Authors: Kerry Wilkinson
It is one of those beautiful late-summer mornings where the sun is high and warm, even though it’s not yet midday. The sky is endless and blue, the grass lush and green,
the clouds white and fluffy. In the distance I can see fields of pink, yellow and red flowers. Everywhere I look, there is a different colour: a canvas of lavish paints stretching in all
‘We’re never going to make it there.’
I don’t need to turn to know that Opie has his arms crossed, wanting to take control of the situation.
I stay sitting on the grass bank that overlooks my home village of Martindale on one side and the flourishing landscape on the other, sensing him standing over me. Beyond the grass, the flowers
and the trees is a hill that stretches high into the blue of the sky. My father once told me we’d walk there when I was old enough but that was before he died.
I put on the voice I always use when I want to get my own way: ‘I want to try walking there.’
‘You’ll get tired after a few hours and I’ll end up giving you a piggyback home,’ Opie replies.
‘It’s only across a few fields. I don’t want to go
it – just reach the bottom.’
‘It’s a long way, Silver.’
‘We can do it next summer when we turn fifteen. We’ll take a picnic and set off early. It’ll be fun.’
‘It won’t be fun when I have to carry you back.’
I turn, grinning, expecting to see Opie’s sandy hair and half-smile, ready to dive at his legs and roll around in the dirt. Instead, I’m blinking up at Imrin’s face, his black
hair and dark skin the opposite of what I expected.
This time it is Imrin’s voice speaking, saying my name softly.
As I drift back to the present, I remember the rest: being chosen as an Offering and taken away from my family and friends. Imrin and I were effectively prisoners of the King, at his mercy,
knowing each day could be our last. We did the only thing we could to avoid a certain fate – we escaped.
I screw my eyes tighter together, trying to picture Opie’s face and the woods outside Martindale – my woods – but everything’s a grey haze, like a dream you can’t
The air feels uncomfortable as the thin moisture clings to my throat, making me want to cough. I force myself to swallow, listening to the rain tenderly caress the outside of the building. If I
had been thinking straight, I would have made sure that some bowls or cups were left outside to capture the water but I am too tired to do anything about it now. My shoulders and arms ache from the
way the Kingsmen shunted me around and my legs are tired after our escape from Windsor. My thigh begins to cramp painfully and I shake my foot in an unsuccessful effort to clear it. Instead, the
pain grows until I find myself flailing involuntarily.
‘Are you all right?’
Imrin’s whisper is both reassuring and startling. His voice has that soothing feel, as if he is telling me a story, but I can also hear the edge of concern. The very fact I am waking up to
him is a reminder of everything we have been through in the past few months.
‘It’s just cramp,’ I murmur, trying not to unnecessarily wake any of the other escapees. There are twelve of us in total and we are all tired, cold and hungry.
Imrin places a hand on my face, his gentle fingers tracing from my cheek to my chin. A tendril of moonlight snakes through a gap in the roof of our makeshift shelter, illuminating his dark skin
and darker hair. ‘What do you want to do?’ he whispers.
It could have been any of us asking that. Between Imrin and myself, we managed to mastermind the escape but hadn’t planned what to do afterwards. I have felt the others looking at me,
asking that same question. We may have been imprisoned but at least there was food, water and shelter. We are all teenagers but now they look to me, expecting answers.
I do not reply, instead continuing to rotate my ankle and wiggle my toes until the pain has gone. My eyes feel raw and sleepy but I know I’ll not be able to rest for any longer, so haul
myself into a sitting position, peering at the cluster of bodies clinging to each other for warmth under the threadbare blankets we stole away with us.
Imrin sits up and stifles a yawn, before offering me his blanket: ‘Are you cold?’
I shake my head, looking instinctively towards my thinkwatch with its orange face and lightning bolt imprint. We have grown up using them for everything from knowing daily schedules to
communicating with each other. And, of course, telling the time.
Everyone takes the Reckoning when they are sixteen, a test that determines our place in society. An Elite means just that. If you become one, the face of your thinkwatch turns black with the
faint symbol of a crown to show that you belong to the top section of society. If you are a Member, the front becomes orange with a lightning bolt, to symbolise industry and productivity. Inters
have blue watch faces marked with a sword, while those in the lowest band of society – the Trogs – have yellow watches inscribed with a small sickle.
The last occasion on which I managed to send a message on my thinkwatch was the eve of our escape. Using codes stolen from the Minister Prime, I bypassed the security devices around Windsor
Castle that blocked us from contacting the outside world and messaged the families of the Offerings, telling them to get to safety. None of us know if it got through.
I thought that our thinkwatches would begin to function normally outside the castle walls, but instead they have all been disabled remotely. I wonder if that is partly where the disorientation
comes from. When you spend a lifetime relying on something and it suddenly stops working, there is bound to be a sense of confusion. Aside from being unable to communicate, mine is the only one
that still functions. The countless times I took it apart, replaced bits and tinkered seem to have paid off.
Luckily, it still has the one thing that might offer us a way out.
I flash through the screens as Imrin’s yawning becomes infectious and I find myself trying to stop my mouth from opening. He is grinning as my eyes water and I return his smile before
looking back to the watch. Before we escaped, I copied maps from the Home Affairs Minister’s thinkpad onto my watch. The screen is a lot smaller, but through trial and error I have just about
figured out where we are. After our escape, we crossed the remains of a wide, broken road and settled in a partially collapsed building on the edge of a small town called Beaconsfield. On our first
night we heard Kingsmen trooping through, shouting and demanding anyone in hiding to show themselves. None of us dared move, even during the day, but tonight it has been still aside from the
Or, perhaps, because of it.
Included with the map was intelligence about pockets of resistance. The locations are general and spread out and the King doesn’t seem to know specifically where they are.
‘How far away is that?’ Imrin asks as I show him my watch, indicating the nearest area where rebels might be.
‘At least twenty miles. Maybe more?’
‘That’s going to take us at least a day.’
‘We should go at night,’ I reply. ‘We have to stay out of sight and we’re not going to be able to make it in one go anyway – not with Hart the way he is.’
As I mention his name, I glance across to where Hart is sleeping. He comes from Martindale and was taken to the castle two years before the rest of us. He is easily the largest of our group and
although he should be the strong, powerful one, he was beaten while covering for me. Blood comes up every time he coughs, which happens a lot, and I am almost certain his ribs are broken.
Imrin nods in agreement. ‘We need to find something to eat before we head out. There’s no way we’ll get all that way without food or drink.’
He’s right but it is easier said than done. I edge across to the broken door he has wedged in the middle of a half-buckled wall. From the outside, it looks like a partly collapsed
building, although inside we are sleeping in a deceptively large area. Carefully, I move the wood to one side and peer out into the still-dark early morning. The rain has slowed nearly to a stop
but the biting breeze is vicious, making the hairs on my arms stand rigid.
‘We could go into the village while it’s still dark,’ I say, checking my thinkwatch instinctively for the time. With the Kingsmen last night and the rain this evening, we
haven’t dared leave our hideaway.
Imrin gently rocks Pietra awake and tells her what we are doing. On the other side of her, I see Bryony – the girl Pietra reported for hoarding food at the castle and could have had
killed. I haven’t noticed them speaking to each other yet but the fact they can be so close together shows that things have changed. Our only light comes from the moon shining through cracks
in the wall but I can see Pietra’s wide eyes looking towards me, asking silently if it’s a sensible plan. I try to shrug but my shoulder is still hurting and I end up wincing with
I don’t want to wake the others, so hold my hands out palms-up, indicating we don’t have a choice. She nods, understanding, before Imrin eases the door out of the way. With barely a
sound, we are outside and I pull the blanket tightly around my shoulders, climbing over the rubble of what was once somebody’s house. Imrin reaches out to hold my hand but I act as if I
haven’t noticed, knowing I am going to have to get used to relying on myself.
As the wreck of concrete, brick and tile evens out onto the dusty street, I’m amazed by the sheer destruction in front of us. The Civil War ended seventeen years ago but many places were
either abandoned then or in the years since. The King urged his subjects to congregate into larger communities, where it is easier to help each other – but also where we are simpler to keep
The night is fighting to keep its hold on the morning. It’s as still as it is cold, yet the crisp air feels heavenly in my lungs – a constant reminder that we were so close to never
experiencing the outside world again. We stop and listen for nearby movements but there is nothing aside from the gentle rustle of wind.
There are a few smaller buildings around, but Imrin points towards a scorched sign on the ground that has a painting of a lion-like animal on it and the words ‘The Red Griffin’.
‘It’s a pub,’ he says, pointing towards the crumbling remains of a doorway.
We have to shift more rubble to enter and inside it is shielded from the moonlight by a roof that is almost intact. Broken chair legs plus ripped patches of carpet and cushions are scattered
around our feet.
‘Have you ever been in a pub before?’ Imrin whispers.
‘We have an inn in Martindale but my mum never lets me go near it. There’s this older guy called Mayall. He drinks a lot and sleeps on the streets when the Kingsmen aren’t
around. He’s always in the alley at the back.’
We make our way to a large circular bar in the centre but that is where most of the damage has happened. The roof has caved in, allowing a small shaft of light to illuminate us but blocking any
‘There’s probably a kitchen through there,’ Imrin says, pointing towards the pile of bricks.
As he begins to pick aimlessly at the debris, I walk around to the far side, scuffing past patches of broken glass until I find a small hole in the wall where it looks like there was once a
serving hatch. Wallpaper has peeled away from the surface around it, leaving patches of crumbling brickwork visible. One of the hatch’s wooden doors is hanging limply from a single screw and
it falls to the floor the moment I touch it. At first I think I cannot fit through the gap but it only takes a glimpse of my bony arms to remind me how thin I now am.