TANITH and I stayed inside the shop for the rest of the day, attempting to stay, as much as possible, off the army's radar. We reasoned that, if we were the reason for the sudden military presence in the village, then those in charge knew where we were. The fact that they hadn't come to get us yet meant that, for the moment at least, they were content to leave us alone. It was also possible, we thought, that they didn't know that we had realized the containment procedure was purely for our benefit, and were content for things to remain that way; to leave us where they knew they could find us, until they were ready to pick us up for their masters.
After some initial reluctance, Helen was finally persuaded that, for now, at least, the best thing she could do, was to go home, and be with her mother. With the phones out of action, there was, of course, no internet, so the shop's online presence was gone, and it was unlikely that customers were going to be fighting their way to the front doors for the foreseeable future. And, of course, the lack of phones meant that any way of communicating with the outside world by that method was also out of the question. Even the mobile phone networks had been disrupted somehow, to Helen's total disgust.
I also had to promise her that, as soon as I was able, I would, if at all possible, contact her, and let her know how we got on with our rescue attempt, as she called it. She still wanted to come with us, but she also saw the sense of remaining with her mother. It didn't stop her sulking any, that I could tell, though.
So, the three of us spent the bulk of the day making preparations for our mission. I dug a couple of backpacks out of my wardrobe and raided my cupboards for enough food and water to see us through several days of travel, and Tanith sorted through Rebecca's clothing for something suitable for travelling.
Decent walking clothes were no problem for me, but unfortunately for us, Rebecca wasn't or, hadn't been, much of a walker, so walking boots were a problem, until Helen volunteered to pop across to the outdoor center further up the street, and get her a pair. She was gone for quite a while, and I was on the point of going out to find her, when I spotted her through the shop window. She was approaching the shop from the opposite direction to that of the outdoor center, and I lurked at the door, watching to see if anybody was paying her any undue attention.
'Hey; sorry I took so long.' Helen breezed in and spoke before I could say anything. 'I decided to have a nose around, and talk to a few people.'
I opened my mouth to tell her how potentially dangerous that was, but decided not to bother. Helen was a headstrong young lady, and anything I would, or could say to her, was likely be taken on board, then made to walk the plank, when I wasn't looking.
'So,' I asked instead, 'learn anything?
'Not much.' Helen shrugged, and passed me the shoebox she was carrying. 'Most people are actually more curious and annoyed, than scared. Apparently, the army's not talking; they've taken over the town hall, and the school, as a barracks.'
'Makes sense; the two are practically next door to each other.' I mused. Helen nodded.
'Yeah; anyway, nobody's being allowed in or out. Nobody's seen any officer's just regular soldiers, and the odd corporal or three, so nobody knows who's giving the orders. And, apparently, one or two people went towards the A6, but didn't get much further than Robin's lane, before they were turned back. They said they saw tanks; real, honest to goodness tanks in the fields. How about that? Tanks.'
'Hmm. That might make sneaking away difficult; especially if they have night vision.' I muttered.
'You're still planning on going then?' I might have been imagining it, but I thought a detected a note of sadness in Helen's voice.
'I have to.' I put the box down, and took her head in my hands, lifting her face to mine. 'You know I do. I can't leave Rebecca in that hospital alone.'
'Yes.' Helen looked forlorn. 'Take me with you?' Damn; but the girl was persistent.
'You know I can't do that.' I told her, as gently as I could. I scooped her into my arms, and hugged her. 'It wouldn't be fair; to you, or your mother.'
'Can't blame a girl for trying.'
'Nope; can't.' I smiled. 'Right; go on; go home. You've done everything you can here. Give your mom my love, and we'll contact you when we can.' I kissed the top of her head.
At least, I meant to. At the last moment, she turned her face up, and I caught the full force of her lips on mine. She reached up, and clamped her arms around my neck, and pulled me tighter into her embrace.
This lasted several minutes; a lifetime. Just as I had decided that enough was enough, and raised my arms to pull hers away, she disengaged herself, and took a step back, breathing heavily.
'Now you can go.' She told me, And, you'd better come back in one piece, or else there's going to be hell to pay. And make sure you bring Rebecca with you.' She glanced over her shoulder, towards the shadows on the stairs.
'Okay, Tanith,' she called, 'he's all yours now.' She turned back to me. 'You two had better just look after each other, or I'm going to have words to say to you both, when I see you again.'
And, before I had a chance to reply, she had snatched open the door and was gone, hurrying down the street towards the small house she shared with her mother. I stared, as her slender figure moved quickly away, never looking back, and realized suddenly, how much I was going to miss my assistant.
I swallowed the lump that had somehow risen in my throat, and turned towards Tanith. She had glided up behind me, and I took her hand in mine. I opened my mouth to speak, then closed it again, as the words dried up.
'Hush, my beloved.' Tanith whispered. 'I know what you would say. My lady Helen is a very special person, and I will miss her also. Yet, methinks, we shall see her again.'
'I hope so.' I took a deep breath, and studied Tanith's profile in the deepening shadows. 'You know; when Rebecca first introduced Helen to me, I thought, 'this girl won't last a week.' Rebecca of course,' I repressed a sigh, 'being Rebecca, thought otherwise. She didn't say anything to me, but she knew what I was thinking, and just went about proving me wrong.' I sensed, as much as felt, Tanith move into me, and I placed an arm around her shoulders.
'They both proved me wrong.' My voice was low; choked. 'I think, what I'm trying to say, in my own clumsy way is, I really love that girl. I just wish I knew how to tell her that.'
'There is little need. She knows this.' Tanith assured me softly. 'Yon Lady Helen is a most astute person, and doth love thee also; t'is plain to see. To say as much, methinks, would'st come as hard to her, as to thee.'
'Probably.' I took a last look up and down the street. 'Right; we'll give it another hour or so, while we get ready, then we're gone.'
Tanith didn't reply. She turned and retrieved the box. Lifting the lid, she pulled out a walking boot, and inspected it critically for a moment.
'My Lady Helen doth have a good eye.' She decided, replacing the boot in with its partner.
'Good; you're going to need those.' I locked the shop door, and led the way upstairs. 'There's no telling, how much time we have, before somebody in power thinks to send somebody else to check up on us.' I grabbed one the packs, and headed towards the kitchen. Setting the pack down, I reached for the first tin in the mound we'd stockpiled earlier.
As I worked, filling the larger of the two backpacks with food and water, Tanith seated herself at the kitchen table, and removed her new boots from the box. She had selected a warm dark outfit from among the selection in Rebecca's wardrobe, plus a couple of other items small enough to fit in her pack, which also held the box containing the Cross. There was no telling how long we were likely to be on the road, but we needed enough to last us at least a few days. At least, my metabolism had stabilized, I told myself; my dietary requirements were, barring any injury sustained on our travels, close to my pre-Avalon levels. Hopefully, we'd be able to pick up or buy, more supplies on the road, at least, until we crossed the Barrier. If we could cross the Barrier.
Finally, both packs were full, and I tightened the drawstrings. 'Ready?' I asked. Tanith looked up and nodded. 'Okay.' I hefted the larger of the two backpacks. 'It's dark enough; no point in putting this off. You're the expert; do we leave by road or cut across the fields?'
'Methinks, we should attempt the road.' Tanith decided after a moment. 'At least, to begin. Any sentries we encounter will pose little problem, in small numbers, and the travelling will be easier.'
'Right.' I passed her pack across. 'The road it is, then.' I disappeared into my bedroom, and returned a moment later carrying the worn leather scabbard that enclosed Albion. Tanith gave the weapon an approving look, and hefted her pack onto her shoulders, checking unconsciously with her fingers, that her Sigil was securely fastened. She glanced at me.
'I am ready.'