Tuesday, September 13, 2005

 

the child, ninety-five


She felt the tugging well before she finally thought to turn and see. Stone. He had her hand and was pulling her away.

Away? But how could they leave? Their friends were over there, captives!

Then she saw that Maccabees too was moving away. Crouching, cautiously, the two of them were slipping away from the soldiers and their hapless prisoners.

Stone still held her hand. So Starr had to follow.

'Here,' Mac said softly at last. 'We can speak here.' They huddled together in a secluded grove of trees, well out of sight and sound of the soldiers in the valley path.

'Why did we leave them?' asked Starr, nearly in tears.

'So we can make plans,' said Stone.

'Plans?'

Maccabees nodded. 'To rescue them.'

Rescue. The three of them? Against so many? But...

'Starr?' That was Stone. He was looking into her face intently. 'Starr-girl, you would be the last of us that I would suspect would give up. Don't you think we can do this?'

'Just three of us?' she replied.

He smiled at her. 'No. Three of us, and all the Master's strength to back us up. Not to mention that army of angels you saw. Right?'

She blinked. Oh! She looked at her two companions, and then past them.

Faintly, waveringly, as if seen through tears - yes, she saw them. Each with a weapon in its hand. The angels. They were ready. How silly of her to doubt!

Dashing the tears away, she nodded. 'What do we do? And who were those soldiers?'

Stone's eyebrows climbed. 'You don't remember? Wait. No, of course you don't.' He pointed back through the trees, back the way they had come. 'Those are the guards. We used to live under their thumbs.'

'Guards?'

'Yes. From the enemy's fortress.'

Starr jumped slightly. 'Them? From the dungeons? But what are they doing here?'

'This must mean we are very close to the fortress now,' Stone went on, thinking out loud. 'But I sure don't know why we never saw any of the guard before...'

'We were never so close to the assault on the fortress before,' put in Mac. 'The enemy obviously knows this, and has sent out this troop to prevent us.'

Starr felt tears creeping up on her again. 'Oh, if only Joy and the others had been able to get away!' she said.

'But they weren't trying to get away,' said Maccabees.

She stared at him. They weren't? 'But... but...'

'They broke cover,' he said gently, 'to draw the guards away from us. So that we might stay free, and return, and set free them all.'

'But they gave themselves up before we knew that James and the rest had been taken,' Stone protested.

Mac nodded serenely. 'Malachi knew,' he said.

Oh. Starr nodded as well. Yes, surely Malachi had known.

Stone digested that revelation in silence for a few seconds. 'Well,' he said at last, 'How are we going to do this?' He frowned fiercely. 'We need to plan quickly, I think, and then get back there and find a good spot to keep an eye on them, while we wait.'

'Wait for what?' asked Starr.

The man glanced up at the sky. The sun was still not far past its height. 'For nightfall,' he said. 'A little cover of darkness will help us tremendously, wouldn't you think?'

No arguing with that. 'And after night falls, what then?'

'Then we'll need to distract the men guarding our friends - and discretely, so we don't draw the attention of the rest of the guards. Draw off the guards, set free our friends. And then vanish into the night.'

It was the sketchiest of sketchy plans. Stone and Maccabees spent nearly an hour refining it, thinking of as many things as they could that might go wrong, and coming up with emergency plans for each possible failure.

They mustn't fail. They all knew that. The whole mission was riding on whether or not they could pull off this rescue.

'All right,' Stone said at last. 'Let's go.'

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