The Adventures of Maya the Bee, Chapter 14

CHAPTER 14

THE SENTINEL

Soon, however, the little bee's despair yielded to a definite resolve. It was as though she once more called to mind that she was a bee.

"Here I am weeping and wailing," she thought, "as if I had no brains and as if I were a weakling. Oh, I'm not much of an honor to my people and my queen. They are in danger. I am doomed anyhow. So since death is certain one way or another, I may as well be proud and brave and do everything I can to try to save them."

It was as though Maya had completely forgotten the long time that had passed since she left her home. More strongly than ever she felt herself one of her people; and the great responsibility that suddenly devolved upon her, through the knowledge of the hornets' plot, filled her with fine courage and determination.

"If my people are to be vanquished and killed, I want to be killed, too. But first I must do everything in my power to save them."

"Long live my queen!" she cried.

"Quiet in there!" clanged harshly from the outside.

Ugh, what an awful voice!— The watchman making his rounds.— Then it was already late in the night.

As soon as the watchman's footsteps had died away, Maya began to widen the chink through which she had peeped into the hall. It was easy to bite away the brittle stuff of the partition, though it took some time before the opening was large enough to admit her body. At length, in the full knowledge that discovery would cost her her life, she squeezed through into the hall. From remote depths of the fortress echoed the sound of loud snoring.

The hall lay in a subdued blue light that found its way in through the distant entrance.

"The moonlight!" Maya said to herself. She began to creep cautiously toward the exit, cowering close in the deep shadows of the walls, until she reached the high, narrow passageway that led from the hall to the opening through which the light shone. She heaved a deep sigh. Far, far away glimmered a star.

"Liberty!" she thought.

The passageway was quite bright. Softly, stepping oh so very softly, Maya crept on. The portal came nearer and nearer.

"If I fly now," she thought, "I'll be out in one dash." Her heart pounded as if ready to burst.

But there in the shadow of the doorway stood a sentinel leaning against a column.

Maya stood still, rooted to the spot. Vanished all her hopes. Gone the chance of escape. There was no getting by that formidable figure. What was she to do? Best go back where she had come from. But the sight of the giant in the doorway held her in a spell. He seemed to be lost in revery. He stood gazing out upon the moon-washed landscape, his head tilted slightly forward, his chin propped on his hand. How his golden cuirass gleamed in the moonlight! Something in the way he stood there stirred the little bee's emotions.

"He looks so sad," she thought. "How handsome he is, how superbly he holds himself, how proudly his armor shines! He never removes it, neither by day nor by night. He is always ready to rob and fight and die...."

Little Maya quite forgot that this man was her enemy. Ah, how often the same thing had happened to her—that the goodness of her heart and her delight in beauty made her lose all sense of danger.

A golden dart of light shot from the bandit's helmet. He must have turned his head.

"My God," whispered Maya, "this is the end of me!"

But the sentinel said quietly:

"Just come here, child."

"What!" cried Maya. "You saw me?"

"All the time, child. You bit a hole through the wall, then you crept along—crept along—tucking yourself very neatly into the dark places—until you reached the spot where you're standing. Then you saw me, and you lost heart. Am I right?"

"Yes," said Maya, "quite right." Her whole body shook with terror. The sentinel, then, had seen her the entire time. She remembered having heard how keen were the senses of these clever freebooters.

"What are you doing here?" he asked good-humoredly.

Maya still thought he looked sad. His mind seemed to be far away and not to concern itself with what was of such moment to her.

"I'd like to get out," she answered. "And I'm not afraid. I was just startled. You looked so strong and handsome, and your armor shone so. Now I'll fight you."

The sentinel, slightly astonished, leaned forward, and looked at Maya and smiled. It was not an ugly smile, and Maya experienced an entirely new feeling: the young warrior's smile seemed to exercise a mysterious power over her heart.

"No, little one," he said almost tenderly, "you and I won't fight. You bees belong to a powerful nation, but man for man we hornets are stronger. To do single battle with a bee would be beneath our dignity. If you like you may stay here a little while and chat. But only a little while. Soon I'll have to wake the soldiers up; then, back to your cell you must go."

How curious! The hornet's lofty friendliness disarmed Maya more than anger or hate could have done. The feeling with which he inspired her was almost admiration. With great sad eyes she looked up at her enemy, and constrained, as always, to follow the impulses of her heart, she said:

"I have always heard bad things about hornets. But you are not bad. I can't believe you're bad."

The warrior looked at Maya.

"There are good people and bad people everywhere," he said, gravely. "But you mustn't forget we are your enemies, and shall always remain your enemies."

"Must an enemy always be bad?" asked Maya. "Before, when you were looking out into the moonlight, I forgot that you were hard and dangerous. You seemed sad, and I have always thought that people who were sad couldn't possibly be wicked."

The sentinel said nothing, and Maya continued more boldly:

"You are powerful. If you want to, you can put me back in my cell, and I'll have to die. But you can also set me free—if you want to."

At this the warrior drew himself up. His armor clanked, and the arm he raised shone in the moonlight.

But the moonlight was turning dimmer in the passageway. Was dawn coming already?

"You are right," he said. "I can. My people and my queen have entrusted me with this power. My orders are that no bee who has set foot in this fortress shall leave it alive. I shall keep faith with my people."

After a pause he added softly as if to himself: "I have learned by bitter experience how faithlessness can hurt—when Loveydear forsook me...."

Little Maya was overcome. She did not know what to say. Ah, the same sentiments moved her, too—love of her own kind, loyalty to her people. Nothing to be done here but to use force or strategy. Each did his duty, and yet each remained an enemy to the other.

But hadn't the sentinel mentioned a name? Hadn't he said something about someone's having been unfaithful to him? Loveydear—why, she knew Loveydear—the beautiful dragon-fly who lived at the lakeside among the waterlilies.

Maya quivered with excitement. Here, perhaps, was her salvation. But she wasn't quite sure how much good her knowledge would be to her. So she said prudently:

"Who is Loveydear, if I may ask?"

"Never mind, little one. She's not your affair, and she's lost to me forever. I shall never find her again."

"I know Miss Loveydear." Maya forced herself to put the utmost indifference into her tone. "She belongs to the family of dragon-flies and she's the loveliest lady of all."

A tremendous change came over the warrior. He seemed to have forgotten where he was. He leapt over to Maya's sides as if blown by a violent gust.

"What! You know Loveydear? Tell me where she is. Tell me, right away."

"No."

Maya spoke quietly and firmly; she glowed with secret delight.

"I'll bite your head off if you don't tell." The warrior drew dangerously close.

"It will be bitten off anyhow. Go ahead. I shan't betray the lovely dragon-fly. She's a close friend of mine.... You want to imprison her."

The warrior breathed hard. In the gathering dawn Maya could see that his forehead was pale and his eyes tragic with the inner struggle he was waging.

"Good God!" he said wildly. "It's time to rouse the soldiers.— No, no, little bee, I don't want to harm Loveydear. I love her, more dearly than my life. Tell me where I shall find her again."

Maya was clever. She purposely hesitated before she said:

"But I love my life."

"If you tell me where Loveydear lives"—Maya could see that the sentinel spoke with difficulty and was trembling all over— "I'll set you free. You can fly wherever you want."

"Will you keep your word?"

"My word of honor as a brigand," said the sentinel proudly.

Maya could scarcely speak. But, if she was to be in time to warn her people of the attack, every moment counted. Her heart exulted.

"Very well," she said, "I believe you. Listen, then. Do you know the ancient linden-trees near the castle? Beyond them lies one meadow after another, and finally comes a big lake. In a cove at the south end where the brook empties into the lake the waterlilies lie spread out on the water in the sunlight. Near them, in the rushes, is where Loveydear lives. You'll find her there every day at noon when the sun is high in the heavens."

The warrior had pressed both hands to his pale brow. He seemed to be having a desperate struggle with himself.

"You're telling the truth," he said softly and groaned, whether from joy or pain it was impossible to tell. "She told me she wanted to go where there were floating white flowers. Those must be the flowers you speak of. Fly away, then. I thank you."

And actually he stepped aside from the entrance.

Day was breaking.

"A brigand keeps his word," he said.

Not knowing that Maya had overheard the deliberations in the council chamber, he told himself that one small bee more or less made little difference. Weren't there hundreds of others?

"Good-by," cried Maya, breathless with haste, and flew off without a word of thanks.

As a matter of fact, there was no time to spare.