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Authors: Gilbert L. Morris

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BOOK: Flight of the Eagles
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∗ ∗ ∗

It could not have been much after midnight when they found the wall that rose up in a massive circle.

“That there is a jail, or I ain't never seen one,” Reb pronounced. “Looks like the pokey down in Pine Bluff where Uncle Freeman did his last stretch. Lookit, there ain't but one big old gate, and there ain't but one little old guard. Well, ain't that a pretty come-off! They don't make jails here like they do in Arkansas.”

“But, Reb, how do we get them out?”

“Well, I don't rightly know, but they's lots of ways to skin any cat. We could plant that guard, I reckon.”

Josh suddenly felt a chill at Reb's offhand suggestion. “No! We can't do that! We've got to try to be better than they are—or what difference will we make in this world?”

Reb looked at Josh closely, then shrugged. “Well—you're probably right. But they is more than one way to catch a possum. Lookit this.”

He pulled something out of the hip pocket of his faded jeans and waved it before Josh's eyes.

“This is Uncle Waymon's favorite skullpopper. He was the black sheep of our family. Ugly as a pan of worms! Went to being a lawman, he did. Deputy over in Garland County. But he come out of it and got himself straightened out.”

The pride of Uncle Waymon was a black leather object obviously designed for hitting people over the head. Reb slapped it against his palm with a satisfactory whack.

“About ten ounces of lead in it,” he confided professionally.
“One tap, and they sleep like babies. Might wake up with a little headache, but that's all.”

“But the guard has a helmet on,” Josh protested.

“You got hands, ain't you?” Reb sniffed at Josh's ignorance and continued. “Here's what we do. We walk down and get to talkin' with the guard. You pull his hat off, and I hit him on the conk. Then sweet dreams!”

“But how do I—” Josh began to protest.

“Well, now, Josh, ain't no plan all grits and sowbelly,” Reb said. “We'll think of something.”

Reb walked toward the guard as if he were out for a Sunday stroll.

Josh found himself following the trail of the tall white hat.

Just before they got to the guard, Reb muttered under his breath, “You gotta get him to take his helmet off, Josh, and I'll do the necessary. It'll go finer than frog hair!”

Suddenly they were in front of the gate, and Josh was looking into a pair of eyes the color of spit, mean and dangerous. The guard placed the top of a wicked-looking pike at Josh's chest and said something in Nuworld, but Josh could not catch it. Josh noticed that the guard was looking at him and that Reb had stepped to one side, his hand in his back pocket. He could hear the whistle of an owl, and the moon turned the world to silver—especially the guard's helmet that gleamed a tough, steely gray.

Josh's mind was an absolute blank. The only thing he was conscious of was the tip of the pike pushing against his chest. Then, without any forethought at all, Josh slipped to his knees and stretched out full length as if in a faint.

The guard uttered an exclamation of surprise. He bent over to examine Josh more closely.

Through the slits of his half-closed eyes, Josh saw the guard above him, blotting out the silver moon. Without
hesitation, he reached out and yanked off the guard's helmet.

Twenty things could have gone wrong—the helmet strap could have been fastened, Josh could have missed his grasp—but there were no hitches, and the helmet slipped off easily. At once there was the solid thud of Reb's blackjack on the guard's head.

Immediately the guard fell across Josh, pinning him to the ground. Then the weight of the unconscious man shifted as Reb dragged him off.

“Well, now—” Reb chuckled “—ain't that a caution, Josh? Worked slicker than boiled okra, didn't it? Help me get this innocent back here in the shadows.”

They dragged the limp form under a shrub.

“Now don't you fret about
—Uncle Waymon spent lots of time learnin' me about the skullpopper. I give him a four-hour tap, so we got plenty a time.”

Josh looked at Reb's merry eyes beneath the tall hat. “Reb, if all the Confederate soldiers were like you, I don't see how you lost the war.”

It was the highest compliment Josh could pay. He saw that Reb sensed this and smiled.

“You'd better get on with that rat-killing.” Reb grinned and punched Josh on the arm in affection. “What's next?”

Josh thought hard, then said, “I'll go open that gate and go inside. I'll find the prisoners if I can. Now somebody else—another guard—may come. If they do, you give some kind of call—like an owl, maybe? And I'll know that the way out is blocked.”

It wasn't a very good plan. Reb's eyes widened in astonishment. “And you'll be trapped in there, and them madder'n roped coons!”

“It's the best I can think of, Reb,” Josh explained apologetically.

Reb thought for a moment, then grinned again.

“I'm proud to know you, Yankee. Always wondered how you whupped us, but if them Yankees was like you, reckon I can see. Get along with you.”

Josh walked toward the gate. The warmth of Reb's approval cheered him a little. Yet he still felt cold inside. What lay on the other side of the gate? Would he be able to open it, or was there a key? And how would he ever find his friends?

But there was no lock on the gate—just a simple steel sliding bar. He reached out and slid it back. Now the way was clear. But was something on the other side? Guards? Fierce watchdogs? What?

Once again he murmured Goél's name, and the door swung open.

Or perhaps he did not say it, for as soon as the door opened, a form was there falling against him, and he felt two arms around his neck. In Josh's ear, Sarah was saying over and over, “Goél! Goél!”


The Trap

one of the Sanhedrin, even the eldest, could remember seeing Chief Interrogator Elmas in such a rage. Those who could, fled. Others were compelled to remain in the council room and be flayed by his words, words that Elmas used like whips.

“Perhaps you have tired of the easy life,” he screamed at the cowering priests. “That can be changed! If you do not find these—Sleepers” —he spat the word out as if it were an obscenity— “you will find out what it is like to receive the attentions of our Questioner!”

Although they all flinched at the suggestion, one of them, named Bolus—a little bolder than the others—asked, “But, Master, why are these Oldworlders so important? They're only children.”

Bolus would have done better to have poured gasoline on a fire. Elmas rose up, then swelled like a monstrous toad. His face glowed with rage as he screamed, “Only children, are they? You
Don't you know that once in Oldworld a baby was born in a lowly place—just a common child like these—and that one child wrenched the entire world from our grasp!”

Elmas turned away in sour disgust and then sat down. When he spoke again, his voice was icy cold. “You are on trial here, brothers,” he warned. “What do you propose to keep your fat carcasses out of the mines?”

There was silence.

Then a smooth voice stirred the room. “Master, I believe I can do something.”

A figure dressed in green stepped out from behind a pillar shadowed in darkness. Hamar slowly approached the council.

It was obvious that here was no escaped prisoner. Hamar lounged carelessly in front of the Chief Interrogator, unlike the cowering priests.

“You!” Elmas started up, his face burning with anger. “You are to blame for all this. I have several surprises for you, snakemaster!”

“Oh, no, Master, I think not,” Hamar answered coolly.

The others gasped, and Elmas opened his mouth to have Hamar stripped to the bone.

But Hamar spoke before the Chief Interrogator could utter a word. “After all, Master, it was I who brought them to you.”

“And they are lost!” Elmas snarled.

“No, not really.” Hamar smiled. “Gone, yes, but that's the fault of your guards. And if you had killed them—as you wanted to do—there would still be Sleepers to contend with in the future. There are seven of them, you know.”

“But how will we get them back?” Elmas demanded.

“It shouldn't be difficult. One of them is an egotistical fool—the one called Dave. I fed his ego and introduced him to hypnosis, although he was not aware of it. Now his mind is in my grasp. I can contact him at any time, and he will answer.”

Elmas slowly relaxed and spoke through an evil chuckle. “He wanted to play with magic, did he?”

“Most fools do, Master—spells, astrology, hypnotism—they love the mysteries.”

“Until they are sucked under and fall into our power, eh?” Elmas said, flashing a wicked smile. “When can we reach them?”

“I will touch his mind tonight,” Hamar said. “He'll think he's seeing me, and I'll lead him right back to the Temple. Then the Questioner shouldn't have too much trouble finding out the rest, eh?”

“No trouble at all,” Elmas said suavely. “Let me know when you have them. There'll be something in this for you, friend Hamar.”

“My only motive is to serve the Sanhedrin and you.” Hamar smiled.

“Of course,” Elmas agreed smoothly.

∗ ∗ ∗

But while Elmas and Hamar were plotting, the ragged band of fugitives were having a meeting of their own. They had hidden just outside the city in a grove of large oak trees. After their ordeal in the prison, they had needed time to rest and recover.

However, feasting on nuts, berries, and a scrawny pig that Reb had somehow managed to capture had done little for their bodies. And Josh saw that their spirits were famished too. He read defeat in most of the travelers' faces.

Although his own spirit was heavy, he tried to cheer his companions. “Well, where's the next Sleeper? About time to think of that. Only two more to go and then—”

“Then what?” Dave snapped.

“Why, when the Seventh Sleeper awakes, why …” Josh's voice trailed off. He did not know the answer.

“We'll have two more mouths to feed,” Mat barked.

Sarah slipped close to Josh. Ever since they had met at the prison gate, he had seen a special trust in her eyes for him.

“Something will happen—I just know it will, Josh!”

“Something will happen all right,” Dave said quickly with a jealous look at Josh. “We'll get caught and locked up. And this time, there won't be any escape.”

“I think you're right,” Mat said. “Look here.” He pointed at the map spread out on the ground. “Look where the next Sleeper is.” He tapped the map. “Right in the midst of the Deadlands. See? The song has a key of 16 and 8. That will be right here in the middle of the desert.”

“Is right,” Kybus grunted. “My people live not too far. Bad place for people. Dry, hot, and dead.”

Josh looked round and saw discouragement on every face. Even Tam and Volka were drained. He tried to muster the words that would encourage hope.

“We won't fail. Goél will make a way for us.”

Just the name of Goél seemed to encourage most of them for a moment. The two Gemini brightened. The rush of encouragement then spread to the others.

But Dave said loudly, “Look, Josh, I'm not putting you down, but this is life and death. None of us has ever seen this Goél. And you admit that you were in pretty bad shape when you saw him. You probably were just hallucinating or dreaming. That's natural when you're bone-tired and desperate. But we can't run this operation on fantasies. So I say we pull back and wait. Let the excitement die down. Then—why, we might even negotiate.”

“No!” came Crusoe's weak voice. The old man pulled himself up and stared at Dave with his sunken eyes. “No one can negotiate with them—you cannot bargain with evil. It will devour you!” His words poured out in a fury. Then, drained and empty, Crusoe fell back.

Josh wanted to speak, but Dave beat him to it.

“Look, let's not get angry. We all want the same thing. But look at this map. See, here is the Sixth Sleeper. I agree that we can probably muddle through the Deadlands, but how do we get from there to the Seventh Sleeper? It must be several hundred miles—and over deserts—”

“And through or over the Hogbacks,” Kybus said. “Can't climb those. I see many peoples die there.”

“Just what I say!” Dave cried.

“But we can't just quit,” Josh protested.

“Shoot, no!” Reb shouted. “Old Stonewall one time, why he marched a bunch of Rebs clear round the whole Union army! Why, we can raise more racket than a pig if'n we get to it!”

Dave obviously didn't like Reb, had disliked him from the first, so his response was predictable. “That will hardly do here,” he snapped at the Southerner. “Those were soldiers. We're just a bunch of teenagers and fr—”

“Wait a minute,” Josh said. A glimmer of light had come to him. “I remember something—something my dad told me just before I went to sleep.”

“What was it, Josh?” Crusoe rose up on one elbow, his eyes gleaming.

“He said, ‘Obey the book.'” Josh was silent. “It was about the last thing he ever told me. I—I wish he were here.”

“What book?” Sarah asked.

“And I've just remembered something else. The last thing Mom wrote in her journal.”

“What is it, Josh?” Crusoe asked.

Josh fished out the well-worn journal, opened it to the last entry, and began reading.

Josh, I've been praying for you this night. Somehow I know that someday you'll be in a terribly dangerous situation. All hope will be gone, and you'll be almost ready to quit. Here is what I want to say to you: Don't take counsel of your fears! You will not be lost! Somehow I know that as I write these words. My counsel is: Think of the eagles, how they mount up on strong wings. Remember the bald eagle we saw when we
were on vacation in Wyoming? How he beat his great pinions and rose up high over the mountains? Somehow you will rise over your crisis like that great eagle. Think of the eagle, Josh!

A heavy silence fell after Josh finished.

Finally Dave said, “Well, I can't see that that helps us.”

“What is ‘eagles'?” Kybus asked.

“Big birds,” Josh said. “Great big birds.”

Kybus did not say anything, but he was thinking, Josh saw. He also saw that he would never get them all to agree, so he said firmly, “Let's go. We can make a few hours before dark.”

“I think we ought to vote,” Dave argued.

“No vote, Dave,” Josh said, looking him right in the eye and wishing that he felt as firm inside as his voice sounded. “This is the time when somebody has to decide. If I have to fight you again, I will.”

“Shoot, Josh, let me do it,” Reb eagerly volunteered. “I'll whop this—”

“OK, OK.” Dave threw up his hands. “Just remember, I was against it from the start.”

The rest of the day was misery for Josh. He began to question his own actions, but he found no answers. Despondently, he surveyed the little band. There were the Sleepers—himself, Dave, Sarah, Jake, and Reb. Then there were the Nuworlders—Crusoe, Volka, Mat and Tam, Rama and Amar, the three Hunters, and Kybus. Fifteen in all. A tiny group of fifteen against all the might of the Sanhedrin. Josh wearily shook his head and vowed to think only of the road ahead.

Just before dark, the travelers paused in the depths of an old forest and gathered around a small fire. There they began eating what was nearly the last of their food.

No one spoke much. Reb sat close to Sarah, telling her tall tales about his Uncle Seedy. Dave stared moodily into the dark gloom of the forest. Just before Josh dozed off, Kybus asked, “How big is eagles?”

But he didn't remember answering before he dropped off to sleep. He only remembered wondering if the next Sleeper would be any more help than the others.

∗ ∗ ∗

Dave slept less soundly. He tried to shut out the voice. Yet, no matter how he turned or held his hands over his ears, the voice persisted.

Dave! Wake up, Dave!

Dave finally opened his eyes to prove to himself that he was only dreaming. But there in the darkness, broken only by the flickering light of the dying fire, stood Hamar.

“Hamar!” Dave cried and sat up quickly. “How did you get here? How did you get out of the prison?”

“I'll tell you all about that later.” Hamar's voice sounded a little fuzzy, but Dave's ears were ringing with the lack of sleep.

“I've been trying to catch up with you for a long time. Come on, we've got to hurry.”

“What do you mean? Where are we going?”

“We have to help your friends, Dave. Look at them! They're all in a trance. You couldn't wake them if you tried.”

Dave's head was swimming, but he could see that the others were absolutely motionless. “But what are we—”

Hamar's voice was soothing, and Dave felt himself drawn to this wise man who had some answers.

“Dave, you've got to help them. If you don't, they're done for—all of you, for that matter. If you'll come with me, I'll show you how to save them. We don't have time to argue.”

Dave was caught in a difficult position. He was afraid, but his pride was hurt so badly that he would do anything to show the others that
was right. Yet a nagging feeling remained that he was doing the wrong thing.

I know they don't trust Hamar
, said Dave to himself.
But this is for their own good

“Come along, Dave,” Hamar whispered.

Dave got to his feet, drawn by the man's strange power. He felt that his mind was locked into Hamar's command. He followed the piper into the darkness of the woods without so much as a backward glance at his friends.

For hours Dave followed Hamar through the forest toward the city. Sometimes the piper would disappear, then return and draw him on. Always Hamar's voice encouraged him.

“Come along, Dave. That's right, keep coming. You're almost there.”

For Dave, it was like being drawn into a dark whirlpool. At first he had been on the edge at the widest part of the circle. But gradually he moved inward, closer and closer to the dark center of the maelstrom. Something told him to resist, but he was caught in the flow, and on and on and down and down he went.

Finally, when Dave could walk no more, and his body cried out in protest, he saw a light.

Hamar's voice was very strong now. “We're there, Dave.”

The light grew brighter.

Then Dave came to the light, and he saw that it was Hamar himself, holding a torch high. There was an evil smile on the piper's face as he spoke. “You've come to me, haven't you, boy? Now, we can find the other Sleepers.”

And then Dave knew it all, for he saw the red-robed priests standing behind Hamar. He saw the Questioner
with a bright, shining steel instrument in his hand. Dave realized that he had betrayed everything he loved.

He awoke as cruel hands grasped him with a touch that went to the bone. He cried out. But there was no ear to hear or heart to care as he voiced his agony to the darkness.

BOOK: Flight of the Eagles
5.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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