Chapter 18 - Politics

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There was no way I was going to the next village to perform a Choosing. I already tried a version of that option with Redwater and look how that turned out. At first, I didn't know if Eluena and Mindy would feel the same, but faced with the three options from Tobin, I wasn't sure what they would do.

No one spoke until Tobin stood and said, "I'll go look for some food, and let you all talk." Then he left us, disappearing from our view within a few minutes.

Once he was out of sight, Mindy started, "This is insane! All of this: Tobin, the Offering, Redwater... it's all insane!"

Eluena scooted herself closer to Mindy and put a hand on her knee. "It is, but we're all going to have to make a choice." Then she looked at me. "What do you think?"

That pressure of being the leader hit me again. I was happy to make my decision, but this decision needed to be their own. "I don't expect either of you to follow me. My decision is what I need to do, but you both need to figure that out for yourselves." I took a deep breath and exhaled. "I'm going with Tobin to Nord and then to the Gateway. The payment, the Offering, has to stop."

Mindy shook her head. "You can't do that. Our families!"

I cut her off. "Our families are survivors. What's worse? Having a drought or sending your kids to who knows what in Lake Shasta?"

Mindy crossed her arms over her chest. "Maybe they desperately need the women, and we'll get to choose from the men up there." Her face was upturned, and I had to stamp down my irritation.

"If that was the case, do you really think the Elders would try so hard to hide what the Offering is?" I stared her down. She couldn't actually believe what she had just spouted. "Eluena?"

Eluena pressed her lips into a thin line before speaking in a measured tone. "I don't know what is worse. Stopping the payment could end up killing people, our family, but what happens in Lake Shasta?"

I was dumbstruck. "I don't know," I whispered. Tobin hadn't said, and I hadn't asked. "I just assumed it was terrible."

Eluena nodded, "You're right, the Elders wouldn't be hiding it if going to Lake Shasta was a good thing. But I can't decide without knowing what is there. I'm not sure I could set up our families to starve, knowing all the Offerings in Lake Shasta are alive and well-fed."

Doubt filled me. I had been ready to fight at the Gateway, but now unanswered questions filled my head. "Then we ask Tobin whenever he gets back."

Mindy chimed in, "Why don't you go find him? I'm sure he'd be more forthcoming with only you, and I'm sure you'd love the alone time with him. You've been basking in his attention ever since he found us in Redwater."

Her words rattled me, and I didn't bite back my retort in time. "What's that supposed to mean?" A moment of complete self-consciousness and self-doubt overwhelmed me. I liked being around him, and if I was honest, I was attracted to him, but she made it sound like I was throwing myself at him, which I was not. The urge to say that too was strong, but that would only give Mindy something to latch on to. I bit my tongue waiting for her response.

"Oh, please." She stood up and walked into the mine.

I swung around to Eluena expecting a similar reaction to mine, but she only shrugged. "You seem to get along with him way better than any of the boys from home. But she had a good point. He may be more forthright with you. He's different with you. Go talk to him." Then she left to join Mindy.

I kicked at the gravel, not entirely liking what they had said or that Eluena agreed with Mindy on some level. A small part of me, however, warmed at the thought that he treated me different, and they had noticed.

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