The Last Lantern
Chapter 32 - Unexpected Allies
@copyright Jean G Hontz 2009
Tears blurred Molly’s vision but what she could see was the one Black Brother dragging bodies and putting them into a pile. He was removing swords and knives and going through pockets taking coin and whatever for himself. He also was removing what armor they wore and piling it up separately too, only after he took the best for himself.
Where Ethan was, Molly couldn’t say. But she was terrified. There was a map in the cabin. He'd find it, and know where they were going. But then she was trapped in the tree and couldn't go anywhere, and Vaal, Vaal was...
Where was the Bastard? Why hadn’t he stepped in for his monk? Why had he let them take Vaal? She struggled against the tree but was still held fast where she stood. She could move perhaps an inch or so. At least, she thought, miserably, she was warm, which seemed odd.
The sun was setting behind the cabin, casting golden streams of light and nearly blinding her, but she swore she saw a movement out of the corner of her eye. It had been only a glimpse and was well away from the cabin itself. Even so, it couldn’t be the man named Ethan. The shape, or shadow, seemed like a crouched man running, moving from one bit of cover to another. He seemed to be working his way toward the cabin. The two horses the men rode looked up, their ears pricked their heads turning, but the one brother was too busy picking dead men’s pockets to notice and Ethan was still inside.
Molly’s eyes went wide as she saw the movement pause. It resolved itself into Phillip. Phillip seemed to look directly at her and he put a finger to his lips. As if she could make any noise at all! He had a dagger in his hand. He slipped into the cabin using the half-door at the back.
Molly’s heart started to pound. She needed to be free to help Phillip. The men would kill him! She fought against the tree but it refused to release her and she sobbed, angry tears of frustration wetting the bark that surrounded her.
There was the noise of something falling in the cabin and the man outside looked up. He heard a second thud and then rushed into the cabin. There was a cry and a curse and then silence.
Molly began to fight against the tree again and this time it yielded. She slithered free and ran toward the pile of armor. She grabbed up the first sword that came to her hand and rushed into the cabin.
She skidded to a stop, her sword at the ready. Phillip was bent over a brother who was bleeding his life away on the floor of the cabin. Ethan stood back, his hands up in a gesture of surrender. Molly turned to raise her sword and advance on Ethan.
“No, wait,” Phillip said.
“I’m a rebel. I worked hard to come on this mission so that I could help you escape,” Ethan said, eyeing her sword as the point wavered.
“Oh and we’re supposed to just accept that?” Molly demanded.
“I don't suppose Prince Stefan gave you the signal word?” Ethan asked crisply. “I’d tell it to you but then you wouldn't know if I were lying or not, so what’s the point?”
“Who are you?” Phillip asked gruffly. “Who are these men. Don’t try to tell me they’re Black Brothers.”
“How do you know they aren't?” Molly asked Phillip.
“Because I’ve seen Vaal skinned down to his small clothes. Everything he wears is black. These men are wearing only black leathers and gear,” Phillip replied.
“Right you are. They’re masquerading as Black Brothers, trying to sow confusion and fear in the populace. They're raiders and rapers and all round evil men.”
“And you were going to kill me!” Molly retorted, advancing. “I heard you muttering.”
Phillip looked up at that.
Ethan met Phillip’s eyes. “It’s true. But only if they were going to take her. Then I thought killing her the best I could do to protect her.”
Phillip colored, but said, “Molly, put down that sword. We need to think.”
“Phillip, he was one of them!”
“I know,” Phillip agreed. “But he didn't engage me when I entered the cabin, and stood aside while I fought with this man. The two of them could easily have taken me. He chose not to attack.”
“I don't care,” Molly replied fiercely. “He helped them take Vaal! We have to get Vaal back, Phillip. We have to!”
“You won’t,” Ethan replied before Phillip could respond. “He’d want you to follow the plan. He told you what to do if he died.”
Molly opened her mouth but Phillip quickly said, “Don't say it aloud, Molly. But Vaal isn't dead,” Phillip added, meeting Ethan’s eyes.
“Regardless, go where he told you to go. Take this one’s horse, not Tansy. They’ll know Tansy. In fact I’ll take her back with me.”
“Won’t they kill you if you return without me?” Molly asked.
“Aye, they might. On the other hand, they might not. And I can still be of use gathering evidence and knowledge for the Prince. Go back I must.” Ethan hesitated. “Now, let’s strip the corpses and dress the two of you with their castoffs. You’ll want warm layers and leathers. Molly, you’re too short for that sword, let’s see if we can find something shorter, and a sheath that can go across your back to carry it. We need to cut that hair of yours off too. I can't believe Brother Vaal didn't insist on it.”
Molly blushed. “He said we had to. I .. He said we'd do it when we were ready to leave.”
“Now’s the time,” Ethan asserted. “There’s food in some of the saddle bags. It will hold you until you reach friends. Hurry. Just in case Grashen sends someone back.”
“Grashen?” Phillip asked, as he moved to obey.
“Commander Grashen, who leads that raiding party. He doesn't fully trust me.”
Neither, Molly thought, as she hurried to ready herself, did she.
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