Wednesday, October 05, 2005

 

the child, one hundred six


Silence. Finally, Joy stepped forward and gathered the scraps of paper Walker had thrown down. 'You think maybe we can still rescue her?' she said, turning the bits this way and that, trying to reassemble it like a jigsaw puzzle.

Forest was studying the sketch Walker had made on the floor of the dungeons. He frowned, thinking. 'Hey, Stone,' the boy asked suddenly. 'You were in the deepest dungeon, right?'

'Yes.'

'You remember how to get down there? And back?'

'Well...' He came and looked at the sketch. 'I remember staircases. I never got to go up and down them much. But I think they were here, and here.'

Forest nodded. 'How about you, Jack? What floor were you on?'

'Second down,' he replied. Carefully, so as not to disturb the original drawing, he marked some features he remembered. Lucy recalled the layout of the ground-level cells where she and Starr and the still-captive Ginger lived. Joy added what she remembered from her area.

And gradually, a bit at a time, they built up a working knowledge of the fortress and its dungeons. And from that, a working plan to get in, and get back out again.

'What time is it?' said Forest.

Stone, who was now standing closest to the entrance, glanced out at the day. 'Noon, or a bit past.'

'Noon,' Forest repeated. 'Hmm. I think we should go in right away. No telling when the rest of the guard will return, and we don't want to lose that advantage. Right?'

No dissent.

'All right. Let's gather our things and get out of here. Leave no signs anyone was ever here.' And he swiped his hand across the sketch of the dungeons, obliterating it. Looking down at what he had just done, he laughed. Wouldn't it be great, he thought, if it would all be as easy as that?

'Um - Forest...'

That was Stone. And there was something in his tone of voice that brought everything they were all doing to a halt.

'What is it?' said Forest warily.

Stone nodded out the entrance, looking down at the pass below them. 'There,' he pointed.

The boy limped over, James just behind him. In moments, all the others were in the cave's mouth, seeing what Stone had seen. There, coming up the pass from the west, from the direction of the valley they had spent so many long months in - there was a troop. Men, all dressed alike, moving slowly. Very slowly.

The guards.

All the breath went out of Forest. 'They're back,' he said.

'And see that?' Stone asked, pointing again.

Hmmm. Towards the back of the troop, surrounded by the others, was one man walking oddly, his arms bent unnaturally behind his back. And then he stumbled. Well, all the guards were stumbling, to be sure. But when this man stumbled, he pitched forward - and fell down.

He managed to twist a bit in the fall, so that he landed on his shoulder instead of on his face. But he didn't put his hands out to break his fall.

He couldn't; his arms were bound together behind him.

'They have a prisoner!' Lucy exclaimed.

'And three guesses who it is,' added Jack.

They didn't have to guess. As a pair of the guards wrenched the captive ungently back to his feet, the man looked up. Straight up, right up the mountain face to where they all were standing. Even at this distance, it was impossible to miss the dark anger twisting his face.

It was Walker.

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