Jon: A Gift from a Stranger

One day I would have to tell Katrina the truth of my background; otherwise, our relationship would eventually run out of kindling. In the meantime, however, I waited because I wasn't sure of whom I was to start with. How could I describe or explain something that eluded the one who should know more than anyone else?

The simple answer was I couldn't, so I continued my own personal masquerade, pretending to be so many other people, hiding not only who I thought I was but also who I might be, my true identity an alias few were privy to.

I received some comfort from the fact that I didn't completely lie to Katrina. There was little doubt in my mind that E.H. (or Elizabeth, which was the only other way she endorsed her letters) was my sister, but I had never officially met her. Because of her letters, though, I felt I knew her.

She was Handrin by birth, which apparently I was as well. Our mother was Iberan, our father Handrin, a marital alliace that was unique, to say the least. She wrote of life in Deramas, the capital of Handrin. Even though I had been there a couple of times before, the way she described it made it seem like a completely different city, our upbringings accounting for the differences, I suppose.

The one thing that I wasn't sure of was her last name. She had never mentioned it directly, and at first I had assumed it to be Hanway, but my adoptive parents never hid the truth from me. I had known that they were entrusted with the care of a baby nearly 20 years ago. Why my birth parents couldn't or wouldn't take care of me was still a mystery. I knew they were still alive, for Elizabeth still lived at home. She wrote little of our father, our mother accounting for more of her words.

In a previous letter I had hinted at the idea of meeting in person, but she felt that the political climate would make that difficult. I was doing my best to change the national situation, attempting to secure an international solution. Only when Ibera was free from the grip of Handrin would such a solution even be possible.

Although my thoughts for the future of my home country were positive generally, at the moment everything seemed to be crashing down around us, our little masquerade threatening to come out into the open, an event that would probably take place at some point no matter what we did to prevent it. Too early, though, and our most earnest efforts would have been in vain.

"Well, staying here is the one thing we can't do," I said after Katrina voiced her apprehension over our situation. I looked at Nellie and some of the other spies. There was no way we could fight our way out if we were backed into a corner. "We should probably try to sneak away."

Everyone started to agree as a man holding a longbow in one hand entered the barn. Instinctively, I put myself inbetween the stranger and the girls, my arms outstretched in a show of protection. I wasn't sure how much it would help in the end, but not trying seemed to be worse.

"Who are you and what do you want?" I asked, my tone as gruff as I could make it. The stranger put his hands up, still gripping his weapon, a gesture of either surrender or subterfuge - which one I couldn't tell for sure.

"The name is Tim." His reply was soft, the words as nonthreatening as anyone could make them.

"Saunders?" I asked, hoping this was the Timothy Saunders that was suppose to help split our group. I had not met the man. I had only heard of him from Fredrick, my main Handrin contact.

"Are you Tilman?"

"Yes," I answered, responding to my alias, lowering my arms, hoping this wasn't a trick. Of course, there was little choice in the matter.

"There's little time for further pleasentries," Tim said as he approached. He handed me the bow and his quiver of arrows. Hesitantly, I took them, and he continued, "If you will keep our friends out there busy, I will get everyone else to safety."

The two girls from Ibera made sounds of discust that were surprisingly similar.

"Must we kill if escape without bloodshed is possible?" Katrina's question was not surprising coming from a southener. Iberans as a whole disliked the idea of violence, which might have been a reason the hostilities with Handrin had been dragging on for so many years.

"I applaud your moral stand, young lady," Tim replied, his somewhat older age coming through loud and clear. Pointing in the direction the town's folk must have been coming from, he continued, "They, however, will not. They have no qualms about killing you, and if they decide to spare your life, you may well wish they had killed you, a mercy, believe me."

"I will try not to kill anyone." Adding to my promise, I continued, "Mr. Saunders is right about what they will do to us."

"I will not go with him," Nellie said, her arms folded, her eyebrows low. Another spy woman suggested that the group separate as originally planned. Everyone seemed to agree, so all of the Handrin spies left with Tim, sneaking out the opposite side of the barn.

"I didn't like him," Nellie remarked after the other spies had left.

"There was something strange about him." Katrina agreed.

"He is from Handrin, after all." I said, positioning myself near an open window.

"Jon, surely you can't fight off an entire town." The worry in Katrina's voice was obvious. "What are we going to do now, then?"

"We will think of something." That was the only thing I could think of to say. We would have to think fast, though, for I could see a group of men coming into view. I strung the bow and grabbed an arrow from the quiver, which I had slung over my shoulder. After pulling the string back, I let the arrow fly, hoping my experiences hunting deer with my father (adoptive) paid off.

The End

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