Island of Silence (Unwanteds) (10 page)

The small group of people nodded, some still skeptical of the speaker, but most were riled up enough to band together with anyone who thought the same thoughts as they.

“I wonder . . . ,” Aaron said, but then he stopped and looked at the people. “Well, I shouldn’t say anything. High Priest Haluki and the Quillitary have decided my ideas are worthless.” He bent down to pick up his backpack, as if to leave.

“What ideas?” the original woman asked. “I suppose if you have some, it wouldn’t hurt to hear them.”

Aaron shook his head sadly. “No . . . it’s nothing. I’m not to be trusted.” He reached into his backpack and silently doled out oranges to everyone standing there. “I have some beans as well’I’m happy to share with everyone, as the
former
high priest would have expected.”

Even the most reluctant ones stepped closer to Aaron now as he gave handfuls of beans to those standing there.

“I do miss the way things were,” one of them ventured softly, as if afraid to be heard. “The High Priest Justine was a noble woman.”

Aaron nodded solemnly. “Indeed she was.” He smiled sympathetically at each face. “All we can do now is try to survive until someone comes to save us, I guess.”

He touched the shoulder of the old woman. “I’ll be here again a week from today. If I have found any extra food, I’ll gladly share again.”

With that, Aaron turned and walked away from the palace and the group of complainers, who now were silent and thoughtful as they looked down at the treasure in their hands, then up at the young former up-and-comer who had given them the means to survive.

As Aaron walked toward the Favored Farm to pick his daily food, contemplating just how well his work had gone that morning, his thoughts were disturbed by approaching steps in the gravel and a familiar voice that sent shivers up his spine.

“Greetings, Aaron.”

Aaron looked up, his eyes overwhelmed by the bright colors of the man’s robe and his crazy shock of hair. Aaron scowled and slowed his pace, ready to defend himself if he needed to, but Mr. Today merely smiled brightly and kept walking toward the palace.

 

Righting Past Wrongs

M
arcus Today entered the gray palace office of High Priest Haluki for their weekly peace meeting. “Hello, Gunnar, I brought you something,” he said with a smile. He reached into a pocket of his robe and produced a tiny gargoyle statue. When he set it on the high priest’s desk, it grew to the size of a cat. It blinked a few times and yawned, covering its mouth politely, its ears perking up. A sharp horn made Haluki think twice about patting it on the head.

With a flourish, Mr. Today said, “This is Matilda, an extra set of eyes and ears for you. She communicates instantaneously with her counterpart, Charlie, back in Artimé. They’ll be good to have around in case of trouble.”

“How lovely!” said Haluki. “I think I’ve seen them before wandering around Artimé, down by the gate. Thank you’we can use all the help we can get.”

“They tend to roam. But you mustn’t worry about her. Matilda can take care of herself,” Mr. Today said, chuckling. “You may wish to warn others not to get too close.”

“I shall do that.”

“She won’t hurt you, however.”

“For that I am ever grateful,” murmured Haluki solemnly, looking at the statue.

Matilda nodded regally, as if she had just taken over as high priest of all the land.

Mr. Today taught his friend Gunnar a few hand signals that he could use to communicate with Matilda, and gave him a thin book that contained many more for him to study. And then he ran his fingers through his hair. “So. How are things?”

The high priest smiled, but his eyes had deep circles under them. “Marcus, all I can say is it’s tremendously good to see a friendly face.”

Mr. Today sat in a chair as Matilda slid off the edge of the desk, hung on for a brief moment, and dropped to the floor to explore. “Tough going?”

“Yes. The Wanteds have been streaming in every day with complaints. They’re having such a difficult time figuring out how to care for themselves. The concept of picking fruit and vegetables appears to be beyond their realm of understanding. They want their slaves back.”

“I don’t blame them,” Mr. Today said with a laugh. “What I wouldn’t give to have a few slaves feeding me berries and carrying out my least favorite duties. Alas, they’ll learn eventually. They aren’t called intelligent for nothing. They’ll figure it all out right before they starve.”

“And . . . while I’ve hesitated greatly to make any drastic changes to Quill, wanting instead to ease slowly into a new society, my first major improvement is that I’ve let my governors go. We’ve been in constant dissent, they don’t trust me, I don’t trust them, and they don’t share my vision for Quill.”

“Hmm,” Mr. Today said. “You’ll pick a new team, though, won’t you?”

“Yes, absolutely. I need to first figure out whom I can trust. I hope I haven’t made a mistake.”

“It would be a mistake to keep the advisors that you’ve hid many things from in the past, Gunnar. You are creating a new Quill now. You need new support. I think it will work out well in the end.”

Gunnar smiled. “I hope you’re right. Still, I’m eager to make changes’free the Ancients, open up the walls to the ocean, teach the Wanteds how to fend for themselves. But I feel I must handle the complaints and gain trust first. Each step feels like climbing a mountain.” He shifted in his chair. “How are things in Artimé?”

“Slightly chaotic, but entirely manageable.” Mr. Today considered telling Gunnar about the recent skirmish, but then decided the high priest had enough on his mind.

“Good.” Haluki relaxed back in his chair. “Have you anything on the peace agenda today? I think it’s a bit too soon to plan a friendly island-wide picnic and sports tournament.” His eyes shone with mirth.

Mr. Today smiled. “I do, indeed,” he said. “I’ve been thinking a lot lately, and I have a question for you.”

“I will do my very best to answer it.”

Mr. Today leaned forward. “About how many Quillens would you say remain alive from the original founders? Or did Justine, ah, get rid of them all?”

Gunnar closed his eyes, thinking. He tapped his finger against his chin as he counted silently. “There are six,” he said after a moment. “Four are in the Ancients Sector. The other two barely escaped that fate due to Justine’s death.”

Mr. Today nodded. “And would you say they are with you or against you? Can you tell?”

“Hmm,” the high priest mused. “They are across the board with their loyalties. The majority I’d say were devoted to Justine, but I imagine sometimes things change when one is ordered to die.”

“I’ll say,” muttered Mr. Today. “Well, truth be told, Gunnar, I’ve got something eating at me and I feel a need to make it right. I’m wondering what you think.”

“Sounds intriguing,” Haluki said. He glanced at his door to confirm that they had privacy.

Mr. Today nodded. “You of all people know about my many mistakes over the years. And I’ve done my best to fix things. But there’s one error that remains. It’s something that, if nothing were done to the wronged party, they should never know the difference. And if they are told of my wrongdoing, it could raise some hackles, perhaps cause more serious problems for the both of us, for the short term, anyway. But I will always have this mistake plaguing me, and that is the problem. I’ve stolen something that doesn’t belong to me. And no matter the outcome, I feel I must make things right.”

High Priest Haluki listened carefully as Mr. Today explained everything.

When he was finished, the high priest nodded. “Whatever the outcome, it’s the right thing to do.”

“We should call them together as a group and do it at once, don’t you think?”

Haluki smiled. “I’ll have my drivers gather them immediately.”

» » « «

Within an hour, the six remaining original founders of Quill sat in the high priest’s palace, wondering what in Quill could have happened to cause them to be sprung from their various homes and from the Ancients Sector. It had been decades since they’d last seen Marcus. They peered at the high priest and Mr. Today, some of them still sharp, others not quite all there, but all of them fairly able-bodied.

“Two visits to the palace in one day,” grumbled one woman. “Maybe you’ve finally come around to feeding us, High Priest.”

“I’ve already told you how to find food, Mrs. Rattrapp,” Gunnar said.

Three men sat silent, along with a woman who kept nodding off in her chair.

A final woman sat rigid. She glanced around the office, noting Matilda with narrowed eyes. But she remained silent.

Mr. Today stood before them. “Friends,” he said, “You don’t remember coming to Quill. Nor did you remember the water that surrounds the land, or the homes and people you left to be here.” He looked around to gauge their reactions before continuing. “You also don’t remember the magical abilities you all have. And that’s my fault. Justine and I took those memories from you many years ago.”

He watched them. The two alert women were the only ones who had any reaction at all. Slow-motion shock registered on their faces, along with a large dose of confusion. He was using words they hadn’t heard before. “But I’m going to give you back your memories now. I’m so terribly sorry. I hope you can forgive me. I understand if you cannot.”

He lifted his hand, and then paused when he caught the eye of the rigid, silent woman. It looked like she wanted to say something. “Yes?” Mr. Today asked gently.

“Will I remember my name?” she whispered.

Mr. Today nodded. “Yes, my dear Secretary. You’ll have your name . . . right now.” He waved his hand over the group.

The four from the Ancients Sector appeared slightly puzzled, but largely unaffected.

The grumbling Wanted woman’s face turned red and she looked furious.

And the woman named Secretary burst into tears.

 

On the Lawn

M
r. Today walked the long route back to Artimé as he liked to do now, giving himself time alone to think about all that had just transpired. When he arrived on the lawn at sunset, he saw Alex, Meghan, Cole Wickett, and Samheed sitting by the water. He sat down with them.

“It’s a beautiful sky tonight,” he said, gazing over the water to where the islands could just barely be seen if one knew where to look. “How are things going? Are you managing studies along with your new duties helping the Necessaries?”

“Oh yes,” Meghan said, always chipper in front of the mage, even when she didn’t feel like it inside. “Things are going well.” She smiled sweetly at Mr. Today, remembering the first time they sat together on this lawn back when he had turned a flower into a music box. It felt like ages ago, though it had only been a year and a half. “It’s still funny to realize all the things we didn’t used to know.” She laughed. “If that makes any sense.”

Cole sat up straight. “It makes sense to me,” he said, fairly toppling over with admiration for every word that left Meghan’s lips.

Meghan didn’t seem to notice Cole’s attentions as she continued her update, but Samheed looked away in disgust. Alex squelched a grin. Once Lani had pointed out the love triangle, he’d been watching them closely, and found it hilarious that Meghan seemed entirely unaware of her suitors.

Alex elbowed Samheed. “Lighten up,” he muttered. And then he said for all to hear, “Where’s Lani? She’s been scarce for days.”

Samheed shrugged. “Probably working on something. Who knows.” He shifted uneasily, knowing Lani was avoiding Alex, and turned his attention back to Mr. Today.

“And where’s Sean?” Alex didn’t seem to get the picture.

Samheed shrugged and put a finger to his lips, then pointed to Mr. Today.

“Well, that’s wonderful, Meghan,” Mr. Today was saying. He got to his feet. “Alex, I’ll see you tomorrow as usual. The rest of you, thank you for your generous contributions to our Necessary guests. It means the world to me.”

Alex joined the others in a round of good-byes, but wondered secretly why Mr. Today wanted to continue meeting with him when he clearly wasn’t the leader Mr. Today was looking for.

“Did you tell him?” Samheed asked Alex after Mr. Today was gone.

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