As the lights dimmed, a woman and her husband sat beside her, but Corra barely noticed, she was so enthused by the stage before her. She sat up excitedly on the edge of her seat. She had been waiting so long for this and finally, at last, she was here! She could hardly believe it.
Goddora had hosted the traveling performance of The Feast of Our Ancestors before. Once, actually, when Corra was very young. Far too young to make it over here all by herself. But Corra had watched the recording of the famous play hundreds of times over. By now, she knew every name, every line, every action. But to be here now, seeing it live? It was like a dream come true. From the moment the narrator stepped onto the stage in the spotlight, all the way through the feast, the fights, the drama and up until the very end when the narrator returned and closed the story out, Corra was entranced. She didn’t look away, not even once, throughout the entire performance. The play was precisely two hours and fourteen minutes long, but the time swept by as though it were only minutes. It wasn’t until the actors were making their bows did she even realize it was over.
Oh, what a story she’d have to tell after her own feast later on.
Now that the actual performance had finished, however, the real work began. As the guests all stood from their seats and either made for the door or the stage to congratulate the performers, Corra scanned the set, though she didn’t need to. Of course, it was exactly where she knew it would be. In the final act, in a gesture of humility, the leaders of the Ark’s districts removed their crowns and placed them on the table before them. And there they remained, once the scene came to a close. Didasculus, the leader of the fifth district, the district of teachers, sat on the right side at the end. Corra had known this for years. She was well-prepared and she could see that glittering costume headpiece from where she sat. All she had to do was get there.
Mercifully, the rest of the audience was already milling about the stage, the performers amongst them. It would be easy for a small girl such as herself to slip into the crowd unnoticed. Summoning up all her courage, she abandoned her seat and crept down the stairs onto the stage, staying as close to tall guests as she could, just in case someone was looking and the bright lights now shining down revealed her. Fortunately, the crowd down here was large enough and she had a hard enough time navigating it herself. There was no way anyone could see her as she sidled up to the table and stood as close as she dared to the seat of Didasculus.
For a few moments, she daren’t move. She knew what she needed to do. She needed to just reach out and grab the crown and get out of here as quickly as she could, but the table was so much out in the open and the crown was such a noted piece, someone would surely see that it was gone. Of course, they couldn’t pin it on her. Could they? Her mind’s eye showed her Saviano, at the door. Oh god, what was she thinking? She couldn’t do this. But she had to.
Before she had the chance to chicken out, she took a deep breath, reached out and seized the crown off the table. Immediately, she hugged it close to her chest just as someone behind her asked harshly, “Can I help you?”
Corra’s heart stopped as she spun around to face the accuser. The woman who had played Didasculus herself, in all her beauty and fury, was staring down at her, from her face to the stolen object in her hand. She was clearly not happy. She opened her mouth to speak, but Corra quickly cut her off.
“Please, miss,” she begged. “Please, you don’t understand. I need this.” In her head, she could see how this all played out. The woman would alert the guards who would come to take her away only to realize who she was and it would all be over. Abandoning her duties, infiltrating a public event she didn’t belong at and now theft? Oh, she would never come back from this. This time, nothing could save her. Goddora really would send her away somewhere horrible. Somewhere she’d probably never see the light of day again. She’d be torn from her family, her friends, everything. Oh why did she do this? Why did she ever think she should come?
She was verging on tears as she continued, “Miss, please don’t tell anyone. Please. I’ll just put it back and go. Please don’t tell the guards.” Her voice was cracking under her desperation. “I promise, I’ll just put it back and I’ll leave and I won’t do anything else. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but please don’t turn me in.”
As she went on begging, however, she noticed that the woman was no longer looking at her face, but just to the left of it. At her ear. Horrified, Corra’s hand went to it. It was totally exposed. Her hair had fallen away and the crop was visible to anyone who had bothered to look. How long had it been like that? Who else had seen? As if pre-empting danger, Corra looked up to the top of the theater where she could see the woman who had been sitting next to her during the performance talking in hurried words to Saviano himself. Probably telling him about the damn kroppie seated next to her during the performance, Corra realized, horrified. Both were frowning and the man’s eyes were sharp as he swung them down to the stage, seeking her out.
Instinctively, Corra ducked even lower, hiding behind her nearest neighbor. Every organ in her body was writhing, furious at herself for getting into this mess. All for some stupid crown. God, how dumb was she? She’d never make it out of here now, not with the guards looking for her. This was the end, it had to be. She was unable to hold back the tears now.
But a hand came to her shoulder comfortingly and the actress smiled down at her softly. She glanced briefly up at where Corra’s eyes were fixed, the tall and angry shape of Saviano, and then back down at her. “Here, come with me,” she told her kindly, keeping her hand clutched onto Corra as she lead her away into the crowd and towards the back of the stage.
This could be a trap, Corra realized. This woman could be leading her straight into her doom. She could be taking her directly to the guards. She had to trust her though for she was her best bet at this point. Anything was better than risking Saviano getting hold of her. Besides, she seemed nice. Right?
Not that she had much of a choice anyway. The woman didn’t loosen her grip on her shoulder even slightly until they were well into the maze of backstage hallways and finally to a door which she opened onto the outside world and peered out of carefully.
“Can you make it out from here?” she asked as she finally let go. Make it out where? Corra wanted to ask. She answered on her own. “Can you get out?” Did she want her to run? To escape the compound? No, she couldn’t. She didn’t want to leave. She just wanted to go home and curl up in her bed and pretend this never happened and pray no one ever found out that it did. She didn’t want to run off into the streets of Kadolyne and risk…well…god only knew what. Goddora’s compound wasn’t ideal, especially, she knew, in the eyes of the free people. But she was happy here. Her family was here and all she wanted was to get back to them now.
But she could. This door lead her straight into the courtyard. From there, she could make a quick sprint into the west wing and then back through the barracks and to the kitchen where everyone would be finishing up the feast right about now. So without explaining, she just nodded slowly, fully aware that she was still on the edge of bawling from despair. But she could do it. She could get out. Saviano would never know it was her. Well, he could probably assume. But without proof? Goddora wouldn’t send her away without proof.
She was about to make for the door and run when she remembered the crown she still held in her hands like a talisman. Tentatively, she handed it back to the actress woman, but she shook her head. “Keep it,” she told her soothingly. “And good luck.”
Corra forced a hesitant smile before turning and darting out the door. It really wasn’t a long way back. She could make it to the kitchen well before anyone important noticed she was gone. She could serve the appetizers like she was supposed to and then she could settle in with the other allies to have their own humble feast in the common room. Everything would be fine. The tears in her eyes were starting to dry.
And she had the crown! She could hardly believe it. After all that, she actually had the crown of Didasculus in her hands. Iatta would be so happy. She deserved the best, that woman. She had taught Corra everything she knew. Even as one of the harder working allies in the compound, always running errands, doing chores and taking care of the others, she had made time to read to her and tell her stories and teach her history and math and writing. She owed Iatta everything, but Corra didn’t have anything. Except this. It wasn’t much. A costume crown from a traveling play, but a play that she herself had introduced Corra to long ago. It was her favorite. And Iatta was a far better teacher than Didasculus could ever be.
It may have been a cheap plastic crown, but Corra knew it was the perfect Concordia gift. She was going to love it. So feeling mighty proud of herself, she hurried back from her dangerous adventure to join her fellow allies for the rest of the holiday. And boy, what a story she’d have to tell later. Happy Concordia, indeed!