Page 33

I looked Maxon in the eye. “If you’re not kicking me out, I’m not leaving.”

He smiled. “Good. You’ll need to tell me more tricks like this shoulder-patting thing.”

I smiled back. Yes, it was all wrong, but some good would come out of this.

“America, could you do me a favor?”

I nodded.

“As far as anyone knows, we spent a lot of time together yesterday evening. If anyone asks, could you please tell them that I’m not … that I wouldn’t…”

“Of course. And I really am sorry about everything.”

“I should have known that if any girl was going to disobey an order, it would be you.”

A collection of heavy objects hit the wall at once, making a handful of girls scream.

“Who are they? What do they want?” I asked.

“Who? The rebels?”

I nodded.

“Depends on who you ask. And which group you’re talking about,” he answered.

“You mean there’s more than one?” That made the entire experience much worse. If this was one group, what could two or more do together? As far as I knew, a rebel was a rebel was a rebel, but Maxon made it sound like some could be worse than others. “How many are there?”

“Two generally, the Northerners and the Southerners. The Northerners attack much more frequently. They’re closer. They live in the rainy patch of Likely near Bellingham, just north of here. No one really wants to live there—it’s practically all ruins—so they’ve made it a home of sorts, though I guess they travel. The traveling is one theory of mine—one no one listens to. But they’re far less likely to break in, and when they do the results are … tame almost. I’d guess that this is a Northern job right now,” he said over the din.

“Why? What makes them so different from the Southerners?”

Maxon seemed to hesitate, unsure if this information was something I should know. He looked around to see if anyone could hear us. I looked around, too, and saw that several people were watching us. In particular, Celeste looked like she was trying to set me on fire with her eyes. I didn’t keep eye contact for long. Still, even with all the onlookers, no one was close enough to hear. When Maxon came to the same conclusion, he leaned in to whisper.

“Their attacks are much more … lethal.”

I shivered. “Lethal?”

He nodded. “They only come about once or twice a year, as best I can tell from the aftermath. I think that everyone here is trying to protect me from the statistics, but I’m not stupid. People die when they come. The trouble is, both groups look alike to us—dingy, mostly men, lean but strong, no sort of emblem as far as we can tell—so we don’t know what we’re getting until it’s all over.”

I looked around the room. A lot of people were in danger if Maxon was wrong and they happened to be Southerners. I thought of my poor maids again.

“But I still don’t understand. What do they want?”

Maxon shrugged. “The Southerners appear to want us demolished. I don’t know why, but I’m guessing some dissatisfaction or another, tired of living on the fringes of society. I mean, they’re not even Eights technically, since they have no part in the social network. But the Northerners are a bit of a mystery. Father says they just want to bother us, disrupt our governing, but I don’t think so.” He looked rather proud for a moment. “I have another theory about that as well.”

“Do I get to know it?”

Maxon hesitated again. I guessed this time it wasn’t so much out of fear of scaring me, but perhaps not being taken seriously.

He came close again and whispered, “I think they’re looking for something.”

“What?” I wondered.

“That I don’t know. But it’s always the same around here after the Northerners come. Guards are knocked out, injured, or tied up, but never killed. It’s like they just don’t want to be followed around. Though some people get taken with them, and that’s a bit disturbing. And then the rooms—well, all the ones they can get into—they’re a mess. Every drawer pulled out, shelves searched, carpet upturned. Lots of things get broken. You wouldn’t believe the number of cameras I’ve replaced over the years.”

“Cameras?”

“Oh,” he said bashfully. “I like photography. But despite all that, they don’t end up taking much. Father thinks my idea is rubbish, of course. What could a bunch of illiterate barbarians be looking for? Still, I think there must be something.”

It was intriguing. If I was penniless and knew how to break into the palace, I think I’d take every piece of jewelry I could find, anything I could sell. These rebels must have something in mind beyond a mere political statement or their day-to-day survival in mind when they came here.

“Do you think it’s silly?” Maxon asked, bringing me out of my wonderings.

“No, not silly. Confusing, but not silly.”

We shared a small smile. I realized that if Maxon had simply been Maxon Schreave and not Maxon, future king of Illéa, he would be the kind of person I would have wanted to be my next-door neighbor, someone to talk to.

He cleared his throat. “I suppose I should finish my rounds.”

“Yes, I imagine there are quite a few ladies wondering what’s taking you so long.”

“So, buddy, any suggestions as to whom I should speak with next?”

I smiled and looked behind me to make sure my candidate for princess was still holding it together. She was.

“See the blond girl over there in the pink? That’s Marlee. Sweetheart, very kind, loves movies. Go.”

Maxon chuckled and walked in her direction.

The time in the dining hall felt like an eternity, but the attack had only lasted a little over an hour. We found out later that no one had actually gotten inside the palace, just inside the grounds. The guards didn’t shoot at the rebels until they tried for the main doors, which accounted for the bricks—bricks that had been gouged out of the palace walls—and rotten food being thrown at the windows for so long.

In the end, two men got too close to the doors, shots were fired, and they all fled. If Maxon’s labels were correct, I would assume these were Northerners.

They kept us tucked away for a little while longer, searching the perimeter of the palace. When everything was as it should be, we were released to our rooms. I walked arm in arm with Marlee. Despite holding it together downstairs, the strain of the attack had exhausted me, and I was glad to have someone to distract me from it.

P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com

***