We have a good day’s ride before our next stop. I feel a bit off today not sure why. The morning ride is amazing the scenery spectacular. Vast forests and sweeping plains with large lakes their shores lapping at the tree line. The sunlight sparkling off the water.I lay back with my hands behind my head my eyes closed.
‘Aaron do want another sandwich?’ I open one eye to peer at Rita.
‘No, I am good,’
‘Are you alright?’
‘You haven’t eaten much,’ Rita replies I don’t open my eyes I can hear her packing away.
‘Headache,’ my answer.
‘Oh, we are nearly there,’ she answers, and I can hear the worry in her voice.
‘Rita it’s just a headache,’ I smile hoping to reassure her. Sitting up I climb to my feet and help pack away the last bits. Then we are moving again, Rita wants to arrive before dark. The vast forest is amazing as we slowly navigate through it coming out in pasture. A few houses spread out.
Sliding down, I am exhausted, and a headache is building behind my eyes. I walk slowly behind Rita to the house. A youngish girl comes out to meet us. Her freckled, smiling face is deceptive as it gives her an innocent look. I don’t miss her sharp eyes surveying me taking in every detail.
‘Why don’t you two go and wash up while I sort out supper,’ her voice is soft with an accent that I can’t place. It adds to the innocent persona that I am sure is just a front. Rita leads me through the house that gives me the impression of warmth and safety. Soft light from lamps giving it a warm glow as heat radiates out from a wood burner set in the chimney that dominates the centre of the room.
I lay on the bed while Rita showers. Closing my eyes just for a moment.
I feel a cold soft cloth wipe the sweat from my body as my head is lifted and cool water runs down my throat. Careful hands lay me back down as a soft voice talks to me.
‘Sorry Adam please don’t go…stay with me,’ I mumble delirious.
‘Shh, you are safe,’ soft hands sooth me
‘Mother, where are you,’ opening my eyes I can’t focus the light hurts and I try to throw my arms over my face.
‘Calm down, sleep,’ voices murmur around me.
‘Will he survive?’ Rita’s voice full of worry.
‘Yes, he is stronger than he looks,’ the soft accent strangely soothing. I feel cold on my head and drops of water in my mouth as a wet cloth is placed to moisten my lips. Drifting back to sleep with no idea of the time.
‘Please don’t die,’ I feel the bed dip, and Rita holds my hand. ‘I think I love you. Have from the moment I saw you half dead in that room. I watched you cry when you thought you were alone. I wasn’t meant to stay but you know that,’ a cool cloth is wiping my dry feverish skin. It feels so nice as a few drops of water trickle into my mouth and my lips are dampened again. ‘You don’t even see me though do you. You prove that when you run from me. Seeking others rather than talk to me,’ she sighs. ‘Mother wants you for Florence. She said you don’t have any political training and I should match to someone like Thomas. Thomas is matched to Gillian so that won’t work. I told her I wanted you. That I won’t be queen for ages yet,’ I hear a sigh.
‘Rita you must eat you need to be strong for him,’
‘I know Sara,’
‘You like him, don’t you? Oh, Rita never thought you would fall for one,’
‘He is different they didn’t mess with all his DNA. He is kind and sweet. He doesn’t have any expectations you know,’ Rita’s voice soft and caring. ‘When he looks at me and blinks those big blue eyes, I just melt a little,’ she sighs again. ‘He is my match,’
‘Well he isn’t out of the woods yet not until that fever breaks, he has a fifty-fifty chance don’t you forget that I don’t want you broken when he dies,’
‘I won’t break,’ Rita whispers as the door opens and closes. ‘Not completely,’ she lays next to me brushing my hair off my face. I drift back to the heat and fever and sleep.
Waking I am alone pushing up I notice I have pyjamas on, certainly not mine, they are pink. Reaching across I pick up the glass of water and drink it in one go. I sit for a while listening to the quiet of the house. I feel really weak, drifting back to sleep waking as she climbs in next to me. She snuggles down her arm going over my waist as she curls around me.
‘Aaron are you awake?’ her quiet voice in the dark.
‘How are you?’ concern fills the room.
‘Fine I think,’
‘Good, Sara thought you would die,’
‘Is Sara the girl?’
‘Yes, my friend this is her house,’ I smile and relax.
‘I am not going to die. Well not yet anyway,’ I mumble.
‘Night Aaron,’ I listen as her breathing settles as she sleeps.
I wake too hot and can’t move. I look down, wrapped around me is Rita, her head tucked into my chest, and her hair is tickling my chin; her lips are slightly open as she breathes, deeply asleep.
I lay still, not sure what to do, I gaze at her face. It’s quite a nice face, straight delicate nose, high cheek bones, and that mouth with its slightly full bottom lip, so she looks like she is pouting. I move my gaze back up to her hair, and notice she is awake watching me with her liquid blue eyes. She blushes and moves away from me.
‘You are beautiful like me,’ I say.
‘And you are delirious,’
‘I am not,’ my voice full of indignation. ‘You are the same as me aren’t you? Hetty said she had seen girls like me,’ Scrunching up my face while I try to get my sluggish brain to work. Rita is watching me. She looks worried.
‘Do I belong to you?’ Finally, it clicks, and it blurts out.
‘Would you like too?’
‘No don’t answer with a question,’ I scramble up not caring I have pink pyjamas on.
‘Yes, is that what you want to hear,’ she glares at me pushing up, so she is lent against the headboard.
‘I…yes…no I don’t know,’ I take in a shuddering breath. ‘Better than a stranger I suppose,’ I say at last and her whole body relaxes.
‘How do you feel?’ her voice tentative.
‘A bit yucky, would like a shower, but I don’t have the strength,’
‘I will help you, okay,’
Rita climbs out of bed and walks to the bathroom. Damn she is wearing some sort of silky top and shorts set and to be honest she might as well be naked. How did I miss that? She is lovely I decide sat watching her she has a shapely figure, small high breasts, a narrow waist, and round hips that top long strong legs, oddly I have never seen a real girl naked, I close my eyes and groan just as she walks back in the sound of the shower running.
‘What’s the matter Aaron? Do you feel ill again,’ she asks her voice full of concern? Trying to ignore her. I climb out of bed staggering in my weakened state. Her arm is around my waist. Then her eyes widen? ‘Is that you?’ She moves away from me. ‘Oh, good lord,’ She giggles. I shuffle my feet feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed.
‘Yeah thanks for that,’ I mutter dryly.
‘Oh, sorry Aaron, here let me help,’
I manage the shower, but it totally exhausts me and I stagger back to bed and sleep noticing I have clean sheets that’s nice my last coherent thought.
‘Aaron, I brought you some soup,’ Rita pushes the door open.
‘Yeah,’ I mutter pushing up. It is dark again another day lost to sleep.
‘Are you okay?’ she puts the tray on my legs and bites her lip.
‘Yeah, just tired the shower took a lot out of me,’ smiling I sit up. ‘Feel so weak,’
‘Yeah, well you have been so ill. Sarah thought you might die at one point.’ She sits down and gazes at me. ‘Glad you didn’t,’ she smiles shyly.
‘Not as glad as I am,’ I chuckle breaking the tension.
‘Well eat this then you can sit outside for a bit get some air hmm,’
‘Yeah that sounds like a plan,’ I eat the soup, chicken and its delicious. ‘Rita thank you,’ I gaze up at her.
‘You are very welcome,’ she leans over and kisses me as she picks up the tray.
I amble downstairs taking in the house it is impressive. All open plan in wood, glass and Steele. I find Rita in the kitchen with its cream enamel appliances on pale marble work surfaces and shaker style cabinets. The living area is a riot of colour with knitted throws and cushions on the sumptuous sofas. One wall is floor to ceiling glass giving an uninterrupted view of the fjord and mountains.
‘Tea,’ she asks.
‘Yes please,’ sinking onto one of the sofas tired already.
‘Here you go, oh goodness you look very pale are you alright,’ Rita fusses around me organising cushions and pulling a throw over my legs. Sipping my tea, I just smile. May be go outside tomorrow I think as exhaustion overwhelms me.