Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chapter 9 Part 2

photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing
The sun had reached it's journey's peak, shining high above England as Alexis made her way deep into the forest, urging the horse on as fast as possible the entire way. Finally she stopped, letting it catch it's breath. She slid down and looked about. She had no idea where she was, and it pleased her. If she was lost, then that meant the guards following her were too.

She had no idea how they had found out about her escape and organized a tracking team so quickly, but they lost in stealth what they made up for in speed. Before she was even beyond the city limits she recognized them behind her. It was a pointless effort really; she had no intention of going back to Robin's camp. But she wasn't about to risk being ambushed and re-captured, so she took as many roundabout, steep ways as she could find, doubling back and hiding in crevices. She had lost them hours before, but preferred to keep going just to be safe.

Now she reined in her flight in the center of a large, relatively flat clearing. Sliding off the horse's back, she flopped down on a dense patch of moss and opened up the bag of food. Most of it was crushed from the jarring ride, but that didn't matter. She'd downed half of it in a matter of moments, and took a good deal of willpower not to give the second part the same treatment. Leaning back with a contented sigh, she breathed in the smell of the forest once again, not realizing how much she'd missed it. Moss and dirt and trees and bright, wide open sky, limitless and spattered with only a few clouds. There was no roof in this place, no bars to hold her in, no one to remind her of all the hurt she was responsible for. 

There was possibility here, danger and excitement. She knew she'd run away, but never guessed how far. She realized now that she could leave it all behind, leave her past and dwell wherever her heart wished. 

But that was the problem, wasn't it? Her heart still held within it the feel of Will's arms around her and his breath in her hair. It guarded barely-whispered hopes that Adam would return to her, and the soaring elation of realizing he had. Hidden away in it's corners were tear-tinged memories of her brother's laughter and her mother's smile. She could choose to be free, but that would mean forgetting everything that brought pain, even if it had once held joy.

With a groan, she shut her eyes and tried also to shut out these thoughts. Why did everything she did have to hurt? Would it ever stop? She clumsily tied up the horse to a tree using her good arm and thumped back down again, dropping into a hazy sleep tainted with nightmares.

When she awoke she realized it had grown late. The purplish, gold-spattered veil of dusk had begun to wrap itself around the world and brought with it chilling breezes that bit through her dress that was now falling to pieces and could hardly be considered a decent covering. Taking up the cloak that she had cast off in her sleep, she bundled up and trudged from the clearing, driven on by unbearable thirst. The cook had been kind to provide food, but a flask of water would have also been greatly appreciated. 

"Well, there's no point in wandering off with no clue where I'm going..." She muttered, glancing distrustfully at the stolen mare. "Please." She whispered after a few minutes of deliberation. Carefully she picked herself up with a groan, the ache in her limbs flaring up with a new found vengeance. Biting her lips and thinking she was going to regret this decision, she climbed atop the horse and untied it.

There was a good chance, she thought, that the horse would simply gallop off back to it's master, either taking her back to Nottingham, where by now she was an escaped convict, or leaving her stranded in the woods alone. But she harbored a faint hope that it was as parched as she and would lead her to water.

Swaying uncertainly astride her steed, she watched anxiously as it turned about carefully, and finally chose it's path, leaving the clearing, and going in the opposite of whence they'd come. Alexis watched the hooves plod along beneath her, the soft floor of dying leaves stretched out before them in a patchwork of brown, yellow and red as she tried to ignore both the pain that possessed her from head to foot and the toxic guilt and sorrow biting at her heart.

A half an hour passed until the horse finally stopped and bowed it's head. Alexis opened her eyes that she'd closed in an effort to keep her supper down. She had soon realized that horse riding was a potentially nauseating activity if you had just eaten your first meal in days. Blinking, hoping she saw correctly, she tilted her head back and laughed, giddy and overjoyed. It was the first time in months.

Directly below her was a great rushing spring, the horse bending it's head to drink, indifferent to the emotions of it's rider. She toppled onto the bank, paying no heed to caution, and plunged her head in the water, it filled her ears, gurgling and pounding. She drank it in and watched her hair levitate around her head, the sweat, dirt and blood, so many reminders of her imprisonment, being washed away. She stared at the clouds of grime as they faded into the swelling, watery mirror around her. Through it's glass she could see fractured interpretations of the stars appearing overhead, the water dyed the same dark shade as the night sky where they dwelt.

Finally, she pulled herself back out with a huge, gasping breath, feeling life rush back into her numb face. She was drenched and shivering uncontrollably, but she smiled, her eyes shining and her pain forgotten.

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