Phineas motioned to the boy who rang the bell to stop pulling the rope and smiled broadly at his audience, enjoying the clear, still day. Tabitha whined, asking when the music would start. She was shushed. The restless rebels shifted their feet and itched at their pockets. The sun reached its full potential.
The doors of the Hall were opened with flair as Phineas made his introduction, “Our great leader, his royal majesty, King Vulpine!”
Gabe’s father stormed out of the forest following Percy.
They had spied just two guards in front of the throne room and were full of confidence. The two Winsley men ran across to their position and fired arrows at the guards. One guard was struck but not killed. As the arrow hit its target, the hill shook with a deafening boom.
“What was that?” Angela’s voice quivered.
“I don’t know, but I’m going to see. What if Father’s in trouble?”
Angela caught his sleeve. “Gabe, no. If you go up there, they will think you are part of the rebellion. We can’t let that happen.” Gabe shook himself loose, but stayed.
The rebels rushed forward as one toward Vulpine. Their formation stretched clear across the front of the Assembly Hall. They leapt up the stairs of the Hall and muscled everyone standing there into the building. Phineas had jumped to safety, but Vulpine was trapped in the middle of the mob.
The crowd panicked. Shrieks and cries came from the women and children, angry shouts from the men. Gabe’s mother dragged Tabitha into the glass blower’s shop to hide from the chaos. She didn’t notice the lantern was gone from out front.
Gabe’s father was knocked backwards, hitting his head hard. His comrade had fallen into him, crushed under a cannonball. From inside the throne room, armed men emerged, a swarm of angry bees ready to sting. The Winsleys ran into the cover of the forest and didn’t stop running, abandoning their weapons along the way. Percy swatted at the first bee which stung him, slicing at his arm, but these bees didn’t die after they stung—they fought on. Percy was absorbed with the fight, his sword clanging against another’s. The others were valiant at his side, all equally engrossed. They were outnumbered though, and each fell as a second or third guard surrounded him. Noticing Gabe’s father on the ground, one of Vulpine’s guards pierced his side with a sword.
Soon nothing moved other than Vulpine’s guards. Several were being bandaged, but all had survived. General Writ congratulated his men as he surveyed the still landscape. “Toss the bodies over there. Leave them for the animals, a thank you for keeping our secret.” General Writ thought he was witty and chuckled. The bodies were heaped by the edge of the forest. “A good day’s work, men. A good rain should take care of the rest. You have my permission to take leave for the remainder of the day.”
“Fire!” One of the rebels was the first to sound the alarm. Vulpine’s guards had taken the lanterns, and some tossed them in through the windows of the Hall while others torched the porch. The fire raged on all sides, climbing the four walls of the Assembly Hall. The wood crackled. The men inside shouted. In the glass shop, Mother crumbled to the floor and rocked Tabitha against her chest.
The rebels from behind the Hall formed a bucket brigade. They were promptly arrested by Vulpine’s guards. Other villagers took their place, passing a bucket back and forth, hand to hand, from the well to the fire. Still more brought containers, sending water onto the thirsty flames, which licked up the water as soon as it was poured out. The still air aided the firefighters; the fire never spread beyond its target—a bull’s-eye.
Inside the Assembly Hall, the wooden cabinet with its intricately carved map of the village ignited. The flames snaked their way through the carving of the village, consuming it as it went: the Assembly Hall, the school house, the shops, barns, homes, farmland, the inn. The cabinet collapsed in ashes before the fire destroyed the image of
King’s Hill. Outside, the pillars adorning the front entrance snapped and crashed onto their foundation. There were no more cries from within. Outside, women wept and screamed and their frightened children imitated them. The firefighters carried on their work, passing buckets, vases and jugs—hand to hand, hand to hand.
Gabe and Angela ducked into their pine tree fort when they heard footsteps. Gabe spotted Brad and Marcus Winsley darting across their line of sight. “Did they go with Father this morning?” Angela whispered into Gabe’s ear. He nodded and whispered back, “I think so.” Angela hated not knowing what was happening. They strained to hear what they could, but they weren’t getting many clues.
It didn’t seem long before they heard more footsteps coming down the mountain. These footsteps were very different though, unhurried and accompanied by talking, even laughing. Members of Vulpine’s guard breezed past. Angela was happy she was closeted away behind their barricade of needles.
Gabe lay down flat on his back and stared up into the tangle of branches. “Gabe? Gabe?” He wasn’t answering. He was wondering if he could see where the tip of the tree speared the sky. He wondered if a low-lying cloud could feel the pierce of the pine needles. He wondered what it felt like to be pierced through with a dagger, a sword. He wondered how his father had felt before he died. “Gabe? Gabe?”
“Don’t you understand? No one else is coming down the mountain. Father is dead.”
“Don’t say that, Gabe.” Angela’s head started to swirl. “Maybe he escaped. Maybe he’s hiding on the hill somewhere.” Angela was desperately searching for an alternative explanation.
“Those guards weren’t looking for people hiding in the woods, Angela.”
Angela’s world went tumbling, spinning. She was weak and dizzy. She grabbed hold of the dirt with both hands to try and hold on. She couldn’t see straight. She felt like she couldn’t breathe.
“Angela? Angela?” She had fainted, and Gabe was gently touching her cheek. “Angela? Angela?” Her eyelids fluttered. They cracked open and pinched shut. She took a deep breath. Her eyes opened and stared up at the wooden ladder. She wondered what she could see if she climbed limb by limb up the rungs to its top. She wondered if she would be able to see Father from up there. She wondered if she would see him lying on the ground, dead.
Gabe lay back down in their pine needle nest, and together they wondered.