When I wrote Pandora’s Children, the second book in what I thought would be a two-book series, I included a number of flashbacks of the events that occurred before Will the Principal took over the District from the evil President. When I turned in the manuscript, my editor asked me to remove most of the flashbacks, because she felt the book was too long.
After I wrote Pandora’s Promise, the third volume in what is now a trilogy, I decided to put the three books together in one long e-book, a “box set.” This also gave me the opportunity to finally publish the earlier flashback material, which I have stitched together from the outtakes of Book Two, plus a few new scenes for continuity. Many readers who have read all three books have told me they wanted to read the earlier material, but did not want to buy the box set. So for these readers, as well as anyone who might be interested in starting the Pandora's series, here is Pandora's Prequel, as it appears in the Complete Box Set.
© Kathryn Lance
For the remainder of his life, Zach remembered the early morning when Will’s band of outlaw warriors broke into the President’s House and took control of the District. By now he had become one of his brother’s most trusted aides, and he, along with the other warriors closest to Will, felt that they were accomplishing something truly momentous, something that was a feat worthy of being included in history books, when they were again written.
Despite the significance of the occasion, it still felt to Zach like a continuation of all that had begun in the Garden, where he and Will had grown up. It was true that he had changed, and so had Will; true as well that both would change much more in the coming years. But it was also true that no matter what else happened in their lives, it all began, and in a sense ended, with Leya.
Leya’s face was peaceful and unlined, the faint purple bruises on her cheeks and arms the only sign of the ordeal she had been through. She lay on the low wooden bed he had made himself, beside her a tiny bundle wrapped in a clean blanket, as unmoving as she. In a corner of the cabin Gunda and Hilda cleaned up, bundling bloody rags into a pile.
Zach looked around the room in bewilderment, trying to remember how it had been to live here.
The late afternoon sun gave a reddish hue to the familiar furniture. Against the long wall across from the bed stood the two-tiered work table he had built for Leya when the pregnancy made it prudent for her to work at home. He had worked many hours, finally setting the table where the light of the sun would fall on it much of the day, and attaching a sturdy fish-oil lantern above.
“It’s too rough,” Leya had said irritably when he first showed it to her, so he took his tools and smoothed every inch again, then polished it with sand from the river to keep her from picking up a stray splinter. Thoughts of the table caused him to remember the day she came home from the Garden in the company of two other women, on mounts laden with packs containing small cages of the animals she was working with, and the few small tools of her trade that the Garden could spare.
This time when she saw the table gleaming in the sunshine, she smiled wanly at him, and began to unpack the animals and tools. That night in bed he had taken her in his arms and held her closely, dreaming of making love to her, but knowing that she did not want it now, and wouldn’t again until after the child was born.
For a moment the scene before him blurred and he imagined that he could see her still bent over the table, working in the flickering lamplight, making notes, peering into books, examining the small animals in their cages.
No one said a word. He could see that the women were ready to go. After a moment, he stepped out of the cabin and returned with a small hand cart. “Leave me with her,” he said.
“Zach--” the old woman put a hand on his arm.
“I’ll come to the Garden when I’m through,” he said. “Don’t worry, and don’t wait for me.”
He began to remove the books from the bookcases he had made, and to pile them into the cart. Still the three women stayed and watched, dry-eyed and sorrowful. He carefully wrapped the scientific instruments in unused bedding and rags, then laid them in the cart. He added household goods, cooking implements, anything that could be of use. Only the bedclothes and the things around Leya did he leave. He pulled the cart from the cabin and hitched it to one of the mounts from the Garden.
“It’s getting late,” he said. “Leave me with her.”
The old woman nodded to the other women, and they mounted their animals and rode into the damp woods. When they had disappeared into the trees, Zach began to bring in stacks of dry wood from the lean-to in back of the cabin. He placed the kindling under and around the bed, arranging a pyre. He added straw and bits of mount hair to be certain the fire would catch. When at last it was as dense as he could make it, he put a few personal things into his own pouch: his pipe and bag of newsmoke, a cake of hard soap, the bone flute he had carved for Leya. He slung the pouch from his belt, then knelt and, his hands shaking, pulled a thin glowing limb from the fireplace. Almost at once the curled straw and mount hair began to catch, sending delicate tendrils of smoke into the room.
When he was certain that the fire would burn, he walked again to the head of the bed and stood for a moment looking at Leya’s still face. Then he tucked the dead baby in closer to her, brushed her cold lips with his own, and stood back as the fire began to catch and spread. He knew it was time to leave the cabin, but he felt cold. The fire was warm as it began to consume everything that he cared about.
The heat became more intense, and he felt his eyebrows begin to singe. His eyes burned and he thought for a moment that they were weeping of their own volition, but they were dry. He shook his head to clear it and quickly walked out of the cabin.
The old woman was waiting for him in the yard. “I thought I’d have to come after you,” she said.
He didn’t answer. He turned and watched the structure, which he had made himself, burn, sending up sparks with popping sounds like ice breaking in a river. The heat became so strong that he and the old woman backed to the edge of the clearing. The rain continued to fall, gently, not affecting the fierce flames. He imagined he could see Leya and the baby within, sitting together and rocking. He throat was closed from the smoke and he could scarcely breathe.
After a very long time the cabin’s roof fell in, sending fountains of sparks over the clearing. It was fully dark now and felt late. The rain began again in earnest, falling heavily now, creating hissing noises as it met the flames, and the fire at last began to die, revealing charred rubble. There was no sign of the bed, or of Leya and the child.
He took a step toward the remains of the cabin, but the old woman stopped him with a hand on his arm. He realized that his legs and arms were trembling.
“Come along, son,” she said.
He picked up his axe and set it in a sling on his belt, then followed her.
By the time they reached the Garden, the rain had stopped and a half moon showed the outlines of the brambled vines covering the high wooden walls. They had not spoken on the journey, and Zach was surprised how strong the old woman’s voice sounded as she called to the guard to open the gate.
He had not slept in nearly twenty-four hours and his body was numb with fatigue, yet he did not feel tired. Gunda was waiting, lightly dozing, in the old woman’s cabin. A slow fire was laid on the hearth, with a kettle of water. Gunda hopped up and prepared tea. The old woman added a pinch of herbs to Zach’s portion.
“No,” he said.
“Drink it,” she said. “It will help you sleep.”
“I don’t want to sleep.”
Zach drained the cup, then had another, realizing suddenly how thirsty he was. The Mistress had spread thick blankets on the floor to the side of the hearth, and he lay down. The room began to spin and he felt resentful for a moment, but then gave himself up to it. He could make his plans tomorrow. Time no longer mattered.
Zach drained the cup, then had another, realizing suddenly how thirsty he was. The Mistress had spread thick blankets on the floor to the side of the hearth, and he lay down. The room began to spin and he felt resentful for a moment, but then gave himself up to it. He could make his plans tomorrow. Time no longer mattered.
When he woke he was alone, and for a moment he couldn’t think where he was. Then all that had happened yesterday returned. He felt as if a huge fist had entered his chest and clawed out a hollow, empty space with room for nothing but the ache of loss. An image of Leya’s solemn face appeared in his mind and he shut his eyes tightly, trying to blot it out. He took a deep breath and held it, then sighed and sat up.
His hands and arms were filthy with soot and his clothing smelled of smoke. He thought for a moment he would be sick but the nausea passed and he stood, then went out into the yard, blinking in the bright sunlight.
The yard was full of bustling women and children attending to chores. He walked behind the old woman’s cabin to the bath house. Gunda intercepted him, carrying a bucket of water. “Good morning Zach,” she said. “We’ve kept breakfast for you.”
“Thank you. I need to bathe—and wash my clothes.”
“I’ll find a robe for you,” she said. “Then let me have the clothes—we’re doing laundry this morning.”
Later he sat at the great long table in the dining hall, trying to force himself to eat porridge. A group of children who were having lessons at one end of the room kept glancing curiously at him. Though they had all seen him before on his infrequent visits to the Garden, they were not accustomed to grown men—and that he had stayed the night was unprecedented. When he had finished eating, the Mistress sat down across from him, her severe features softened in lines of concern.
“We need your help, son,” she said. “You can continue Leya’s work.”
His throat was rough from the smoke and he found it difficult to talk. “I’m going away, Mother,” he said. “I can’t stay here.”
“We’ll help you build another cabin outside the walls. You’re trained. You know we need able workers.”
He didn’t answer, and after a moment she nodded. “Where will you go?”
“To the Capital,” he said. “To find Will.” She frowned and started to speak, but he went on quickly. “His work is the same as yours, if what we hear is true. No matter what the scientists here find, without some sort of political order it will come to nothing.”
“Your brother is a fool,” she muttered.
“I think he can be a good leader,” said Zach. “Maybe a great one. In any case, there is nothing here for me.”
“I know you don’t want to hear this now,” she said. “But time will help. You can find another woman to love as you loved Leya.”
He bit back an angry reply. “You’re right that I don’t want to hear it,” he said presently. “And hear me now. What has happened proves that Leya’s theories were right. I am a carrier of the Sickness. I swear I will never be with another woman. I will never cause that to happen again.”
She looked at him, appearing shocked at his bitterness. Then she put both her small hands on his clenched right fist. “Stay a few days, son,” she said. “I’ll help you prepare for your journey.”
Will sometimes felt like the ancient bandit Robin Hood, whose exploits had been among his favorite reading as a boy in the Garden. Like Robin Hood, who fought an ancient king, Will preyed on the President’s allies and soldiers, moving camp from place to place in the forests of the District. He was sure that the President saw him as little more than an annoyance, however much he hated and wanted to be rid of him. Will would have a surprise for the President before very many more months. For his little band of merry men was in fact three large groups of well-trained, disciplined soldiers, who were prepared to follow Will to their death.
Perhaps the president was beginning to suspect how dangerous Will was; search parties had grown more numerous lately, to the benefit of Will and his coffers, which were now well filled with the President’s metal and the armaments of his soldiers. Certainly for some time now it had been dangerous for anyone known to be one of Will’s men to go openly into the Capital or the small towns nearby. Anyone suspected of belonging to Will’s forces would be put to death, after long and agonizing questioning, and this was the main reason Will moved his camps so frequently. His men were all brave, but Will knew that even the bravest man has a breaking point.
Will sometimes missed the excitement of the Capital, where he had lived until his activities became noticed and he had to take to the woods. There, in the city, on however primitive a level, were commerce, theater, variety. Here it was isolated, much like the Garden, though not, thank the deenas, run by women.
He was leaning against a mossy rock in the buzzing night, gazing across the large campfire in the direction of the city. Most of the men were quiet after a long day; those who were gambling and singing sat some way across the clearing and he could hear only a soft murmuring from their direction, punctuated by occasional rough laughter. Then he heard something else, the rapid crunching of running feet. He sat upright, his hand on his sword, as Daniel, a youth who had come with him from the Garden, ran into the fire circle, his light brown hair dripping with sweat.
Instantly, Red appeared next to Will, looking fully alert despite having fallen asleep after a hearty meal and too much brew.
“What is it?” Will knew that Daniel would not have come into camp if his news could wait till morning, when his mount would rouse from the immobile position of sleep.
“Perhaps nothing,” said Daniel. “I had to—” his breathing was still very hard.
“It can wait a few more minutes,” said Will. “Walk around until you can breathe easier. I’ll get you some water.” While Daniel walked off his gasps, Will crossed to the stream and filled his own horn with water. Daniel accepted it and drained it.
“Thank you, sir,” he said. He took a deep breath and began again. “As you know, I’ve been stationed at the crossroads five miles north of here. Quentin rode to our station just as the sun went down, on his way to see you. When he told me the news I agreed to run here myself. Quentin told me he has been moving through the Capital and towns at your direction to find out what he can about the President’s intentions and defenses. He had just been at a tavern near the river crossing, you may know it, the Crosskey Inn. There is a man who has been staying there for three days or more. Quentin heard talk that this man was very drunk last night and was boasting that he was your brother. Of course he immediately suspected a trick by the President. He began riding immediately to reach you before sundown but was delayed by the heavy rain this afternoon.”
“What did this man who claimed to be my brother look like?” asked Will. His heart was beating fast, though from the behavior of the man it seemed likely that he was merely a drunken fool or the President’s own agent.
“Quentin didn’t see him. But he was said to be big—a giant of a man, with light colored hair and beard. It was his size that drew so much notice.”
Will was very still for a moment. It could still be a trick, of course. But Zach… what could he be doing in the District? And drunk? That was not like him, nor was indiscretion. If he were here, he must be in some sort of trouble.
“What do you think?” he asked Daniel.
“I never knew Zach well,” said the boy. “I doubt if I’d even recognize him. But the description fits what I remember.”
“Did Quentin say anything else?”
“That the stranger—whoever he is—was trying to find you.”
“None of our men would fall for such an obvious trick!” said Red. He spat, then continued. “The President must be getting desperate if he thinks he can find you so easily.”
“It may not be a trick,” said Will quietly. “It is possible that the man Daniel describes is indeed my brother.”
Red looked plainly astonished. “You have never spoken of having a brother, sir.”
“He chose to remain where I came from,” said Will. “He did not want to join me, and I didn’t think he would. But it sounds as if he may have changed his mind. I must see for myself.”
“You mustn’t go there,” said Red. “It’s too dangerous. Even if it’s not a trap, you would be recognized.”
“I know that,” said Will. “But it will take me only a glance to be sure.”
Zach looked at the markers in his hand through a daze. His luck at this game was phenomenal. He knew that the three men he played with suspected he had been cheating and that they continued to play only in hopes of learning his secret. And yet he cheated not at all, but merely had a great string of guessing and lucky turns of the marker. He had done so well that he had more than doubled the metal he had come here with, and could have afforded to stay several more days without working. But he had found no useful information and must move on soon. It was possible that Will was dead already, killed in his quixotic quest to take over the world.
He signaled for another draught of brew and downed his first tankard in one long swallow, then refilled immediately from the cool pitcher. He couldn’t quite remember why he wanted to see Will. There was a deep anger… and a sense of purpose. He only knew that recently he had made a decision to move into the Capital, to get a job at the hardest labor he could procure, and to find Will. At night he thought of Will, of working, of gambling, anything but Leya. He poured another tankard.
“Never saw anyone drink so much,” said one of the men in the circle. “Wish I knew how you held it all.”
“Wish I knew how he keeps winning,” muttered the man to his left. He wiped a greasy hand across his mouth. “Luckiest son of a deena I ever saw.”
These men were rather drunk themselves, Zach saw, and his winning became easier the drunker they got. He finished the pitcher, then abruptly stood. He ordered another for the men, the least he could do after taking so much metal from them, and crossed to a wooden booth in a corner, where he continued to drink. The room was smoky and dense with sounds of laughter, of metal pieces clanking together, of shouts and even snores. He continued to drink, more slowly now, waiting for his thoughts to be stilled so that he could sleep. He had heard that if you drank enough at once it could kill you. That did not seem likely, but also did not seem like such a terrible way to die.
He became vaguely aware of someone sitting next to him, talking to him, asking if he were indeed the brother of Will the Principal. Of course he was. And if he could find out where Will was he would go to him. But maybe Will didn’t exist, and was just a figment. Zach knew vaguely that he was talking nonsense, and that he should not mention Will so often, but could not seem to help himself. Nothing seemed real, and he felt as if the room and all in it were underwater.
After a moment the woman who owned the Inn approached the booth. “If the gentleman wants company?” she said. He was surprised; he had not known she was a woman for hire. “No,” he said. “I do not want a woman.” “If you want a boy, we have some here,” she went on, not at all insulted. “No one,” said Zach. “I want no one.”
His new acquaintance ordered another pitcher of brew. Zach’s head was buzzing and his stomach churned uncomfortably. With difficulty he realized that the man was still speaking of Will. “I can take you to him,” the stranger said. “We must leave quickly. In secret.” There was something wrong, but Zach stood as the man urged him to his feet. He’d had much too much to drink. He was very dizzy. He knew he needn’t go with his new acquaintance, that if Will lived he’d hear of Zach’s presence and come to him. Still, he followed the man through the back of the tavern, into the dirty, steamy kitchen and out into the chilly night air. Zach was having trouble walking, and now two more men approached from the shadows and urged him into the woods, speaking in whispers. “Are you sure it’s him?” one said. “It’s the giant,” said the man he had been drinking with. “I paid the mistress to point him out. He’s the one who has been talking of Will the Principal.”
“The President will pay us well,” said another..
“Unless he’s just a drunken rogue,” said his companion.
Zach heard the words and tried to make sense of them. Something was wrong, terribly wrong, but he could not think what it was, for something was wrong with the world as well. The trees began to swirl around him and his eyes finally focused on a point of light above him, a star, which grew bigger and brighter, like the sun, until it abruptly winked out.
Will stood in the shadows between Red and Daniel, his face shadowed by a hood, while Quentin conversed in the doorway with the owners of the Crosskey Inn. After a moment he approached his companions. “They say he was here but that he left not long ago, in the company of another man.”
“What other man?”
“A friend of his, they say.”
Before his men could stop him, Will strode over to the innkeepers, who were just going back inside. “Where is the stranger who was here the last three days? The giant man?” His bellow caused a momentary hush in the room, and the smallest of the three men backed up a step, looking frightened. “Truly, sir, we do not know—”
“Of course you know! The President’s men took him, didn’t they? Well?” He grasped the man’s collar and shook him fiercely until he cried out. The other innkeepers began to protest from a distance while their wife, a stout and red-faced woman, approached Will and began to tug at his arm.
“Stop! Please stop! You’ll hurt him!”
Will stopped shaking the man but did not let go. On his other side Daniel gasped. “Your hood—”
“The deenas take my hood!” said Will. But he could tell from the sudden murmuring in the room and the frightened looks on the faces of the innkeepers, that he had been recognized. He would have to be out of here quickly.
“It was a stranger, sir,” said the woman, no longer bold. “He paid me a piece of metal to point the giant out, as if anyone could miss him. I didn’t know who he was, I didn’t mean any harm.”
“You’d better hope the giant as you call him hasn’t come to any harm!” said Will. He shut his eyes and breathed deeply several times, until he felt calmer. The woman and her husbands were fools, but didn’t know any better. He himself was a fool when he let his anger control him. After a moment he spoke again, quietly. “Show me where he was staying.”
Red spoke urgently. We can’t stay here any longer,” he said. “You’ve been recognized.”
“I know it,” said Will. “Five more minutes won’t make a difference, and I must be absolutely certain.”
“He didn’t pay yet,” said the woman slyly.
“I’ll pay after I’m satisfied,” said Will.
“Please, sir,” said Daniel. “Let me—”
“Be quiet,” said Will. “Stay here and be ready to move quickly.” Without looking back he followed the woman up a creaking ladder to the sleeping loft above the main room. She unlocked a small wooden cupboard, one of many in a row. Within it lay a bundle of personal things: an ancient axe-head attached to a handmade handle, two leather pouches, a worn gray shirt, a thin blanket. One of the pouches contained newsmoke and flint; the other some bits of food, and at the bottom a long thin tube made of carved and polished bone, one side of its surface punctuated at regular intervals with a line of small round holes. Will picked it up and saw his hand begin to tremble as he held it. This was the bone-flute that Zach had carved for Leya when they were children.
“How much to take the things?” he asked quietly. She named a figure that he knew was inflated.
Rather than haggle and waste more time he reached into his pouch and thrust the money at her.
Rather than haggle and waste more time he reached into his pouch and thrust the money at her.
Red stood warily at the door, one hand on his sword. “Sir—” he started, but fell silent when he saw Will’s face. Will nodded to the three men, then stepped outside without a word. He had made a decision and his men could do nothing but follow him.
Zach awoke with a groan. His head throbbed and he couldn’t focus. He tried to think where he was. A small fire glowed near him, and when he tried to move he found his arms and feet restricted by tight binding.
“He’s awake,” said a voice, and Zach looked up to see a man standing over him, strangely familiar, and then he remembered. It was the man from the Inn who claimed to know where Will was. His face was not friendly and Zach realized that he had been drugged.
Several other men appeared. It was hard for Zach to look at them. Their faces danced in the firelight and whenever he focused for more than a moment or two he fell into dizziness and nausea.
“Speak, Giant” said the first man. “Tell us what you know of Will the Principal.”
“I know nothing,” said Zach. “You were claiming to be his brother,” the man went on. “Tell us where his secret camp is. Tell us how many men he has.”
“I know nothing,” Zach repeated. The next instant the man’s boot hit him in the stomach. Zach gasped and tried to roll away.
“Tell us where his camps are,” the man demanded.
At last Zach had his breath back. “I don’t know,” he said. “You said you would tell me.”
“Don’t be funny,” said the man. And he kicked again, this time landing a solid blow on Zach’s flank.
“Maybe he’s just a crazy drunk like you said,” said another man.
“We’ll find out,” said the first. “Stand him up.”
The two men on either side pulled Zach to his feet. His knees felt as if they would not hold him.
“How many men does he have?” the first man asked again. His face showed no emotion. Zach didn’t answer and his inquisitor hit him in the face three times. Zach heard a crackling sound and tasted blood. “You’ll tell me what you know,” said the man. “Speak.”
“I know nothing.” There were more blows, and more questions, and once again he was on the ground, vomiting. Someone poured water over him and again the questioning began. No matter how he twisted away he couldn’t escape the kicks and the blows. He heard cries of anguish and did not recognize his own voice. Dimly, he knew that they would beat him to death, and with the little consciousness that remained he hoped they would finish it soon.
Will watched in silence from behind a thick brush. He started to move, and felt Red’s restraining arm.
“They outnumber us,” Red whispered.
“They will all die,” said Will. The bound figure twisted away from the constant blows and unintelligible questions. Although the victim was unrecognizable from here, Will was certain that it was Zach.
“I am going to save him,” said Will. “Will you follow me?”
Without waiting for an answer he drew an arrow and fitted it to his bow. It was hard to sight in the flickering firelight but he knew he would send it true by the force of his mind. An instant later a man across the clearing, who was standing guard, staggered, his hands to his throat where the arrow pierced it. He fell without calling out. At almost the same moment the man opposite him fell with a knife in the back.
“The odds are more even,” said Will, and without waiting he charged into the clearing with his sword drawn, screaming in fury as he lunged at the startled men who had only just noticed that something was wrong. His men followed and each closed on one of the President’s men. Will thrust his sword clear through the first man he came to, and without bothering to withdraw it charged with his long dagger at the man who had been kicking Zach. Zach’s assailant was surprisingly strong, and struggled, but Will forced him to the ground and plunged the tip of the knife into the base of the man’s throat, then drew it downward with all his strength, cutting him open like a fish. The man screamed and bubbles of blood began to pour from his mouth.
Will withdrew his blade and was on the point of going to where Zach lay, when something heavy fell on him and he was pushed to the ground. Dazed, he looked up to see the sightless face of one of the President’s men an inch from his own; a moment later Red pulled the man’s body from him.
“Are you all right, sir?” he asked. “He was behind you with a knife.”
Now Will saw that Red had taken a deep cut along the side of his face. “Thank you, Red,” he said.
The silence told him that none of the President’s men remained. He heard the sound of someone vomiting, then Quentin’s gruff voice: “Take it easy, boy. It’s hard on everyone the first time.”
Now Will went to where Zach lay, breathing shallowly. He was not moving, and his eyes were swollen nearly shut. “Zach, can you hear me?”
“Hurry, sir,” said Red. “More will be coming.”
“Zach—” Will shook him, as gently as possible. At last the cut and swollen lips moved and Zach whispered his name.
“Help me,” said Will. He cut through the bonds with his knife. Daniel and Quentin had already stripped the President’s men of their weapons and metal, and now Red, the biggest of the three, helped Will lift Zach. Holding him between them, they walked him into thick forest and slowly began to make their way back to camp.
Will was exhausted, drained by the battle, and by his own feelings at seeing Zach. Zach was scarcely conscious, occasionally trying to walk, muttering, then falling silent. It was nearly dawn when the small party reached base camp. Zach seemed to be growing weaker, and Will gratefully let Wolff and his assistant take the bigger man’s weight. Wolff looked at Will with concern.
“Don’t worry about me,” he said. “See to this man. He is my brother.”
They laid Zach beside the glowing embers of the fire. Beneath the blood and grime he looked like a corpse. Will felt a rush of emotion, remembering the last time they had been together. “Zach,” he said, and was surprised how angry his voice sounded. He thought to help Wolff, but his exhaustion was overwhelming. He felt himself being slowly eased to the ground, then a thick blanket was tucked around him, a folded cloth slipped under his head.
“Sleep, sir,” said Wolff. “We will take care of your brother.”
It was dusk when Will awoke. He looked around, disoriented, and suddenly became aware that the camp was gone. All that remained was a large cleared space, ash mixed with sand the only evidence that there had been a fire here. Sitting up with a start, he reached for his sword, then heard a voice: “It’s all right, sir. We’ve moved the camp.”
“What?” he looked up to see Red sitting beside him, his face tired and dirty.
“We did it during the day while you slept. Two men stood guard over you the whole time, till just now. We feared that the disturbance at the inn would attract the attention of the President’s men, so we’ve moved deeper into the woods, to one of the sites you marked.”
“He’ll live. He has some cracked ribs and bad bruises. Wolff says all the wounds will heal.”
“Take me to him.”
“I’ve only been waiting for you to wake up. You had a long night.”
“Thank you, Red. I know you must be exhausted yourself.”
“You should eat something,” said Red, holding out a strip of dried meat.
Will felt his mouth water. He had not eaten in a long time. “I’ll eat while we travel,” he said. “How far?”
“We’ll be there in a few minutes. One thing you should know, sir. He—your brother—does not seem able or willing to talk.”
“I will question him myself,” said Will.
Zach lay on a litter beside a thick tangle of brush, and when Will first saw him he was shocked. Zach was thin to the point of gauntness, and his face had become nearly as pale as Will’s own. Had it been only two years? After issuing orders and commendations to his men, Will took two steaming mugs of brew and squatted beside the motionless form.
“Zach.” The swollen eyes opened slightly. “How are you?”
“I’ve some brew. Can you sit up?”
Will cradled Zach’s head and raised it slightly, then held the mug to his lips and watched as the warm liquid poured into his mouth. Zach grimaced, swallowed, then sighed. “Thank you.”
“It’s lucky we found you when we did last night. They would have killed you.” Zach didn’t reply and Will went on. “What has happened? I didn’t expect to see you again. Why have you come here?”
“I thought to join… your band of merry men,” said Zach, his voice bitter.
“What about the Garden?”
“They need no men, as you very well know.”
There was a long silence. Then, his lips scarcely moving, Zach spoke: “She’s dead.”
Will stared at Zach. He opened his mouth, but no words would come.
“She tried to have a child. She died of the woman sickness.”
Again Will could think of nothing to say. He shivered, though the evening was warm.
Zach looked away. He began to speak rapidly, without expression. “This was perhaps two weeks ago. I buried her and the child. We have heard things about you. I remembered your childhood dreams. There was nothing else for me, so I decided to come, to see if I can help you in your grand quest… to restore….” He stopped speaking altogether. Then his shoulders moved and he gave an anguished sob so intense that his entire body shook. Will reached out and closed his hand on Zach’s shoulder in comfort. Then he turned to go, to leave Zach his privacy.
“I’m sorry, Zach,” he said. “Great deena, if I had known….”
Abruptly Zach sat all the way up and began to cough. When he had stopped, he was in full possession of himself. “We won’t speak of it again,” he said.
Life at Will’s main camp was almost idyllic for any man who didn’t want women or young boys.
As Zach had done when he first left the Garden, he worked as hard as he could at demanding physical labor during the day. When his ribs had healed sufficiently he cut wood, hauled supplies from one base to another, aided in the construction of wagons and weapons chests, then at night joined the knot of men who gambled and drank and sang. It had become generally known that he was Will’s brother, so he was scrupulous to perform more work than anyone else. He pushed himself in the daily training in armed and unarmed combat, which he had never had the taste or talent for.
He was aware that the other men were watching to see if he were favored by Will, but in truth, since that first night, he and Will seldom spoke. This was not because they deliberately avoided one another, but rather because Will was gone much of the time, seeing to his other outposts and planning his final assault on the Capital. Still, when the brothers met, there was a strain between them. Zach began to wonder if it would ever end. Perhaps he should move on and seek his fortune somewhere else. He still was not certain why he had come. Some of the men were here because work was scarce in the city, but many of them, particularly the younger ones, seemed filled with a sense of purpose, as Will had always been.
It was only when he heard Will speak that Zach caught a measure of that purpose.
“We oppose the President not because he is evil—although he is evil,” Will told the camp one night. “We oppose him because he has taken wealth and power for his own purposes. We oppose him because he does not acknowledge that his power and wealth come from the people and should be used only to make their lives better. We oppose the President because as long as he holds power, nothing will change. We oppose him and we will win because we have a vision of a better, safer, world.”
As soon as Will had finished, his men rose to their feet and cheered. Zach studied his face, its planes brought into sharp focus by the firelight. There was a hard, serious look beneath his smile, and Zach realized that Will had changed. He was no longer a defiant, angry boy, but a man, a leader of men, and Zach could see that his soldiers loved him deeply and would follow him to the death.
Zach remembered how, when they had been boys, Will had often talked of Alexander, whose life work had been to spread the ideals of civilization. Aristotle had only been a teacher, Will said. It was his pupil, Alexander, who had forged the civilization that made it possible for ideas to live. It was the idea of teaching combined with leadership, in fact, that had led Will to choose “Principal” as his title. The Principal is the highest in rank in any system, Will explained to Zach one evening; and before the Change, Principal was also the title for heads of educational institutions.
Zach was coming to believe that perhaps Will was right, that the important work of the Garden would come to nothing if there were no social structure to support and spread it. Gradually he began to feel that he was now a part of something that might be lasting, that might even change the world.
Zach had been in Will’s camp for nearly four months when the trouble began. Though each man was expected to do his share of work and guard duty, there were few formal rules beyond one precept that Will considered basic to his leadership: each man who worked for him must consider himself at all times to be an agent of Will himself. To Will, and therefore to the men, this meant that he placed absolute trust in his followers; woe be to anyone who betrayed that trust.
From this principle followed two inviolable rules: there was to be no drinking on duty, and no fighting in camp, ever. Anyone caught breaking either of these rules would be whipped and fined; for repeated offenses the penalty was expulsion or death.
The penalties were harsh, but worked, Zach could see, for the benefit of all. In his studies of the past, Will had worked out that the most effective leaders were those who had maintained the strongest discipline under all circumstances. His rules were seldom broken, because punishment was swift and certain. As Will later explained to Zach, the physical beating was the least part of it—though painful, it was not debilitating; rather it was the humiliation and public demonstration of betrayal of Will’s trust that made enforcement of the rules so effective.
From his first days in Will’s camp Zach had noticed a shaggy-haired and thick-boned man named Donalt, who, with his group of followers, seemed rougher and more pugnacious than most of the rebels. Donalt and his friends frequently complained about the required weapons and defensive drills, and whispered and snickered among themselves when Will was addressing the camp, though Will never seemed to notice.
Almost immediately Zach became uneasily aware that he was a particular target for Donalt’s remarks, and made a strong effort to avoid him.
The days were long and filled with activity, not all of it physical; Will insisted that his men be able to read and write, so those who were literate, including Zach, were charged with teaching those who were not.
At night, when he was not on guard duty, Zach often joined the group of men who drank and gambled until late. He still had the metal he had won during his stay at the Crosskey Inn, and soon discovered that his success at the Inn was not a fluke: apparently he had a rare talent for gambling. One night during his second month in Will’s camp, by recklessly increasing the size of his bets and continuing to turn his markers when common sense said the odds were against him—and finally by bluffing—he had won a feathered lyre, one of the rarest musical instruments in the District. Quentin, who had inherited the instrument from a grandfather, good-naturedly had showed Zach how to tune the strings and to pluck them together to make a chord, though he clearly had little sense of how to play. Zach had received some musical training in the Garden and had always loved music; he began to pick it up right away, the mournful sounds of the lyre seeming to suit his nature.
He practiced with the lyre often in odd moments, and sometimes accompanied the men in singing old folk and product ballads around the nightly fire. But more often he gambled and drank, often to the point of forgetfulness. There was plenty to drink, always. Besides the brew that Wolff, the healer, made, Will’s men often took kegs of flower wine and other spirits in raids on the President’s stores.
Zach enjoyed and began to look forward to these nightly periods of revelry. The drink caused his memories of Leya to recede until they seemed almost a part of the ancient past. It also helped him relax and enjoy the camaraderie of the other soldiers, especially Red, a hearty and sensible man about his own age, and Ralf, one of the oldest of the Principal’s aides. Having grown up in the Garden among women and then living alone with Leya, he had never before enjoyed this sort of comradeship.
One evening when Will was out of camp, Zach joined a particularly large group of gamblers. As happened more often than not, he outlasted nearly all, and at last found himself matched against Red, the only remaining player. At the last turn of the marker, Red laughed and threw his hand in, remarking good-naturedly that Zach was simply too good—or too lucky.
At that moment Donalt, who, along with Zach and the others had been drinking heavily all evening, moved closer to the fire. “Too lucky or too good usually means cheating where I come from,” he said. “Sell me your markers,” he instructed Red.
Red shrugged. “You had best ask Zach,” he said. “He has won fairly.”
“Well, Zach?” sneered Donalt. “Will you continue to play—with me? Or are you afraid to be found out?”
Zach frowned. Donalt’s manner had been grating on him for some time now, but he didn’t want trouble. “The game’s over,” he said. “Why don’t we end the evening with some singing.”
“Seems I was right,” said Donalt. “You are afraid. But then you probably never thought anyone would dare to call Will’s brother a cheat.”
Holding his anger in, Zach threw his markers into the circle drawn in the dust before him. “Choose,” he said.
Smiling in satisfaction, Donalt chose.
As the previous game had drawn to a close the men had begun to wander off and go to bed, but now interest revived and a curious crowd gathered.
Zach realized that he had already drunk too much brew to play alertly, and he suddenly wished he had ignored Donalt’s taunts. The two men continued to match markers, the stakes going up on each turn. For a very long time the contest was even; first one man would win, and then the other. Gradually, however, the luck of the game began to turn and Zach began winning steadily. The more turns that Donalt lost, the angrier he became, and the less cautious in his betting.
At last, having lost all of the metal he had begun with, he stood drunkenly and addressed the eight or so men still awake by the fire. “I was right,” he said. “Zach cheats. That’s how he wins so often. And we all know why he gets away with it.”
“Go to bed,” said Zach. “You are drunk.”
Donalt remained where he was, swaying slightly. “You’re just like your brother. Think that the deenas put you above the rest of us.”
Zach felt his face growing hot, and his hands clenched into fists. He began to breathe slowly to calm himself. Now Red, who had been watching through slitted eyes, stood and clapped his hand on Donalt’s shoulder. Angrily, Donalt wrenched himself away.
“You’re no better than he is, Red!” he shouted. “All of you lick Will’s boots like he was some kind of king. Well, he ain’t. He ain’t any different from any of us—except he can read, and he thinks that makes him special. You all know what kind of man he is. You know he’s a killer and a girl-stealer. Most likely Zach is too.”
At this last, Zach could hold himself in no longer. “Shut up!” he cried, rising, dimly aware that Donalt had been trying to create just this reaction.
“Zach—” Red tried to step between the men, but Zach had already grabbed Donalt by the shoulders. Donalt pulled back his hand with surprising strength and quickness, and hit Zach in the face. Stunned, Zach fell back, then counterswung, catching Donalt on the side of the neck. Slowly, closing cautiously, both men continued to swing, lurching drunkenly, bleeding and sweating and swearing. Suddenly, a familiar voice commanded:
“Stop this! Stop it immediately!”
Zach felt strong arms pulling him from Donalt and turned to see Will standing in the dancing firelight, his face pale and furious.
“Is this how you pass your evenings when I am not in camp?” Will demanded. “Donalt, you’ve made trouble before. Zach, I am surprised. I would have thought better of you.”
He turned to Wolff. “Who started this fight?”
“Zach made the first move, sir,” said Wolff. “But in all honesty, Donalt provoked him into it.”
“Both will be punished,” said Will. “Confine them, then do it in the morning,” he said to Red. Without another word he turned and crossed to his own side of the camp.
Zach watched him go, his emotions a confused jumble. His anger had not lessened, and he felt he could kill someone. Red and four of his subordinates bound him and Donalt, then led them off separately. “Don’t worry, Zach,” said Red. “Everyone knows it wasn’t your fault.” Zach didn’t answer.
Just before he was taken away, Donalt fixed Zach with a look of poisonous hatred and muttered through his bloody lips: “You ain’t seen the last of me yet, Zach. Not by a ways.”
The next day, shortly after sunrise, Zach and Donalt were punished before the assembled men. Will’s face was without expression as he ordered the whipping to proceed. It was performed efficiently and was over quickly; afterward Wolff attended to both men and they were left to rest for the remainder of the morning.
That afternoon when Zach taught his regular literacy class he noticed that the manner of his students had changed. The difference was subtle, but there seemed to be a new respect and acceptance. Before, he had been Will’s brother, untested. Now he was one of them. He did not see Donalt again that day or the next; the following evening he learned why.
He was sitting cross-legged at the edge of the camp, fitting feathers to arrow shafts, when Daniel, the youth from the Garden, came to tell him that Will wanted to see him. He finished the arrow he was working on, then set it down and rose to follow the boy, wondering what this summons might mean. Perhaps Will had decided to ask him to leave.
Will was seated at a table outside his tent, writing furiously on a large leaf-paper. When Zach approached he looked up with a quick frown. “Thank you for coming,” he said. “Sit.”
Uneasily, Zach settled himself on a stool opposite Will, and waited.
“Red told me how the fight happened,” Will said when he had finished writing. “He explained that you were provoked beyond measure.”
“I should not have fought,” said Zach.
“No, you should not,” said Will. He paused, then continued. “I know you will not fight again,” he said. “I know how much it takes to make you act on your anger. I had no choice but to punish you.”
“I understand that.”
“No one can be exempt from the rules. No one. Otherwise they would have no force.”
“I understand that too. And I respect it.”
Will looked at him for a moment, then nodded. “We have scarcely talked since the night you arrived.”
“You have been busy.”
“It’s more than that,” said Will. “But I think it will be easier now. Red likes you very much. He thinks I should take you into my counsel.”
“I am prepared to do whatever is most needed,” Zach said carefully.
Will laughed. “Then relax. Ah, Zach, I know things will never be the same between us. But until I left the Garden we were always the closest friends. I always looked up to you, do you know that?”
“You were always following me about and getting in the way,” said Zach, at last smiling.
Will smiled too, then abruptly became serious again. “I have banished Donalt from camp. This was his third offense.”
“I gave him his back pay—minus the fine—and the weapons he came with, and told him to go. That if he returns he will be considered an enemy.” While he spoke, Will looked closely at Zach, as if trying to read his thoughts. When Zach said nothing, Will spoke again. “Do you disapprove?”
“It’s not for me to approve or disapprove. But are you sure it is safe?”
“To let him go? I cannot have troublemakers here. Our work is too important.”
“I believe he could be very dangerous to you.”
“Probably,” Will agreed. “But what else could I have done? What would you have done?
Zach thought a moment. “Probably just as you did.”
“Red and Wolff urged me to execute him.”
“That would have been safest.”
“It’s what the President would do,” said Will with distaste. “I’m prepared to execute criminals—I have done it for some offenses. But it seems too extreme. It puts the power of life and death more directly in my hands than I want.”
“Still,” said Zach. “There is a danger Donalt will go to the President.”
“If he has not already. But he can do little harm. The President knows roughly where we are already—and we are moving the main camp again tomorrow. But Donalt knows nothing of my long-range plans…” Will paused. “Except some incorrect ones that Red told him one night over drink.” He smiled sheepishly and then laughed.
After a moment, Zach laughed too.
“So, Zach,” Will said then. “Are you ready to join me truly?”
Zach thought a moment. “The work of the Garden is the most important in the world,” he said at last. “If they succeed, then someday no women will ever die of the sickness. I think the society you want to build will protect them and make that possible.” He stopped a moment, then went on, aware that with the next words his life would be committed forever. “As you said, Will, things will never be the same between us. But within that limit I want to work with you. I will do what you ask, and if necessary I will give my life for your vision.”
Will gazed at him, then nodded and held out his hand. “Welcome, brother,” he said.
As the time drew closer for a full scale assault on the Capital, Will and his men began to enter and explore some of the numerous pre-Change tunnels that radiated from the heart of the Capital like the anchoring strands on a spider’s web. It had taken all of his persuasive powers to convince his followers of the value of the tunnels: like all men of the District they were afraid of these remnants from the past, believing them to be the haunts of wild deenas.
To help persuade them, he and Zach had first entered one of the tunnels together. It was in a remote area south of the Capital, occasional heaps of vine-encrusted rubble the only sign that this had once been part of a sprawling metropolis.
Will had always, from the day he knew that his destiny was to conquer the President and rule the District, planned to use the tunnels, knowing that the President’s superstitious soldiers would never enter them willingly. The Garden had possessed a book of faded maps of the District as it had been, with schematic diagrams of roads, tunnels, and bridges. Given the superb building technology of those days, he had been confident that at least some tunnels would remain passable and could be used as an invisible route into the heart of the city. Still, climbing down into that yawning darkness with only a torch and a sword, he could not help wondering what he might encounter there.
Zach, beside him, seemed to share his unease, but resolutely continued making his way through the partially cleared rubble at the tunnel entrance, and at last down into its depths.
The tunnel was better preserved than he had hoped. The torchlight showed a rotting concrete platform below slime-covered walls. Occasional shards of red tile, carved in geometric forms, crunched beneath their feet, while above, the remains of a signpost proclaimed “A SQUA.” On either side of the platform ran a shallow ditch, while beyond it the two ditches merged and disappeared into a narrower and lower tunnel.
The brothers stood a moment in awe, the only sounds their own breathing and the dripping of water. At last Zach broke the silence. “Which way are the deenas?” he asked.
“I believe there is one crawling up your leg just now,” said Will.
“If it bites me it’s dead,” said Zach, scratching himself. “Shall we go on?”
By now several more men had followed them into the tunnel, and while they waited nervously on the platform, muttering among themselves, Will and Zach walked some way into the darkness. The metal rails that had been used for transport were badly rusted and pitted, but remained undisturbed. If they continued so well-preserved the whole length of the tunnel, they could be used to navigate in the dark if necessary.
After a few minutes they came upon a partial cave-in. Will noticed with dismay that the tunnel was becoming wetter, the ditch now running with water several inches deep.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“Unless there is a complete blockage or it is badly flooded nearer the river, it should be passable,” said Zach. “But you should probably—”
At that instant there was a loud plop! and in spite of himself, Will jumped.
Zach quickly bent down and then stood, holding out his hand. In it was a grotesque blob of nearly transparent, jelly-like matter. Looking at it in the wavering torchlight, Will recognized that it was alive. Its face was featureless, but its heart, a dark smear, could be seen beating rapidly within the jellied mass. Suddenly it opened a large slit and emitted an unmistakable croak.
“A new-frog!” said Will.
“I’ve read that eyeless albino creatures have always been common in deep caverns. No doubt even stranger creatures have developed in here since the Change,” said Zach.
“And we must warn the men.”
The brothers returned to the platform and reported on what they had seen, Zach producing the new-frog, which brought expressions of revulsion and incredulity.
Although his men still seemed uneasy about using the tunnels, Will made certain they understood the clear advantage this would give them. They spent the remainder of the month clearing the tunnel until they had approached the edge of the river itself. While the water level had continued to rise, it was never more than hip-high, and it began to seem certain that they would be able to appear suddenly in the Capital as Will had always planned. There remained only one more detail, that of investigating the tunnel entrances in the Capital itself.
Zach volunteered to go, pointing out that he was less well known to the President’s men than the other top aides. Besides, he added, he had never been in the Capital and was curious to see it before the final battle.
As he watched Zach set off, carrying a torch, a small bag of metal and dried meat, and with a long knife hidden beneath his tunic, Will couldn’t suppress a pang of worry, one that never disappeared in all the years afterward whenever Zach had left him on a special mission.
Zach crouched near the entrance to a tunnel, eating a meat pie he’d bought from a vendor on the mall. He hoped he appeared to be one of the hundreds of unemployed, homeless citizens who lived on and around the mall, seeking momentary employment and begging, but in fact he was observing the tunnel entrance, trying to determine if anyone used it for any purpose. His trip under the river had been easier than he expected; the tunnel was wet, but never more than waist-high with water and surprisingly free from rubble except in a few spots near either river bank.
After he emerged from the deepest part of the tunnel and began to climb toward the streets, he discovered that the tunnel met several others, all with underground chambers that let in light from above, and converging on a vast, multi-roomed chamber very near the President’s great porticoed House. This chamber contained mounds of crumbled concrete, strange brown obelisks and the remains of ancient tiled platforms. If Will’s men could make it this far, he had realized, it would be a perfect staging area for the final assault. Like all of Will’s ideas, this one seemed to be working out nearly as he planned. Though Will had always thought of himself as a warrior, and without a doubt he was a skilled and brave fighter, Zach knew it was his planning and vision that would make the District possible.
Zach spent another two days observing the tunnel entrances near the President’s House. Then, confident that he had attracted no unwanted attention, he began to make his way about the Capital, noting the sizes and locations of the President’s military camps. He found that his begging bowl made him nearly invisible—or so he thought.
He had arranged to meet Will at midday on the fifth day by the southern bridge. From there, they planned to explore the area southeast of the Capital. As the hour approached, he made his way across the mall, moving among the merchants, artisans, entertainers, and others who populated the great grassy area during the day. He had nearly reached the bridge when he was seized from behind. He began to struggle, but a blade appeared at his throat and he found himself looking into a familiar scowling face.
“Going somewhere, Zach?” It was Donalt, the man he had fought at Will’s camp. “Search him,” Donalt ordered. One of the men with him quickly found the knife Zach had strapped under his shabby tunic.
“I told you you ain’t seen the last of me,” Donalt said, grinning. “The President will pay me well for this prize—Will the Principal’s own brother—and no doubt his secret plans as well.”
“I’m no longer with the Principal,” Zach said quickly.
“Then why have you been spying on the President’s men these last days?” Without warning, he struck Zach across the face. “I’ve been watching you,” Donalt said. “Watching and following. You’re a dead man.” He jabbed the point of his knife into Zach’s belly. “Come along,” he said. “The President has some questions to ask you.”
Zach had no illusions about what would happen next. The President was well known for employing brutal torture. His only hope was to force Donalt to kill him here, now.
The rain had washed away all of the blood, though the cuts had begun to sting as Will followed Zach through the dense, wet underbrush. Zach too had been injured; but the brothers were far better off than their foes, all of whom lay dead beside the bridge. It had happened quickly. One moment Will had been riding in a wagon hitched to a single mount, a woman’s cloak pulled over his head, while Red, disguised as a farmer, drove the wagon. No trouble was expected, but the produce in the back of the wagon concealed their weapons.
Zach had promised to meet them at midday, but the time came and went with no sign of him. Will was beginning to worry when Red’s sharp eyes spotted a disturbance on the Capital side of the bridge.
“Let’s take a closer look,” said Will, and the rustic cart started across. It took only a moment to see that Zach was fighting for his life against four armed men, and scarcely longer for Will and Red to join the fray. Donalt and his men had not expected interference, and Will and Red easily overpowered them.
Only Donalt remained, but he now had his knife at Zach’s throat. “Let me go,” he said to Will, “or your brother dies.”
Will and Red exchanged a glance. There was no time to bargain. Then Red suddenly pointed. “The President’s men!” Donalt turned his head for an instant, and Zach lunged into him, gripping Donalt’s arm. His strength and desperation overcame Donalt’s hold and the two went down, struggling over the weapon. A group of soldiers approached on the run and Will was at the point of interfering in the fight when Zach gained possession of the knife and plunged it into the base of Donalt’s throat. Donalt screamed once, then stopped struggling, his hands feebly clawing at the wound.
“Get back to the tunnels!” Will shouted to Red. “Zach and I will take the mount and lead them away. We’ll join you when we can.”
Red nodded and quickly ran into the trees on the mainland side of the bridge. “Zach!” Zach was sitting on his heels vomiting.
“I never killed before,” he said after a moment.
Roughly, Will pulled Zach to his feet. He cut the mount loose from the cart, then, leaving the vehicle to block the entrance to the bridge, climbed onto the beast, Zach behind him. As they galloped toward the south, he could hear the angry shouts of the President’s men. Because they were not mounted, he would have a good head start.
They rode hard the rest of the afternoon, passing through unmarked trails and woods, occasionally hearing sounds of pursuit. As dusk approached the mount became sluggish and they left her, continuing on foot. The rain had begun shortly after dark and had not let up. They slogged on, taking comfort in the fact that pursuit would now be more difficult.
“Where are we?” Zach asked once.
“Somewhere on the southern peninsula.”
A flash of lightning illuminated the choking vegetation and pools of mud ahead of them. Any sounds of pursuit would be drowned by the thundering rain. Beneath his exhaustion, Will felt a sharp thrill of triumph. Though the President did not know it, the fight had been the first skirmish in the final battle that would topple his empire.
“Do you think they are still after us?” Zach asked.
“I don’t see how…” At that moment the rain diminished and they heard shouts in the distance. “The deenas take it! Don’t they ever give up?”
They were in a swamp now, the thick ooze made even stickier by the rain. Zach began to run again, and as Will started to follow, his foot became tangled in a hidden root and he fell into the mud, cursing.
He started to climb to his feet, but as he did a man dressed as one of the President’s soldiers appeared. “I have you now!” the soldier shouted. Will twisted in the slippery mud, trying to draw his sword, but the other man hit him hard in the face. A bright light filled his eyes, then winked out.
When he came to, his head ached badly and he was conscious of being upside down. After a moment he became aware that he was being carried and that the rain had ceased.
“Will?” Zach stopped. “Are you all right?”
“I think so.” Zach set him down on the wet ground. “What happened? I remember seeing a soldier….”
“I killed him,” said Zach.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Zach was silent a moment, seemingly lost in thought. After a time he continued. “I think he had become separated from the main group. In any case, there have been so further sounds of pursuit, and we’ve been traveling quite a long time. I believe it is near dawn.”
“You have carried me this whole time?”
“With stops for rest,” Zach said, rubbing his shoulders. “Do you think you can walk?”
“Yes.” Then: “Thank you, Zach.”
When the sun came up it revealed the still-intact stone walls of a large pre-Change estate. The biggest structure, a three-story stone dwelling, proved to be in very good condition, as were its outbuildings, walls, and orchards. For the next several days the brothers used the estate as a base while they further explored the peninsula.
… Thinking back on that time, Zach remembered it as the most comradely of his life; when they were not exploring and drawing maps, he and Will had roamed the grounds of the estate, throwing overripe fruits at one another, laughing and roughhousing as they had when they were boys. Once again Zach was the big brother, Will his follower, both enjoying this carefree time all the more knowing it would be their last. Four days later they had returned to the men in the tunnels and the final battle for the District began.
The Battle for the District seemed almost an anticlimax after the two years of Will’s planning that had preceded it. When Will and his followers began pouring out of the tunnels near the President’s House early that morning, there was little resistance. Most of the townspeople who saw them ran away screaming, terrified that the men were the personification of wild deenas. The President’s soldiers for the most part offered little opposition, scattering when challenged, until Will, leading the charge, marched straight for the President’s House, a large old pre-Change mansion that stood inside crumbling walls topped with rusted spikes, further fortified with poorly constructed barriers made of wood. Like most of the remaining edifices, the building had once been white, but was now a dingy grey, covered by years of dirt and neglect.
Over the next few years, Will would set teams of his men to cleaning the outside of this and many of the other ancient structures as part of his plan to restore daily life as much as possible to what it had been like before the Change. As Zach advanced with Will, Red, and Wolff through the huge double doors and up a large, poorly-kept winding staircase, he couldn’t help noticing that what was left of the original interior was far grander and more beautiful than anything that could be achieved by post-Change technology. In time Will made it even more elegant, replacing many of the furnishings and framed pictures with others, relatively undamaged, from the still-sealed vaults of the numerous museums in the Capital.
A few of the President’s men put up token resistance, a handful fighting bravely but easily overcome by Will’s better-trained men. “Surrender and join me,” Will implored the few who had continued to fight. “I will treat you fairly and if you are capable, I’ll take you into my army.” Many of the fighters immediately threw down their museum-piece arms, though some ran away, to quickly be captured by Will’s men. In a very few minutes the battle was over, except that there was no sign of the President himself.
Zach and the other soldiers fanned out, checking the many rooms. Zach and Red climbed to the third level, where the sound of sobbing led them to a large room containing as many as two dozen girls and women, embracing each other with terror on their faces. “It’s his harem!” Red said, looking disgusted. “And what’s this?” He crossed to the back of the room and flung open a door, revealing a closet full of women’s clothing. Will arrived just as the door opened and quickly pushed the clothing aside, revealing a short, quaking fat man. The women began screaming as Will reached for the man and pulled him out into the room. “The President himself!” he said.
Zach looked on in astonishment: this sniveling coward was the man who routinely tortured his foes and held the citizens of the District terrified of his whims? “I surrender!” the President cried, his voice shaking with fear.
“You haven’t that right!” Will snapped. He held his sword to the old man’s throat. “You will pay for your many crimes in person, on the machines,” he said. A large assemblage of dead machine bodies stood on the far side of the mall, in an area avoided by most people of the District. Will’s plan was to use the widespread fear of wild deenas to make death by machine the most terrible and frightening of all possible punishments, to be used only in the most exigent circumstances. The President would be the first of Will’s foes to die there.
“Zach!” Will said then. “See to the women as we discussed.” He left with two other aides and the President, who was so frightened he could scarcely walk.
Zach nodded and quickly reviewed the plans he and Will had discussed while they were at the estate. While Red stood guard at the door he turned and dropped his sword outside the room, then stood before the women unarmed. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “We will not hurt you.” The women, who ranged in age from late childhood to middle age, gazed at him with tear-stained faces, clearly not believing him.
“The President told us you will rape and kill us,” said one of the older women. “He said the wild deenas are in you!”
“There are no wild deenas,” said Zach gently. “We are men, like any others. And we, and the Principal himself, will treat you with respect.”
The women continued to weep while Zach explained that the Principal understood that all of them had been taken from their homes—their parents or their husbands, by force. “Those of you who wish to return home will be taken there, no matter where it is. Those who wish to marry will be given their choice of first and second husbands from among the Principal’s unmarried soldiers. Anyone who wants to learn will be given the chance to go to a school we know of that is for women only,” he added, not mentioning the Garden by name. “Finally, any of you who wish to sell yourselves will be placed in a safe House where you will be fairly paid and protected for as long as you wish to work there.” Most of the women had quit sobbing, and though he still saw disbelief on their faces, he could see that some were already thinking of possible new futures. The last choice, which would lead to the creation of the Principal’s Houses of Women for Hire, had been carefully worked out during the days he and Will had spent on the estate. Given Will’s own scarcely controlled compulsions regarding women, Zach had wanted to make certain that the women in the President’s rumored harem would be safe. To his relief, Will had agreed.
When Zach finished speaking, he and Red and several other soldiers escorted the women to a large house across the street where Will had already established a perimeter of security. By now it was late afternoon, and Will invited all his men in to an impressively large room on the bottom floor of the President’s—now the Principal’s—House. While Wolff oversaw the preparation of a feast with meat, fruits, and plenty of drink purchased from merchants on the mall, Will stood before them and thanked them all.
“We will have new titles for our new world,” he said, looking pleased. “Instead of a linear top-down hierarchy, I shall have several brave men as my seconds in command—my new Generals. Below the Generals will be Captains, and each of these, as well as each soldier, will serve as an extension of my rule, at all times keeping the peace and protecting the future of the District.” Zach had not known of this plan of Will’s, though it was obvious he’d given it much thought, and was somewhat surprised to find himself named as one of the Generals.
Afterward all the men, including Will’s new Generals, celebrated long into the night, eating, drinking, gambling and singing. Only Zach did not join in. From the evening when he had fought with Donalt he had not touched alcohol and would not drink again for five years; nor did he ever again gamble.
His promises to Will were kept, and more: Zach gradually became Will’s closest confidant, followed and fought beside him, and came to accept all of Will’s dreams as his own. It would be many more years before all the things that had been left unsaid would again come between the brothers and change everything.