AN: This is a three-part exploration of the events in CF, Gale's whipping, from Madge's perspective. It is a follow-up to my one-shot "Beholden." I have my own theories about Madge and her possible role in the rebellion. She is, after all, privy to information that most district folks are not, making her someone worth recruiting.
…you go run and tell your friends I'm losing touch.
Fill their heads with rumors of impending doom
It must be true… - The Killers
Saturday, one week following the Harvest Festival
I check over my shoulder again to make sure that the door to the study is closed. No sounds carry through the house. My mother is asleep and my father, Mayor Undersee, isn't home. Yet, my nerves are buzzing as I stoop on the carpet and rummage through my father's classified Capitol newspapers. They are in their usual spot, left in a tidy stack on the bottom of his bookshelf. The papers have to look perfectly arranged and in the correct order by date, so he won't know that I have replaced the one I stole last night. At best, if he suspects that I've been taking papers, then he will simply store them somewhere safer. At worst, he finds out...but so does someone else. An informer. Anyone who's fallen out of favor with the authorities and desperate to regain it. My tongue will belong to the Capitol. As well as everything else that belongs to me.
So far, my father has never noticed a paper missing. Hopefully that will save at least one of us if anything goes wrong one day.
The phone in the study rings.
I jump and barely stop myself from screaming by biting down on my fist. I do it by reflex now. The shrill ringing continues for another thirty seconds and finally triggers the answering machine, a gadget that only the mayor owns in this district. Most folks don't have consistent electricity, let alone a phone.
I stop arranging the newspapers to listen. My eyes are just level with the top of the desk and I keep a lookout on the door. A man's voice, a Capitol official whom I recognize as Nero Ashfield, leaves a clipped message in a low, barking voice. I hear that Head Peacekeeper Cray will be recalled to the Capitol and for my father to expect his replacement shortly.
That is all. No name. No date. No explanation.
I stare at the blinking red light indicating the new message. This is what the Capitol considers a courtesy call? I am disgusted, and yet, grateful for Ashfield's timing. This information may have a greater impact on District 12 than a month of combing newspapers. And I am wondering what the fallout will be? Old Cray is unpleasant in the way that a head louse is unpleasant. It doesn't feel good, but you can live with it. Many of the folks in District 12 do. Other Head Peacekeepers are a different story completely, sort of like necrotizing fasciitis.
The sound of the front door opening and closing carries up from the foyer. I hear heavy footsteps on the stairs: my father returning from business in the Justice Building.
I'm already rocking back on my heels and making a beeline for the door.
I wake up to a quiet house. The sun makes a half-hearted attempt to pierce through the clouds. I prefer overcast mornings on days when I can linger in bed, spooning with a pillow, and allowing myself to simply be. Warm under the blankets, this is my idea of luxury. I could forgo every other comfort, eat pine like Katniss showed me, but let me have my mornings.
Eventually, though, I have to go to the bathroom and find something to quell the grumbling in my stomach. The housekeeper doesn't come on the weekends, so it's every woman for herself.
Outside my window, a layer of new snow blankets the old, blackened muck we've had for weeks. I'm more than ready for warm weather, but there are still months of cold to come. I'll need sustenance, especially if I'm going out today, so I pad down the stairs into the kitchen for some breakfast and coffee.
It's Sunday; the only day that I can meet with Darius, when he is off duty and I'm not in school. He is a Peacekeeper, but he's also one of us and I needed to tell him about Ashfield's message. We use Sundays to compare notes from information we've been able to gather about the Capitol and other districts – what Darius has wheedled out of Cray. And me? From the newspapers.
Usually we have to wait until the afternoon. My parents are preoccupied upstairs until dinnertime and don't notice I'm gone. Today is easier. My father locked himself in his office first thing. I heard him pace over a loose floorboard as I passed by. My mother is on the third day of one of her debilitating headaches.
I throw together a quick feast of toast and applesauce. It isn't until after I've put a healthy spoonful into my mouth that I remember applesauce and coffee taste terrible together. Toast neutralizes the bitter flavor fairly well.
After rinsing my dishes, I set the kettle to boil again and toast more bread. Neither of my parents will eat this morning, otherwise. I steep a tincture of lavender for my mother, knowing my father will take whatever she's having. She prefers her toast with a thin layer of butter, which is all her stomach can handle when she's ill. My father prefers a little bit of bread with his jam.
Finally, everything goes on a tray and I head upstairs. I use my elbow to knock on the study door. It takes my father a while to open it for me. He looks tired.
"Good morning, Dad."
"Morning." He takes the plate and mug. "What's it today?"
He nods wearily. "I have a headache, myself."
"Going to the Justice Building today?"
He looks a little startled. "No, why would you think that?"
"Oh…well…isn't that what usually causes your headaches?" I hastily supply, and then throw in a vapid laugh for good measure. "You always look kind of sour when you have to see Cray."
The corner of his lip twitches. It's a poor substitute for an actual smile, but I think I'm off the hook. "Be careful when you go up," he says.
I always am.
My room is on the second floor, along with father's office and the guest rooms. My parents sleep on the third floor. Because of my mother's migraines, my father sleeps in the room next to her. He had a connecting door installed shortly after they were married. Her room is the farthest from the sound of the doorbell and the tramping feet of visitors, as well as the sound of my piano. Although, the sound of the latter carries up easily, so I must be careful.
Gently, I turn the knob and enter. It's difficult to see because of the blackout curtains, which keep the light from causing my mother even more agony. I have the room fairly well memorized, and I know without my eyes adjusting where her bed and nightstand are. I can see the outline of her body under the covers.
She stirs. I put the tray down without a word and leave, since she is surely aware of the scent of the tea and toast.
Now that my family is taken care of, it is time to attend to business in the town.
As I put on my coat and boots, I rehash the information in my head. Factory explosions in District 8. Foul weather in District 4. That means shortages of textiles and seafood for the Capitol and their extinction in the districts. Great. We're already short on produce, which means something is up in District 11. I'm hoping Haymitch Abernathy has an explanation for me.
Of course, the papers only print the "facts." Adulterated, but still facts. The interpretation lies with me. Maybe if I didn't know about the rebel network, then none of this would sound unusual. But I know there's resistance against the Capitol…and that President Snow has his own particular flair for dealing with resistance. Foul weather, indeed. Demonstrations are more like it, I mentally rant while I yank a scarf around my neck and head out the back door. Explosions are easy enough to create and make it look like an accident when the people stop working and start fighting back. What the Capitol doesn't want anyone to know, and what I have read between the lines, is that unrest has grown beyond containment in District 4 and 8.
And perhaps elsewhere rebellion is simmering in the veins of the miserable. In fact, I know it is. The miners have never kept their political zeal a secret. I shudder and my stomach flips. Factories aren't the only places the Capitol could stage an explosion.
I find my mittens stuffed into my coat pockets. The wind is up and it bites my exposed skin. Low, grey clouds hang heavily in the sky, promising more snow later on. Not many people are out when I reach the lane heading into the market. They're probably trying to stay warm at home, which works in my favor. It's difficult to keep a low profile when one has to operate in daylight. I take a backstreet circling the square when I see that Darius has not yet arrived. He goes to the Hob on his free time, I know. But I'm not brave enough to look for him there, so I wait on the edge of the square.
I don't wait long.
Footsteps announce a person's presence on the cobbles behind me and turn quickly. We almost smash into each other and Darius's arms reach out to buffer the impact.
"Sorry," I murmur.
"Probably should have warned you." He steps back and I get a good look at him.
Darius has replaced his white Peacekeeper uniform for plain corduroy trousers and a wool coat that matches a black winter hat. Only a few strands of ginger hair show where it's been pushed back on his forehead. He would stand out like a flare at midnight otherwise, especially in District 12 where everyone's hair is either black or gold like mine.
"Hello, princess," he quips.
I frown. Not all Peacekeepers are as tolerable as Darius, but even he's a stretch at times. The nickname reminds me of my less-than-pleasant encounter with his fellow officers only a few days ago and he is making light of it. Princess is the nickname Peacekeeper Niels, or Piggy, gave me and I resent that Darius has decided to adopt it.
The frown registers and he gives me an apologetic half-grin. "Sorry. Still a sore subject, huh?"
Still? I was assaulted less than a week ago and I still feel the need to look over my shoulder when I walk by myself.
But I shrug because I'm feeling uncomfortable and don't want to show it. "A bit, yeah."
Darius looks around. "Come on, we'll talk somewhere else."
I follow him and we maintain small talk as a family passes by. Nobody seems to pay any attention to us, which is good. I'm not sure if anyone even recognizes Darius without his uniform on, but I know they would recognize me, and the last thing we need is for people to start scrutinizing my extracurricular activities.
When we're alone on a side street he resumes his earlier thought. "You'll be pleased to hear that your friends were too hungover to return to duty on time, which seriously pissed off Cray." He stops walking and looks me over, judging my reaction. "He's got them on a tight leash, so they won't be bothering your boyfriend." He winks at me. "As long as he keeps a low profile, that is."
Darius starts walking again and I follow a few paces behind.
"Gale isn't my boyfriend," I reply, blushing. "We're not even friends."
Darius gives me a long, knowing glance over his shoulder. "Yes, that's what confuses me about you."
I almost ask him what he means when we reach an empty shop a few blocks away from the square. Whoever owned it went out of business a long time ago. We circle around to the back of the building and Darius ducks through the shattered remains of the delivery door. I follow him into the dank, dirty room. It smells like moldy insulation and wet concrete. The windows that still have glass are coated over in coal dust and grime. There's nothing in the room but splintered wood, a few rocks, and rotting leaves. Vandals have already picked through anything worth taking years ago, so we're in no danger of being interrupted or overheard.
Not wanting to waste time, I turn to him. "I needed to tell you that there's a new…"
"Head?" Darius finishes for me. "Yeah. He's already set up shop. In fact, I have to cut our meeting short. I'm on duty tonight. New security procedure."
"Oh," I gape.
Darius hunkers down on the floor, taking out a little bottle of white liquor from his coat pocket. He cracks the seal and takes a quick sip before offering it to me. I refuse. I know he's just keeping warm, and I don't mind, but the stuff burns my throat and tastes like paint stripper.
I sit down next to him. For a second I'm afraid I sat in something wet, but it's only the cold concrete against my warm skin. Darius takes another swig from the bottle and I'm not sure if he's going to elaborate on the new Head. "Well…what's he like?" I finally ask. "Besides abrupt. Nero Ashfield informed my father about him only yesterday."
Darius shrugs. "Nothing like Cray. Romulus Thread's his name. I can already see that he's a Capitol man through and through."
It's a little odd, I think, the distinction that Darius makes between Capitol people. I mean, he was born in the Capitol, too, but I guess he doesn't see himself as a product of it.
"That's going to make your job harder," I reply with a cringe. Darius is more than admirable, considering the risk he takes to find information for Haymitch. While I'm reading newspapers in the safety of my own home, he's conning Capitol folk who can make things very bad for him.
"Maybe," he says. "Maybe not. Cray was sloppy, left documents lying around, talked to the higher-ups on the phone with the door open. Dumb stuff. But I don't think they trusted him with half of what they'll trust with Thread. I won't be able to squeeze him like I did Cray, but I bet everything we learn will be worth far more to our friends."
We are both hugging our knees to our chests as the chill in the room soaks in. The conversation lapses as I take in this new information. Romulus Thread is an unknown quantity, and it makes me nervous. Life in this district is not pleasant, but the Peacekeepers have been lax. Not like it is in other districts. Not like District 8 where otherwise efficient factories mysteriously explode.
Speaking of which…
"Darius, there have been more uprisings."
His eyes light up. "Where?"
"Four and eight"
"Did Haymitch tell you that?" he asks.
I chew my bottom lip for a moment.
"No…it's more of a theory…I haven't spoken to Mr. Abernathy, yet," I tell him. "I don't think he's been sober since the Victory Tour." It's an unspoken rule. If he wants information, he sobers up long enough to talk. I'm fairly certain I'm the only one who receives this consideration. I'm not sure why, but I've got a theory about that, too.
Darius nods. We've come to trust each other's hunches in the last year. "How did you find out?"
"The usual," I say. "My dad's Capitol papers. I read articles last night about fabric shortages caused by the factory explosion."
Darius guffaws and I'm startled by it.
"I guess naked is making a comeback this season," he jokes. "I almost wish I was back in the Capitol."
My eyes pop and I feel a blush coming on. Darius winks at me. He thinks it's funny that I embarrass so easily.
"Sorry, should I have said 'fashionably bare' instead?"
I ignore him and try to find a new, comfortable sitting position. The feeling in my bottom went away around the time Romulus Thread's name was first mentioned. "A weather report predicted more foul weather in District Four and to expect disruptions in the shipment of seafood."
"Hence, your hunch about a revolt in District 4."
"Yes," I say. "These are the sort of things Haymitch told us to look for. Unusual disruptions in the districts, especially the ones where we have contacts. Like District 4."
"Well, you're probably right. And that would help explain the sudden change in command in our district. If the Capitol is feeling nervous about uprising in one or two districts, then President Snow isn't going to wait for the others to start causing trouble before he step in."
"What do you think Mr. Abernathy will want us to do?" I ask.
"My guess?" Darius shrugs. "Bide our time."
What? But what if we miss our chance? "Even if the other districts are revolting now?" I ask, a note of desperation making it sound like a squeak.
He cocks an eyebrow. "Do we look like we're ready for a revolt?"
"Maybe if we were able to get more people involved – you know there are dozens of miners who are already talking about overthrowing the Capitol –"
Darius takes off his beanie and runs his fingers through the ginger mop of hair. "And what then? Say a dozen join us. One of them isn't discrete. Tomorrow every one of us gets marked." He puts his hat back on. "We have to be smart about this, even if we are willing to risk our lives. If we're discovered then who can we help?"
Reluctantly I agree, but the feeling of desperation doesn't go away. What if we miss our chance? What if we're discovered before we can act against President Snow and his Capitol?
"So, in the meantime, you get to play a woman of privilege, spurned by a peasant who thinks you've got it easy. Little does he know that you're a spy…" My mouth drops open, because I have never told Darius any of my personal feelings about this so-called peasant. Not even when I explained the assault. "…and I'm just a hero in the disguise of nasty old Peacekeeper, who will probably never receive proper recognition." He laughs. I am not amused. "Come on, Madge, relax. Haymitch is a smart man. He survived this long and he's not about to lose the game," Darius says. "I trust him."
I do, too. Sort of. He's tough, that's for sure, and very cautious with the information that I pass on to him. But I have no idea how he can drink himself into oblivion and still run an underground rebel network at the same time. Sometimes I feel like this rebellion is on the brink of spiraling out of control and it frightens me that the only lifeline I have is a drunk.
"All right there, Madge?" Darius's lips are puckered in thought as he observes me.
I nod slowly. "I'm fine. You should probably go, though." I try smiling and reach for his hand. "Make a good impression on Thread."
Darius stands and helps me to my feet.
"Don't worry about it, princess." He reached out to squeeze my hand. "For all we know, we could be seeing better days."
"Sure," I reply. That's optimistic. Or delusional.
Darius pulls his hat back on and ducks outside. I wait for a few minutes before leaving the shop so that no one will see us together again. It occurs to me while I'm pacing to get my blood moving again that Darius didn't say what happened to old Cray.
Maybe he doesn't know.
AN: I am a little confused by Collins's timeline, which is very vague. If the Hunger Games take place in the summer and the Victory Tour takes place halfway between the Games, then how is it that the Harvest Festival takes place at the end of it? Wouldn't the season be more into winter than into harvest? I don't know. Anyway, it's a minor point, I guess, but it bothers me not to be able to nail it down.