My father. The two words rung in Lori’s head as she saw a light growing brighter on the horizon. For some reason the thought of Andrew’s father arriving and discovering Andrew had been working with Lori and Marty during the harvest scared Lori. She had no idea what Andrew’s father would be like. If the boy’s story was true and pirates had kidnapped him and his brothers then would his father blame her?
She didn’t want to think about what might happen if the answer was yes.
‘What does he mean?’ Marty asked, taking Lori by the arm and turning her to face him. ‘How can his father be coming. He’s a Foster, he came from the Exchange.’
‘I tried to tell you Marty,’ Lori insisted. ‘I told you what Andrew told me, that he was stolen from his home.’
‘But they don’t steal children with families,’ Marty shouted, frustrated. ‘They only take the children who have no parents, who wouldn’t survive without the Exchange. It’s for their own good.’
‘Well clearly something has gone wrong. This boy needs to go back to his family.’
‘Don’t you understand?’ Marty exclaimed. ‘He belongs to the exchange now; he’s in the system. His father can’t just turn up and take him from us.’
‘So you’re saying we have to keep him?’ Lori said, shocked. ‘I’m not going to force Andrew to stay with us when he has a family out there. I can’ believe that you would even suggest keeping him away from his parents.’
Lori turned away from Marty, disgusted, and strode towards Andrew, who was still staring northwards, a look of excitement on his face. ‘Andrew?’ Lori signed. ‘Are you sure your dad is coming?’ She could see something approaching over the hill. The light growing bigger and flickering like a giant flame.
‘I know he is,’ Andrew replied. ‘I’m going home.’
Marty looked on as Lori communicated silently with the boy. He was already feeling edgy, knowing that if he returned to the Exchange with one boy less than when he’d left there would be serious trouble. He couldn’t allow Andrew to leave. He’d hoped he wouldn’t have to tell Lori about the Exchange, about the hundreds of Fosters that had been snatched from their parents and sold off as slaves. That’s what Fosters were, slaves that were passed around the country, given no choice but to work on the land they were assigned to.
In their house the children were treated with kindness because that was the sort of person Lori was, but there were many other places where Fosters were treated horrifically, beaten if they didn’t work and forced to sleep outside, even during the winter. They didn’t always survive.
But Marty didn’t want Lori to know this. He had hidden the dark secrets of the Exchange from her for years; he wasn’t going to change that now.
For the first time since he had been taken away from his family, Andrew felt happy. He would finally belong.
Our ship was accosted by pirates. They took me and my brothers. They sold us.
The pain of the memory of being stolen didn’t matter anymore. Andrew knew everything was going to be put right again.
His heart leapt as he saw a group of five figures appear over the crest of the hill, all carrying flaming torches. The tallest figure led the group.
‘That’s my dad,’ he signed to Lori and nodding to the tall figure.
‘He looks nice,’ she replied.
As Marty saw the figures approaching he panicked. He felt like he had no control of his actions and before he knew what he was doing his hand was clasped around Andrew’s arm and he turned to run, dragging the boy behind him.
‘What are you doing?’ Lori’s voice entered Marty’s consciousness, but he didn’t respond. The world was turning into a dark swirling fog and he couldn’t control what was happening. Marty felt disorientated, not knowing where his legs were leading him.
He staggered into the trees near to their home, dragging the struggling Andrew behind him. He stumbled, tripping over his own feet and sprawling across the ground, bringing Andrew down with him.
‘I can’t let you go,’ Marty said as Andrew struggled more violently and Marty had to pin the boy’s limbs to the ground. ‘I’m so sorry but I can’t let her know what I did. I can’t tell her that I knew you had parents still alive. She would have been devastated.’ But Andrew couldn’t hear his pleas and only struggled harder; terrified that his father would leave and never know he had been here.
Ice as far as you see. There are no trees, so we use the fat of sea animals to keep warm. Our ships sail on hulls of majestic rowan wood from the southern forests.
Thoughts of his country made Andrew struggle more. He wanted to get home, needed to see the glistening white of his homeland and feel the cold air on his skin. He couldn’t stand the oppressive heat here that always clung to him, suffocating him with its intensity.
Finally Andrew’s wild thrashing limbs made contact with Marty, making him cry out in pain as Andrew’s foot hit his attacker’s leg. Marty let go of one of Andrew’s hands for a split second, allowing the boy to roll away from Marty and stand up. He ran.
Meanwhile Lori gazed at the empty space where Marty and Andrew had disappeared out of sight.
‘Lori?’ A small voice asked tentatively. ‘Are you alright?’
‘Yes,’ she said automatically, trying to be reassuring when deep down she had no idea what to do. What would she say when Andrew’s father arrived? How would she tell him that his son was missing?