Anneke watched as the Lord High Sheriff's men-at-arms arranged the dozen Federation agents on an improvised scaffold. Eleven already had nooses around their necks and were standing quietly. Dusk was falling and the flaring pine torches gave the scene a surreal light. Peter had forbidden direct intervention, but she couldn't stand idle while these fools died. She liked this world, had made friends here. Yet, to involve them would trigger a bloodbath. She had to depend on the Federation responding in time, even if it meant doing something to buy them time.
The redhead at the far end understood. She was resisting furiously, four men-at-arms inadequate to the task of restraining her. One was down already, both hands clutching a part of his anatomy he wouldn't have willing offered as the target for a full-blooded kick. Another bled profusely from a torn ear, most of the earlobe bitten off.
The sergeant swore foully, damning the girl and the men-at-arms equally as he strode down the line and rapped the girl behind the ear with the handle of his dagger, dropping her in an unconscious heap at the men's feet. "Lay her aside. We'll hang her later."
Anneke used the distraction to get closer. The Federation rescue party was near. She needed to be on the opposite side of the group when they arrived, ready to intervene.
"Are you ready?" The sergeant remained by the unconscious girl, looking back along the line, his sword raised to give the signal.
"Wait. I want to watch them dance." Anneke's imitation of the tyrant's voice wouldn't have passed muster under normal circumstances, but, coming from behind, it was enough to turn everyone to the darkness of the forest when she hid.
They were looking the wrong way to see four dark objects lob through the air to fall at the men-at arms' feet. Recognizing them as stun grenades, Anneke translocated two hundred feet before they exploded, shielding her eyes and turning away. The chain mail jerkins would protect the tyrant's men from harm, but they'd be stunned. Apart from the sergeant, none of them had ever faced explosives. She could leave the matter in Federation hands now.
The distance muted the crack of the stun grenades, but there was a flash grenade amongst them and it lighted the evening sky revealing the approach of at least fifty more men-at-arms. Fortunately, they skidded to a stop at the explosions and the Federation leader had time to release his people on the scaffold and then throw more grenades to cover his retreat. They were gone before Anneke realized the redhead was not among them.
"Damn," she swore, translocating to the girl in time to drag her into the safety of Limbo.
"Damn." She swore again as the girl stirred. They must be back in real space before she woke.
The river was closest and its banks were steep. She plunged them both into the water where overhanging bushes would hide them. Peter would never understand her revealing the existence of Limbo to a Federation agent.
The cold water completed the girl's revival and she bit Anneke's hand when she tried to stifle her outcry. "Quiet, damn you, they'll hear."
"Sorry." The girl understood. "Get these ropes off," she whispered, turning to give Anneke access to her bound wrists. "Who are you?"
"Safe." Anneke shushed her with a finger to her lips. She could sense the approach of men-at-arms. "Squeeze under that bank and cover your face with mud. If they use lights, close your eyes. Whatever you do, don't look at them." Anneke disciplined herself not to smile at the girl's reaction to being instructed in basic field craft by the inhabitant of a planet regressed to medieval feudalism. She had a fiery temper, this one.
The men were good at their job, worst luck, probing every bush with spears or pikes, leaning far over the bank with raised torches to study the water. The girl should be safe, the undercut was deep here in the bend of the river, the current tugging at them, but there wasn't room for two of them.
Anneke leaned close and whispered in the girl's ear. "Stay here. You'll be safe. I'll come back for you when they move on."
A nod answered her and Anneke let the current carry her away, diving deep and slipping into the safety of Limbo as soon as she was out of the girl's sight.
"A good move." Peter was waiting and she braced herself for a lecture. "Be careful. The Federation has trying to be smart. There'll be bloodshed. Keep yourself out of its way." He gave her shoulder a squeeze and was gone.
Anneke shook her head in amazement. Her father would never stop surprising her. She moved back to the portal into real space and watched over the redhead, scanning her thoughts to pass the time.