This story picks up neatly from Chapter 14 - The Midlings Meet
I stood at the door of Ramses Woodman for a long time before knocking. Now that I think back, I wonder if he was standing on the other side, watching and waiting for me to knock, because when I did, the door swung open immediately. I’d forgotten how tall he was. At almost seven feet, and with skin as shinny and black as lacquer, he looked like a great ancient statue as he stood there looking down at me, arms crossed, eyes narrowed, mouth set into a straight stubborn line. The thought came to my mind to simply turn and leave. After all, he and his brood had chosen self-exile over the safety and community of the Midlings. We hadn’t wanted them to go. Airun, in fact, had begged them to stay. But I had trekked through what remained of the night and the most dangerous part of our forest to reach the Outliers’ small patch of land and leaving would have made my efforts vain. Besides, as leader of my people, I could not allow pride to prevent me from doing anything within my power to make our efforts a success.
“It’s been a long time Ramses,” was the best I could think to say.
He pulled in a deep breath before he spoke, his massive chest expanding to an almost impossible width. “Three years,” he said with none of the anger I’d expected to hear.
“I heard that brother Airun has been gone for some time, perhaps dead, and that you are leading the Midlings now,” said Ramses, as if this summed up the three years since the split. I thought that I spotted a flash of pain rise up in his eyes, but if it did, Ramses quickly pushed it back out of sight.
I shook my head. “We thought as much, but to our fortune, we’ve recently learned that he is not dead.”
Ramses closed his eyes for a moment and cocked his head to the left, as if listening to a distant voice call to him. Then to my shock, he stepped aside and motioned for me to come in. His small cabin was dark and clean and smelled of coffee and roasted apples and the sweetness of cured wood. I sat at the small round table positioned before the fire and waited as he poured me a cup of coffee from a tin kettle and then sat opposite me with his own mug.
Ramses had been one of Airun’s biggest supporters when he became leader of the Midlings but when Airun told him that he wanted to join the Believer fight, he’d just as quickly become his biggest opposition. Had Airun been any other man, Ramses would have deposed him. Ramses is the only man would have been able to gain the followers to do so. But they were cousins, had been crib mates as small children, and Ramses instead made the heavy choice of leaving his Midling home to settle his small band on an outcropping of land on our Eastern border.
I expected a volley of questions from him about the details of Airun’s disappearance and about how we knew he was still living, but when I looked into Ramses’ face, the pain I thought I saw earlier had crept back in. “You have no idea how good it is to hear this. When I learned that Airun had disappeared, that he might be dead, something in me broke. I blamed myself.” Ramses took a loud gulp of the hot coffee and with a shaking hand, set the cup back onto the table. “Now you say he’s alive. Dare I believe this?”
I explained the situation, that Airun had been kept in the Supreme Scientist’s compound all of this time deep under chemical restraints, and that we hoped to get him back. I watched his fear turn into concern and then into knowing. “How do you intend to do this?”
“We’re still working out the logistics, but in the end, we’ll have to go into enemy territory.”
A sardonic smile darkened Ramses face and he stood up, leaving his cup behind. He paced the circumference of the small room and came to a stop at the fireplace. “You intend to do what Airun had in mind all along.” He turned to face me. “You intend to throw in with the Believers.”
This was true; we both knew it, and so there was nothing for me to say.
“Do you know how dangerous, how damned foolish it would be for you to go marching into Sinistral, to McKinley’s compound for a single man, even if that man is Airun?”
I nodded. I had no delusions about the danger involved. I simply could think of no other way, and I could think of no man other than Ramses who I wanted to help me do it. Ramses was the soundest man that I knew, in both body and mind. Losing him had been devastating for Airun, and even more so for the Midlings. “Ramses,” I said hoping that I didn’t sound like I was pleading, even though I was, “I don’t really have a choice.”
“There is always a choice, sister.” He lowered his head so that his chin rested on his massive chest.
“Not this time.” I went to stand in front of Ramses. I looked up into his lowered face. I couldn’t believe how much he’d aged in the last three years. At twenty-seven years old, his goatee, the only hair on his head or face had turned completely gray. “You want me to leave him with McKinley, a doped up man servant?”
“Then our goals are identical.”
“Not entirely. You have a dual goal. You want to bring down the Scientists as well.”
“If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not the Scientists, then eventually us.” Ramses met my eyes then, the light in them changing, the pain receding, the gargantuan fortitude that only he was strong enough to bear showing through like the sun parting the clouds.
“I suppose you’re right. Where do we begin?”