- The Sap scouts, cavalrymen, infantrymen, and other miscellaneous soldiers, who were never heard from again, were captured alive by Rat defenders. Their feet were tied so that their motion was limited to walking, their hands were tied behind them, and their heads were covered with bags preventing them from seeing. Each soldier was tied around his waist to the soldiers in front of and behind him. They were ordered to stand up and to begin walking, like a human millipede, through the narrow paths of the forest. At least the rain and the hail had stopped. The men were fearful of what lay ahead for them: a cliff, a firing squad, a prison cages not fit for human incarceration. After several hours of walking, humiliated by dirtying themselves with their own defecation and urine, hunger slowly replaced fear in their stomachs. The Sap captives could smell each other’s stink and it was nauseating. They stopped caring about what would happen to them. They only cared that it would end, as soon as possible. They kept walking until they felt the damp coolness of night on their skins. They were ordered to stop walking and lay down on the ground to sleep until they would be told to wake up and continue their march. The men slept deeply, like all soldiers who never know when they will be able to sleep again.
- An order smashed into their sleeping brains like a sudden fright blasting their dreams of mother-love and safety to smithereens. The men were told to get up and start walking again. Nobody knew how long he had slept, whether it was day or night. They trudged headlong to only God knew where. Some of the men cried out to their comrades or to God. The snake-like chain of captives was ordered to run and they ran until they were silent, needing all their concentration just to keep from tripping and falling. When they had no wind in them to cry out anymore, they were ordered to walk, to devote all their concentration to where they placed their feet. They walked, they urinated, and they defecated in their already stinking pants. They did not eat or drink. They hallucinated their captors and their surroundings. Just when they thought they could not take another step, they were ordered to stop, lay down in the grass, and to sleep.
- The head of the chain of Sap captives, not the leader but the first in line, was Sangor, son of Javid and Dorka. His sleep was light enough that he heard the whisper of footfall near his head. He heard a rushing swish of air come down and snapped his head away, cringing inside his gut. “Get up and start walking,” a strange voice sub-vocalized in Sangor’s throat, choking him because he knew it was not his own voice. Nobody else heard the voice that was so loud in Sangor’s ears. He got up awkwardly and began walking blindly. He tripped over a tree root crossing his path. The dark bag over his head nearly flew off when his face hit the packed dirt hard. Blood dripped from Sangor’s nose, down his swollen upper lip, and onto his cracked tongue. He wished that he could have felt his nose to determine whether or not it was broken but his hands were still tied behind his back. “Get up,” the voice vibrated under his jaw. Sangor choked on his spittle but got up and continued walking, more carefully this time, using his feet to feel in front of him as much as to transport him. He asked thickly, “How much longer?” “Shut up,” the voice jarred Sangor’s jaw. He released his bladder and his urine stung the open wounds on his leg.
- “Stand still,” the voice ordered. Sangor stopped walking and stood still. He felt warmth press through the bag and touch his ear and felt a coolness breeze by his sweaty neck. He heard a pleasant but unfamiliar warbling of birdsong above him. Sangor still tasted his own blood and smelled his own stink. Then he felt, as surely as if he could see it, a shot-blaster pointed at his back about where his heart was. The feeling burned through him, all the way to his chest. Sangor could scarcely breathe. He knew these were the last moments of his consciousness, his life. He closed his eyes and prayed silently.
- “Remove the bag from your head,” the voice said. “I can’t,” Sangor answered, “my hands are tied behind my back.” “No, they aren’t,” the voice said. “Try to place your hands on your head.” Sangor moved his hands apart from behind his back slowly, achingly, and lifted them up tentatively to the bag on his head. He grabbed the material of the bag in both fists and slowly lifted the bag over his mouth, his nose, his eyes, and then up entirely. He lowered his arms slowly in front of him, as though the bag weighed a great deal. His fingers released the bag and it fell lightly to the ground. He looked around himself and saw no one, nothing but thick trees, leaves whispering gently in the breeze, grasses undulating softly, and bright flowers, blue, red, and yellow. Sangor looked up and saw a patch of cobalt blue sky between the tall tree tops. He spun around but saw no one, nothing but the trees, the grasses, and the flowers. A pale yellow butterfly flitted past Sangor. He heard the gentle lapping of water between the trees. “You stink,” the voice said gently. “Go down to the creek, remove your soiled clothes, and wash yourself thoroughly. After you have done so, you will find clean clothes hanging on the tree by the creek. Put them on and where you saw the butterfly.”
- Sangor walked slowly, suspiciously, between the trees, down the sloping path to the creek. He kneeled down with both hands planted in the soft mud of the creek bank and drank thirstily from the clear cold water flowing by his hands. He drank long the sweet water for all the days he’d gone without drinking. Sangor removed his clothes that stank from urine and feces and treaded carefully into the cold stream, up to his waist. He submerged himself in the water and opened his eyes underwater. There were only smoothed rocks and pebbles, swaying grasses, and silvery fish darting past. He stood up and pushed his wet hair back behind his ears. Sangor looked around but did not see anybody watching him. He bent down and picked up a porous grey stone. He scrubbed himself hard with it to remove the filth and excrement that had accumulated on his skin. Sangor scooped up dripping handfuls of fresh water and splashed it on his face, his neck, under his armpits, and on his private parts. He looked around again but saw nobody. He noticed some white clothes; it looked like a shirt and pair of pants hanging from a branch of a tree on the bank of the creek. He walked toward the bank, picking his way among the smooth underwater pebbles. Once again, he stopped and looked around but saw nobody. Sangor slipped the white trousers over his wet legs, pulled them up, and closed the waist snap. He reached for the white shirt and pulled it over his head and arms. The clothes were damp from his bathing, but the dampness soon evaporated in the dappled sunlight and breeze. He walked back up the sloping path to the tree line and peeked out to see whether anyone was there. There was no one. Sangor saw a table set with a diamond-shaped cloth. There were bowls of fruit, loaves of bread, and a carafe of clear liquid, possibly water. There were two chairs beside the table, both empty. Sangor sat down in one of the chairs and tore into the bread and fruit, stuffing it into his mouth until he choked. He swallowed big gulps of water and stuffed more fruit and bread into his mouth. The urge to vomit hit him. He spun around and heaved his stomach contents into the bushes. Sangor had a bitter taste in his mouth and drank some more water to wash it away. He felt better now and he ate more slowly that before. He looked up and noticed Lem sitting in the chair opposite him for the first time. Of course Sangor did not know it was Lem.
Mike Stone, Ra’anana Israel