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From A Light from the Ashes Chapter 11
Just east of Sophie’s farm, the sea crept ever closer, stealing perhaps an inch a year. Due to an almost imperceptible rise in elevation, there was a short strip of beach that remained exposed when the water was at low tide. It had not fallen beneath the encroaching waves that ate up the eastern shore like a starving man. On this beach Sophie walked in the late evening sunsets which hid behind the trees west of her farm, and on some days, she danced.
When Sam returned from Mrs. O’Dell’s, he found Sophie there. She danced recklessly along the beach with the wild abandon of a child, but not a child from this world. Rather a child from Before, her arms flung wide as if she’d only ever caught good things in them. A child not hampered by fear, war, and the oppressive need for survival above all else. A child who had never had to worry about food or cold. A child who had never had to raise a stick over her head for protection, beating senseless an attacker. A child who had never slept alone in the woods listening to the not so distant sound of gunfire, wondering just how long it would take for the soldiers to find her. This kind of child, free from care and worry, would float along as light as a cloud through a summer sky, changing shape before your eyes.
But Sam knew that Sophie had experienced all those things and worse and should have been barely mobile under the weight she’d had to carry her whole life. Yet here she was dancing across the beach, throwing off the worries of war and survival–a fairy, a nymph, wind in her hair caressing her in a way that made Sam jealous of the breeze. And in that moment, he saw her and knew her for all the things she was and could be. He saw her passing this freedom and lightness on to her future children. In that moment, he wanted to be a cloud-catcher and ride the sky with her, yet he felt privileged to have been in her presence even for just a moment.
She was one with all around her–the beach, the waves, the air, the taste of salt on his lips, and him. Deep in his bones he knew he’d never be free of her, never again have a moment when she wasn’t in his thoughts and his motivations. She was part of him, but not like Gemma was part of him because of their shared past and memories. She was the air in his lungs, the blood in his veins, and the food that gave him strength. She was all the colors of the sunset as he had once thought, but more. She was the music of morning robins and evening swallows and the trip of the stream down its path, but more still. Sam knew that even if he’d ever had the opportunity to be a writer in the time Before, the words would never have been enough to describe her and his pen would have fallen down in deference to her grace.
He did not move or utter a sound, not wanting to disturb the beautiful reverie. But merely returned to the little gray house to hold his revelation close.
From A Light from the Ashes Chapter 12
“I used to be married to a soldier in the Watch. Not like these blue coated soldiers now, the cowards that patrol, rounding up innocents and murdering them. I was captured in the First Revolution. When I escaped, I tried to head back to where I’d last seen my husband and our group. But the borders had already gone up, and I couldn’t find him or our children anywhere.”
“You must have been in prison for a long time.”
“Years,” Gran whispered.
“How did you get out?”
“They used to bring in young Corsair cadets to watch the prisoners. Thought it would harden them. Mostly, it did.” She looked out the window towards the rising sun as she told her story. “But this one little fella with strawberry blonde hair, he used to stand outside my cell, back to the bars, standing at attention and just talk to me. He’d been captured and forced into the army like most of them. But he seemed kinder than the rest. One day when no one was looking, he just opened the door and let me out. Didn’t say a word, but just stood there with the door open. Probably gotten himself shot by now.”
Sophie stepped closer to the old woman and put her hand on her shoulder.
“Anyway, when I got out, everything I’d fought for was gone, and everything I’d fought against was roaming free. All I could do was hide. Hide and survive. But what is that…survival?”
“I know what it is to be a survivor, the one who escaped, the one left behind. I know how it feels to be eaten away with senseless guilt that you’re the one still alive. It makes me want make up for those who should be here and aren’t, to do what they would have done if they had been left behind.”
Gran’s freckled and wrinkled face shone with understanding and more. She seemed grateful to be talking to another woman.
“Look, why don’t you come back with me?” Sophie offered. “At least it’s somewhat safer where I live than it is for you here.”
“No, not yet. Who knows what events that would set in motion?”
“What do you mean?”
“Come over here.” The elder woman reached out the broken window to grasp a few pieces of rock and brick. She tossed one of them into a bucket of water that stood below the window. “See those ripples? The rock has no say in where those ripples end up or what they touch. Every move we make, every choice is a rock in the pond.” She took several more rocks and threw them at once into the bucket, ripples intersecting everywhere in indiscernible places. “Something as major as jumping the border fence? Well, that’s a damn boulder in the pond. For now, for your safety and mine, I’ll stay where I am.”