The queen looked up at me sympathetically, not sure how to convey all her sadness. “And … I’m sorry to you, too. I wasn’t trying to … I just …”
“I know, dear.”
With how Natalie was doing, asking for more of a good-bye was too selfish, so I gave the queen a final, deep curtsy and slowly left the room, wallowing in the disaster I’d created.
THE LAST THING I WAS expecting when I walked in my doorway was the smattering of applause from my maids.
I stood there for a moment, genuinely moved by their support and comforted by the shining pride in their faces. Once they were done making me blush, Anne took me by the hands.
“Well said, miss.” She gave a gentle squeeze, and I saw in her eyes so much joy over my words, for a second I didn’t feel so awful.
“I can’t believe you did that! No one ever stands up for us!” Mary added.
“Maxon has to pick you,” Lucy cried. “You’re the only one who gives me hope.”
I needed to think, and the one place I could really do that was the gardens. Though my maids were insistent that I stay, I left, taking the long way, down a back stairwell on the other end of the hall. Besides the occasional guard, the first floor was empty and quiet. It felt like the palace should be bustling with activity, given how much had happened in the last half hour or so.
As I passed the hospital wing, the door flew open and I ran right into Maxon, who dropped a sealed metal box. He groaned after we collided, even though it really wasn’t that hard.
“What are you doing out of your room?” he asked, slowly bending to pick up the box. I noticed it had his name on the side. I wondered what he was storing in the hospital wing.
“I was going to the gardens. I’m trying to figure out if I did something stupid or not.”
Maxon appeared to be having a difficult time standing. “Oh, I can assure you it was stupid.”
“Do you need help?”
“No,” he answered quickly, avoiding my eyes. “Just heading to my room. And I suggest you do the same.”
“Maxon.” The quiet plea in my voice made him look at me. “I’m so sorry. I was mad, and I wanted to … I don’t even know anymore. And you were the one who said there were perks to being a One, that you could change things.”
He rolled his eyes. “You’re not a One.” There was a silence between us. “Even if you were, did you not pay attention at all to the way I’m doing things? It’s quiet and small. That’s how it has to be for now. You can’t go on television complaining about the way things are run and expect to have my father’s, or anyone’s, support.”
“I’m sorry!” I cried. “I’m so, so sorry.”
He paused for a moment. “I’m not sure that—”
We heard the shouting at the same time. Maxon turned and started walking, and I followed, trying to make sense of the sound. Was someone fighting? As we got closer to the intersection of the main hallway and the doors to the gardens, we saw guards come flooding toward the area.
“Sound the alarm!” someone called. “They’re through the gates!”
“Guns at the ready!” another guard yelled over the shouts.
“Alert the king!”
And then, like bees intent on landing, small, quick things buzzed into the hall. A guard was struck and fell back, his head hitting the marble with a disturbing crack. The blood pouring from his chest made me scream.
Maxon instinctively pulled me away, but not very quickly. Perhaps he was in shock as well.
“Your Majesty!” a guard called, racing over to us. “You have to get downstairs now!”
He gruffly turned Maxon around and shoved him away. Maxon cried out and dropped the metal box again. I looked over at the guard’s hand on Maxon, expecting to see that he’d driven a knife into his back based on the sound Maxon had made. All I saw was a thick, pewter ring around his thumb. I picked up the box by the handle on the side, hoping that didn’t mess up anything inside, and ran in the direction the guard was trying to move us.
“I won’t make it,” Maxon said.
I turned back to him and saw that he was sweating. Something was really wrong with him.
“Yes, sir,” the guard said grimly. “This way.”
He pulled Maxon around a corner to what appeared to be a dead end. I wondered if he was going to leave us there when he hit some invisible trigger on the wall and another one of the palace’s mysterious doors opened. It was so dark inside, I couldn’t see where it went; but Maxon walked in, hunched over, without a second thought.
“Tell my mother that America and I are safe. Do that before anything else,” he said.
“Absolutely, sir. I’ll come back for you myself when this is over.”
The siren sounded. I hoped that was fast enough to save everyone.
Maxon nodded and the door closed, leaving us in complete darkness. The seal was so secure, I couldn’t even make out the sound of the alarm. I heard Maxon’s hand rubbing against the wall, and he eventually came upon a switch that dimly lit the room. I looked around and surveyed the space.
There were some shelves that held a bunch of dark, plastic packages and a different shelf that held a few thin blankets. In the middle of the tiny space was one wooden bench big enough to seat maybe four people, and in the opposite corner was a small sink and what looked like a very crude toilet. Hooks lined one wall, but there was nothing on them; and the whole room smelled like the metal that appeared to make up the walls.
“At least this is one of the good ones,” Maxon said, and hobbled over to the bench to sit.
“Nothing,” he said quietly, and propped up his head on his arms.
I sat beside him, placing the metal box on the bench and looking around the room again.
“I’m guessing those were Southern rebels?”
Maxon nodded. I tried to slow my breathing and erase what I’d just seen from my mind. Would that guard survive? Could anyone survive something like that?
I wondered how far the rebels had gotten in the time it took us to hide. Was the alarm fast enough?
“Are we safe here?”
“Yes. This is one of the places for servants. If they happen to be down in the kitchen and storage area, they’re pretty safe as it is. But the ones running about doing chores might not be able to get there quickly enough. It’s not quite as safe as the big room for the royal family, and we have supplies to survive down there for quite some time; but these work in a pinch.”
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