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Mlady Roxanne nodded. “Right. We have a mine for iron oxide copper up on the bluff. The crims work there when we need them. The ruins aren’t much: some archaic concrete foundations. Once, the government put a branch of the department of revenue here to try to provide some jobs, and there was a famous fish farm for generations, but even that didn’t last.”

Gaia looked over at Norris, who was cutting slices of the ham.

“It doesn’t fit,” Gaia said. “Why is the Enclave so much more advanced? What happened to your electricity and technology?”

“That all takes money,” Norris said. “And planning.”

“It’s true,” Mlady Roxanne said. “Nothing here was planned. As the lake receded over decades, the people followed it farther in.” She gesticulated the tightening of a circle. “One night, a windstorm whipped through the area, killing many of the people and destroying their homes. The survivors banded together around a bonfire, seeking safety, and Sylum was born.”

Gaia could see how that made sense. “Like ‘asylum’? When did the number of women start to fall off?”

“A few generations ago it began to be noticeable.”

“Why didn’t the men just take over? Why don’t they now?”

Norris jabbed his cleaver in his cutting board with a bang. He headed out the back door and let it slam closed after him.

“What did I say?” Gaia asked.

Mlady Roxanne shook her head. “Norris doesn’t like to think about it. Now and then, the men grumble about changing things here, especially the expools like Norris, but they can’t.”

“I didn’t know he was an expool.”

Mlady Roxanne turned toward the window, and Gaia followed her gaze to where Norris was now heading out the gate. It changed something, knowing Norris had never even had a chance at being a father.

“He’ll be back,” Mlady Roxanne said. “He just has to cool down.”

“He’s upset that I didn’t help Erianthe, isn’t he?”

“No, that’s not it. He doesn’t blame you.” Mlady Roxanne smiled sadly, the gap just showing in her teeth. “I don’t want you to think the men aren’t happy here. Most of them are. My husband and I have a beautiful family, and we have many unmarried friends from both the pool and the expool who are happy here, too. We’re leading productive, meaningful lives. But Norris and some of the others, too—sometimes they wish things could change.”

“Why can’t they?”

Mlady Roxanne laughed and reached for her pile of books. “The cuzines like their power too much to give it up, for one thing. They, or I should say ‘we,’ also do a good job running things. People like order. Besides, the women are all trained archers, and we have a guard of two hundred loyal men, sons and husbands of the cuzines that we can call up any time. That’s above and beyond the outriders and prison guards and such who keep order on a day-to-day basis. Those men in the guard want to protect what’s theirs, believe me, and the best way to do that is to maintain the status quo.”

“Have the other men never revolted, then?” Gaia asked.

“They did. Once.” Mlady Roxanne idly turned around the top book in her pile. “There was a time just after Mlady Olivia became Matrarc when some of the unmarried men wanted to take over. They got the notion that the women should be shared. Can you imagine? The Matrarc brought every female together in the lodge, cuzines and libbies alike, and she positioned the loyal guard around us.”

“What happened then?”

“We waited,” Mlady Roxanne said. “It didn’t take long for the men with wives and families to realize they had to put down the rebellion. They killed the men who started it. The rest gave in, and life went back to normal, but they never forgot.”

Gaia looked back out the window, and Norris was coming back up the path of the garden, limping on his peg leg. There were so many things he’d never had a choice about.

“She won’t ever let me out, will she?” Gaia asked.

Mlady Roxanne squeezed Gaia’s shoulder gently on her way out of the room. “It isn’t easy to give up what you believe in, Mlass Gaia. It just matters what you believe in more.”

Weeks passed. A full moon came with another village potluck banquet and the traditional thirty-two games. When mothers were in labor, Gaia steeled herself for the Matrarc to come to her again, but she didn’t.

Then one night, when Gaia was spinning wool by the fire in the kitchen, Peony came softly in from the garden door.

“I hoped I’d find you here,” Peony said. Her face had gained a healthier color in the weeks since they’d spoken, but her eyes seemed even larger and her hair was back in a sober braid.

“How are you?” Gaia asked.

“I’m not supposed to talk to you. We don’t have much time.” Peony moved to the other doorway, where she could keep watch up the hall. “Have you talked to the Matrarc lately?”

Gaia peered across at her. “No. Your secret’s still safe.”

“My secret?” Peony frowned, turning to face Gaia. Her lips parted in an expression of surprise, then closed again firmly. “Mlass Gaia, I told her. Weeks ago.”

“What?” Gaia couldn’t believe it.

Peony wrapped her arms around herself. “I couldn’t stand to see what she was doing to you. None of it was your fault. So I told her.”

“I don’t understand,” Gaia said. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I thought you already knew I told. I thought you were just being stubborn.”

It boggled Gaia’s mind. “She’s known all this time? But you haven’t been sent to the libbies.”

“No. She worked out a deal with my mother,” Peony said. “They settled it together privately that I’ll marry Boughton Phineas two years from now, if I can behave myself until then. He’s old, nearly thirty, from a good family. He knows, but he’ll keep it quiet, and we’re supposed to spend time together so it looks like love. It’s possible no one will ever even suspect I buried the box.”

Gaia couldn’t wrap her head around it. “If she’s known this, if you’ve worked this all out—” She could hardly breathe. “Then why has she left me here all these weeks?”

“She must want you to tell her yourself.”

Gaia dropped her head back against the rocker.

“Just tell her already,” Peony said. “She already knows. Give this up.”

“I’ve been protecting you all this time. I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.”

“I thought you were holding out for other girls like me in the future,” Peony said. “Isn’t that true?”

“Yes, but then why are you saying this?” Gaia asked. “Do you wish you’d kept your baby? Do you think no one else should ever induce a miscarriage?”

Peony shook her head, her eyes gleaming. “I’m thankful for what you did for me. Believe me. But I think we need you out of the lodge. There’s so much else you can do for us, and you need your own freedom. You’re wasting away into nothing. When I asked for your help, I never guessed this would happen to you. I never dreamed you’d hold out so long.”

Gaia’s mind was whirling with the possibilities. “She sent you to say this, didn’t she?”

“No. She told me not to talk to you. I came myself. And I brought you something else, too.” Peony reached up her sleeve and extricated a folded bit of paper. She took another look out the doorway and then stepped near, holding it out.

Gaia felt a shiver before she even took it in her fingers. “Who’s it from?”

“I think you know. I thought you’d want to hear from him.”

“I’m not supposed to receive any messages,” Gaia whispered. “If you ever tell, if the Matrarc ever knows, it will be as if I’d stepped outside the lodge.” Sudden fear closed in around her. “Wait.” She couldn’t take it. She couldn’t read it. As if it scorched her, Gaia dropped the folded paper onto the table. “I can’t.”

“Are you crazy? Do you know the risks I took to bring that to you?” Peony said. “I had to find Malachai’s brother and get him to smuggle paper and ink in to Malachai, and then back out. Twice I had to try. It took forever.”

Gaia shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. I’ve stayed here weeks without going outside even one step just to prove to the Matrarc that she can’t control me.”

Peony looked utterly confused. “But she’s controlled you this whole time,” she argued.

“No. She hasn’t.” Gaia backed away from the table, her eyes still fixated on the little paper, knowing Leon had touched it, written on it. He had words just for her. She wrenched her gaze away. “You have to take it back.”

Peony laughed in astonishment. “You are totally and completely mixed up. Do you know that? She’s got you so confused that you don’t even know what matters anymore.” Peony marched forward, snatched up the note, and cast it in the fire where the paper hovered a moment and then burst into flames.

Gaia grabbed at the spinning wheel, watching the last, crinkling bit of Leon’s message turn to black ash. “Do you even know what it said?” she asked.

“I have no idea. It was in some code. I’m going,” Peony said quietly. “I thought you needed a friend.”

“I do.”

Peony’s expression turned even more serious. “Then listen to me. Get yourself out of the lodge. Quit holding on to some ideal that won’t ever fit here. Come back to life, Mlass Gaia.”

Gaia spent a black night wrestling with herself, and when morning finally came, she asked Norris to send a message up to the Matrarc.

“Why? What are you doing?” Norris said.

“Just do it, please. I need to speak to her.”

The Matrarc came a few hours later, just as the mlasses were finishing their lessons in the atrium. She came in the front door of the atrium, her belly noticeably larger than when Gaia had seen her last. Her red cane tapped softly along the floor, and Gaia left her books on the table to go join her.

“Mlady Matrarc,” Gaia said softly. She felt sick inside, despising herself, and the whittled stump of her defiance tried once again to assert itself. But she forced it down. She’d made her decision. She was a compromiser now. A survivor. A grown-up.

“Let’s go to your room to speak in private,” the Matrarc said.

Gaia could see the interested gazes of the other mlasses and Mlady Roxanne as she and the Matrarc passed through the atrium and down the hall. Gaia’s bedroom was quiet, the window closed, her things in tidy order.

The Matrarc closed the door. “You have something to tell me?”

Gaia swallowed hard. “It was Mlass Peony. I gave her a concoction of herbs to induce her miscarriage.”

The Matrarc’s face relaxed in relief. Gaia waited for her to say something victorious, but she merely smiled. “This is a wise decision,” the Matrarc said. “You won’t regret it.”

Gaia’s chest hurt with each breath she inhaled. “I’m sure you’re right.”

“I need your assurance it won’t happen again,” the Matrarc continued. “You can refer anyone to me if they come to ask you for any such assistance again.”

It took a moment for Gaia to grasp what she meant. “Instead of helping them, I’m supposed to turn them in.”

The Matrarc nodded. “Yes. Although, once the word gets around that you’re not safe to trust, my guess is no one will come to you.”

“What will you do with them?”

“I’ll be sure such a girl gets the support she needs until her baby can come to term. I’ll have you in to examine her, as needed.”

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