We glared at each other, me still holding the carrot in front of me and Cole staring intently at me. I didn’t know how long it would last. I didn’t know how long either of us would hold out before we decided to break.
All I know is that Cole broke first.
“I didn’t want you to freak out,” Cole tried eventually.
I glared harder at him, “That sounds more like an excuse than a reason to not tell me that I could’ve died.” My voice echoed off the stone around us and I wondered briefly if the miners could hear it.
Something flashed in Cole’s eyes, “Would you have believed me if I had told you? ‘Oh, by the way, there are land mines scattered all over this hill and that’s why I didn’t want you to run around.’ For all I know, you might’ve run faster and purposely jumped on one.”
I let out a hard breath, still staring hard at him. For once, I wasn’t able to think of a reply. I was stuck on the fact that he was trying to protect me in his own twisted way. I understood the logic, but the thing was, could I trust him?
“You think I’d purposely jump on a land mine?” I asked finally, more than slightly put off. “I wouldn’t. I don’t have a death wish, whatever you might think.”
“Good to know,” Cole replied softly, looking right at me. There was something open in his expression, though I didn’t know why.
I took a few more breaths before speaking again. “I suppose you want to know more about the carrots,” I offered up the tiny olive branch.
“If you wouldn’t mind,” Cole said, his expression closing off again.
“When I ditched you in the castle,” I began.
Cole coughed to cover his amusement, “You’re calling that thing a castle?”
I shot him a look, “How many times do I have to tell you that to some people, things look more large and amazing because of what they’re used to?”
Cole’s lips twitched and he shook his head slightly, “Sorry, continue.”
“I found the kitchen,” I said, cutting to the chase. “Someone came up out of the cellar with a bag of potatoes and I slipped down there.” I studied Cole’s face before continuing. “Did you know that your cellar is about as empty as everyone else’s is?”
Cole stilled, “No.” He looked at me seriously, “Is it?”
I nodded firmly, “It is. There are only a few bags of produce left in that cellar. I know we’re rebelling against your parents and all the other parents, but we’re just as low on food as everyone else.”
Frustration flashed across Cole’s face before it was replaced by hopelessness. “How are we supposed to help people if we’re just as bad off?”
I looked steadily at him. “You don’t give what you have in abundance, you give what you have only a little of, even if you need it yourself. You fight for those who can’t fight for themselves and you use whatever you have to beat the liars and cheats at their own game. Think outside the box, Cole. There are more ways to help others than just through your full coffers and powerful name.”
Cole wasn’t as offended as I expected him to be. He kept watching my face, his eyes studying every little nuance that I didn’t manage to keep still during my fervent speech. “You could do it,” He said finally.
I blinked for a moment before looking at him in confusion. “Do what?” I asked him, slightly suspicious but curious all the same.
Cole looked me right in the eye as he spoke. “You could reclaim the white throne. You could help us all.”
The world seemed to slow to a crawl and my breath caught in my throat as nervousness filled me. It was such a foreign feeling that I didn’t know what to do with it.
“I couldn’t,” I argued.
“You could,” Cole replied, unmoving. “Think about it. None of the current active kingdoms have any illegitimate heirs and white disappeared years ago. If we could convince everyone that you are the heir of white, we could reverse all of this.”
“It’s not that easy,” I cut in insistently.
“It won’t be,” Cole agreed, fiercely determined. “But you’re strong enough and we could help you.” A hint of desperation and pleading washed across his face. It confused me. “Please, Calypso.”
I watched him, wavering but not willing to let him know it. “I’ll think about it as we walk back,” I said noncommittally.
Cole looked about to let out a celebratory breath, but I stopped him.
“This is not a yes, but it’s not a no,” I warned him. “You’d better have a really good plan if you want me to be the icon of all this.” ‘All this’ being the messed-up kingdoms that controlled our every move. I highly doubted they’d stand by and just let me take over, especially since I hadn’t been born here.
“I can work with that,” Cole said confidently. “Let’s go, I’ll think about what we can do on the way back.”
I nodded and we picked our way across the field. This time, I wasn’t even tempted to run. Despite Cole thinking that I would run into the land mines, they made my stomach flip. I kept thinking that a blade of grass was a wire and I’d freak out, jumping back. I don’t even know if Cole noticed because he was so focused on thinking of the plans. It was a new side of him that I hadn’t seen before, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it.
“I have to talk with the others,” Cole mused as we climbed the hill, “But I should be able to find some way to make sure you’re from White. At the very least, we can fake it until we have rock-solid proof.”
I walked into the dark tunnel and focused on forcing my stomach to stop flipping. I felt more in control as the dark closed in around us because I didn’t have to control my facial expressions.
This time, I knew that my accompaniment didn’t have night-vision goggles with him.
“Cole,” I said when I was finally in control of myself.
“Yes?” He asked hesitantly, obviously expecting me to back out.
“You saved me from a landmine, right? So technically, because this place is medieval enough that life debts seem to be possible, I owe you.” I struggled to keep my voice even and nonchalant.
“I mean, I did save you, but I don’t think that means you owe me,” Cole said slowly. “I didn’t exactly tell you that there were landmines around.”
I smiled into the dark, feeling somewhat happy just knowing that Cole wouldn’t hold me to what I had waved in front of his face. It made me feel better about sealing my fate.
“You’d better have a really good idea,” I said thinking of all the people in the warehouse that had welcomed me so easily, “Because I’m in.”