My eyes widen, as the end of Marianna’s plan hits me. Too late. The inn comes into view, with a few officers on horses, waiting to arrest me.
It’s too late to run now, and I am only thankful that Isaac did not join me. Atleast one of us is free.
“Sorry,” she whispers to me, a small smile playing on her face as she slows the horse.
* * *
“How could you?” I hiss, my body shaking as I try to fight back my tears, “I trusted you!”
“Perhaps how ye could trust me is a better question,” she muses, “it wasn’t hard, really. Ye were so full of yer love fer someone ye barely knew, ye led yerself right to me. It’s a right shame I couldn’t get yer friend too, though I’m sure we’ll find him in time.”
“You’ll pay for this!” I growl, as the officers bind my hands.
“No, the slave traders will be paying for you, not I,” she laughs, “my, how you dense you slaves can be!”
She turns to the chief. “Now, release the boy as promised.”
He looks her right in the eye. “I was promised two slaves. Besides, I oughta be arresting you too, since you were hiding a fugitive in the first place. I’m letting you off easy, girl, now be gone! The deal’s off.”
“Off? Why you insolent--”
“Shut her up, someone! And get the boy from the barn and put him on a horse, we’re taking these two to county jail.”
I watch Marianna escorted away by police, and feel a grim satisfaction. If I burn, she burns with me.
A few moments later, an officer comes running out of the barn with a confused look on his face.
“He’s gone,” he whispers.
“Gone?” yells the chief, “he was tied to a wall--how gone can he be?”
“The rope’s cut, sir.”
“Cut? How? Did you check him for weapons before you tied him up?”
The officer flushes bright red, and his eyes become very fascinated with the floor.
“I’m surrounded by imbeciles!” yells the chief, “find the boy! He’s got a heavy fine to pay on his arrest!”
My heart floods with joy. Of course Jarrah escaped. I was foolish to believe he’d give up without a fight.
I watch the rest of the officers run off towards the ravine, calling out in vain. Only the chief and me remain. He paces angrily around the barn, and I watch him bemused out of the corner of my eye. His face is all red, and his temples are pulsing. He fiddles with his hands and mutters under his breath all sorts of profanities. Minutes later, and the officers still haven’t returned. He’s quickly losing his temper.
“Jarrah Whitley, you are under arrest! Come back immediately or so face charges!” he yells.
“Right away, sir!”
A blow to his head, and the chief falls to the ground. I look up in awe to see Jarrah standing there, a little dirty but otherwise unharmed.
“You came back!” we say in unison, and he quickly grabs me into his arms. I embrace his musky, warm scent, my hands running through his sandy hair, never wanting to let go.
“I’m so sorry,” I say, “I should’ve just trusted you. I shouldn’t have left. I didn’t--”
He grabs my hands in his, and shakes his head. “No apologies.”
I smile wholeheartedly, for the first in a long time. Jarrah pulls out a knife and cuts the ropes on my wrists.
“We gotta go. Now,” says Jarrah, lacing his fingers through mine and leading the way. He starts running when I tug him back.
“Wait,” I say.
He looks at me straight in the eyes, and I temporarily lose my thoughts in his piercing, emerald orbs. He cocks his head curiously, waiting for me to continue.
I struggle to find the right words to convey what I mean.
“The horses. We’ll go faster,” I say instead.
He nods in agreement, and we each mount a horse and ride off in the direction of the village. I clutch onto the horse’s reins for dear life, never having ridden alone and not at all prepared to go at this speed.
“Where’s Isaac?” yells Jarrah over the wind.
“I don’t know, exactly! I lost him in Preston!”
“Well, let’s find him!” he says obviously, and we ride off in broad daylight. I’m nervous of running into anyone, since the risk of being seen is highest now, but if we try and change direction we could get lost or caught. All I know is where I last saw Isaac, and that’s where I have to go.
* * *
The time passes in a sort of comforting silence between us, each racing to get farther away from the police and to find Isaac. I occasionally glance to the side, just to make sure Jarrah’s really there and I haven’t lost him again.
“I’m sorry,” I blurt out finally, and he shakes his head.
“No, I want to apo--” he shakes his head firmly again, putting a finger to his lips to show me to be quiet.
I crinkle my nose and glare at him, annoyed he won’t hear me out. He proceeds to point his finger towards the forest. I look in that direction and focus for a moment, when I hear a distant yelling.
I recognize it instantly.
We dismount our horses and tie them to a nearby tree, before following the voices.
Distantly, I make out two people. To my confusion, none of them are Isaac. I realize he’s still hiding in the tree.
“Come down now, or face repercussions! You are under arrest,” yells an officer.
“Why would I want to come down then?” laughs Isaac.
“You are outnumbered. Come down,” the officer repeats angrily.
“And you are outmatched,” laughs Isaac, “you couldn’t reach me if you wanted to.”
I look up to see Isaac even higher than when I left him, and the officers appear unable to get to that height.
“I have a plan. Just go with it,” whispers Jarrah, and I don’t bother for an explanation. Jarrah ties my hands to the tree with rope, and I wince uncomfortably.
The officer pulls out a Colt from his pocket, locks it into place, and aims into the sky.
“I will shoot, believe me I will, and no one will know we were ever here,” spits the officer.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” yells Jarrah, to my surprise. His tone is harsh, and his voice much deeper and more intimidating than usual. He steps out of the trees and into the clearing, to face two older, and much larger officers.
“Get lost, this isn’t your business,” growls the officer.
“This is my business, because that’s my slave. The runt tried to escape, all the way from Whitley Plantation. I’m on orders to retrieve him. Now put your gun down, or you’ll owe me a pretty penny for shooting him, won’t you?”
“Prove it,” sneers the other officer.
“Prove it? Do you not know there’s two missing slaves, a young black male and female, expected to be in the Preston area ?”
“Aye, I do. And why the hell should I give the boy to you?”
“Why, you bloody--I have direct orders from Master Whitley. Thinks you lot are incapable, which clearly you are. I’ve already got the other slave caught and tied up.”
Jarrah growls and points in my direction, where I pretend to fiddle with the ropes angrily.
“Let me go!” I yell for effect, “I already crossed the damn border!”
“Shut it, n*gger! Heard of the Slave Act?” sneers Jarrah, and I curse at him.
The officer looks at me hesitantly before turning back to Jarrah. “We...we can’t get him down anyway.”
“I’ll get him down easy enough, but he’s mine,” growls Jarrah. He walks over to me and unties the ropes on my hands, grabbing them firmly and dragging me over.
“This is your friend, correct?” yells Jarrah.
Isaac grunts in response.
Play along, Isaac I think.
“Let her go,” sneers Isaac.
The officers watch from the side with unreadable faces.
“I can’t do that, I’m afraid.”
“Take me instead. Let her go and I’ll come down,” yells Isaac. Something about his tone makes me believe he hasn’t caught on.
“I’m not here to bargain,” yells Jarrah, and he pulls out a knife. My eyes flash in alarm as Jarrah holds it against my neck. The blade is cool against my skin, and I stare at it nervously.
His acting is too real for me.
“I suppose she’s wanted dead or alive,” sneers Jarrah. He moves the blade gently on its flat end, imitating a cutting motion, and I’m trembling in fear. Something’s not right. I hear the officers laughing beside Jarrah, almost cheering him on, and I feel the urge to vomit. Finally, Isaac yells, “I trusted you! She trusted you, you bastard!”
He hasn’t caught on. Isaac thinks Jarrah betrayed us.
“Isaac! Just come down! It’s over,” I yell, hoping he’ll just listen to me.
Jarrah calls to him, “I’ll give you ten seconds before this blade isn’t so clean anymore. And I don’t think red’s a good colour on this lass.”
“One,” counts Jarrah, and I mentally curse at him for putting Isaac on the spot. Sure, we’re fooling the officers, but he’s got Isaac fooled too.
“Five. Halfway there, you know.”
“We don’t have time for this,” grumbles an officer.
Jarrah ignores him.
“Stop this, Jarrah,” shouts Isaac, “this isn’t you! You aren’t one of them!”
“Isaac, come down!” I plead. I feel my whole body shaking, Jarrah’s hand tense against my neck.
“Alright! Stop! I’m coming down,” Isaac yells to my relief.
“Don’t try anything you’ll regret,” warns Jarrah.
Isaac climbs down effortlessly and turns to face us with a murderous gleam in his eyes.
“You alright?” he asks me.
I watch Isaac’s fist collide with Jarrah’s nose.
* * *