Toliver could hardly believe how much his life had changed in the last three plus weeks. He still lived in the same Domi® as before and left the hall every night after dinner. He still used these solitary nights to practice his carving. Now, he had good reason and a target for all of his efforts. His days couldn’t have been more different. Though he still reported to Joad, he saw him only once or twice a day. That was definitely for the best. Though Toliver worked at being compliant and non-threatening, that proved to be more difficult every day. Joad made no attempted to be even basically civil and the harder Toliver worked at being less challenging, the more aggressive Joad became.
Fortunately, once he reached the hall for the morning, he could forget all that. On the first morning, Sawyer had been waiting for him. Sawyer explained that he wanted to strip all the beams and columns to bare wood in preparation for Toliver to carve them and to add some additional ornamentation. Toliver had been ready for the work and up to the task. He knew his slavant status hadn’t changed, but he felt as if he did real work, accomplished work that added something beautiful for those around him. It was a small victory, but a victory none-the-less. Sawyer said he could pick two people to help him with the work. He choice Wil and Val, the woman who had chided him the first morning about not screwing up in the lumber yard. Wil had been brave enough to set him straight about how things worked at his level in the pecking order. He had no reason to think they would prove any good with sandpaper or anything else they might use. He admitted to himself that he had chosen Val for two reasons. First, he hoped choosing her would remove a possible enemy, and second, because he knew it would tweak Joad’s nose. Not wise, he knew. He just couldn’t help himself.
Sawyer led him through the nearest door beside the stage and into a long hallway. Toliver discovered that doors lined both sides of the space. The middle door, backing up to the stage, stood open with soft light spilling out. He didn’t know what might have been stored there before, but now it contained one long table against the far wall. On the table, neatly arranged sandpaper had been stacked in a row at the back edge, ordered by grade. A large tablet leaned against the left side of the table with a small box on the floor in front of it. Sawyer told him to write a list of what he might need and to leave it on the table at the end of each night. He promised Toliver his chosen helpers would reach him shortly after the noon meal. Then he left, leaving Toliver to reconnoiter and organize his task ahead.
Toliver started by moving all of the stacks off sandpaper forward, about four inches from the wall. He picked up the box off the floor and placed it on the table. Next came the tablet. He flipped the cover back behind it and leaned it against the wall. The pages appeared rough, but serviceable. Though he knew it would change soon enough, for now, the stacks of sandpaper served to keep the bottom of the tablet from sliding forward. Finally, he opened the box to find unbroken pieces of soft and compressed charcoal. Satisfied, he closed the door as he left the room. It occurred to him to wonder how he knew anything about charcoal or, sandpaper for that matter. He wanted to survey the hall in daylight. As he headed that way, Janeannie stepped out of a doorway at the near end of the hallway. Toliver wondered if this were coincident. Perhaps, he thought, though Janeannie waited for him to join her.
“Thank you,” he said as he reached her, “for helping me. Not just with the carvings, but with whatever you worked out with Jacobi.”
He spoke softly. When Janeannie answered him, her voice was little more than a whisper.
“You’re welcome. You need to be aware you’ve made a strong enemy.”
“Joad? We started out enemies.”
“Not Joad,” she whispered, “Jacobi.”
“Then why did he help me, help you at least?”
“He’s my cousin. Family is always first with us, but he values his status and the freedom it allows him. If he’d lost his position over this, he would have come after you with murder in his eyes.” Toliver’s eyes opened wide.
“Then, thank you again,” Toliver allowed. “What you did proved far more dangerous than I imaged. I don’t know if there’s anything I can do to make it up to Jacobi. I’m willing to try.”
“I’ll tell him, she said, “I don’t expect much, but I’ll tell him.”
With that, she slipped quietly back through the door she’d come out of. Toliver stood a long moment in thought, then shook his head and went into the hall.