Saturday, September 17, 2005

 

the child, ninety-seven


Starr thought she was going to be sick. She had already seen what the guards had done to James. Were they doing that to the others as well? To Lucy? To Joy?

'Take us there,' said Stone grimly.

Mac led the way. He had scouted out a perfect spot for the three of them to hide, part way up the slope of this west-hand mountain where a deceptively small copse would allow them to see without being seen.

From there, they could see the whole camp. And camp it was now. The guards had set up tents - and the two tents that Mal and Morgen had been carrying had plainly been confiscated and were being used by the guards now, set up in the midst of the camp.

What else had the guards stolen? Stone wondered.

Starr was busy searching for their friends. Where could they be? Mac had said they were being... Ugh! Her mind spun away from that thought. The sight of James all battered came up unbidden in her thoughts. And a tear slid down her cheek.

A slight touch wiped the tear away. 'We'll get them out,' said Stone.

'I don't even see them yet,' she whispered back.

'You don't? I see them,' he replied. 'There.'

He pointed, and she looked. Oh! A small corral had been set up at the southern end of the camp. A number of stakes had been driven upright into the ground within it, and lashed to each stake was something that looked at first like a lump.

And then one of the guards kicked at one of the lumps.

Starr herself felt the explosion of pain from that vicious kick. Groaning, she began pleading inside her head for the Master to please do something - anything! - to help their friends.

The guard reached down and yanked the head upright of the one he had just kicked. He grabbed a handful of hair to do so. A handful of long hair.

One of the women. And somehow, Starr knew it was Joy.

'Do something,' she heard Stone saying.

'What do you suggest I do?' came the reply.

'I don't know. But you're an angel, Mac. Can't you... can't you blast them or something?'

Starr turned and stared. Stone knew?

'Once we have the cover of darkness, we will carry forth the plan. Until then...'

Starr interrupted him. 'What about Malachi and Morgenstern? They're down there. Can't they go ahead and do something?'

Maccabees nodded towards the group below. 'They already are,' he said.

And as Starr looked again, she realized that the guard who had been tormenting Joy had stopped, his hand still twisted in her hair, and seemed to be listening to one of the other captives. Suddenly he let go of the girl's hair and flung himself in a rage at that other prisoner. Kicking, buffeting, his face like a wild animal, he vented the full force of his anger against that captive. From where they sat up here on the mountainside, Stone, Starr, and Mac could hear the cracks and thuds of the blows the guard was raining on the hapless prisoner.

'Malachi,' said Starr. 'That's Malachi.' He had protected Joy. And was paying for it dearly.

'What do we do?' said Stone fiercely.

'Until nightfall, lie down and rest. Try to sleep. I will keep watch,' said Mac.

They saw the wisdom in that. It would likely be a long night, and they should sleep now while they could. But actually falling asleep was not easy. How could they sleep, Starr wondered, when their friends were suffering below?

A hand stole into hers. 'Don't worry,' Stone whispered. 'Of all people, Starr-my-girl, you should know not to worry.'

That brought a smile to her face, if only briefly. 'What do you think the guards are interrogating them about?' she asked softly. 'What could they expect to learn?'

'Why we're here, for one thing,' Stone replied. 'But besides that...'

She looked at him, wondering at the hesitation. 'Yes?'

'Well. It's possible the guards suspect they didn't round up everyone. They might be asking about us.'

Oh! That thought hadn't occurred to her. 'Do you think... do you think any of our friends told about us?'

'I don't know,' he answered.

Silence, for quite a while. And then Stone added, 'I don't think they have. That patrol that nearly caught us - if they had known for sure that someone was out here, they would have made a much more careful search. They weren't really searching. Just walking a watch, same as the guys and I do nightly. So I don't think they know we're here.'

That was a comfort. Slowly, gently, Starr relaxed. Slowly, gently, sleep was steeling over her...

'Starr?'

That was Stone's voice again, almost in her hair. Coming out of the fog of sleep with difficulty, she responded with, 'Yes, dear?'

A chuckle. 'I like when you call me dear. I just now thought of something, and I wanted to ask you about it.'

'Yes, dear?'

Another chuckle. 'About Mal and Morgen. Why did you ask Mac if they could do something? What did you expect them to be able to do?'

'Well, the same sort of thing you expected Maccabees to do,' she said, baffled.

A moment's silence. 'Then you're saying that Mal and Morgen are angels too.'

'Yes, I... Oh! Didn't you know?'

'Not till now.'

'But you knew about Maccabees.'

He squeezed her hand tenderly. 'Don't worry about it, Starr-girl. I won't say a word. Go on and sleep.' She felt his other hand now, rhythmically smoothing her hair. 'Sleep and dream, my love,' Stone said. 'Sleep and dream.'

She slept.

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