Promised Page 16

“No, let me say it. It’s a miracle to have you back in my life,” Derek said. “Ingrid nearly took my head off when she found out you’d come outside the wall and I didn’t tell her. She didn’t used to approve of my, shall we say, underwall activities, but she’s fully on board now.”

“Did you ever realize that Leon was your son?” Gaia asked. “I mean, that your advanced son had been adopted by the Protectorat?”

“Yes. Sure. Mary always knew,” Derek said, feeding the baby more yogurt. “She was positive the first time she saw you on one of those Tvaltar specials,” he said to Leon. “It took me a little longer to believe it. We were lucky. We were able to follow your progress and see how smart and happy you were. For a while there, at least.” He held the spoon over the cup. “Why’d they stop those specials?”

Under the table, Leon released Gaia’s hand and he shrugged. “We got busier, I suppose. Teenagers aren’t as cute as toddlers.”

“We called you ‘Liam’ when you were a baby,” Derek said. “Remember?”

Leon laughed. “No. I was pretty little. Maybe I didn’t notice the difference.”

Ingrid brought over two fists full of tankards and plunked them down on the table before hurrying back to the bar. Bill and another miner had joined a pool game with some locals. The noise of talking voices was loud in the low-ceilinged tavern, but underneath the buzz, Gaia heard the first notes of the piano. It was a folksy, cheerful tune, not loud, and the volume of the hard voices diminished several notches as if the tavern’s patrons subconsciously wanted to listen. Will was leaning near the piano, a relaxed angle to his shoulders, and the musician was talking, smiling up at him while she played. She wore a black ribbon through her dark curls, and her dusky cheeks gleamed in the candlelight.

Wait, Gaia thought. She shifted, searching out others from New Sylum. Dinah had vanished in the crowd, and Peter was surrounded by three young women who were talking and laughing in lively animation. When one of them casually put her hand on his sleeve, he practically jumped. The girl went on talking, clearly unaware of the effect of her gesture, while Peter’s cheek turned ruddy with color. The Chardo brothers are meeting women! she thought. It was exactly what was supposed to happen, but somehow Gaia felt completely unprepared.

“Gaia, are you all right?” Leon asked, finding her hand again under the table.

She blinked back at baby Sarah and Derek, who was also watching Gaia.

“I’m just tired,” Gaia said. “I’m sorry. We’re you saying something?” She drank from her tankard and licked the foam from her lips.

Leon’s smile turned quizzical. “Nothing important. I should take you home.”

A solid man in dusty overalls approached their table. “Gaia?” he asked.

She lowered her ale and as she recognized Theo Rupp, Emily’s father, she rose eagerly.

“Did you see Emily in there?” Theo asked.

Startled by his lack of welcome, she paused. “I did.”

“How was she?”

“She was fine,” Gaia said. “I mean, she’s mad at me, but she was fine. She’s pregnant.”

“We know that much.”

Gaia came around the table, studying her old neighbor. She glanced behind him, wondering if his wife was with him, too, but he was alone. “How’s Amy?” she asked.

“Broken-hearted. How else would she be?”

Gaia took his arm, drawing him aside. In concise, pained words, Theo tallied up the changes in his family since Gaia had left: his son-in-law murdered, his daughter a permanent guest of the Protectorat, his grandsons growing up where he could never see them. Gaia told him the little she could about seeing Emily that afternoon.

“It’s wrong,” Theo said. “It’s just wrong, all of it.”

“You blame me,” Gaia said. “I can see it.”

He shook his head. “No. I can’t blame you. Not now that I see you again.” He slowly opened his arms, and she leaned near for a hug, inhaling the earthy scent of clay that always clung to the potter.

“I’m so sorry,” Gaia said.

“Maybe you’ll fix things now that you’re back,” Theo said softly.

“Have a seat, Theo,” Derek said. “Come. Join us. Ingrid’s brought you a tankard.”

Worried, Gaia watched Theo’s sad eyes. Leon hitched over an extra stool. Ingrid poked Theo none too gently in the arm and ordered him to sit. The man lowered himself beside Derek, and settled his gaze on the baby. He quietly accepted a tankard of ale.

“There’s one good thing that’s come out of all the ruckus with the strike a year ago,” Derek said. He glanced over his shoulder and then leaned forward, lowering his voice. “When people heard that Emily got in trouble over the birth record ledgers you stole, that got their attention. Emily had to give back the ledgers, but people here in Wharfton started creating a new record, from memory. We started a clearing house, Ingrid and me. Mothers from every sector have come to tell us the birthdates of their advanced babies, and we’ve created a new, centralized directory of our own. Now, when any advanced child comes outside the wall, we can tell them who their parents are. And they’ve been coming out, advanced children as young as ten and some in their early twenties. We’ve been having reunions all over the place.” He nodded at Leon. “A little like this. It’s pretty crazy. Emotional.”

“Does the Protectorat know about this?” Gaia asked.

“I’m betting he does,” Derek said. “But what can he do about it? The Wharfton parents aren’t going in. He can’t stop Enclave children from coming out.”

“But they always had the choice before and they never did,” Gaia said. “Remember the unadvancement notices? Why is it different now?”

Leon shook his head. “There wasn’t a directory before. Those unadvancement notices were a one-shot chance to move outside permanently, but that meant leaving your life and your family in the Enclave behind. None of us wanted to do that. This way, people can get to know each other.”

“Exactly,” Derek said. “I’m telling you, it makes for a strange situation. There are all these bonds being created across the wall, even while hostilities with the Protectorat are worse than ever.”

“What does this mean for us?” Gaia said. “Do you have allies within the wall?”

“It means nothing’s predictable,” Derek said, shaking his head. “Anything could blow up in your face at any time.”

“I’ll agree with that,” Theo added.

“Can you get inside the wall if you want to?” Leon asked Derek.

“Not at the moment.” Derek said. “Our latest tunnels were all discovered and shut down in the crackdown a year ago. We’re working on opening up more, but it’s no easy feat, getting under that wall. Why? You want to get in?”

Gaia looked at Leon, who took another drink of his ale and left the question to her.

“No,” Gaia said. “We’re going in through the gate to negotiate legitimately.”

The baby on Derek’s lap burped up some yogurt, and Derek wiped it with the edge of her bib. “I’m glad to hear it,” Derek said. “That’s the way to make a lasting difference.”

Theo nodded his chin at the baby. “I’ll hold her for you, if you want,” he offered gruffly.

Derek took the bib off entirely and passed the baby over. When Theo leaned back a little, settling her in his arms, something about Theo’s careful, heavy hands showed how much he longed to hold his grandchildren, and Gaia ached for him.

A new song started, a brighter one, and Gaia glanced over to where Will was now turning his slow, thoughtful smile on the piano player. He shoved up his sleeves and crossed his arms.

“Who’s that playing the piano?” Gaia asked.

Derek craned his neck. “That’s Gillian, Ingrid’s friend. She’s good, isn’t she? She seems to be taking a fancy to your friend there. I’ve never seen her talk while she plays before.”

Gaia glanced at Leon to find him watching her. He lifted his eyebrows and leaned back a bit, smiling at her. There was no reason why Leon’s look should confuse her, but she could feel heat rising in her cheeks.

“She plays well,” Gaia said to Leon.

“Yes, she does.”

She couldn’t bear to consider looking around for Peter.

“Ready to go?” she asked.


She peered out the window. Things seemed to have settled down out in the quad, while inside, the tavern promised to stay rowdy for quite some time. Ingrid came over once more as they were saying good-bye and urged Leon to consider their home his, anytime. “Unless you plan on moving back in with the Protectorat, that is,” Ingrid added. “We’d understand if you do. They’re your primary family, after all, despite any differences you may have had.”

Leon let out a brief laugh. “There is no chance I’ll be living in the Bastion again.”

“But, I mean, if you and Gaia ever get serious, you know,” Ingrid said. “Sometimes families work things out and reunite when there’s a wedding on the horizon.”

Leon took Gaia’s hand. “Gaia and I are already engaged,” he said. “I hope when we get married, you’ll come to the celebration.”

“Ah!” Ingrid said. “I thought as much. Congratulations! When’s the date?”

Leon turned to Gaia. “That shouldn’t be too long now. We’re nearly settled, aren’t we?”

Gaia laughed and leaned into his arm. He dropped a kiss on her cheek, and they started out.

The night was cooler as they strode through Wharfton, and the streets were quiet again. The swift, nearly silent flight of swallows overhead was welcome in her ears after the bustle of the tavern.

“That was interesting,” Leon said.

“I like Ingrid.”

“I like Gillian,” Leon said.

Gaia wasn’t certain what to say. She knew he only meant that he approved of the piano player for Will.

Leon laughed and gave her hand a squeeze. “I’m teasing you.”

“I mean, I want Will to be happy, of course.”

“I know,” Leon said. “Don’t worry about it. They’re going to be fine, all of them. You’ll see. And you’ll get used to it, too.”

“Poor Theo,” Gaia added.

“I know. It’s almost like his daughter was advanced as an adult,” Leon said.

As they reached the far end of Western Sector Three, Gaia could see the campfires of New Sylum spread out in the unlake below. Already the settlement looked different from any of the temporary sites they’d set up during the exodus. The fires were grouped in a loose pattern of widening rings that dipped organically with the slope of the valley. In the center was the new commons. She could imagine a new matina bell being cast and mounted there eventually. How lovely it would be to have that piece of Sylum’s traditions here.

They turned down the path toward clan nineteen. There was a rustling off to the side, and Gaia stopped, instantly alert. “Did you hear that?”

“It’s Malachai and some of the excrims,” Leon said. “I’ve asked them to guard you. They won’t disturb you.”

Her heart was pounding, and she had to make an effort to calm down.

“I’m sorry. I should have told you,” Leon said.

“You should have asked me.”

“Would you have said yes?”

She hesitated, then began walking again. “Yes. It’s not the way I thought it would be here. The minute I think something’s familiar, I find it has changed. Nothing feels safe.”

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