Darn it, just wanted to say that I had this whole thank you list written but apparently it got deleted somehow. So here it goes...Thank you for all the review, they sincerely mean a lot to me. And also sorry for taking so long, well here it is, enjoy...
The whole truth and nothing but the truth
The slight rustling sound of the lift coming to a stop ended the heiress' brief slumber. Yawning ever so slightly, she pushed herself into a sitting position while at the same time taking care that she didn't disturb the sleeping child.
Her vision clouded with disbelief and anger, as her jaw dropped in a display of astonishment that she would normally find rather amusing, if it were on another person. Not right now, however. On one side of the room was Roxton, looking a bit peevish, and on the other was his Amazon fling. She stared at them, her eyes darting back and forth, giving each of them her iciest stare. One part of her was making sure she wasn't dreaming; the other just couldn't believe the audacity the woman had to show up at her house! As a matter of fact...
Calmly putting Darcy down, she walked over to Hippolyta, and wham! Without warning, her right fist connected soundly with the blonde woman's jaw. Such force was executed that the blond beauty was sent tumbling to the floor.
Shaking her hand in apparent pain, laced with a good deal of righteous satisfaction, the heiress stood firmly in her place with a determined look on her lovely face. "All right, now that that's out of the way; would you explain just what the devil you're doing here?" She wanted answers and she wanted them now!
The stunned woman on the floor rubbed her aching jaw, her eyes focused on the other three startled explorers who had run into the room. Surveying Hippolyta sitting on the ground and Marguerite standing over her, astonishment flooded their faces.
"Marguerite that's no way to treat..." Challenger began tentatively as he made his way inside the room.
"An intruder!" She finished his sentence and stood glaring at the Amazon. By now she had retrieved her pistol and was pointing it very steadily at Hippolyta's heart.
"For starters, you can put your weapon down, there's no need. I'll explain everything," Hippolyta said, trying to appease the situation.
"You can start by explaining why you were trying to kidnap Darcy!" Marguerite was not about to let her guard down. For effect, she cocked her pistol and then aimed it at Hippolyta with one hand while with the other she protectively caressed the head of the sleeping child.
The Amazon looked over at the little boy, and a tender expression crossed her face for a moment before she schooled her features back. She glanced back over at the group and started. "First of all, his name is Jason, and I wasn't trying to steal him."
Jason!Suddenly it dawned on Marguerite. Her Jason, her son! What a silly fool she had been! Overcome with jealousy, she sank down into the seat next to the child. Her gaze fell on Hippolyta, then moved to Roxton and finally over to Darcy.
Was she the only one who had heard Hippolyta? "Don't just stand there, Lord John Roxton, why don't you greet your little floozy, and your son!" she spat out, trying to ignore the pulse of pain in her heart at the thought of Roxton and Hippolyta together, creating the little boy. She looked down at Darcy-no, Jason-and stroked his soft hair. She couldn't bear to look at Roxton anymore.
Perplexed out of his mind at this sudden outburst; Roxton looked at his companions for answers. Marguerite's gaze continued on the sleeping child.
Malone, Veronica and Challenger had also been hit by the same realisation that Marguerite had come up with. Their eyes, previously only deeply puzzled, now sharpened into reproach as they looked towards the tall hunter.
Roxton's first instinct was to look to his Marguerite. His eyes scanned her features for any sign as to what was running through her mind. At first glance he would not have seen how despondent she looked. But her eyes never lied! He took a step closer and put a finger under her chin to tip her face up to make her look at him. On closer inspection, he could see that her eyes were on the brink of spilling salty tears. A hint of anger glimmered in them as she gazed at him.
Her eyes, the window of her soul, wore everything like a heart on a sleeve, at least to his gaze. He now understood what they were thinking. "You don't possibly think he's mine!" he exclaimed in disbelief. They must realise that this was just as absurd as it sounded, or could they possibly think that more went on than that of what he told them? No, Marguerite had been there. She had rescued him! She had to know that that he had never gone that far with Hippolyta!
At hearing this last statement Hippolyta finally spoke. "Wait, you've got it all wrong! Jason is not his," she said, pointing at the offended party. Roxton raised an eyebrow at Marguerite, who blinked as her anger swiftly left her eyes. "Or his..." Hippolyta continued, turning to face Malone.
Marguerite now understood. Her big greyish-green eyes doubled in size at this latest revelation; the tears that were not so long ago were begging to be spilled were now gone. They were replaced by a simple yet knowing look; she gazed at Hippolyta with a certain amount of cognition. It was all there in black and white. Her knowing eyes looked at the rest of her friends. Would the others figure it out?
Hippolyta's gaze reverted back to the sleeping form of the innocent child. Before she could say anything else, the young man spoke.
"Isn't it obvious, Marguerite? The letter was a con. She just wanted a place to leave Darcy while she went and did…whatever it was she did." Malone sounded very sure of his reasoning and proud of his deductive powers.
How oblivious could they be? The heiress stood to her full height, considering the right words to say. She could not just blurt it out!
Hippolyta sighed deeply before taking the task of explaining what they had clearly overlooked. "No, I just kept it simple. I wasn't sure...I only meant to be gone for a couple of days, enough time to give me... but everything..." Her voice faltered. She took another ragged breath and continued.
"Our queen was taken, I didn't have time to think. My first thought was for Jason. I had to protect him. I didn't know where to turn; our enemies were seemingly everywhere. So I decided to leave Jason under the care of the only person I could trust-his father." Her gaze fell on Challenger. She noted, with some dismay, the dumbfounded look Challenger, along with the rest of the explorers save Marguerite, was giving her. How stupid she had been! She had exacerbated the situation by not putting things clear on that piece of paper. "I waited until you were gone and left Jason. I watched you come in. I should have explained myself better. I seemed to have made a mess of things."
The professor, who had been listening to the story, was now rendered speechless. As soon as he had heard Selena's name, he'd had a clenching feeling in his gut. But now it was confirmed. He was the father! Darcy was his child! His, the one person they hadn't even seriously considered. His face suddenly drained of colour, and he felt light-headed.
Noting the professor swaying where he stood, Roxton and Malone quickly moved to help him to the nearest seat.
A couple of weeks they had had Darcy under their care, and all that time he had been under the same roof as his son. His thoughts whirled about in his head in a maelstrom. His beloved Jessie…how was he to explain this to her? After all those years of marriage he had not wanted any children. He had stated that clearly; he was a man of science and he did not have the time to devote to a child. But all that had changed. The plateau had changed him, as the people he had set out for the discovery of the century had changed him. His feelings were not the same as those of the pompous scientist who had eagerly led an expedition to find a lost world. When he looked at his fellow companions, he thought of them as family, as his own children, especially Marguerite and Veronica. What he had done was inexcusable! Would Jessie forgive him? He was a married man!
In spite of the tension that thickened the air, Hippolyta knew that she had to continue. "Our people have been in war for this past 3 months. Ever since you left us, there's been so much bloodshed. Our Queen decided that it was time to get over our petty differences, for the sake of our children, and for us all. So it was put to a vote. We would offer the deal to the men; we would co-live together as equals, adjoining both of the villages, and fight our enemies together. The birth of Jason united our people together; for the first time we Amazon women-warriors- were allowed to keep male children. Things progressed, until a couple of months ago. One of our Amazon women was killed by her husband. There was no evidence to convict him, none that we could bring to a tribunal, at any rate. We only had a confession to another man who was too scared to come forward again. Some of the woman rebelled against this, but our queen could do nothing. There was no evidence, and our treaty required that we work out disputes before a tribunal.
"The crime sparked arguments everywhere in our two villages. Some of the men, and some of the women, felt that we must go ahead and keep to the treaty. Sadly, they were in the minority. Many of our Amazon warriors felt that the men were showing their true nature by disregarding the loss of that woman. They began to practice fighting in earnest again, not just the keep-in-shape fights, but fierce ones. Most of the men also began to say that the Amazons were not to be trusted, that they only banded together with the men to find their weaknesses and exploit them against our enemies."
Hippolyta paused and ran her hand over her face. The memories of the past few months seemed to weigh heavily on her. She nonetheless continued. "Some of the men began to act as they had before, denigrating the women and excluding them from many activities. Others joined, and before we knew it, we began to fight. Really fight. We retreated to our own village again, and the men to theirs. We fought a number of battles, and many on both sides were killed. We didn't realise how far gone we were until our enemy attacked us. They hit both of our villages at once, and we found ourselves fighting side-by-side again. In the midst of the fighting, Selena was taken. We didn't know until it was over. There were so many dead. Somehow Selena had managed to hide Jason-when I found him I nearly wept. He is our hope, and I knew that if the enemy held Selena, then they would come again for Jason, to break our spirits. So I had to hide him somewhere safe."
She broke off and scrubbed fiercely at her eyes, unwilling to let them see any hint of weakness. The explorers exchanged glances, and to their surprise, Challenger rose and crossed to Hippolyta. He knelt down and took her hands in his.
"Thank you for telling us. It was brave to bring Dar-I mean, Jason, to safety. Now, I think you need your rest. We can leave for your village in the morning, and you can fill us in on anything else on the way. Up you go." He lifted her to her feet and escorted her out of the room, informing the others that he was settling her in Summerlee's old room. Marguerite then picked up the sleeping child and carried him off to set him in bed, trailed by Veronica. Roxton and Malone sat at the table and waited for them to return. Their heads were whirling with what Hippolyta had revealed
A few minutes later, Marguerite and Veronica joined Malone and Roxton in the living room.
"How do you think Challenger is bearing up?"
"Surprisingly well by the looks of it, though he did seemed a little bit shaken..."
"He's got responsibilities; he's a married man! Marriage vows, believe it or not, are something which he regards as sacred, and we all know how he feels about children."
"Felt about children," Marguerite corrected him. She had had enough! It wasn't for them to be discussing Challenger's business. "Enough! Who are we to judge? And don't go self righteous on me, you with your voodoo slut," she snapped, pointed an accusing finger at Roxton, who refused to look in her direction. "And you, Ned! I know about Kaya, oh, yes, Veronica told me about that!" She turned to leave the room.
Veronica stood up in agreement. "Marguerite is right! So don't come now with self-righteous puritanical thoughts. Its not like you two are the image of prudence. Though by your attitudes, I suppose that in your book, what's good for the gander isn't good for the goose?
Silently counting sheep, Marguerite lay on her bed. Her eyes were fixed on the ceiling, but they weren't staring at anything in particular. Normally attuned to every sound that jungle threw at her, she was instead focusing inward. Her imagination ran rampant tonight. She sighed in frustration as she realised that sleep was impossible, and quickly rose out of bed.
Donning her robe, she headed up the stairs and onto the balcony. She thought she had heard someone, perhaps...Roxton. She wasn't in too foul a mood to talk to him; perhaps a little chat would bring her peace. It'll be like old times. A hopeful smile brightened her gloomy features. Silently she walked into the dining room.
Ever since Darcy had come into their lives, they had kept their distance, not his fault, but hers and her selfish attitude! She hadn't wanted anything to do with the child. Funny how everything changed. It took only one day with the little fussball to open up her eyes. She reconsidered for a moment...No! She corrected herself. Her feelings for the little boy had started to change after the day she had won the right to name him. Filled with happy thoughts of that day, she nearly stubbed her toe with one of the chairs.
As she closed the distance to the main room, she became aware that the figure on the balcony was none other than George Challenger. His back was to her, and she stood silently; she did not want to intrude. His stance was that of a man pondering his existence as well as his recent knowledge of an illegitimate son. His brown furrowed even more as he leaned in against the railing.
Professor George Challenger was a private man. He rarely spoke of his life back in London; he mostly lived for the tales of his latest experiments. He only reluctantly gave details of his previous work when it was relevant to their situation. Everything they knew about him was from what Roxton had told them or from what they had heard or read in newspapers. She had done some investigation of her own; she hasn't been about to fund an expedition without knowing something about the man who was going to lead it. She had gathered mostly basic information, just making sure she wasn't funding a mad scientist on the brink of a mental breakdown. She chuckled ever so slightly as she remembered the orders she had given to the man in charge of the job. Her laugh, however quiet, still roused the scientist from his thoughts.
"Before you say anything, I wasn't spying. I heard a noise and simply..." She came closer and peered at the older man. "Are you OK?"
"Yes, I was just thinking."
"Oh, he's a lovely boy."
"That he is." He continued to stare into the darkness of the jungle.
"The little fellow grows on you," she whispered as a tender smile graced her lips. Challenger stared at her in surprise. Even though her recent actions had been more accepting towards the child, he hadn't known that she had become fond of him. Her smile became a bit embarrassed as she returned his gaze. He suddenly smiled at her.
"Will this one of the many other secrets you wish me to keep?"
"No, I think we are safe with this one. It's not like everyone else can't tell that I actually like Darcy-I mean Jason." She smiled at the same she held his hand supportively. " If you need anyone talk to..."
George Challenger nervously smiled as he struggled to find words to explain what he was feeling. "I'm not sure how I'm going to explain this to Jessie. How I was unfaithful to her…" His voice trailed off as his face became serious. In his mind, he pictured his beloved wife, succumbing to tears. "I ruined our chances. She wanted children, but I was too stubborn, selfish; I could only think of myself and the greatest discovery for mankind I was going to achieve..." He silently stared back into the darkness.
"There's no excuse for what you did, but you have to get on with your life, George," Marguerite said softly. "It's not good, you berating yourself for mistakes that were made. Now you've got to look into the future. You have a son. If not for your sake, then you have to snap out of it for Jason's; he'll need a father figure, not someone that hides away in a corner ashamed of what he's done. It's not expected of you to run back to Selena and start a family."
"It made all have been in a night of mistakes, but look what came out it: a beautiful boy. Believe me, George, I know how painful is not to have a father or mother." She opened up freely to this man who was the closest thing to a father she had ever known. Her voice was now trembling with emotion, as painful childhood memories gathered in her mind. The desertion, the unwanted feelings she had had all her life. "Every night I lay wondering about them, so many unanswered questions; who they where, what they were doing, why they had left me alone. I would have done anything just to have had a piece of paper to hold onto. Just to know a little bit about the people who had borne me, and a little about myself." She couldn't help the hot tears that escaped her eyes, and she started to turn away and hide her weakness. Challenger stopped her, placing his hands on her shoulders and turning her back to face him.
"Oh, Marguerite," he said as he embraced her. "You're like a daughter to me. If I had had a daughter with my Jessie, I would have wished she was just like you, poised, intelligent, beautiful..."
She raised her head as the pair of comforting arms loosened up. "As well as those hair brained schemes I usually get us in?" A weak teasing smiled formed on her lips.
She laughed. "Now there's no getting out of this." She felt Challenger's rough but gentle hands wipe away her tears, and she felt them crowd in her eyes yet again.
"No I suppose not, otherwise, as you once told me, life in the plateau would be a dull place indeed!" He smiled down at her. "Now, as your father, I urge you to go to bed tomorrow, as we have a long day ahead of us." His raised eyebrow sparked an infectious laugh from the heiress.
"Yes, father," she teased back. She lovingly placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. Giving him a reassuring smile she left him to take in the words she had said.
In the far corner of the treehouse, Roxton listened as Marguerite made her way to her room. He had heard her leave her room, and had heard the low murmur of their voices as she and Challenger had talked. The playful endearing tone as the two had parted rang in his ears, and he slid down under his blanket. Whatever had transpired had made his beloved happy, and anything that brought so much happiness to her was fine by him. "Goodnight, Marguerite, and may you have sweet dreams," he whispered. "Maybe the one of you feeding me grapes by the stream." He smiled as he closed his eyes and took comfort on his bed. "Yes, the one by the stream..."
The sky was all shades of colour that morning. At the break of dawn the entire treehouse occupants had woken up. Now everyone was already busy making preparations for their journey. Veronica and Roxton were nowhere to be seen but could be heard down in lower part of the treehouse. Marguerite, on the other hand, could be heard for miles. Inside the kitchen she was trying to prepare edible food to take on their journey. Well, this time, she would not fail; it was mostly sandwiches. She felt infinitely better banging a few pots around, though, as she washed them clean.
At the least she was making herself useful,Malone mused to himself as one of the pans Marguerite was washing came crashing to the floor.
Their guest was missing. She had left a few minutes earlier, insisting on checking the grounds for intruders. She had said that most likely she had been followed, and although she had taken some good measures to lose them, she still feared for the child's safety.
The child in question as of yet had not been woken. He had a long journey ahead, and it was best to let him get in as much rest as possible to guard against future crankiness.
Setting the food supplies on the counter, Marguerite headed back to her bedroom to make final preparation. She still had to pack Jason's things. She shook her head. It was going to take a while to get used to calling him Jason instead of Darcy. Her brow furrowed as she glanced in the little boy's direction. Her concern for the boy's safety grew with each passing minute. Surely there had to be a safer place to leave him. Hippolyta had said that once they found their camp, he could be left with their people. They would make sure that no harm would come to him.
"Marguerite! Are you ready yet?"
"Just a minute," she called back. She hurried as she strapped on her backpack and left her room.
The rocky trail that led them along the Summerlee River was rough terrain to be reckoned with. But nonetheless it was the more appropriate one; dinosaurs were hardly to be seen, and on the plus side, any oncoming savages could be easily anticipated, as the jungle foliage was scarce in these parts.
Their journey had begun like any other; they walked, rested and walked even more. They also listened to the heiress' insatiable nagging. All sorts of complaints were thrown in their direction. She had been particular moody after their rendezvous with Hippolyta, when Roxton had chosen to walk with the Amazon to "discuss strategy," he had said. Looking up from the path, Veronica glanced back at the pair. Roxton and Hippolyta were pretty chummy; they laughed and joked. Glancing back at Marguerite's stormy face, she gave a deep sight. Men! Would they never learn?
Malone, Challenger and Marguerite took up the rear. Both of the men walked next to each other; engaged in light conversation.
Marguerite, on the other hand, took her turn with the little fellow. Little Jason was fast asleep after nearly an hour of trudging through the forest. When he'd begun to stumble and whine, Malone had picked him up, only to have Jason reach out his arms to Marguerite. She had accepted the inevitable and took him. Now, his head rested against her shoulder, and his face was reddened. The overwhelming heat was not helping, and his blond hair was moist with sweat.
Smoothing the soft blond hairs on his head, Marguerite gently pulled the sweat-soaked curls off of his face. Shifting him to her right shoulder, she shook her left arm to relieve the pins and needles she was experiencing. The little boy had woken up after his short nap in Marguerite's arms in such a foul mood that Marguerite had tried to set him down. His screaming temper tantrum had worn him out, and now here she was carrying the two year old child, who was more than capable of using his two feet. So much for getting old, this child is going to be the death of me.
She was trying her best to keep her mind from wondering about the two at the rear of the group. Jealousy reared its ugly head, in spite of the control she was desperately trying to exert on her emotions. Every laugh, every hand gesture was taken as an act of seduction. If it had been any other woman, she wouldn't had given a damn, but this one, she had sensed, way back then, that there was some sort of chemistry between them. But nonetheless she tried to forget what she had seen that night she had come to rescue him. All a ruse, he had said, but to her it had been more than that. Just concentrate on the task at hand, she scolded, berated herself for being childish. Since when do you start behaving like a jealous schoolgirl?
Straightening her backpack, Veronica continued with her musings. Tilting her head to the side, she rotated her shoulders to work out her kinks. Now where was I? Absent-mindedly she began to talk to herself; it was some bad habit she had developed all those years living on her own. Hearing the now familiar giggles, she turned to see what now had been so funny to elicit such irritating sound. Oh no! She just didn't do that; her eyes scanned the couple. In spite of the fact that Roxton was determinedly removing Hippolyta's hand from his arm, the picture they made at the moment was far from innocent. She turned to the brunette; if she had seen that there would be trouble.
No, she hadn't seen it, occupied as she was in repositioning little Jason. Relief spread across Veronica's face. The last thing they needed now was a fight. And in spite of the Amazon's skills, Veronica was in no doubt that Marguerite could give just as much, or better, than she received, especially considering her feelings toward Hippolyta. Just then, a small breeze lifted her hair up off her shoulders; the cool sensation was received well.
The relief echoed throughout the group.
Marguerite shifted Jason yet again, and as she looked up, her eyes caught a disturbing sight. There it was! That impish grin that she despised was spread across Hippolyta's face; Marguerite stepped her pace up. Just what the hell were they talking about? If she could only eavesdrop on their conversation…just a few steps closer…
She had no choice but to stop. "Yes?" she said, gritting her teeth. Her irritated tone made Malone pause warily before coming towards her.
"Would you like me to take Darcy?" He offered. He could see that the weight of the sleeping child was beginning to wear on Marguerite.
"Thanks, my shoulder is killing me." She gently eased Jason (no point in trying to correct Malone in the child's name) off of her shoulder, gratefully handing the small boy over to her fellow explorer. Truth be known, she was exhausted to the core. Falling back to a much slower pace, she watched Hippolyta and Roxton attentively. She would only watch them, but if that woman overstepped her boundaries, there'd be hell to pay.
Just before the sun went down, the explorers found themselves escorted inside the Amazon camp, or what was left of it. Women and men were gathered around a fire. The atmosphere was solemn as people went about their own business, and children sat with their mothers, hearing tales of their last battles. Men sat with their wives enjoying the fading rays of sunshine. Visible scars of their last battle were apparent.
Greeted enthusiastically by her people, Hippolyta hugged and talked with some of her comrades, she gestured to the explorers more than once. Some expressed their relief but other weren't as pleased to see them. After all, it had been their interference the first time that had prompted the men and women to try and work together, and that falling apart had allowed their enemy to attack them more easily. However, there were a few who were extremely happy to see the group.
"Ned!" A young woman cried as soon as she spotted him.
Malone had heard his name being called out but it had been too late to react. Before he quite registered the owner of the voice, the Amazon woman had run over and embraced him, winding her arms tightly around his neck. Pulling away with no small effort, Malone's face was a bit flushed.
"Phoebe!" he said with some hesitancy. He was pretty sure it was her; after all, he'd enjoyed her embrace the last time, but he didn't want to presume on her appearance.
The blonde woman nodded.
She hadn't changed much; her hair was longer and her face a bit more sombre, but...
Marguerite wasn't the only one who noticed how Veronica's face abruptly drained of colour. Her countenance changed dramatically, as a scowl found it's way to her mouth. Marguerite tried to hide a smile. See how the tables had turned! Veronica should understand now just why Hippolyta made Marguerite so irritable.
Phoebe turned to the rest of the explorers. "Our people are so glad you've come to help us," she smiled. The smile dropped from her lips at her next words. "We don't know how longer can we survive their attacks."
Morning dew blanketed the camp. The smoke of the recently quenched fire hung around the camp, mingling with the scent of wet earth and the appetising aroma of cooking meat. Women, men and children were busy with their tasks; there was so much to do in such little time. They had to move camp up river, where they would be protected by the two mountains on either side. Hippolyta was seen as a true leader. Her people expected so much from her; she was in charge now! Since Selena had been taken, a great amount of responsibility had been placed squarely on Hippolyta's shoulders. There was no rivalry between the men and woman now; they were equal. It not to say there hadn't been problems or misunderstandings, but they had risen above their problems and had worked out a great deal of their differences. Hippolyta had been instrumental in forcing her people to open their eyes and see how their fighting had weakened both of them, and how working together might be able to hold off their common enemy.
As she surveyed their work, her eyes stopped on the three men. If there was anyone who could take them out of this mess was them. Her people had exacerbated the situation beyond reach; they had fought like savages, not caring how many lives they lost. In the end, they had ended up hurting themselves far more than they had solved anything. War was not the answer! They had agreed on that 2 years ago, but now everything they had work for was gone. She hoped that the explorers would be able to help her people start to rebuild their lives.
Across the camp, the flap of a tent flew open. Marguerite Krux greeted morning with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. Considering the early hour and her distaste for morning in general, what she could muster was very little. Lack of sleep was evident on her frayed features; her normally rosy colour was replace by paleness, and faint bluish smudges like tiny bruises gathered around her lovely eyes. After a quick survey of the area, she headed to where the men were. Their talk last night had been straight to the point; their priority was to the prisoners and to Jason. They had to protect the child no matter what! The short time they'd had him had been enough to place him firmly in their hearts, and with the revelation that he was Challenger's son, they were even more determined that not one hair on his head would be harmed.
"Good morning, Marguerite!" Malone greeted her as she approached the group.
"What's so good about it, Ned?" she replied a bit grumpily. She greeted Challenger with a bit more warmth as she joined their little circle, but her eyes turned a little cooler when they rested on Roxton. He grinned cheekily, determinedly ignoring her sour attitude, and presented her with a piece of fresh fruit for breakfast. Surprised out of her bad temper, she graced him with a small smile as she accepted his offering.
"Seems you have everything figure out," Marguerite said, looking over the map they had been studying. She quickly popped the last morsel of food in her mouth and studied the map more carefully. She swallowed and looked up at the men. "When are we leaving?"
"Marguerite, I though we'd agreed that you were going with the rest of the camp." Roxton's voice held a trace of worry; he didn't want Marguerite taking on more danger than she had to.
"Since when you do you decide what I do?" True, they had discussed that last night, but she had also made it clear that she was going. She wasn't about to leave Roxton to Hippolyta's tender mercies.
"I thought we agreed on it." His eyes pleaded for an understanding.
"I agreed to no such thing," she retorted, doing her best to ignore the appeal in his voice. She was determined; they would not deter her from going no matter how many excuses they could make. Turning her back she crossed her arms in a defensive pose. This was Marguerite's way of avoiding eye contact. She knew that if she looked into Roxton's eyes, he would have her convinced to follow his plan in a second. "Are you implying that I'm not capable of defending myself?"
"Marguerite, you know that that's not what I meant! I never met someone as strong and resourceful as you. That's why there's no one I could think of who could better handle trouble if the enemy tried to come on the camp before we were in position." He reached over and pulled her to him. Challenger and Malone quickly averted their eyes and pretended they weren't listening. She was stiff in his arms, and he tried to soothe her. "Besides, if we do get in trouble, I know that I can count on you to get us out of it." He felt her relax, and she turned and looked him in the eye.
"No, you are right. Who better than to make sure that you three don't make a bigger mess of things than me?" Her tone was light, but her eyes were worried. She smiled at him and took his face in her hands.
"Be careful," she whispered, for his ears only. Swiftly glancing around to make sure no one was watching, she kissed her warrior. He gave her a blindingly bright smile and turned to join the scouting party.
Watching the men and woman leave, Marguerite sighed and turned back to the camp. Across the way, Veronica smiled at the brunette. She had seen Marguerite and Roxton's goodbye, and she would do her best to keep Marguerite's mind off of the others that had left. "Let's get going!" she called to the heiress. "We need to get these people ready to fight!"
"So?" Hippolyta joined Roxton and Challenger. The trek to the enemy village had been tense but uneventful, and the advance party was now waiting in the trees a short distance from the walls surrounding the village.
"Feeding time," Roxton whispered, as he looked through the spyglass. Inside the village a woman and a man entered a small building. The woman, with the help of the man, carried a medium size cauldron into the room and disappeared from view.
Malone and Damien came through the bushes, ready to report on the guard situation.
"At least a dozen men," Damien reported. He was a young man, ready and eager to get into battle. "The best way to attack them will be after sundown when most of them would have gone off to sleep." He voiced his opinion on where best to breach the wall, with Malone concurring.
The rope wouldn't hold on, or so Malone thought, as he watched Roxton for the third time try to loop it around one of the corner posts of the wall.
"Allow me," Damien offered. In one swing he succeeded in what Roxton had failed. The rope landed tightly around the post. Securing the rope, the men began the climb.
Steadily Malone climbed, hand over hand, trying to keep as silent as possible. As he reached the top, a strong arm pulled him over and onto a small parapet that ran a few feet below the top of the wall. "Shush" Roxton warned, from the still position he held on the parapet. The darkness of the night served them well, as the two watchmen failed their vigil. Climbing down to the ground they hid themselves between buildings, grateful for the obscure darkness of the night.
"This is where we split. Challenger, you're with me." The older man moved over to stand next to Hippolyta and Damien, while Malone moved over next to Roxton. The hunter quickly checked on their supplies, then began to hand out the weapons.
"Remember, only use these if necessary," he warned as he handed them each a rifle. Hippolyta and Damien moved away silently, and Roxton and Malone started to go as well. However, they had not gone more than a few feet before Malone's booted foot accidentally kicked a small pebble against the wall. A couple of guards stopped suddenly at the small noise, then turned towards the explorers.
"Oh great! Stay down," Roxton motioned, as two guards made their way towards them.
At the crack of dawn, Marguerite woke. Her heart was pounding. She was afraid, and she had the bad feeling that she knew why. She quickly shook awake her sleeping companion. Veronica came awake suddenly, her own heart thudding, and one look at Marguerite confirmed her suspicions. They both knew the feeling all too well. "We have to go," Marguerite whispered, and Veronica nodded. Both women bore the same look; they knew, somehow, that the men had been captured. And soon the enemy would come for the rest of the group.
"I have an idea," Marguerite said, and her lips twitched with an air of danger. Veronica merely raised an eyebrow. Marguerite's ideas, while sometimes strange, usually worked. She could only hope that they would work now. The lives of their friends depended on it.
To be continued in the last and final chapter...
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