The Future's Mine by L J Leyland by L J Leyland - Read Online

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Summary

Fans of The Hunger Games and the Divergent trilogy will love L J Leyland's dystopian thriller The Future's Mine. I do what I have to do... After the Flood drowned the world thirty years ago, the tyrannical Metropole took control of the remaining land. Soon after came the rebellion led by the mysterious figurehead Regina, but when Regina vanishes after plotting to overthrow the Mayor, the rebels were labelled as traitors and murdered by the Metropole. Seventeen year old orphan Maida Winter struggles to survive on the tiny island of Brigadus under the harsh rulings of the Mayor. After an attempt to raid his home goes horribly wrong, Maida is rescued by Noah - the only person who may hold the secret to overthrowing the Mayor's regime. Determined to expose the Metropole for their real involvement in the Flood, Maida becomes the symbol of a new revolution that is resolute in uncovering the Metropole for who they really are - finishing what Regina started and bringing peace to the land she once knew. Maida must battle to discover the truths about the Metropole, the Flood, and ultimately, herself...
Published: Accent Press on
ISBN: 9781681469102
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The Future's Mine - L J Leyland

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Chapter One

Let’s get this straight: I am not a thief. I am seventeen years old and I do what I have to do. If sometimes that means bending the laws of the Metropole, I’m OK with that. Like today.

‘Come out, come out, little pig,’ a cold voice hissed.  

I shrunk further into my hiding place. My heart began to pound. Could he hear it? Could he hear the fear pulse through my body?

‘I said come out and play. I know you’re in here. I can hear you. I know you’re stealing grain. Naughty, naughty. This grain is for the Mayor, not little tramps like you. And when I catch you, you’ll wish your life was over. At least that way, there’ll be no more pain. When I catch you – and I will catch you – I’ll send you to the Mayor. Then we’ll see what fun is to be had.’

My breath came in snatches as though my lungs had forgotten how to function. Paralysis set in. The flesh and bone of my legs were seemingly replaced with granite. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t flee. I was pinned to the spot in fear. I peered from behind the grain barrel to see an Official stalking through the barn. He moved silently, scanning the scene, predator-like. He was looking for a sign of his prey – me. A seventeen-year-old girl who was so hollow through hunger that she would risk her life for the tiny bag of grain clutched in her hands. Hidden behind a grain barrel, and my exit blocked by the Official, the humiliating burn of tears seared my eyes.

Idiot, don’t be so weak, don’t cry.

The dusty air clung in my throat. I closed my eyes and imagined the Mayor’s cold eyes staring back at me. Hatred coursed through me like a poison. I balled my fists, tucked the bag of grain into my pocket and sat up a bit straighter.

‘I’d love to see what the Mayor does to you when he gets hold of you.’ His voice was as smooth as the silk on his uniform. ‘I wonder how long you’ll last. Not long, is my guess. They never last long.’

His barking laugh echoed around the barn and sounded like a pack of hungry wolves. All this for a bag of grain. I took a deep breath and tried to focus.

 Sunlight filtered down from a hole in the roof where the grain was poured in. There was a rickety ladder that led up to a small platform near the grain hole. The ladder looked ancient; probably no-one had climbed it in years. Huge cobwebs hung between the struts like some sort of grisly party banner. A plan formed in my mind. Admittedly, not a very good plan but it was all I had.

This was my bread and butter, my special talent. Survival and evasion. It had to be, in a place like Brigadus. The Mayor and Officials enforced rules that were impossible to follow unless it was your intention to either die of hunger or get whipped. And I’d rather avoid both, thank you very much.

Strictly speaking, my life was outside the bounds of legality but it was the only way I could survive. It was the only way anyone could survive after we had become colonized by the Metropole in the aftermath of the Flood. Thirty years ago, after the Arctic ice caps melted and most of the world drowned, the Metropole took control of all the peaks of land left. They preferred to use the term ‘Protectorate’ to describe our island, as they thought it sounded more benevolent. They were fooling no-one. We were at the far-flung edge of their Empire, in the North-West cluster of sodden islands that was once the nation of Britannia. The island of Brigadus was all that was left of the Pennine Mountains, which used to stand sentinel over the North. Now, there was nothing but a lonely, muddy spear of land, surrounded by nothing but sea for miles. Home. Or something like it.

After the Flood, the Metropole bribed the Mayor of Brigadus and his Officials. They turned against us, turned against their own people in exchange for food, medicine, and housing. That’s why we called the Officials ‘Parrots’: brainless and squawking, they parroted Metropole Policy and made sure that we were too weak through hunger and fear to stop them. We, the Brigadus people, survived off state rations and whatever scraps we could forage. The Parrots enforced Metropole policy until there was almost no-one left to follow it, having all died of hunger first. It made my teeth grind. So I sought out another way. A less legal way of living.

I peered out from behind the grain barrel. The Parrot was at the far end of the barn, lurking by the empty canvas sacks used to dole out the state grain rations. A good twenty metres away. A five-second head start at best. But it was the only choice I had.

Now!

I sprang to my feet and pelted towards the ladder, feeling as though my legs were moving so fast that I had no control of them.

The Parrot took after me like a bullet from a gun. He was quick, quicker than I was. Just as he was about to claw at my heels, a rat shot out from behind the barrel. The Parrot, unable to stop, tripped over his own feet and landed head first in the dusty piles of grain. The rat scrabbled at the Parrot’s face, desperately trying to get away. I clung to my bag of grain and flung myself up the splintered ladder. It creaked but held. The Parrot managed to shake the rat off him. His face was cross-hatched with the bloodied marks of tooth and claw. Blind in his rage, he got up but slipped again and blundered headlong into a stockpile of grain. A few trickles slowly began to shift from the pile. As they fell, they gathered speed and momentum until a grain landslide avalanched down upon the Parrot, trapping him underneath. Fitting really. Buried alive under the might of the Metropole.

As the avalanche settled, dust motes swirled in the air like confetti. ‘Give the Mayor my thanks,’ I called, holding my bag of grain aloft. I could never resist a bit of Parrot-baiting. 

I hauled myself through the hole in the roof and sprinted across the wooden roofs of the dockland buildings, jumping from one to another. The watery sunshine warmed my spirits and the fear that had gripped me by the neck disappeared. The sea air was briny and fishy, coloured with the smell of drying kelp and salted mackerels. The breeze made my waist-length blonde hair swirl about me like seaweed in a tide and I laughed as I ran across the roofs, eager to show Edie and Aiden my loot. We’d eat well tonight.

I slid down the drainpipe that crawled up the side of the wooden storage warehouse. I braced my knees as I landed on the roof of a squat, squalid building which was permanently damp and covered in lichen. It was the state fishermen’s log room. Here, under the watchful eyes and eager truncheons of the Parrots, Brigadus fishermen recorded their daily catch. Log books inches thick detailed how much each fisherman caught. Every single measly catch needed to be handed over to the Mayor, or else risk punishment. Every fisherman had a quota and if he did not fulfil it … well, there were consequences.

Luckily, we were a naturally cunning race of people on the island. I wouldn’t say dishonest exactly but we found ways and means of bending the rules. The fact that the state fishermen’s log room was also the hub of the black market was a piece of delicious irony that was not lost on the crafty folk of Brigadus. I spied in through the skylight and saw that the logger on duty was alone. I pried open the window, dangled my legs through the gap and jumped, landing with a thud on the sea-salted wooden floor.

‘Ah, Miss Maida Winter, nice of you to drop in,’ said Bevan, the oldest and most generous of the black market racketeers. ‘Why is it that I never see you use the door? Always swinging from roof tops or crawling through windows or dangling from trees. Do you have an aversion to walking like normal people or are you part squirrel?’

I laughed and dragged a stool to the counter.

‘I’ve got something for you, Bevan,’ I said. I couldn’t keep the smile from my face.

‘Really? Well, let’s have it. See if it’s worth anything.’ He put down his pen and pushed his glasses up his nose; time to get down to business. I pulled the bag of grain from behind my back with a flourish. I scattered a fistful of grain on the table, waiting for the gasps. They didn’t come.

‘Ta-da!’ I prompted.

Bevan pushed back his stool and hurried to the door. He looked nervously out of the glass and scraped the heavy bolts across, turning the sign to ‘closed’. ‘What on earth do you think you’re playing at, bringing that stuff to me? If I get caught with that you’ll know what they’ll do. They’ll know where it’s come from; no-one else is allowed extra grain apart from Parrots.’

He heaved a weary sigh and buried his head in his gnarled hands. ‘How did you even get this? Do you have no regard for your own life? Even if you don’t care what happens to you, do you care at all about what happens to your brother and sister? You’re all Edie and Aiden have got and if you get yourself arrested –’

‘I won’t get arrested,’ I interrupted.

‘Oh yes, I forgot that you’re invincible.’ His sarcasm stung me.

‘I had to, Bevan. My nets are empty. We’ve not caught any fish for days. The rabbits somehow avoid all my traps and wild mushrooms just aren’t filling us up anymore. You know we don’t get state rations since we ran away. Bevan … we’re starving.

He clucked his tongue and drummed his fingers restlessly on the table. ‘I know, love. But we all are. Especially since the typhoon season came early. You know how bad the rains have been this year. A load of flour went mouldy so they’ve cut back on bread rations for us all. Crops haven’t grown, potatoes got blight. The bloody Parrots have stepped up patrols worse than ever. My men are finding it harder to take their extras from the catch. Look at this log book.’ He thrust the leather bound book at me. ‘Look how empty it is. They’re over-fishing. Hardly anything coming in. And all of it that does come in gets sent to the Metropole. My men can’t take extras because they’re barely meeting quotas as it is. Black market’s just dried up.’

He paused to have a sip of weak homebrewed tea and offered me a mug. I took it and almost scalded my tongue on the steaming hot liquid.

‘Do you know that Jim Franklin nearly had his leg severed off by a man-trap last night? He was on the Mayor’s land, trying to poach deer. The Mayor’s refused him treatment. Said it served him right for stealing.’

‘He can’t do that!’ I cried. ‘He’ll die without proper treatment. You know how bad diseases are this time of year.’

Bevan nodded. ‘Gangrene already. Don’t think he’ll last the day. They’re giving him willow bark to ease the pain. It’s the most they can do. Poor Janette will have four little ’uns to support and no means of doing it. At least you’re young, at least you’re strong. Who’s going to provide for her? Who’ll provide for your little ones if they catch you? You need to think long and hard about what you’re doing, Maida. You need to push that hunger down, every day, push it right down until you feel it no more.’

‘Until I feel nothing at all because I’ll be dead,’ I said quietly.

Bevan shrugged. It was the usual Brigadus response. Death, pain, hunger; all were received with a shrug and a resigned little sigh. ‘I’m sorry, love, but it’s just too dangerous to be trading in grain at this time. Now, if you have herbs or mushrooms from the marshes, I’d be happy to have a look at those.’

‘Forget it,’ I said, standing up and sweeping the grain back into my bag.

‘Take care. Watch yourself and those little ones,’ he called after me. I raised a weary hand in acknowledgement but I was too bitter to say goodbye properly.

I took a right turning as I left the docks and headed for the marshes; the place where I felt most comfortable, hidden amongst the bracken and the sludgy vegetation. Between the Flood and the early rains, the marshes were more water than land and were a breeding ground for diseases, rodents, and insects. A swarm of marsh flies targeted me immediately. They blackened the air as well as my outlook.

‘Bugger off,’ I growled as they searched for a bit of exposed skin to feast upon. Well, at least something was getting a good meal.

I emerged from the trees to find myself facing a cluster of wooden shacks. I walked slowly to one covered in a blanket of lichen and green slime. Jim Franklin’s house. I knocked. Two pairs of inquisitive eyes peeped around the door.

‘Is your mum in?’ I asked.

The children slammed the door in my face. Strangers not welcome. Shifting from foot to foot uneasily, I knocked again and listened for the stomp of Janette Franklin’s feet. Soft, fat drops of rain began to fall and seep into my jacket. Nothing could stay dry for long in Brigadus. Everything was permanently damp through rain, mist or tears.

‘What is it?’ Janette said when she opened the door.

The hot pungency of rotten flesh filled my nose and I staggered back a step. Her eyes were hostile. I held out my grain bag. It was a poor offering in the face of her tragedy. But perhaps the grain could fill the hole in their bellies, although I knew it would not mend the hole in their hearts.

She looked inside the bag and nodded. I turned to walk away.

‘Thank you,’ she croaked as I retreated back into the trees.

What more was there to say? I picked a dandelion leaf from the ground and chewed it numbly. I pushed my hunger deep, deep down, as Bevan told me to.

Chapter Two

With my mind on the Mayor and the death sentence he had handed down to poor Jim Franklin, I walked absently back towards the docks. The docks were the beating heart of Brigadus and they were always busy this time of day. Homeward-bound fishermen, crusty beggars, corrupt merchants, and desperate townsfolk ebbed and flowed like rotting flotsam swept in on the tide. I waded through this mass of human scum, sometimes known as my friends and acquaintances on good days, and made a left turn at the loading bay.

I headed to Nora’s Tavern. It was my usual haunt and I went there often to trade some illegally caught fish for a quick gulp of something liquid; something strong and fiery. I definitely needed it to warm me up after today’s pathetically small catch. One tiny, anaemic minnow. It would hardly make a dent.

I approached Nora’s – a narrow alleyway between two wooden warehouses covered with a canvas roof. Once work stopped at 9 pm and the masses had meandered home, the docks became as silent as the underworld, save for Nora’s which was alight like a beacon of hell. Smoke from cigarettes, pipes, and lamps seeped from under the canvas roof, giving the impression the whole tavern was smouldering, along with the people inside. It was a hotbed of illegal activity. Games, gambling, drinking, illicit trading, you name it. But what made it bearable was the people. Simple people, but people who were determined to make the most out of the situation we had all been placed in and squeeze every last ounce of enjoyment out of their simple pleasures.

I sensed my way through the fug of candle smoke and pipe tobacco to reach the bar.

Matthias was sat there, as always, waiting for me. ‘All right, Maida … any joy today?’

His accent was the thick and burry mumble of Brigadus: slow, long-drawn out vowels which always made him sound as though he was mocking me or saying something sarcastically. The rougher folk of Brigadus, the fishermen and factory workers, spoke with such a thick drawl that they sounded permanently drunk. Perhaps they were. Since starting work in the factories, Matthias’s accent had got even worse; running words together and liberally peppering his speech with swear words. He raised his eyebrow in that familiar way, like he was appraising me and smirking all at once. I couldn’t bear to tell him about the grain.

‘Rich pickings at the Cove, caught a pike that almost had my hand off,’ I replied.

‘Yeah?’ he asked, startled; his faith in my skills was non-existent.

‘Yep, one of the Parrots caught me in the act, gave chase and practically did himself in trying to follow me through the marshes. But I was just too quick for him.’

Matthias’s smirk grew larger. ‘You’re a pitiful liar, Mai. Stick to making up stories for Edie and Aiden. Maybe you’ll at least convince them.’

Matthias knew my little brother and sister well; he always brought some treat for them when he visited, which they adored. He teased me that they liked him more than me.

‘You?’ I enquired.

‘Nothing, but I’m surprised you needed to ask, considering there’s a bucket of gin in front of me. Think I might drown myself in it.’

‘Stop it, Matt. Things have been bad before.’

His gaze fixed mine; deep, brown, sorrowful eyes that suddenly were empty of any humour. ‘Not like this.’

That shocked me. The one thing that we both hated was self-pity.

‘Matthias …’ I started but then I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I just signalled to Nora to pour me a measure and joined him in his misery binge.

Whilst we were quietly supping, my eyes began to wander. I hadn’t noticed as I came in but there was an unnatural, stiff atmosphere. Less rowdy, people nervously glancing towards the back of the tavern where there was a small, secluded alcove. I turned to look and heard laughter and high-pitched giggling coming from the corner.

‘Who’s in there?’ I asked Matthias.

He gave me a dark look and said in an affected pompous voice, ‘I think, m’lady, that’s our most honourable and admirable gentleman, the Mayor.’ He grimaced.

I’d heard about this before. Disguising himself as one of the ‘common people’, the Mayor liked to dress up in ratty old clothes and take himself to one of the taverns for a night of indulgence and dirty excess. He was fooling no-one. Everyone knew it was him. No-one else in the Protectorate could afford enough food to be that fat. And everyone knew that beneath his upstanding façade lay a grubby old hypocrite who gorged on the misfortunes of others. Crawling to his masters at the Metropole, he forced his own people to crawl to his every whim.

I glanced over again, more interested now. However, it was difficult to catch a view of him as two young girls sat on his lap. They were laughing at his feeble jokes like manipulated ventriloquist dummies. Their painted smiles and deadened gazes only further convinced me that they must be wooden puppets, controlled by him; for what normal girl would ever allow such a vile man to come near her? Desperate ones, I suppose.

They couldn’t have been older than sixteen, only three years older than Edie. The thought turned me to ice. The reek of delusion was strong. He was deluded if he thought that for one moment these delicate things found him attractive. And they were deluded if they thought that this was a life worth living.

Hate seethed through me in a sudden, venomous rush. I hated him, most definitely, but I hated the girls, too. Didn’t they know they were colluding in our oppression by allowing him to fantasise he was entitled to anything he desired? Surely if everyone stopped treating him as all-powerful, the illusion would be smashed and we could pull him down? And why stop there? Without the Parrots, the Metropole would lose their grip on this far-flung edge of the Empire. We’re the barbarians at the borders. They’re frightened of us savages. They wouldn’t dare to oppress us if we were united against them.

Matthias touched my arm and shook me out of any reverie. ‘We could plan something, you know …’

There was a gleam in his eye. This was our speciality: waging secret wars against people who weren’t entirely aware that they were doing battle with us. Of course we always won. First there had been the Parrot who repeatedly confiscated our nets from the cove. He found his house, belongings, and pets tied up with netting each day for two weeks until the point finally registered in his thick skull. The baker who had been padding out flour with wood shavings found his firewood for the oven had been replaced with useless shavings each day. He had to close his business for weeks until his quality control improved.  There were others, too.

‘I already have a plan,’ I said and smiled back at Matthias. We leaned closer and began to plot.

Chapter Three

The next day, we began our surveillance. Matthias and I took turns to lurk in the tree-covered marshes which overlooked the Mayoral Complex, watching the comings and goings of Parrots, aides, and merchants. The marshes provided perfect cover. The squelching wetness and gaseous outpouring from the peat meant that very few people ventured there. A permanent, fine mist hung over the ground. The damp atmosphere coaxed giant, prehistoric-looking ferns to lay claim to every surface. They provided perfect coverage. Huge rodents and swarms of buzzing marsh flies further added to the feeling that this was a lost land from an ancient time.

We nestled deep in a patch of bracken on the edge of the marsh and used my brass binoculars to get a better view. They were my mother’s. I never knew her but the orphanage assured me that the binoculars were the only thing that she left to me. I didn’t know what happened to her, I didn’t even know her name or whether she was alive. To be honest, I didn’t really care. Perhaps that sounds heartless. Edie, Aiden, and I were dumped on the doorstep of the orphanage like a special delivery parcel when I was four years old and the twins were little older than a few weeks. It seemed to me that she mustn’t have been quite right in the head if the one gift she chose to ensure that her children got the best start in life was a pair of rusty old binoculars. How useful.

I don’t like thinking about our time in the orphanage. It wasn’t that it was particularly bad or that we were mistreated. It just felt like we were in limbo, waiting for life to begin. I spent most of my days pacing the room, deliberately angling for trouble in order to see some excitement. I encouraged the other inmates to stage sit-ins in the kitchen and chaired secret meetings with the aim of planning a mass breakout. We had codenames, passwords, secret handshakes. I drew up a timetable for doing surveillance checks on the wardens, secretly timing how long it took for them to have a smoke or go to the loo. To what end, I don’t know, but it felt like the more information I had, the greater chance I would have of escape. To the other orphans it was just a fun game, something to while away the unending boredom between dinner and bedtime. But to me it was crucial practice.

One night, when I was twelve, I escaped. No codenames, passwords, disguises, or elaborate ruses were needed. At about eleven in the evening, I walked up to the night-guard desk where Old Oblivious was snoring, took the front door key off his chain, opened the door, and walked out with Edie and Aiden holding my hands. I imagine that they were so relieved to have their most troublesome inmate leave that they didn’t bother to look for us.

At first, our escape made us crazy – running, leaping, whooping, spontaneously bursting into little jigs and singsongs. We were just so pleased to be free with no bedtime and no wardens. We had hardly ever been outside the orphanage before. But then, the disembodied howling from woodland creatures became magnified in the blackness of the marshes. We imagined prowling monsters whose sole purpose on the earth was to cause us harm. I tried to make it less scary for Edie and Aiden by getting them to refer to me as ‘captain’ and I called them ‘comrades’ like we were playing a game of soldiers – words I had heard some Parrots use.

We were like a little troop of hungry soldiers with a fierce allegiance to our freedom and each other. I made Edie and Aiden swear to my made-up constitution which, I’m not joking, included the command ‘Thou shall not pee near our drinking water’. I’d heard this was very bad for your health and had seen matron smack some grimy little boys for trying to aim for the freshwater barrel in a game of ‘who can get the highest’. I was carried away by my own cleverness and hadn’t made any plans for what we would do after our great getaway.

Of course, within a week, we were famished; foraged mushrooms and berries couldn’t satisfy our stomachs. In an attempt to be resourceful, I’d fashioned a makeshift spear from a stick and a piece of sharp flint. I hadn’t really expected to catch anything with it but I wanted to give Edie and Aiden some reassurance that it seemed like I knew what I was doing.

After the initial excitement wore off, I noticed that Edie and Aiden were starting to get antsy. They weren’t used to the marshes and I felt guilty that they were wet and miserable. I tried to distract them by getting them to holler back our constitution in the hope that blind patriotism would rejuvenate their spirits but their responses were hollow.

One night, I heard Edie quietly wheedle Aiden about trying to convince me to return to the orphanage where we could fill our bellies. I knew that I needed to quickly subdue this faithless talk or else risk losing my followers. So I did what any good leader does – I lied. Not a big lie. Just little white lies to keep my troops on message and focused.

I stomped around the riverbank, holding aloft my spear like some kind of magical trident, proclaiming that it would be our saviour and our food would be bountiful. I mysteriously told them that I had a plan for the long-game and that its details would become apparent if they were patient enough. It bought me some time. In the meanwhile, until a bolt of inspiration hit me, I decided I had to start looking in earnest for some proper food. An army cannot last on an empty belly.

So I laid in wait by the riverbank, not hoping for much luck until a trout meandered by. Unexpectedly, my spear found its target and I hauled the wriggling creature from the depths onto the mossy bank. Well, that caught me off-guard. I stared in horror at the slimy monster. Its bulging eye fixed me with an accusatory glare. Its body convulsed in a struggle to save its own life. Blood spilled from the wound in its side. I had no idea how the hell we were supposed to eat it when it was still jolting about like it had been electrified.

I poked at it half-heartedly with my spear and leapt back in surprise as it threw itself malevolently at me. I think I may have even given a little scream of fright. I was a bit squeamish about killing animals back then and I felt sorry for making the pathetic creature suffer. I tried to recover some nonchalance, as if catching the creature had been entirely intentional and that, of course, I knew what the next step in the process of killing and eating it was. I inched in closer for the kill, my spear hovering over its body.

‘You’ll never kill it by just looking at it, no matter how ugly your face is,’ drawled a voice from the bushes.

A boy of about fifteen emerged. He was broad-shouldered, attractive with hair and eyes as black as the night, his mouth smirking but not unkindly. His dark eyes twinkled with suppressed mirth. He’d obviously seen my posturing with the spear and thought it hilarious. ‘Here, let me show you.’ He took the trout to a nearby rock and rapped its head against the surface. It stopped moving at once.

‘Thank you,’ I replied tartly, ‘but I was just getting to that.’

‘Is that right?’ His eyebrow lifted almost to the hairline of his messy, dark fringe. ‘I see, and I suppose you’re just getting round to gutting and filleting it, too? And starting a fire and building a spit-roast? Since you’re so capable, captain, guess I’ll just leave you to it then …’ He moved towards the bushes, his dark hair starting to merge with the shadows as he stealthily slipped away.

‘Wait!’ I cried. I saw the smirk resurface on his face and I immediately regretted calling out to him. ‘… I would … appreciate some help building a fire. I could do it myself but I’m feeling a bit tired,’ I said stiffly. It was difficult for me to admit defeat. He didn’t reply, so I continued. ‘If you help us out, you can share the fish with us.’

‘Well …’ he stretched out the word, making me wait, obviously enjoying every second. ‘I am quite busy and important, got a lot to do, no time to be hanging around with children …’

 ‘Just bloody help us,’ I growled. I had no patience for playing silly games.

‘I thought you’d never ask!’ he cried in mock jubilation. ‘Throw us that sorry flint and I’ll see what I can do about gutting this thing.’

Matthias has been my right-hand man ever since. Being three years older than I am, his expertise in the art of survival has been invaluable. He has supported us, mentored me, saved our lives on more than one occasion, and been the most loyal and understanding friend I’ve ever had. Actually he’s more like a brother than a friend. He is an orphan too, although he knows who his parents were. They were part of the rebels who challenged the Mayor and the Metropole eighteen years ago. The story is legendary on our island even though we are forbidden to talk about it. He was two when they were hanged in the marketplace. He lives with his grandmother now, who is ancient and slightly mad, but I have never seen someone act as kindly as he does when he speaks to her. I know that he will be a brilliant role model to Aiden in the next few years; providing him with male advice that I simply cannot give.

Crouching in our hiding place next to the Mayoral Complex reminded me of those early days. We were just practising our skills back then, just children playing games, but this time, this time it was for real.

I forced myself to think about the implications of my plan – the penalty for treason is death. The charge of ‘treason’ covers a whole catalogue of offences and includes any minor transgression such as talking to a crowd, enquiring after the Mayor’s health, laughing at a Parrot and, most importantly, stealing from the state. We were on thin ice.

Chapter Four

After our initial surveillance, we decided to go back the next morning to gather more information. The morning dawned sharp with frost. The cold needled at my face and I sunk under the fur blanket, determined to wring every last ounce of warmth from my