“You should eat more.”
Marc made as if to hand me the remainder of his bread. It was all he’d have to eat that day — the tablets had predicted a shortage of food during the end of the first quarter-moon, so we were on rations. I pushed it back to him.
“I’m not hungry,” I lied. Outside, the sound of mallets driving stakes through the corners of tents echoed throughout the camp. Under the constant high drone of emptiness in my stomach, a tiny heartbeat fluttered.
“Please, Fisher,” he said. He hadn’t called me Ducky since the night of my father’s death. No one had. “I don’t need it. You do. You… both do.” He aimed a significant glance at my abdomen and I had a sudden urge to hit him.
“We all do,” came a voice from behind me. I turned and saw Rand, the child-minder. Marc’s older brother. He had a face like a dog’s, soft-eyed and worried, but his mouth was eternally pinched into an I-know-better line.
The tablets say not to hate anyone, and so I did not hate Rand.
“Why are we on rations, Prophetess?” Rand asked. “There’s more than enough food to go around. Why are my children hungry?”
“I told you yesterday, Rand,” I said in a tone that I hoped was a model of patience and understanding. “The tablets say that there will not be enough food for everyone as we leave the desert to enter the rock barrens. The tablets recommend—”
“Can you even read the tablets?”
Marc took a step forward, radiating anger like a live coal. “Of course she can read the tablets, look at her eyes, any damned fool can—”
“What?” Rand challenged. “Can what? Can take all the food for herself while she leaves her people to starve? Just because your brat is in her belly—”
“Watch yourself, brother,” Marc growled, and they were too close together and Rand’s lip was lifting into a snarl—
But then Hanna came running, shouting my name. She skidded to a halt just a few feet from where the two men stood. “Sorry,” she said breathlessly, “there’s an emergen— there’s a situation.”
I nodded for her to continue, leaving Rand and Marc to either fight or cease their snarling.
“I was in the sands,” Hanna said, her breathing already slowing. I took in her scarves and her long sleeves and her tight-wrapped legs, and I knew that she had almost certainly been hunting. She almost certainly hadn’t snuck into the desert again to plot against me. Almost certainly. “I was getting a sense of the land — looking for spoor, tracks,” she continued, “and I saw — I saw people. I found people.”
I stared at her. “What?”
“I found people,” she repeated.
I was dumbstruck. The route the tablets took us on kept us far from the high-walled cities of the North, East, and South, and we weren’t crossing into any of the Western mining territories or military training facilities of the Citadel. “That can’t be,” I said stupidly. “There’s… there’s nobody here.”
She shook her head. “I thought I was seeing things, but… come see for yourself,” she said.
“You brought them back with you?!” My voice was shrill in my own ears, and I put up a hand before she could respond. “Sorry, I— this is a lot to take in. Where are they?”
She looked uncomfortable. “They’re in your tent,” she said in a low tone. “Sorry, Fisher. I figured you’d want to decide what to do with them before we let anyone else see them.”
Without another word, we started walking to my tent. Her stride was long, longer than mine, but she shortened it so as not to make me jog after her, and I was grateful. I glanced at her sidelong and wondered if I’d been wrong to question her loyalty.
It took a few seconds for my vision to adjust to the darkness of my tent. I must have looked imposing to them — a strange, breathless woman bursting through the canvas and then standing silently for the space of five heartbeats. Finally, my eyes acclimated, and the vague shadows before me resolved into the shape of a person. A stout woman in a full skirt, her hair a redder brown than that of any of the travelers in my camp. Her strangely-shadowed face was so sunburnt that I flinched to look at it; a blister stood out on her nose.
“I thought you said there were two?” I muttered. Hanna nodded, gestured, and a piece of the woman’s skirt broke away. I made an involuntary noise and felt my fingers brush my lips before I knew I was covering my mouth.
The woman was not stout, and her skirt was not full. There was a boy. Five, I thought, or a malnourished seven. He had her same strange, red-brown hair. He’d been...