Prison of Hope
Our enemies were upon us. We expected them to arrive by morning. They are devil-men, too strong to fight, so we prepared to flee.
Let the children sleep for now, rest as long as they can. They wouldn’t make much progress tonight, through the woods, in the snow, even though it reflected the light of the full moon and made the world bright as day. No, it’s best to wait for morning. So we did; we waited through the long, cold night in silence. There was nothing left to do, nothing to say.
When false dawn filled the clear sky with bright blue, we began the vigil. She sat in a soft chair looking out the front window, watching the long approach. Beside her was a pack, as full as she felt she could manage without slowing down. The children were dressed, even as they were snuggled in their beds, ready to jump into their boots and coats. They would go out the back door, straight into the woods. There would be time to escape while the enemy soldiers ransacked the house and searched for prey.
I stood at her shoulder, looking accross the snow-covered lawn. No doubt those in the houses on either side were doing the same, all waiting. There was tension, but no fear. There would be time for fear later. Now there was only time for sorrow, foreboding, and simmering resolve. Loosing need not mean dying. Not for the children, at least.
I would not be going. I had other work to do here. The mission was to save as many as possible. As full light broke the horizon, I left her to her final watch. I would never see her again, I was certain.
The streets were filling up with people as I ventured into the heart of the village. They wore bright colors as if to defy these dark days. The sun sparkled on them as if to belie their fears. Everyone was looking for news, but no one dared go too far from their doorsteps. Everyone needed supplies, but couldn’t afford to be burdened. This was no place to stick it out or hunker down. We were defenseless here. Some of us would buy time. Others would run.
I looked up and up and up. The prison loomed over the town, stone walls and turrets upon a steep stone cliff. It had been there for as long as any could remember, though it hadn’t always been a prison. Long ago it had been a castle, a fortress built to stand against other invaders in other wars. Some had talked of turning it into a museum, when money still existed for such things. Now it was long obsolete and almost empty. Even the prisoners had gone off to war. Like the husbands and the brothers and the sons, most had not returned.
A thought stirred a spark of terrifying hope. The prison was accessible now only by a gondola, a small carriage suspended on a single wire over a deep chasm. It connected the town below to the fortress above. The old approach bridge had long since collapsed and never been repaired. A decision made, I headed for the elevator that would take me to the gondola. Time that had crept by a moment before now flew. An agonized wait become a hurried rush to discover if it could be done in time.
I stared out the window as the gondola zipped up the high wire towards the castle. The wind stirred the spark inside me as, like a candle flame about to gutter out in a cold breeze. Everyone knew not all would make it when the time to run came. Our best hope was to scatter and pray not all would be chased. Safety was several days march away. Rescue days more beyond that. But what if there was somewhere everyone could make it to? Somewhere safe from the devil army bearing down, at least for a time? Somewhere with enough room for everyone?
I looked at the castle, the prison, less than half-full with malcontents and misanthropes too old or weak to go to war, and I had hope.
PS – This is a dream.