So, yes, I do believe it has been a while since we posted a chapter but, what to say-we’re busy these days! Still, I hope you all like the new chapter and please forgive the lateness! 🙂
Putting her hand in her dress pocket, Eliza gripped the metal coolness of her knife. “Olivia!” she shouted, sweeping the area with her eyes. No answer came from the surroundings. “Olivia, don’t play with me. This isn’t time for jokes!” Still nothing was heard.
The air around her seemed to grow icy as she began to take in all of the abnormalities. A stick lay tossed to the ground, with smoke curling from its blackened end. Swallowing a lump in her throat, Eliza touched the oven, feeling its heat. Suddenly a flash of white caught her eye, and she saw a handkerchief on the dirt. It was crumpled and stained, obviously taken—or fallen off. Picking it up, she rubbed the soft fabric between her fingers, turning it around to inspect. On the corner she saw Olivia’s undeniable stitchery, Olivia Anne Shaw.
Her heart thumping loudly, Eliza tucked the kerchief into her pocket along with the knife. Clutching her torch tighter, horrible scenarios raced through her mind. Stooping, she picked up the messily wrapped pie and took one last look around. She quickly gathered her thoughts and began running back to the camp, breathing quickly and heavily.
“Jane! Lily!” She stumbled into the camp, having run nearly a half mile. Jane came out from behind a tree, yawning and hugging a brown shawl to herself, “What is it Liza?”
“Olivia’s gone! I came to the cooking area and nobody was there because the oven was dark and a torch was thrown on the ground and the pie was too and I found this!” Eliza held out the kerchief, pointing to the initials.
“Oh my!” Jane’s hand flew to her mouth, her eyes blinking in shock. “What’s wrong?” Lily hurried up to the scene, re-braiding her hair.
“Olivia’s disappeared! She was nowhere to be found when I went to check on her!” Eliza was scared, wondering what might have happened to her friend.
“Not Livy!” Lily looked distraught, “She has to be around here somewhere!”
Jane and Eliza shared a look, knowing they had a boat to catch at dawn. “What can we do?”
“What’s going on?” Rebekah had come up, arms hugging her body.
“Olivia’s gone, but right now you need to climb back in bed and protect your brothers and sisters.” Eliza stated firmly, choosing not to lie to the child.
“No! I’m going to find her!” she ran back into the sleeping area, promptly grabbing her cape and boots. “Rebekah stop!” Eliza placed the pie and kerchief down, then went speedily running after Rebekah. She reached out and grabbed her hand, “You are still too young to go off by yourself. You could just as easily get lost as Olivia has.”
She pursed her lips and angrily slid back into her bed, staring harshly into the night. Eliza sighed and made her voice a bit softer, “Why don’t you say a prayer for her, you know, to keep her safe?”
Rebekah said nothing as she swiftly turned over, eyes still wide open.
Eliza patted her back and came back to Jane and Lily, who seemed to be in an argument.
“You’re not going!” Jane was raising her voice, which was uncharacteristic for her. Eliza frowned and walked closer, watching Lily’s reaction.
“You can’t stop me.” She stuck her chin out defiantly, arms folded over her apron.
“What’s this about?” Eliza arrived into the conversation, looking between the two.
Jane turned toward her with an exasperated look on her face, “Lily thinks she’s just going to run off into the forest and fetch Olivia. Tell her she’s being ridiculous! We can’t take care of thirty children by ourselves!”
Eliza glanced expectantly at Lily, who stated she simply wanted to find her friend.
“Lily, may Yahweh protect you and guide you. You are old enough to make your own decisions and I cannot say whether you may leave or stay. Although I hope you will take into account your charges.”
“Wait. If I find Olivia by dawn, I will bring her to you. If I don’t…I’ll…come back.” Lily stood patiently for Eliza’s reply.
“Very well.” She turned toward Jane, “Why don’t we pray?”
Tucking a black wisp of hair behind her face, Jane nodded, taking both Eliza and Lily’s hands.
“Dear heavenly Father, please guide our dear friend Olivia tonight. She is lost, somewhere. You know where. Please give her peace and let her be comforted. Father we also pray for the wonderful Lily, which you have given us for a friend. Give her strength and take her through these woods with your hand and your hand only. In the Messiah Yahshua’s name we pray this to you. Amein.”
Lily lifted her head first, her brunette hair shining in the light of the moon. “I love you, you are like my sisters.” She smiled at both Eliza and Jane.
“You too Lil,” Eliza wrapped her lightly in a hug and stared off into the shadows. As the oldest girl of the group, she had long established a protective role with the girls she had known since kindergarten.
“Bye.” Lily took up her shawl and slung it over her shoulder, looking very much the ragged traveler. Jane just watched her leave, watching the young girl they had grown up with. Her messy braid hung low to her back, swishing as she walked into the dark woods.
“She’s a young woman now Jane, we can’t control her.” Eliza looked pointedly at her.
“Seventeen is hardly a young woman.”
“She’s almost eighteen, only close to one year younger than you.” She looked wryly at Jane, who sighed. “I know, its…” she trailed off, staring into the forest.
“I understand.” Eliza placed her arm around Jane’s shoulder, “The Father gives us the freedom of choice, you know.”
A small smile played on Jane’s lips, as she had used that same phrase with Eliza.
Continuing, Eliza looked wistful as she stared upwards, “Marianna told me that when her father died, she would agonize over whether Leandra was in danger, hungry or hurting. Then, she realized that Leandra was in her care for sixteen years, capable of choosing the right path and all she could do was pray.”
“If anything, I hope she’s safe,” Jane hugged herself, blistering against the cold air. “I’m going back to sleep.”
Eliza felt restless; she didn’t feel at all like sleeping. “Father, please…” She whispered, feeling her legs growing weak. Letting herself obey her body’s wishes, Eliza sank to the ground, leaning against a tree, “What is all of this? Why are we in this situation? What are supposed to do?” She felt hot tears slipping down her cheeks.
I’m letting go. Eliza knew she needed to be strong but there were times when even the best people crumble sometimes. The Father was the one and only unmovable thing in this world. The pillar that the weak could lean on.
“I can’t take it, Father, it’s too much.”
In the back of her mind, Eliza remembered the verse she had so long pondered over when times were hard.
1 Corinthians 10:13
No trial has overtaken you except such as is common to man, and Elohim is trustworthy, who shall not allow you to be tried beyond what you are able, but with the trial shall also make the way of escape, enabling you to bear it.
“Thank you, Yahweh, thank you…” She whispered. He was still there; he never left, even when things were hopeless.
A stream of sunlight warmed Leandra’s back as she bent over the wooden box, intrigued. There were many papers filling the box but Leandra could feel something hard at the bottom, like a book. “What?” She whispered, pulling out a worn and faded bible from the bottom of the box.
“What’s this doing here?” Leandra wondered, running her hand over its tattered cover. Why would there be a bible in here? The king was hardly a follower of the Word. He was a man of scandals and executed anyone found practicing religion.
It was a wonder, really, why a bible would be unearthed in a place such as this prison, which didn’t even hardly posses enough windows for adequate light.
“You,” A voice jolted Leandra, her heart stopping for a second. “What are you doing?” The whisper came from the entrance of the attic. Her heart racing at the scare, Leandra spotted the girl who had sent her up there.
The young girl pulled herself into the attic and looked hurriedly behind her, “Quick, put that away, now, hurry!” She hissed.
“What is it?” Leandra asked. “No time for questions, put it away!” The girl glanced back yet again and gestured for Leandra to hurry.
Leandra covered the box once more and slid it back to its original hidden space. “This could get you into a lot of trouble, miss, don’t ever do that again,” The look on the face of the young prisoner was one of great fear, “You’ll risk getting the rest of us in trouble, too.”
Leandra stared at her for a second, trying to read her blue eyes, “You do realize there is a bible in there, right? Why? Were there once believers here?”
The prisoner gave her an incredulous look, saying nothing. She climbed quickly down the ladder and turned with a flourish, giving Leandra a parting glare. Leandra just sighed and followed the girl down the ladder.
Two weeks later…
“Prisoner 1642, you are called to report to the main headquarters.” With a firm voice, a short, golden-haired woman spoke to Leandra, staring her in the eye. Leandra was surprised by the volume of the woman’s voice, so harsh she might as well have barked the command. The entire hall was silent until the woman left, leaving Leandra to make it the office on her own.
“Take the hall to the right, it will be down at the end,” Whispered a red-haired lass, flashing an encouraging smile, her green eyes bright. “Um, thank you,” Leandra couldn’t have been happier to see a smiling face in this place, filled with sorrow and pain, so many frowning and stoic men and women.
“Um, sir, I’m looking for the main headquarters, could you help me find them?”
The young man turned around, his long black hair shielding a good part of his face, “That will be right down the hall, just go straight” He said solemnly, “And ma’am–I would hurry if I was you, they’re not patient.” Leandra was grateful for the tip.
“Thank you,” Leandra followed the directions that the man gave her and found the small office, seeing a few other people standing there.
“Number?” The woman at the desk didn’t even look up. “1642,” Leandra was glad to remember her number.
“New attire will be issued to each of you, follow the left hallway to the door marked 1024 and you will get the new clothing assignments.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Leandra paused before continuing down the hall. The walls echoed each step she took, magnifying each click of her shoes.
“1642.” She answered lowly. It was so strange to be a number. No longer a person with a name but instead just another number.
“1642, James, Leandra, stand forward.” Leandra stepped toward the tall, imposing soldier. His dark eyes looked her up and down with a frown and he nodded, “Women’s clothing, to the left. Men’s to the right.” With a parting glance, he left the room.
Whispers flowed over the crowd as soon as the officer left the room and women were hugging and crying as they greeted each other, old friends and family.
“Leandra, Leandra dearest, there you are,” The woman who greeted Leandra seemed only vaguely familiar to the girl but they embraced and the lady brushed tousled strands of hair out of the young woman’s eyes, giving her a mothering smile. All of the women of Leandra’s village had graciously provided mothering love to the children of the late William James and his wife, Emma. It was a miracle to live with so many good women of the faith for both Leandra and her sister, who were left to care for little Asher alone.
“Leandra,” Marianna appeared somewhere from out of the crowd and a smile covered her face as she hugged her sister, “There you are,” She sighed, “This is a desolate place isn’t it?”
Leandra nodded, “Yes, yes, it is. But are you okay?”
Marianna looked up, her eyes glossy, “I miss the children so much,” She whispered, “So very much. I worry about them every second of every day. Each night I pray for them and see their faces. Mark too, I worry for him, what has become of him I wonder. You know?”
Leandra sighed, staring down at her skirt, “I miss Asher.” She didn’t have it as bad as her sister. She was only eighteen and children and a husband had not yet crossed her mind but she cared for Asher like her own son.
“Yes, he is a sweet little boy isn’t he?” A teary smile graced Marianna’s face, lifting her scarlet lips into an upturned expression, brightening her eyes.
“Most certainly,” Leandra imagined her darling little brother, with raven-colored locks dark as the night sky and warm chocolate eyes, the thoughts glazing her own with tears.
“Sister, honey, don’t cry,” Marianna wrapped her arms around her sister in a loving gesture, “The Father will protect little Asher.” She comforted. “Yes,” Leandra dried her lower eyelids, nodding, “Yes, Mari, He will.”