Winnie was asked to leave the meeting that evening because she wouldn’t stop gabbing about the deaths of the servants that afternoon and everyone she had seen at the square and what they had done. Gabe escorted her to the door and told her she could rejoin the meetings when she learned to hold her tongue. When he shut the inn door behind her, he shuddered at what he had just done. How did I get the courage to do that?
The meeting was small that evening. Gabe guessed more than half of their number had been imprisoned, although he wasn’t really sure what that number was—he had never counted. Gabe wondered about the men and women missing. Had they been arrested or did they just switch loyalties, like Marcus and Brad Winsley?
He had run into Marcus in the square one day. Marcus had taken his hat in his hand and had averted his eyes. He had repeated the same thing he had said at the meeting: he was just doing what was best for his village and his family. After apologizing, he had walked away without ever having looked Gabe in the eyes. Gabe had decided not to go after him.
He wandered around the inn’s dining hall, greeting people. He heard one man recount how he had escaped arrest on Sunday. Hearing the happy ending, Gabe repeated to himself, “The King made a way.” At one table, he stopped to introduce himself to a young man, a few years his elder.
“Hello.” Gabe reached out a hand. The young man took it and returned the greeting.
“My name’s Gabe.”
“I’m John, and I know who you are.” John smiled and pointed at Emily and her husband, sitting across from him at the table. “Those are my parents. You came and helped them out when I was so sick with that virus that went around the village. Now it’s just the three of us at home; my brother died then. My parents have been coming around here ever since then I guess, but this is my first time joining them.”
“I remember coming to your farmhouse. I was glad to help out.” Gabe spied Angela drifting by, watching. He pulled her over and introduced his sister.
John said hello, but Angela just smiled back shyly. Gabe had guessed John was about eighteen, but there was something else he could tell just by looking—he was handsome. Gabe could see that in Angela’s eyes.
After a time, the meeting fell into its familiar routine: Gabe’s impassioned plea and Angela’s melodic voice. Even when she read from the King’s law, you could hear music in her voice.
Before everyone had emptied the inn, Gabe took John aside. Gabe wondered if in a few years, he would be able to look him straight in the eye, but presently he got an eyeful of Adam’s apple. He tilted his head and asked John why he had come to the meeting.
“When Vulpine asked us to kill those men in the square, I knew I couldn’t have anything to do with the man. It made me sick. Listening to you talk about the King…it was just the opposite. I know he’s someone I can honor.”
Gabe was ready with another question. “Tomorrow I’m going to try and visit our friends who were arrested for not attending the singing ceremony. Would you like to come with me?” John shook on it and a new partnership was formed.
Bread and cheese filled two long baskets along with apples Mother had stored in the cellar to preserve during the winter. Angela had tucked a copy of the King’s law into the bottom of one of the baskets and covered it with a plain white cloth edged with roses. She thought of the nights she had spent with red thread wrapped around her pointer finger doing the fine work, and she was happy that her labors could serve such a purpose. She admired her cornucopias but knew they would only feed each prisoner a small amount.
“Come home” was all she said as Gabe took up the basket handles.
“The King will make a way.” He matched her reticence and was gone.
John was already waiting for him in front of the inn. “Let me help you with that.” He took one of the baskets. With the wind chilling their cheeks, they walked the full length of the village: they left King’s Hill behind them, passed John’s family farm, peered in the shops in the square, skated over a bit of the lake and, for the first time in their lives, walked into the jail.
The guard had opened the door for them without hassle. Inside, another leaned his wooden chair against the wall, warming his hands on a cup of coffee. “What business do you have here?”
“We’ve brought some food for your prisoners,” John answered.
“And for me I hope.” The guard’s voice was calm and casual, as if they were old friends.
John looked to Gabe.
“Sir, I see you have a warm cup of coffee there and probably had a warm breakfast this morning too. Have your prisoners even had a cold meal today?”
“What do I care about the prisoners?” The guard turned gruff. “Let me see what you have there.” The front legs of his chair struck the hard floor. He took his time getting up and walking over to them, boring a hole through Gabe with his stare. He poked through the baskets and said in disgust, “Bird food. But the wife might like this here.” He tugged hard and quick on the cloth and yanked it out from under the food spilling a dozen bread rolls onto the floor. “Clean up this mess,” he ordered and then laughed.
John and Gabe dropped to the ground and quickly put the rolls back in the basket, thankful the heavy cheese and apples remained in the bottom covering their secret contents. They looked at each other, unsure of what to do next, when the guard helped them out unexpectedly.
“Go and feed the birds. It’ll save me the trouble later.” He was back in his chair, leaning against the wall and watching the steam rise from his cup.
The boys followed the other guard. The cell door had no window, just another small door through which food could be passed. When the guard was about to open the smaller door, Gabe interrupted.
“We can’t really pass a whole basket through that little opening. Couldn’t we just take it in to them? I’m sure they haven’t been causing you trouble, and if we cause trouble, you could always lock us in there too.”
John’s eyes widened in disbelief at what Gabe had just said.
The guard just shrugged and opened the larger door. He shut and locked the door behind them. John wondered if he would ever see that door opened again.
“It’s me, Gabe.”
“Gabe, it’s me, Caleb.”
“Hi. Hi everyone,” Gabe greeted the inmates anonymously in the pitch black room. “I don’t even know where you are. I can’t see a thing.” Gabe elbowed John and covered his nose with his shirt. The prisoners obviously weren’t allowed out of the room for any reason.
“My name’s John. I’ve come with Gabe. I’m new to the meetings. We’ve brought some food.” John felt awkward talking to unseen strangers.
Voices came from every angle, greeting, thanking, asking for food.
“I don’t know how to get the food passed out. How many are you?” Gabe asked the blackness.
“Forty-two.” Caleb seemed to be the leader of the group. “Your eyes will adjust in a bit. There is a tiny bit of light coming from under the door. Not enough, but at least you can tell if someone’s right in front of you.”
“There’s only a small amount for everyone: half a bread roll, a bit of cheese and half an apple. Sorry.” Gabe hoped no one would be disappointed.
“Don’t be sorry. Sounds like a feast to us,” Caleb assured him.
The prisoners organized themselves and came one at a time to get their portion. John handed out the food, and Gabe gave out encouragement.
While they ate, Gabe reminded them of the words of the King’s song about his love leading them out of their darkest night. “It will be literally true for you all when you get out of here.” Everyone quieted at the comment. “You will get out of here. He will lead you out.” He started to sing, and everyone joined in.
“I guess it’s time to see if the guard intends to open the door and let us out. I brought a copy of the King’s law, but I don’t see how you could ever read it in here.” Gabe held the precious papers in his hands.
“Leave it with us anyway,” Caleb decided. “The King may make a way, right?”
“The King will make a way.” The words passed over everyone’s lips. Gabe placed the papers into Caleb’s hands.
John rapped on the door with his knuckles. All was quiet for a while. “Do you think anyone’s going to let us out?” John’s voice was unsteady.
“The King always makes a way, John. He always makes a way.” Gabe’s sure voice gave John confidence, at first.
John took his fist to the door this time. No one spoke. Everyone was waiting to see what would happen.
John bit his lip and tried again—this time knocking continuously. They heard the clang of keys against the metal door. Light flooded in. John thanked the guard. Gabe took a good look at all the faces and saw joy. “We’ll try and come tomorrow,” he said on his way out of the cell.
“Thank you, sir. We will see you again.” Gabe spoke to the guard who was still sitting in his tipped-back chair leaning against the wall. John was pretty sure he was asleep.Outside John confessed his anxiety. “I thought I was trapped in that reeking black hole forever. How were you so calm? You didn’t know we were going to be let out.”
Gabe smiled. “I guess I should tell you my story. It started with a toad.” Gabe shared with John about all the times he had seen the King make a way. “It’s just that…it’s just that I know the King. I know him.” Gabe shrugged, not knowing how to explain. “When you know him, you just know that he has to make a way. It doesn’t mean never being locked in a dark room. But for those people in there, he’s made a way for them to be okay. I’m…I don’t know how to tell you any better than that.” Gabe felt inadequate, but John had understood.
“We’ll go back tomorrow, right?” John was ready for more.
Gabe hadn’t even finished his story when the King had done it again. Before the guard had closed the door, he had asked the prisoners about the song he had heard them singing. “I haven’t heard that in years. It kind of brings back memories. If I left the delivery door open, do you think you could sing it again, so I can hear it better?”
“Of course,” Caleb said with a smile. Boom. The guard closed the heavy metal door. Clank. He turned the lock. Creak. The little delivery door was opened. Light, enough light to read by, seeped into the cell.