Making sure I remembered who she was, she gave me a little curtsy. I made a sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a gasp.
“What’s wrong?” Maxon asked.
“Later,” I whispered.
Confused but calm, he gave me a comforting squeeze and focused again on our guests.
“We’ve come to speak to you in peace,” the man said. “We are unarmed, and your guards have searched us. I know asking for privacy would be inappropriate, but we have things to discuss with you that no one else should hear.”
“What about America?” Maxon asked.
“We want to speak with her as well.”
“To what end?”
“Again,” the young man said, almost cockily, “we need to be out of earshot of these guys.” He playfully gestured around the room.
“If you think you can harm her—”
“I know you’re skeptical of us, and for good reason, but we have no cause to hurt either of you. We want to talk.”
Maxon deliberated for a minute. “You,” he said, looking toward one of the guards, “pull down one of the tables and four chairs. Then all of you, please stay back to give our guests some room.”
The guards obeyed, and we were all silent for a few uncomfortable minutes. When the table was finally down from the stack and in the corner with two chairs on either side, Maxon gestured that the pair should join us over there.
As we walked, the guards stepped back, wordlessly forming a perimeter around the room and focusing their eyes on the two rebels as if they were prepared to fire at a second’s notice.
As we reached the table, the male stuck out his hand. “Don’t you think introductions are in order?”
Maxon eyed him warily but then relented. “Maxon Schreave, your sovereign.”
The young man chuckled. “Honored, sir.”
“And you are?”
“Mr. August Illéa, at your service.”
MAXON AND I LOOKED AT each other, then back to the rebels.
“You heard me right. I’m an Illéa. And by birth, too. This one will be by marriage sooner or later,” August said, nodding to the girl.
“Georgia Whitaker,” she said. “And of course, we know all about you, America.”
She gave me another smile, and I returned it. I wasn’t sure I trusted her, but I certainly didn’t hate her.
“So Father was right.” Maxon sighed. I looked over to him, confused. Maxon knew there were direct descendants of Gregory Illéa walking around? “He said you’d come for the crown one day.”
“I don’t want your crown,” August assured us.
“Good, because I intend to lead this country,” Maxon shot back. “I’ve been raised for it, and if you think you can come in here claiming to be Gregory’s great-great-grandson—”
“I don’t want your crown, Maxon! Destroying the monarchy is more up the Southern rebels’ alley. We have other goals.” August sat at the table, leaning back in his seat. Then as if it was his home we’d stepped into, he swept his arm across the chairs, inviting us to sit.
Maxon and I eyed each other again and joined him, Georgia following quickly. August looked at us awhile, either studying us or trying to decide where to start.
Maxon, perhaps reminding us who was in charge, broke the tension. “Would you like some tea or coffee?”
Georgia lit up. “Coffee?”
In spite of himself, Maxon smiled at her enthusiasm and turned behind him to get a guard’s attention. “Could you have one of the maids bring some coffee, please? For goodness’ sake, make sure it’s strong.” Then he focused again on August.
“I can’t begin to imagine what you want from me. It seems you made a point to come while the palace was asleep, and I’m guessing you’d like to keep this visit as secretive as possible. Say what you must. I can’t promise to give you what you want, but I will listen.”
August nodded and leaned forward. “We’ve been looking for Gregory’s diaries for decades. We knew they existed long ago and had a recent confirmation from a source I cannot reveal.” August looked at me. “It wasn’t your presentation on the Report that gave it away, just so you know.”
I sighed in relief. The second he mentioned the diaries, I began silently cursing myself and bracing for later when Maxon would add this to the list of stupid things I’d done.
“We have never desired to take down the monarchy,” he said to Maxon. “Even though it came about in a very corrupt way, we have no problem with having a sovereign leader, particularly if that leader is you.”
Maxon was still, but I could sense his pride. “Thank you.”
“What we would like are other things, specific freedoms. We want nominated officials, and we want to end the castes.” August said all this as if it was easy. If he’d seen my presentation get cut off on the Report, he ought to know better.
“You act like I’m already the king,” Maxon answered in frustration. “Even if it was possible, I can’t simply give you what you’re asking for.”
“But you’re open to the idea?”
Maxon raised his hands and dropped them to the table. “What I’m open to is irrelevant at the moment. I am not king.”
August sighed, looking over to Georgia. They seemed to communicate wordlessly, and I was impressed at their easy intimacy. Here they were, in a very tense situation—one they’d entered maybe suspecting they wouldn’t be able to get out of—and their feelings for each other were so close to the surface.
“Speaking of kings,” Maxon added, “why don’t you explain to America who you are. I’m sure you’d do a better job than I would.”
I knew this was a way for Maxon to stall, to think of a way to get control of this situation, but I didn’t mind. I was dying to understand.
August smiled humorlessly. “That is an interesting story,” he promised, the vibrancy in his voice hinting at how exciting his tale would be. “As you know, Gregory had three children: Katherine, Spencer, and Damon. Katherine was married off to a prince, Spencer died, and Damon was the one who inherited the throne. Then when Damon’s son, Justin, died, his cousin Porter Schreave became prince, marrying Justin’s young widow, who had won the Selection barely three years earlier. And now the Schreaves are the royal family. No more Illéas ought to exist. But we do.”
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