“Will, Teddy saw something he can’t unsee. I don’t think it’s safe to look for the bones of the ghost right now.” I sponged Teddy’s forehead with my damp handkerchief, but he still wasn’t responding.
The young page nodded shakily. “I don’t need to be braver than Jesse anyway. He got an ear boxing yesterday from the cook and bawled like a baby.” Will peered at Teddy’s pasty face. “He really doesn’t look good.”
“I think he just needs to get home and rest.” I rubbed Teddy’s back, urging him to step forward. The hair on my arms stood up, and my nerves jangled. We needed to get out of there. “We were going to meet with Sir Varket this morning, so we got here super early, but I don’t think that seeing him is a good idea now.”
“Sir Varket doesn’t get in until the mid-morning bells,” Will offered.
He probably didn’t usually, but the sense of calm in the palace could change in an instant. Someone had to have heard what we’d done, and it was only a matter of time before they alerted those higher up in the scheme.
“Can you take us out the way you did yesterday? Through the quiet corridors?”
“The servant corridors are pretty busy right now. The main hall is usually empty though.”
We had to trust him. “Whatever you think is best. Thank you, Will.”
I kept my arm around Teddy, holding him close as he stumbled beside me. With any luck, any stray person we came across would believe he’d had too much to drink and was suffering from a hangover. The thought actually gave me a small boost of hope. I’d never seen Teddy imbibe to that extent, but he had all the symptoms my brother often exhibited after a night carousing at the taverns with his friends.
My stomach roiled, and I expected the shouts of guards coming to arrest us with every step. We were almost to the door to the front courtyard when the lights flickered. Will frowned, staring up at the lights.
“They’ve never done that before.”
That was because the palace—supposedly on the same power system as the rest of the city—wasn’t really using steam power to keep the lights on. Our lights flickered all the time, and the water levels dropped as demand grew on the river, plus the run off from the larger population was contaminating the only source of water in the city. The demand to keep the power running grew every year, but the resources were finite in the city.
Without using a Beta’s ability to coerce people into ignoring all the problems in the city like the areas falling into decay, the pollution in the river, and the dwindling fresh food supplies, the citizens wouldn’t tolerate the conditions. The king would be forced to find a way to actually help the people for once… if he wanted to remain in power.
“Teddy really needs to rest,” I said softly. It was hard to keep my sense of urgency out of my voice.
“Oh! Sorry.” Will scurried along in front of us, and I tried to get Teddy to keep up with him, but his weight was dragging on me more and more. We were too close in size for it to be easy to support him for so long, but I would never leave him behind.
“Do you need me to call a carriage?” he asked.
“Yes please.” It was a risk to wait outside the front door, but we wouldn’t make it very far walking.
It wasn’t until I’d settled Teddy onto one bench in the carriage and closed the door behind us that I allowed myself to let out a sigh of relief. There would be suspicions—probably sooner than I’d like—but I’d made arrangements. First we had to go back to my parent’s home.
My mother would have a conniption if she saw Teddy, assuming he’d gone into a fugue again, so we had cause to take the side entrance and back stairs to my room. I sat Teddy down in a chair next to the fire and then hurried over to the door, turning the lock and pulling out the key.
Our future was a mystery, but Teddy and I had done what we set out to do. We destroyed the regime’s ability to wreck other Beta and Gamma lives. I just had to hope that we’d be able to enjoy our success together.
I’d never leave Teddy, but it was going to be hard if he didn’t come back to me. I tried not to even think about that possibility. He was just a little… lost.
He let me maneuver his body, his limbs limp, as I changed him into sturdy traveling clothes. I stuffed his pockets and jacket with things: a lighting device, a compass, money, and of course his notepad and stub of a pencil. I fingered the pad for a moment, a tangible reminder of his thoughts. He’d drawn a box on the cover with question marks all over it.
Teddy always did want to know everything.
I stripped and redressed, then pulled on my coat. It was early enough, we might go unnoticed, but there was time to waste. Hopefully Wildman would be waiting for us. We’d go by the theater, sneak around the area, but then we were going south.
We were getting out of this city… for good.TBC
More next week. Now on to more flash!