A City Reclaimed, Chapter 3
Gabriel went first down the stairs, knowing that leaving Ella a route of escape was wisest if her trust was not to be shaken. As he’d predicted, she followed now without question.
“It’s not the most comfortable place, I admit,” Gabriel said. “But James regularly spends entire nights here. He can keep an eye on you. And I’m sure that, as a mechanic, you might find something here to entertain yourself. Just—well, don’t strain yourself. Don’t work too hard.”
He turned, to see how she was taking this. Her eyes were alight. For the first time Gabriel had seen, self-preservation seemed not to be the first thing on her mind.
Gabriel explained the situation to his son. James nodded, welcomed her, then pointed a thumb at a couch so old and well-loved that its middle sagged right down to the floor, inviting Ella to sit down. Ella ignored his gesture and instead walked to James’s drafting table, where he was working on a design. He let her read over his shoulder. Gabriel could see his son’s concentration mirrored in her face and decided that they would get along just fine.
He left the lab and headed back into the house. Connie was waiting for him in the library with a bottle of wine.
“I take it you were listening to our conversation earlier?” he asked.
“Of course,” she said. “Seemed too important not to.”
“That was a good call. You’ve saved me some explaining.” Gabriel sank into his favorite chair and picked up a book from the table beside. No matter how tired he was when coming home from work, he could hardly sleep without reading something first, and he slept only restlessly if he was forced to do so. He had been a scholar longer than he’d been a governor, and still considered it his favored pursuit.
Connie poured him a glass of wine and quietly left Gabriel to his evening.
Gabriel, however, found it hard to concentrate on Essentials of Aether Engineering that night.
This girl is the only communication I’ve had from Muncival for several months. I wonder what’s happened to the diplomat I sent their way two months ago… if he doesn’t come back in the next week, what will I do?
Gabriel closed the book and put his head in his hands. Did the Blackwoods really die of natural causes? Is there a way to set hephrol on a house without getting sick yourself? Is there a cure for hephrol that only the usurpers know? Now that would be a bad power balance… Are we on the edge of war? I can’t prepare for a biological attack with pirates coming in from all sides every night and sneaking off with a hundred and fifty boxes of soap and some crates of lemons or whatever random thing they decide to steal.
Do the pirates have something to do with…?
No, probably not. Too disconnected.
But why do the pirates steal such odd, random things? Surely there isn’t much of a black market for Mrs. Alderson’s Laundry Soap. I don’t think people trade for lemons in back alleys. It’s almost like they’re trying to cause fear and confusion, or maybe weaken our economy.
We’re going to be attacked, one way or the other. It’s not going to stop with theft in the dark. I need to round up the citizen’s militia.
His last thought before dropping off to sleep in his chair: I just hope… they’ll be enough.
“Good morning, Ella!” Gabriel said jovially as his new charge was half-dragged into the dining room by James, her eyes half-shut and groggy.
She opened her mouth to reply, appeared to forget what she was about to say, and shut it again. James helped her onto a chair, where she laid her head in her arms and dozed off.
“Is she all right?” Gabriel asked. “She hasn’t been doing this all night, has she?”
“Hah, no,” James said. “She’s been up. She found my design files and was outraged that I hadn’t built most of the things I’d drawn. She made three of them and then started drafting up… looked like the knitting machine, but smaller. Maybe it’s a sock maker. She had me forging parts for hours, and then when she was done with me she got so wrapped up in building the thing that I was able to get some sleep myself. When I woke up, she was halfway finished and determined that I show her the library. Then she found a whole armload of books whose spines I haven’t looked at yet, wound up a lamp, and planted herself there until dawn. That’s when I told her she needed food.”
“…Books,” Ella mumbled.
“Ah,” said Gabriel, halfway between amusement and concern. “I was going to introduce her to the library today. I wasn’t expecting that she’d be so…”
“Ballistic?” James suggested.
“I was going to say enthusiastic,” Gabriel said, “but yes. I think at this point you should both get some sleep. Connie will get her set up in one of the guest rooms. You two might arrange for her to have a bath, I’m sure she’d be grateful. I’ll come home with some fresh clothes for her.”
Ella was fast asleep and taking in none of this. However, she and her wool dress were stained with oil and grime. She only stirred when Connie arrived with bacon and eggs, and gently shook her awake.
Gabriel left soon after, giving thought to the city’s defenses.
What had happened to Muncival?
AN: These chapters sure keep getting shorter. Don’t worry, they’ll lengthen up again when the action gets going.
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