Author’s Note: You are about to read the second chapter in my novel, The Six Provinces of Debris. Since these chapters do not stand alone, you may want to read Chapter One first.
“Audited?” Langston replied angrily, ignoring Josiah Remington’s outstretched arm. “We were just audited four months ago! We aren’t due for another until May!”
Remington nodded his head. “I am well aware of that, Mr. Anders.” He pushed past Langston and Adelaide and set a stack of parchment onto the table where the book of poetry had been only moments before.
Adelaide shifted her weight uncomfortably. Every time she moved, the book threatened to fall out of her waistband and down to the floor. She glanced nervously at her dresser. Emmeline was standing in front of it, her eyes on Adelaide. They made eye contact, and Emmeline nodded her head slightly to the bed. While Josiah Remington thumbed through the parchment on the table, Adelaide sat down on the bed and slid the book under the pillow.
“Ah,” Remington said, pulling a piece of parchment out of the stack. “You are usually audited in May by Mr. Samuel Tusky,” He took off his glasses and rubbed the lenses with the edge of his shirt as he spoke. “Unfortunately, the Sector has found Mr. Tusky’s work to be…of poor quality.” He held his glasses up to the light spilling through the window to ensure that every speck of dust was gone. “The Sector has appointed me to take over his caseload. After finding a few…discrepancies, it became necessary to double check his work in other villages. Including yours.”
Everyone was silent for a moment until Langston finally voiced the question bouncing around Adelaide’s mind, “What happened to Sa– Mr. Tusky?”
“I’m afraid I am not at liberty to say,” Remington replied offhandedly. He finally looked at Adelaide and Emmeline. “I certainly hope you weren’t close to Mr. Tusky.” He added darkly. “And if so, I’m sorry for your loss…and any future losses.”
Remington looked around the room seemingly oblivious to the emotional tension brewing around him, “Is this where I’ll be staying, or do you have something more suitable to my needs?”
Adelaide had never seen her father look so dark and so dangerous. His fists were clenched at his sides, and his eyes were wide with fury.
Emmeline was at his side in an instant. As soon as her hand touched his arm, he blinked, relaxed his shoulders, unclenched his fists, and transformed back into the man Adelaide knew as her father.
“We have a spare bed in our office,” Her voice was calm and unwavering. “Adie, will you please make the bed for Mr. Remington?”
Trembling, Adelaide nodded and slowly got up from the bed, readjusting the pillow to make sure the book was concealed.
Emmeline turned back to Remington, “Would you like some tea? I’m happy to prepare some for you in the kitchen.”
Remington nodded and gave Emmeline a smile that made Adelaide’s skin crawl. She hoped her father didn’t notice the way Remington was looking at her mother. As Remington followed Emmeline out of the room, however, Langston’s fists were clenched again and his eyes were narrow. He noticed.
I’m sorry for your loss…and any future losses. The words ran through Adelaide’s head over and over again as she made the bed for Remington. He said they found discrepancies in Sam’s work, Adelaide thought to herself, tucking the edge of a patchwork sheet under the small mattress in her father’s office. Why kind of discrepancies? She thought of the book of poetry. It didn’t fit in the small, hidden compartment where she kept her copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, so she had to give it to Langston for safekeeping.
Adelaide froze. Grimm’s Fairy Tales! Sam had given her the book when she was seven. Could that be the discrepancy? Did Sam give books to all readers’ children? She hastily threw an old quilt on top of the straw filled mattress, not bothering to smooth the wrinkles. If Remington discovered the book, her family would be done for. But where could she hide it?
She rushed to her bedroom, but before she could open the drawer concealing her book, she stopped. She was being careless again. Moving the book now, without a plan, would be reckless. I’ll wait until tomorrow when Remington is busy with the files, she decided. Besides, it’s well hidden. It’ll be safe where it is. Thinking that she should probably help her mother with dinner, she left the room, closing the door carefully behind her.
“This stew is delicious, Mrs. Anders,” Remington said, holding the spoon delicately in his fingers as he blew the steam away. He was sitting in Adelaide’s usual spot at the table, next to Emmeline and across from Langston.
“Thank you, Mr. Remington. Adelaide made it.” Emmeline responded without looking up.
Remington glanced at Adelaide with a look of surprise, “Oh? Are you a cook’s apprentice?” He asked, setting his spoon down.
“No, I’m the healer’s apprentice.”
“I see,” Remington said, narrowing his eyes at the stew. “So, what magical healing powers have you included in our meal?”
“None,” Adelaide responded curtly. She didn’t like Remington’s tone.
When Adelaide chose to become a healer, Borvo, the master healer, told her that the Sector didn’t take village healers very seriously. They didn’t see how natural remedies such as herbs and prescribed exercises could prevent disease, especially when they had their extravagant Sector medical center to cure any and all ailments.
“The Sector’s problem,” Borvo had explained, “is that they don’t bother to prevent illness, they simply fix it with potent concoctions and potions.” He continued to mutter to himself about witchcraft and the devil’s work after that, convinced that the Sector’s medical center did more harm than good. Borvo was slightly crazy, but he knew his trade well and he was a good teacher to Adelaide.
“And you’re attending school as well?” Remington asked Adelaide, snapping her attention back to the present.
“Yes, Diotima is my teacher.”
“Is she good?” Remington asked, but this time the question was directed at Langston.
“She is,” Langston replied.
“For a village teacher, you mean.” Remington replied with a smirk.
Nobody responded. Adelaide was surprised to find herself angry with Remington for his comment about Diotima.
Adelaide couldn’t help herself, “Why did you become an auditor if you hate the villages so much?” She demanded of Remington. “Who did you piss off?”
Before he could respond, however, Emmeline said, “Adelaide! Apologize right now!”
Adelaide just crossed her arms across her chest and stared at Remington, eyebrows raised, waiting for his answer.
“Adelaide, I think it is time for you to go to bed.” Langston said. His voice was firm, but Adelaide noticed a small tugging at the corners of his mouth, as if he was trying not to smile.
“No,” Remington said, studying Adelaide, “I didn’t ‘piss anybody off’ as you put it. On the contrary, I was the one who discovered Samuel Tusky’s disloyalty to the Sector, and I was the one who revealed his crimes to the proper authorities.” His eyes narrowed into a nasty smile. “I volunteered for the position. I am determined to catch and penalize all of his known conspirators.” He continued to study Adelaide for a few seconds without speaking before he finally picked up his spoon again and continued eating his stew, as if nothing had happened.
Adelaide shoved her chair back and stormed out of the room, leaving her dirty bowl behind. Remington was responsible for whatever had happened to Sam, and now Remington was staying at their house, eating their food, searching for discrepancies. Adelaide wouldn’t let him find any.
The next day, Adelaide met up with Ivy after finishing her required morning hours with Borvo. As they trudged up the hill for their afternoon class with Diotima, Adelaide told Ivy about Josiah Remington.
“He is horrible,” Adelaide said. “He insulted Diotima.”
“So?” Ivy replied, cocking an eyebrow at Adelaide. “We make fun of Diotima all the time.”
Adelaide hadn’t thought about this, but it didn’t matter. She still didn’t like what Remington had said. “Yeah, but we’re allowed to make fun of her. We’re her students. It’s expected.”
Ivy didn’t respond.
“Remington doesn’t even know her!” Adelaide continued.
When Ivy still didn’t respond, Adelaide changed the subject to Sam. “Remington also said that he was the one who caught Sam. Apparently he violated the edict, and now he’s in jail or something.”
Ivy shook her head, her blonde curls bouncing off of her shoulders. “That’s terrible! I can’t believe Sam would violate the edict! And to think, our own auditor! How could he do this to us?” Ivy’s words continued to tumble out of her mouth. “Doesn’t he know what happens when people violate the edicts? We could end up like –” She gasped midsentence. “He audited my father once, you don’t think we could be in trouble do you?”
Adelaide sighed, frustrated with Ivy. She just didn’t understand. The conversation died as they reached the top of the hill. Adelaide was grateful that they were both too winded to talk. She didn’t know what to say to Ivy to make her understand how awful Remington was.
They were early, so they sat in the shade of the crumbling statue. They could see Diotima’s small cottage on the other side of the hill, and Adelaide stared at it, feeling guilty for making fun of Diotima the day before.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the cabin door opening. Two people walked out. The first was a tall, dark woman in a flowing white dress. Diotima. The second was a small, pale man dressed in strange, black clothes. Adelaide sat up suddenly.
“Ivy!” Adelaide cried, pointing to the cottage. “That’s him with Diotima! Remington!”
Ivy looked over at the cottage with curiosity. “He’s tiny!” She said, giggling behind her hand. “That’s probably why he’s so unpleasant.”
“What do you think he’s doing with Diotima?” Adelaide wondered aloud.
“Who cares?” Ivy said, lying down in the soft green grass. She closed her eyes and sighed happily. “It’s so beautiful today!”
Before Adelaide could respond, David, Erma, and Paulina arrived and sat down next to them. Paulina, Erma, and Ivy chatted happily about the weather while David and Adelaide sat in silence. David wasn’t much of a talker.
Diotima looked flustered when she finally reached the top of the hill. Her fingers clutched at each other, and her hair, usually held up in a tight bun, looked frazzled and lumpy.
“Good afternoon,” she said, releasing her fingers to smooth her hair back on her head. Her voice sounded tight and her words were clipped. “Unfortunately, I am not feeling very well today. Would you mind if we canceled class?”
Ivy sat straight up, looking delighted, “Of course not!” She caught Paulina’s eye and winked excitedly.
Adelaide was less thrilled. She had never known Diotima to cancel a class. What did Remington say to her?
“We will have class again tomorrow, then.” Diotima said, turning around to walk back down the hill.
When she was out of earshot, Ivy said, “Wow! Can you believe our luck? Diotima has never canceled a class!”
“Yeah…” Adelaide said absently, watching Diotima walk down the hill.
“So, what do you want to do with the afternoon?” Ivy asked the rest of the group.
“We could go to the river,” Erma suggested, “I saw the fishermen’s apprentices heading down there before my morning hours, and let’s just say it’ll be a good show!” She winked and nudged Adelaide in the ribs.
Paulina shrugged, “We really shouldn’t indulge in lustful thoughts,” she said uncomfortably. “It’s sinful.” Paulina was an apprentice of the church, but Adelaide suspected that she wasn’t thrilled with her placement.
“Well, I want to go,” Ivy said decisively, “But you don’t have to come if you don’t want to, Paulina…”
“No, I’ll come.” Paulina said quickly, clearly not wanting to be left out.
“I’m going to stay here,” Adelaide said, turning to the rest of the group. “If Diotima isn’t feeling well, maybe I can help her feel better.”
Ivy smiled, rolling her eyes to the others, “That’s sweet of you, Adie! Catch up with us later?”
“Sure,” Adelaide agreed, turning away.
She walked down the opposite side of the hill toward the small building they used for classes during the wintertime. Diotima’s cottage was next to it. As she walked through the gate in front of the cottage, she realized she had never been inside Diotima’s house before. She took a breath and knocked on the door.
“Just a moment!” Diotima cried through the door. Adelaide heard a shuffling inside, then a soft thud, like something heavy falling onto the floor. It was quiet for a moment, and just as Adelaide started wondering if she should break in to make sure Diotima was okay, the door opened.
“I thought I told you, Mr. Reming–” She stopped when she saw Adelaide at the door.
“Oh, Adelaide, how can I help you?”
Adelaide took a step back, feeling foolish for coming down. “Well,” she said nervously, “you said you weren’t feeling well, and I’m Borvo’s apprentice, so I thought that maybe I could help you feel better.”
Diotima’s stern look softened and she gave Adelaide a small smile. “That’s very kind of you, Adelaide, but I’m afraid you can’t help me right now.”
Adelaide saw an open trunk in the middle of the room behind Diotima. Some clothes and blankets had been thrown in hastily.
“Are you going somewhere?”
Diotima’s eyes widened slightly, and she closed the door a little more to block Adelaide’s view. “Oh no,” she said, “I’m just cleaning up a little.”
Adelaide had never seen Diotima lose her composure like this. She took a breath and said, “Is it Remington? I saw him leave here right before class.”
Diotima shook her head and said, “You should go. Enjoy your afternoon off.”
“He’s staying at my house,” Adelaide said quickly, “What did he say to you?”
“Goodbye, Adelaide,” Diotima said. She closed the door and Adelaide heard the bolt slide into place.
The shop was closed when Adelaide got home twenty minutes later. She found her mother sitting alone in the kitchen.
“Why is the shop closed?” Adelaide asked anxiously.
“Remington insisted,” Emmeline said, massaging the bridge of her nose with her eyes closed.
“Where is he?”
“In the office with your father.”
Adelaide bit her lip. “Remington was at Diotima’s cottage today. Diotima cancelled class.”
Emmeline’s eyes snapped open and Adelaide told her about Diotima’s strange behavior. Before she could respond however, Langston and Remington walked into the kitchen.
“Adie! You’re home early,” her father said, taking a seat at the table.
“Diotima canceled class today.” Adelaide replied, watching Remington closely.
“That’s strange,” Langston muttered, “I’ve never known Diotima to cancel a class before. Did she say why?”
“She said she wasn’t feeling well.” Adelaide continued to watch Remington, who had pulled out a stack of parchment and was marking individual sheets with a quill. Watching him, she felt anger building deep in her chest. Before she could stop herself, she said, “Would you know anything about that, Mr. Remington?”
Remington’s quill froze mid-mark, and his beady black eyes settled on Adelaide. Behind him, Emmeline was shaking her head quickly, warning Adelaide to stay silent. Langston simply looked from Adelaide to Remington with a furrowed brow, confused by the question.
“Excuse me?” Remington replied icily, removing his glasses.
Adelaide took a deep breath, but before she could ask Remington about his business with Diotima, Emmeline stepped in.
“Adelaide was simply wondering if you heard anything while you were in town this morning. As an Auditor from the Sector, you are privy to more information than the rest of us. Adie is simply worried about her teacher.” Emmeline made eye contact with Adelaide, and gave her a warning look.
Adelaide sighed, and nodded without speaking.
At Emmeline’s comment, Remington straightened in his chair, a smile tugging at his lips. “I see,” He bent over his stack of parchment again and continued marking individual sheets. “I’m afraid an Auditor’s business is far more important than village gossip about the local teacher.”
The anger bubbled up to the point of boiling, and Adelaide had to bite the inside of her cheek for relief. She stood up quickly and pushed her chair away from the table. “I’m going to go find Ivy,” she announced, not bothering to push in her chair.
Nobody responded. Once out of the room, she lingered on the other side of the door.
“When can we reopen the shop, Mr. Remington?” Adelaide could still hear Emmeline’s soft, musical voice clearly from the hall outside of the kitchen.
“In three days,” Remington replied.
“Three days?” Langston’s voice was tight and controlled, “Is that necessary? Mr.
“Thankfully, I am not Mr. Tusky,” Remington said dangerously, “The shop will reopen in three days when I have completed the audit.” Silence followed his comment, and Adelaide left to find Ivy, Erma, and Paulina.
The three days passed slowly. Diotima was nowhere to be found, so Adelaide spent the extra time working with Borvo. On the third day, while grinding up herbs to help quicken an expectant mother’s labor, she turned to Borvo and said, “Tell me about the hospital in the Sector.”
Borvo didn’t look up from his work. He was setting the arm of a young boy who had fallen out of a tree. The boy was asleep thanks to one of Borvo’s many potions, but his mother had been hovering anxiously, questioning every step of Borvo’s treatment, so Borvo made her leave.
“What do you want to know?” He grunted, jerking the boy’s arm back into alignment. The boy moaned a little, but he wouldn’t remember the pain. “Bring me that splint.” Borvo said, ignoring the boy’s moans.
Adelaide set down the pestle she was using the grind the herbs, and handed the splint to Borvo who shook his head and held up his hands.
“You do it.” He said, stepping away from the boy.
Adelaide stepped up to the boy. She had a strange fluttering sensation in her stomach, and she was glad the boy’s mother wasn’t in the room with them.
“Notice how the bones line up again?” Borvo said, indicating the location of the break on his own arm. Adelaide nodded, gently prodding the boy’s arm. “They say that in the Sector, they can see through the skin to the bones.” Adelaide’s eyes grew wide at the thought of seeing through someone’s skin and muscle. She lined the splint up to the boy’s arm and wrapped it with a soft, quilted material. With trembling fingers, she then dipped strips of old, donated clothing into a fresh mixture of flour and water and wrapped them around the boy’s arm, making a cast.
When she was finished, Borvo inspected her work, nodding silently. Borvo only gave compliments through grunts and nods. “Now we let the cast dry, and the boy can go home.”
“What else can the Sector hospital do?” Adelaide asked, mesmerized.
“I’ve heard that they can block all pain,” Borvo replied, stroking his gnarly beard.
“But we can block pain too,” Adelaide said, unimpressed. She gestured to the still sleeping boy.
“No,” Borvo said, “We cannot block all pain. The boy still feels pain, it is just dulled. We can provide herbs and potions to lessen the pain, but the Sector doctors make it all go away.”
Adelaide was doubtful. She wasn’t sure she believed Borvo. “How do you know all of this?” She asked him, picking up the pestle again to continue grinding the herbs.
Borvo shrugged, “it’s just what I’ve heard,” he mumbled. He walked out of the room to fetch the boy’s mother. Adelaide watched him leave, wondering if what he said was true. She decided to ask her parents after Remington left the following morning.
She sensed tension in the house as soon as she got home that evening. Her father was hunched over the table, looking over the records from the shop. Her mother was sitting next to him, stroking his arm nervously.
“What’s going on?” Adelaide asked, looking around the room for signs of Remington.
“Remington left this morning to run an errand and hasn’t returned,” Emmeline said.
“So? Good riddance,” Adelaide responded, shrugging it off. Perhaps something terrible happened to Remington. Adelaide felt guilty for the wave of satisfaction that swept over her at the thought of a wounded Remington, but she pushed the guilty feelings away, replacing them with memories of Sam and his books. Remington was responsible for whatever had happened to Sam. He deserved to die.
Langston shook his head, “No, this means that Remington will have to stay another day, which means the shop will be closed for another day.”
“And if something did happen to Remington, our village will be swarming with soldiers from the Sector to investigate,” Emmeline added.
“Oh,” Adelaide said, taking a seat at the table. Even though she didn’t like the idea of soldiers invading the village, she was still savoring the idea that something horrible had happened to Remington.
Langston slid the records over to Emmeline and stood up from the table. “Help me with dinner, Adie,” He said, walking over to the small pantry, “Fetch some vegetables from the garden, please?”
Adelaide nodded and went downstairs and out the back door to the garden. As she was inspecting a zucchini on the vine, she heard heavy footsteps coming from the gravel pathway. It was Remington.
She knew she should be happy to see that he’d returned, but she wasn’t. “Good evening, Mr. Remington,” She mumbled, breaking the zucchini off the vine. She wasn’t being careful, and the top of the zucchini remained on the vine. She didn’t care.
“Adelaide,” Remington replied with a curt nod. Adelaide noticed that his boots were muddy, and his clothing, which was usually freshly pressed, was wrinkled and stained with sweat. He stepped over her basket and walked through the door. Adelaide added some tomatoes and peppers to her basket and followed him inside. Traces of mud marked his path through the shop and up the stairs.
“Mr. Remington! We were worried about you!” Emmeline said as they walked into the kitchen.
Remington smiled at Emmeline and took her hand, “I’m sorry to have worried you, Mrs. Anders. My errand today took a bit longer than I had anticipated, but that just means I get to stay with you another day.” He bent his head and kissed her hand.
Emmeline snatched her hand from Remington’s and turned away from him. “Dinner will be ready soon,” she said, quickly. “I suggest you go wash up.”
As soon as Remington was out of earshot, Langston said, “I know I should be relieved, but I agree with you, Adie. I wouldn’t have been disappointed if he never returned.”
Adelaide smiled, but she knew something was off. Where could Remington have gone for the day? His boots were covered in dried mud, but it hadn’t rained in a long time. And now he was staying an extra day? As she chopped the zucchini, she decided she would share her concerns with Emmeline in the morning after Remington and Langston disappeared into the office to continue the audit. After all, there wasn’t anything she could do about it now.
But as she went to bed that night, she noticed her hairbrush wasn’t in its drawer with the false bottom. Instead, it was sitting on top of the dresser, along with the leaf her father had used to mark the Langston Hughes poem in the book of poetry. The side with her brother’s name was face up. Unnerved, Adelaide quickly opened the drawer and removed the false bottom. The book of fairytales was still there, undisturbed. She placed the leaf on top of the book, replaced the false bottom, and swept the brush into the drawer. As she crawled into bed, however, she couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that something was seriously wrong.
Continue reading Chapter Three…