Amid the Green Corn: Part Seven
by Cooper Young
“Did you get it?”
“Yes, sir. It’s blank, though.”
Lord in Battle’s stomach sank. “Blank?”
The man held up the slip of paper he’d retrieved from the hollow stump at the edge of the forest, flipping it back and forth to display both sides. “Blank. Is that bad?”
Battle snatched it from him. “Very.”
“Because,” he explained, inspecting both sides, “it’s not blank. The writing’s invisible.” He passed it to his brother.
“Oh. How? Magic?”
The brother, Hunts by Night, shot him a look of bottomless scorn. “Lemons. The words’ll turn brown if you put it near fire. Doesn’t really keep the message safe, but it’ll let you know if someone’s read it before you.”
“Oh. Do…” He bit his lip, obviously fearing his question stupid.
“Do the Men of March have lemons?” Battle filled in.
“No. Won’t grow in their soil. That’s the problem: this isn’t from Ryan.”
“Too long, too,” his brother said.
“Because his letters are always encrypted. Takes too long to write something like this.”
“Oh. Well, I have matches, if either of you…”
“No, thank you.” Night crumpled it into a ball and lobbed it into the underbrush. “Those who need to know what it says already do. Those on our side, that is. Uncle Ryan, on the other hand…”
“Hush. We don’t know anything,” Battle chided, swinging back onto his horse. “This may not be as bad as we think it is. And go get that. Mother will want to see it.”
He jumped, thinking the glint of silver down by the water was the barrel of an enemy rifle. It was too long, though, and too bright and vertical to be a gun. When she moved again her gray braid moved with her, and he sighed with relief. He was more tired than he had thought. Purposely crunching as many dry twigs as he could on his way down the hill, he approached her.
“How was your trip?”
He slipped his arms around her from behind. “Too long.”
“I had hoped it would be longer.”
“The Men of March are coming. ”
“You’ve had word from Ryan?”
She held up a rumpled slip of paper. “No. The boys found this.”
“Written nearly three weeks ago now. Never read.”
“Ah. I’m sure he’s alright.”
He leaned his cheek against her head. “No. And if he is, that could mean worse for us than if he isn’t.”
“Exactly. Either way, they’re coming soon.”
“Sweeter Spring wants to join us in the defense, if they do.”
“We may need her.”
“She’s fourteen. No.”
“The boys fought younger.”
“I had no say in that.”
She turned to look at him over one shoulder. “Are you questioning my judgement?”
“Not at all.”
“Because I know what’s at stake. I knew what I was risking then.”
“Better than you ever will, God willing.”
She faced the lake again. “Talk her out of it, if you can. Good luck to you.”
“They may be here tomorrow.”
“Then we’d better get to sleep.” He released her and offered an arm.
She tightened her woolen shawl around her shoulders. “I’ll be in in five.”
“Yes?” It was a dare, not a question.
He sighed, shoved one hand into his pocket, wrapped one arm around her again, and watched the wind-ripples shake the moonlight on the lake.