Deliverance Page 66

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Blinking the sting of tears out of my eyes, I watch the familiar streets. If the slums resemble a beaten, mangy dog too tired to clean itself up anymore, the heart of Rowansmark is a regal woman wrapped in moss and draped with necklaces of ivy. The brick-and-mortar buildings have elegant lines, fancy scrolled-iron balconies, and pillars on either side of their doors.

Another left turn, and we drive through the marketplace. It smells of fresh-cut flowers, bitter coffee beans, and fried bread dusted with sugar.

Dad once took me to the marketplace while we were in Rowansmark on my birthday. He found a vendor who sold thick, honey-soaked cakes and frothy lemon drinks. We sat at an iron table in the shade of a pecan tree and watched the Rowansmark women, in their colorful silk scarves, bargain fiercely for bags of walnuts, sugar, strawberries, and more. At the time, with my father next to me and sweet treats to eat, it was easy to forget that three blocks over, near the grand mansion that houses James Rowan, a bloodstained stage was used to carry out pain atonement sentences on the same citizens who indulged themselves in silks and sugar and a life spent ignoring the ugliness that hovered just beneath Rowansmark’s surface.

Maybe we were no better in Baalboden. We walked the streets with our Protectors. We wore our dresses. We gave up our education because that was the price of safety. That was the bargain we’d made with the devil we knew to escape the devil we didn’t.

Until Dad decided that I should know how to protect myself. That dresses would hamper me in a fight, so I should have pants as well. That I needed to know how to read, how to write, and how to think for myself.

Maybe all the people of Rowansmark need is for someone to encourage them to think for themselves. To point out that the price they pay for safety is covered in their own blood.

Maybe, but I don’t know how to send that message. And I don’t have time to figure it out. I have to stage an escape from prison, find and destroy some tech, and reunite with Logan so that we can finish what we started.

The carriage rolls to a stop in front of a pair of huge scrolled-iron gates. Beyond the gates sits the sprawling brick mansion of James Rowan. Either I’m meeting with James Rowan before being locked in the prison, or the prison is somewhere on this property. A woman in the brown-and-red uniform of a city guard opens the gate and waves us through.

Magnolia trees with waxy flowers and pecan trees with branches coated in feathery patches of moss are strewn across the green grass. Huge, glass-enclosed oil lanterns are spaced evenly along the brick road that circles around to stop in front of the stately white columns that line the spacious porch of the mansion.

Ian hops down from the driver’s bench and yanks open the door. His jaw is clenched, and he merely glances at me before saying, “Get out.” Turning away, he begins pacing the driveway in short, tense circuits while the six of us inside the carriage make our way into the open. Samuel motions for the four men who accompanied us to remain with the vehicle, and then he and Ian flank me and we all move toward the house.

The front door opens soundlessly the moment we set foot on the porch. A man in a crisp white shirt and black pants bows slightly, his graying blond hair flopping forward over his eyes as he says, “Tracker Donnelson. Tracker McEntire. Our leader will see you in his receiving room now.”

“No mention of seeing me. Guess that means I’ll have to wait out here,” I say.

Ian grabs my arm and jerks me forward so that I’m forced to match his pace as we move down a wide hall with gleaming wood floors and framed portraits of James Rowan in various semiheroic poses lining the walls.

“That’s an awful lot of pictures of himself to keep around, don’t you think?” I ask, and curse my voice for trembling as we near a set of elaborately carved wooden doors. I don’t know what James Rowan will do to me, but I imagine any man who put in place the pain atonement policy and who rewards his trackers for brutality is going to have several creative ideas for how to punish a girl who helped steal his precious technology.

“You understand nothing about him.” Ian’s voice sounds just as shaky as mine. I wonder if it shakes from fear or from anticipation. “He’s a great man. His people want to remember him when he’s gone.”

“Then maybe he should give these portraits to his people instead of keeping them in his own house.”

The man who let us in frowns at me as if I’ve trespassed over sacred ground, and then stops before the double doors and says, “He will see Tracker McEntire first.”

Once Ian enters the room and shuts the doors behind him, and the blond man disappears back to his post, Samuel meets my eye. “Rachel, there is no love lost between us. We’re on opposite sides of an argument neither of us can afford to lose.” He leans toward me and lowers his voice. “But for your own sake, I’m telling you now that you will not be allowed to show disrespect to our leader and get away with it. Swallow every rude, challenging thought that comes into your head and speak with deference if you want this to go well.”

I straighten my spine. “I’ll show respect when I see something worth respecting.”

Samuel’s expression becomes cool and detached again, and he waits in silence until Ian opens the door and motions us in. I can’t tell from Ian’s face if his interview went well, but I’m absolutely certain all of the blame for the fact that Ian still doesn’t have either the device or his brother has now been firmly placed at my feet.

Turning away from Ian, I look around the room. Shelves filled with books line three walls while gold drapes bracket a bank of windows on the fourth. Light from multiple oil lamps floods the room with warmth and illuminates the face of the man standing near a side table that holds a pitcher of tea and some cookies on a platter. The room smells faintly of lilac and old books.

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