Promised Page 23

“Who’s there?” came a soft, low voice.

“It’s me, Gaia Stone. Is Mace home?”

She was swiftly drawn within and the door closed firmly behind her. Warm air enveloped her, surrounding her with the rich smell of baking bread, and with a pulling noise, the light over the table came on. Mace and his wife Pearl beamed at Gaia in joyful welcome. They reached simultaneously to envelope her a hug.

“Thank goodness!” Pearl said. “I’ve been dying to see you ever since Mace told me you were back. Are you all right? You’re all wet!”

“I’m fine,” Gaia said, grinning. “I can’t believe how good it is to be here. How are Yvonne and Oliver?”

“Good. Sleeping,” Mace said.

She couldn’t see enough of her friends. Mace’s apron stretched across his robust belly, and his strong hands were flecked with dough. Pearl was thinner than Gaia remembered, with new streaks of gray at her temples.

“You’re taller,” Pearl said. “And tan. And not a girl at all anymore, I see.”

“What did I tell you?” Mace said. He smiled at Gaia. “Turn around for her.”

“Come on,” Gaia said, laughing.

“No. Let’s see you,” he said, taking her hand to twirl her. “I hardly recognized you the other day. What a surprise! Leon didn’t tell us you were coming.”

“He’s here?” Gaia asked.

A shuffling noise drew Gaia’s eager gaze upward. Angie was hunched at the top of the narrow staircase, swamped in an over-large nightgown.

“You’re here!” Gaia said, her heart swelling with relief. She looked back, questioning, to Pearl.

“He’s gone. He left her with us,” Pearl said

Gaia reached up a hand to Angie. “We were so worried about you, Angie.”

“Leon’s mad at me,” Angie said.

Gaia smiled. “I can’t say I blame him. Did you follow him in, through the irrigation pipe?”

The girl nodded. “I tried to be quiet, but he heard me.”

“Come down,” Gaia said.

“Are you mad, too?” Angie asked, descending cautiously.

“Mostly I’m relieved. What you did was incredibly dangerous,” Gaia said. She turned to Mace. “Where’s Leon now?”

“He went into the tunnels,” Mace said.

“And Jack Bartlett? Has he been here?” Gaia asked.

When Mace and Pearl only looked puzzled, Gaia glanced up and saw Angie’s eyes had grown larger.

The girl’s voice dropped to a hush. “No. Did he come in, too?”

“He was looking for you,” Gaia said.

Angie looked stricken. Gaia drew her down the last steps and cuddled her into her arms, tipping her cheek on top of the girl’s soft hair. “You left your goggles so we could find you, didn’t you?” Gaia asked.

The girl nodded. “Just in case. But I didn’t think you’d really come. Where’s Jack?”

“Nobody knows.” Gaia glanced at Mace and Pearl again. “When did Leon bring her?”

“Early yesterday morning, just before dawn,” Mace said. “He asked us to take care of her until he came back.”

And that obviously had not occurred.

“Where did he enter the tunnels?” Gaia asked.

“Don’t get any ideas, now. Smugglers have died down there,” Mace said. “Best to wait here for when he comes back.”

“Could he have been arrested?” Gaia asked.

“No. There was some fuss around the Bastion today, but I didn’t hear of any arrests, and I would know,” Mace said.

“How?” Gaia insisted.

Mace glanced at Pearl.

“We have a kind of network now,” Pearl said. “It’s complicated. The point is, you should stay here with us. Mace is right about that.”

Gaia felt the absence of her satchel and glanced around the room. “I’ll need some candles or a lamp.”

“You’re not going. You’ll get lost down there,” Mace said.

“I’ll be careful. I’ll mark my route,” she said.

He looked more skeptical than ever. “With what?”

Her glowing mushrooms were gone with her satchel. “Do you have any honey mushrooms?” she asked.

Mace laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Pearl put a hand on her shoulder and gave her a squeeze. “Let’s get you in something dry. What are these trousers you’re in? Is this what the new women are wearing? They look very practical.”

Gaia ran a hand through her damp hair. “You can’t distract me. Leon might be hurt down there,” she said. “If you won’t help me get into the tunnels, I’ll get in by the honey farm. I know there’s an entrance there.”

Mace and Pearl exchanged a wordless glance, and then Pearl cleared her throat. “I’m getting you some dry things. Mace, keep it simple.” She stepped out of the kitchen.

“Angie, you run on up to bed,” Mace said.

“I’m going with Mlass Gaia,” the girl said.

Gaia turned, regarding the girl with a lifted eyebrow. “I’ll come back for you before I leave the Enclave. You’ll be safe here. Go on up.”

Angie stubbornly shook her head and sat down firmly on the bottom step.

Gaia let a beat of silence pass, and then moved in front of her. “You know I’m the Matrarc, right?”

Angie nodded, watchful.

“And you want to help me, don’t you?” Gaia went on.

The girl put a hand to her throat, spreading her fingers along her voice box.

“Then you’ll listen to me,” Gaia said. “I don’t put up with people who can’t follow orders. You will stay here and obey Mace and Pearl in my absence. You’ll be respectful and work hard. I told you to go to bed. Now, go.” She pointed up the stairs.

Angie’s eyes watered up. Her chin wobbled. Gaia did not yield. The girl spun to her feet and clambered up the stairs, and a second later, a door closed.

Gaia turned to find Mace considering her, his lips pursed. “Like I said. You’ve grown up,” he said.

“I don’t always like it,” Gaia said. She knew Angie was fragile enough as it was without turning on her, but she couldn’t have the girl following her.

He pulled a mound of dough toward him and started kneading. “You’ve heard about Myrna Silk’s blood bank?”


“Some of the parents who have lost children to hemophilia have organized here inside the wall,” he said. “We donate resources to Masister Silk when we can, and there’s a movement of reformers who want to overhaul the Enclave’s health system. We haven’t gotten too far yet, but we meet up once a month. We’re talking.”

It made her think of Derek and Ingrid working with people outside the wall to create a clearing house for advanced children who wanted to find their birth parents, and the relationships that formed from that. All sorts of new alliances were happening now. “This wouldn’t be connected to Derek, would it?”

Mace looked at her shrewdly. “There’s some overlap. The issues are different, but the point is, people are finding each other. We’re using our connections.”

“Does the Protectorat know?” she asked.

“No. And I’d rather he didn’t,” he said. “I’m just telling you because if you need anything, I think I could find people to help you.”

“What we need is water for New Sylum,” she said. “Not just deliveries of barrels, either. We need a reliable pipeline, or better yet, our own waterworks system tapping directly into the geothermal plant.”

“That’s going to be expensive,” he said. “I’m not sure what we can do, but my friends would be sympathetic, at least. We’ve heard some of the wealthier people want a change to the health care, too. Some of the people behind the Vessel Institute. We’re not sure how to approach them, or if it’s safe to.”

“Leon might be able to help with that. He knows the wealthy families. He grew up with them. Did you tell him?”

“It didn’t come up.” Mace kneaded the dough a couple more turns, set it aside, and reached for another mound.

Understanding gradually came to her. “You still don’t trust him, do you?” Gaia asked. “That’s why you don’t want me going after him, either.”

Mace rubbed at his eyebrow with the knuckle of his thumb. “We took in Angie when he brought her,” he said.

“That’s not an answer.”

Mace shrugged. “Derek vouches for Leon. I know that. And I gather he’s important to you. I don’t suppose anything as boring as my own concern for his reputation would make you reconsider your feelings for him.”

“We’re engaged,” Gaia said.

Mace stopped kneading and looked up with sharp eyes. “Are you, then.”

Gaia gathered he wasn’t exactly thrilled. A slow burn began in her gut, as if he disrespected her, too.

“Is there anything else I should know? Are you expecting?” Mace asked.

Ouch, she thought. “No. Not that it’s any of your business.”

Pearl reappeared in the doorway, a pile of clean clothing in her hands. “I was trying to find a red cloak,” she began, then stopped, looking back and forth between them.

“Gaia tells me she’s engaged to Leon Grey,” Mace said.

Pearl eyebrows pinched in confusion. “Are you sure, Gaia?”

“Of course I am,” she said stiffly. “And he’s Leon Vlatir now.”

“I know who he is,” Pearl said. She put up a hand. “It’s just such a big decision and you’re so young.”

Gaia’s heart sank a notch lower. She’d thought of Mace and Pearl as family, but apparently they weren’t. Or worse, maybe they were. This was the disapproval she’d expected from her own parents.

“Thanks. You know what? I’m just going to leave,” Gaia said.

“Nonsense. You just caught us by surprise.” Pearl gave a belated smile. “We wish you all happiness, of course. Let’s get you changed. Mace, turn your back. Did he tell you that Leon went in through the library?”

“We didn’t get that far,” Mace said, facing away.

“We were busy discussing if I was pregnant,” Gaia said.

“Mace!” Pearl said.

“She’s not,” Mace said.

“Well, thank goodness for that,” Pearl said. “I should hope not. You, pregnant, and hardly more than a child yourself. The idea. Now here, hand me those wet things before you die of chill.”

Gaia stripped off her wet trousers and her blouse, and stepped into the dry, blue skirt Pearl handed her, then a clean blouse. The clothes were roomy, but she tucked in the blouse and rolled the waistline of the skirt neatly once to cinch it tighter. She took a moment to inspect her knees, which were bruising from her desperate crawl through the pipe. She touched the skin tenderly, then let the fabric drop to hide them.

“She’s good now,” Pearl said. “You can turn around.”

Mace flicked his gaze toward Gaia, and then started kneading again.

“There’s a library on the Square of the Bastion,” Pearl said. “Leon said there’s an entrance to the tunnels in the basement. I had no idea, but it’s supposed to connect to a tunnel that runs right under the square and straight toward the Bastion.” She explained directions to the library’s back entrance.

“Will they let me in?” Gaia said.

“I don’t know. Leon said he knew the librarian,” Pearl said. “Maybe you can explain that you’re a friend. Let’s see what I can find for candles. And your honey mushrooms gave me an idea.”

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