Promised Page 3

“Any ideas?” Gaia asked Dinah.

Dinah left Angie for a moment and came nearer, holding her braid back as she leaned over Jack’s wound. “It isn’t bleeding too badly anymore,” she observed.

Gaia narrowed her eyes as she inspected the wound again. “I’m going to irrigate it.” She poured some of the boiled water into a separate bowl, dropping in three leaves of cohosh and a twig of witch hazel. She swirled it to let it cool before she poured half of the solution into Jack’s wound. It bubbled a little coming out.

“That can’t be good,” Gaia muttered.

With her scalpel she evened off the roughest edges of the wound, then stretched the opening a bit wider, trying to see further in. A black, triangular sliver of knife tip was briefly visible in the deepest layer of the cut before oozing blood obscured it.

Gaia worked carefully with her tweezers to extricate the sliver, then irrigated the wound repeatedly until the bubbling stopped and the water washed out smoothly. She put in a drain, drew the muscle tissue together again, and wrapped a bandage to keep the wound closed. She wished they had some antibiotics.

“What’s your brother like?” Dinah asked when Gaia at last sat back.

“I hardly know him,” Gaia said. She glanced over to see Dinah had finished with Angie’s hand. “We’ve only talked a few times. I know he’s brave, though, and selfless. He saved me from the Bastion once. He was an Enclave guard, like Leon.”

“How old is he?”

Gaia calculated. “Twenty, now. Leon’s age. Why?”

Dinah was regarding him thoughtfully. “He just looks older.”

Gaia thoughtfully regarded her brother’s face, seeing it faintly flushed in the firelight, his lips dry and cracked. Her gaze lingered over the planes of his face, seeking and finding a resemblance to her mother in the lines of his eyebrows and the curves of his closed eyelids.

“It’s going to be interesting, meeting some new men,” Dinah said.

Gaia glanced up. “You’ve never had a shortage of men liking you.”

“Doesn’t mean I’m not curious,” Dinah said.

“It isn’t going to be easy,” Gaia said. “Our women won’t be special in Wharfton the way they’re used to. It’s going to be an adjustment.”

“I’m not worried.”

Gaia took a second look at her friend, and guessed she was probably right to be confident. Certain women would always be prized, no matter what society they landed in, and Dinah was lively, smart, and uncommonly pretty. What Gaia was going to miss was the closeness she had with her women friends in Sylum. She missed Taja and Peony, who had stayed behind with their families in Sylum. Already, with the responsibilities of the exodus, Gaia saw little of her nearest friends, like Josephine, and she hoped she wouldn’t see them even less once they reached Wharfton.

“I’ve always sort of wondered if you might hit it off with Chardo Will,” Gaia said cautiously.

Dinah gave her an odd look. “I don’t have a chance with Will.”

“Why not?”

Dinah laughed. “Very funny. I’m not stupid.” Her eyes went warm with teasing humor.

“Don’t, Dinah,” Gaia said.

“I’m not blaming you, but I know a hopeless case when I see one. Poor Will. Unrequited love seems to be his specialty. Or maybe it runs in the family. No, I think I’ll just see what Wharfton and Enclave men are like.

They’re different, Gaia thought. They aren’t as polite. All kinds of things could go wrong.

“You look so anxious,” Dinah said, laughing. “You’ve warned us plenty, Gaia. Different cultures and all that. You go ahead and take care of the big diplomacy. Leave the one-on-one to the rest of us. We’ll be fine.”

As Dinah moved off to other chores, Angie came drowsily nearer, sliding onto the tarp to cuddle beside Jack. Firelight reflected off the goggles she’d lowered around her neck.

“You’re just happy to have a warm fire and a safe place to sleep, aren’t you?” Gaia asked.

Angie glanced up and pointed a finger to Gaia’s scarred cheek.

“It’s a burn from when I was a baby,” Gaia said. “It doesn’t hurt now.”

The girl pointed next to Gaia’s necklace.

Gaia lifted it from the neckline of her blouse to show her, turning the small, weighty objects in the firelight. “The locket watch is from my parents for timing contractions when I’m a midwife. The monocle is from my grandmother, the last Matrarc of Sylum, for leadership and heritage, I guess,” she said. She remembered how reluctantly she’d accepted the monocle at first, and considered how familiar it was now. “So, what’s the story of your voice? Care to tell me?”

The girl watched her groggily, then shook her head.

“Didn’t think so,” Gaia said. “Can you sit up a bit? Take off your goggles.”

The girl complied, and Gaia tilted a torch nearer so she could examine her throat and neck. “Does it hurt?” Gaia asked gently.

Angie slowly nodded her head. “When I talk.”

Gaia shifted behind Angie so she could line her fingers softly all around the girl’s warm neck. “Try to say ‘Ah.’ Nice and steady now.”

With the sound, Gaia could feel Angie’s neck muscles tense unnaturally, fighting to trap her voice instead of releasing it. Gaia handed back Angie’s goggles and began making up a cure as she went along.

“Here’s what I want you to do,” she said. “Take a big drink of water every hour, whether you’re thirsty or not. And put your hand to your neck, like this, and think about keeping those muscles loose and calm. No one can hurt you.” Gaia smiled, watching to see that the girl was listening closely. “Pretend the inside of your voice is just cool and open, like water going down. All the time, whether you’re talking or not, even when you’re falling asleep. Will you try that?”

The girl looked slightly hopeful. She nodded again.

Gaia lifted the dressing on Angie’s hand to inspect what Dinah had done, and judged she could do nothing better. She rested Angie’s small, splinted and bandaged hand lightly on the girl’s chest, and thought of a wounded bird, fragile and hollow-boned. Gaia knew what it was like to be motherless.

Angie’s eyes closed, and she rolled slightly, turning her cheek to rest on Jack’s shoulder. She put her fingers to her throat.

Gaia sat back and reached to wash her hands again.

“There’s a story there,” Leon said quietly, stepping into the firelight. “Unbelievable.”

Happiness shot through her at the sight of him.

Leon dipped his head to take off his hat, and putting a strong hand on her shoulder, he leaned near for a kiss.

“Best part of the day,” he said, and chucked his hat on a blanket near the fire.

Chapter 3

a promise


“Yes,” Gaia said. “And you?”

He smiled and started to roll back his sleeves. “Good. Where’d you find Jack and the urchin? They look pretty beat up.” He reached to take the bar of soap from her hand. His arms and hands were filthy, and she guessed he’d helped to carry the crims’ loads.

“Back behind the ridge west of here,” she said. “Peter helped me bring them in. Jack said they left a band of nomads two days west of here.”

“How old do you think she is?” he asked.

Angie stirred, and blinked up at Leon.

“I don’t know. Not more than eight or nine,” Gaia said. “She’s tough, though. I shot her hand before I realized she was a kid and she never even cried.

“Shot her yourself?” Leon asked. “How was the aftermath?”

“Normal,” she said and checked to see that no one was within earshot besides Angie and sleeping Jack. “I threw up, but I was able to delay it a little. That’s progress.”

“Face it, Gaia. You’ll never get over it,” Leon said. “You’re not meant to hurt people.”

“I need to be able to protect our people,” she argued.

“I don’t mean you won’t do what you have to,” Leon said. “I’m just saying you’ll always pay for it somehow. Were you embarrassed?”

“Only Peter and Angie saw me. She thought I was pregnant.”

Leon’s smile turned amused. “Are you?”

“No,” she said. “You’d be the first person I’d tell.”

“We’ve been careful, but things can happen.”

“As if I didn’t know.” She made big warning eyes at him and inclined her head slightly toward Angie. “We are not talking about this here.”

He laughed. “Have you eaten any dinner?” He leaned over the basin to splash water on his face, drenching his three-week beard, and then he flicked the excess water away. A drop sizzled in the fire.

“I was waiting for you,” Gaia said.

“You mean you forgot.”

“I’m not exactly hungry,” she said.

“You ought to be. Have a seat. I’ll get you a plate.” He lifted another woolen blanket from a pile and dropped it next to the fire. Norris’s cat darted over from the other campfire and circled Leon’s boot. As Angie’s gaze followed the cat closely, Leon picked it up and subjected it to a nonchalant rub that flattened its ears and elicited a purr.

“Hey, kid,” Leon said. “Do you like cats?”

Angie cleared her throat. “Yes,” she said. “What’s an urchin?”

“A very brave girl,” Leon said. “Can you watch Una for me? I need to feed the Martrarc here.” He passed over the cat and pointed at it sternly. “Stay put, Una.”

Angie smiled sleepily, curling her good hand gently into the cat’s fur. Gaia shouldn’t have been surprised. Naturally, the girl would struggle to talk to Leon when she talked to no one else, just as the cat would obey his commands.

“Be right back,” Leon said, and gave Gaia another kiss. “Don’t fall asleep on me. We have some planning to do.”

She sank down onto the blanket, settling in comfortably upwind of the smoke, and soon Leon was back with a couple of steaming bowls. He passed her one and tossed a couple more sticks heavily into the fire before he sat down beside her. They had no real privacy, but at least they were together, and the part of Gaia that responded only to him expanded a little.

His knee pressed into hers, and he clinked his bowl to hers. “To Jack,” he said. Will he make it, do you think?”

“I don’t really know. Antibiotics will help once we reach Wharfton, if we can get them. Angie ought to have them, too,” she said. It was amazing to think they were so close to medication that could save someone’s life. The proximity reminded her of her missing scouts. “Munsch and Bonner haven’t returned from Wharfton yet. I’m getting worried.”

“Want me to go after them?” Leon offered.

“No,” she said. “You’ve got enough to do.”

“When are you ever going to let me be in any danger?” he asked, spooning up his stew at a steady rate.

“You’re in danger every day,” she argued. “Who else could handle the crims?”

“You know they’re loyal. It’s their only charm.”

“Loyal to you. Not to the rest of us. What you do is invaluable.”

“No gratitude, remember,” he said.

“Right.” She’d discovered he had the quirk of not wanting to be thanked for anything he did for Sylum. To him, it was his job, but it was hard for her to remember because it felt like her people were an extension of herself, and any service or kindness to them felt personal to her. “I’ll just thank you for bringing me the stew, then,” she said.

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