The day the soldiers came, I drank cold coffee out of a cold mug and tried not to think about Jul. As if I thought that they could read my mind, and that by forgetting him, I could keep him safe.
They split up: three soldiers in each room of the townhouse, and their commander in the parlor with me. She was tall and well-muscled, and her gray tunic strained over her shoulders. The tricolored sash across her chest rose and fell with each breath, as evenly as a march.
"You are Dame Raimunde Schoen," she said, and even if I hadn't been, I wouldn't have dared to argue with her. My hands shook as I raised the coffee to my lips. "I believe you have information to share with us regarding Julius Krahe."
"I haven't seen Krahe for years."
She looked at me, not merely as if I were lying to her, but as if I had asked her to eat dirt. She reached into the open side of her tunic. I tensed painfully, half expecting her to pull out a knife; but the thing she threw with such force onto the table in front of me was only a thin book, its cover wrapped in plain brown paper.
I flipped the cover back with one finger, and flinched away as though it had tried to bite me. It opened onto the title page, which showed a fat snake coiled around a nude and bloodied figure. No author, no publisher. The snake was tricolor striped, red and white and gold.
"We are not playing games, Dame Raimunde," the officer said.
I took another sip of coffee, though it tasted coarse and putrid in my mouth. "This book belonged to Julius?" I asked.
She turned the page with slow, steady fingers, and I thought—strangely, without reason—that she had touched corpses with those hands. They did not flinch.
The next page had been left blank by the printer. It wasn't blank anymore. Words in a tight, steady hand ran across it, in smooth curves, at angles that met and merged with other lines. When I had looked at it for half a minute, I could bear it no longer, and turned my eyes away.
"That handwriting . . ."
"It's Krahe's," the officer said. "Did you read it?"
I shook my head.
"Notes. For teaching that book to his students."
I shook my head again, willing myself not to cry. From other rooms came the sounds of glass breaking, paper tearing, rough voices raised in anger—or exultation. I didn't know what they had found, what possession of mine excited them so much.
"Dame Raimunde," the officer said. "Do you know what that book is?"
"Yes," I whispered. "Four Lies from the Mouth of God."
"Do you know why Krahe owned it?"
Coffee. Cold porcelain. My hands found the mug and tightened around its comforting solidity. "He always had . . . strong opinions."
When last I saw him, there hadn't been a revolution to counter. Even so, any answer I could make would have been a lie. I said nothing.
The silence was broken a few moments later by the sound of cracking wood and a low, hollow laugh. They had found my reserve of paper. If they wanted to, they could use it as evidence of counter-revolutionary activity and send me to the camps for five years. Or maybe they would just hang me now.
I looked at the officer, but her face showed nothing. She closed Four Lies from the Mouth of God and tucked it back inside her tunic.
"You have a daughter," she said. "Leona Schoen, twelve years old. Attending Der Marsch Academy."
"Yes. They are training her for the army." I didn't say that I'd had nothing to do with that decision; the officer knew that already.
"I'm sure she's almost ready to serve," she said.
"She's only twelve!" I gasped.
"Do you know where to find Julius Krahe?"
"No!" The tears were falling now, big and cold and sticky. "What does that have to do with Leona?"
"Your daughter goes to the front lines at the end of the month. But if we were to learn of Krahe's location before then . . ." She shrugged, pulling her tunic even tighter. "We could make arrangements."
I covered my face with my hands, as if I could hide. As if my hands were clean enough to hide behind. "You want me to trade Julius for my daughter?"
She didn't smile; her gray eyes glittered dangerously. "Yes."
Ripping paper in another part of the house. The officer cleared her throat.
"He was your student, wasn't he?"
"Yes," I said.
"Did he learn from you?"
"No. Not everything."
I dared a glance through my fingers. She had moved to the door and was standing there, straight and hard and thoughtless.
No. Not thoughtless.
"Your daughter looks very much like you," she said.
I nodded, looped a finger through the handle of my mug. Coffee. Cold porcelain.
"Did he sleep with you?" the officer asked.
My hand jerked. The mug crashed on the floor, spraying out coffee and porcelain chips like little shards of bone. When I looked up again, the officer was gone.
Snapshots. That's all I have left. Words, out of order, too close together. Blurred images. Tastes that coat my tongue like dust.
Lies. So many lies.
That's all I have left.
Spring. It should have meant boat launches on the river, tulips opening in Richter's Park, the brick townhouse facades and red cobblestones of Laum Street washed clean and smooth. The air should have been filled with voices and flowers and the far-off scent of rain.
But for the last three years, since the soldiers came, spring in the Reich had meant something else.
"I saved you a place," Hermine said. She had been an acquaintance of mine before the revolution: now, when it was safest to surround oneself with patriots and zealots, she was my closest friend. "Right below the scaffold. They're sure to see you there."
I swallowed past the lump in my throat and followed her though the crowd, gripping her hand when the press became too tight. In this crowd of red and white and gold, we could all-too-easily be separated.
"We heard that you were raided," she said as we parted a group of tricolor-wielding schoolchildren. There was a sticky trace of gloating in her voice; she was reassured by the Purges, even if she didn't know what they were about. It took an attentiveness incompatible with orthodoxy to notice whose faces appeared on the broadsheets, and whose houses were raided afterwards, and how those two were connected. "It must have been terrifying! Did they find anything?"
I dropped her hand, as though I thought she could feel my heartbeat pounding in my wrist. "My paper," I said, trying to sound frightened—or ashamed. Either would work for a zealot like Hermine. "I've been saving my ration for months. Old habit."
Hermine made an ugly sound with her lips and tongue. "Oh, Raimunde. You know it's wrong to hoard."
"Yes," I said. My stomach clenched on the word.
We'd reached the scaffold at last. Hermine had spread a blanket over the grass at its base, close enough that the noose's shadow fell across our legs. The soldiers surrounding it glanced down at us with approval; it looked good to sit so close to the action.
I leaned closer to Hermine, who was fanning herself with a pamphlet and making eyes at the nearest soldier. "Who is it today?"
"Writers," she said. Not even looking at the pamphlet.
I traced her gaze and stiffened with something that wasn't quite revulsion. Dark hair, green eyes, a body too taut and thin beneath its tunic and sash. "God, Hermine," I whispered. "He must be seventeen."
"Fresh," she said, licking her plump lips. She laughed at my disgusted stare. "Oh, Raimunde. Loosen your corset lacings. Are you telling me you've never looked at one of them, so young and disciplined and dignified, and wondered—"
"I was a teacher," I said shortly.
Hermine's look was so gentle, so understanding, that I flushed with shame and stared down at the shadow on my knees.
The children they led out of the jail and up the steps of the scaffold were not writers. I said as much to Hermine, but she shushed me with a wave of her hand.
"They must have printed the pamphlets wrong," she said. "Or the writers were reprieved for more questioning. Who knows?" Her expression added, Who cares? "Every enemy killed is cause for celebration."
"That's a lie."
Shock and horror wrote themselves in broad, ugly strokes across her face.
"'Death is cause for celebration.' That's a lie," I repeated. "One of the Four Lies from the—"
Her hand struck me across the mouth—whether she meant to slap me or simply to silence me, I didn't know.
"Don't say it!" Her blue eyes were wide with fear. "Oh, Raimunde, don't tell me you've read it. . . ."
"Of course not," I said quickly. If there was one thing Hermine had been taught to fear more than hoarding, it was books. "I don't know why I mentioned it. It's just . . . look! They're bringing the first one up."
A soldier mounted the scaffold, carrying a child in his arms. The girl was only a year or two older than Leona, but her tiny face was as gray as the soldier's tunic, and her childish blonde curls were damp and dark with sweat.
Hermine began to hiss, a thick, scaly sound, and I joined in to make up for my earlier misstep. All around us, the crowd was writhing and whispering like a snake. A striped snake, red and white and gold.
The girl tried to shrink back into the soldier's arms, but the man dropped her on the square of scaffold beneath the noose. Two more soldiers stepped forward and pulled her to her feet. They draped the noose over her head; it was so thick that it swallowed all of her soft white throat.
"God," I whispered. I was going to be sick.
A cheer went up from the crowd as the trapdoor dropped beneath her. The shadow across my legs twitched and writhed and was still.
I vomited when I got home. All that came up was cold black coffee.
Unity. That was the second lie.
I was actively dividing myself, building walls in my mind, else I could not have missed the pattern. The young soldier, rigid beneath Hermine's hungry stare; the hung girl; my daughter; Julius Krahe. Once, I would have watched that child hang and remembered Jul standing in my office, half-naked and shivering with something more than cold. The soldiers and I had taken the same thing from both of them.
Once, I would have laughed at soldiers who had overturned a throne but now fought only old schoolteachers and writers of counter-revolutionary pamphlets. Once, I would have mocked a land that clung to the name of empire but couldn't conquer. It was a revolution made of words. Soldiers without war; Reich without expansion; children without innocence. Once, I would have allowed myself to see the contradictions.
But not with the soldiers staring down at me from the scaffold. Not with Hermine on the blanket beside me. I couldn't be one woman; I had to be more.
The soldiers said we were united. That was a lie. Even their flag split into three colors. Even in our minds, we were not one.
It came out, a few days after the hanging, that the children had been Julius's students. They had not chosen to learn from a counter-revolutionary; they had not asked to be taught Four Lies from the Mouth of God. But they had learned, and they had hung, with less than a month travelling the road from students to fugitives to corpses.
Bait, meant to lure him out of hiding? Or was it really a crime to learn the truth?
Who knows? Who cares? Jul never tried to save them. Times like this, we can't protect our students from anything.
Not even from ourselves.
"No, don't get up."
The officer took a seat in the chair across from me. Her uniform looked out of place against the wrought iron filigree of the café table.
"You haven't looked for him," she said.
I looked down at my papers. I hadn't taught for three years, since the soldiers came, but I needed to write. No one would publish it, of course, but it kept me sane. Barely.
"No," I said. "I haven't. I don't know where to begin."
She took one of my papers from the pile and stared at it—reading, or perhaps merely studying my penmanship. The ink was still wet and shining in the spring sunlight.
"No one does," she said. "We've tried everyone over the last month—family, students, former colleagues. No one seems to know."
"Yet you still expect me to find out."
"Yes." She sent the paper flying across the table with a flick of her wrist. "But I'm willing to help you."
"Because I want him found."
I looked at her hands, clean and steady on the ink-spattered tabletop. "Then why can't you do it yourself?"
"He's still in love with you, you know."
"That isn't what I asked."
She made an expression that wasn't quite a smile. "You don't deny it?"
"How could I? I haven't see him for almost thirteen years."
"Where was the last place you saw him?"
My office, that final time. Red curtains drawn across the windows, so the light was filtered through a sheet of blood. Jul's white shirt draped across the back of my chair. My hands—
"He's not a lost book," I said. My hands were solid tension, moments away from shaking. "People don't stay where you leave them."
"Are you sure?" the officer asked. "He's still in love with you. Perhaps . . . he wants to be found."
I slammed my fists on the table. "I don't want your help."
I didn't need it.
If he wanted to be found, I knew exactly where he would hide.
Dark and hot. The room. His skin.
He'd come into my office. It was off-limits to students, on the third story of the mansion that would serve as a schoolhouse until the soldiers closed it down. I was sitting at my desk, writing, drinking.
Cold coffee from a cold mug.
He didn't say anything. His warm hands tangled through my hair, rough and sudden. No excuses. No reason but that he wanted it, and I wanted it.
I loosened his tie, undid the first buttons on his shirt. He did the rest.
I kissed him once, quickly, and locked the door.
That first time, he was seventeen.
The third lie was innocence.
The stairs hadn't changed since my last day teaching, three years before, when the soldiers came. Broken brown brick with little shreds of green peeking up from the mortar. A willow tree's shadow shading the bottom steps. And there, on the left-hand railing—the paint chipped, the slightest dent in the metal.
She was the youngest of our faculty. They had to drag her out of the classroom, strike her head against the rail to silence her. And even then, fading and bloody, her eyes screamed.
The lobby was empty, the dust and broken glass swept up in a pile against the wall. It smelled like ink and paper and old wood. Through the south windows, I could see miles of field and meadow opening, heavy with spring.
"Julius!" I called.
Something stirred on the ceiling above me, black and dark-winged. A bat? A crow? It vanished into the shadows before I could be sure.
In the end, he was where I thought he'd be.
"Dame Raimunde." He sat behind my desk, as I had always sat before our love-makings: eyeing the door, hands folded in his lap. Exactly as I remembered him. Dark hair, pale eyes, ink stains beneath his fingernails. That mouth, soft and expressive, expressing nothing.
"They're looking for you," I said. Stupidly.
He smiled and stood up. I took a step back. "It's good to see you again."
"Damn it, Julius, did you hear me? They're looking for you!"
"They've found me already. Or is that not why you're here?"
How can I say what that felt like? Like the drop of a trapdoor from beneath my feet, like the spray of coffee and porcelain shards across the floor of my parlor. "They're going to kill my daughter, Jul. I don't have a choice."
"I didn't know you had a daughter."
He was close enough to touch, close enough that his shadow fell across my face. He smelled like paper and heat.
"Jul," I said, "she's yours."
His smile was simply brilliant.
It seems wrong, somehow, that life should continue at times like this. That people can laugh together and sleep together and mourn together. That it should all still hurt so much.
It seemed wrong that Jul could look me in the eye and smile, knowing for the first time that he had a child, and that I could feel it all straight down to my gut, hot and dark and full.
It seems wrong that life can go on, when there's so little of us that's alive anymore.
We made love again, just as I remembered it. And he told me about the things he had done over the past months, the things he had written on the blank pages of Four Lies from the Mouth of God—the things that told them he was still in love with me. Next to the fourth lie, he wrote my name.
The fourth lie: every action is either right or wrong: every word is true or false.
"It wasn't wrong," he said. "Not then, not now."
I didn't know if what he said was true or not. Right then, I didn't care.
The officer found me at the next hanging. She saluted Hermine, firm and calculated, and dragged me by the hand to the edge of the crowd.
"Where is he?"
"The old schoolhouse on Karsten Street."
"Really?" Her gray eyes narrowed. "If you're lying to me—"
"I'm not. He's there."
She smiled then—firm and calculated, like her salute. "I'll gather the others. Meet us there in an hour."
I nodded. One hour.
He must have escaped as the soldiers were gathering in the lobby. We found a cup of coffee in my office, still steaming.
She took me to a classroom on the ground floor, out of sight of the other soldiers, and slammed me against the wall.
I screamed as my shoulder blades twisted against the blackboard. My head struck brick, spraying white sparks across my vision.
"Where is he?"
"I don't know!" For a moment, my hands were free, and I caught her by the shoulders before she could push me into the wall again. "I don't know! I'd tell you if I did."
"You're protecting him." She shook me off. "We were fools to trust you. Does your daughter mean anything to you?"
"I'm doing this for her," I said, and my voice was raw and bloody. "I love him and I'm letting you kill him because of her. What more can I do?"
"You can't take orders. You stupid bitch." She had to raise her voice to be heard over my sobbing, and I knew it made her angrier. "I'm sending your daughter to the front. Do you hear me? You won't see her again until Julius Krahe is hanging on the scaffold."
She stepped back and I slid down the wall. I didn't move again until she was gone.
The soldiers believe in innocence. They, who send children to die on the battlefields, who turn young men and women into torturers and executioners, who hang students for the crimes of their teachers. The officer who had thrown me against a wall and threatened to kill my daughter. They believed in innocence because they were certain that what they did was right.
I was never certain anymore.
I told you that I have nothing left but snapshots. Sounds, pictures, tastes, thin and fleeting.
Leona cried when they took her to the Academy. She was like me, slight and dark, but she had a courage, an adventurousness I could never muster. Or maybe I had it once, and simply grew out of it.
There are memories. Tulips in the park. Caramel apples for her birthday at the close of autumn. And books, hundreds of them, books I shared with her, and books she loved too much to share with me.
When Leona was taken, three years ago, I gave her books away. After twelve years, I have nothing to show. Nothing to remember. Nothing.
There was someone in my parlor when I came home.
For a moment, I thought it was the officer. She had the same long, straight hair, the same gray eyes. She sat straight and steady in my chair, her breath rising and falling to an even march tempo. But her hands, clenched and trembling in her lap—her hands were different.
"Dame Raimunde." She stood and bowed. If a soldier had seen it, that bow would have gotten her killed. "My name is Vladmere Zimmerman. I was a teacher at Der Marsch Academy."
"Leona," I gasped—then I realized she'd said was. "Why are you here?"
She raised her hands in pacification. "Julius Krahe sent me when I told him what I'm about to tell you. He would have come himself, but he's fleeing your soldiers at the moment."
She said it without inflection—without interest—and yet, her voice dripped condemnation.
"I did it for my daughter," I said. "Does that mean nothing?"
"Now? Yes," she said. "It means nothing. That's exactly what I'm here to tell you."
The counter-revolutionaries share information. That's what makes them rebels. They know what no one should know, and teach what no one should learn.
Der Marsch does not keep records. It was luck, perhaps, that Jul knew someone who remembered Leona, remembered when they sent her to the front. Remembered when she died.
"They lied to me." I whispered. "I betrayed him for them, and they lied to me."
"What did you expect?" Vladmere said. "All they do is lie."
In the pain of remembering, and the pain of what followed, I nearly forgot to include the end of that conversation.
"The officer," I said. "The one who threatened Leona."
Vladmere nodded, waited for me to continue.
"She looks like you."
"My sister," she said. "Furstin Cazi Zimmerman."
"I'm sorry," I said.
"Don't be. It doesn't hurt me." She looked down at her hands, spread flat against the table. "She was your student, Dame Raimunde, at the same time Krahe was. She hated him so much. That's why she wants you to be the one to break him." For the first time, her voice was gentle. "I think she was always a little bit in love with you."
I covered my face with my hands. It was all too much.
What do they mean when they say the Mouth of God is a liar? It isn't politics. The soldiers don't believe in God.
And yet, they have their own breed of orthodoxy. The Four Lies—Celebration, Unity, Innocence, Certainty—are as sacred to them as if they had come from God himself. And though the book is new, the Lies are ancient, far older than the soldiers—as old as despots and empires and revolutions, as old as mankind.
There is this, too: only God can work miracles.
How is it that children became soldiers, schools became torture camps, spring became a season for hangings? By the laws of nature, such things should be impossible; man should not be so capable of destroying his own kind. And yet, it is possible. The soldiers made it possible. Like God, the soldiers have learned to work miracles.
There are miracles of evil as well as of good.
"Furstin Cazi. I'm done," I said. "I know she's dead."
The officer looked from me to the scaffold. They were hanging children again, not for philosophy but for poverty—the children had stolen bread. This time, I watched their faces. I would not hide.
"I don't know if you gave that order sixteen months ago," I said. "I don't know if it's your fault she died. You're lucky. If I were certain, I'd kill you right now."
"You wouldn't," she said—not smiling, but laughing in her own thoughtless way. "You're afraid."
"Oh, no," I said. "Not anymore."
"He wants to see you," Vladmere said, perched on the back of my armchair. She had taken to visiting me at all hours of the day. We were alike in some ways—teachers without students, unable or unwilling to teach. Inevitably, her talk fell to one of two topics: Leona, or Jul.
I pressed my forehead against the warm bright window glass. "He can't," I said. "Your sister is having me trailed when I leave."
"Then we'll bring him to you."
"No. They're watching the street."
She made a hard, strangled sound. I glanced back out of the corner of my eye. The look on her face was pure disgust. "I never thought you were a coward."
"I'm not. I'm trying to protect him."
I looked back out the window, at the clean white of my neighbors' washing hung on a line. Rain clouds were piling in the west, hard and heavy and gray.
"Come and see him," she said. "We have guards, passwords. We've killed soldiers before. Cazi won't be able to follow."
"Passwords." I laughed a little, chokingly. "What can I say that Cazi can't?"
"Jul wants to see you," Vladmere said. "You're his teacher."
They say that the soldiers have no passwords. When they gather—to plan, to execute, to torture—they must answer one question. That answer is their permission, their justification, their excuse.
The question: what have you done that would cause you to hang if the counter-revolution came?
My answer: I let Julius Krahe love me; I betrayed him; and when he wanted to see me, I came.
Did I love him? I wonder. God, I wonder.
All those times in my office, I did. And when I held our child for the first time. And when I thought of him as I stood beneath the scaffold or lay awake in my bed, lonely and afraid. I loved him then. When I needed him.
But not when he needed me. Not when he begged me to see him, though he knew it could mean his death. Not when he wrote my name in the margins of Four Lies from the Mouth of God.
I didn't love him when the soldiers came. And I wonder now, incessantly, if I truly loved him before.
Vladmere blindfolded me before we got into the carriage. I thought at first that it meant Jul had learned from his mistake. Then I remembered; he'd made no mistake. He'd known I would betray him.
We left the windows open, and slowly the dry, musty smell of the city gave way to the damp sweetness of newly planted fields. Two or three times we halted, and Vladmere whispered something to our unseen detainers before we were allowed to continue. I laid my head against the cushioned back wall and let the motion of the carriage rock me into a softer, veiled kind of wakefulness.
We stopped some time later, and Vladmere helped me down. The ground was soft and cool beneath the thin soles of my shoes. Vladmere gave a series of short cries, like a crow-call, and someone echoed them far ahead. She led me across a space of soft grass and into something cool and dark, musky with the smell of hay.
"Take off the blindfold," Jul said.
The cloth fell away from my eyes. We were standing in a barn, clean and sealed against the weather despite its obvious age. Jul looked at me for a moment, just looked at me. Then he turned to Vladmere.
"Guard the door. Whistle if you see anyone coming."
She bowed and went out.
"Jul," I said as soon as she was gone, "my daughter is dead. They lied to me."
"I'm sorry. I didn't know until Vladmere told me. What happened to Leona—it's happened before. It's the reason Vladmere left Der Marsch." He looked down at his hands, dark and strong against his thighs. "It doesn't seem real, does it?"
No. It didn't. "She taught Leona, you know. I always thought it was just soldiers at Der Marsch. But Vladmere . . ." I smiled in spite of myself. "She might have made a counter-revolutionary out of my daughter."
"Like I made counter-revolutionaries out of my students?"
"That's not what I meant." I sighed, shouldering his bitterness like a weight. "Why are we all teachers, Jul?"
"It used to be because we wanted to teach. Now, we're too afraid to learn."
I snorted. Jul flushed but did not lower his eyes. I knew he was thinking of his students, and the students at Der Marsch. The veiled dangers in learning.
Bales of hay were stacked like stairs against the western wall of the barn. I sat down on the nearest one and buried my face in my hands.
"Why did you want to see me?"
"To tell you not to give up hope. They'll see the truth eventually." I felt his warmth close at my side, and heard the softest break in his voice. "Don't give up. Raimunde—"
"Do you think we can force them to see the truth?"
"I think the soldiers can't stop them from seeing it."
He pressed something between my cheek and my palm; a copy of Four Lies from the Mouth of God, warm and soft from his touch.
I swallowed. My throat was tight and sticky. "You tell me not to give up hope," I said. My fingers clenched around the edges of the book. "What makes you think I ever had any?"
"What are you saying?"
"What makes you think the soldiers did this to me? How do you know I haven't always been afraid? You think I have courage because I slept with a student—"
"That's not what I think."
"Then what is?"
He knelt down on the hay next to me. "I think you would be brave if you knew that what you were doing was right."
"There's no such thing as right or wrong." I let Four Lies from the Mouth of God drop into the dust. "Your book said that."
"No. It says we should not allow murderers to tell us what is right."
I put my hands down. His pale eyes were everywhere. I was drowning in them.
"You want me to join you," I said. "But we're not the same. Your students died because you taught them the truth, Jul. I can't hurt—" Guilt closed around my throat like a noose. For a moment, I thought I would choke on the words. "I can't do that again."
"Teaching means taking innocence," he said. "We can't protect them from everything."
"Maybe we've just been bad teachers."
Jul said nothing, only knelt and picked up his book. I folded my hands over my mouth and pressed my eyes shut.
"What do you want me to say?" I whispered.
A shrill sound came from the barn door. The sound of a whistle.
I was not brave. I was not certain. But I was not afraid.
He had a knife in his belt. I grabbed it and pulled him to his feet.
"They followed me here. I knew they'd follow me."
"We can outrun them. Come on, out the back door!"
He held my hand like a vise. Gently, firmly, I peeled his fingers away.
"If we run, they'll know you were here. They'll burn the whole place to the ground before they stop looking for you."
I shoved him towards the back door. The hinges were old but clean, and they opened without a sound.
"What are you doing, Raimunde?"
"Protecting you." The air from the open door was sweet and sharp against my face. I pushed him towards it. "Go! I'll tell them it was just me. I was waiting for you here, but you never came."
He dropped his book, flung his arms around me and buried his face in my neck. I pushed him away.
He gave my face one last, searching gaze. Whatever he saw there, it made him run away.
Furstin Cazi wasn't with the group of soldiers who came to arrest me. Maybe she was with her sister. Maybe she was running after Jul. I don't know. I never saw any of them again.
The soldiers surrounded me. All it took was one blow across the knuckles with a sword hilt to make me drop Jul's knife. Then they were on me, pressing my face into the cool earth floor. Jul's copy of Four Lies from the Mouth of God swam in and out of focus, splattered with dirt like flecks of dried blood.
"Where is he?" they demanded.
"I don't know," I said. It was the truth.
There's no need to say what happened after. When it was over, I crawled to my knees and wiped mingled blood and bile from my chin.
"We'll hang you," they said.
"Go ahead," I said. "I have nothing more to lose."
In the end, all we ever own is the truth.
They will hang me at dawn this morning.
It seems wrong that it should hurt to think of it, and wrong that thinking of it doesn't hurt. I will die this morning, and nothing will change. Julius will still be running or dead or waiting to die. The soldiers will still be here—you will still be here.
It is the last day of spring today. Tomorrow will be summer, and I will never see it.
All I have, I've given to you—you, my last student. Every memory, every thought. I'm afraid they aren't much. I'd give you courage now, but I need that for myself.
And I am afraid for you. Afraid that you will be my enemy, that you won't even read this letter when I hand it to you on my way up the scaffold steps, just burn it like they burned my innocent hoard of paper—was it only a season ago?
But I'm more afraid that you are a woman like me, hiding your truth behind a child's face and a soldier's uniform. This world is cruel to her heroes; you need to be strong if you are going to save her. You must be God to work miracles.
And no, I don't know if it's possible. I hope it is. I haven't given that up yet.
This is the truth; I can say no more. You are coming. The sky is a gray metal knife, and dawn is rusting at its edge.