The morning revealed to be bad. Colin and Keira were awaked with drips of heavy rain falling over them. The trees weren’t thick enough to protect them and it was still too dark to continue their journey. They couldn’t do anything but to sit and watch their things being drenched by the rain. Colin pulled Keira tightly against him to keep her warm and him as well. Besides the rain there was a very cold gust blowing which made them even colder. If it wasn’t for the rain falling he’d say they were going to have the first snow of the year. He felt Keira shaking lightly against him and rubbed her arms. The furs weren’t enough to keep them warm as the water soaked it.
“I’m so cold.” She said feeling her feet getting numb.
“Don’t think about it.” He told her not knowing exactly what to tell her.
The fire he had made was long gone since it started to rain and there was nothing to keep them warm that moment. His feet were also getting numb and it was hard to feel the tip of his fingers. The tip of his nose seemed to have disappeared and his lips seemed like frozen. Keira’s lips were purple blue and her hair was glued to her head. The tip of her nose was red too.
“I don’t feel my nose and my fingers.” She said showing him her hands.
He adjusted her more against him and said nothing. She let him hold her tight. He thought maybe she was missing protection or even the tenderness of her father. Never had he suspected she was there because she liked to be like that with him. Even if freezing she felt comfortable around his arms. Her heart raced all the time but there was no way for him to know that. His musky scent was adorable and she felt like cleaning the drops that fell from his chin on top of her head. Keira looked up and he shuddered a bit from having her face so close to his.
“You’re cold.” She said looking in his blue eyes.
“It’s freezing.” He smiled at her.
“Thank you.” She said.
“For protecting me.”
Colin felt this need to brush his lips on hers for they were so close but refrained his will. She looked so defenseless and yet so brave. Her green eyes were darker and her skin paler than ever. Every day she looked prettier and prettier. Even her voice was turning sweeter and whenever she cleaned his wound her hands seemed softer.
“You don’t have to thank me. You saved my life.” He said erasing the thought off his head.
“You are saving mine.” She said and then rested her head back on his chest. They stayed silent watching the day light appear.
When it was clear enough, they got up under Colin’s orders and grabbed their things. The sacs were heavier than usual due to being soaked in water and they were more tired due to the lack of sleep and the hunger. They didn’t have anything to eat. Keira walked a bit ahead of Colin and he observed how she dragged the sac and how her feet just buried on the ground almost until her ankles. Heavy mud under their feet made it hard to walk. Even he was feeling exhausted so he could imagine how she was feeling.
“Give me that.” He said grabbing the sac of her hand trying to make it easier for her.
“We don’t have anything to eat.” She commented. “The clothes on my body are so heavy and my legs are heavy as well.”
“Think of your purpose.” Colin told her to give her mental strength.
“It’s not fair for you to carry both sacs.” Keira tried to take the sac off his hand but he pulled away.
“Look…” He stopped looking at her. “I know this isn’t easy for you. It’s raining cats and dogs, your clothes are soaked wet, we almost didn’t have any sleep and we are starving. Let me carry the sac…”
Keira looked in his eyes not thinking about what he had just told her but thinking about kissing him. Her will was such that she thought for a moment she was going to stand on the tip of her toes and glue her lips to his. She just smiled and nodded. They walked faster when she didn’t carry any weight. She had to admit that.
“Do you have any idea how far we still are Colin?”
“Very far. We still have very long days and nights ahead.”
Then voices were heard and Colin quickly covered her mouth with his hand and with the other he took his index finger to his lips telling her to shush. Keira nodded and he took his hand away gently. He put the sacs down and walked without making a noise until a bush in front of them. Keira didn’t move, she almost didn’t breathe waiting expectantly for what he was going to say. Colin peeked and saw two young men in some sort of shelter under two huge rocks eating cheese and bread. His mouth watered and he came back to Keira.
“There’s two men in some sort of cave eating…” He told her.
“Then we can go.” She said.
“We need to eat Keira…” He said.
“So we are going to ask them?”
Colin smiled. “No one is going to give us food when it’s lacking so much.”
Her eyes opened wide. “Stealing?” She asked.
“There’s no other choice. It’s that or we won’t eat today. Animals don’t come out under this rain and even if they did the branches are wet so we can’t make a fire.” He tried to explain so it didn’t seem so horrendous to her.
“But stealing is not right.” She still claimed.
“We don’t have a choice Keira.”
“Let’s ask first.” She insisted.
Colin ended up nodding and they began to approach the two men. They got up when they saw figures approaching them. Colin knew they were either destitute or they were outlaws. Destitutes didn’t live in the forest, they lived in villages begging for food so the last option was the only one possible.
“Who are you?” One of the men asked. Colin threw his hands in the air.
“We come in peace.” He yelled. Keira felt her heart racing fast and held onto his arm.
“What do you want?”
“Food sir.” Keira yelled.
“Shelter from the rain.” Colin added. The men stayed silent and he thought it was safe to approach them. “We come in peace.” He said already near.
“What are you doing here?” One of them asked with his eyes set on Keira.
“We are traveling North.” Colin explained.
“Looking for work?” The other asked also looking at Keira.
“Yes.” She answered while Colin eyed them suspicious.
“Take shelter from the rain.” The older man said. “This is no day to travel.”
Keira left Colin’s arm and sat fast near the fire. Watching the men from close Colin thought he might be wrong. One was much older than the other, they were probably father and son.
“I’m Tom and this is Henry.” He said. “We are traveling South.” Then he grabbed a piece of bread and handed it to Colin. “Your wife must be hungry.” The man said seeing how Keira looked at the food.
Colin was going to tell she wasn’t his wife but then thought it was safe not to say anything. He grabbed the piece of bread and handed it to her.
“Thank you.” Keira said without telling him she and Colin were not married, in fact they were nothing to one another. She knew Colin was keeping the truth for safety reasons. “I am Keira.” She introduced herself.
“I’m Colin.” He said. Keira divided the bread in two and gave the other half to him.
“Have that one.” Tom said. “I am cutting more for him.”
“You are very kind.” She said and then eyed Colin in a manner that let him know “See…there was no need to steal.”
“Henry is my son. We are coming from Umbria. People are starving and dying there so we ran away.” Tom explained.
Keira wanted to ask about his wife but refrained. There was a reason for her absence and that reason was that she was probably dead. “What do you do?”
“I am a carpenter. Henry is too. I taught him my art. And you?” He turned to Colin. Henry was sat on a corner eating his bread in complete silence.
“I work the soil.” He said the first thing that occurred to his mind.
“And your wife?” Tom asked.
Keira curled an eyebrow surprised with his questions. From where she came from women, peasants per say worked the soil as well while men worked with her father in the safety of their village.
“I help him.” She said. “I worked the soil too but I can heal people too.”
Colin smiled and spoke fast to prevent her to talk further. “She means she heals people with her kindness. She takes care of the sick.” Keira looked at him but said nothing. If she explained she healed people with herbs she would be accused of witchery. Even he thought so at the beginning.
“Yes.” She affirmed in the end.
“Well…” Tom clapped. “You better put your things near the fire to dry. I don’t think it’s going to stop raining any time soon.”
“Is all the North starving?” Colin asked.
“No…Umbria is but upper is not that bad. Landlords are hiring peasants. They need people to work on their lands.”
“Where should we go then?”
“There’s Acton and Kythen.”
“There’s no war?” Keira asked.
“No.” Tom said.
Keira exchanged a look with Colin. “Which one is farther?” She asked.
“Kythen.” Tom said. James and Keira exchanged a look deciding their destiny would be that one.
Cathleen had spent her morning inside her chamber. The rain had been such that didn’t allow anyone to go out. People were sheltered inside their houses, the village seemed desert. Cahil spent the morning inside his too but his mind was on the king and his men. He had asked to stay in the village but at the same time his decision prevented him from sleeping properly. Even if on free will one of them was missing. Tired of being alone he got out.
He looked both ways to find the street desert. Avon looked like a ghost village though he knew everyone was inside their homes. It was hard to see with the rain falling. His hair and clothes got instantly wet and he decided to run until he reached Cathleen’s chamber. He knew it was wrong to take comfort with her but he felt good near her and he couldn’t think of any other voice he’d like to hear that moment than hers.
“Cathleen!” He called out loud from the outside.
“Cahil?” She whispered and went to the wooden door. She opened it to find him standing completely wet outside her door. “Get out of this rain!” She said giving him space to enter her chamber.
Cathleen wasn’t sure it was alright to let a man in when her father was absent but the desert street let her know no one would know about it.
“How are you?” She asked.
“Feeling guilty for not helping your father.” He said.
Cathleen poured a cup of tea and handed it to him and then grabbed one to her. “My father understands.”
“I must have treated your sister as any other person in the village missing.”
Cathleen smiled and signaled him to sit. “But you couldn’t right? Keira is not just someone in the village.”
Cahil said nothing for seconds, just stared at the cup of tea within his hands. “I wish I could take your pain away.” She added looking at him.
“I don’t hate your sister.” He let out looking in her eyes. “I thought I was going to hate her but I don’t…”
“You would still marry her?” Cathleen asked but Cahil shook his head.
“No….I would not. That’s different. She denied me and I have my pride. I just don’t hate her. Whatever it is that she is looking for, I hope she finds it.”
Cathleen got up and looked outside. “I just hope she is safe.” She said feeling her eyes burn with tears. “It’s raining so much and I wonder if she is somewhere warm and dry or if she is wandering under this rain.”
Cahil got up and put both hands on Cathleen’s shoulders. He felt tempted to kiss the top of her head but didn’t do so. “I hope so too.” He simply said.
Cathleen turned around and faced his blue eyes. Her heart raced so much that moment. It didn’t matter she’d tell herself it was wrong to feel that way about him and how she promised next time would be different because every time she was near him her heart betrayed all her creeds. She walked away from him to force her heart to calm down.
“You know she ran away with another man don’t you?” He asked her. Cathleen turned again to look at him and curled an eyebrow.
“I never said that!” She exclaimed. Cahil approached her.
“I am not saying you said that, I am asking you.”
“I don’t know…” Cathleen said.
“Oh Cathleen…” He said. “You must know something. You two are such great friends and I know Keira talks about everything with you. Please…I deserve to know the truth.”
“I swear I don’t know anything about that.” She affirmed. “I swear she never said anything about it. I don’t think she ran away with a man or because one…”
Cahil looked at her for brief moments. “You swear?”
“I do.” Cathleen said facing him.
She refrained from telling him her last conversation with Keira when she told her some things that made her suspect Keira was in love with someone. Not only to protect her sister but also to spare him from that pain as well.
“She never said anything?” He asked one last time.
“No.” Cathleen shook her head.
“I wished she had had the courage to talk to me.”
“That’s easy to say but it’s hard to do. Think she was going against my father’s will too.”
“Do you think I still have the time to catch up with the men?” He asked ignoring her comment.
“Cahil…they left yesterday and it’s raining so much. They are enough to look for her. Stay here and rest.” She said.
“What do you think your father is going to do with her?”
“Nothing.” Cathleen smiled. “If I know him well he just wants to bring her back home safe and nothing else.”
“I hope he does.” Cahil finalized.
The next morning arrived dry but cold. There was still no snow but it was cold enough to freeze the drips of water on the leaves of trees and bushes. Colin was the first to wake up. The other three were sleeping near the bonfire that was now extinguished. Just smoke was floating in the air since the ashes were still warm. He stretched his arms and then shook Keira a little bit.
“Keira…” He whispered not to wake up Tom and Henry, but Henry stirred in his sleep and then opened his eyes at the same time as Keira.
“Is it time?” She asked rubbing her eyes.
“We have to go.” He told her.
“I need to change.” She told him. She looked around seeing a huge bush a couple of meters away from their shelter. “I think I can do it behind that.”
“Go ahead.” Colin nodded.
“Good morning.” Tom was the last to awake.
While Keira left, Colin gathered their things now dry and rolled their furs. Tom gave them some bread but not much since his was almost finishing. They shared a couple of words and he explained which way to take. Meanwhile Henry had disappeared. Suspiciously Colin’s’ head and eyes began to search for him and saw a shadow going behind the bush. He was sure Henry was peeking Keira.
“Thank you Tom.” He rubbed the man’s arm thanking him for all the instructions.
Oblivious to everything the man just nodded and Colin left. He walked up near the bush and found Henry crouched and peeking Keira while she changed. He doesn’t know how much he saw because she was just rolling her rope around the tunic but he didn’t like the boy’s attitude. Silent as a warrior could be, he began to approach him without making a sound and clenching his fist while holding the knife. When near, he skillfully put the knife on the boys throat and with the other hand he grabbed his jaw.
“What are you doing here?” He asked in the boy’s ear.
The boy stuttered. “I…I…” It was loud enough to catch Keira’s attention who turned around fast.
“What is going on?” She asked.
“Nothing.” Colin said letting the boy go. Henry ran away.
“What was he doing?” Keira approached Colin nervously.
“You’re too pretty.” Colin said and then walked away.
Keira stayed there not understanding but at the same time it made her smile. She ran after him a few seconds later catching up already in the shelter. The boy was sat near his father with a scared look and Colin was grabbing their sacs. Cordially, he said goodbye to Tom but said nothing to Henry. Keira said her goodbyes as well and they left. Her heart was jumping in joy from hearing him telling she was pretty though she didn’t want to feel that way.
“You didn’t tell me what was going on. Why were you with a knife on Henry’s throat?”
“He was peeking on you.” Colin said shortly. Keira looked at him a little embarrassed. If Henry was peeking on her and Colin caught him, how much did he also see? He read that question in her eyes. “Don’t worry…I haven’t seen anything but I don’t know how much he saw.”
“You went there to defend me?”
“I didn’t know what his intentions were.” Colin said.
Somehow she didn’t care if he was telling her the truth or not even if she felt embarrassed. The idea of him seeing her naked wasn’t so hideous anymore but she condemn herself for thinking so. Decided not to think about it anymore she changed the conversation.
“Can we stop latter near a lake or a river?”
“What for?” He asked.
“I need to wash some clothes and I’d like to bathe. I feel dirty. My hair is dirty.”
She thought Colin was going to yell and make her a face but he didn’t. Calmly he looked at her and offered her a soft smile.
“Alright.” He simply said causing her surprise. “But your hair looks perfect.”
Keira smiled again and he saw it. “Are you smiling?”
“Yes. I like you more when you’re not grumpy and bossy.” She said.
Colin cracked a laughter. “Seems like we have a long way ahead. It’s better if we get along fine.”
“You didn’t have to scare the boy that much.”
“Don’t tell me how to deal with people like this.” He shot.
“I’m not telling you…I’m just…” Keira looked at him and he nodded.
“Telling me what to do…” He completed.
“But not in that way…like you wanted to steal from them and it turned out that I was right.”
“Of course.” He rolled his eyes.
“Don’t roll your eyes!” She exclaimed.
“Here we go…” He said.
Egan stopped with his amount of men in a intersection. For a few seconds he looked around and his men looked at him waiting for an order.
“My king?” One of them asked.
“There’s six possible ways.” Another stated.
“Where to my king?” The first man insisted.
“I don’t know.” He simply said feeling completely lost.
The man saw a few drops of sweat on the king’s forehead and his cheeks were flushed. “Are you alright my king?” He asked since it was too cold for the king to be sweating.
“I am fine.” He nodded.