Meliana is cursed with brown eyes–the mark of ignorance–and restricted to manual labor. Her contact with the intelligent Blue-eyed is limited to disciplinary whippings–until Gregor.
When her sick mother cannot meet the production quota–a punishable offense–Meliana studies the machine that keeps track of their work and disables it. Gregor learns of her crime, sees cleverness, and offers to educate her in secret. Meliana doesn’t trust Gregor, whose motives are unknown, but she needs a better life.
After weeks of clandestine lessons, Gregor’s blue eyes still make her knees weak, but it’s no longer from fear. When Meliana reads her first word, she wonders if she’s the only intelligent Brown.
After unearthing evidence that her people’s exploitation was malicious, Meliana campaigns for a just world. By the time she realizes her actions have spawned a war, it’s too late. And she and Gregor are the epicenter.
Meliana strained her ears for Uncle Edwin’s stomp-and-drag walk, but she only heard the distant yelling of other farmers. She squeezed the worn handle of her scythe, trying to numb the pain of her broken blisters. Swing, cut, gather, repeat. The grains danced in the wind, taunting her, unfazed by her curved blade. They rustled with laughter each time their coarse spikelets cut her broken flesh.
Her neighboring farmer, Kellan, crossed into her assigned sector, his bony arms tense. Meliana gripped her scythe so tight her knuckles whitened.
“Ya stole my harvest,” Kellan said, approaching defensively as if she were a wild animal. “Thanks to you, I didn’t meet my quota yesterday.”
“I wouldn’t take your harvest if it sprouted legs and walked itself into my hand.” The last worker to scuffle with Kellan lost an arm for allegedly taking two bundles of bana wheat.
Kellan shambled closer, his bloodshot eyes shifty. “No one understands you or yer crazy mutterin’s. Yer mother hasn’t been in the fields. Ya must’ve stolen to make up her quota.”
“I didn’t steal! My uncle and I are covering for her.” Kellan didn’t need to know they were two days behind. One more and the envoy’s whip would crack.
Kellan raised his scythe, the field tool now the grim reaper’s weapon. Squashing the urge to fight for her sick mother’s sake, Meliana threw some harvest to Kellan. “Take that and go.” She jabbed her scythe out. “If you come back, I’ll show you crazy.”