We ran through the flooded hallway and climbed up the forward stairs toward the deck.
Ree was feeling heavier and heavier on my back. My knees shook with every step I took up the staircase. But I had to keep carrying her. The two boys who had been shot by Huey looked sickly from blood loss, and the girl was crying from shock. If I didn’t carry Ree myself, she would get left behind.
Ree lay so heavily against my back that I couldn’t tell if she was dead or alive. I felt her black hair rustling from side to side as I walked up the stairs. I looked down and saw that her smooth chocolate-brown skin was sapped of its healthy color.
At last, we arrived at the deck.
The sun was rising.
When we had gone to the stern-side of the deck last night, it was shrouded in deep darkness and we couldn’t see a thing. But now a pale dawn light from the eastern sky was shining onto the deck. Waves silently washed over the grey sea.
We crept to the radio room with unsteady legs.
And when we opened the door….
White smoke floated up to the ceiling of the room, obscuring our view like fog.
As we entered the room, covered in blood, the people inside—nine adult men—turned to us at the same time. Some of them were playing card games, while others smoked cigars, and yet others were reading books.
Strands of white smoke from their cigars snaked upward to the ceiling.
The men stared at us, open-mouthed. Then they suddenly shouted all at once, “Where are you from?!”
“Give us your nationality! Who are the ones who died?!”
“All right, this one’s from Sauvure! Who are your allies?!”
They grabbed our shoulders and shook us violently.
One man stood up, a glass of brandy in hand. Out of the group of men, he seemed to be one of the younger ones, around his mid-thirties. He took the arm of one of the older men, and said, “Now, now, first things first. Why don’t we give them our thanks?”
The man he addressed as Maurice stood there, looking down on us as we stood there staring at him, stupefied. Then he raised his arms and put his hands together to clap.
“Let’s give a warm welcome to our brave hares!”
The rest of the men joined him and began clapping, faces aglow with smile after smile.
I felt like I was losing my mind.
The strength left my arms, and Ree’s body slid from my back down to the floor. I cried out, “Ree!” and crouched down, and one of the men looked our way. He seemed to take note of Ree’s black hair and chocolate-colored skin, and gave a snort. “Arab, huh.”
And then he kicked Ree’s limp body, right in front of my disbelieving eyes.
Ree was motionless. She might really be dead this time.
I put a hand in my pocket and tightly squeezed the heart-shaped pendant that I had planned to give to her. Tears spilled down my cheeks.
The men glared at us. “So the English one is still alive?”
“Of course. That’s our hound. He already came back to us.”
“Then what’s left is … France, Italy, America … and Sauvure.”
They turned to each other and nodded.
At the back of the room, I saw an eerie figure sitting in a wheelchair, her head covered by a red linen cloth. Wrinkled eyelids sagged, leaving her eyes half-hooded.
It was an old woman.
Jars of silver, copper, and glass were placed in front of her. Her withered hand clutched a glittering gold mirror.
“A youth will soon die….” Her voice was low.
The men turned to the old woman. “Lady Roxane!”
“This death shall be the beginning of everything. The earth will tumble like a falling stone.”
All activity in the room ceased.
The old woman, Roxane, cried out, “As the oracle says, so it shall be done. Carry this out, and your nation shall prosper.”
The men voiced their assent, and lowered their heads reverently.
I stood there motionless, my thoughts in turmoil. The oracle…? What is she talking about…?
Finally, the old woman shook her head and smiled, then proclaimed in her husky voice, “This concludes the running of the hares. Now let the box be sunk! And fatten up the hares!”