The Storyteller
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The Storyteller

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About the Author

Jodi Picoult received an AB in creative writing from Princeton and a master’s degree in education from Harvard. The recipient of the 2003 New England Book Award for her entire body of work, she is the author of twenty-six novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers House Rules, Handle With Care, Change of Heart, and My Sister’s Keeper, for which she received the American Library Association’s Margaret Alexander Edwards Award. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children. Visit her website at JodiPicoult.com.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Storyteller
Damian held his hand high, as his soldiers laughed behind him. I tried to leap to reach the coins, but I couldn’t, and stumbled. Although it was only October, there was a hint of winter in the air, and my hands were numb with the cold. Damian’s arm snaked around me, a vise, pressing me along the length of his body. I could feel the silver buttons of his uniform cutting into my skin. “Let me go,” I said through my teeth.

“Now, now,” he said, grinning. “Is that any way to speak to a paying customer?” It was the last baguette. Once I got his money, I could go back home to my father.

I looked around at the other merchants. Old Sal was stirring the dregs of herring left in her barrel; Farouk was folding his silks, studiously avoiding the confrontation. They knew better than to make an enemy of the captain of the guard.

“Where are your manners, Ania?” Damian chided.

“Please!”

He tossed a glance at his soldiers. “It sounds good when she begs for me, doesn’t it?”

Other girls rhapsodized about his striking silver eyes, about whether his hair was as black as night or as black as the wing of a raven, about a smile so full of sorcery it could rob you of your thoughts and speech, but I did not see the attraction. Damian might have been one of the most eligible men in the village, but he reminded me of the pumpkins left too long on the porch after All Hallows’ Eve—lovely to look at, until you touched one and realized it was rotten to the core.

Unfortunately, Damian liked a challenge. And since I was the only woman between ten years and a hundred who wasn’t swayed by his charm, he had targeted me.

He brought down his hand, the one holding the coins, and curled it around my throat. I could feel the silver pressing into the pulse at my neck. He pinned me against the scrubwood of the vegetable seller’s cart, as if he wanted to remind me how easy it would be to kill me, how much stronger he was. But then he leaned forward. Marry me, he whispered, and you’ll never have to worry about taxes again. Still gripping me by the throat, he kissed me.

I bit his lip so hard that he bled. As soon as he let go of me, I grabbed the empty basket I used to carry bread back and forth to the market, and I started to run.

I would not tell my father, I decided. He had enough to worry about.

The further I got into the woods, the more I could smell the peat burning in the fireplace of our cottage. In moments, I would be back home, and my father would hand me the special roll that he had baked for me. I would sit at the counter and tell him about the characters in the village: the mother who became frantic when her twins hid beneath Farouk’s bolts of silk; Fat Teddy, who insisted on sampling the cheese at each market stall, filled his belly in the process, and never bought a single item. I would tell him about the man I had never seen before, who had come to the market with a teenage boy who looked to be his brother. But the boy was feebleminded; he wore a leather helmet that covered his nose and mouth, leaving only holes for breathing, and a leather cuff around his wrist, so that his older brother could keep him close by holding tight to a leash. The man strode past my bread stand and the vegetable seller and the other sundries, intent on reaching the meat stall, where he asked for a rack of ribs. When he did not have enough coins to pay, he shrugged out of his woolen coat. Take this, he said. It’s all I have. As he shivered back across the square, his brother grabbed for the wrapped parcel of meat. You can have it soon, he promised, and then I lost sight of him.

My father would make up a story for them: They jumped off a circus train and wound up here. They were assassins, scoping out Baruch Beiler’s mansion. I would laugh and eat my roll, warming myself in front of the fire while my father mixed the next batch of dough.

There was a stream that separated the cottage from the house, and my father had placed a wide plank across it so that we could get from one side to the other. But today, when I reached it, I bent to drink, to wash away the bitter taste of Damian that was still on my lips.

The water ran red.

I set down the basket I was carrying and followed the bank upstream, my boots sinking into the spongy marsh. And then I saw it.

The man was lying on his back, the bottom half of his body submerged in the water. His throat and his chest had been torn open. His veins were tributaries, his arteries mapped a place I never wanted to go. I started to scream.

There was blood, so much blood that it painted his face and stained his hair.

There was blood, so much blood that several moments passed before I recognized my father.

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