

Haymitch moves his arm, and rational thought disappears as soon as the liquor hits my back. I black out again.

When I come to again, there's a coal oil lamp burning, and I see Ruth sitting in the little circle of its light, reading. The light of the flame catches against her hair and makes her seem to glow like an ember in the darkness. The pain is still there, but it seems a little bit better.

"Hey," I manage to croak.

She turns. "Hey," she says. She comes over to the table, which I now recognize as their chopping table (I've done a few afternoons slicing up herbs here), and sits down on a chair. I'm guessing it's not the same one Haymitch thrashed earlier. She puts her hand lightly on my shoulder. "How are you?"

I think about making up a story, but I don't have the energy for it. I say, "Not great."

She nods and moves her hand to my head, stroking my hair. "I've been going through every old notebook we have. Trying to find the best mix of things. I wish there was snow. There's a mix they used for cuts that goes into snow -- my great-grandmother got it from someone down on the Seam -- and it's supposed to be better that way. Best I could do was soaking cloths in cold water with the infusion in it. I don't feel like it's helping. Should hurt less than the liquor, anyway, though you're well disinfected. It's going to scar. I don't think I could have done anything to keep it from putting scars on your poor back. I --"

"It's helping," I say. "It's better. Not great. Better."

She nods. "Your mom's upstairs. She was here earlier. Your dad, too. They have to keep up shifts at the bakery -- you know. They're not allowed to close."

"I know."

"And, um, Mir was here. She's…" Ruth grimaces. "She's very impressed with you. I tried to tell her you'd have done it for anyone, but… she has a whole white knight picture built up."

"You can tell her I'm not very chivalrous."

"I don't lie as well as you do, Danny." She stands up, then leans over to kiss my cheek. "Don't do anything so stupid again. Promise me."

"I -- "

"Promise me, Danny. No more stunts. I can't do this." She kisses me more properly, but I have to turn my head, and it disturbs one of the healing cuts on my back.

I wince and pull away.

"I'm sorry," she says.

I manage to lift my hand -- not enough to actually reach hers, but she sees the motion and grabs hold. I smile as well as I can. "Marry me."

She blinks owlishly. "What?"

"You heard me."

"We're sixteen, Danny."

"So we don't do it tomorrow. But… marry me."

"We'll talk about this when you're not half dead," she tells me, and kisses my hand. "Right now, I'd do anything you think want, and you think you want… well, you're not feeling right."

"Is that a no?"

"That's a we'll talk about this later."

"Do you think you'd like being married to me?"

She rolls her eyes and moves to kiss me again, this time being more careful. "You asked me that when you had the flu last winter, and when I sprained my ankle last fall. I'll go to my grave loving you, Danny, but you're driving me crazy right now."

I guess this is fair. It can wait. "How long was Mir in the stocks?"

"She told you?"

"I saw."

Ruth gets up and goes back to the counter, where she has a mortar and pestle set up. She starts grinding something. "She only did half an hour. She swore at Beckett. Beckett isn't looking to scare girls into making apologies." She thinks about it. "Either that, or she wanted the stocks cleared for Haymitch. She never put him in, but she had the Peacekeepers holding him back."

"What about you?"

"I don't shout as loud as Haymitch or Mir. And I knew I better stay out of the stocks if I was going to get you back here."

"You got me back here by yourself?"

"Partway. Glen ran in to help when I got you out of the square. He couldn't get through the crowd before."


"You should sleep."

"I've been sleeping."

"Your body needs time knit up those cuts. And get over the shock of it." She smiles. "Don't worry. We'll all be watching over you."

I don't go to sleep right away, but she turns deliberately back to her work, so I'm not keeping myself awake deliberately. At some point, I drift down to sleep. The last thing I see is Ruth, in the bubble of firelight, glowing. I dream of her on fire.

She keeps me asleep for most of the next two days with doses of sleep syrup. I see people drift through the basement from time to time. My parents, mostly. Mir. Ruth's dad. Kay. At one point, I wake up to find Mr. Keyton rousing Haymitch from what seems to be an enhanced sleep and sending him home with an admonition to stop drinking. Mr. Keyton helps me back and forth to the bathroom a few times, but mainly, they have a pad under me that they keep changing.

By the end of the second day, my back still hurts, but it's also itching badly. Ruth puts a padded bandage on it and gets me up to a seated position. "It's time for you to go home," she says. "Your parents are waiting. And you have to be in school on Monday. I gave your Mom instructions. She's been taking care of her own marks, and you'll be able to as well, once the stripes on your shoulders calm down a bit." She closes her eyes. "I still wouldn't send you away, but Dale Gallentine just got caught stealing tessera grain, and he got fifteen lashes. Less than ten, I can treat them and send them home, but I…"

"…need the table?"

She nods and starts crying.

Carefully, I reach out and put my arm around her. It hurts, but it's better than not doing it.

After a minute or so, she helps me down and leads me away, while her father and Glen Everdeen bring in Dale, who looks to have taken at least one of the lashes to his face, though I doubt that was on purpose. He probably just tried to turn around. He's conscious, but not by much. Mr. Keyton clears away the padding, puts down new, and helps Glen get him onto the table.

Ruth gets me upstairs, where my parents are trying to pay the Keytons. They aren't having it. I'll bring them bread this month. They'll take that.

My parents take me home, walking slowly along the uneven cobblestones.

Haymitch is waiting on the bakery porch. He stands up when we approach.

"Thank you for watching the counter, Haymitch," Mom says. "Hope it won't cause you trouble."

"Oh, even they don't care if I have a couple hours hobby," he says. "They'll probably spin it as you helping me out after Digger passed."

"That's fine." Mom and Dad go inside.

He looks at me. "You okay?"

"I'll be okay."

"Yeah. Look, Danny, I know I placed that cake order with you, but I'm not going to do that. Not with your back looking like that. I'll just call Chaff and Seeder to say thank you."

I know perfectly well what he's saying. I answer that instead. "I'm good. I can bake a cake and get it sent out. You just tell me what you want on it."

"I --"

"Haymitch, man, I could use the cash. And, um…" I try to look as shifty as I can. "I won't be getting in any other trouble. I don't want to take any more whippings, you know?"

His eyes widen. "Danny…"

"I know. I'm soft. Can't take it, you know? Sorry." I put my head down and go into the bakery, leaving Haymitch behind me.

It doesn't take long for people to find out that we've "defected" from the rebellion. I don't know if Haymitch spreads it around, or if it just comes from the fact that the place is always full of satisfied government customers, but one way or another, we start losing business from the other merchants, and the Seam business -- never very big -- disappears entirely.

Ruth seems to know it's an act. When I get back to school on Monday, she puts on the air of the loving but long-suffering girlfriend of a coward, though after school, when I go over to the shop to have her check my wounds, she holds me and tells me that she loves me.

I get a lot of nasty glances at school, and a few puzzled ones. Everdeen is among the puzzled, and I get the sense that he's trying to work the whole thing out. Kay Donner is furious with me, and will not speak to me, or to Ruth (presumably for the crime of staying with me). Merle shoots me a knowing glance.

Mir misses rehearsal on Thursday because she's gotten detention for fighting with another girl. No one tells me, exactly, but I have a feeling -- mostly because of Ruth's level of annoyance -- that she was defending me. It's not the first detention she's gotten for fighting, and I don't think much of it either way.

I find myself spending more time at home. Most of my friends are either furious because they don't know what I'm doing, or keeping their distance to keep up the illusion of what I'm doing. So there are a lot of quiet hours in the bakery, working with my parents to keep the place afloat. I stop wearing my knotted bracelet. The Peacekeepers seem satisfied that I'm cowed, and occasionally make whip sounds while they're in line, and laugh if I jump.

Being properly cowed is supposed to have rewards, so some of the onerous taxes go away, and they renew our out-district license without an argument one week after they tore flesh off of my back in the Square.

Two days after that, Haymitch comes in.

"Changed my mind about sending that cake," he says. He sneers at me (though he's not a good actor, and I can see that it hurts him) and adds, "If you're still up to baking."

"Yeah," I say. "I can still do that. For District Eleven?"

"Chaff Leary, Victors' Village. Well, to Seeder, too, but send it to Chaff's house."

"Sure." I get out my sketch book. "What do you want on it?"

"A chess board. Eight by eight grid? It can be black and white or black and red… well, really any alternating colors. Man's a chess champion. Have you seen a chess game?"

I nod. I'll have to look up a picture in the library to get the chess men right, but I know the basic idea.

"Eight by eight grid," he repeats.

"Yeah, I…" I frown. Obviously, this has some significance. Haymitch is sweating. Maybe that's because he's clearly drunk again, but he also seems nervous. Eight by eight. "Okay. Got it. The grid. And I'll get some chessmen on it."

This gets an actual smile. "Make him the black knight, and Seeder the queen."

"Okay. Any words?"

"Here, give me that." He takes my sketch pad and stares at it for a long time, then quickly writes, "Thanks for everything in the Capitol. Haymitch." He hands it back. There is also a long, thin strip of paper with an incomprehensible string of letters:


He makes a point of sliding this under the page we've been using, and I raise my eyebrows to ask if this is the message. He nods slightly.

"Sure thing," I say. "This is doable."

Haymitch nods and starts out, then turns around. "Hey, Danny?"


"Maybe you could, I don't know, put a little pawn up on the other side of the board, with an axe hole in him?"

I roll my eyes. "I'll make it bleed raspberry sauce."

"That'd be cool."

"I'll walk it up to your place to show you before I send it. That's when you pay."

He nods and leaves.

I put the small slip of paper into my pocket, so it doesn't get lost, then get to work on the list of ingredients. Just because it's a secret message -- a totally incomprehensible one -- doesn't mean that it doesn't have to be a good cake. I have to make it believable that a victor would hire me over my mother for this kind of work, without people second guessing him.

Also, the bakery's reputation is at stake. I find that this matters to me.

It takes a few days to get the ingredients. The cake ingredients are standard, but I want to do the chess board in blackberry jam and diced apple, and that means finding someone who has a stash of them. Apples aren't too hard. They're in season and at least two trees grow inside the fence. Blackberry jam means finding someone who trades in the black market, since they don't grow in the fence and are out of season. I finally find Sae, who's been scraping together a living by making preserves from things people have brought her from the woods, and she sells me a jar… though she gives me a nasty look when she does it.

I plan to make the chess men out of sweets, which buy from an ill-tempered Mr. Donner, who shoos me out of the store as fast as he can… probably before Kay can come in and see that he's doing business with me.

I wonder if I'll ever be on good terms with the district again. It seems like a big trade-off to mail gibberish.

I bake the cake on Friday evening, the night before the train will leave. That will keep it as fresh as possible. It won't be a multi-tiered affair, just a flat cake, so there's not a lot special I need to do. I wait until Mom and Dad go to bed, then take out a flat, sturdy base for the cake. I pull out a length of lining paper and, pretending to double check against my drawing, scribble down Haymitch's line of letters. I put it face down and wrap the board as I always would. The grease from the cake will make it visible to Chaff when he finishes eating. What he'll do with it from there, I don't know.

I put the cake together the next morning, careful to keep it as good as it can be. Once I finish, I inspect it for any problems. It's not perfect. I've seen perfect cakes in catalogs from the Capitol, and I don't know how they're accomplished. But it's good work. It will pass.

I take it to Haymitch. He approves, once he very carefully counts the squares on the chess board.

He pays me. When the deal is done, I start to ask if he wants me to stick around, but he's already turning away. Disgusted with the soft kid who can't even take one whipping without breaking. He's at his bar and opening a new bottle when I decide to just leave.

I ship the cake.

I don't know what I expect to happen. I guess if they spotted anything, I'd find out soon enough, but I guess they didn't, because no one breaks down our door to take me back to the whipping post. We get the shipping receipt a week later, so it definitely went to District Eleven. I don't hear anything else.

In school, play rehearsals go on. Mir makes a point of talking to me in public as much as possible, to show that she doesn't care what people think. I suspect this doesn’t help my reputation, but it's nice of her. She's accepted onto the response team, and spends a lot of time complaining about having to clean up after various bits of vandalism. I ask if the Peacekeepers are giving her any more trouble.

"No. I… I suppose I shouldn't have lost my temper at them. I'm sorry it got you into trouble. I won't bother them anymore."

"That letter… was it from your dad?"

She sniffs. "He signed it, didn't he?" She will not discuss the subject further. We go back into character, and work out the long, closed-room second act, where my character is dying, and hers is trying to keep him alive by telling stories, a task made more difficult by the lack of fresh water, as the sea has surrounded the castle. Eventually, my character dies, and hers throws herself into the roiling sea. This is a common end to plays from the era, to the point where we make fun of it in literature class, threatening to fling ourselves into the sea for everything from a bad grade to hang nail. A few of the teachers have actually made blue pillows and thrown them around the room, so they can urge us to get to it and stop wasting their time.

I consider bringing up my proposal to Ruth again. It's not like there are a lot of people here, and it's not a bad idea to have your family ready to go when you start running your business. I've discovered that this is generally not a good way to put it (not all girls, apparently, are as pragmatic as my mother), but it's true. In the end, I decide not to raise the subject.

Kay Donner gets put in the stocks several times, and I believe that she's even given the opportunity for a private apology to Cray. She kicks him hard enough to make private apologies difficult for a while, and gets another six hours. She limps for two weeks. For a while, she's seen going out to Haymitch's place a lot, and rumors hit the air that District Twelve's bereaved victor has found deep happiness with his ally's twin sister. Kay cuts and dyes her hair, and stops visiting Haymitch altogether.

As November turns cold and soggy, Ruth and I have a fight. It starts out about the play -- she says she doesn't like coming to my plays because she doesn't want to watch me kiss Mir, which is ridiculous -- and ends up about half a dozen things that have been on her mind. We break up, which I figure will be for a few days, like usual, but I am, at the moment, unpopular enough that people rally around her for breaking up with me. She looks at me helplessly in the cafeteria. I roll my eyes and wave it off. It'll work out in the end. It always works out for us.

My back is as healed as it's going to get. It's still sore sometimes, and now I have red scars etched all over it, but any chance of infection is gone, so I don't need to go to the apothecary for check-ups. I can't seem to catch her alone otherwise.

The play goes off perfectly well in December. At the cast party, Colt Kiraly sneaks in white liquor that he bought on the black market. I have a little too much of it, and things happen with Mir that probably shouldn't, if I mean to fix things up with Ruth. I tell her so the next day. She shoves me into a cold puddle and runs off, leaving me with exactly no friends.

That's why I'm the one who ends up going down to the station to pick up our shipments from the train. Dad usually lets me have some time on Saturday if I'm not on a special project, but I don't have anything to do, so he decides to keep working on the books and send me out with the hand cart. We've ordered flour and raisins and some fruits from District Eleven.

"Sign here," the train attendant says, pointing to the receipt form. "And here… and here…"

I look dully at his hand, and notice something between his fingers. When he sees me looking, he moves it deftly so I can see a rough bird drawing, then crumples it and shoves it into his pocket.

I roll the handcart over to our crates. The one for the fruit seems to be very large.

It also has holes drilled in the sides.

I roll it back into town as quickly as I can, and take it around the back of the bakery. We use it for outside tools and paint, but for all the Peacekeepers know, we store baking supplies out here.

I take a crowbar and open up the fruit crate from District Eleven, letting the front panel fall forward.

From inside, I see a pair of dark eyes looking out at me. I know those eyes. I've seen them on television for the last seven years.

"You need help getting out?" I ask. "Or do you just want me to fetch Haymitch for you?"
8 comments or Leave a comment
redrikki From: redrikki Date: December 3rd, 2013 03:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Poor Danny. The life of a spy is hard. How uncomfortable to you think Chaff was in that shipping crate?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 3rd, 2013 08:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
On a scale of 1-10, he'd have to be around 12 on the uncomfortable scale. Hopefully, the train is faster than the one Katniss and Peeta took.
From: queen_bellatrix Date: December 3rd, 2013 09:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

Typo Catches and Review

If you've already caught these, or archived the chapter, I'm sorry:)

I hear the something smash. I'm not sure if you meant to say the sound of here, or if it was just supposed to be I hear something smash.?

"Right now, I'd do anything you think want, I think there was supposed to be a you before think there?

"Your body needs time knit up those cuts. I think there should have been a too before knit.

I don't go to sleep right away, but she turns deliberately back to her work, so I'm not keeping myself awake deliberately. Just a suggestion, but it got a bit confusing, having two deliberatlies in one sentence; maybe take the first one out, so it'd just say that she turned back to her work so he wasn't doing it deliberately?

I plan to make the chess men out of sweets, which buy from an ill-tempered Mr. Donner, I think you may have missed an I before buy, here.

the point where we make fun of it in literature class, threatening to fling ourselves into the sea for everything from a bad grade to hang nail. I think you meant to have an a before nail, there.

The thing that stands out for me about this chapter is Danny's bravery, and his strength. The District's essentially imposing a shunning on him, and that's hard to take for anyone, but especially someone as extraverted as Danny. And I'm not entirely sure that I could take the whipping he did and then not grab Haymitch's out like the most awesome lifeline ever invented.

I'll be really, really interested to see what the messages mean in the next chapter; I'm completely stumped about the importance of the grid, though my not paying much attention to chess boards may have a lot to do with that; and Haymitch's code is good--I have a thing about anagrams, and I'm completely stumped.

I continue to be impressed with your insights about the capital, from how being cowed brings rewards, to Danny's observation that they like to believe they've cowed their citizenry.

Kay...poor Kay. I get the impression that she was up at Haymitch's trying to talk rebel stuff? And then, she's suddenly lumped together as an item with this man who she doesn't have feelings for, and is mostly helping because of her sister, while being called Maysilee on a regular basis by that man (if I'm remembering correctly from Final Eight, that's why she dyed her hair?) That would be hard. For a minute, I even wondered if she were going up there because she had a crush on Haymitch, but everything with her and Merle in EOTW speaks against it.

Haymitch continues to be awesome, with his dead-pan "I don't think so." to Meer, and the way he helped Danny through everything. And gods, his: "You're about the last friend I have." said so matter-of-factly brought the weight of everything that's happened in less than six months to bear wonderfully.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 4th, 2013 01:48 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Typo Catches and Review

Good catches, thanks! I'm really prone to leaving out little words, and unfortunately, my brain tends to supply them when I'm reading as much as it skips them when I'm writing.

The cipher probably could be worked as an anagram, but there's an easier way. The grid is the key.

I think Kay is finally coming the realization that she can't live Maysilee's life and her own at the same time.

And poor Haymitch -- to keep up Danny's respectable cover, he has to voluntarily give up his last friend. Once their little rebellion is down, I think they'll be friends again, at least until Haymitch is too drunk to maintain friendships, but the guy's lost a lot.
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 4th, 2013 02:06 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Typo Catches and Review

I totally got the code on the first go! Just plugged it into the grid! Clever boy, our Haymitch.
redlily From: redlily Date: December 5th, 2013 02:09 am (UTC) (Link)
"They're not allowed to close" -- intentional, as in, close the bakery up? Or a typo for "too close"?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 5th, 2013 03:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Not allowed to close the bakery up for something so minor as their son being whipped half to death.
redlily From: redlily Date: December 5th, 2013 03:35 am (UTC) (Link)
8 comments or Leave a comment