“Turn your face up,” Lillian told me.
She rinsed out my eyes with something. Liquid streamed down past my temples and ears and the back of my neck.
“It’s not helping.”
“Keep blinking,” she said.
I did. Gradually, the world became clearer.
I gave her a thumbs up.
“Let me know when blinking stops working,” she said.
“We need to focus on Gordon and Mary,” I said.
“We need to win this,” one of the men who’d been with the Brigadier spoke, “We’re being overrun.”
“I’m pretty sure the plague men are immune to poisons, parasites, and diseases,” I said, still blinking. “They have the firepower to gun down your monsters, and they’re zealous. Stitched are falling faster than they should, and your specialists, rank-and-file and officers are getting intimidated.”
“This isn’t news.”
“Making sure everyone knows what’s what. I don’t know what you’ve been doing, cooped up in here.”
“Waging a war.”
“And being overrun,” I echoed him.
It was the Brigadier who stepped in to speak. “I have to ask. Was it you who set the fires?”
“No,” I lied. “They happened. We used them once they began. Spread them further. We felt it was important to divert them, make sure they didn’t have safe ground to fall back to.”
“Sorry,” I said. “It was a judgment call on our part, seeing how and where they were moving. I understand if you don’t want to work with me any further.”
I could make out the individual slats of the boards in the arching ceiling, now.
“I don’t think we have any other choice,” the Brigadier said, and there was a curious tone to his voice, as if he’d caught me in the lie, and he was hinting he had, while trying to keep his men from grasping that fact.
I gestured at Lillian, and she rinsed my eyes again.
This time, as I blinked, I lowered my head, looking around.
Helen was sitting on the edge of the table with the maps, close to the fireplace, her feet in Jamie’s lap. Shipman was sitting at the far end of the table. The men were all standing.
I wiped at my eyes and temples with my hands, then ran my fingers through my wet hair to get the worst of the cleansing agent out.
I looked down at Melancholy.
“You opened your wound again,” Lillian noted.
I looked down at my side. The cold rain had washed away a surprising amount of the blood. There were traces, though, a blob of pinker fabric.
I pulled my raincoat closed. “We’re surrounded, on the defensive, we have two key people who need immediate attention, and if they find out Melancholy here is dead, then her orders to keep certain individuals alive stop holding water.”
My attention turned momentarily to the Brigadier as I hopped down from the edge of his desk and walked over to Melancholy’s body. One of the commanding officers was standing over it, another was at the window, peering out.
“You’ve summed it up,” the Brigadier said. “We need solutions.”
He was being more curt than before. Had we disappointed? Or was something else bothering him?
“Thinking,” I said. “Believe me, I know we need solutions. Two people I care about dearly are out there, and I don’t know if they’re alive or dead. The sooner we can get to them, the better.”
I rifled through Melancholy’s pockets, patting her down. Everything I pulled out found its way to the floor. Three rings that might have been wedding bands, except they were the wrong metal, threads, buttons, two torn patches with what looked to be cloth badges on them, two photographs, of all things, badly exposed, showing very normal people. There were also things I expected: a pen, a flask of alcohol, two knives, a tube of something that smelled foul, and three pieces of paper. The firebombs she’d taken from Gordon were on her belt.
The mementos caught me off guard. This was a person with keepsakes and history. People she kept photos of, both men.
I took the belt of firebombs, unbuckling it, and collected the pieces of paper, along with Melancholy’s pen.
After a moment’s hesitation, I grabbed one of the three rings. Steel, dark, but it had been polished bright where it had been rubbed. It was a hair too large on my finger, so I moved it to my thumb.
“-the fireplace?” Helen was asking. I’d been slightly out of earshot.
“Hm?” I asked.
“Up the fireplace. Escape route.”
“Possibly. There are no guarantees you won’t be shot when you pop out the top, or that you have any place to go if you aren’t shot,” the Brigadier said. He gauged the size of the chimney. “You children could squeeze through, but your escape route doesn’t help any of the rest of us.”
Helen’s face was devoid of compassion as she took in that sentence and continued to stare at him. He looked away first.
I slapped the papers down in front of Jamie. Helen craned her head around to look at it.
“What’re these?” Jamie asked.
“Letters in Melancholy’s possession. Her handwriting.”
He groaned a little, head bowing.
“I can try,” he said.
“Explain,” the Brigadier said. His men were looking more antsy, now.
“Forgery,” I said. “We have some of Melancholy’s handwriting. Someone in their leadership.”
“There’s a lot wrong with that idea,” the Brigadier said.
Still so negative. Still curt. He was upset. It felt disconnected from the idea that he was losing this battle. If it had been connected, he would’ve been more vocal during some parts of the conversation thus far, and less vocal during other parts.
“What am I writing?” Jamie asked.
“Brigadier Tylor, sir,” I said, choosing the full title to try and curry favor with the man. “You get to be Melancholy. She’s not the direct leader, but she’s next best thing, and she’s in the field, here. Her orders supercede most others.”
“I can’t order a retreat. They wouldn’t believe it.”
“Probably not,” I said.
“Unless-” Lillian started.
Heads turned, and she fell silent.
“Go on,” I urged her.
I nodded slowly.
“Westmore doesn’t have a superweapon,” one of the officers said. “They have to know it doesn’t. They controlled the city for a long period of time. They interrogated captives, kept prisoners. I imagine they tortured and drugged those prisoners.”
I nodded slowly. “Ordering a retreat and claiming we have a mysterious superweapon is pushing it. Jamie. First order. Written to the vanguard, the front line. Furthest up.”
“That would be the northwestern point,” the Brigadier commented. One of the commanders nodded.
“Georgie Madsen,” Jamie said. “Probably.”
“Go for it,” I said.
“How do you know that?” Shipman asked. “That it’s him?”
“I read a lot of the correspondence and paperwork that passed over the enemy’s desk, while I was babysitting Ames,” Jamie said. He was already writing. “Madsen is the best fit. Young officer, eager, aggressive. Had a wife, they were expecting, his wife lost the baby. He blames the drug for the loss, and now the sterility throws a wry stitch into things, because they can’t try again. He’s angry.”
“That’s not how it works,” Lillian said. “The drug.”
“Doesn’t matter, because it matters to him, and it gives him a reason to push to be at the front,” I said. “Officer Madsen gets a letter from Melancholy. There’s a superweapon in the mines, with caches of weapons. Leave a skeleton crew to man the front, other units are coming to reinforce his position shortly, get to the mine shaft by that one gate-”
“Southeastern gate,” Jamie said.
“Have him send some people down. Even if the superweapon is a hoax, the cache is almost a certainty. Paranoia on the Crown’s part, after the near-shortage before.”
“Tying them up,” the Brigadier said.
I nodded with vigor.
I was anxious. I wanted to be gone, and this maneuver wouldn’t be fast.
“Second letter,” I said.
“West gate. They have to be there,” the Brigadier said. “They want an escape route with the fires burning behind them, they don’t want to pass us and then get attacked from behind. It’s the only logical point.”
“Combat fires in the southwestern position,” I said. “Madsen’s group is secure at the northwest and is being reinforced as we speak.”
The brigadier nodded. Jamie nodded too.
“I can only write so much at once,” Jamie said.
“To the command here. To be passed on to their superior officers. Melancholy has finished with her task here. She has Tylor. Send two coaches, have two men collect the injured children at… damn it. We were close to here. Within earshot to hear people shouting about the firefight here. Plague men came directly at us from…”
“Which direction, Sy?” Jamie asked, voice soft.
“Between the last fires we set and, it had to be a bend in the road, the way foot traffic was.”
“Hereabouts?” Jamie asked, pointing at the map.
I looked, trying to gauge.
“Thereabouts,” I said. “He and the children are to be brought back here and put in the coaches. Prisoners of war, and children of important figures.”
“That’s almost a bigger stretch than ‘the rebellion forces should collectively retreat,” Jamie said. “Almost.”
“Our safety was guaranteed in exchange for information about the weapons in the mine,” I said.
“They may not buy it,” the Brigadier said. “These missives coming from here? Having us escorted into the coaches with the assassin remaining behind, unseen?”
“I have an idea,” I said, while still pontificating on what that idea entailed.
Jamie wrote with Melancholy’s pen. He passed the first paper to me, immediately starting on the second.
The handwriting matched perfectly. There were individual letters that weren’t in any of her notes, but there were the florid, angular capital letters, even the way the crisp handwriting got messier for words further down the page, as if she’d lost patience with the neat handwriting style and started scribbling out the words instead. A habit in both of the papers I’d given Jamie.
“Keep in mind,” I said, “If her handwriting gets gradually sloppier, that’s going to carry over across the three messages. If they check it, we don’t want that little oddity to raise alarm bells. Prey instinct.”
Without looking up, Jamie crumpled up the paper he was writing on and started on a second. “This is not a strength of mine, Sy. I haven’t practiced it.”
“Do your best,” I said. “Helen.”
Helen beamed a smile at me.
“You’re Melancholy, for our little task here.”
“Wow,” she said, smiling wider. “How does that work?”
“Well, for one thing, we can be glad her hair covers so much of her face,” I said.
She nodded. “I’ll need a knife.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” the Brigadier said.
“You will,” I told him. “Knife?”
Still that aura of negativity. Doubt.
“Please, sir. We’re short on time. Even if for your own preservation, we can’t have Melancholy’s meeting with you extend too long.”
The man lifted a foot, and pulled a combat knife from the side of his boot. He extended it handle-first.
I took it.
“Lillian,” I said.
Lillian trotted to catch up with Helen and I.
“You want to cut off her hair?” Lillian asked.
“In a manner of speaking,” I said. “I figure it’s easier to maintain her hairstyle if we just take it all in one go.”
Lillian blanched a little.
I smiled at her. “What? You’ve poisoned people. You’ve seen people die. This is cake.”
Helen made an amused little sound. I handed her the knife, and she bent down.
She proceeded to scalp our assassin, knife following the hairline.
In the doing, she revealed Melancholy’s eyes. A little milky in color, with sockets that looked too splayed out, the ridges of cheekbone and brow too accented. She might have looked skeletal, but it was more that her skeleton was an odd shape. Her jawline, too, was strange. Akin to a snake’s.
Something about it, the large eyes, the disproportionate features, the odd shape of her head, minus half of her scalp, it made me think of a newborn baby. Blind, orally focused, agape, face twisted in emotion she wouldn’t be able to express again.
Hadn’t she said something about how we were all brought into the world?
She’d been more focused on the relationships than on the fact that we came into the world bloody and powerless, though.
I rotated the ring around my thumb with one finger as I looked down at her.
“Bloody,” Helen observed. “Wouldn’t do if I had blood running down my face.”
“Rinse it,” I told her. “Lillian, use some powder or something, get the bleeding to stop. Then makeup. This is your chance to shine.”
“What makes you think I have makeup?”
“You’ve been wearing some. You were wearing it at the school the last time I saw you there. I know you have something to cover up bruises and cuts. Unless you were a twit and used it all up.”
Lillian sighed, exasperated. “You’re a real charmer, Sy.”
“I know you’re not a twit, Lil,” I said. “I just really want to help Gordon and Mary.”
She nodded. “Me too.”
We were pulling it all together. There was just one thing we needed.
I looked at the fireplace tender, and I felt a moment of doubt.
“Shipman,” I said.
She looked a little wary as she turned her full attention to me.
“Why do I have a bad feeling about this?”
“You’re learning,” Jamie murmured, still writing. He’d scrapped two drafts since Helen started scalping.
“We need legs for our new Melancholy.”
It was a bad joke in stage plays, one child atop another’s shoulders, trying to be an adult. But Melancholy had a heavy black raincoat, and Helen was an actress. She already wore Melancholy’s scalp.
“You’ve got a hump,” I observed.
Helen contorted, shifting position.
“Pressure, ow, pressure!” Shipman raised her voice a little.
“Shh!” I hissed. “You can damn well cope.”
“She’s digging individual toes in between my ribs for a foothold. I’m allowed to say it hurts!”
“Bring your knees in,” I said.
The bits poking out beneath the armpit receded.
“Better,” Shipman said.
“Don’t care,” I said.
“Too tall,” Jamie observed.
Helen dropped her height an inch.
“Too short,” Jamie said.
Helen raised her head a half-inch.
Exemplary control over her own body. Not perfect, but enough to make the difference. To sell this in a way that wouldn’t normally work.
“You need the mouth,” I said.
“I don’t have the teeth, and I can’t do the voice,” Helen said. “Unless you want to get a file?”
“Ibott would kill us,” I said. “Don’t talk, don’t open your mouth.”
Then she pulled at muscles in her face. A rictus grin, too-wide, until it looked like her mouth would tear open.
It wasn’t perfect. The nose was wrong.
But people didn’t look at noses.
“Officers, Brigadier,” I said. “Kneel.”
I could tell the instruction didn’t go over well. These weren’t men who had knelt for anyone but the Crown.
I got a kind of perverse joy out of it, watching as they knelt.
“In a line,” I said. “That pissed-off look on your faces? Keep it.”
They arranged their positions, so they were all in a line, down the center of the room. Jamie, Lillian, and the firetender took up position just in front of them.
‘Melancholy’ and I approached the door. Shipman was slow, carrying Helen. She didn’t complain any further, though.
“Good girl,” Helen purred. “Keep going.”
“I don’t need the encouragement,” Shipman said.
“Pat on the head for you,” Helen said.
I opened the door a little, caught it with my foot, and then kicked it open, trying to make it look more like ‘Melancholy’ had opened it than I had.
She stood in the doorway, so the door remained propped open, and I threw myself forward, stumbling to the point of nearly falling down the stairs.
The people on the street were far enough away they’d infer I’d been pushed or kicked.
I looked at the Academy forces at the walls on either side, defending the position, ready to open fire. I moved my head as if I was looking past everyone and everything, blind.
“Soldiers? If you’re there, throw down your guns,” I said.
I could see them hesitate.
“That’s an order! Throw them down!” Tylor bellowed, from inside.
As I walked down the stairs, I could hear the guns being dropped to the ground.
That sound and the presence of Melancholy in the doorway lent me an air of legitimacy.
I stumbled down the stairs, missing the occasional step, and trying to step down to another step when I reached a short landing. I made my way down to the street.
“Someone in charge?” I asked. “The assassin sent me. Someone? Anyone?”
The mail was snatched out of my hands. A plague man had it. He had pocks and boils breaking up tattoos on his neck and hands, military tattoos. The sort that almost counted as medals people gave themselves, or to memorialize the dead.
Don’t read it. Don’t read the others’ letters.
“What are these?”
“She said, um, one for you, and then one for Madsen, and one for the forces at the west gate. Orders from the top.”
The man made a face. I saw only through my peripheral vision, as my ‘blind’ gaze stared a hole through his chest.
He didn’t like Melancholy, I realized.
Funny how it worked.
“Is she coming down to join the rest of us?” the man asked.
“I only- I was told to bring the letters. I can’t see what’s going on,” I said.
He opened one of the letters, then hunched over. “Damn rain. Ink’s running.”
I remained silent.
“The senior officers are being taken as prisoners of war,” he said. He turned his head. “Two coaches. We’re going to be rid of the ugly bitch, and not a moment too soon. Send runners with these letters to Madsen and Hughey.”
Gordon and Mary, I thought.
He wasn’t giving the order to go and find them.
The simple, stupid reality of humans. There was only so much they could process. We’d given them too much information to dwell on.
He’d completely glossed over that part.
If I said anything else, it put everything in jeopardy. Gave them cause to be suspicious, to pay attention to me, the lowly messenger…
I swallowed hard.
Had to take the risk.
“My friends,” I said. “They were with me, and she hurt them. She said, Tylor made her promise to help them.”
I stared at the ground as I said it. Hoping, hoping.
“Mm,” the man said. A single syllable response. Not even a word.
I had a knife and I had a firebomb. If it came down to it, I’d stab him and make a break for it, using fire to delay pursuers.
I wasn’t sure what I’d do at that point, but I couldn’t do nothing.
Come on. Basic sense. You can’t go against her deal with Tylor, or you jeopardize everything.
“Vic. Head over in the direction of the bank. Opposite end of the street, behind the houses. If the fires aren’t too bad. Bring someone to help carry. Supposed to be two injured kids. Related to bigwig doctors.”
I sagged in relief.
Relief or no, I didn’t say or do anything to draw attention to myself. The rain poured down, battering the paper the plague man held gripped in his fist. Gunshots and explosions sounded off to the north end of the city.
The fighting had stopped here, but the war hadn’t left the area. The air smelled like smoke and blood, and there were more people staring off into space than there were people talking. Everyone in their own individual worlds.
I could remember seeing that look in the plague men’s eyes back in the city. A part of them missing, perhaps. Was it a casualty of the transformation, or of previous battles?
What did it mean, to be so changed? They’d become the perfect soldiers for this ugly battlefield, but it was a change that made it awfully hard to go home, when all was said and done.
I’d talked about the importance of the fact that these people wanted to fight. They wanted justice and revenge. The Academy forces didn’t want either. They wanted to return to their ordinary lives. It made a difference, when push came to shove.
Was there a chance that these men who had been made into soldiers would want to keep fighting, when ordinary, sane people would want the war to end?
We’d never identified the doctor responsible for creating these transformations. He was likely to be elsewhere, making more.
An awful lot of men with little to look forward to, except the expectation of death and blood.
I stood and waited in the rain, shivering, until the coaches arrived. Two men perched on the back, each holding on with one hand, their other hands wrapped around Gordon and Mary, respectively.
Mary’s eyes were open, and her expression changed as she saw me. Gordon was moving, but very weakly.
I allowed myself to feel relief, finally, but I didn’t let it show.
Three commanding officers, the Brigadier, and all of the Lambs found their way into the coaches, hands and ankles bound. Two plague men rode up top of each coach, and another was inside the cab of one of the other coaches, but there was room on the bench. I was the last one into the crowded space of the first coach’s interior.
Well, not the last one.
Melancholy made her way down the stairs. I didn’t stare, instead turning away as she drew ever nearer, but I imagined the challenge. Shipman, not the largest of us, but sixteen nonetheless, with a burden on her back and shoulders, walking down wet stairs.
One stumble, one fall, and the ruse was ended.
I reached out for Mary’s hair, and stroked it, pushing it out of the way of her face.
She smiled at me, her eyes half-lidded.
There was a slight collision as ‘Melancholy’ reached the door.
“You’re not riding up top?” the plague man who’d taken the letter asked.
She couldn’t talk, not without revealing her voice, or the fact that her teeth were normal.
Instead, she chanced a look in his direction, giving him a better view of her face.
A sneer of contempt.
She lurched into the cab of the coach. The door slammed behind her. The other coach’s door slammed as well.
I didn’t dare breathe, my ears peeled for any sign that they’d realized or started to doubt matters. That they were angry and would start an argument.
The door was closed, and all was silent, but for Gordon’s labored breathing.
Were we free and clear?
My heart pounded.
The coach set to moving.
Free and clear.
We stopped at a fork in the road.
The able-bodied officers of the Academy’s forces hauled the plague men out of the vehicle, leaving them at the side of the road. Even with many of us being children, we’d had the weight of numbers in a cramped space. After that, the ones up top had been caught and either strangled or shot.
I watched how Jamie stared down at the bodies. But we had other things to focus on.
“You know the way?” I asked the Brigadier.
Jamie spoke, not taking his eyes off the dead plague men, “Back around the side roads, up to the north end of Westmore. You can appear at the rear of our own forces, and lead them with knowledge of what the enemy is likely doing. Their forces will have been pulled back from the front. You can flank and destroy, then use the momentum.”
“Or command a retreat,” the Brigadier said.
I raised my eyebrows in surprise.
“I haven’t decided,” he admitted. “We’ll see. I don’t think Westmore is salvageable. But it may not be for them, either.”
There was a pause.
Nothing more to be said, except-
He extended a hand.
Again, my eyebrows went up.
“You made the best of a bad situation,” he told me. About the best compliment I could get, given the circumstances.
I took his hand and shook it.
“We’ll be going now,” he said, moving over to the other coach, which was already slightly turned to the northernmost road in the fork. “Lost time is life spent. Especially in wartime.”
“It won’t always be,” I said.
He gave me a sad half-smile.
“I really believe it won’t be,” I said.
“That there won’t be war, or that we’ll one day have time to spare?” he asked.
“Is there an answer I can give that will make you stop giving me that pitying, condescending look?” I asked. Then I remembered, “Sir?”
“Good luck,” he said, with a kind of finality.
The words were on the tip of my tongue. I wanted to ask, but I didn’t dare. Yet I knew that having no answer would bother me for a long time.
Why were you upset that we rescued you?
“You too,” was all I said.
I climbed into the other coach. An officer rode on top, wearing a plague man’s hat ad coat. He was the only one not going with the Brigadier, and he kicked things into motion.
I settled in next to Mary, and let my hand rest on her forehead. She was a little too warm. Opposite me, Gordon had his head in Shipman’s lap, feet on Jamie’s.
“Was just tellin’ the others,” she said, sleepily. “Our misadventures. Wish we’d done better.”
“We did pretty well, circumstances allowing,” I said. “We’ll wrap this up neatly.”
“If that sniper who shot you doesn’t get us,” she mumbled.
I looked up, in the direction of the coach driver. My finger rotated the ring at my thumb. “He’ll be fine. Flying enemy colors.”
“Sure,” she said.
“Is this really how we want to operate?” Jamie asked.
“Hm?” I asked.
“Killing those who show mercy and heal us, abusing the terms of surrender, wearing enemy colors?”
“And hair!” Helen said. She was at Mary’s feet, the hair in her lap.
“Yeah,” I said. “I mean, isn’t it? We do what we have to, to make this work. I don’t know where you’d draw the lines, otherwise.”
“I think you know where the line is, Sy,” Jamie said. “I think you deliberately choose to cross it. Sometimes when you don’t have to.”
“I like that side of him,” Mary said, sleepy, thoroughly under the effects of the painkillers. “I like Sy.”
“I like him too,” Jamie said, voice firm, “But I think you’re a bad influence on him. You and Gordon both.”
“I mean it. I don’t know that I like what Sy becomes, when he’s with you two.”
“I’m not that suggestible,” I said.
“You are the exemplar of suggestibility,” Jamie said. “It’s your strongest trait. You absorb and you learn more effectively than any of us. I know because I know exactly what’s happened in the past. I know who you’re with when your behavior changes. I see the patterns.”
“Using my suggestion against me?” I asked. I’d told him to watch for trends.
“To your benefit, Sy,” he said. “Not against you.”
The rest of the coach was so very quiet. Everyone was hanging on to every word, and nobody was jumping in, to defend me, or in the case of Gordon or Mary, to defend themselves.
I nodded. “So I’m just a composite of influences around me.”
“No,” he said. “There are definitely things that make you you. Some I’ve puzzled out. Some I haven’t.”
“Ah,” I said.
“Your earnestness. Your hope.”
“Sure,” I said. “Give me a few years, I’ll turn as sour as any adult.”
“Your eagerness to sacrifice yourself for the benefit of others.”
“That’s not how I’d put it.”
“And, as I’m reminded with the plan to off the rebellion doctor, your insistence on attacking the people who are kindest to you.”
I shrugged. I’d deflected the last two comments, but I felt like I couldn’t with this one, without being dismissive of the weight it seemed to carry with Jamie.
He was too gentle a soul.
“I’m suggestible, like you said,” I said, eyes on Jamie’s knees. “My oldest memories are of days and weeks of people consoling me, telling me it’s going to be fine. I’m so brave, I’m so kind. They’ll give me things. I just have to stop crying, stop struggling, stop making trouble.”
I raised my hands, gesturing, “Kindness, then unbearable pain. Kindness, unbearable pain. You can do that to a slug and it’s going to leave a lasting impression. People are kind to me, then horribleness follows. No. I’m done with that. I know what lies beneath the surface.”
Mary, head still in my lap, reached up and gave my arm a rub.
Lillian’s eyes were shiny.
Shipman, in stark contrast, looked like she wanted to be far, far away from here. Her attention was outside the window. Even with Gordon’s head in her lap, she didn’t look like she was connected or present at all.
Their relationship was over. I knew it. The war, or Gordon’s actions, or the danger, something had driven a wedge.
“But we’re kind to you, Sy,” Jamie said. “Aren’t we?”
“You are,” I said, without hesitation. “But-“
I’d started speaking again, somehow in the expectation that someone would jump in and finish the sentence for me. Then I realized I didn’t want them to.
“But?” Lillian asked.
“But we aren’t people?” Jamie asked.
“That’s not what I meant. It sounds wrong, like it’s being twisted around to mean the opposite of what it means. You’re…”
I floundered. It was a rare thing for me.
“You’re better than people?”
My heart was cold in my chest. I felt like I’d somehow stumbled on the worst combination of words to say, and I’d put everything in jeopardy.
Nobody was talking. Body language was weird.
Jamie rose from his seat.
He crossed to my side, then nudged for me to move over. Mary and I did a little bit of reshuffling to make room. Even so, he was a touch squeezed between me and the door.
“Do that more,” Jamie said.
“Compliment you? Talk about your superiority?”
“Be upfront. Say what Sy is thinking.”
There was no way to say anything to that. It would have felt forced. I was left mute, only able to nod.
He elbowed me, then turned his attention to Mary. “Didn’t make you too uncomfortable?”
“Nope,” she said.
He reached over and began fixing her hair, pushing it out of her face.
“You going to be good to go?” I asked.
“I’ve fixed what I could, but breaks are breaks,” Lillian said. “No hard exertion.”
“I’m good to go,” Gordon said. He worked his way to a sitting position, making use of the space Jamie had vacated to move his legs.
His hand was trembling. Phantom pains, again? It shouldn’t have been so soon.
“I’m not very fast, but I can help,” Mary said.
It was cozy, squeezed up against Jamie, Mary’s head in my lap, the others around me. I almost could have fallen asleep.
But as I looked out the window, I could see Whitney.
I reached out past Jamie’s face and knocked on the glass.
The coach slowed, then stopped.
We slowly made our way out of the coach, many of us hurt, offering help where we could. Only Shipman remained behind, with the driver. She avoided our gaze.
We had a job to finish. Westmore was a wash. Even if our forces won every fight that followed, it would be chalked off as a loss. A detriment to the Crown.
But the rebellion wasn’t in a position to commit halfheartedly, and Cynthia hadn’t been in or around the tents where I’d been brought for treatment. She was still in Whitney.
Barely illuminated by the rising sun, we made our way down toward the city.