The cottage expected a Blood Warrior invasion and prepared to fight. Instead, two small children walked in! They were close in age and clearly related. The girl’s curly locks were tangled with twigs, and both had large scrapes and bruises. Immediately, holly grabbed the little boy and took him to the table to lay him down while Kasmira did the same for his sister on the couch. They healed the kids’ wounds as the kids cried. Kasmira was the one to finally ask, “What happened?”
Through thick tears, the boy explained, “They killed our mommy and daddy! They always told us to come over here if that should ever happen!”
Mac said, “Their parents were the ones we saw earlier. You know, after the fire.” Everyone looked grim and completely understood the gravity of the children’s pain.
The girl told them, “They are creating an army. They said the first people in battle will be kids like us! But we don’t wanna die! We don’t!”
Anthony bitterly reacted, “He’s created an army of children! That’s sick! That’s really evil!”
“We covered your horse tracks so they wouldn’t find the cottage!” the boy told them. “We want to help!”
“We fell down a hill!” the girl cried. “We can’t help! That was really stupid! We are too stupid to help!”
Kasmira recognized her own voice in their words and understood what everyone, especially Mac, had tried to convey to her. She tenderly told the kids, “Listen, you are not stupid! You are braver than most adults I’ve met, and you’ve already helped us more than you know! You can’t blame yourself for bad things that happen. All you can do is try your best; if you’ve done that, then you have nothing to feel bad about! Life is hard right now. We’re all facing circumstances we have no control over. If we were on a ship, and it got stuck in sea storm, you wouldn’t waste your time cursing the fact you should’ve planned better. No, you just do your best to get through it. And we’re all here for you, okay?” The little girl started crying, so Kasmira hugged her.
After dinner but before sleeping time, they put the two kids to bed on the couch. Kasmira gave them the last of Joseph’s potion so they could sleep soundly. Kasmira asked Mac, “So, what’s the plan for tomorrow?”
Mac looked fairly stoic. “One person stays here with the kids while some of us create a diversion at the I.W.T.S, and the rest try to rescue as many people as possible. It’s not what I had in mind, and we certainly won’t have time to free everyone, but we have to try at least.”
Everyone was quietly thinking about their unlikely success for tomorrow. Holly suggested that they all go to bed but did so without real conviction. They found places on the floor to sleep, but everyone stayed wide awake. The silence had never seemed so heavy. Kasmira felt a restless kind of depression stemming from her lack of ideas to initiate better action for their cause. Orlando wrapped his arms around her, and being cradled in his arms made her worries seem further away. Orlando whispered in her ears, “No matter what happens, I want you to know that I love you.”
Feeling weightless, Kasmira replied, “I love you too.”
They kissed each other sweetly. Orlando told her softly, “I defy you, curse! I’m ready to die for you.”
Kasmira said quietly, “I’d rather you live for me.”
He gently kissed her neck, and Kasmira sighed happily. Suddenly, Orlando said, “Marry me.”
Kasmira looked at him in surprise. “You want to get married?”
“Of course!” He kept kissing her, which made her melt. “We should do it soon. Tomorrow, if we both make it out alive. We’ve got to be happy while we can, and nothing would make me happier. So, what do you say? Will you marry me?”
Kasmira was ready to think long and hard about this. It was a big decision, and she had a lot of mixed emotions about herself getting married. However, before she could respond, the door suddenly flew open. Everyone got up, ready to fight again, but Kasmira stopped them when she recognized the thief from the village. He appeared erratically exhilarated. “I did it! I found a way to recruit you some soldiers and raise hell for the Blood Warriors at the same time!”
“What did you do, then?” Kasmira inquired.
He said dramatically, “I broke into the dungeons and freed a couple dozen prisoners!”
“You did what?” Anthony phased.
“The dungeon? The king’s dungeon?” Ivan asked skeptically. He nodded vigorously.
Mac took charge. “Before we address that, Kasmira, you owe us an explanation.”
She explained, “I found the thief who stole the scepter. Him. I told him to help us in retribution for killing my great grandparents.”
He agreed. “And I have! Rosbly, at your service!” He half bowed then requested, “Can I bring them in now?”
“Yes, don’t let escapees stay outside!” Kasmira replied.
Rosbly opened the door and brought in a dozen men. Some looked like ordinary citizens while others definitely looked shady. Amberline, Holly, Ivan, and Svetlana looked weary of their new guests. Anthony, Orlando, and Kasmira seemed more interested than anything else. Mac looked elated. “Welcome to the Rebellion, gentlemen!”
One man responded, “I don’t know if you could call any of us gentlemen, but thank you kindly.”
Everyone except for Amberline, Holly, and Svetlana laughed. Holly nervously asked Rosbly, “Um, are you sure that…I mean, have you checked…?”
Rosbly informed her, “No to worry, ma’am. I only took men with non-violent offenses. Except for myself, but that’s why I agreed to do it in the first place. They are all harmless and exchanged their freedom for services to the kingdom.”
Orlando nodded. “That seems fair.”
One man’s eyes widened greatly. “Blimey, it’s the prince!” The men hastily and clumsily bowed. Kasmira and Svetlana found themselves in a fit of giggles. Even Holly, Orlando, and Anthony cracked a smile.
Orlando told them, “That’s not necessary. You men are soldiers of Velorica, knights of the Rebellion, so a salute will do fine.” They stood as straight as they could and saluted him. He, in return, curtly nodded.
Mac looked at Rosbly incredulously. “How did you manage to get them out of the dungeons? And with enough time to make careful selections!”
Rosbly humbly shrugged, “Now, don’t go thinking I’m a crafty super man like you folks. I just paid the night guard a year’s worth of his salary. Most Blood Warriors join for the money, so I’ve gotten on with bribery many times. Doesn’t always work, especially with actual knights…but I’m rambling now. What would you have us do?”
Mac told the men, “We are breaking people out of an I.W.T.S. tomorrow. Do any of you have any outside contacts we could call upon?”
One man waved his grubby hand in the air. “I live with a gang of people selling…perfectly legal merchandise. About a dozen men. And a woman, but she’s scary enough to frighten most men away!”
Mac grinned. “As you can see, we accept people here regardless of their backgrounds. The important thing is loyalty and hard work. Take your ‘perfectly legal’ merchants and lead them to the fence. We’ll cut half a dozen holes to stream people out. You will pair up and lead everyone in different directions but all will wind up here. We just need to distract the Blood Warriors who work there. Um, I guess we can just stage a ruckus.”
Kasmira, who was absent-mindedly looking at Rosbly, thought outloud, “Bribery almost always works…”
Mac responded, “I don’t think money will work in this situation.”
Kasmira smiled mischievously. ” Not the bribe I had in mind. Ever heard of the Greek Sirens?”
Anthony piped up, “Oh, I like this plan better already!” Everyone laughed. They finished planning it out, and they all picked a place on the floor to rest up and keep their minds sharp for tomorrow. They were so distracted that Kasmira didn’t get a chance to tell Orlando her answer to his proposal. He was fast asleep by her side. She smiled and fell asleep, feeling much better about their siege tomorrow.