Promised Page 32

She explained about how they wanted her eggs to start a line of anti-hemophilia babies, dozens of them. Taking out her ovaries was the safest way to do it. “Your father threatened to leave you in a coma if I didn’t agree.”

“But you didn’t, did you?”

She shook her head. “I didn’t.”

He looked at her strangely. “Did you even think about it?”

“Of course,” she said, smiling. “I’d give up my ovaries in a second to save your life, but bargains never work that way. I don’t trust anything your father says.”

“We’ve never really talked about children,” he said.

“I want some someday, don’t you?”

“Yes. Definitely. Someday,” he said.

He rose to his feet, still shoeless, and held out a hand to help haul her up. “I notice you haven’t yelled at me for going into the Enclave.”

“I wanted to kill you.”

He grinned. “I bet.”

They started walking south over the rough ground, heading towards New Sylum.

“So much has happened since then,” Gaia said. “What other explosions did you set up? I’m assuming Pyrho helped.”

“He was really into it,” Leon said. “Jack helped a little, too, but mostly he got in the way. The chimney on Mabrother Iris’s house blew last night, and there’ll be a fire in the vineyards later today.”

“How many bombs did you set?” she asked.

“Enough,” he said. “I don’t want you to know the details. Pyrho and I can defuse them once the Protectorat starts delivering water for New Sylum. That’s all we ever wanted.”

“The bombs aren’t set to hurt anyone, though, are they? They’re just for the power grid and such?”

She watched his bare feet moving over the rocky ground, waiting for an answer that didn’t come.

“Leon. This is not okay,” she said. “We are not turning into murderers.”

“It’s possible, if someone’s in the wrong place, that they could get hurt from the last bomb. It shouldn’t come to that, though.”

“You can’t be serious,” she said.

“It’s just one that’s dicey,” he said. “As long as the Protectorat cooperates with us, I’ll have plenty of time to go in and defuse it. But if they arrest you again or something happens to you, I’m going to let it explode.”

“We can’t do this,” she protested. “Where is it? When is it set to go off?”

He shook his head. “I shouldn’t have told you.”

She took a long stride over a gap between rocks. “I can’t believe this. Your father said you were a liar,” Gaia said. “I wouldn’t believe him.”

Leon stopped, his eyebrows lifting in startled surprise. “My father? This isn’t a lie, Gaia. It’s a secret.”

She put up a hand, opened toward the sky.

“You’ve kept secrets from me, remember?” he said, his eyes narrowing. “Why can’t you trust that I know what I’m doing?”

“My secrets couldn’t get anybody killed,” she said.

Leon was silent a moment. Then he started walking again in long strides. She had to skip once to catch up, and then she realized she didn’t want to walk beside him. She let him get ahead a few paces and stormed along behind him. He was going to turn them into murderers and he didn’t even care. She rubbed her hand on her trousers, trying to get the blood off.

Leon spun around to face her. “I don’t get why you’re making me into the bad guy,” he said. “My father’s the one who won’t give us water. He’s the one who wants to steal your ovaries for some ridiculous experiment. He’s the one who’d be happy to let me rot to death in a coma. All I did was set some bombs. They don’t even have to go off.”

“But they’re ready.”

“Of course they are.” He held up his broken arm. “This isn’t a game. People are going to get hurt.”

Gaia planted her hands on her hips. “But I don’t want you to be the one to hurt them.”

“Are you going to do it yourself, then?” he asked, his eyes glittering. “Like with Sephie? You need me like this, Gaia. Quit pretending you’re morally superior and accept it.

She gasped a breath. Then the truth hit. She’d always depended on Leon to do the hard things for her, the bad things, like holding a knife to a girl’s throat way back when they were stealing birth records, or taking Gaia’s baby sister from Adele out on Bachsdatter’s island. Now he’d set bombs for Gaia. Until now, he’d let her feel like it was never her fault, but she’d always benefited from his cruelty.

She was responsible.

And now she was just like him. She looked down at her hands, at the flecks of blood that stained her sleeve. Leon faced the horizon, then raked a hand back through his hair and peered at her again.

“Talk to me,” he said.

“You’re right,” she said calmly. “I’ve been unfair to you.”

“I don’t want it to be like this, either.”

“But it is.”

She turned her gaze to the south, to where the unlake had come into view with the precarious beginnings of New Sylum huddled below the old, worn homes of Wharfton. What had the Protectorat said? As a leader, she was responsible for all her people’s actions. That included Leon’s. And since she knew the Protectorat would never cooperate with the people outside the wall unless he was coerced, that also included bombs.

She could feel a quiet turning inside herself, a certain, final clicking of a gear in a clock that could never go backward.

“All right,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“I accept it. Negotiating is no longer enough. We have to coerce him.”

He stepped in front of her so that she was forced to meet his gaze.

“You really mean that?” he asked, and she could hear the relief and hope in his voice.

In a way, it would actually be simpler to fight the Protectorat than try to win him over. They might fail completely. They might all get destroyed, but it would be decided, once and for all.

“He won’t give in,” Gaia said. “We need a new leader in the Enclave.”

Leon regarded her closely. Her fingers found her necklace with the locket watch and the monocle, and she squeezed them both briefly in her fist.

“You’re serious,” he said.

She felt a last, lonely flicker of idealistic doubt, and then she nodded. “Just as long as the new leader isn’t me.”

*   *   *

The people of New Sylum began to cheer as soon as Gaia and Leon came down the path, and more gathered, crowding around, as they arrived at the new commons in the center of the new village. Peter wedged past a couple of miners and without preamble, he reached for Gaia, gripping her shoulders.

“Are you all right?” he demanded. “I’ve been going crazy.”

“Yes, I’m fine,” Gaia said. She could feel the tight strength of his fingers in his grip, and his searching eyes were near. “We both are.”

She took a half step back, gently extricating herself from his embrace, and he opened his hands suddenly as if just aware of what he’d done. She glanced beside her to Leon, who had watched the exchange and said nothing.

“How did you get out?” Gaia asked Peter.

“Malachai got us out when the lights blew,” Peter said. “They put something in our drinks, but you were okay?”

“Yes,” she said.

Beyond Peter, Will smiled in genuine welcome. His eyes were dark from sleepless worry.

“We were about to go in for you,” Will said.

That was when Gaia realized that all of the people of New Sylum were armed, from the archers and scouts to Norris and Dinah, who wielded a bow Gaia had never seen her carry before. They were all prepared to put their lives on the line for her.

Gaia hardly knew what to say.

Josephine arrived then, bursting into tears. She threw her arms around Gaia while little Maya and Junie hugged Gaia’s knees. Jack crowded forward next and gave Gaia a bear hug, then slapped Leon on the back. Pyrho lifted a hand in greeting.

“When did you get out?” Gaia asked Jack.

“Last night, during the fuss,” Jack said. “We did good, didn’t we?” He added to Leon.

“Good enough,” Leon said.

Angie pointed to Leon’s feet. “Where are your boots?” she asked. Her raspy voice was markedly improving.

“I lost them,” Leon answered.

“You need new ones,” the girl said.

“I know,” Leon said. “Have you been good?”

The girl nodded and touched a hand to her throat. Mace and his family had the girl with them, and Pearl nodded, smiling.

“Come here,” Leon said to Angie.

She didn’t. He went over to the girl and lifted her up in a big hug, regardless of how gangly she was. She buried her face into his neck and clung to him.

“Mlass Gaia was mad at me,” Angie said.

“Gaia’s hard on me, too,” he said. “What are we supposed to do? We still like her.”

Jack leaned near to Gaia and spoke confidentially. “Angie’s got a little crush.”

“I’d never guess,” Gaia said, laughing. She scooped up Maya in her arms. “Maya, say hello to our brothers. I don’t know them very well myself yet, but Jack seems very funny and deep, and Pyrho likes to blow up things,” she said. She realized the four of them, siblings, were together for the first time. It was strange, and delightful, and when Jack did a jogging thing with his eyebrows that was exactly the sort of thing her father used to do, Gaia felt both loss and joy mix in her heart.

“Hello, Maya,” Pyrho said politely.

Jack slung an arm around Pyhro’s shoulder. “Sort of makes you thirsty for a pint, doesn’t it?”

Pyrho smiled. “You read my mind.”

Gaia laughed, looking over her shoulder to Leon.

He stood with Angie beside him, conferring with Will, and something in their demeanors put her on alert.

“What is it?” she asked.

“We’ve just had word,” Will said. “It’s official. The Protectorat’s turned off the water.”

Gaia looked around at her friends, sensing the wariness and fear. They were looking to her now, expectantly. She hugged Maya a little nearer.

“Then we have no choice. It’s time to take down the wall,” Gaia said.

*   *   *

She was surprised by how little it took to persuade the people of New Sylum to mobilize. The people of Wharfton were even more enthusiastic. They still had two days’ worth of water reserved because of constant stockpiling and curtailed use, but Wharfton had endured one backward siege already and had no desire to wait helplessly through another. When people learned of how the Protectorat had tried to bargain for Gaia’s ovaries, she received an outpouring of sympathy.

Deep memories in Wharfton recalled decades of stolen children and brutal injustice against anyone who had tried to speak out against the Enclave. Now was the time, people agreed, to put an end to it once and for all.

Wharfton citizens with homes closest to the wall began shifting their valuables to houses farther downhill. Miners and masons focused on fortify walls and roofs against anticipated projectiles. They erected barricades between key buildings to create a protected route connecting every sector of Wharfton. Knives were sharpened and crude weapons readied.

At nine that morning, the Enclave issued a notice via the Tvaltar advising anyone with information about a series of explosions to come forward.

By ten, Wharfton men who worked as guards for the Enclave quietly abandoned their posts and began coming home.

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