Wednesday, October 12, 2005
the child, one hundred nine
Mac led the way with Stone at his side. They skirted the foot of the mountain, keeping themselves hidden behind the underbrush as they went. They moved in silence, wary of where their feet landed, wary lest a stray crackle draw the attention of the returning guards. Blind those guards might be; deaf was another matter.
Soon they were at the point where the pass opened out into the plain. Most of the troop had already spilled out of the pass by now. The little group of eleven crouched in the bracken, waiting, watching, silent.
There was Walker. He looked both furious and humbled as he lurched along, his walking made strange and ungainly by the way his arms were bound so tightly behind him.
Stone, looking on the man, found suddenly that he profoundly loved him. The Master's love, he knew. Why had it taken him this long to see Walker with the Master's love? The upset of Walker's words - not the ones earlier today, but the long-ago words from when Walker had first learned of where Stone had come from - that upset had stayed with Stone all this time.
Well... He had let it stay with him all this time. He had thought he had forgiven Walker, had told himself that he had. But now, seeing the man bound up and being led back into the dungeons - only now did Stone's heart cry out for mercy on Walker. Only now did he really love the man, loving his old friend with the Master's love.
Please, Master! That we may succeed, and rescue him, and rescue them all!
He felt fingers curling with his own. A smile. Starr-girl, of course. He glanced down at her, as always at his side. I love you, she mouthed to him silently. I love you too, the squeeze of his hand said silently back.
The last of the troop was passing now. These in particular looked weary and wasted as they blundered along, stumbling very badly. A pang hit Stone's heart for them as well, and he wondered if perhaps some of them might not eventually find rest in the Master's house.
A tap on his shoulder. Forest. The boy jerked his chin towards the troop, mouthing, Go!
Softly, quietly, Stone and Starr slipped out of the underbrush. The others were right behind them, all moving slowly so as not to draw attention to themselves. They kept back from the troop ahead of them, leaving enough distance between them that (they hoped) they would not be heard following. But not so much distance (again they hoped) that they might attract the attention of the guards in the fortress.
It was a long trip, for covering such a short distance. They had to move every bit as slowly as the slow-moving guards ahead of them. Move slowly - no talking - try to blend in - try to be invisible.
The great concern Stone had personally, was that the one man in that troop whose eyes had not been affected by whatever Mac had done, might happened to glance backwards and see them. And what would Walker do if he spotted them following? Would he betray them? Had he done so already?
Stone glanced up at the mountain side, trying to make out where the cave was that they had just come from. From down here, he could see nothing of that hiding place - which was good. He also could see nothing of any guards climbing the mountain to find the cave. So maybe Walker hadn't given them that.
On the other hand, with the guards so weary and uncertain in walking, perhaps he had told them of the cave, but none of this guard had been up to the dangerous task of climbing a mountain half-blind.
Half-blind? All blind? Just how badly had Mac stricken their vision? At least the angel had assured him that it wasn't permanent.
The fortress was drawing nearer. The closer they got, the larger and uglier it loomed. Stone really hoped their stay within it would be short and voluntary, and their escape complete!
Poor Walker though...
A commotion broke out ahead of them. They all peered ahead, trying to make out what was happening. The first of the returning troop had nearly reached the main entrance just ahead of them on this west side. Stone, with his advantage of height, had the best chance of seeing what was going on.
Ah! From within the fortress, more guards were emerging. One of them had the look of a high commander. Standing imperiously in the entrance way, he gestured and the commander of the returning guards came towards him. Then the two apparently engaged in conversation.
More of the returning guard came up to the entrance. Having nowhere closer to go just now, as the high commander was not yet allowing anyone inside, they got as close as they could and then stopped, milling about, weary beyond weariness.
Now the final section of the guards was arriving before the entrance. The returning commander gestured, and the prisoner was brought forward before the high commander. More conversation.
And now Stone and his group arrived last of all. He glanced back. Do as the occasion demands? But what did that mean? Did any of them know?
And then pandemonium seemed to break out. Guards were rushing out from within the fortress, grabbing the returning guards. What were they doing? Arresting them?
But no - they were supporting them, bearing them inside, helping them along. So many guards! Stone barely caught sight of Walker being taken inside, followed closely by both commanders.
And then a touch on his arm. Mac, pointing. And now Stone saw Forest. The boy was working his way round the edge of the confused crowd, heading north. But why? thought Stone.
Why didn't matter. If this was what the occasion demanded, then the only thing to do was to follow the boy. And so Stone did - they all did - trying their best to look casual and normal as they passed beyond the busy crowd of guards and round the corner.
There they flattened against the fortress wall and took a quick count. All eleven were here. 'Come,' hissed Forest. And he headed on eastward along this north wall.
'What's he doing?' Stone breathed to Mac at his side.
'What the occasion demands,' the angel replied. And he smiled as he said it.
Forest stopped at the corner and peered round it. Turning to James and Jack, he whispered something to them, then gestured for Jack to go tell the rest. Jack seemed to put up an argument first before turning away and backtracking, shaking his head as he went.
Coming to Stone, Starr, and Mac first, Jack said, 'With all the guards distracted at the front, Forest hopes to find this northeast door unguarded. Or nearly so. He'll go first alone, and we're to follow once he gives the all clear.'
'And if he doesn't give the all clear?' said Stone.
Jack rolled his eyes. 'Then we'll have one more person to rescue from these dungeons, won't we? And one less rescuer to do the job with.'
Jack hurried on to tell the remainder of the group. Then they all watched as Forest shot a glance towards heaven, then plunged round the corner. James peered round the corner after him, waiting.
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