After we had departed from the main group of women, I could not help but feel a tight anticipation in my stomach, as if someone had a fist strangling it. I had a hard time keeping from trembling slightly as we crept down the roads, hardly a person in sight. I couldn’t be afraid at this time. I couldn’t be fearful; it was nothing that Luke and Father and the other soldiers would have to face. Though both paths could lead to death.
Glancing about, Jon pulled us aside, beginning in an anxious murmur, “I’ll keep ol’ Marty busy so you two can sneak in and free the prisoner.”
I was somewhat shocked; we were to do it on our own? I felt the weight of my nerves increase terribly. “Alright,” Nellie said, speaking for the both of us.
Jon turned to me, and stepped slightly closer. He reached for my hand just as he had done when we were sitting at the kitchen table when he was comforting me when Ed was caught in fever, or even earlier when nearly we had first started to be around one another, and he danced with me at the town’s outdoor dance, under the stars….that seemed so long ago, I felt so much…..older. I swallowed hard-I felt no inclination to blush, only wishing things could be simpler and more peaceful. His eyes were filled with concern, overflowing with worry. They made me feel stronger. I wouldn’t be frightened, for Jon. It would only make him more distracted. “But promise me you’ll be careful. I couldn’t stand losing you again.”
Nodding, I gave his hand a gentle squeeze. It was him who should be careful. I began to feel my emotions overwhelm me….oh, if something happened to him then I feared I…I pushed my thoughts aside and pulled away from him his grasp. Not now. I couldn’t think of such things right now.
“Well, off we go then,” Nellie murmured, making me remember her presence. In our sudden intimacy and my rush of feeling, I had forgotten that she was standing there.
Jon nodded, and reiterated his plan once more.
Nellie and I lurked behind a nearby building as we watched Jon briskly walk away from us and disappear into the doorway. All my muscles were tense as I kept my eyes on the door, watching, waiting. Nellie put a hand on my arm, sensing my anxiety. “He’ll be alright. We’ll be alright,” her words seemed to be both reassuring her and myself. Time felt to be moving so slowly, but it was truly not long before Jon strolled out of the building with the sheriff toddling behind him. With Jon leading, the two disappeared around the corner.
We held our breath, waiting a moment. I hoped that Jon’s distraction would work long enough; that he had found a camp of the “traitor-women” and came to show the sheriff them. I half smiled at him leading the plump man in the opposite direction. Giving a brief nod to Nellie to communicate that it should be clear, we leapt from our hiding place and darted across the road to the door, foolishly left open by the sheriff, frantic and eager at this “new lead”.
The small office was empty, as expected, honey colored sunlight drifting lazily through the dusty windows. A powdery food item sat on the desk, mangled by being only half-eaten. Obviously he had been in the midst of devouring the thing when Jon interrupted him.
We did not hang about the area for an extended period, bent on retrieving the captured woman Fram as fast as we could. In the small building in this small village, it was simple to find our way to the single back cell. The entrapped woman came forward to the bars, curiously glancing at us. “We are here to rescue you,” I whispered. Her face lit up, the hair about her face incredibly messy and face smudged with grime. Instantly, Nellie and I got to work, looked about the area for the keys to the lock.
“They’re not in here,” murmured Nellie to me. My heart rate quickened—if it was not already beating hard in my head, it now was.
“They must be in the office,” I said, and without another thought I flitted to the front room. Looking first in plain sight, I began to open the drawers and scour through the papers and things as gently as I could, trying not to leave much evidence of our presence. The seconds were slipping away and I tossed away my care, digging ruthlessly all about the office. The sheriff was going to discover sometime that someone had freed his prisoner.
Panic began to take me over. Certainly we had wasted several minutes by now. What if the sheriff had the keys on him? My blood chilled at the thought, sweat forming on my brow and my hands fumbling from nervousness. Reaching for a nearby drawer, pain tore at the wound in my shoulder, screaming at me as the tight skin stained and pulled. I grit my teeth and did the best to ignore it. Briefly I paused to glance out the nearest window, looking out over the road. My heart paused. At the far end came the sheriff, waddling down the road wagging his head with Jon trailing him.
“Nellie!” I hissed back to the cell area, where she had continued looking for the keys and comforting the woman, who had by now had become frantic herself, babbling about how the sheriff was soon to return and she was to be hung, and that she was never to see her daughter again….. “Nellie!” I called louder. She came from the back, and I did not have to say anything to her before she saw the approaching sheriff. “I can’t find it!” I shook my head, my eyes flickering from where I searched to the window. Jon grabbed the man’s arm, forcing him to turn around and talking with him, obviously attempting to prolong him longer.
Her face was already near colorless in anticipation of our act, though it seemed to pale even further. Instantly, she began digging. How could so many things be stuffed in one tiny room?
I hurried to the nearby bookshelf which I had not even put a hand on yet, and tore it down, sending the contents across the floor. I shifted through the things, some of them now shattered or broken. “There!” Nellie glanced over, pointing at a box with now broken hinges and propped open, a large dark key laying nearby.
Taking a large step over, I snatched it and we rushed to the back. I gave a quick look to the window once more. Jon and the other man were approaching ever so closer, Jon nearly begging the sheriff to come another way with him. We could almost hear the murmur of their voices, but the patter of my heart beat was too loud. My hands shook as we stood before the door, the woman bouncing up and down on the other side. The key slipped from my hands. My fingers were too sweaty! Nellie dove for the thing, and in one swift motion undid the lock. Gritting our teeth, the two of us pulled open the heavy metal door and the woman slipped out as soon as she could.
“….I can’t believe you, Jon. Really? Now leave me alone, I have some work to get to,” came the sheriff’s drawl from the front room, making us all freeze. The front room was the only way out….
“Come on,” I mouthed, finally getting my wits about me. Nellie appeared struck. I gave her a pleading look. We had to leave NOW. We outnumbered the man, us on his back and Jon presumably at his front. It was the only way of escape. NOW or we will all be hung!
I stepped from the slight murk of the cell area to the front room, Nellie and Fram at my back. Jon stood in the doorway, just as I had expected, and the sheriff in the midst of the room. He whipped about, facing us with a look of both disgust and shock. His hand went to the hilt of his sword….
In a rush of excitement, Jon made a leap onto the sheriff, bracing his arm tightly around his neck. Immediately the two began something of a struggle. “Run!” yelled Jon. Just as we started to move, the sheriff slipped from his grip and gave Jon a hearty punch as Jon was off balance, sending him tumbling to the floor. The other man pulled his weapon.
“I should’ve known….,” he shook his head.
“NO!” I shrieked, snatching the nearest item on the desk in my reach and tossing it at him. The beer bottle left my hand with force, shattering as it made impact against his face. It seemed everything seemed to pause just before the sheriff appeared to fold in half, collapsing to the ground. Spiderwebs of blood traced across his face, crimson blood tinting the brown glass shards all around him like a strange sort of halo. We all stood about in disbelief for a moment, my breath coming in great rushes and making me realize that I had almost held it all this time.
“Jon, are you alright?” I broke the silence, going to his side and kneeling beside him, my hand at his arm. His jaw had begun to swell a little, and a slight dribble of blood ran-it appeared that the sheriff was wearing some sort of ring.
“Yeah,” he blinked a few times, as if he was still absorbing what had happened. It was only a second before he seemed to snap back into it, alert. “We need to get out of here. Now.”