Coffee Break Read – One Zero Three

Picking up our packs we took to the kitchen roof, running barefoot and silent along the ridge in the darkness. At the far end of the kitchens, we dropped into the roof of a bank of sheds housing goats and chickens, before sliding down a convenient drainpipe into the darkest corner of the kitchen yard. From there, it was a relatively simple matter to scale a wooden fence and follow a dry ditch to the edge of the woods. Once in the woodlands, we climbed a big oak tree and settled ourselves in a comfortable crook in its crown, from whence we could command a view of the front of the building whilst remaining unseen.
Pulling on woollen socks, plus the fur-lined boots and thick coats our unknown benefactor had gifted us, we settled down to wait. It seemed to me that this raid was something outside what we had heard of before. There seemed to be many men, and much weaponry, involved. The moonlight was bright, and as we watched, a stream of servants issued from the kitchen end of the building. They were hustled off by a group of armed men. They lit out running, and we thought that the raiders had let them go. It was not so. There came a sudden yappity yap, which we realised was gunfire, and the running figures all fell to the ground. The gunmen strolled over to the bodies, laughing as they went, and emptied more rounds into the rows, just to make sure. Beside me, eight gave a low moan, and I gripped her hand tightly.
‘Shush.’ I murmured. ‘If we’re found that could be us.’
She gripped back, and I could feel the effort with which she kept silence.
Then two things happened, which at least distracted us from the callous killing of innocent serving women.
Firstly, we became aware of something, or someone, moving cautiously in the woodland below us. We froze. Then eight grabbed my shoulder in a death grip and pointed to the roof of the breeders’ place. A slight figure was racing along the ridge at breakneck speed. At first it was hard to make out who it was, and what it was wearing. I stared harder, then realised it was one zero three, and she was half naked. She reached the end of the roof, and, without abating her speed, ran gracefully along the garden wall. We held our breath. The wall top is only about six inches wide, and, she seemed to be very exposed as she ran. If anyone looked out of the windows at the back of the house, she was a sitting duck. It was a relief to see her drop to the ground, and roll into that same dry ditch we had entered from the kitchen quarters. She had further to crawl than had we, and it took many minutes before we spotted her head peeping over the earthy dyke. She gave a low tuneless whistle, which was repeated from a thicket of low-growing shrubs about twenty feet from our hiding place. We scarcely dared breathe.
One zero three leapt out of the ditch and sprinted across the moonlit turf to the concealment of the shadowy forest. We peered down and were able to make out another figure, and two horses. The other woman handed over a bundle of clothing, and we could hear our erstwhile companion’s teeth chattering as she dressed herself.
‘Is it not a bit cold for nude running?’
‘Very funny Clo. I’d not have gotten here in clinging bright pink draperies. Which is all most of the breeders are allowed. Even the two who run daily do so in pink breeches, pink shirts, and no shoes.’
‘I see. Have you found aught?’
‘No. Just more suspicions to add to the ones we had already.’
‘Well, whatever. We need to get away. Now. In case some enterprising type decides to search the woods, or strafe the trees, or set fire to them, or…’
The two women mounted up and set off cautiously, picking their way through the trees and undergrowth, careful to make no noise, and leave no trail. Neither looked back.

From The Barefoot Runners by Jane Jago.

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