Another Sunday morning dawned. Caleb, having wanted to be alone, was on King’s Hill reading the King’s Book of Law. Angela and Gabe were sitting by a candle, wrapped in blankets, doing the same. They were preparing again. For what they didn’t know, except that there had been rumors that Vulpine would make arrests.
Mornings started later in the winter, and by the time Betty had been cared for, the water fetched, the wash hung, the wood chopped and breakfast eaten, it was nearly noon. The children went upstairs to the family quarters. Father still spent his days in bed, but he could sit propped up for a short time. Angela brought him food while Gabe read to him from the King’s law. Father had learned while lying almost dead on the hill that he should always listen to Gabe when he spoke the King’s words.
The bell in the Square rang its chorus, its chime slipping easily over the icy fields through the bare branches of the trees and into the inn. Gabe and Angela tried not to be nervous, but they both stiffened at the sound. When the bell sang its last note, to those inside the inn, outside seemed lifeless. From their vantage point, the village seemed vacant, like the inn in the dead of winter.
“It feels like the day of the hailstorm,” Angela said, standing at the window. “We kept watching and waiting, and then it sprung at us all of a sudden. Everything is so quiet and calm out there. I’m anxious though. I keep expecting something to happen.” And then it did.
Coming at a quick pace down the snowy path from King’s Hill came six of Vulpine’s guards. Behind them was a horse-drawn cart with a cage built on top of it. Angela described it to her father. Gabe didn’t wait to hear the description and darted to the window.
Closer and closer they trotted until they turned toward the inn. “They’re coming here.” Gabe catapulted himself out of the room.
Their pounding shook the door as the guards demanded it be opened. Gabe was there to obey the order.
“Sirs, welcome.” He tried to act casual.
“We are under orders to arrest everyone not attending the singing ceremony today. You’ll have to come with us. Is there anyone else at home?”
“Yes, my sister and I are here caring for our father. He’s upstairs in his bed. Would you like to see them?”
Gabe led four of the guards up the stairs to the family quarters. Angela had heard them and sat by Father’s bedside, wiping his face. He did his best to look miserable.
“They’re just kids and the sick one. The law says you can stay home if you aren’t well. Forget them.”
Never before had Gabe been so thankful for his slight build. He was trying hard not to breathe, willing himself to be invisible. Yes, just leave us here.
“Come on.” The guards found their own way out. Gabe didn’t let out his breath until he heard the cart wheels in the snow. Angela was already at the window and flung it open.
“Gabe, quick! Look in the cage!”
Gabe hustled to the window. “Caleb!” Without thinking, he called out his name. Caleb heard, looked up at the window and smiled.
In dismay, Angela slumped to the floor. “What’s happening out there?”
Gabe shut the window and without turning his gaze from the foggy pane, he started singing. Angela and Father added their soprano and bass, creating a memorable harmony with Gabe’s tenor. He finally turned and looked at the others. “A beacon leading us out of our darkest night,” he sang, repeating the line again. “When the King wrote the song, he was talking about this. Right now. Except we’re not coming out of the darkest night, we’re about to go into it. We can’t forget the King. He’s the one who will lead us out. We need to go tell Caleb.” Then he added, “And any others.”
There were others. The guards had swept through the whole village, house to house, arresting those who had defied Vulpine’s mandate. The guards were shocked as they made their arrests. No one fought their captivity; some had even turned themselves in. Apart from the servants of the King, no one had defied Vulpine since the fatal attempt at rebellion. Even Assemblyman Stone was heard wishing Vulpine a long and illustrious reign.
The arrested servants were thrown into the village prison, one almost entirely dark and bare room. They were given bread and water and a bucket for a chamber pot that they were all expected to share. Men and women together were crammed into the stone room with nothing to sit or to lie on except the cold dirt floor. When the door was closed, there was no source of light except for the sliver at the bottom of the door.
Five men were chosen from their number to set an example for the others. They were locked into the wooden frames in the Square. The orders: the locks were not to be opened until the men were dead. That evening, the five men sang the King’s song while the sun set behind them.
Gabe heard the news and after dark, took food and water to the captives in the square. Caleb was not one of them this time. With whispered encouragement, he helped them take bites of bread and cheese and sips of water. Before the sun came up again, Gabe had turned fifteen.
The next three days were unusually warm and pleasant. The snow and ice melted, and everyone who was able was outdoors. Angela even moved Father’s bed next to the window. For the next two nights, Gabe tiptoed to the platform with a basket of food. The men were hungry, not only for food but for the King’s words. Gabe fed them both. Each night, he slipped away promising to do whatever he could to come back again.
The third day, Vulpine conferred with his inner circle. “Someone’s been feeding them. They should be wilted by now. They look happy!” The word “happy” had never before been spoken with such venom. He struck the golden arm of his throne, making his hand throb and him all the more livid. “Call the villagers to the Square. Let’s be done with them.”
The bell summoned the villagers, who hurried to see what was happening. Vulpine was on the platform, smiling, but his eyes were full of malice. He opened his arms wide to address the villagers.
“My loyal subjects, I come to you asking for your help. Together we will bring about our vision of peace and unity in our beloved village. But we must act together, united. Here behind me on this platform are five hideous creatures. They are disloyal, disobedient, a threat to the crown and to the village. To show your loyalty to the village, I ask you each to take a part in the destruction of these loathsome characters. Do what you will to them until they are all dead. That is your duty to the crown and to the village.”
Vulpine stepped down quickly from the platform and concealed himself among his guards and officials. Phineas and Assemblyman Tate stood among them. At first, no one moved, unsure of what had just been asked of them. Then suddenly, a roar erupted from within the assembled crowd. A man rushed the platform and with a bound was on top of it. In an instant, he started boxing the face of one of the servants of the King, who was utterly helpless to defend himself.
The sight egged on others. More climbed onto the platform for their turn. They punched, stabbed, kicked, spat, yanked, stomped, elbowed. No bell brought a break in this boxing match without rounds. The men were beaten unceasingly for an hour. By the time the knockout was declared, the five servants were dead.