Meril stared at the book. It was extremely thin, more of a pamphlet, really. She hesitated, then flipped it open. At least it was a change from studying.
Elise was the child of a soldier and a weaver, and would therefore have the choice of either career. Her father hoped she’d choose to be a weaver like him, and stay close to home in safety. Her mother had no opinion on that or any other matter, having died in battle when Elise was only four years old.
“At least she got a choice,” Meril muttered sulkily. Inkwarriors always married within their community.
Despite her father’s best efforts, however, Elise had no interest in weaving. Even as a very young child, her only interest was making people laugh. And she was good at it. Her original repertoire was silly jokes that were mainly funny due to her age and the way in which she told them, but as she got older she developed into a true comic.
At this point, her father realised that they had a problem. Somehow Elise was convinced that she was going to be an entertainer. He spent many days and nights trying to convince her that she could be either a weaver or a soldier, but never a performer. Elise refused to budge. She pointed out that she had neither aptitude nor interest in either career, and that she was a talented comedian and it would be a waste of her skills to take up any other calling.
“Besides, it’s a bit late now, isn’t it?” Elise argued. “I’m too old to start learning those skills.”
Her father sighed. “It’s my fault. I should have insisted you choose one or the other years ago, I know, but you were so happy. And you’re all I’ve got since your mother died. I just wanted you to be happy. But now I just want you to live.”
Elise laughed. “Who’ll know?”
“Everyone,” her father said. “Soon you’ll have to register your choice and start working.”
“Why can’t I just register as an entertainer?”
“Because they’ll kill you!” Her father stopped, took a deep breath and tried to speak more calmly. “It’s forbidden.”
“But when they see how good I am,” Elise began.
“Nobody will see how good you are if you’re dead!”
Elise rolled her eyes and laughed. “When was the last time that happened? It’s just a threat they make to keep us in line.”
“It’s not a threat, Elise.”
“Have you ever seen it happen?”
“Exactly! I’m going to do what I want, and I don’t care if they disapprove.”
Elise ran off, confident that her father was being overprotective once again. Her father was equally confident that he was not, but could think of no action he could take. Even if he had known who to bribe, he had no money, and he doubted anyone important could be bribed with the poorly-woven blankets that were his main output. He decided to focus his energy on convincing Elise to change her mind.
When the census takers came to the village for the triennial registration, he begged Elise to lie and say she was a weaver. Elise refused, laughing off his protests.
“As if they’ll care,” she said. “They just want something to put on their forms.”
And off she went to the town hall.
Her father followed her, waiting outside the town hall while she registered, for registration was considered a private affair, even though it was a foregone conclusion in virtually all cases. He waited for a long time. All the other young people had gone in, registered and left, but there was no sign of Elise. At last, when night was starting to fall, he gathered his courage and entered the hall.
An official was seated at a table, writing. Servants were tidying the room, and a couple of large men who were clearly bodyguards lurked at the side of the hall.
“I’m looking for my daughter, Elise,” he told the official.
Meril sighed. “So she’s dead, right?”
“Executed,” the official replied.
“But… But…. Didn’t you let her explain?”
“You know the law. So did she, even if she thought she could flout it. Why waste time with a trial when she’s clearly guilty?”
Elise’s father stared at him.
“Where’s her body?”
The official gestured, and a servant brought a small box over and handed it to Elise’s father.
Elise’s father opened the box. It was full of ash.
“Due to the nature of her crime,” the official continued, “she cannot be buried on holy ground.”
“What did you do to her?” Elise’s father screamed.
The bodyguards grabbed him and began to drag him from the room. The official stared coldly at him.
“I merely carried out the sentence prescribed by law. It was your responsibility to teach your daughter the law and ensure she followed it.”
Elise’s father sobbed as he was removed from the hall. He knew the official was right, that he had failed his child, that the true crime was his.
Meril rolled her eyes. “Oh please! What blatant propaganda. Like anyone would be convinced by that.”
She tossed the pamphlet on the desk, and picked up her slate and chalk. Maybe she should at least practice her glyphs.