I suppose I got better rest than usual last night, or Zebediah slept more poorly than he usually did, for I woke first, which I have not done since we have been on the run. I busied myself gathering firewood, then lit it with a thought; it has become almost second nature for me now, as I have done it so often these past several days. And then it suddenly occurred to me that I was Gifted with more than fire!
After a little practice, I called water up out of the earth, enough to cup in my hands and drink. I could easily have taken handfuls of snow if I'd wanted, but I felt so silly for half-dying of thirst all this time when I could so easily (relatively speaking) have produced water from nothing! I filled my hands again, watching a little stream of water shoot up through the snow, and drank, delighted. Then I had a wicked idea.
I crouched near Zebediah, who was still asleep with his head on his arm, and caused a little fountain to spring up from the ground and fall back over to hit his face. I was aiming for his mouth, but unfortunately I have bad aim, and the water went up his nose instead! I felt terrible as he woke suddenly, spluttering and wiping at his face, but could not suppress a giggle at the sight of him. "I am sorry," I said, laughing. "Only... look." I made another little fountain, and he sat back, amazed, at the sight of it. "Drink!" I urged, and after hesitating a moment, he bent over and sipped from the stream just as if it were the tap in a kitchen.
I felt quite tired after all that exertion, which I was not used to, and Zebediah made me rest for a while before we ate and then gathered our things. I was at least able to laugh at myself for my stupidity--what trouble I could have saved us both!--but Zebediah told me to think on it no more. I never spoke to him of my lessons with Professor Eberhart, so he could not remind me of what I could do. Also, the things I had learned were not at the front of my mind since I never spoke of them. Amazing, that I could forget I can call up water, but now I think I shall not forget again.
We have taken a longer-than-usual lunch break to give me another rest from producing water. We have been out of the forest since morning, and slowly descending a great hill (or perhaps a small mountain?) toward the town. The snow fell more sparsely here, so we cannot take bites of it for refreshment; what little snow there is has fallen in a very slight dusting, like flour on a cutting board. Onward! The going is easier than Zebediah (it still seems a little strange not to call him Mr. Miller, either aloud or on paper!) thought, so we shall arrive at the edge of the city a little before nightfall.
Terrible news! There are posters of the both of us displayed in all the public places of the town! They show pen and ink sketches of us both, and a very good likeness of each, too. Our names are beneath (though thankfully I am still called Greenwater) and the warning at the top reads: "Dangerous Loyalists on the Loose!" The smaller print beneath our names requests that if we are found, we are to be treated with the utmost care, but brought alive, if at all possible, to Mr. Bergstrom in Franklin Bay. Barring that, we are to be held at the police station wherever we are captured, and Mr. Bergstrom notified. Mr. M--Zebediah is called a "Deadly Assassin with Unparalleled Weapons Skills" and I am supposedly an "Unstable Young Woman Gifted with a Trace of Illumination"!
As silly as it sounds, I took the most offense at being said to have a "trace" of Illumination, upon first sight of the poster! Then Zebediah yanked me back out of the post office and down a narrow side street, out of view of anyone on the main road. "What are we to do?" I wailed quietly. We were in the shadow between two tall buildings, and therefore it was more freezing than usual. I had been so looking forward to a soft bed and warm food at an inn tonight, but that was impossible if we were now known as murderous traitors!
Zebediah was deep in thought for a minute, while I bit at my thumbnail from nervousness. Then he pulled some things from his bag and handed them to me; they were his new pair of trousers and his new shirt! "What are these for?" I asked, uncomprehending, and handed them back. "You'll look just the same if you're wearing clean clothes."
He shook his head and pushed the clothes at me again. When I still did not understand, he tugged at the collar of my coat, then pulled at the cuff of my glove as though he would remove it. "You want me to.... What? No, no no, I cannot!" I cried, suddenly realizing what he wanted. "Where am I to change, anyway? Here?"
A slow nod was my answer.
"And what about this?" I asked, gesturing to my hair which was messily pinned up at the back of my head. Half a yard of thick mahogany hair would be difficult to disguise, I thought.
In reply, he took his own short-brimmed cap off his head and handed it to me, then hunted through some of the pockets in his trousers before coming up with what looked to be a spare neck cloth. He tied it around his head as some laborers do, to keep the coal dust off their hair if they are miners, or the sawdust if they work in a mill (though he had no hair at all). In addition, he arranged his neck cloth with the knot and tails in the back, so a bit of his chest was visible at the top of his shirt where it made a V, and this made him look more like the normal working man one might see on the street Then he shooed me further down the little alley.
"There is no privacy!" I hissed, clutching the clothes against my chest as if my modesty was already in jeopardy. "Anyway, what will be gained by me dressing like you?"
He told me I was to write to Professor Eberhart, then return to the post office to send the wire.
"And then what?"
Then we find lodging, he said, pointing at me and himself, then pretending to eat and sleep.
"And wait for a reply? How will the professor know where to send it?" Before he could reply, I answered my own question. "We must acquire lodging first, then send the wire with directions on where to direct a reply."
Zebediah accepted this plan with a nod, then guided me behind several large trash bins. The stench was awful even in the cold, but I dared not stray too far from them. My only shelter from prying eyes at the other end of the alley was Zebediah himself, standing with his back to me, his legs planted far apart and arms akimbo to give me as much cover as possible.
Hoping and praying that no one would traverse this particular road for the next few minutes, or even look down it, I did my best to change into Zebediah's clothes while exposing the least amount of skin possible. I put the trousers on while I still wore my skirt and petticoat, then tugged both off, all the while trying to keep my feet in my boots and not on the dirty, wet ground. I stuffed my skirt and petticoat in my bag, thinking how very odd it was to feel so unhindered by yards of fabric! Then I turned my back to Zebediah and unbuttoned my coat and blouse. My back still to him, looking over my shoulder, I tapped my coat against his arm so he would take it. Our eyes locked for an instant as he started to turn around, then he took my coat and hurriedly faced front again.
I crouched behind the garbage bins as I removed my blouse, thinking I would die of cold before I was properly dressed again. Only once I had Zebediah's shirt nearly buttoned did it occur to me that a particular thing--or rather, two things--might blow my cover, so I removed the shirt again and laced my stays as tightly as I could up top. Luckily I am not overly-endowed as some women are, rather more medium, and once my coat was on I thought it would be hardly noticeable. I stood up to tuck in the shirt, then refastened the trousers and tapped Zebediah on the shoulder.
He waited a moment, then turned around slowly, in case it was a mistake like the last time. But once he was facing me, his eyes traveled down and up, then down again. "Well?" I prompted, feeling like a slide of something interesting being examined beneath a microscope.
He blinked a couple of times, then nodded approvingly and handed my coat back to me; luckily it was of a straight cut with no details to mark it as decidedly feminine, so it would do. My boots, too, were unremarkable, except perhaps in how scuffed up they were.
"Oh dear," I said suddenly, catching the waistband of the trousers as they started to slide over my hips. "Um." I looked up at Zebediah pleadingly.
He was already removing his own belt, but once I threaded it through all the belt loops on the trousers I wore, I realized there was not a hole in it that could make it small enough for my waist. Before I could remove it, Zebediah stopped me, studied it a moment, then asked for it back. He put it against the brick wall of the building and gouged a hole in it with the tip of a small pocket knife (not the larger horror he had drawn on the stranger in the forest). Once I put it back on, it fit quite well.
"Now this," I said as I began unpinning my hair. I found out it would not stay beneath the cap on its own, so I ended up re-pinning it at the crown of my head, making use of many twists to compact it as much as possible. The hat still seems rather "full," but as it is a little big on me, it is not too noticeable.
It was getting late by the time I had finished, so we found a room at the nearest inn which we could afford, then hurriedly wrote to Professor Eberhart so we could send the wire before the post office closed. It was difficult to invent something in code but not obviously a code, yet easy for him to understand without being easy for others to decode. In the end, it said something similar to this:
"Thank you for the gift Stop I buried it in the garden as per your instructions Stop Please send further directions by wire to room 308 at White Mare in Benson Stop Look forward to seeing you soon Stop Your friend Pause George"
The "gift" is my illumination, and burying it in the garden refers to my surname, of course. George is my father's name, which I hope will spark a memory for him. It is a common enough name that even if the message is intercepted, it will likely be thought merely a thank-you note for an apple tree or somesuch.
(One reassuring thing which I have just thought to mention is that to the best of Zebediah's knowledge, Belleclaire did not know my true surname or anything of my parents. The name given in his log book was "Bernice Greenwater," so any mention of a garden should go unnoticed. Belleclaire seemed to be merely following directions, and hadn't asked Bergstrom for details.)
I kept the brim of my hat pulled low over my eyes when I spoke to the innkeeper and the man at the post office, and tried to make my voice a little lower. I refrained from speaking any slang like a true street boy would, however, afraid I would mangle it and give myself away. I mumbled as much as possible, and while that made each of the men ask me to repeat myself several times, I think it made them angry at me so they would not consider how I looked. If anyone happens to ask and I cannot avoid answering, I am George Smithy, and I and my brother, Malcom, are on our way to Madison, as we heard there was work there. Though as I said, I shall try to avoid speaking to anyone as much as I can.
The wire has been sent and we are holed up in our room, now. We both ate so much at supper that we have stomach aches, but I have never been more thankful for a hurting gut. I am finally full, and WARM! Oh, how wonderful to be warm again! I wish I could put on my own comfortable clothes, but must stay in disguise in case the door must be answered for the delivery of a message.
After everything he has been through, I have refused to let Zebediah sleep on the floor tonight; he shall sleep in the bed and I shall take the chair, either leaning back against the wall, or laying my head on my folded arms across the top of the small table. I do not think I could stand to sleep on the floor after spending so many nights in a row on the rocky ground. For one instant, I thought of sharing the bed with him, as it is just big enough for two, but that would be highly inappropriate. Thinking back on our past intimacies, I have resolved not to let my heart get the better of me, for that way lies only pain. I am sure Zebediah and I must part soon enough, whether it is so I can help my country with my Gift, or he finds some other employment, or anything else. This cannot last, so there is no good longing for things that cannot be, no matter how it may hurt to admit that to myself.
Now we have only to wait for a reply from Professor Eberhart, and I do hope he can tell us somewhere safe to go or, better yet, that it is safe to return to the academy. I do not know if he has seen the posters yet, but with two "dangerous criminals" on the loose, I cannot imagine the schools in the area would not be notified.
Cannot keep awake to write another word, goodnight!