A Message from the Museum
Excerpted from City of Lies by Lian Tanner Copyright © 2011 by Lian Tanner. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
The scream woke Goldie Roth from a deep sleep. She sat bolt upright, thinking for a moment that she was back in the terrible events of six months ago, with the city of Jewel on the brink of invasion and her friend Toadspit about to be murdered in front of her eyes.
Then she heard Ma’s quiet voice in the next room, and she knew that Pa had had another nightmare. She slipped out of bed, threw a dressing gown over her shoulders and hurried into her parents’ room. “Pa?” she said. “Are you all right?”
Pa smiled weakly up at her from a knot of bedclothes. “Sorry to wake you, sweeting,” he mumbled.
“Your father had a bad dream,” said Ma. “But it’s gone now.” And she too smiled, though her knuckles were white and her fingers trembled.
It pierced Goldie to the heart to see them trying to pretend that nothing was wrong. She unknotted the bedclothes and tucked them around Pa’s shoulders, wishing there were something more she could do.
“Were you dreaming about the House of Repentance again?” she said.
Pa flinched. He and Ma glanced at each other, and a world of pain and sorrow passed between them.
It was a little more than ten months since the two of them had been thrown into the dungeons of the House of Repentance. They had never told Goldie what had happened to them there, but she could see the scars that were left behind.
Pa had dreadful nightmares. Ma had a cough that sounded as if it would tear her lungs out. They were both too thin, and even now, long after their release, they had an exhausted look about them, as if something was gnawing at them from the inside.
Goldie wished that they would talk to her about it. But they never did. Instead, they sighed and changed the subject.
“A--a message came for you today, sweeting,” said Pa, struggling to sit up. “Where did I put it? It was from the Museum of Dunt.”
This time it was Goldie who flinched, although she hid it so well that her father didn’t notice. Memories flooded through her. Toadspit--his whole body plastered in mud--turned toward her and laughed. A warm canine tongue swept across her face, and a deep voice rumbled, “You are as brave as a brizzlehound--”
With an effort, she dragged herself back to the present. Pa was fumbling for a scrap of paper that lay on the table beside the bed. “Here it is.” His forehead creased. “It’s from Herro Dan and Olga Ciavolga. It seems that they want you to be the museum’s Fifth Keeper!”
Fifth Keeper of the Museum of Dunt . . . The familiar longing welled up inside Goldie so suddenly and so strongly that she could hardly breathe.
She said nothing, but Pa must have seen some echo of it on her face. “Do you--do you want to be Fifth Keeper, sweeting? Because--”
“Because if you do,” interrupted Ma, “we wouldn’t stop you.”
“We wouldn’t dream of stopping you!”
“It’s just that it’s such a big responsibility,” said Pa. “We’re worried that it might be too much for you.”
“And--” Ma gripped Goldie’s hand. “And you’d have to be away from home such a lot.” She began to cough.
Goldie patted her gently on the back and tried not to think about the Museum of Dunt, and how much--how very much--she wanted to be Fifth Keeper.
“Of course,” said Pa, chewing his lip, “it’s possible that Herro Dan and Olga Ciavolga really need your help. If they do--”
“If they need you, then you mustn’t hesitate,” said Ma. She tried to let go of Goldie’s hand but didn’t quite manage. “Your father and I talked about this earlier.”
“We did,” said Pa. “And we both agreed. If they need you, you must go!”
Goldie could hardly bear it. They were doing their best to be fair, but she could see how much they hated the thought of her being away from home for even a little while.
And so she forced every scrap of longing out of her voice and said, “They don’t really need me. They’ve got Sinew and Toadspit to help them.”
Pa frowned, wanting to believe her. “Are you sure?”
“You’re not staying home because of us, are you?” said Ma, still clutching her hand. “You mustn’t do that. We want you to be happy.”
A warm canine tongue swept across her face--
Goldie smiled. “I am happy,” she said. And because she was a trained liar, she sounded as if she meant it.
From the Hardcover edition.