Authors: Anna Carey
I changed quickly, hiding from him in the cold, still bathroom. The quiet outside frightened me. It was no more than eight o'clock. If my father or the Lieutenant were giving speeches, they'd timed it before breakfast, when most of us were just waking up.
I started out of the room and into the hall, moving past the row of suites. It wasn't long before I heard the door swing open and the sound of Charles's footsteps as he started after me. I didn't bother to turn around. “What are you doing?” I said.
“I'd ask you the same thing.”
“I'm going downstairs to see what's happening.”
I kept walking, our steps in synch, until he darted up beside me. He was still straightening his tie. “I'll come with you,” he said. The hallway was cool, the air raising goose bumps on my skin. At the far end of the corridor, near my father's suite, I heard whispers of something, faint voices drifting out of the parlor. The soldiers who were normally stationed outside the elevator and stairwells were gone.
We turned in to the room. A group was huddled around the windowâsome soldiers, some of the workers from the Palace kitchen. One of the cooks who'd been stuck inside the tower for days, awaiting the end of the siege, had her hand pressed against the glass, her eyes red.
“What is it?” I asked. “What's happening?”
The soldiers hardly looked away from the window. I came up behind them, trying to see what was happening. Far below, the Jeep had made its way through the crowd, the soldiers swarming it as its back door swung open. It was impossible to tell who had gotten out, but as soon as the figure came into the crowd people started shifting, the shouts and yells blending together as one. A section of people came together then dispersed, like a great swarm of flies. “The rebel leaders,” one of the soldiers said, not turning to look at me. “They found them.”
I felt the panic rising, my pulse throbbing in my hands. “Who are they?” I asked. “Where were they found?”
I turned, looking at a few of the Palace workers. The cook, an older woman with a long white braid, cupped her chin in her hand. “Somewhere in the Outlands, I imagine.” She didn't look at me as she spoke.
Marcus, one of the servers from the dining room, had his lips pressed together in a straight line. His eyes were bloodshot, his cheeks slack. “Poor bastards.”
“They're not exactly innocent, are they?” one of the soldiers shot back. “Do you know how many people died protecting the City in just the past few days?”
“Where are they taking them?” I cut in.
A few people turned, studying me, but no one said anything. I went back into the hall, Charles following in my wake. I kept pressing the button on the elevator, listening to it ascend the tower. It wasn't until we were inside, the doors closing behind us, that I spoke.
“They brought them here, outside the Palace, to do what? Give the public a lesson? Show everyone what happens to people who disobey my father?” My stomach felt light as the floors flew past, one gone, then ten.
Charles pushed his hair out of his face. “I don't know,” he said. “I don't think we'd revert to that. There should be trials, at least. Innocent until proven guilty, wasn't it?”
,” I repeated. “
. I don't think my father cares much for trials now.”
We watched the numbers light up one by one, clocking our descent. When the doors opened to the main lobby, it sounded as if the crowd was inside. On the road just beyond the Palace fountains, people were shouting. I couldn't make out a word; it all blended together and echoed through the marble hall, coming at us like a rumbling train. Hannah and Lyle, two of the Palace workers, had abandoned their posts at the main desk and were standing in front of the glass doors, watching. All the color had gone from their faces.
“This is hell,” Hannah said. “I don't believe they're actually going through with it. They can't.” Lyle, who often arranged for the cars that came and went from the Palace, had his arm wrapped around her, his hand clutching her side to hold her up. I ran toward them, pushing through the front doors. There, just beyond the fountains, the back of the platform was visible. It was nearly five feet high, the bottom of it closed off, out of view. Two poles rose up from it, forming a massive T. One prisoner stood on either side of the middle, their hands tied behind their backs, the rope knotted around their necks.
I took off down the path, climbing the low stone planters that separated the Palace from the road. It was impossible to come up behind themâthe back of the platform was blocked by a Jeep, the soldiers watching from the backseat as if it were one of the street performances sometimes held on the main road. Two others held the prisoners' hands. “Genevieve! Wait!” Charles called over my shoulder. But I was already moving toward the sidewalk, where a row of people pressed against a metal fence, watching.
“Traitors!” a man in front of the platform yelled. He was from the Outlands; I could tell by his ripped jacket, the elbows muddy. He cocked his head back, then spit, aiming at their feet.
Through the trees I could just make out glimpses of the two rebels. The man was tall and thin, his ribs visible through his bloodied shirt. He had fair skin, but I didn't immediately recognize him. It wasn't until I pushed past the fence and into the crowd that I could make out the thick black hair, hard and dark around the forehead, where it was crusted with blood. One of his eyes was swollen shut, and his glasses were gone, but Curtis was still Curtis. He held his shoulders back, his chin raised as the men in the front of the crowd screamed.
Jo stood right beside him, her hands tied. Her blond dreadlocks had been cut, her hair now cropped short around her ears. Her shirt was ripped in the front, exposing the top of her chest, where her skin was rubbed raw. “Let me pass,” I yelled, pushing deeper into the crowd, toward the platform. “I need to get through.”
Hardly anyone recognized me in casual clothes, with my hair falling loose past my shoulders. The dense crowd pressed in, an elbow knocking me hard in the side. I kept fighting through the great swarm of people. A massive oaf of a man leaned on me, and I leaned back, maneuvering in front of him. “What is the matter with all of you?” I screamed. “Why won't someone stop this?”
I stepped closer, trying to close the gap, when my eyes locked with Jo's. In an instant, the floor fell out from under the rebels. I stood there, the tears blurring my vision, as some of the crowd cheered. Others were quiet. She went first, her body only half visible above the platform, her head cocked at a horrible angle. I watched the way Curtis bucked for a few seconds, fighting it, then went still, his toes just inches from the pavement.
THEY WERE BRINGING IN ANOTHER JEEP. THE CROWD WAS
shifting to let it through, its cab packed with three more prisoners I didn't recognize. As the minutes passed and the soldiers pulled down Curtis's and Jo's bodies, loading them into a flatbed truck, some of the crowd dispersed back down the main road. A woman beside me pressed her face into her hands, her cheeks flushed. “What's happening to us?” she mumbled to the man she was with, before they pushed forward, quickly engulfed by the crowd.
But others stayed, some silent, waiting to watch the next executions. I pushed toward the front of the platform, until I was pressed against the metal fence. I grabbed on to it, kicking off the bottom rail to heave myself over. Charles called out somewhere behind me, but I didn't listen, instead running up to the back of the platform, where two of the soldiers stood. Their faces were hidden by green bandanas, the edges pulled up to their eyes. They were turned slightly, facing the Jeeps in back, and didn't see me coming. Before I could think I reached for one, yanking the cloth down so he was exposed. “You're all cowards,” I yelled. “I want to know who did this. Show me who you are.” The boy, no older than seventeen, quickly covered himself back up, glancing at the stunned crowd behind me, wondering who had seen.
Two soldiers drew their guns, aiming at me, before Charles came forward, jumping the barricade. “It's the Princess,” he yelled. “She didn't mean it; she's in shock.”
mean it,” I said. “You can't do this, youâ”
“Get her out of here,” one of the older soldiers yelled. He was still watching me from down the end of his rifle. “
Charles's hands came down on my arm, and he yanked me toward the Palace. “Have you completely lost your mind?” he said, when we were finally away from them. “You're lucky they didn't shoot you. What the hell were you thinking?”
We started up the long driveway, Charles's fingers wrapped tightly around my biceps. He didn't let go of my arm as we pushed through the glass doors and started across the lobby, the swell of the crowd trailing in behind us. “You have to speak to your father about this,” he said.
“Who do you think ordered it?” I wiped at my eyes, trying not to think about Jo's face swelling, her skin turning the color of bruises. Her eyes were still open, the whites covered with blood. How had they found them? And if Moss wasn't with them, then where was he?
Charles pressed the elevator button. I could feel his uncertainty as he held my arm, his hand shaking slightly. I could think only of the knife and the radio nestled in the bookshelf. I had to go now, today, with or without Moss's word.
“Oh my god,” Charles said, as we stepped into the elevator. The door closed, shutting us in the cold steel cell. “You knew them, didn't you?”
He leaned down, trying to look into my face, but I couldn't speak. I kept picturing Curtis that night in the motel, his relaxed expression, his lips curling into an almost-smile as he studied the blueprints for the flood tunnels. It was the happiest I'd ever known him.
“I can't talk about this,” I said finally, studying my reflection in the small, curved mirror in the upper corner of the elevator. “I just can't.” I pushed my hands down into my pockets, trying to steady them.
“You're not alone in this. I can help you.” He leaned down to meet my gaze. He put his hand out and I rested mine in his, letting him press it flat, the heat slowly returning to my fingers. “Whatever you need, Genevieve.”
I wanted to believe him, I wanted to trust him, but there was that name again.
The reason I was alone, one of many reasons he couldn't understand. He still called me that sometimes, slipping into the same phrasing my father used, the same formal, stilted attempts at intimacy. Now that the siege had failed, now that the City was again under my father's control, he couldn't help me. He didn't even know who I was.
For a second I wanted to tell him, to see his face as I revealed that I had tried to kill my father. That the missing blueprints that he'd wondered about one afternoon, as he went through his file drawers, were actually stolen and given to the rebels. That Reginald, the King's Head of Press, had been my only true confidant inside the Palace walls, that there were codes in the paper daily, one of which he'd read out loud to me the other morning, without even realizing. What would he really say, what would he really do, if I told him I was leaving now, alone, possibly forever?
As the doors opened, I started down the hall, pulling my hand free. “If you want to help me,” I said, “let me be. Just for the morning. Just for now.” He stood there, holding the door open, watching me go.
I PUSHED INTO THE SUITE, GRABBING ONE OF CHARLES'S
leather bags and emptying his papers into a bottom desk drawer. I moved quickly, pulling a few sweaters and socks from the chest, opting for the thick wool ones he wore with his loafers. I tucked the radio into the bag and the knife into the side of my belt, where it would be easier to reach. I took the bundle of letters from the nightstand, fumbling one last time through each drawer, trying to locate the picture of my mother. It had disappeared after those first weeks in the Palace, but I never stopped hoping I'd find it, hidden beneath some papers or in the recess behind the drawers. It was too late now. I moved quickly into the bathroom and stepped onto the edge of the tub. Caleb's shirt was still there, just inside the grate. I zipped everything into the bag and left.
On my way out I stopped at the Palace kitchen. It was empty, the workers still crowded by the parlor windows. The shelves were only half full, the supplies depleted from so many days without deliveries. I went through each cabinet and drawer, packing a few bags of dried figs and apples, along with the thin, salted boar's meat that was pressed in paper. I hadn't been able to stomach it in the past weeks, but I brought it anyway, knowing it would be good to have. I ran water from the tap, filling up three bottles' worth before tucking them away. When I turned back into the hall, there were two soldiers standing beside the elevator, their eyes moving from me to the bag.
I walked toward them, meeting their gaze. “I'll be right back,” I said, pushing the button beside the elevator. “I promised Charles I'd leave this in his office. He'd asked for some papers from the suite.” I pointed at the metal doors, waiting for them to step aside, permitting me through. But they didn't move. Instead the older of the two, a man with a chipped front tooth, adjusted his stance, filling the doorframe.
“Your father needs to speak with you,” the other said, clamping down on my wrist. I'd seen him before, stationed at the end of the hall. He had a permanent five o'clock shadow, his skin so pale you could always see the dark hair just below the surface.
“I need to go downstairs first,” I said, pulling free. “He can speak to me when I'm finished.” But the other soldier grabbed my arm. I studied his hand as it clutched my biceps, waiting for him to let go, but instead he pulled me back, toward my father's suite.