Written by Patrick Toman, Brian Dumlao, and Kathy Pogge
Story Concept by Kathy Pogge
Previously on TimeDancer:
"They decided to crowd you down there in the hold because the strongest would survive the trip and make better slave labor when they got to where ever it is they're taking you." He drew a deep breath. "Is that what you want for yourselves?" He scanned his audience. "Or your children? We have to keep trying, keep fighting. We'll catch a current and eventually we'll hit land. When we do, you can start over again. Build new homes and live in peace and safety." He pleaded with the ex-slaves. "Isn't that worth holding out for?"
-- Freedom Lost
Brooklyn wiped the sweat from his brow as he walked through the jungle. As usual, he didn't know where he was, only that he was hot and sticky and hungry. "Right about now," he said to himself, "I wouldn't mind a little rain to cool me off and some dinner." Suddenly, as if to answer Brooklyn's request, the insects of the jungle began to fill the air with their unique melody of buzzes and chirps and the sky rumbled. Moments later rain pelted out of the sky drenching Brooklyn to the skin. He looked upward in disgust. "I know, I know. Be careful what you wish for. Right?" So intent on his one-sided harangue he nearly missed the mango tree, heavy with ripening fruit. He bumped into the trunk and one of the red and yellow fruits dropped into his hand.
"The one thing I like about the jungle," he continued in a more conciliatory tone. "Free food everywhere." He used a talon to peel back the heavy rind before biting into the golden pulp.
Behind him leaves rustled and a bird chattered indignantly. "Aw, go get your own," the gargoyle muttered, as he reached up for another of the succulent fruit.
A low growl answered him. Brooklyn turned very slowly. A tiger. It was huge and it had teeth and it was running towards him at an easy lope. The great muscles bunched and flexed under its pelt.
The gargoyle weighed his options, cocked back the arm that still held the mango and hurled it with all his might. He was caught in the grasp of the Phoenix Flame and winked out as mango pulp spattered over the tiger's tawny head. The beast, stunned by the fruit and the Phoenix Flame, collapsed in a submissive heap and hid his head under his paws.
A spark appeared near a wild pear tree. The spark grew into a small flame, which became a sphere of fire . Then, as mysteriously as it appeared, the fire shrank, then disappeared, revealing a still stunned crimson gargoyle .
Brooklyn ran his hands over his body, examining it for injury . Finding none, he looked upward, not sure if he should thank his lucky stars or curse them. The glance upward saved him from begin spattered with pear pulp. He grabbed the fruit neatly as it fell and checked it carefully for any blemishes. Satisfied, he took a bite into the pear while simultaneously extracting the Gate from his pouch. He looked at the talisman, noted the increasingly battered appearance, and managed a faint smile.
"Sometimes you just make this journey a little more bearable." The Gate shimmered a bit as if to answer his remark. Brooklyn sat against the tree and took in his surroundings as he ate his pear. It was all he could ask for: green, open pastures, tall trees, and a cooler environment. "I think I'm gonna like it here... wherever and whenever here is." He took one last bite into the pear and tossed the core aside, already looking for another one.
Unfortunately, gravity didn't oblige him. The rest of the fruits still hung on their stems, swaying gently in the breeze. In a moment, he was back on his feet, sinking his claws into the bark of the tree. As he gained a tentative foothold on a small knot in the bark and reached upward towards one of the branches, he grinned, recalled the many trees he had scaled in his hatchling days.
"Come here, you," he muttered, shifting his grip slightly and stretching his fingers toward the nearest fruit, which swayed teasingly a mere inch or two from his talons.
The snap of a twig and a quiet exclamation brought Brooklyn back to the present. He jumped, startled, losing his precarious hold on the pear tree and tumbled onto the ground.
"Nice Brook," he chastised himself. "Next you'll be..." He shut his mouth as a blood curdling howl moaned over the quiet countryside. He leapt up startled and dove into a low thicket of shrubs, then peered cautiously out.
A woman was running toward him. She was limping slightly and trying to massage her right ankle as she moved rapidly through the trees. She paused at the sound of the dog and her face grew sad, but she ran on determinedly.
Brooklyn studied her face, puzzled. He knew the terrain was unfamiliar and he was sure that where ever he was, he'd never been there before, but the woman before him was familiar. He searched his memory as he studied her dark face and wide determined eyes. She was dressed simply in a loose cotton frock that fell to her ankles and her feet were bare. There was a small bundle slung over across her back and another wrapped tightly to her chest. Brooklyn shook his head in frustration unable to place where he'd seen her before.
A thin wail broke the stillness and the bundle across the woman's chest struggled fitfully, fighting the combination of motion and confinement.
"She's carrying a baby!" Brooklyn exclaimed to himself.
"Shush, child. Be quiet for mama!" The woman soothed. She adjusted the sling and rubbed at her sore ankle once more.
The baying of the dog grew louder, and the woman looked around desperately for someplace to hide. She ran without hesitation straight for the shrub that Brooklyn had concealed himself behind.
"No! No! Go over there!" Brooklyn willed the woman. His attempt at psychic persuasion didn't work and she ran straight for him, concealed herself among the canes of the elderberry bush, spared Brooklyn a startled glance, and froze.
The great bounding beast of a dog came into view through the leafy cover. He weighed at least ninety pounds and reminded Brooklyn of a mane-less lion. He snuffled about confused for a moment then trotted up to the elderberry bush growling low.
Brooklyn braced for attack.
The dog ignored him. He snuffled joyfully at the dark woman instead.
"Watch. What done I tell you about following me?" She chided the dog. "I tol' you to keep an eye on the young ones for me. Now din' I?" She continued her rebuke. "Now git on home!"
The dog looked crestfallen at the woman's reception. "Woof?"
The woman relented. She gathered the dog's great head up into a hug and rested her forehead against his brow. "Good ole Watch. You'd be happier by the master's fire then out here in the woods with me. Why don' you go on back?"
She looked into the dog's great dark eyes and smiled. "I knows. 'Cause if you out here wid me you can keep your eye one the little one. Ain't that it?"
The dog licked the swaddled child who gurgled happily in response.
Brooklyn watched the exchange between the woman and dog utterly confused. He glanced at himself quickly just to make sure he hadn't suddenly become invisible.
"Uh excuse me?" He began, clearing his throat.
The woman looked up startled, suddenly remembering the gargoyle who was kneeling next to her. "Lord have mercy. You was so quiet I forgot you was there!" She held out her hand. "My name's Margaret."
Brooklyn took her hand gently. "Call me Brooklyn." He cast a wary glance at the dog, who was eyeing him suspiciously. "I guess this brute is friendly?"
"Oh, don't mind Watch." She turned her attention back to the dog. "Watch, you mind your manners. Brooklyn here is a friend," she said matter-of-factly. She returned her attention to the confused gargoyle. "I wish we had more time to get aquatinted, but I need to make tracks. The overseer's gonna notice I'm gone sooner or later and he ain't gonna be one bit happy about that!"
She rose, sparing her ankle one last rub. "Come on, Watch," Margaret said resigned to the determined dog. "But I promise you, your bones is gonna wish you done stayed home."
She broke cover and began to move rapidly through the thinly wooded meadow. Brooklyn paused for a moment, then followed. The woman was moving determinedly despite her fussing infant and injured ankle. The old dog trailed behind.
"Margaret! Wait!" Brooklyn put a taloned hand on her shoulder. "Let me carry your pack. You tend to the baby."
She didn't hesitate, just slipped the straps off her graceful shoulders and handed the bundle to the gargoyle. He paused long enough to work the strap around his belt and tie them tight.
The cloth bindle was composed of rough calico cloth. It matched the scrap that Margaret had tied in a band around her dark curly hair. From the weight of the bundle, it couldn't contain very much, just a few rapidly packed essentials. Brooklyn's wrestled with unanswered questions as he fell into step with Margaret.
They marched for several miles in silence, threading their way through acres of neat farms and orchards and long tracts of sparsely wooded forest. Margaret divided her attention between the infant, who wrestled uncomfortably against her chest, and the aged mastiff, who kept pace despite the fact that he was obviously in pain.
The sound of rushing water grew in the distance and Margaret altered their course. Fifteen minutes later they stood on the banks of a rushing river. There didn't seem to be anyway to cross safely.
Brooklyn un-looped Margaret's bag from his waist. "Here hold this," he said as he edged down the riverbank. The water was cold, but not too bad. And though the current was swift, the bottom seemed firm. He waded across the river, made sure there was a safe spot on the far bank, then waded back. After several minutes he clambered back onto shore.
"I can carry you and the baby across and then come back for the dog. It shouldn't be too bad."
"I can walk myself." Margaret protested.
"Uh-uh. The current is too swift. I don't want to risk you slipping with the baby."
Margaret looked as if she might protest again than yielded. "Watch. You go wi' him."
The dog looked at the water unhappily and whimpered as Brooklyn lifted him up. He struggled briefly, then quieted as the gargoyle slipped back down the bank into the water. They made it half way across the river when Brooklyn hit a patch of moss. He slid and rocked as he fought to compensate for the unsteady footing and the ungainly beast in his arms. Watch howled in panic, as the gargoyle struggled to regain his footing.
"Quit fussing you mutt!" Brooklyn vented as he finally found his balance. He crossed to the opposite shore rapidly, then set the dog down on the bank. "See? You didn't even get wet. Now be a good dog and sit until I get the others across."
Watch lay down and buried his eyes in his paws as Brooklyn crossed the river to retrieve the baby.
Margaret handed him over and Brooklyn took the tiny child gently. He tucked him close to his chest, under his wing for protection from the chill that was overtaking them. He crossed carefully, minding the spot where the treacherous moss had been, and moments later the baby was lying snuggled against the great mastiff, who seemed to think he was a born nursemaid.
Brooklyn crossed back one last time to retrieve Margaret. She had strapped her meager possessions once more across her back and was waiting patiently offering her hand to help Brooklyn out of the water. "Are you ready?" He asked her as he beckoned her forward. "I think it would be easiest if you climbed on my back."
"I won't hurt dos wings?" She asked with concern.
"Naw, they're tough." He turned and knelt to make it easier for her to mount. She climbed on after only another moment's hesitation and settled herself. "Ready?"
"Time's a' wastin'," she responded.
One last time Brooklyn crossed the river. He was shivering with cold by the time he reached the other side. "What I would give for a warm fire and a hot drink," he said wistfully through chattering teeth. "I don't suppose you've got a box of matches and a blanket in that bag do you?"
"A fire would be risky," Margaret responded. "But there is a horse blanket." She un-strapped the bag from her back and withdrew a rough cotton blanket. She held it out to the shivering gargoyle.
Brooklyn toweled himself off as Margaret reclaimed the baby from his nurse. "Don't you think you've put enough miles between yourself and whoever it is that you're running from by now?" Brooklyn paused, then finally asked the question that had been plaguing him for the last several hours. "Who are you running from anyway?"
Margaret didn't respond until she'd found a cozy spot next to a fallen log and built some of the forest debris into a rough bed for the dog and child. Only when the old dog had settled comfortably and drifted to sleep, the baby once again nestled against his side did she reply. "I is runnin' because I am, no," she corrected herself, "I was a slave."
"A slave?" Brooklyn echoed surprised.
Margaret nodded her head. "Why is that such a surprise? Most dark folks is." She continued. "Anyways, I was born a long ways from here. My mammy an' daddy picked cotton, and when the planter went bust, they got sold. Mammy an' I went up this way, Daddy went someplace else, we ain't seen him since. When I was about ten, Mammy died and I was sold again. The new mistress took a likin' to me and I got to work in the house, instead of the fields. When I was sixteen, I jumped the broom with a fellow, tall and fine he was." She smiled at the memory. "We was so happy."
"What happened then, Margaret?"
Her face clouded over. "What happened was my master took a liking to me. He wouldn't leave me alone. See, my mistress had a sickly baby and she took sick herself. It left my master..." She trailed off unable to continue.
Brooklyn had a general idea of what probably happened next.
"I tol' my master that I was a proper married woman. That he had witnessed it hisself. He didn't care. I hid whenever he was around and that worked for a while. But then I found out I was expecting a baby of my own, I was tellin' my mistress about it, when he came in to see her. He was so mad when he found out, he sold my man that very day and sent me from the house to work with the field hands.
"I had my baby and he done jest fine. But my master was still awful mad at me. He ordered the overseer to make be take my babe to work in the fields instead of leavin' it with the grannies like the other little ones. I was ordered to leave him under a bush, and I could only tend him at the mid day dinner break, even though I could hear him cryin' durin' the day.
The dog curled protectively around the child and in response the baby sighed in his sleep and sucked his thumb.
Margaret smiled at the old dog. "Watch helped when he could, guardin' him as loyal as you please, but the overseer noticed and locked him in the barn a week ago." Margaret took a deep breath as rage washed over her. "Yesterday, they called the dinner break and I went to take care of little Thelonius, he was in a terrible way. He was passed out from the heat and a snake had curled hisself around my boy's little body.
Brooklyn leaned forward, drawn in to Margaret's story. "What did you do?" He prompted. He noticed Margaret shivering, not entirely from the cold and handed her the damp horse blanket. She smiled and wrapped it around her own shoulders before continuing.
"I took me a forked stick and ever so careful-like I snuck it under that snake. I flipped it away from Thelonius and grabbed him to me. He was burnin' up, so I put him in the water bucket to cool him off an' when he came to I snuck him back to my cabin. I made up my min' to 'scape as soon as I could. My master can beats me all he wants, but he ain't gonna take nothin' out on my baby!"
So taken was he by Margaret's harrowing tale, Brooklyn didn't notice the night slowly fading. He leaned forward and placed a hand on Margaret's thin but sturdy shoulder. "That was an incredibly brave thing you did," he remarked quietly.
Margaret looked up at him, her eyes determined. "I'd do anything for my baby. Anything! I's had good things happen and I's had awful things happen. But for my chil' I want more. Up north folks believe that ever'one should be able to read and write and nobody should have to be a slave. I'm gonna fin' those people. I want my Thelonius to be free!" She looked at Brooklyn with warmth. "An' now I knows we gonna make it."
"Why?" Brooklyn asked perplexed.
"Because you is here. You showin' up is proof that we's doing the best thing."
"I'm still confused " And the gargoyle turned to stone as the first rays of the new sun filtered through the trees.
Margaret rose and began to gather small leafy branches off the closest trees. She covered the gargoyle and hummed quietly to herself. She smiled at the perplexed expression on the gargoyle's face, another question frozen on his lips. Thelonius began to stir against Watch, hungry for his breakfast. The old dog looked at Margaret expectantly and she lifted the child gently, perched him in the crook of her arm and allowed him to feed. The dog whined.
"Jest a minute Watch. I knows you want breakfast." She settled the baby and pulled a small loaf of stolen bread out of the calico bindle. She broke of a piece and handed it to the mastiff. "It ain't much, but it'll have to do."
The dog took his bread gently and lay it on the ground. He eyed it for a moment. Then holding it between his paws, he took small dainty bites, making the morsel last.
Margaret followed suit. Thelonius, sated at last, gurgled contentedly. "This ain't gonna be easy, little one," she remarked to the child as she settled herself down for some much needed rest. "But I knows that someday you and me is gonna have a good life." She looked at the baby with fierce determination. "I promise you that." Thelonius responded as only babies can. He reached up with a chubby fist, wrapped his tiny fingers around his mother's much larger one, and smiled as he drifted back to sleep.
The plantation stirred to life at the first rooster's crow. Though the sun would not be fully up for another hour, men and women rose from their crude pallets, stretching muscles that protested against another day of manual labor. Their preparations for work were simple. The women tied up their hair and donned their simple frocks before tending to their children. The men stepped into their trousers and everyone grabbed a woven straw hat to protect themselves against the sun that was sure to beat down upon them later in the day.
Some of the laborers went straight to their chores. The few, select women went to the master's kitchen to tend to breakfast and other domestic duties. A few of the men went to the barns to tend to the milking and the feeding of the cattle and horses and the mucking out of the stables.
The men and women destined to work in the fields shuffled and stamped their feet against the cold. They stood in a crude line outside of their huts, waiting for the morning head count and the doling out of work details. The lucky ones would be called to work in the vegetable garden, or sent to trim the hedges and grass around the master's great house. Those less skilled, or less fortunate, would be assigned to weed in the fields, hoeing the endless rows of corn and potatoes that the master grew to ship to market.
The overseer stepped out of his own modest cabin and greeted the day. Though he wasn't a large man, he was whipcord tough from years of hard labor and men twice his size feared him. He sauntered toward the waiting slaves confident that today would go like every other day at Rolling Rock Farm, smoothly and without a ripple. He started his daily head count, in the dim morning light got to the end of the fourth and final row and frowned. He counted quickly again, scratched his sandy brown head and counted a third time. There was no mistake. Someone was missing.
"All right, listen up!" He bellowed. "One of you lazy good-for-nothings is still in bed. I want you to look around and tell me who ain't here." He scanned the ranks of dark faces and was certain he knew who the absent one was. But he waited expectantly for an answer.
The slaves looked at each other doubtfully, careful to avoid direct eye contact with the overseer. They murmured excitedly among themselves, trying to figure out who was missing. No one raised their voice in answer to the overseer's question, though a few shrugged their shoulders in feigned ignorance.
The overseer paced before them. "I should have never expected an answer," he growled more to himself then the waiting slaves. "All of you, out to the fields. I don't want to see a single weed in the south field by dinner. You got that?" He waved an angry hand at the nervous workers and they rapidly dispersed to their chores.
The overseer stalked to the barn, his short, angry steps a warning to his state of mind. The barn hands, already hard at work, bent their shoulders to their tasks with even greater enthusiasm. The overseer ignored them all, pulled a riding crop from the tackroom wall, and left without comment. Dark, curly topped heads rose the moment he had stepped over the threshold back into the farmyard and men exchanged questioning glances, though none dared give voice to the thought that crossed their collective minds.
The overseer began his search. Cabin by cabin, he threw open the crude wooden doors looking for the missing wench. "Wait a minute," he muttered. "If it's the one I think it is, she's got a pup." He strode to the cabin were the oldest slaves looked after the youngest and threw open the door without preamble.
Dark eyes old and young looked up in fright. He cornered the granny who was responsible for the children. "Did that girl Margaret leave her whelp here with you against orders?" He demanded.
The gnarled old woman handed the baby she was holding to one of the other grannies then shook her head. "No, sir. I ain't seen Margaret or her baby since suppertime last night. Honest, sir."
The overseer stared at the cotton headed old woman and decided she wasn't lying. "What about the rest of you. Has anybody seen the girl or her baby?"
The other grannies shook their heads. The overseer stormed from the cabin, not bothering to shut the door behind him. The speculation began as soon as they secured the door. Could it be true?" One of the grannies asked. "Could the chile have run off?"
"Did you hear wha' happene' in de field yesterday?" Another whispered. "The baby done almost died. I hear that Margaret ruint all the water dunkin' that baby to cool it down."
"It's true. Mina tol' me 'bout it when she picked up her boy." A third whispered in confirmation. "A terrible thing the way the Master is punishing Margaret, just 'cause she wouldn't "
The slave woman who had once been in Margaret's position and survived, shook her head. "We do what we is tol' and we go where we is tol'. That's our lot in life. Margaret should know that. She ain't gonna do nothing but make trouble for us all."
A few old, bowed heads nodded in agreement. But a one or two privately wished they had the courage to follow Margaret's lead and they looked rather wistful as they returned to their task of caring for the children.
The overseer stamped his way to the plantation house and framed his report to his master. He had searched the barns and the cabins and everywhere else a slave and her brat might hide. The girl was nowhere. He entered the kitchen without knocking and the cook looked up startled.
"Mister Ben. What can I git you?" She asked immediately. "I just made a fine batch of griddle cakes and "
"I don't want griddle cakes." He eyed them as he stalked passed. "I have to talk to Mr. Coatwright. Have you taken his breakfast in yet?"
"Yes, sir," Mamie replied. "Just as soon as they was done. You know how he likes things prompt-like."
"Like a Swiss watch," the overseer responded. "Don't disturb us. I got ta make my morning report." He disappeared through the swinging door, into the main house without another word.
The master of the sixty acres known as Rolling Rock Farm dabbed at his bristly blonde mustache and sighed contentedly. Mamie's griddle cakes and sausages were perfect as always. The crops were maturing nicely and all was right with the world. He smiled at his overseer, momentarily ignoring the dour expression on his face.
"Good morning, sir." Ben began.
"Good morning to you, Johnson. It's going to be a fine day. Isn't it?"
"Uh, yes sir. Mr. Coatwright, there's a small problem in the slave quarters."
"A problem? What kind of problem?" Coatwright demanded, hoping that the overseer was overreacting to some minor mischief.
"That girl, you took such a liking to. The one who was so uppity. She's run off."
"She's what?" Coatwright replied with deadly calm, his perfect day shattered.
"I checked the cabins, I checked the barns and the stables. The girl is gone. It might be for the best, sir. She's been nothing but trouble for months," Johnson finished.
"Insolent little " Coatwright's eyes glittered coldly. "I've been much too lenient with that girl. I want you to find her. And when you do, I will deal with her myself."
Johnson bolted from the room and began to organize a search.
Brooklyn roused himself from a pleasant dream involving a curious female gargoyle and stretched. The stars were shining and the night seemed peaceful. Margaret was watching him nervously. "I was wonderin' when you was gonna wake up. We's got to get movin'!"
"Right." He took the piece of slightly stale bread and the handful of berries that Margaret handed him and ate them as he scanned the surrounding countryside. The trees were taller here, more oaks and elms. The orchards had been put behind them, at least for the moment. He eyed a likely prospect.
"Margaret, do you trust me?" He asked as he calculated the weight of the woman and baby.
"'Course I do. Fine time to be askin'!" She replied a trifle hotly.
"We can put more distance between us and your ex-master if we glide." He pointed to a sturdy oak. "First we climb." He picked up Margaret's bundle of supplies and began to scale the tree.
Margaret looked at him doubtfully for a moment and then followed. Watch bayed as Margaret clambered up next to Brooklyn.
"Now we glide." He motioned for Margaret to climb into his arms. She secured Thelonius snugly to her chest, then complied. Brooklyn closed his eyes for a moment, then launched himself from the tree. They dipped precariously and Margaret clamped her eyes tightly shut. Brooklyn caught an updraft and was soon gliding safely above the trees. Watch loped along below
Margaret hazarded a glance downward. The dog was no where in sight. "Where's Watch?!" She asked alarmed.
Brooklyn scanned the ground below. "He was following below us just a minute ago "
He circled backward, but the dog was still out of sight. "Margaret, I don't see him. Maybe it's better..."
Margaret cut him off before he could finished. "That dog's been a true friend. I can't leave him out here in the middle a' nowhere!" A stubborn look crossed her normally placid features. "Set us down. This minute. I's gotta find that hound!"
Brooklyn sighed and circled backward. They found the old dog a half a mile behind them exhausted. He rose and stumbled forward as they glided into view. Brooklyn landed and Margaret tumbled out of his arms and ran for the elderly mastiff. The dog whimpered gratefully as his mistress wrapped her arms around his great head.
"Poor ol' dog. I's tol' you that you shouldn'ta come. Now didn' I?" Margaret climbed to her feet, gently extricating herself from the dog. She pointed towards the grove of trees.
"I think Watch here could use a breath of rest."
Brooklyn took the hint. He lifted the elderly canine effortlessly and followed Margaret under the cover of the trees. They rested for a time and when Watch rose slowly to his feet, they began their march again.
It was just past midnight when they called another rest break. Thelonius began to fuss, demanding to be fed and changed. Brooklyn moved far enough away to allow Margaret some necessary privacy.
"It sure was a surprise to find you behind tha' bush the othe' night." Margaret remarked as she settled Thelonius over her shoulder and patted his back. The baby belched, then began to coo.
"Yeah," Brooklyn began, "I've been meaning to ask you about that. Most people are pretty shocked to see me. They tend to runaway or faint." He grimaced as he recalled some of his more spectacular introductions. "I startled you, sure, but you didn't seem all that surprised to see me at all. How come?"
Margaret smiled and began to reply. But she abruptly cut herself off as hounds began to bay in the distance.
Watch rose, instantly alert, uncurled himself from his spot at Brooklyn's feet and began to growl. The hair stood up on his neck and he bared his teeth.
"Hunters!" Margaret moaned low under her breath. "Lord have mercy!" She gathered up her possessions and torn between fleeing and hiding, she stood stalk still and looked to Brooklyn for direction.
They could hear horseman in the distance. The dogs grew closer, yipping with more enthusiasm as they picked up the escaped slave's scent.
"I'll hold them off," Brooklyn instructed "You and Thelonius run. Make for the river!"
"It's too late!" Margaret picked up a sturdy tree branch and waved it experimentally. The pack of hounds, noses to the ground, loped into view. They were barely ten feet away and making straight for their hiding place. Brooklyn grabbed for Watch as the mastiff leapt for the lead dog, barely hauling the faithful hound back in time. He sucked in his breath in disbelief.
A large brown rabbit appeared in the midst of the hunter's pack. It kicked the lead dog in the face and took off into the forest away from their hiding place. The dog went crazy, barking and frothing as it pursued the furry creature, duty forgotten. The other dogs milled about, confused for a moment, then followed their mate into the woods. A moment later, the sheriff's party, riding hard, sighted the dogs and followed. Gradually the tattoo of hoof beats faded away and Brooklyn, Margaret, Thelonius, and Watch were alone. Brooklyn let out a sigh of relief, releasing the air trapped in his lungs.
"Come on. I think we need to get out of here. Now." He herded the little party away from the hunters and their dogs into the still forest.
"Hush, Watch. I knows you's hungry." Margaret consoled the old dog. "I's hungry too." They waited together, Margaret bouncing the baby to keep him entertained and Watch licking his paw as they waited for Brooklyn to awaken. Margaret watched the dog with concern. "I tol' you and I tol' you that this was no pleasure trip. You shoulda stayed home. What did you think you was doin' stickin' your foot down that hole anyways? You lucky it was only a mean ol' rabbit and not a snake hidin' in there."
Watch looked up at her mournfully and whined contritely.
"I know's you meant well. But leave the huntin' to other's from now on. I's need you to watch the baby."
Brooklyn rumbled to life. He stretched and yawned. "So how is everyone this evening?" He chucked Thelonius under the chin and the baby gurgled. Then turned to pat Watch on the head. "Hey now, what's this?" He motioned to the dogs injured foot.
"Ol' Watch had a run in with a rabbit." Margaret chuckled. "A mean rabbit."
Brooklyn eyed the old dog critically. "Can he walk all right?"
In response to Brooklyn's question Watch rose to his feet and began to sniff the surrounding trees.
"It seems all right." The gargoyle noted. "Come on then. Lets get moving."
They walked for a mile or so when a sound in the bushes caught the old dog's attention. A large hare popped out of the foliage and Watch gave chase.
"Watch! No! " Brooklyn and Margaret cried as one. The mastiff ignored them, so intent on his target, he didn't notice the sudden roughness of the terrain. The dog stumbled, twisted his injured paw, and fell down a small hill. He tumbled then rolled to a stop several yards later.
They ran to the injured dog's side. He looked up at them bewildered for a moment, then rose slowly to his feet. The dog looked perplexed.
"Is he all right?" Brooklyn asked worriedly as Margaret ran her hands over the dog's body.
"This ankle is twisted pretty bad." The dog whimpered in agreement as Margaret touched the abused joint. "He's gonna need some doctorin'."
Brooklyn examined their surroundings. The dog's tumble had pulled them away from the safety of the wooded fringe in which they'd been travelling and in sight of another of the sparse, but well maintained, farmsteads that dotted the countryside.
A trim red barn was a short distance away and Margaret was eyeing it speculatively.
"If tha's like the barn at home, they's keep doctorin' supplies inside," she noted. "I's could sneak in slick as you please and get what I's need."
"Margaret, no. I'll go." Brooklyn countered.
Margaret shook her head. "I's really think I needs to do this myself." She unstrapped the baby from her chest and handed him to Brooklyn. "Make sure Watch don't get in anymore troubles. I won't be long."
She disappeared without another word and Brooklyn watched her go with a sinking heart.
Margaret peeked into the barn and breathed a sigh of relief. All was quiet and dark. She entered cautiously. A mare was penned in a large straw lined stall. In another corner a pair of draft horses shuffled in their sleep. She squinted in the dim light until she found the tack hung neatly on pegs and knowing that the first aide supplies she required were likely to be close at hand, she snuck further into the barn. She wasn't prepared for the arrival of the farmer.
"Whoa there, girl, easy now." The farmer greeted the restless chestnut mare and patted her on the flank. She knickered in return. The barn was snug and the night pleasant. He hung his lamp on a hook and prepared to wait. The mare was one of his best and the easiest foaler for three counties. He'd find his bed by midnight, without a doubt.
The horse began to pace as another contraction started. The muscles along the horse's flank rippled in response to the foal's movements within. Her whinny was echoed by the dray horse, who stirred in his sleep.
"Hush old fellow," the farmer consoled. He pulled his pipe from his pocket and began to fuss with his tobacco pouch, so immersed in his ritual that he nearly missed the slight movement in the shadows.
"Hey!" He lifted the lamp from its hook and peered into the dim light. "Who's there?"
Margaret stepped into the light. Her chin was firm. "I is," she responded not showing the fear that was making her heart pound in her chest.
"How long you been hiding there? I was sure I was alone when I came out here."
"I don't mean no harm, sir. My dog, he done hurt his paw and I jest wanted to fix it up some."
The farmer put his pipe, which had gone out, back in his pocket. "You aren't free? Are you, missy. In fact, you're that girl that ran off from Rolling Rock Farm. The sheriff's been by. I know all about you."
Margaret studied the man. He looked kind. Sandy brown hair faded to gray above a face that was burnt from too much time laboring in the sun. He looked away from Margaret to sooth the horse who was straining again. She decided to trust him. "Yes, sir. I did run off. My master tried to kill my child. I's wants him to have a chance at life."
"I see." He smiled gently sensing her growing trust. "That was a brave thing you did."
Margaret's mouth dropped open.
"I know people up north. I can help you get to Canada."
"You's a Station Keeper!" Margaret couldn't believe her luck. "I's heard folks tell that you existed, but I could'n' hardly believe "
"Believe." The man smiled. "Now if the sheriff is correct, you're travelling with a dog and a baby. Where are they?"
A flash of uncertainty rose in Margaret. "Safe," she hedged.
"Well, get them in here quick! We've plans to make and time's a' wasting."
Margaret nodded. "I be back in two shakes!" Her smile was radiant. "Thank you sir! Thank you!"
Margaret bolted into the darkness and the farmer returned to the mare. "Any time now, girl, any time."
The mare looked back at him. Her wide brown eyes filled with pain as she pushed again.
"Margaret! What took you so long?" Brooklyn fussed. "I was getting worried."
Margaret gathered up her meager possessions, tied them together, then relieved Brooklyn of Thelonius. "I found a Station Keeper!"
"A what?" Brooklyn was confused. "Slow down and tell me again."
Margaret took his hand instead. " A Station Keeper! I tol' you that there was folks that help when we run off. That takes us up north, where we can be free. I found one!"
"Margaret, It's got to be a trap. How can you trust him?"
She looked at him with a small, bemused smile and laughed low. " I's trusts him because it feels right." She looked around to see if she had missed anything. "I's trust him because of you."
"I's never got to tell you's about my mama."
"Your mama?" Brooklyn echoed dumbly.
"Yes, sir, my mama. See Mama came over on a slavin' ship. Or rather her mama did. And her daddy too. Mama wasn't quite born yet. But her mama told her stories about what it was like. Bein' all packed together, awful stuff like that. But she also tol' her the story about how a spirit from the jungle hid away on that boat an' helpe' keep their spirits high. How they took the ship away from the slavers and learned to sail it by themselves."
"Uh huh. Then what happened." Brooklyn asked, wondering why there was such joy in Margaret's voice.
"The ship got taken by pirates. But it wasn't so bad. Them pirates weren't as mean as the first bunch."
"But your family still became slaves!" Brooklyn protested, failing to see why anyone could see a happy side to the story.
"True enough." Margaret agreed. "But what Mama's mama taught her was that as long as we live there is always hope. Tha's what she learned from the jungle spirit." I know'd the moment I laid eyes on you that my grandmama was right. We's gonna be all right. We's gonna be free." She smiled kindly at Brooklyn's befuddled expression and turned toward the barn and the farmer, and someday, freedom.
"I hope you're right Margaret. I really hope you're right." Brooklyn muttered as she disappeared.
The old mare strained and whinnied and the colt slid wetly to the ground. Margaret joined the farmer as the young horse clambered to his feet on shaky legs. No one saw the Phoenix Gate flare and carry the gargoyle away.