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The August Five Part 24

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Colston stood completely still. Then he sank into his chair with an air of defeat. Tommy was shocked. He could feel the shift of power in the room and it made him dizzy.

"What do you want, Thomas?" Colston said.

"I have a proposition," Tommy said.

Colston clasped his hands on top of the desk. "Fine, what is your proposition?"

"We'll make a trade," Tommy said. "You'll bring every political prisoner from the compound to Seminary Square at dawn tomorrow."



"You want the prisoners?" Colston asked. He obviously hadn't been anticipating that request.

"I have a list of the cottagers that I expect to see tomorrow," Tommy said, pulling a folded square of paper from his pocket and tossing it onto Colston's desk. Tamsin had copied the names from the list at the shrine, and added one more at the top: Gavin Baine. "Once we have the prisoners, we will give you Hywel. Every person on this list should be accounted for, or I will go public with Hywel and you can face the consequences."

"How do I know you really have him?" Colston asked.

"He said to tell you: 'Next time you can find a different negotiator for your secret meeting with the cottager rebels.'"

Colston smiled grimly. That was the last thing that Colston and Hywel had discussed alone in the library back in August, and something only the two of them would know about.

"You're giving Hywel to me, to do whatever I want with him?" Colston said. "Did he agree to this?"

"It's the only way to save the innocent lives of the prisoners in the compound," Tommy said. "If we went public with the information without the trade, we couldn't guarantee the safety of the prisoners."

"I'll still remain in power, Thomas," Colston said. "Getting the prisoners back will ultimately change nothing."

"It will change something for the families of the missing," Tommy said.

"Don't you care what happens to Hywel?" Colston asked. "You can't imagine that I'll permit him to have a fulfilling retirement."

"Sometimes sacrifices must be made for the greater good," Tommy said.

"I know, Thomas. Why do you think I've done the things I've done?"

"It's not the same," Tommy said.

"It is," Colston said. "And if you understood that, you might have made a decent Zunftman after all."

31.

THAT NIGHT, the city was busier than usual. South of the river, Navid was running. By the light of a full moon, he dashed up alleyways, across rooftops, and past the wreckage from the Night of a Hundred Fires. Never once did he feel sleepy. Before he set out, Tamsin had given him a scrap of paper with a place and a time. His job was to show certain people the information on the paper. There seemed to be an endless number of cottagers to visit, but Navid didn't mind, even though his legs started to get sore. He had an important job and he liked feeling useful. Something big was coming, and that made him shiver with excitement. So he ran from house to house until dawn and he whispered a secret that was becoming less and less one with every step he took.

North of the city in the Zunft Compound, the guards were counting. They were busy unlocking cells, making marks on lists, and bringing the cottager prisoners into the walled courtyard. Rovers idled in a line outside the gates, and each pulled a trailer with a metal passenger compartment mounted on it. Although the prisoners weren't allowed to talk to each other, the sight of the rovers gave them hope that this dawn didn't mean the firing squad. Mr. Leahy and Gavin acknowledged each other across the muddy courtyard, but they kneeled quietly and waited to see what the new day might bring.

In a borrowed kitchen near the burned-out husk of the Plough and the Sun, Tamsin was planning. A teakettle whistled again and again as she and her mother and Greta Trueblood kept tossing yet another log onto the fire. Every few minutes, someone would knock on the back door and one of them would answer it. They would offer their visitors a cup of tea and thank them for coming out in the middle of this cold night. Tamsin would take a deep breath and begin talking: "He has lost the support of his people," she would say. "These are his final days."

On the south side of the river, Tommy was watching. He and Ellie sat on the cold stone floor of a warehouse, guarding a door. On the other side of that door, Hywel slept, still weak from his months in captivity. Ellie was the worst guard Tommy had ever seen. She had fallen asleep beside him with her head leaning against his shoulder. Tommy kept glancing at his chronometer every few minutes, and the night seemed to drag on forever.

But dawn came as it always does, and Navid appeared at five a.m. as scheduled. Tommy greeted him, and Navid gave him a shy smile. Tommy gently shook Ellie awake and helped her to her feet. Tommy stretched and yawned. His legs felt prickly from hours of sitting on the floor.

"You'll accompany Hywel?" Tommy asked.

"As long as I can," Ellie responded. "He was much better last night. He knows what's happening."

"And no arguments?" Tommy asked.

"He hasn't changed his mind," Ellie said.

"Well, that's something," Tommy said. "Tamsin and her people will be here any minute. Are you ready?"

"I'll get Hywel up as soon as you go," Ellie said. "How do you feel?"

"I'll tell you when it's over," he said.

"That's right, you will," she said. She reached up, pulled off the red ribbon that held her braid, and shoved it unceremoniously at him. "I'll see you soon."

He tucked the ribbon in his pocket, embraced her quickly, and then followed Navid down the corridor. The plan called for Navid to lead Tommy to Seminary Square using the underground coal tunnels so Colston's guards wouldn't see them coming. Hopefully, his father would keep his word and meet him with the prisoners. And if Colston Shore didn't keep his word, Tamsin had contingency plans.

With a lantern held high, Navid led Tommy through winding tunnels that ran under the streets of Sevenna. Tommy felt like a rat sneaking under the soldiers who were waiting to snatch him before he ever reached Seminary Square. As they crept through the darkness, a memory of Mrs. Trueblood swept over him. It was a few years after his mother died, and he was in the kitchen at the manor house on a cold winter's day. Tommy was crying because Father had taken Bern with him to Sevenna for a week and left Tommy on Aeren. Mrs. Trueblood had sat down with him on the floor in front of the blazing fire and gently held his hands. He still remembered what she had said to him, as if it had happened the day before and not a decade earlier: Your mother was the strongest woman I knew. She could bear the weight of the world and still have room to love you. You are her son-in face, in mind, and spirit. Your father has given you nothing but his name.

When they reached an iron door marked thirty-one, Navid stopped. "At the top of the stairs, you'll come out behind a row of coal bins in Long Alley. Stay behind them. It's a tight squeeze, but you can make it to the square without being seen by the soldiers."

Tommy thanked the boy for his help. When Navid had disappeared back down the tunnel, Tommy pushed the heavy door open. When he emerged from the tunnel, the alley was deserted. As Navid had promised, there was a narrow gap between the wall and the stinking bins. It wasn't far to the square, and he kept an eye out for soldiers as he shuffled along. But only the ravens perched along the rooftops watched him approach. When he reached the end of Long Alley, he took a deep breath and strolled into the square, the so-called crown jewel of the Zunft.

Colston Shore waited on the slick cobblestones in the shadow of the towering statue of the Vigilant Zunftman. He was flanked by two guards, but neither appeared to be armed. Seeing his father gave him a sick feeling. There would be no reconciliation with Colston-or Bern-after his actions today. By standing here, he was letting his family be lost to him, and he would be barred from his home on Aeren. But he reminded himself that so many things had already been lost. The front gate of the Seminary was closed and locked, and his father had taken away his education. Maybe in another time and place, he'd walk into the walled campus again. In his perfect world, people like Tamsin and Navid would be welcome to learn alongside him.

"Where's Hywel?" Shore asked when Tommy drew near.

"Nearby," Tommy said. "Where are the prisoners?"

"I'll signal and the rovers will drive them here." Colston waved toward the buildings behind him. The perimeter of the square was lined with government buildings, and Tommy could see several rovers parked in the alley beside the Records Hall. He couldn't see anyone behind the darkened windows, but that didn't mean Colston hadn't stationed guards inside.

"That's not how it's going to work," Tommy said. "Get the prisoners out of the rovers and have them walk into the square. When I can see them, I'll have Hywel brought to you."

Colston motioned to one of the guards, who disappeared into the alley. After a few moments, Tommy could hear the squeal of metal doors being opened. He could see a woman in a prison uniform climbing down from the back of the rover. Tommy tried to guess his father's plan. He would let the prisoners out, but as soon as they brought out Hywel, guards would emerge from their hiding places and swarm onto the square. They would take Hywel into custody and force the prisoners back into the rovers. Tommy had no way to know for sure, but that was how he imagined his father would handle the situation.

"Have the prisoners come forward," Tommy said. Colston motioned again, and the men and women began to file into the square. Their hands were still bound with cords.

"Now, show me Hywel," his father said.

Tommy pulled Ellie's red ribbon from his pocket and waved it. "He's here," he said.

Colston scanned the square. "Where?"

Tommy pointed up to the rooftop behind him. Hywel appeared at the edge of the roof with Tamsin holding on to his arm.

"Right there," Tommy said. "But out of reach. In a moment, I'm going to get a signal about whether you've kept your word and brought all the prisoners."

By now, scores of disheveled cottagers had entered the square. Above him, Tamsin waved a red handkerchief, the sign that all the prisoners were accounted for.

"I've had enough!" Colston said in irritation. "There are guards in the alley and in the Records Hall. They're about to converge on that roof and take Hywel. You are outnumbered."

"You're wrong," Tommy said. A whistle sounded above, and in response, cottagers stepped into view on every rooftop along Seminary Square. Dozens of people had hidden themselves throughout the night, and now they revealed themselves as a phalanx of silent witnesses beyond the reach of Colston's guards. Before Colston could respond, a chorus of voices rang through the streets. Protesters chanted together as they moved up from Shadow Bridge and into the northern district. Navid had shown the scrap of paper to dozens of people, and he'd asked each one to tell two more. The message had traveled more quickly than expected, and thousands of cottagers had answered the call.

The panic was evident on Colston's face. Here was a man who cultivated control, and it was crumbling before his eyes. A flood of people had arrived, and they were spilling into the square. The guards began backing toward the alley where the rovers were parked without waiting for Colston to give them orders. As they deserted their posts, Tommy was filled with hope that Tamsin's plan would work. She had believed that the army wasn't loyal to the chief administrator anymore, but it was the terrifying gamble they were taking with this plan. Success hinged on the idea that Colston had become so unpopular that he had to bribe the soldiers to protect him. The men in uniform weren't there out of patriotic fervor, they were there for a handful of coin. Now vastly outnumbered, would they murder people for Colston, a man they didn't believe in?

"You can't kill them all," Tommy said to Colston as throngs of people engulfed the prisoners and began untying their hands.

"Fire!" Colston yelled. "Shoot them!"

But the people began chanting and they drowned out his words. It took a second for Tommy to realize what was being repeated over and over. "I am Angry Em. I am Angry Em."

The crowd surrounded Colston's guards and moved them toward the line of rovers, like a river carries driftwood down toward the sea. None of the soldiers lifted their guns. Instead, they let themselves be escorted to the rovers and sped away as the crowd parted for them. Tamsin had been right. Colston's leadership had crumbled, and his guards weren't willing to fight the tide of change. Colston Shore was left alone in the square, surrounded by his former prisoners.

As the sound of the rover engines disappeared in the distance, Hywel stepped to the edge of the roof to address the crowd.

"Colston Shore kidnapped me and he blamed you!" he said, his voice ringing across the square. "He used his lies to further his power and that must end-today!"

The crowd erupted into cheers. Hywel waited until the joyful noise died down and then he spoke again.

"Colston Shore will be arrested, imprisoned, and will face trial. He tried to stop the progress that we had made toward equal rights. We can't continue as two separate groups. We must find a way to be one people."

The people cheered again and the sound reverberated off the buildings and rang through the streets of the city.

"But it's not my day to speak. This is a new day, and your leaders are the ones to thank for this."

Hywel stepped backward, away from the edge, leaving Tamsin in the forefront to address the crowd.

"Tamsin!" Gavin yelled, waving frantically from the midst of the crowd. "Speech!"

When Tamsin saw that he was safe, the relief brought tears to her eyes. She covered her mouth with her hands for a brief moment. A song from her childhood played through her mind. She remembered her father singing it to his daughters at night in front of the fire. His strong, clear voice had made her heart soar. The candle was lit / The fire dimmed but did not die / The world will never be the same. She whispered goodbye to her father. Then she opened her arms wide to embrace her people, and she began to speak.

end.

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