The next morning, after a light breakfast, Sparrow and her men went out to scout, leaving Sarah, Hermanus, and James alone in the grotto. The three of them talked all through the morning. By noon, Sarah had only one idea left.
“We’ll impersonate Wholawski’s soldiers, which shouldn't be hard,” Sarah smiled at James. “After all, you actually are one.” The man remained stony faced. “Either Hermanus or I can be the captive and the other one a second guard. Once inside we can find the Princess and sneak her out.”
Prince Hermanus looked dubious and Sarah couldn’t blame him. But, once they were inside, they could figure out what to do from there. She turned to James.
“A quinny for your thoughts?”
James furrowed his brows, shook his head and then spoke. “You would make the better prisoner. You’ve evaded General Wholawski and his assassins. No,” he gave a half smile as he drew a line in the dirt with a stick, “you would be kept alive, but the Prince,” he looked sadly at Hermanus, “you, he would likely kill.”
“Or worse,” Prince Hermanus stated glumly.
“Right,” Sarah nodded, trying not to focus on imagining what ‘or worse’ could be.
“Which is why Prince Hermanus should stay with the Vervelleans,” James stated.
“But...” The Prince began to protest.
“As I said,” James continued firmly, “if the General found you, you’d be a dead man, and it wouldn’t be a quick death.” He shook his head. “No, Your Highness, you must stay with the Scouts and rally the Lords. The only way Sarah and I will get out is if the fortress is overtaken. Unless,” he looked at Sarah, “you can swim.”
“I can swim.” Sarah stated. “Hell I can rescue someone who’s drowning, but that water will give us hypothermia if we’re in it too long.”
“Hypo what?” Hermanus looked at her curiously.
“Hypothermia,” Sarah stated. “It’s when your body stays cold for too long and shuts down and, if you aren’t warmed up quick enough, you die.”
Do we know if the Princess can swim? Sarah asked Jason, just to be armed with the knowledge.
There was a short pause before he responded. Not well, she never liked water as much as her brother.
Turning back to James, Sarah asked another question that came to mind. “Is there anyone in the fortress who could help us?”
“Well some of the servants might, but...”
“But what?” she asked curious
“I won’t know until I’m inside,” James stated in frustration.
Sarah placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Hey, it’s okay we can improvise.”
“Impro what?” Sarah had puzzled Prince Hermanus again.
“Improvise, it means you are given an idea and then act upon it based upon the situation and the reactions of those around you.”
Sarah? Jason’s mind broke Sarah’s thoughts. Are you sure you want to go in as a prisoner with James as the guard? This could be an elaborate ruse on his part to capture you for Wholawski’s; pleasure. There was a catch to his last word.
Could you distract him with a siege? Sarah thought back.
With nineteen scouts?
Sarah looked up at James. “You said there was a town a few days walk from here?”
“It’s full of peasants. The Temple was torched, the Pairents murdered and then hung as a warning,” James informed her.
“I know,” Prince Hermanus whispered, “I was there.”
“Perfect,” Sarah’s statement caused astonished looks. “The Scouts can bring Hermanus there. Before he couldn’t do anything because he was as much a captive as they were, but now he’s got some Vervellean support...”
Sarah? Jason asked, confused.
Hang on let me talk this out. “Now,” she gazed at Prince Hermanus, “you may not have an army right now, but we all know commoners can be clever, right?” Hermanus stared blankely and Sarah turned to James. “Am I right?”
“Well, yes,” James admitted.
“See, so even though you don’t have an army, you can fake one. We want to keep the General busy while James and I work. Once the Princess is free, then they can all take refuge in Vervell. Desert the town; leave the General with no food for himself.”
Are you suggesting a fake siege? Jason asked Sarah.
Why not? She thought back. A real one won’t happen until the spring and I don’t think I can take it in there that long.
Jason was silent for a moment. Give me a day to think about this before you move. We will conference tomorrow night. Sparrow and James must attend and I need James to remember every detail he can about the patrols, guard watches, and even the servants routines.
Aye, aye Sergeant, Sarah gave Jason a mental salute.
Yes Sergeant would be more appropriate Sarah, he chuckled, I am not a ship’s captain.
Sorry, just whistling in the dark. Sarah took a deep breath and slowly let it out. I just hope I don’t go to pieces on you in there.
Just focus on why and remember I will be there for you.
Sarah nodded, though buried deep inside she wondered how true that would be if she was stripped of her willow cloth with no willow tree in sight.