Wynefrede watched as George and Torralei — Temeliel? — neither was probably their real name — pulled Elyon out of the cart and dumped him on a flat rock near the top of the waterfall.
“Please don’t kill me,” Elyon said. His hands were tied behind his back and he was naked except for his underwear and sandals. “Let me go. I promise I won’t tell anybody anything.” He struggled to get back up, but George pushed him down.
“He’s scared Avourel won’t bring him back and leave him to burn forever in the pits of hell,” said Temeliel. “He was already being punished. That’s why he was guarding me. Which he did a bad job at.”
“You don’t need to scare him,” said Margarett.
“Get his shoes,” Benedicta told Temeliel. “We might need them.” As Temeliel did that, Benedicta refolded the tarp that had been used to cover their prisoner. Depending on how long they were stuck on this island, the tarp could well be one of their most valuable possessions, Wynefrede thought.
“Leave the crowbar,” George said. “Wynefrede and I might need it.”
“There are a couple of axes,” said Temeliel. “Why not take one of those?”
“I’m used to the crowbar.”
Elyon tried to struggle to his feet again and George pushed him down.
“We’ll get going, then,” said Benedicta. “Wynefrede knows where we’re going to be.”
“Let’s hurry up,” said Margarett. “I don’t want to watch.” She picked up on the forward handles of the cart and started pulling it down hill when George pointed in a different direction then glanced meaningfully down at Elyon. “Right,” Margarett said.
They would probably detour just enough to get out of Elyon’s sight, Wynefrede thought. With the cart much lighter without Elyon in it, the extra distance shouldn’t add that much more difficulty to their hike.
“Try to steal us something to light a fire with,” Benedicta called back as she followed Margarett and Temeliel away from the stream.
Once they were out of sight, Wynefrede stepped closer to the edge of the waterfall. The rock they were on was a little to the side and slightly above the level of the stream. But when she looked down, she saw that it wasn’t a straight drop. She looked around. In most places, the ground sloped away. Instead of falling straight down through the air, Elyon’s body would roll down the cliffside, and he might survive the fall. The rock she was standing on wasn’t a perfect option, but it was the best bet for a quick death. Maybe if they could swing Elyon’s body out away from the edge…
Elyon strugged as George dragged him closer.
“Grab his shoulders,” George said, as he himself got a tighter grip on Elyon’s ankles.
Elyon started screaming and Wynefrede looked away from his face as she tried to pull him up.
“We should have tied his hands in front, so we could swing him out by his arms,” she said.
“Then he could have chewed through the rope and escape,” said George. “Let’s hurry up before someone hears us.”
Wynefrede glanced nervously upstream. “I thought you said we were too far away?”
“The guards might be out looking for us.” George pulled Elyot’s legs up higher, so that only Elyon’s shoulders were still resting on the ground. Wynefrede finally wrestled him up. She had the heavy end but, on the plus side, Elyon couldn’t try to kick her. Instead, he screamed in her ear, then twisted his head around and tried to bite her.
George moved closer to the rock’s edge then, once Wynefrede was in position, swung Elyon back away from the cliff then towards it again. “On three,” he said. “One, two…” Elyon twisted again when George said “three” and let out a piercing shriek. Wynefrede dropped him a moment too soon and, instead of flying out over the edge, he fell down.
She watched Elyon fall, still screaming and twisting, then hit the rocky cliffside, bounce off, fall further, and hit the cliffside again, this time head first. The screams cut off then as the body continued to bounce down to the rocks below. When it finally landed, Wynefrede asked, “Is he dead? I can’t see if he’s moving or not.”
George looked down. “He just twitched,” he said. “Now he’s trying to crawl. Nope, his arms are broken. I think his legs might be, too.” He waited a few seconds. “We should probably put him out of his misery.” He looked around, picked up a rock, and threw it down. “Missed.”
“I hate just leaving him there to suffer,” said Wynefrede.
“We can’t afford to take the time go climb down and finish him off,” said George, throwing another rock down. “But he’s no threat to us where he is. He’s not going to follow Benedicta and Margarett to our hideout. Worst case, he’ll tell the cult that we’re somewhere out here. But they already know that.” He threw one last rock down, then dusted his hands off, picked up his crowbar, and turned away. “He’ll die soon enough,” he said.
Wynefrede followed George silently along the stream’s rocky shoulder until the bank was low enough to climb. Then they continued to follow the stream back up the mountain, but keeping a few trees between themselves and the water. If anyone was looking for them, they’d probably walk along the stream bed, Wynefrede thought, and not see them in the woods. Plus, the sound of the water might cover up any noise they made.
But her thoughts kept going back to Elyon, bouncing down the side of the cliff, then lying, broken and twitching, on the rocks below. She was lucky that her eyesight was too poor for her to make out the details, but they must have been gory. George said that the man’s limbs were all broken. Were bones sticking out? How long would it take him to die?
Maybe drowning was a better option after all. She’d give it a couple of days. Maybe her hearing was simply postponed, and any minute now she’d be painlessly pulled out of Krim, leaving just a mysteriously dead body behind. Or maybe the Royal Season would find them and save them. They did, before. Or maybe they could pass a message to one of the visitors, or even go back with them.
As long as the cult didn’t take her prisoner and wipe her memory, she’d be fine. She picked up her pace and caught up to George.
“Let’s work out some signals,” he told her. “Me and Margarett came up with a few.” He whistled. “That sounds a little bit like one of the birds up here,” he said. “You try.”
She copied him, and he nodded. “That’s good. That’s the signal for someone is coming. If I whistle twice, it means you should follow me, but at a distance. And if I whistle three times, you should come over.” He demonstrated. “Now, in the main building, they’ve got a store room off the kitchen that opens up on a back exit. That’s where I got the bread. They have a lot of other stuff there we can grab. If we hurry, we’ll make it up in time for morning prayers. I’ll show you a place you can hide and keep watch, and I’ll go in and grab supplies for us. They’ve got a lot of beans and potatoes.”
“Potatoes? I didn’t know Krim had any,” said Wynefrede.
George shrugged. “They looked like potatoes.” He held up his hand. “Now this is where we have to start to be really careful. See the temple?”
She peered ahead. She could see a general vague shape of something between the trees. “I can’t make it out.” She sighed. “I don’t have my glasses.”
George swore. “Are you going to be able to be a lookout?” he asked.
“Sure,” said Wynefrede. “Maybe I won’t be able to tell you who exactly is coming, but I’ll be able to see that someone is.” She paused. “I hope.”
“Well, it’s better than nothing,” he said. He led her around to the right, then the two of them crouched down to cover the rest of the distance. George took her to a spot near the main building, where the ground was raised enough to give her a good view of the back entrance plus the paths leading to it from both directions, but with plenty of shrubbery to hide in.
Then George crept down and hid behind a flowering bush closer to the building. The cult was heavily into landscaping, Wynefrede thought. If she didn’t know that they kept people against their will, she could have thought that the place was a nice island resort or a yoga retreat.
She stretched out on the ground, trying to find a comfortable spot between the rocks, roots, and branches. Then she waited. At one point, someone came out and headed straight for where George was hiding. She whistled, but didn’t hear anything back from George. He must be hunkering down, she thought.
The robed cult member moved closer to George’s hiding place then stopped and reached down for something. The figure’s back was to her, and Wynefrede couldn’t see what they were doing. She held her breath, then heard a familiar sound. They were just peeing. She bit back a giggle.
Then she heard the bell clang and the figure hurriedly finished up, adjusted their robe, and ran back the way they’d come. A couple of minutes later George emerged from his hiding spot, holding the crowbar, and walked up to the back door. He tried opening it, then used the crowbar to break the latch and went inside. Wynefrede heard chanting in the distance. Those must be the prayers.
George reappeared, holding sacks in both hands, the crowbar wedged under his armpit, and ran to his hiding spot. He then made three more trips before the bell started ringing again. He whistled three times.
Wynefrede backed out from her hiding spot and crept down to join him.
“There’s a spot where we can hide everything,” he says. “Take these bags and head over there.” He pointed to a dense area in the woods behind them. “Wait a couple of minutes, then I’ll join you and I’ll show you the place.” He handed her two heavy sacks and she half-carried, half-dragged them into the woods, trying to be as quiet as she could, and waited for George to join her. He soon did, then made another trip to pick up the rest of the stolen supplies.
Then they stopped to take a break and George opened one of the sacks. “I got some good stuff,” he said. “Cheese, some fruit. And look at this.” He pulled out a small box. “It’s a tinder box.” He reached back into the bag. “And they even have matches.”
“Did they even have matches in the 1500s?” asked Wynefrede. “No, I don’t think they did.”
“Maybe the cult made them from scratch,” said George. “Once you know the idea, and have the materials, I guess anyone could do it. Just like guns.”
“Wouldn’t everyone on Krim have matches then?” asked Wynefrede. “I know my housekeeper back in Krim City kept a fire lit all the time. I was going to put it out once but she yelled at me. She wouldn’t have yelled if it was easy to light again.”
George looked at the matches more carefully. “You’re right,” he said. “I don’t think these should be here. The cult is probably breaking the rules. Or maybe they have a special dispensation. I mean, they do have their own gate.”
Wynefrede felt a sudden chill. “What if the grid is in on it?” she said. “What if they know what’s happening, and don’t care. Or were bought off. Or are the ones who want me captured.”
“The people who run this world?” George asked. “What could they possibly have against you personally? And if they did, couldn’t they just, I don’t know, hit a button and whisk you away to somewhere?”
“Maybe they want plausible deniability,” said Wynefrede. “But it doesn’t matter.” She squared her shoulders. “I’ll get out of here, one way or the other.” She took a piece of cheese from George. “Let’s stash this stuff and find the visitors.”
“We should try to get into the temple and see if we can find a spot where we can watch them use the gate,” said George.
“That sounds risky,” said Wynefrede. “What if we get caught?”
“Maybe just one of us should go,” said George. “And the other one can rescue them if something happens.”
“Then I should go,” said Wynefrede. “It’s my turn. Also, you’re better at rescuing.” She paused. “If they wipe my memory, you’ll be able to overpower me and get me out easier than I can do the same for you. Plus, since I’m smaller, I can hide better.” She paused again. “Listen, if I get caught and wiped, and you can’t get me out, just kill me, okay? Do what you have to do. I don’t want to be trapped here, not even knowing who I am.”