Percy led the way around the back of his home, the only light a single candle in a window. He pushed aside a couple of bales of hay which concealed the cellar entrance, and a well-fed rat scurried out of the way. For a moment Father questioned his wisdom in following Percy into the dark with the small mob of angry men. Tobacco smoke startled his senses and unhinged his thoughts. He followed Percy down the steps into the cellar and left his doubts out in the cold, dark night where they could vanish with the warm morning light.
The smoke was curling from the lips of four men relaxing in arm chairs. A few dozen men filled the hideout. No one was talking. They were watching and waiting. The other dozen men with Percy felt like animals being shown to buyers at the market. All eyes were on them. They tried not to show fear—they were pretty sure the others would be able to smell it.
Percy broke the silence. “We need all the good men we can get. Tomorrow is the day. We’ll see what Vulpine and each of us are made of. I’ll let Assemblyman Stone bring everyone up to date with the details.”
“Thank you.” Stone put down his pipe and spoke from his seat. “I will say outright that you are the wisest men in our fine village. You have seen beyond the masks and lies and have discovered the truth for what it really is. I commend you all. The imposter Vulpine surely is cunning, but his arrogance has led him to believe he can control us with bribes and fancy words. He thinks too highly of his own power.
“I offer to you that this is his blind spot. With a precise blow, we can bring him down. He has already stripped the Assembly of its power. The four of us upright Assemblymen have not bowed to Vulpine. The majority have, however. They are greedy for money and power and despise virtue.” Stone rose and began methodically pacing the length of the room. Every eye trailed him. His words were working their charm in building confidence in each of them that they were on the side of right. Doubts drifted away and disappeared with the tobacco smoke. Stone had attracted them to the lure and now was ready to hook them.
“You are the saviors of the village. You are standing for freedom instead of becoming servants to that imposter. You are the ones able to right this tremendous wrong committed against you and your families. Our village needs you to rescue it. Your children need you. Even those foolish enough to follow Vulpine need you. Look around. There are many able-bodied men here. We are not at a disadvantage.
“We know Vulpine’s weakness, do we not? He doesn’t think it is possible that he could lose control of such a large number of his subjects.” He spat the word. “He won’t see it coming. We will be victorious! Let me explain the plan.” He took his seat, reclining again and grinning as if he were at a party and not a war counsel.
“Our spies tell us that in the morning Vulpine will condescend to be among the common folk,” Stone mocked. “He wants to see for himself the results of his edict that everyone be at the village singing ceremony. Vulpine has kept silent as to what he intends to do to violators. That is one of the few unknowns we face. But I don’t see it as a complication, as we don’t intend to let him do a thing. Let me get back to the plan.
“While confident of our sources, we don’t want to risk being caught unprepared, so we will cover King’s Hill as well. Percy here will lead a dozen men up the hill early in the morning. They will go under the pretense of hunting. By late morning they will be in position. Percy will lead the charge. He will give them more details when they are in the forest tomorrow morning. Percy, have you chosen which men you want to take with you?”
“I’ll take the ones I brought with me tonight. I trust them with my life.” The men who stood behind Percy were sure he had spoken the truth and their chests swelled.
“Very well. The remainder of you will be under the orders of Perkins and Howe. Perkins will hide a half dozen of his men behind the Assembly Hall. Another dozen will be inside oohing and aahing over the architecture and that cabinet of theirs with the carving of the village.” Stone was enthralled with his own cleverness.
“That leaves Howe. He and his men will be with those singing in the Square. When Vulpine is announced, they will rush the Assembly Hall where Vulpine will be on the porch in front of his adoring crowd. Vulpine will be surrounded. Percy and Howe, divvy up your men.”
There was a short burst of commotion as the men divided the troops between them. Stone was back on his feet and pacing again. As the men’s energy focused again on him, he stopped behind his high-backed chair. Leaning into it, he gripped its faded brown leather.
“Men, your leaders have already discussed this next point, but I would like to know what you think. We are in this all together, are we not?” The rhetorical question only brought forth a few grunts. The grin was back on Stone’s face. “What do you think? Should we make Vulpine surrender as our prisoner, or does the dastardly devil deserve to die?” Each word was spoken with more force than the one before. The crescendo climaxed with a war whoop from the men. “Kill him!” “Let him die!” Gabe’s father was surprised by the sudden transformation of the men. They had become ravenous sharks, attacking when they smell blood. At the mention of Vulpine’s name, the scent wafted through the air.
Vulpine had been watching the movements in the village. He considered the villagers as pieces on a giant chess board. The pawns he didn’t have any concern for since their movements were easily manipulated. For now the bishops he would leave be and watch how the game progressed. He knew of their meetings at the inn and their disloyalty, but they were a bunch of weaklings: women, children and old men. Only a few straggly others joined them. There were the rooks, his guards; the queen, his devoted servants whom he could bid come at a moment’s notice; and he, of course, was the king. That left the knights, those horses that fancied themselves special—the only pieces on a chess board allowed to jump over another. Vulpine was sure if they tried to maneuver over him, he would knock them down.
Saturday night Vulpine gathered to his throne his inner circle: Phineas Tract, General Writ and Assemblyman Tate, all members of the Brothers and Sons. “Word has spread that I will be at the singing ceremony tomorrow in the Square. From our information it seems our rogues will try and attack me during the ceremony using the Assembly Hall as the center of their attack. I will speak to each of you privately about your role. Phineas and Tate will be at the ceremony with several of the guards. Writ will be right here. Do not say a word to anyone until necessary. Just have all your men present and alert. I have tested you each and found you trustworthy, but even now I will not speak freely. Do not trust anyone until this rebellion has been thoroughly stamped out. But men, this is an exciting day dawning. We knew this had to come. It’s part of the birth pains of any new government. The leaders of the rebellion speak of freedom, but they are hypocrites and really just seek after power for themselves.”
Each man had a whispered session with Vulpine. Not one mentioned a thing to another as they stood in the blackness of the night.