I arrived in the dining hall. As with all the buildings on the Underlings' part of the mountain, the conditions were cramped. I stood in line to receive my breakfast and, for a moment, let myself forget about the old man's gift in favour of old memories. I remembered when I was little, when my mother and father were my whole world. We tramped all through the mountains, and I never gave it a second thought that we never met with other people.
It wasn't until they died that I found out the truth: they had been exiled. Why, I did not know. No one had ever told me in the three years since they found me, deeming my parents' crime unspeakable. They told me I should feel grateful to return to the Underling lodge from which my parents came. It was much better than exile, they said.
What did they know of Underling lodges? They were the Rulers. They had never spent long nights in crowded dormitories, or eaten tasteless meals off of dirty tables, or worked at the various necessary tasks for hour upon hour every day.
I longed for the days of exile, my parents' supposed punishment.
But I couldn't dwell on this too long: the day's tasks lay ahead, and Rulers did not appreciate Underlings who did not do their work.
The day’s task was sifting through water and mud for the gold that often ran through the veins of the mountains. The task chafed against my parent’s lessons about respecting our mountain, but it was easy. I carefully shook the pans, only half looking for the gold flecks. My mind had returned to the matter of the old man’s gift. I surreptitiously pulled it out of my coat pocket. But I’d forgotten the Auriye’s song: the instant it touched the palm of my hand, I heard it. I jerked back reflexively, dropping the little scab. It fluttered through the air before settling into a young man’s pan. The man stared at it for a moment, prodding it cautiously. Then he looked up, searching for the scab’s source. He caught my eye before I could look away.
He mouthed a word that might have been, “What?” and went to hand it to me. His eyes widened, and he dropped it back into the pan. I held out my hand for him to return it, but he stood silently and left.
“What - ?” I began to say. “Where -?”
But he had gone.
I tried, for a few moments, to concentrate on my work, but it was no good. I stood up and went to look for him.