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He folded his arms across his chest. “You’re going to his trial to try to free him, aren’t you?”

“I have to.”

He considered a long moment, then spoke quietly. “I can’t help noticing that it’s him in trouble that makes you want to change things.”

Gaia felt her heart half break. She should have done it for Leon. She knew that now, but it had taken Leon coming back into her life, waking her out of her blindness, for her to see it. It was all twisted around. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But you do see, don’t you?”

“I suppose you can’t help it. You have to be noble.” He closed his eyes briefly, and then regarded her again without smiling. “What will you do for him?”

She let her gaze travel over the maps on the table, and ended up peering at the globe of the lamp and the glowing flame within.

“I’ll try to reason with the cuzines,” she said. “And if that doesn’t work, I’ll try to change the law.”

“And if that still doesn’t work, what then?”

Anxiety coursed through her. “I don’t know exactly. Something.”

“You won’t give up, will you?”

She shook her head. “I can’t have someone else punished unfairly because of me. Not again.”

He stepped nearer to her, beside the table, and reached for the loon feather peeking out of her grandmother’s sketchbook. “Aren’t you concerned that the Matrarc will exile you if you fight her?”

Her gaze froze on the feather. “Being exiled wouldn’t be a death sentence anymore,” she said. “We’ve found an antidote to the miasma, Peter and I.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I was so happy when I realized it,” she said. “That’s why I didn’t think when I was, when he, when we were—”

“I get the point. What did you discover?”

She ignored the heat in her cheeks and reached impulsively for the sketchbook. She pulled out the poem she’d deciphered and held it flat under the light. “It’s the black rice flower. Smoking it eases the withdrawal symptoms from the miasma addiction.”

“That’s not bad,” he said, impressed. “If the miasma is opiate-based as we thought, a lesser drug can take the edge off the worst withdrawal symptoms.”

“My grandmother came so close! Why didn’t she see it?” Her gaze caught on the most puzzling line again: “Obtuse not be smoke i,” and a new idea came to her. Perhaps it was a directive: “Obtuse not be. Smoke.” The i might go with the next line.

leave the miasma addicts and go

i have no proof none believe me

labor wasted on fools if

you read this my bonnie

obtuse not be smoke i

regret i ever left you or urged

relocating to a better

ideal place none exists go back to

cruel unlake for gaias sake

else we all die

She leaned over the table, peering more closely at the poem. And then she saw the other clue, the hidden one, right in plain sight.

It was coming down the poem acrostically, the first letters of each line: lily or rice. Gaia was stupefied. A shiver ran through her, lifting the hairs on the back of her arms, and her eyes rounded. “Unbelievable.”

“What do you see?” he asked.

She ran her finger slowly down the poem. “It’s here,” she said. “Lily or rice. She actually knew. She’d narrowed it down to two possible cures. She wrote them here so my parents would know. Only my parents.” She told him briefly about Norris’s account of her grandmother’s death. Then the truth came clear to her. “She chose the wrong one. She smoked the lily-poppy instead, thinking it would save her, and it killed her.”

He set the feather gently beside her fingers. “Are you sure?”

“It’s all I can think. But now we can leave. We just have to tinker with the right dosage.”

“Do you realize what you’re saying?” he said, turning to face her. “Would you seriously leave Sylum and go back to the wasteland? Or the Enclave?”

A chill passed through her, and she looked up to meet his gaze. “We might all have to go,” she said.

Dawn, with its gray light, was working through the window when Gaia woke to find Josephine nudging her shoulder. “The Matrarc’s here for you,” she said softly.

Gaia blinked heavily and rolled up. Aside from staying up late with Leon, she’d been awake with Maya crying in the night, and when she had returned to bed, she’d found it nearly impossible to sleep, anxious as she was about Peter.

Josephine gave her a quick hug when she was ready. “Good luck.”

Gaia wanted to see Leon before she left, but his bedroom door was closed.

She tiptoed nearer and tested the latch, listening. The door opened noiselessly. On a narrow table, a shaving brush and a dish with a nugget of soap lay beside a straight razor that gleamed in the gray light. His pants were folded over the back of a chair, and his shirt was on a hanger propped on the edge of the open window. She peeked around farther to his bed, where he lay on his stomach in deep slumber, his mouth agape, his dark wool blankets in a tangle. One pale-arched foot hung off the mattress.

She instinctively looked for the birthmarked tattoo on his ankle, but the angle was wrong. Even without finding it, she realized she was looking for Orion. An elusive sadness and comfort, both, sifted through her as she remembered her parents. Leon would always be a bind to them, to home.

She could hear his quiet breathing, and with protective tenderness, she couldn’t wake him just to say goodbye. She backed up and softly closed the door.

She checked her satchel to bring her supplies with her as she habitually did, and paused to wind her locket watch, twisting the tiny peg back and forth. The ticking was loud in the silence. A tingle of nervousness ran through her as she thought of what lay ahead, and on instinct, she looped the necklace over her head again. Then she grabbed her cloak and stepped outside.

A carriage waited at the door, its shape sharp and black in the cool gray light. The Matrarc’s belly was so large that her cloak couldn’t cover it, and she’d tucked a dark blanket around herself. Her husband spun down from beside her as Gaia descended the step.

“Good morning, Mlass.” Dominic handed her up. “Can you drive?” he asked.

“You’re not coming with us?” Gaia asked.

“I’m staying with the children. It’s Jerry’s birthday, so hopefully the tribunal won’t last too long. Here, take these,” he said, passing her the reins. “The horse knows the way. Come back to us soon, Olivia.”

“I will,” the Matrarc said.

Gaia gripped the little metal armrest while she wedged her feet against the dash, and then she lifted the cool leather of the reins in her two hands. She looked doubtfully ahead at the horse’s ears.

“Ha!” Dominic said, giving the horse a slap on the rear to get them going.

Gaia lurched back, and then forward again.

“Loosen up a little,” the Matrarc said. “Even I can tell you’ve got him too tight.”

Gaia complied, and the horse headed into the morning mist. Down below, the marsh was lost in a soft layer of fog that drifted up into the valley, and far out, the Bachsdatters’ island lifted out like a distant ruin. Gaia shivered. Now that she knew the miasma was addictive, it was like watching an insidious poison blanket the village.

“How’s Peter?” Gaia asked.

“He’s fine. How are you is the question.”

“I’m perfectly fine, of course,” Gaia said. “This whole thing is really unnecessary. Can’t you just let him go?”

The Matrarc put her hand on the dashboard as they rattled over a rough spot in the road and started down the bluff.

“You’ll have to trust the cuzines to come to a fair decision,” the Matrarc said. “It’s not within my power to release him without a tribunal, thankfully. I wouldn’t care to have that responsibility on my hands.”

“But they’ll listen to you, won’t they?”

“You have it backward. I listen to them. They decide.”

Gaia steered the horse around the bend, and the road flattened out again.

“Mx. Josephine said the cuzines voted my grandmother out because she was crazy,” Gaia said. “She said my grandmother waded in the marsh at night and tried to kick the expools out of Sylum. Is any of that true?”

The Matrarc laughed. “Your grandmother liked the bioluminescence, but she was far from crazy. And she resigned. Were you able to decipher her letter?”

“You knew about that?”

The Matrarc nodded. “Dominic reminded me of it. I used to wonder if it was a suicide note.”

“It was a bitter, angry note saying she’d wasted her efforts on fools,” Gaia said. “She urged my parents to go back to the Enclave.”

“That fits,” the Matrarc said. “It’s strange to think now that the girl shortage she predicted came true even faster than she expected.”

“Then isn’t it time to do something about it?”

“Like what? I know what Chardo Will found, and there’s no cure for that,” the Matrarc said. “Your grandmother urged the expools to experiment with leaving, and many of them died. No. Hope is a kind of curse, Mlass Gaia, just as destructive as despair.”

“So Sylum is better off without hope? You’ve actively discouraged curiosity.”

“I didn’t have to discourage it,” the Matrarc said. “It’s much easier for people to be grateful. Think about it, my dear. In many ways, it’s a paradise here, a simple, beautiful life of abundance. Once people accept that and focus on their own lives and their own families, they’re happy.”

As they passed the Chardos’ place, she glanced over her left shoulder and saw the cabin windows were dark. The Matrarc sat back again and smoothed the blanket over her lap.

“Your own children could be the last generation here if no more girls are born,” Gaia said. “Mx. Josephine’s baby Junie could be the very last girl. Doesn’t that terrify you?”

“Terrify? No. I’ll grant that we’ve reached a critical time. It’s my hope that we’ll stay civilized for as long as possible, right up to the end.”

It sounded awful to Gaia. A death sentence for the entire community. “Is that really better than trying to leave?”

The Matrarc laughed. “Where to? That nihilistic, abusive place you come from? Even if we could, why should we give up our peaceful ways to go there and be destroyed? No. There’s no disgrace in dying here, and that’s what we want to do, without being frustrated by false hope.”

“Are you sure?” Gaia asked.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Are you sure your civilized death in paradise is what the majority wants?”

The Matrarc’s eyebrows drew together as she turned toward Gaia. “Tell me something,” the Matrarc said in her melodious alto. “Are you aware of a way we can leave Sylum? Be truthful with me now.”

Gaia let the horse pull the carriage a dozen more paces while she tried to decide how to reply. The Matrarc would see through any lie, but the more she thought of it, the more reluctant she was to hand over her discovery about the rice flower.

“I was going to tell you, but now Peter’s on trial,” Gaia said.

“At least you aren’t lying to me outright yet. That you’ve found a way to leave is quite amazing, actually,” the Matrarc said. “You could cull out all the healthy, strong, young people and leave the rest of us here to die off more quickly. The young families will be thrilled.”

“That’s not the idea,” Gaia said, appalled.

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