Several days had passed, and there was no sign of Katrina or Nellie. As I road toward the safe house to check on them, my thoughts were grim. How could I live with myself if something happened to Katrina? Oh, my sweet Kat. I've never even gotten the chance to call her that. A lone tear ran down my cheek at the thought.
Even before I reached the village, I could sense something was wrong. The village was a buzz. People were milling around, but their expressions told a different story than the normal workings of a small village.
I urged my horse to step toward a lady carrying a basket of potatos. "What has happened?" I asked.
She was a little startled at first, almost dropping her basket, but soon she recognized me for who I was. "Jon Tilman, is that you?"
I laughed. "Why, yes, is that you, Mary Gilheim?" After she smiled back, I asked again. "What has happened here? Y'all look different."
"We caught a traitor!" With the words out of her mouth, my jaw tensed. Of course, the news only got worse. "Yeah, and we burned down the barn they were hiding in."
It took all of my strength to keep my voice even. "You said you caught someone, so he is still here in town?"
"Oh, yes, locked up where traitors should be, but it is a she ... not a he."
I strode into the Sheriff's office a few minutes later. The Sheriff, Marty Gilheim, sat in his chair, leaning back with his feet on the desk. He was eating a pastry of some sort. Red filling, probably cherry, oozed out, dropping on his white shirt.
He saw me about the same time he discovered the dribbled mess. He lurched his feet off the desk, reaching for a napkin. His sloppy motion, though, blew the napkins to the floor.
"Jon, it has been a while since we have seen you," he blurted while reaching for the napkins on the floor. He picked one up and tried to clean off the mess on his shirt, smearing it instead.
"The war keeps me busy," I replied, my attention quickly going toward the jail cell at the back of the building. "I heard you finally have someone to lock up."
He laughed at my jest. "Well, it is true that not much happens here. The war thankfully has not reached us ... until now."
"Oh?" I asked with a raised eyebrow.
"We caught one traitor, killing several others." His news was too great for me, and I sighed, lowering my head with my eyes closed. "You do not side with these Ibera lovers, do you?"
"No," I said quickly. I sighed again to give myself more time to respond. "I heard that the traitors were mostly women and children. Must you kill them?"
"Listen here," Marty said with an out stretched finger. "Women can be just as guilty as war crimes as men can." His statement, though true in Ibera, didn't pack as much force as it could have with the red smear on his shirt.
I shook my head in discust but kept a fake smile on my face to fool the dear sheriff. "So, let me get this straight," I said, "you caught one and killed the rest?"
"Oh, no," Marty replied with frown on his face. "Some escaped into the forest. I'm sure the army has caught them by now."
"The Iberan army?"
"No, the Gilheim army," Marty replied.
I shook my head. The ones that fled into the forest were probably just as safe as can be. The local villagers, though good farmers, wouldn't make great soldiers. That was one reason why I picked this place for a safe house. I was known here, so it wouldn't be strange for me to pay a visit. Plus, it was far from the war ... at the time, anyway. And, the villagers were idiots by most accounts, the Sheriff included.
As I walked back toward the jail cell, I said, "May I have a minute alone with the prisoner?"
Marty stood up, noticing for the first time apparantly that the red stain was still there. His discusted look made me smile and laughed a little. "Sure," he said, "I need to go change my shirt. I trust you not to let her out."
After Marty left, closing the door behind him, I headed for the jail cell. In my heart I wanted it to be Katrina, but I also feared for whoever had been killed. My heart sank a little as I saw Fram, one of my recruits from this side of the conflict line.
"Jon!" she practially yelled. I put my finger over my lips to quiet her. "Sorry," she continued, "I was just so happy to see a friendly face."
I got down to business real quick. I didn't know how long it would take Marty to change his shirt. "Some fled into the forest when you were caught. Which way did they go?"
"Toward the Blue River, and the new girl took my daughter."
My tension eased a little. Perhaps the new girl was Katrina. Perhaps even Nellie was all right. I didn't know what I would do if something were to happen to any of my recruits from my home land. The recruits from this side were important to me, but they didn't hold as much emotion for me as my own sisters.
"I can't get you out right now. I don't want to blow my cover just yet. I will head for the survivors and come back for you."
"Hurry, though," she replied with tears in her eyes. "I overheard that they are going to hang me tomorrow."