Thursday, September 15, 2005

 

the child, ninety-six


'But,' said Starr, 'I mean, I'm not trying to argue. But I thought you said we would wait for darkness.

'For the rescue, yes. But we need to find a spot before nightfall where we can keep watch over their camp from. For that matter...' Stone added, as a dawning look of horror crossed his face.

'The guard might have moved on while we've been sitting here making our plans,' Mac finished for him.

'Yes, they might have moved on!' said Stone. 'They hadn't made a camp before we slipped away. What if...?'

'Let's get back there and see,' said Mac.

He went on ahead of Starr and Stone, partly to check on the enemies and partly to scout out a place for their vigil. The angel moved silently in a way that the two humans could not. As they followed well behind him, Starr turned suddenly to Stone. 'The guards,' she said.

'Where?' he replied, hand reaching towards his sword hilt.

'No, I don't mean I see any. I just mean - well, they are human, right? People, not demons?'

'Why do you ask?'

'Because if they're demons, I don't have any problem about running them through with my sword. If they're people, though...'

'People are not the enemy; the enemy is the enemy,' Stone quoted. He remembered Josh the sword master saying that to them so very long ago.

'If they're people,' Starr agreed, 'then there is hope even for them, that they too might be rescued from the dungeons and find rest in the Master's house.'

Stone nodded. 'No killing then.'

'No killing.'

'Unless,' he added, 'we have no choice.'

She glanced sharply at him. 'You think we might have no choice?'

'I don't know,' he answered. 'I hope not.'

'Me too,' said she. And they both fell silent.

And maintained silence. They were getting too close now to where they had last seen the guards. Too much risk to speak anymore here.

Down.

The order, deep inside her being, was unmistakable. Without pondering on the word or where it had come from, Starr instantly dropped flat on the ground, landing behind a great dead log. Stone opened his mouth in surprise at her sudden disappearance, and came very near to calling out her name. Then he spotted her. Why was she lying on the ground like that? Had she...

Suddenly he understood. In a second, he was flat on the ground behind the log as well. And not a second too late.

A furtive crunch in the blanket of leaves on the ground beyond the log. A sigh of repressed breathing. A small creak of leather against leather. The guards!

An intense desire hit Stone. The desire to shift his head, to look up and see for sure if he was interpreting these small sounds correctly. Oh, but that desire was all but overwhelming! Nearly, very nearly, he gave in and followed the impulse to look.

Nearly. But he didn't. He clenched his teeth and kept his head down, face in the leaves, barely breathing himself.

Something with at least six legs found its way onto his neck, dancing a little dance up under his collar. Six legs, or was it eight?

Whatever it was, he hoped it wouldn't bite him!

The suspense was terrific. When would the guards move on? And how would he be sure if they had? How would he know when it was safe?

A hand was suddenly clasped over his mouth! He tensed his muscles, preparing to fight, preparing to throw off his attacker, to defend Starr!

'Stone.'

His own name, softly breathed into his ear. He paused. How would the guards know his name? And the voice - it was very familiar...

'Be not afraid.'

The hand over his mouth vanished, and Stone rolled over and spat out the leaves that hand had inadvertently crammed into his mouth. 'Mac.'

Starr was sitting up now also.

'It is well,' said the angel, 'that the pair of you hid here. A patrol of guards just now passed by.'

Stone glanced at Starr, wondering at that way she had of knowing things. Thanks be to the Master for such a gift!

And Starr sighed deeply. That explained the sudden word 'down' inside her head!

'Have they moved?' Stone asked, getting back to the business at hand.

Mac hesitated with his answer. 'No,' he said. 'No, they haven't moved. They haven't because...' And he sighed and did his best to meet the eyes of both of them at the same time.

'They've been interrogating their prisoners.'

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