As the room went still, the rapid beating of my heart became horridly apparent, and I willed it ceaselessly to stop. Maybe then I would be free from this embarassment.
“Taldora, this isn’t the time for games. Sing,” Sir Laraunts commanded, tapping his walking stick impatiently upon the floor. I swallowed heavily and opened my mouth. And just as before, no sound came out. Absolutely nothing. I closed my mouth and raised trembling hands to my face to hide my shame. Sir Laraunts struck the music stand with his stick, sending my sheet music fluttering to the floor like broken butterfly wings. I gazed up at him in shock.
“Tallie?” mother whispered, rising from her seat, “You can, can’t you?” I looked away. Father helped her back to her seat, watching me in such a knowing way. I couldn’t take it-I fled the room, knocking over the empty music stand in my haste.
I ran as quickly as I dared to my cousin Joseph’s rooms. As I looked carefully through his clothes, I knew that I only had minutes if I was to leave without interruption. And I knew that I must leave. There were others like me; Guilded ones who have lost their voices. They are shut away in attics like horrid spinsters, an embarassment to a prominent family such as my own. Our parents often told us of the Songstress Vertiline, a wicked woman who stole the voices of pretty young girls like myself if we didn’t behave. We had been brought up to believe that it was just a story, that terrible women such as Vertiline did not exist. But now, I knew it wasn’t so. I didn’t know what I had done to bring this curse upon me, but I would set it right. My Presentation was only a month away, and I would perform at it. I would. Clumsily, I ripped the laces from my dress and stepped into Joseph’s clothes. As I pinned my hair beneath his cap, I trembled.
It was a shame that I’d promised mother I wouldn’t fight. It was a shame because I knew that I would do it anyway.
I tried, mother, I thought, rolling up my sleeves, I tried my hardest to avoid it. With an animal cry, I rushed at Charles, nearly knocking the air out of my lungs when we hit the ground. He flipped me over and I ducked his punch swiftly, rolling out from under him. As I scrambled up, I landed a quick kick in his side.
“Come on, lad!” I shouted brightly, crossing my arms, “Up you get!” A crowd of other Taskers began to gather as Charles lumbered to his feet, face bright red. I nearly laughed. Honestly, I had no business picking fights with boys two times my weight, but it wasn’t exactly my fault. I’d heard what he was thinking, heard the words he had thought against my sister.
There had once been others like me. Diviners. People who could hear, sense, by touch. But they were gone now, killed by the Guilded ones, the ones who wanted our powers for themselves. There were times when I was able to control it, perhaps, but those times were few and far between.
Charles reached for me, and I ducked away, landing a glancing blow on his ear. As he came for me, I noticed that I had misjudged the distance, and I closed my eyes, expecting the blow. Instead, I was knocked back, and my head bounced painfully back against the cobblestone. My eyes flew open and I scrambled back. It hadn’t been Charles who had pushed me back, but a girl. A girl who was most decidedly dressed as a boy. I studied her for a moment longer, waving off the dispersing crowd of jeering Taskers hungry for a row.
“Taldora LaVielle,” I whispered, pushing off the ground. I offered her my hand, and then withdrew. We were complete opposites, our people. The Taskers and the Guilded did not speak to each other unless absolutely needed. It was dangerous for me to be as close to her as I was. She said nothing, only stared at me, eyes wide in shock. Shaking my head, I offered my hand, reading her when she took it.
I musn’t be seen here, someone will see me and I’ll be exiled for the rest of me life! But I must run, I must find Vertiline-
Gasping, I let go. She snatched her hand away and turned to run.
“Taldora,” I said softly, “I can help you find her. Vertiline.” I shouldn’t have offered, but I did. As dangerous as it was, I did. She was helpless without a voice. She turned, stricken.
“I’m a Diviner,” I told her, “Come with me.” She did.