Authors: Nonie Wideman,Robyn Wideman
Akira used her dagger to chip away the mud chinking. She dug the small cloth bag of coins out and transferred them to a small pouch she had made of leather. It was more than a modest amount. Her mother had sold some of her jewelry to add to the sum. Akira remembered a particular ruby. It was blood red.
she thought. When Baron Rolfe had demanded that his wife wear the particularly handsome ruby necklace her mother had sold, her mother lied. She confessed to losing it. Her punishment had been twenty lashes across the bottoms of her bare feet for being careless. Baron Rolfe did not wish to visibly mar her beauty.
Akira remembered how her mother winced as she walked for a long time after that particular cruel punishment. Her mother had sacrificed much to protect her daughter and plan for their escape. Tears threatened to fall down from Akira's eyes as she remembered bandaging her mother's' bloody feet. She willed the tears back. Bloody feet, bloody ruby, bloody money. She climbed down from the loft. She tucked her long braids under a boy's knitted woolen toque. The stolen black cape with its deep fur lined hood hid her shape beneath its long cover. She looked about the stable for anything else she might need. A leather water flask was tied to a saddle. She untied it and stole it also. It was lucky that she spotted it for she had not thought to hide one with her supplies. It could have been a costly error. One could forgo food for many days but water was essential. She worried for a second. What else had she forgotten in her haste? She was tempted to go back and ask Ben for his blessings and help. But she suspected he would try to stop her and if she did not flee now, if she did nothing to help Ann, she feared she would lose her courage and the only chance she had to flee. It was time. She told herself sternly, and swallowed her apprehension.
The pale and eerie moonlight dimmed as a cloud crossed in front of it. Under the cover of darkness, the young woman saddled her horse and another for Ann. She opened the folded cloth she had brought. Carefully she rubbed the smoky smelling soot over the light grey dappled body of Pegasus. She covered the white blaze running from his forehead to his nose. Pegasus's nostrils quivered. He nickered softly as if protesting. Another carrot distracted him and when the clouds revealed the moon again, the moon shone down on a black horse being led away by what appeared to be a rather plump looking stable hand with a bundle tied down behind his saddle.
Akira left the readied horses in the stable and waited in the garden for Ann to put the candle in the window. Akira rubbed her hands together to warm them. She was almost nodding off in her hiding spot when the golden flicker shone through the window. She shook her head and stretched her legs. Sitting on the tree shadowed cold garden bench had made her stiff. She sighed. It was time to sneak back into the house through her open bedroom window. Akira tip toed through her room and peeked out her bedroom door into the hallway. All was quiet. Minutes later, the two young women flitted like shadows through the halls back to Akira’s room and out the window. Akira hid the small ladder she used to get in and out of her bedroom behind some bushes that leaves still stubbornly clung to, even though they were red and would soon fall.
When black tree silhouettes absorbed their outlines, Akira nimbly mounted Pegasus after helping Ann on to her mount. Without stirrups hanging from a saddle, she would have needed a step to get up on his back. He was a tall horse, bred to carry a man in heavy armor. Akira’s weight to him was nothing. With his rippling muscles, he could have pulled heavy plows, heavy carts with ease. He had one scarred shoulder from a jousting match. Ben had borrowed him unbeknownst to Akira. It had been cause for their one and only fight between brother and sister. Ben learned his sister was smaller, but she could bite in a scrap where boys would resist the temptation. She could also kick. It was one of the few times his mother chastised him. Pegasus’s scar had its story. Ann’s horse was smaller, bred to be a fast runner. It was a dark bay. Ann quietly followed Akira. They rode for a few minutes before Akira spoke.
“I want to thank you for doing as I asked without question.”
Ann replied thoughtfully. “I will do anything you ask to help my Tom.”
“My plan is to cause a diversion. It will give your Tom a better chance of escaping. With us running in three different directions, my father’s hunters will be divided. Are you willing to ride south and disappear into the swamp lands?”
Ann nodded. “Yes. I’ve relatives that will hide me. I want to be with Tom. But he may not want me anymore.”
“I will head west for the mountains. With any luck, the hunters will follow my tracks. Your mount is swift.” Akira tried to give Ann a reassuring smile. “My father thinks Tom is heading north. If we ride in different directions, it may confuse them. If they follow us, Tom has a better chance, for he is on foot. From what the villagers have told me, your Tom wants you back.”
Ann looked intently at Akira. “Are you being truthful? I’d not blame him if he no longer wanted to marry me.”
“I heard he wanted to challenge my father to a duel, but was told he could not win. No one trusts my father. You still hold your Tom’s heart. He seems to be a good man. I wish I had convinced you to run before my father claimed you. I’m so sorry for what he has done to you and your Tom. It took me awhile to find the courage to do what my brothers ought to have done.”
“Tis not your fault, young mistress. I must confess I wanted to smother your father when he was passed out from the drugs. Fear held me back, for I do not need the king’s men wanting to hang me for murder.”
“I must confess that I too have wanted him dead, and fear stopped me as well.”
“Are we cowards, milady?” Ann tried to see Akira’s face in the moonlight.
“Well, if we are cowards, we are the bravest cowards I know. Tis no easy thing we do tonight. I see the fork in the road where we shall part company. Take these coins and buy passage north by boat when it is safe to do so.” Akira handed Ann two gold coins from her pouch. “Now ride south swiftly. May the gods be kind to you and your Tom.”
“And may the gods be with you, milady,” replied Ann. She turned her horse at the fork of the road and soon disappeared into the night.
he night air was cooling fast. Akira’s breath was visible in the moonlight. She took the hooded cape she stole and wrapped it tighter around herself. She fastened the hood snugly beneath her chin. It smelled like brother Ben. She liked its smell. Ben had been kind. She would miss him. She had his cape for protection. It seemed fitting. She wished she had been able to trust him, wished she could have said goodbye. Making soft clucky noises, she gently nudged her heels to the horse's sides. Pegasus responded to the progression of signals, a walk, a trot, and then a full gallop. Her heart soared as they galloped until the gravity of what she was doing subdued it.
Akira hoped to put as much distance as possible between herself and the father she feared before her absence was discovered. She was determined to travel as far and as fast as she could in the opposite direction her father, brothers, and the hunters who would be travelling in the morning. Akira knew they would be travelling hard and fast to hunt down the runaways. Just who they would decide to follow was a gamble.
If the gods were benevolent, her father and his hunting party would be distracted from his hunt for Tom. She prayed they would follow her. For if they did, she could always hope her brothers could shield her from the full brunt of her father’s wrath. She paced Pegasus carefully, gallop, trot, walk, gallop, trot, walk... until she felt herself falling asleep in the saddle. Pegasus was strong, healthy, and she needed him to stay that way. To exhaust him, to lame him would be folly. She knew that. His heart was huge and if she asked him to run until his heart burst, she knew he would do so. She loved him. She would rather harm herself than him. He was the only thing she loved that she could take with her.
As fate would have it, no strangers did she meet upon the road in the dark of night. It was relief to be absolutely alone. Only fools and thieves travelled under the cover of darkness. She had no desire to meet either. Fear and common sense would keep a person who valued their life tucked safely in bed, behind closed and barred doors. However, fear and gut instinct told Akira she was safer on the road in the dark than she was at home. Every fiber of her being told her that her decision to run was the right decision.
Fate was kind. She had slipped away, unseen, melting into the darkness. Riding alone, she had passed no one, seen no one. For hours she travelled, ears tuned to every sound, eyes searching the dark for landmarks. After many hours, Akira found a roadside shepherd's hut. She slid off her mount. Her legs felt stiff and sore. She had not realized how tense she had been. She stretched her neck one way then the other, as she contemplated using the hut for shelter. She needed sleep, and Pegasus needed a rest. She thought about Ann and hoped she too had put much distance behind her.
The night was still except for the hooting of an owl. Her eyes, quite adjusted to the dark, took note of what she could see around her The moonlight revealed a sturdy stick laying on the ground. It was handy enough to be a club. She picked it up and walked cautiously up to the sod hut. She raised the stick prepared to use it as a weapon if some animal was inside. Cautiously, she lifted the tattered hide curtain that hung as a door. She looked inside. Nothing looked back at her. Nothing scuttled out when she poked the stick inside the hut. The hut was abandoned. Nothing big and scary lurked inside. It would shelter her until the break of dawn. She saw to Pegasus's needs as much as she could, rubbing his back where the saddle had been, stroking it, feeling for evidence of saddle sores. There were none. There was grass for him to eat and come daylight she would look for a source of water. A shepherd’s hut would surely be near water.
A handful of grain, a piece of carrot for Pegasus, and Akira was more than ready to sleep. She put her saddle on the dirt floor, spread her cape in front of it, and used the saddle for her pillow. With her knife tucked under the edge of the saddle, she felt she was as ready as she could be to let down her guard and rest. No more indecision, no more waiting. She had seized the moment and made her run for freedom. She was emotionally exhausted. She unrolled her mother's fur cape and pulled it over herself. As hard as the dirt floor was, it was the most comfortable bed ever she decided. For it was not under the roof of her loathsome father. As tired as she was, it was hard to sleep. The night sounds made her nervous. The night owl hooted again. It was strangely a comforting sound. Her eyes finally grew heavy and sleep claimed her for a few hours.
It was the need to relieve herself that woke Akira just after dawn. The early morning sky glowed red. The old ones said it was a warning of bad weather approaching. The winds were getting colder. Winter was fast approaching. The old ones, the old servants, said there would be snow coming soon. Akira was counting on it. She stumbled out of her makeshift bed and squatted behind the hut. The air was chilling as she dropped her breeches. She saw Pegasus watching her. With no one else to talk to, she talked to Pegasus.
“What are you looking at? You do this all the time in front of me.” She finished her peeing and wiped herself with a handful of soft dried grass that had been just out of his reach. “Sorry boy, but I needed this grass more than you. While running away, we cannot expect amenities like chamber pots, but I believe there could be a nice creek just beyond those trees back there.” She pulled up the baggy breeches, tied a knot in the string that held them up, untethered Pegasus and put his lead rope on.
It was not very long before she found a creek in the rolling landscape. Even though the drier season was upon them it still flowed. It was logical that a shepherd’s hut was placed near a water source. And fortunate that the flocks were elsewhere. She led Pegasus across water smoothed rounded rocks, across a small sand bar to a small pool. He was a sorry sight, still blackened from the night before. She laughed and then apologized. “Sorry old boy, but if anyone was to report a horse and rider passing, to you know who, better they should report a black horse and not you, my dear boy. A few more days as a dirty black horse, and I promise I will clean you up first chance I get.”
She dropped the rope and followed the lead of her four legged best friend. She knelt down and drank the cold water until her thirst too was satisfied. The cold water in her belly made her shiver. She splashed her face with cold water. She splashed her face once again. The cold water was invigorating.
With her water flask refilled she returned to the hut and rebundled her belongings. It would have been nice to have a warm fire to eat her breakfast of dried biscuits and berries by, but she dared not have smoke marking or signaling her presence on the rolling prairies. It would save time to eat while riding. She looked at the horizon to the west. Her next destination across the dry plains before her was a small and narrow road in the foothills that would lead her to a steep winding mountain pass. The mountain pass would bring her to a plateau high in the mountains. On the plateau there would be a monastery. She would be looking for a mountain that looked like it had a broken top. On the right of the broken topped mountain would be another mountain with a sheer rock face where according to the stories told in the village back home, only mountain goats dared to climb. Between those two mountains was the rocky steep pass she needed to travel on, treacherous enough in fair weather but deadly in winter. Avalanches could fill the pass at any time, sweeping man or beast away, never to be seen again. It was there she needed to go. She was racing against the weather, racing away from one danger towards another. She braced her shoulders and looked towards the sky.
Mother watch over me
Akira looked to the horizon. She calculated it would still be another two days of hard riding to reach the mountains. She put her foot in the stirrup and swung up onto Pegasus. It was time to put more distance between herself and those who would use her with no regard for her feelings, men who would use her as they saw fit if given the opportunity. Even a kindly husband in the only existence she had ever known would still rule over her, treat her as a possession.