“Alright, we need to get out of sight incase they come back. I’m sure they haven’t given up,” growls Isaac.
“They never will. They’re probably telling all the cops we ‘kidnapped’ their son and they’ll be on us any minute now, police included,” I frown.
“My father is celebrating my disappearance, don’t you worry,” laughs Jarrah bitterly, his eyes glazed, “it’s you they’re chasing us for.”
* * *
I look at him for a while, observing his features. He always has this hurt look on his face when he speaks of his dad, something that’s troubling him. I decide now isn’t the time to ask.
“So where now?” I say instead.
“We’re on the border between West Virginia and Kentucky. So the sooner we cross it, the safer we’ll be.”
“I have a friend from the army living in Merrick, we’ll go hide there for a bit.”
“What if your friend turns us in?”
“What if you just trust me?” growls Jarrah, “let’s keep moving.”
I look at him curiously, but get up anyway. Jarrah leads, but he walks considerably slower than I had hoped because of his injuries.
I decide to try and lighten the mood.
“So, Isaac, where’d you learn to fight like that? You kicked that guard’s ass,” I smile reminiscently.
He hesitates, before he shrugs and says, “I had the element of surprise.”
I squint at him, noticing the pause and making a mental note to ask him later. When he’s drunk, maybe. Isaac’s hiding something, as usual.
“Anyways, you should’ve seen Jarrah. He really took it out on that guy. Didn’t know he had it in him,” says Isaac.
“I was in the army,” spits Jarrah.
“Really?” says Isaac, impressed, “why’d you come back to the plantation? Must have been better there.”
“I guess training to beat up innocent people just wasn’t my thing,” he growls.
“But why the plantation?” I insist, “why not move somewhere, far away?”
“My dad kept tabs on me. He was furious that I left in the first place, and ordered me straight back home. I never really obeyed him, and he knew it. I’ve always been a lost cause, and that was the last straw for him. My dad’s never liked me. He’s always wanted me to take over the plantation. To be just like him.”
I fall silent. A few moments later, Jarrah turns to me.
He laughs bitterly. “You know something? Once, when I was about nine or ten, I tried to stop the overseer from whipping a boy around my age, that hadn’t picked enough cotton for the day. Me and him? We were friends. I tugged on the overseer’s arm, and yelled as loud as I could, and eventually the overseer got so frustrated with me he just knocked me over.
My dad showed up then, and I thought he’d heard me yelling for help. I thought he’d make the lashing stop. But you know what he did? He pulled me to my feet and handed me the whip.
“Lash the boy,” he’d instructed.
“No,” I’d said.
“Jarrah, this nigger is not your friend. You are my son, and you’ll do as I say. Lash him.” he’d growled.
“No,” I’d repeated, cowering inside.
“Lash him, or I’ll lash you,” he’d threatened.
I’d stood my ground, fists clenched, watching the whip fall. He only did it that day, on my back, to teach me obedience. But the pain I felt, I’ll never forget.”
Jarrah pulls up his shirt, to reveal the scars on his back. Among the bruising from being attacked by the guard, I see burns too.
My heart shatters into a million pieces, and I feel such grief, that behind all the cockiness and teasing, Jarrah is weak and hurting. I would have never known.
I walk up to Jarrah, and place a hand on his shoulder. “You aren’t your dad, you know? You did save me and Isaac, and we’re thankful.”
Jarrah’s fists are clenched, and he turns away. “It doesn’t matter. I beat up that guard. He was just doing his job, and I took it out on him. I could’ve bribed him--or--done something else. Anything. I’m just as much of a monster.”
I grab Jarrah’s hand, but he tugs it away. “We have to keep moving if we’re gonna reach Merrick today.”
* * *
A few hours later, we’re all sore from walking the bumpy and largely uphill forest trail. We’ve been taking several detours to throw off our pursuers, and it’s making the journey way longer than if we walked as the crow flies. Our feet are muddy and we’re drenched in sweat. The sun has already set, and I’m starving, but finally I see a small inn up ahead.
“We made it,” says Jarrah.
It’s a sort of aging cabin that lies at the top of the ravine onlooking the river. It’s solid wood, with a porch decked with chairs and a table. Candles illuminate the inside, giving off a warm glow. I hear singing and yelling inside. It’s got a sign hanging above the door, that says “The Troll’s Head”.
“Wait here, and don’t be seen,” says Jarrah. I watch him approach the door and knock twice. Isaac and I look at one another nervously, wondering why Jarrah brought us to such a public place.
“MARIANNA, YOU IN THERE?” he yells. He waits for only a moment, before the door pushes open and a woman steps outside.
“Why, Jarrah love, is that really ye?” she squeals, and embraces him, “I thought fer sher ye were gone for good, at that ruddy plantation, werencha?”
He laughs and says, “you know they couldn’t keep me there long.”
She laughs wholeheartedly. “Aye, I did. Come inside, why doncha? I’ll fix ye up with a flaming mullet like ye used to drink.”
“Actually, Marian, I need a favour,” says Jarrah.
“Oh?” She steps into the light, and I squint to get a better look at her. She has frizzy red hair, and her faces is spotted with freckles. She’s got piercing green eyes, and dimples. I can see why Jarrah would like her.
“What’s happened to ye, Jar? Get beat up in a bar or summat?” she laughs when she sees his bruised face.
“Not quite,” he sighs, “it’s a little more serious than that.”
She grins and says, “Jarrah, if there’s one thing ye aren’ it’s serious. Come inside now, we’ll have a pint ah beer and talk like old times.”
He tugs her wrist, and looks at her seriously.
She frowns at him. “Yer really killin me mood, ye know? Where’s the reckless boy I ’member?”
“I need your help.” He leans forward and whispers in her ear. After a few moments, her jaw drops and her face hardens.
“Well, what’d ye go and brin’ ’em ’ere for, endangerin my inn? Does this look like a bloody safe house to ye? Go on, git!” she growls, turning to open the door.
He pulls her back, and puts his hand on her shoulders.
“They need you, Marian. I need you.”
“And where were ya when I needed you? You just ran off with that tramp, dincha? Until your old daddy found ya and sent ye right home. Didya think I’d forgotten?” she spits.
“Let me explain...it wasn’t like that. And this isn’t about me,” he pleads.
She scowls and stares at him long and hard, before nodding reluctantly. “Where are they, then?”
Jarrah nods in our direction and she looks at us.
“Bring ’em out da back, ye turd,” she says, before slamming the inn door shut.
Jarrah approaches us hastily, leading us through the trees to get around the inn.
“So this is your friend, huh?” I roll my eyes and Jarrah blushes.
“She’s pleasant ain’t she though? A real peach,” says Isaac cheekily.
“Shut up, both of you.”
We duck under cover of nightfall, and Jarrah swings open a back door. It’s full of barrels and has a strong, musty smell that makes me gag when I walk in. I assume this is the storage room.
A few moments later, Marian comes in holding two trays of food. My stomach growls loudly, but no one notices.
“None for me then?” asks Jarrah.
“Ye aren’t runnin for yah life ’ere, now are ye? You can wait. Lord knows I waited long enough to see your bloody face again.”
She smiles at me warmly and hands me the tray, which I gladly accept.
“Oh? And who’s this young lad?” she asks, upon seeing Isaac.
“His name’s Isaac,” I say instinctively and rather fast. Jarrah looks at me curiously.
“Aye, and does Isaac have a voice?” she laughs.
“Nice to meet you,” he sees, avoiding her eyes meekly.
“Now, what’s the situation with you lot? There gonna be bloodhounds at me door soon?”
“We lost them by the river, but it didn’t wash away our scent completely. I zigzagged the path as much as we could afford, but they won’t give up easy,” says Jarrah.
“Well, let’s hope the damn stench those men are givin off in my pub will lose them. Not even a dog could smell in that. Too much sweat an’ all,” she laughs, her eyes twinkling.
“Where should we go next?” asks Jarrah.
“Mmm... I tell you what. I’ve got a man--trades, see--stayin’ up in 204. Reckon I could get a map off ’im, and we’ll figure out where you lot had better head.”
“In the meantime, I’d say these two need a change of clothes. We’ll get rid of your current...er...attire and suit ye up in some smelly garbs. It helps lose your scent, too. Last thing I need is those bloody Kentucks searchin’ around ‘ere and scarin’ away me drunk men. Fine customers, they are.”
“Marian, could I speak with y--” begins Jarrah.
She sighs. “Right. Well, you two’d better get some sleep. Lord knows ye deserve it.” She smiles at us and leaves with Jarrah.
“Well, I’d say she fancies you,” I tease Isaac.
He mumbles something before settling down to get some much needed rest.
* * *
Hours later, and I still haven’t fallen asleep. I’m stirring restlessly, only able to hear Isaac’s harsh breathing a few feet away. I stare at the holes in the ceiling, hoping for a glimpse of the night sky.
I hear shuffling from outside, and quickly turn my head to listen. Voices. After a few seconds, I realize the harsh whispers are Marian and Jarrah.
“--the love of God, Marian! I didn’t want to leave you! It was the damn army, I couldn’t stand it anymore.”
“Ye think I liked it any better? Bein’ a nurse, all caged up in tents while I was watching you out there, at least ye were learning to fight.”
“I didn’t want to be there, especially fighting, and you know it. ”
“Want to? Nobody wanted to. But it had to be done, and ye just left me. I loved you, ye wanker, and ye just went away. Together, you said. Always. No matter what. Now you come back and I think maybe ye’ve remembered me, but this isn’t about me. It was never about me.”
“This wasn’t about either of us! I had to go, it was a chance I would only get once! But my father got in the way. He can’t stop me anymore. Don’t you understand? I can do it now. I can finally...”
A silence between them passes.
“Aye, I should have known. You were a coward then, and ye are now. When were you planning on leaving those poor slaves?” hisses Marian.
“Leaving? I’m not going to just--”
“I know ye, Jarrah! Save your breath,” she sneers, “ye want to go to Potomac and find that man to take you to Paris. Yer risking those slaves’ lives, taking them that way. You’re just usin’ em to get out of ‘ere. It’s not them yer freein’, it’s you.”
“That’s not fair,” he hisses, “I care about her a lot.”
A knot forms in my stomach.
“Ye cared about me too, dincha? Awful funny way of showin’ it.”
“I have no future here. I’m the son of a monster and my family name will only bring me down. You saw what I was capable of! The drawings, you told me yourself! You said they were beautiful. Remember, that day? You told me I could do it. That I had the talent. I’ve kept those words with me. You believed in me once, can’t you do it again? Oh, Marian, I know you know as much as I do that I need to get to Paris. He’s the only one who will help me become an artist,” says Jarrah.
“It’s my life. I have to go to Potomac,” he finishes quietly.
“If ye really have to go, go. But don’t take ’em with you,” says Marian.
I feel a tear roll down my cheek.
* * *