Friday, September 23, 2005

 

the child, one hundred


He did not lead them far before he dove into a bank of bushes and disappeared from sight. Forest, expecting the worst, grabbed automatically for his sword.

Which was, of course, not at his side. Their weapons, their packs, everything but their clothes - all had been taken.

The guard reappeared. 'Here,' he said, 'whose are these?' He tossed out a pack and a sheathed sword, then disappeared again.

It was astonishing. He had everything! Everything but the two tents. All was restored to them.

Mac was nodding. 'Then it was you.' he said.

The guard paused. 'Me?'

'Yes. While we were waiting for nightfall, while my two friends slept this afternoon, I saw someone slip off from the camp many times, carrying odd burdens. You were making off with their things, hiding them here.'

'So that after the escape, I could give them everything back, yes.'

'You were planning to help us escape?' said Forest. 'But, but you're one of them!'

'Not exactly,' the guard replied. 'I...'

'You're the twelfth man.' That was Stone. He sounded so strange, so strained.

'Yes. I'm the one the Master sent ahead of you, to scout things out, to find out who was ripe to be rescued and brought to the Master's house.' He paused. 'You've been a long time getting here,' he added. 'I don't know why. But, like I said to the big guy there earlier, here and now is still not the place and time to get into long explanations. Let's go.'

He led out, and this time there was little hesitation among the group to follow him. Only Stone held back for a moment.

Starr, noticing, turned back and came to his side. 'What is it, my love?' she whispered, those wide eyes searching his face.

Stone gave a hiccup of a chuckle. 'The big guy there. That's what he called me. Must be the lack of light.'

'I don't under...'

Stone wrapped his arm round her shoulder. 'It's just that he didn't recognize me. It's almost funny.'

'You recognized him?' she asked.

'Just now I did. Not in the corral, but here, while he was talking with Mac. Oh, yes,' and he sighed. 'I know that face.'

Starr asked the obvious question. 'Then who is he?'

But Stone only drew her closer and started walking after the rest.

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