Promised Page 14

You’ll get my sister back when you release Gaia.

Leon Vlatir

Genevieve took the note back, clearly agitated. “What’s this new name?” she asked Gaia.

“Vlatir is his birth father outside the wall,” Gaia said.

“Not even ‘Grey’ is a good enough name for him anymore,” the Protectorat said. “That would break Fanny’s heart. Come, girl.” He motioned Gaia toward the door and Marquez opened it for them. “Let’s see how good you are at making nice for the camera.”

“I want a guarantee of water for my people,” Gaia said, as they hurried down the hall. “We can strike the deal live on camera. I’ll get my people to register their DNA, like the people of Wharfton did. In exchange, we need our own water pipeline so we’re not drawing off Wharfton’s supply.”

Gaia glanced back at Genevieve, who raced along behind them.

“Out of the question,” the Protectorat said.

“You know you’re going to have to do it,” Gaia said. “You can’t just let us die. Why not save face now? It’ll look like it was your idea, right from the start. Pure diplomacy.”

“No one will buy it, not after they know we had you in V cell,” the Protectorat said.

She thought rapidly. “I’ll tell only Leon about V cell. It won’t get around. I’d keep it quiet so we can appear to be allies. I’ll say I was visiting my scouts in the prison.”

The Protectorat let out a laugh. “Interesting possibility. You’ve learned a thing or two.”

They reached the top of the great double staircases that descended to the entryway of the Bastion, and Gaia could see the white-and-black tiles of the floor below as she quickly descended. Gardenias bloomed in large pots, releasing their fragrance to lightly tang the air, and through open French doors, she glimpsed the lush greenery of the solarium.

“Evelyn’s already gone out to welcome Leon,” Gaia said. “Build on that. People will be happy to see your family reunited, won’t they?”

The Protectorat regarded her shrewdly. “All right. If your people are lined up, ready to register their DNA in the quad tomorrow morning, I’ll see about the water.” He turned sharply to the butler. “Open the door, Wilson.”

“Is that a promise?” Gaia said.

Genevieve dabbed a tea napkin rapidly at Gaia’s face to clean her up, and with a clip taken from her own bright locks, she arranged Gaia’s hair over her wounded ear. Genevieve’s eyes were near and pleading as she gave Gaia a tremulous smile. Then the Protectorat guided Gaia outside.

“Do you promise?” Gaia repeated.

“Just get Evelyn back to us unharmed. Stand there,” the Protectorat said, guiding her to the front of the terrace. “Straighten your blouse. A smile, please.” Putting on an easy, welcoming expression, he pointed to the cameraman. “We’re going live. Now. Yes?”

“You’re on,” the cameraman said, and positioned the large, black lens of the camera in front of her and the Protectorat.

Genevieve hovered behind the cameraman, and though she wore a practiced smile, Gaia guessed she was high-strung underneath. Gaia didn’t want to be like her, faking it and nervous. This is who I am, she thought, and quietly straightened.

“In an unlikely turn of events,” the Protectorat began, “the girl many of you know as the scarred midwife from outside the wall, Gaia Stone, has become the leader of the refugees who are now setting up camp in the unlake. Welcome, Masister Stone. Did you say your people came from across the wasteland? You must have had a long journey.”

Gaia focused past the camera lens to the people in the square. Dozens had stopped to gather near and watch, and on instinct, she addressed herself to them as she would if they were her own people. She picked one stranger, a sober old man, and spoke first to him.

“We’ve been traveling nonstop for four weeks to start a new home here, just outside your walls,” she said. She filled her voice with unhurried confidence and warmth, and focused on more specific faces in the crowd, one by one. “We’re calling it ‘New Sylum,’ and any of you are welcome to come out and visit us anytime. Before I say one word more, I must thank the people of the Enclave for providing us with the water we’ll need. We couldn’t survive without you, and we are so grateful.”

The Protectorat smiled and nodded. “Of course, our plans are still developing, but I can say that we’re equally honored that you appreciate the importance of registering your people in the DNA directory. It should be quite the exciting morning in the Wharfton quad tomorrow.”

She extended her hand to the Protectorat with steady grace. “Will I see you there?”

He grasped her hand in both of his. “Of course. I wouldn’t miss it.”

A young woman’s voice called out from the people below the steps: “But I heard the midwife was arrested. What was that about?”

Gaia tried to see who asked the question, but no one stepped forward.

A muscle clenched in the Protectorat’s jaw, but he continued to smile. “As you can see, Masister Stone is perfectly fine. She was never arrested. She wanted to check on her two scouts as a top priority, and since they were being detained in the prison as a precaution, my guards escorted her there first. Her scouts have been released, of course.”

“Who’s going to pay for all that extra water?” called another voice. “Where’s it supposed to come from? Our purification plant is already at capacity.”

“I have a team working on it right now,” the Protectorat said. “There will be no water shortages here in the Enclave. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Masister Stone is needed outside the wall.” He pointedly offered Gaia his elbow. “Let me take you down.”

Gaia slid her fingers over the soft fabric of his sleeve, and this time, she aimed her gaze directly at the camera. “Masister Evelyn, if you’re watching, I hope to see you at the south gate,” Gaia said, and tried for a sisterly smile.

A receptive murmur circulated around the crowd, and then the people backed up to afford them room as Gaia descended the terrace steps with the Protectorat. She glanced back to see Genevieve greeting several of the elite who gathered to speak to her. The cameraman was panning the square. Gaia lengthened her stride to match the Protectorat’s.

“Well played,” he said, sotto voce. “Keep smiling.”

Give me some credit, she thought.

Evening had fallen. As they walked briskly down the cobblestone streets toward the south gate, people who had watched the coverage on television came to their balconies and doorways. The Protectorat kept up an easy patter about the Enclave’s vineyard and how his vintner was experimenting with certain grapes, but Gaia barely attended. She could feel the people watching her with new interest. Some of it was distrustful, but a few people even waved.

When Mace Jackson, in his baker’s apron, appeared with his daughter Yvonne at one corner, Gaia could barely contain her pleasure.

“Mace! Yvonne!” she called.

The little the girl smiled prettily. “Welcome back, Gaia!” Yvonne said. She began to step forward, but her father put a hand on her shoulder.

“Come visit us soon,” Mace said, and nodded respectfully at the Protectorat.

Gaia broke away to give Yvonne a quick embrace. “I’ll come as soon as I can,” she said. “Give my love to Pearl.” She squeezed Mace’s hand before she rejoined the Protectorat.

“You have fans,” the Protectorat observed, offering his elbow again.

“Friends. There’s a difference,” Gaia said.

“He had another daughter, I believe,” the Protectorat said. “One of the hemophiliacs.”

“You know that?” Gaia asked, surprised.

The Protectorat glanced down at her, his expression ironic. “You think I have no concern for my citizens?”

“I just didn’t realize you knew details about individual families.”

“What other kind of family is there?” he said.

Gaia frowned, thinking of how she’d made a point of getting to know as many of her own people as she could, family by family. She’d never guessed the Protectorat made a similar effort.

“Tell me something,” the Protectorat said, as they came within sight of the south gate. “How long did it take my son to find you?”

“A few weeks,” she said.

“So he’s been with you this whole time, more or less. Has he ever mentioned his sister Fiona?”

“Quite a few times,” Gaia said, newly alert.

“Are you aware of what he did to her? Has he ever had the guts to admit it?”

Gaia tried to pull her hand out of his arm, but the Protectorat caught her fingers.

“I pity you,” she said.

“Me? He molested his sister and drove her to kill herself,” the Protectorat said. “Nothing will ever change that. He should be branded with a warning label. Keep him away from your young girls.” He was still smiling for anyone who might be witnessing the conversation.

She shook her head. “You can’t honestly believe he ever deliberately hurt his sister, not if you know him. Search your own heart,” she said. “You’re the father who neglected to see what poor Fiona really needed. What gave her the idea to come on to her own brother? Didn’t you ever wonder about that?”

His grip tightened and his dark eyes flashed. “You have a perverted mind. No wonder he likes you.”

She pulled away hard. “You nearly ruined him for good, and I don’t mean just the torture in V cell. You should beg his forgiveness for all you’ve done to him,” Gaia said.

The Protectorat closed his eyes briefly and shook his head. When he looked at her again, his gaze was penetrating, attentive.

“Leon never asked you to say that,” he said.

“No,” she said. “But if you did apologize, maybe then you could start to forgive yourself for failing Fiona.”

“Think you’re deep, do you? Think you’ve got us all figured out?” the Protectorat asked. His voice lost its edge and grew softer. “Have you ever dreamed what it is to lose two children at the same moment? Come see what we’re really like, without the frills and Leon’s lies. Your future lies here inside the wall, with us.”

She took a step back, staring at him, while a creeping shiver ran up along her arms. Only one of the Protectorat’s children, Fiona, had physically died, but the Protectorat was implying that he suffered the loss of Leon at the same time. He grieved for his son, too. She shook her head, not able to process it fully.

He nodded, his smile grim. “Tell him his mother would like to see him.”

Chapter 9

peg’s tavern

GAIA LEFT THE PROTECTORAT and hurried through the massive gateway. Down the sloped road, she could see Evelyn approaching from Wharfton to exchange places with her. Leon waited with the Chardo brothers and a dozen others below, alongside a stone dwelling which served as a shelter from potential gunfire. One of the guards above audibly shifted his rifle along the parapet to adjust his aim. To Gaia’s left, along the rooftops, dozens of Wharfton men and New Sylum archers were similarly primed.

From a distance, Evelyn had a carefree air and a loose gait, as if she’d gone visiting for a picnic. Her white blouse had short, scalloped sleeves, and a graceful white wrap draped through her elbows. Her soft blond hair touched her shoulders in a tidy way, and her cheeks were bright with color. As she came nearer, however, and Gaia could see her refined, delicate visage, lines of strain bracketed Evelyn’s eyes and mouth.

The younger girl held out both her hands to clasp Gaia’s.

“How mad is my father?” Evelyn asked.

“He’s livid, but not at you,” Gaia said. “I can’t thank you enough for helping us.”

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