When lovelorn Lydia Swain prays to the angel she knows is up there, she doesn't know whether the angel will answer her prayer. He's not sure either, being just a little bit lazy and something of a sleepyhead. But when he's persuaded-by an angelic kick in the rear end-he finds himself involved not only in a love story, but a political imbroglio.
The adventure that follows moves from forests of towering jeefwood trees to the highest reaches of heaven. It includes shipwrecks, protest marches, greedy politicians, and art. Art? Yes. And courage, and possible ecological disaster. It includes ruminations about time and the heart and considers the nature of high ideals, angelhood, and humanity.
Sid Hite evokes the imaginary nation of Korasan with such vividness that we want to visit it, and introduces us to people and angels we wish we knew. The novel is generous and funny, philosophical and irreverent, and gives us cause for reflection, even as we race to find out what happens at the end.
|Publisher:||Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)|
|File size:||733 KB|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Sid Hite grew up in Bowling Green, Virginia, and now lives in Sag Harbor, New York. Answer My Prayer is his third novel.
Read an Excerpt
Answer My Prayer
By Sid Hite
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 1995 Sid Hite
All rights reserved.
Sixteen-year-old Lydia Swain could hardly contain her excitement as the horse-drawn wagon bumped and creaked along the old wooded lane. The day had finally come. Here she was — on her way to the regent's festival that took place each spring in the seaside village of Valerton. Visions of Saturday night waltzed wildly through her head. For the first time in her life she would be attending the annual Artisan Guild dance.
As the amber hand of twilight began to tickle the tree-tops, she whispered to herself, "In twenty-four hours I'll be getting dressed and ready to go."
Lydia sat alone in the back of the wagon, huddled under one of her mother's handmade quilts. Up front her father, Lloyd, held the reins loosely and whistled a folk song. He was practicing for the upcoming competition. Glenda Swain, Lydia's mother, rested her head upon Lloyd's strong shoulders and hummed softly.
Mixed with Lydia's excitement was a tinge of apprehension. She had grown up in the remote Jeefwood Forest that her father managed for the Artisan Guild, and as a result there was much she did not know about dances, dresses, or village life.
The Swains had departed from home at noon and spent the rest of the day traveling through the vast woodlands that separated them from the coast. Only in the last hour had they begun to pass by the occasional small farm. Lloyd had promised his wife and daughter that they would arrive in Valerton in time for a late supper with the Bells, the family of Glenda's sister, Ella. Yet after a delay with a wobbly wagon wheel, they were now hoping instead for a snack before bedtime.
The horses were going much too slow to suit Lydia. She was not concerned about supper; she was regretting the hours missed with her cousin, Antoinette Bell. Antoinette was a year younger than Lydia, yet she had spent her life in Valerton, and to Lydia that experience had bestowed an enviable sophistication upon her younger cousin. Lydia could hardly wait to see Antoinette and start asking questions about the dance.
Soon Lydia heard her mother calling, "Sweetheart, stand up and look before the sun sets."
Lydia did as her mother suggested and was promptly rewarded with a distant view of the Brillian Sea. It appeared to extend eastward from the coast in an infinite sheet of shimmering gold. Hugging the shore like an uneven splatter of pewter was the faint outline of Valerton. Lydia held it steadfastly in her sights until dusk prevailed over the vague gray shapes.
She trembled as she sat back down and wrapped the quilt around her shoulders. It was not the chill that had gotten to her; it was the wild waltz of her imagination.
"Another hour," she mumbled expectantly, "and Antoinette will be telling me things to remember."
Although Lydia Swain and Antoinette Bell were bound by blood and immense affection for one another, there was a pronounced physical contrast between them. Lydia was tall, with hair the color of autumn wheat, while her cousin was short, with ink-black tresses. Where Antoinette's eyes were loden green, Lydia's were a clear, baby blue. They did have similar mouths, but their cheeks, chins, noses, and foreheads were cast from radically different molds. Antoinette's face was roundish and soft, making her pretty at a glance, whereas Lydia had sharp, angular features that required a moment's study before revealing their beauty.
The truth was: Lydia did not know whether she was beautiful, or ordinary, or worse. Living deep in the woods as she did, her own attractiveness was a matter she rarely pondered. Glenda and Lloyd had explained to her that beauty existed on the inside, and since that seemed perfectly logical, she had taken them at their word. Yet rarely ponder does not mean never. Now, as the wagon bumped along the road to Valerton and Lydia projected ahead to the big dance, she fretted about whether she was pretty at all.
There is an old saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is a true saying, but beauty also lives in the heart of its holder. Indeed, the heart is where beauty thrives best of all. And this being the case, Lydia should not have harbored a single doubt — she should have known she was as pretty as a pretty girl can be.
The first foot of night was stepping onto land when three deer bounded into the lane behind the wagon and stared at Lydia. "Hello," she muttered. In polite reply, the shy creatures dipped their heads before turning and running in the direction from which the Swains had just come. Lydia watched their white tails bob away in the darkness, and as she did her thoughts continued along the old lane ... until finally she had returned in her mind to the modest cottage she called home. Promptly she began to worry about Walter and Weezie. Walter was her diminutive brown dog, and Weezie was her large long-necked goose. Weezie was a bit of a bully. Even when Lydia was there to referee, the old goose had a penchant for charging after Walter and pecking furiously at his retreating hindquarters.
After a few moments Lydia sighed and decided not to worry. After all, she reminded herself, Walter was wary and quick. He had long ago learned to keep one eye peeled for Weezie and one eye on the lookout for possible escape routes.
Soon Lydia's thoughts turned again to Valerton. Thanks to a natural channel in the sea, the village was the principal port in the small, mostly rural nation of Korasan. The country lay east of the Hunderian Mountains, south of the Tajiki Plains, and west of the Brillian Sea. In the center of the country was a broad plain of rich volcanic soil. Blessed by Korasan's moderate climate, this fertile plain was ideal for the farming of crops. As a result, the economy of this small nation was based primarily upon the production of fruits, grains, nuts, and vegetables. Due to the nearly impassable mountains in the west, the seemingly endless plains in the north, and the unpredictable sea to the east, Korasan has been practically cut off from the rest of the world since it was first settled during the Middle Ages of man. Except for the commercial junker-ships that sail into Valerton each autumn, or the rare appearance of a nomadic trading caravan on the edge of the Tajiki Plains, the country has continued to exist in relative isolation.
Although isolated, the country does not lack culture. In fact, as the world goes, it is a rather civilized place. The family unit is highly honored, the arts are widely respected, and violent crime occurs so infrequently that there are no statistics to measure its rise or fall. It is a land where honest work is still the key to success. As a rule, Korasanians are kind, industrious, and well-mannered.
Of course, there are always some exceptions to the rule.
Should the reader have heard of Korasan before, it is probably because of the jeefwood tree. This giant, slow-growing plant yields a remarkably beautiful, light, and durable wood that is the envy of craftsmen all over the planet. Over ninety percent of the world's known jeefwood forests are found in Korasan, and the nation is quite famous for the fine art and furniture it produces from this quality wood. In fact, this is Korasan's link to the outside world: If not for the country's export of jeefwood products, it is unlikely any junker-ships would risk sailing the treacherous Brillian Sea each autumn.
Lydia did not realize she had fallen asleep until she was awoken by the clopping of hooves on cobblestones. When her eyes blinked open, she was instantly elated by the welcoming lights of Valerton.
She threw off her quilt and stood. Finally — they had arrived. And oh, just look! There was a broad boulevard on her left where people were sitting in outdoor cafés. Young couples strolled hand in hand through the streets. A man peered into a decorated shop window while the woman at his side admired her reflection in the glass. An elderly fellow tipped his top hat at two old ladies attired in lace-trimmed frocks. An audience of squealing, rosy-cheeked children encircled a dancing monkey. A gang of teenagers clustered idly around a fountain.
Lydia stood slack-jawed in awe. Not only was the village bustling on this eve of the regent's festival, it was dressed for the event. Windows were framed in tinsel ... chimneys were draped with streamers ... doorways were adorned with wreaths. It was more than her hungry eyes could absorb.
Suddenly she heard her name. Looking up, she spotted Antoinette leaning from a third-floor window. "Lydia. My dear Lydia."
"Oooh! I was so sure you would never arrive."
"It did seem to take forever."
"Longer than forever," Antoinette countered with a shout. "I've been waiting that long, plus an hour."
"Hello, dear." Glenda Swain smiled upward. "Be careful you don't fall."
"Hi, Aunt Glenda. Hi, Uncle Lloyd. Hold your horses right there. I'm coming down."
"As you say," chuckled Lloyd.
"Nice to see she hasn't changed," Glenda noted with a grin.
* * *
Several blocks from where the Swains were being received on the front steps of the Bell residence, a young artist named Aldersan Hale stood alone in a drafty attic, contemplating his latest creation. The attic was located above a seed store that closed each evening at six (the hour when mice opened for business). It had low, slanted ceilings with shingle nails sticking through, floors that creaked, and countless cracks in the walls. A collection of sputtering oil lamps provided the only light. Still, it was an ideal studio for Aldersan. Rent was free, and except for the enterprising mice, it was a place where he could ponder and sculpt in reflective solitude.
From time to time, there are certain individuals who are so naturally skilled at a particular task that people say they were born with a gift. Aldersan Hale was one of these individuals. His gift was a special understanding of wood. Perhaps it was bred in the bone. His mother and father were both guild members, she a furniture designer, he a master builder. Yet their skills were learned, whereas Aldersan's talents were evident from childhood. When he was but a tot of five, he was already astounding friends and neighbors with the detailed figurines he whittled from the odd bits of jeefwood his parents brought home from work. By the age of seven, working only with a pocketknife and his imagination, he was carving birds that appeared ready to fly, horses that seemed ready to run, and realistic little people who looked like they might talk.
By the time Aldersan Hale reached adolescence, it was common knowledge that he had the soul of a great sculptor. At the age of seventeen he had matriculated beyond apprentice status and become a full-fledged member of the guild. And so by day he earned a living carving ornamental motifs into the headboards of Korasan's famed jeefwood beds, while at night he worked as an artist.
On this night before the festival, Aldersan was anguishing over the facial details of the griffin he had been carving since midwinter. Griffins are mythological creatures with the face, wings, and forelegs of an eagle, and the hindquarters and tail of a lion. They are thought to be diligent observers, and are traditionally employed as guards or chaperons. The sculpture was a large work, his first serious commission, and he wanted to be sure he got the expression just right. He knew the torso and the wings were correct, and he was rather proud of the movement he had given to the creature's strong tail, but the eagle face was giving him problems. The regent, Victor Bimm, who had offered Aldersan twenty gold talens to create the sculpture, had been specific about two things: "Have the griffin done in time for the festival, and be certain the thing appears dominant and fierce."
Aldersan — usually so clear and incisive about his art — was nearly undone by the griffin. Perhaps he was befuddled because dominant and fierce were characteristics of which he knew little, but more likely he was at a loss because he had never seen a griffin before. For whatever reason, he was anxious and uncertain about the sculpture, and no matter how long or hard he studied the mythical creature, he could not seem to locate its essential inner spirit.
He worked into the wee hours — sanding a feather here, filing a talon there — looking for the soul of the griffin. And as he worked, the village slept. Or rather, most of the village slept, the exceptions being Antoinette Bell and Lydia Swain. They lay side by side in Antoinette's top-floor bedroom, keeping whispered company with the night.
For many hours Antoinette attempted to tell Lydia what it felt like to kiss a boy on the lips. It was not an easy thing to describe. Regardless of what she said, some element seemed to be missing. (Much of her difficulty in expressing herself stemmed from the fact that she had kissed only one boy on the lips, once, very briefly, and only because they were standing in the dark and she had missed his cheek.) Still, she reached deep into her vocabulary and tried to convey the mystery of what she had felt.
Lydia was a patient listener. She did not care if Antoinette drew her words from the whole cloth of memory or the checkered fabric of her imagination. It was the feeling that interested the two cousins, not the anatomical details.
Eventually Antoinette began to wind down. "Oh, I guess you had to be there," she yawned, then added speculatively, "Who knows? Maybe tomorrow night you will find out for yourself."
"Who, me?" Lydia was startled by the concept.
"Sure," Antoinette whispered. "You might be dancing along with some boy, and then something might come over him ... and ... well, he might just try to kiss you."
A sudden inexplicable fear surged through Lydia. She could hardly fathom the prospect of dancing with a boy, much less the notion that one might try to kiss her. "Antoinette, please," she gushed. "There is a very good chance that no one will even ask me to dance."
Antoinette yawned again and rolled onto her side. "Someone will, I'm sure."
"I don't know who. Just someone. Night."
"Night," Lydia replied in kind. For the next several hours she lay with her eyes open, listening to the loud pounding of her heart, waiting for the big day to dawn.CHAPTER 2
Early the next morning, as the inhabitants of Valerton were rising to greet the day, a thick blanket of nimbostratus clouds dimmed the skies over the village. For several hours it appeared as if showers were imminent, but a few moments before the official launch of the festivities, a fair wind issued off the Brillian Sea and dispatched the clouds racing westward toward the Hunderian Mountains.
The regent's spring festival began traditionally with a parade through the streets of Valerton. As parades go, it was a humble affair, more of a public procession than anything else. It was led by the regent, Victor Bimm, who wore the ceremonial red-and-gold robes of his office. He was accompanied by Valerton's mayor, Louise Spate, and the president of the Artisan Guild, Stuart Carver. They were followed in close order by a dozen soldiers from the regent's personal troops. (It had been so long since there had been an armed conflict in Korasan, the soldiers were viewed as ornaments of ceremony rather than instruments of power.) Trailing the troops were a variety of civic leaders and minor government functionaries. Behind them marched a mellifluent chorus of schoolchildren.
The parade began outside the regent's hilltop residence, descended along Port Street to the seaside, proceeded past the warehouses and the shipping docks, and wound its way up to Guild Avenue and into Valerton's central square.
Waiting eagerly in the square for the arrival of the parade was an eclectic array of acrobats, clowns, dancers, fire eaters, fortune-tellers, food and craft vendors, jugglers, magicians, and strolling troubadours. There was also a tattooed contortionist, a midget ventriloquist, and an extremely skinny snake charmer. For approximately two hours — from the moment the crowd thronged into the square until the start of the popular whistling competition — these assorted entertainers and opportunists vied for the attention of the several thousand Korasanians, who gawked, shopped, and cheerfully commingled in the square.
* * *
Antoinette could see that Lydia was uncomfortable in the midst of so many people, so she took her by the hand and pressed forward through the eddying mass. "Come on. Let's get out of the middle here. I'll show you where the band will play tonight."
Excerpted from Answer My Prayer by Sid Hite. Copyright © 1995 Sid Hite. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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