Movement caught my eye and I spun. To my right, a ragged curtain fluttered from the second story of a rundown building. The curtain looked pale and mournful, a ghost of how things used to be in Gillenwater. A ghost. I paused and looked down at my homespun. Then I ran across the street to the building and began climbing its dilapidated side. When I reached the curtain I tangled my fingers in its shreds and tugged until it came loose with a dull crack. I slung the rags over my shoulder and climbed back down to the street. I took off toward the wall at a quick jog; I didn’t dare look back to see if anyone appeared at the window I’d defrocked. When I reached the end of the street I stopped. There wasn’t much to the curtain, but what there was I spread across my shoulders so it hung from my arms like robes.
Drawing a deep breath I drew myself up and stepped out into the lane between the houses and the city wall. All the dance lessons from my childhood and the days and days of practice with the circus served me now. I moved as lightly as laundry turning in the wind. My arms rose and floated out by my sides as if on their own, and I glided smoothly across the ground. It was easy enough to imagine myself a heartbroken ghost haunting the wall, and to make my expression one of vague sadness—I just had to remember how cold I was and how much further we had to go. Also that I had to keep the men on the wall from noticing thirteen people climb the stairs.
Suddenly afraid that no one on the wall would notice me, I let out a long moan—loudly.
I felt ridiculous.
An excruciatingly long moment passed and I hazarded turning my face toward the city wall. To my relief my gaze met one of the inward-facing soldier’s. I didn’t flinch, but gave him a deep mournful look and slowed my floating walk.
He tapped the soldier nearest him and that soldier turned around to stare also. I slipped to a stop and faced the city wall and swayed in the night breeze as I imagined a ghost might. Out of the corner of my eye I saw another man turned around, then another.
I was also vaguely aware of Jemin at the edge of my periphery. He gained the top of the wall and choke the first soldier he reached. My heart quickened. I wanted to watch Jemin but daren’t. Focusing on the soldiers before me, I raised one hand and moaned imploringly. The men on the wall looked thoroughly unsettled. I raised my other hand and moaned again.
I caught a glimpse of the girls darting to the stairs. This was the hardest part—and how was I supposed to get over? I grimaced inwardly; my father was right about my ability to get into trouble.
I lowered my hand to my side in a slow fluid movement—as if my arm were made of paper and drifting down as fast as it could go. Most of the men on this stretch of wall were watching me now. I moved back a step, and searched the faces of the soldiers as if despairing of help. They stared back at me, some looked nervous, some frightened, and one or two looked sad.
I was pretty sure the girls were up the stairs and hiding in the shadow thrown by the guard house.
I took another floating step backwards. Then, since I couldn’t afford to back into a wall and betray my solidity, I pivoted until I was pointed at an alley and started gliding down it. I kept up the drifting movement until I reached a cross street and could duck out of sight. Once around the corner I jerked off the ragged curtain and rolled it up. Tucking it under my arm I ran down the street and turned down the next alley toward the wall.
Some of the soldiers were staring searchingly at the alley I had disappeared down—others were talking amongst themselves. I darted across the open space and made the stairs without attracting attention. When I reached the top of the stairs I saw that the guard at the top leaned awkwardly on the guardhouse—unconscious, or dead. I crept past him and found Jemin crouched in the doorway. He gestured for me to enter the guardhouse.
The guardhouse had one torch flickering in a corner—though I saw sconces for more. There was a tall, thin window—probably only two feet across—facing the outside and Olena stood by it with six of our rescued women. This explained where Jemin had managed to hide so many people. I hadn’t thought of hiding inside the guardhouse. Jemin followed me inside and took up a position next to the doorway, ready to pounce on any soldier who happened by.
One end of Jemin’s stolen rope was tied to an empty sconce and the other disappeared out the window. I noticed three more inert soldiers in the corner. Olena gave me a grim smile as one of the other girls got started climbing down the rope. I felt a horrible weight in my stomach. So many to go—I had cut my ghost act too quickly. The first girl disappeared from view and immediately another hopped up on the ledge. She grabbed the rope ably and spun lightly into the darkness beyond. As soon as she was gone from view another took her place. Acrobats. The number of women in the guardhouse dwindled quickly as the circus performers took on something they knew how to handle—rope and heights.
Olena looked at me. “I sent the girls from town among the first—since they would need the most time.”
I smiled, a real smile, “Good thinking.”
When it was down to just Olena and I, Jemin stepped back from the entryway. Olena hopped up on the sill, grasped the rope and started a skilled descent. I stuffed my curtain down my tunic and jumped up behind her. I waited till Olena was halfway down, and then swung myself off the sill into the darkness.