Harry Takes Off, Part 19
She hit the ground with jarring thump, she had her knees bent as she landed and ended up sitting on the damp earth of a flower bed. Easy as falling off a log, she thought. And considering some of the logs I’ve fallen off, a lot drier.
Two floors above her a woman continued to shout. She looked up and saw the maid’s outline against the light. It disappeared and was replaced by a man. The guard. And the silhouette of his rifle.
Harry glanced both ways along the building. The nearer corner was toward the south. She set off at a slow run her eyes hadn’t adjusted to the dark yet and she couldn’t see the ground ahead of her. She passed darkened windows. The sound of the first shot made her jump. She kept going. The farther she got from the window the harder it would be for the guard to get a good angle on her.
A second shot ricocheted off a stone to her left. She decided this was a sign she was right, and kept moving. She was almost at the corner. There was another shot from behind her but she didn’t notice the shot landing anywhere close to her.
Her experiences of the last two days came to the fore. Instead of running round the corner she came to a stop and flattened herself against the wall. There was no way the rest of the guards could have missed the shots and the shouting. And by now the maid would probably have alerted more of the soldiers within the palace so there would be the ones from the perimeter and those from inside looking for her in very short order. The air was filled with the scent of jasmine from the plants on which she was standing.
A wave of fear washed across her, she went shivered. Her hands were cold even though the day’s heat had not yet leaked into the sky. Where was her sister? Why hadn’t they arranged something? They had had all that time together, and the only plan they had made was to escape before the British artillery opened up on the palace? Perhaps she deserved to fail.
But if she didn’t succeed what would happen to Khuwelsa? At best she would end up a slave again, more likely dead. And her father could easily be killed too.
She pursed her lips and stared into the blackness ahead. In the distance she could see dark shadows of soldiers on the move. They could not see her now but as soon as she moved it would only be a matter of time before she was seen.
If only her skin was as dark as Khuwelsa’s. Well, she could do something about that. She crouched down and dug her fingers into the soil beneath her feet. Taking up handfuls she rubbed it into her face. She tied her long hair back in a rough knot to stop it flying about and rubbed the dirt into that as well. The maid had oiled her hair to make it shine, and now that made the soil stick. She had no way of knowing how effective it was but simply doing something positive helped.
She listened. There were still no shouts nearby. The guard in the bedroom window was no longer there. Still in the crouching position she held her hair back and peered round the corner keeping as much of her face hidden as possible.
The gardens were still dark. But there were groups of figures marching and running, criss-crossing the lawns. One might have hoped the grass would have been broken up artistically by bushes, trees and additional flower beds. Unfortunately it seemed that military sensibilities prevailed. The lawn was devoid of any cover.
Harry could see the workshops Khuwelsa had spoken of. They were all dark without any sign of life except for a line of smoke rising from the one at the nearer end. What if Khuwelsa had been arrested? Some of the soldiers had torches and were beginning to quarter the open space. The glare from the light spoilt her night vision and she had to blink away the spots.
If it stopped her from being able to see properly in the dark, it must do the same to them. Who would be crazy enough to go straight into the midst of the search?
Apparently she would. Harry crept from her hiding place. Keeping low and moving in fits and starts she headed directly across the lawn towards the workshops. She kept checking the progress of the different groups. Whenever one turned in her direction she flattened herself against the ground.
Sometimes she crawled. More than once a group of soldiers would pass so close that she could see their lights reflecting on their faces.
For a long time it seemed as if she was making no progress. But the workshop slowly grew in size and the palace diminished behind her. The concentration of the search moved away, further round the building. The fact they had not found her making them think they were looking in the wrong place. More troops were being concentrated on patrolling the outer fence.
Harry’s heart lifted. It seemed like she was going to make it to the workshop. She counselled herself to continue at the same rate.To make no assumptions. To keep her eyes open for any possible threat. But somehow she could not take her eyes off the building ahead. She could see the great double doors stood wide open and inside was an even deeper black. The smoke trailing from inside and rising grey against the black star-filled sky somehow made her think of a dragon’s cave.
The grass ran out and her fingers rasped on stone and gravel. She realised it would be nigh on impossible for her to cross this without making a noise. She could hear the soldiers’ boots crunching in the distance.
She reached down and slipped off her shoes, well more like slippers, suitable for walking around in a palace if one never stepped out into the real world. But she would need them to pilot the Pegasus, if her bird was going to fly.
Harry pulled up her skirts and rose into a crouching position. She took another look round, there were no soldiers closer than a two hundred yards. If she did not take the risk she was stranded here. The workshop was no more than a twenty yards, just a few seconds.
She rose up so she could walk in long low strides and stepped out into the gravel. It cut at her feet as she took stride after stride. A figure stepped out of the workshop, tall and erect.
“That is quite far enough, Fraulein.”