Sunday, November 16, 2008

Section 3

     When the House lay sleeping in the dead of night, Wren slipped from the kitchen hearth to begin the more important part of his mission.  Stepping lightly in the passage leading up to the Warden's office, he heard the muffled sound of sobbing in the Hall.  He found he could not ignore it; the cries reminded him of another child so long ago.  Retracing his steps he entered the Hall.  By the embers of the dying fire a young girl lay curled on her side.
"Are you alright?" he asked in a whisper.  The child gasped and struggled to sit up, wiping the tears away with a dirty hand.
"Yes, Master," she said.  Wren told himself that he shouldn't be surprised; after all, most slaves on the plantations wore identical clothing.  It was an adolescent girl, and from the looks of it she had been crying for a long time. 
"I'm not your Master," he said kindly, sitting down close to her on the hearth.  "I am the bard who sang tonight."  She became alert so quickly he smiled.
"Truly?  You come from Outside?"
"Yes, I do.  Why are you crying?"
"Because my friend died."
"Did you know her a long time?"
"Ever since I came to the main House."
"What's your name, child?" 
As he looked at her tear-streaked face and tangled hair Wren felt something well up in his heart he had rarely felt before.  What was there in this girl-child that urged him to forget his job?
"Do you want to see the Outside, Cedar?" he asked slowly.
Cedar could not believe her ears.  To be offered-- it must be a trick.  Housekeeper would surely come in soon to punish her.  Her lips formed a single word: Outside.
"If you are very brave I can take you.  I won't deny the risk, but you will be free."
     Slowly, Cedar reached one callused hand and placed it in Wren’s worn one.  With an ache she remembered Jory telling her that she would never leave Emberfaile, that they would live out their lives there like many before them had done and like many others would after their bodies were dust.
"Take me Outside," she whispered.
"The first thing you must do is to smear this on your face and arms.  Your legs are covered but we must make you look like a little black cloud blending with the night."  He scooped up a handful of soot from the fire and began to paint his own face.  Cedar copied the move, and when she was done he inspected it carefully.  Touching one or two spots she had missed, he took her hand and they crept to the door.  She started out into the hall, but he thrust an arm across her chest to prevent her.  She bit her lip and made a face as she tasted soot.  A circle of bobbing light gave a soft glow to the corridor walls.  As it grew bright­er Housekeeper appeared.  Her iron gray hair was braided in a single plait as thick as Cedar's wrist and she carried a candle.  She peered into the Hall as Cedar and Wren flattened themselves against the wall.
"I must have dreamed it," she said.  With a sigh she turned and went back to her own room.  The soot-streaked fugitives let out their breath when her footsteps could no longer be heard.  Gesturing for Cedar to follow him, Wren led the way to the court­yard door.  He bent his head to hers and breathed,
"I must fetch my things.  Wait here."
     In an instant he was gone and Cedar could feel her heart beating as though it would burst.  No sooner had he gone but he was back with a harp strapped to his back and his cloak tucked under one arm.  He held out his free hand and said,
"This is your chance to back out, my dear.  After this there is no turning back."
"I want to go," Cedar replied.  He nodded.  He had given her the choice and she had not shied away.  There was fine stuff in this one, and the next weeks would prove it.
"I have a charm that will spell the lock open," he said softly.  "There are no guards here.  If we are careful Seare's own guard will not even stir in their sleep."  Cedar nodded once.
     They crept across the moonlit courtyard to the heavy iron door that separated Emberfaile from the world.  A touch of the charm to iron was all that was needed for it to swing open.  Wren and Cedar were through in an instant and threw their weight behind it to make it close again.
"Now we must run," he told her.  Cedar felt something queer inside her stomach.  Fear twisted into a small hard ball, and her chest hurt when she breathed.  "Dun in short spurts and walk when you to not run.  Stay close to me and when dawn comes we will be hiding far from this place.  Do you understand?"  One had to be careful when talking to a Caledon slave, he remembered.  They were so easily confused when given freedom.  Best to give slow, small commands in the beginning or they would simply sit down and refuse to do anything.  Sudden freedom had shocked them too deeply for recovery.  He was relieved when Cedar nodded in the dim light.  They ran together across a barren country until they were far away from Emberfaile.

       Cedar fell to her knees, squeezing through the last tight branches of their daytime shelter on the seventh night of run­ning.  Her muscles ached, unused to the activity, and her chest blurred.  But she was seeing the world.  She was Outside now, and this was a gift too great to be brought down with mere physical pain.  Wren was waiting for her, having already relieved himself and was now preparing to sleep.
"Wren?" she asked hesitantly.  "Where are we going?"  She felt foolish.  He opened his eyes in surprise.
"I hadn't really thought about it," he admitted.  "We’ll go to Lyria, I suppose.  My daughter lives there, last I heard."
"What does it look like?"  Cedar rested her elbows on her knees. 
"Green," he said after thinking.  "Lots of trees.  They grow over underground water and places where a small stream wanders the trees echo its course.  I was fascinated with it once."  Wren closed his eyes again.
"Will I live in Lyria forever?"  Cedar asked anxiously.
"Maybe.  Maybe you'll travel when you grow a bit.  Anything is possible.  You have many more choices now, Cedar.  Learn about them, about yourself, and whole new horizons will open before you." he was silent and Cedar didn't ask any more just then although she was dying to know what a horizon was.  She hoped it was something good to eat.
     Wren shook her awake at twilight; it seemed as though she had only just closed her eyes.
"Before we go on, there is a change in plans," he told her.  Cedar nodded; she still didn’t know much and it was safer to just agree with him.
"I will disguise myself as a farmer, and you must pretend to be my son."
"A boy?"
"If they look for you, they look for a girl," he explained.  "Not for a farmer and his son."
"What about your harp?"  Wren ran a hand down the side of his harp.
"I can get another harp," he said firmly.  "I may not be able to rescue you again."
"Why do you do this?" she asked suddenly.  "You risk much for me."
"I was born in a place called the Heartland.  My parents settled there after their service and when I was grown I built a house for my wife there.  Yet for all the love I gave them I was gone when my daughter was born.  I never knew her until she was three years old.  I always try to help children, because I could not help her.  She keeps her distance from me even now that she is grown.  I guess this is why I help slaves like you.  Yours is not the first rescue I have done."
"Oh," Cedar said.
"You'll pass for a boy," he looked at her critically, "If you keep your voice down and stay dirty.  They kept you in trousers and your hair is fairly short.  You haven't grown breasts yet--"
"Yes I have!" she burst out.
"You have," he relented.  "But not enough to make anyone suspicious of your disguise.  There's a free farming village near the border, two days travel.  If you are questioned say that you live there; Morgantown is its name, and it's just across the border from Lyria.  If we get that far everything else will fall into place."
     They crawled from their hiding place and stretched.  Night was walking fast over the land.  Small hills competed with trees for space.  A spring bubbled up from the earth a few paces from where they stood.  Wren passed her part of a loaf he had stolen the night before from a camped traveler.  Settling their clothes in order Cedar and Wren began again the long trip home.

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