I stopped resisting the Hawk completely at some point in my training, even though I could tell that Cub still was. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to get away. I had just become comfortable with the schedule I was on.
Sometimes at night I would still lie awake and think about ways to escape, but I had stopped trying to actively find a way out of the castle. I thought that eventually, an opportunity would present itself and I would be able to leave with Cub.
The work that I had to do was never really as hard as when I was in the forest, except for when I let my mouth get the better of me and was forced to be up all night cleaning the floors. The cleaning wasn’t the hard part; it was the sleep deprivation that got to me. It made it hard to focus on the things that I knew that I should be focusing on. The long nights were becoming less and less, though.
Eventually, I was rewarded with a little more trust from the Hawk. She would let me go out into the garden by myself from time to time, although never with Cub. She always kept Cub in her sights. I usually went out into the garden on the days that Cub was given reading lessons. She wasn’t picking reading up as easily as I had, which the Hawk said was normal for a child her age.
While I was out in the garden I would inspect the wall. It would be easy to climb, but that wasn’t the problem. There were always people on the other side now. It had been ordered by the king. The Hawk must have talked to him.
One day while I was in the garden alone, Cub came running out by herself. She begged me to put her on her back and climb over the wall. I thought about it for a moment and then told her it would be a bad idea because we would never get past the fields. From out of nowhere, the Hawk appeared and congratulated me on a job well done. Apparently, she had allowed Cub to slip away from her to see what would happen if she let her come to me. She informed me that I would be allowed to bring Cub out to the garden from then on, because I finally understood that I could never get away.
“I miss home, Joby,” Cub would tell me every time we were in the garden alone. “Let’s just try to get away.”
“I will find a way out for us,” I would tell her. “This is not the way. Even if we do get over the wall, I could not get us across the fields in time. If I were alone, I could make it, but you are too small and will slow me down. When you get bigger, we will both be able to go fast enough to get away. Just keep exercising like I told you to make those muscles fast.” Then I would watch her as she would sprint through the garden, trying to make herself faster. It hurt me to tell her “no” but I didn’t have a choice. As long as I could get her away before she was old enough to be married, it didn’t matter that I was caged for a while.
Then something else changed that would force me to speed up my plans for escape. After two years of captivity, the Hawk seemed to become as obsessed with my progress in training as she had been with Cub’s.
One night I was told that I would stop doing the chores I had been doing for two years, except for one night a week. I was forced to do extra training when Cub was put to bed at night in place of those chores. It wasn’t hard to figure out that they had the same kind of plans for me as they had for Cub.
I learned from Rossannah, who had been spying on the Hawk and the king for me whenever she got the chance that the southern king’s wife had died during childbirth. He was now looking for a new wife that wasn’t “as delicate” as his last wife. The Hawk figured that they had an advantage because the other kingdoms had not been training girls, but they had me training for two years already. She further surmised that if the southern king chose to take me on as his bride, that Cub would be pushed to work harder on her training so that she would be chosen by the southern king’s son and we could eventually be together again.
I was crushed by the news. I thought that I would be able to get Cub out before either of us had to worry about the Hawk and the king using us for their own selfish gains. Now it seemed that I would have to escape on my own and try to come back for Cub later, or accept that I was in a no win situation and pray that the southern king wouldn’t take an interest in me.
I decided in the end that I could not leave Cub alone. It might be easier to wait to see if she was chosen by the southern king’s son and escape when she came to join me there. They probably wouldn’t expect us to be so rebellious if we acted like we truly wanted to be chosen by them.
When Cub and I were in the garden alone, I told her what Rossannah had told me about the Hawk’s new plans for me. Then I told her to be on her best behavior when the southern king came as I had learned that he was already on his way to see me. If my plan worked, it might be years before we could see each other again, but it was our only real chance for getting out.
The Hawk and the king did not say anything to us about the impending visit from the southern king. There was no preparing us for the possibility that we would soon be ripped apart. I think the Hawk figured that if we knew, we would act out and try everything in our power to not be picked by the southern king.
Then one day, he showed up. He was a man in his thirties. He seemed kind, which I hadn’t expected. I felt like I might be able to care for him if I wasn’t being forced into the situation. I had mixed feelings. I knew that I had to act as if I didn’t know why he was there, and utilize everything that I had been taught by the Hawk. Still, something in me wanted to break down and be rude and lash out at him and my captors. Then I felt guilt for feeling that way about such a nice man.
The southern king had also brought his son. Cub seemed to take a liking to him right away. However, she had instantly forgotten her manners and she ran off with the prince, playing rough games and screaming at the top of her lungs. The southern king seemed to find these things endearing and laughed as he watched Cub wrestle the prince (who was four years older than her) to the floor.
I looked over at the Hawk as she was watching the children in disgust. She seemed to involuntarily flinch every few seconds. I was very amused by this and couldn’t keep my eyes off the spectacle.
“She’s very serious, isn’t she?” The southern king chuckled softly, leaning in close to me so that the Hawk could not hear anything he said.
“You have no idea,” I whispered back, smiling at him. I thought to myself that maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to get stuck with this man for the next few years while I waiting for Cub to come back to me.
“Maybe it would be a good thing to get you girls away from here, so you can have a little fun once in a while?” My heart jumped. My plan was going to work.
“I think you might be right,” I replied to him.
The southern king stood up and walked over to where the Hawk was standing and asked to talk to the king. The Hawk smiled sweetly and nodded enthusiastically, then looked at me approvingly. It was the only time I ever got that look from her and it made me sick.
The Hawk led the southern king away, leaving me alone with the two children. The prince pushed Cub away from him and came to sit next to me.
“You are not much older than I am, I bet,” he fished. “Probably only a few years difference.”
“I’m eighteen now,” I remarked back. I started to get uncomfortable.
“You know my father is thinking about marrying you, right?” The prince started again. “So you will be my new mother, and then I will marry Cub.”
“I don’t think we would have to think of me as your mother,” I answered back. “We could just be friends.”
“No,” the prince insisted. “I think I would like to have another mother. I miss my mother. And besides, it would be strange to have a little sister or brother and have them call you mother. I would have to explain to them why I don’t call you mother.”
Then I realized I had not completely thought my plan through and I became very nervous. There was one thing that had not entered my mind: sex. It dawned on me that going through with this plan meant years of having a sexual relationship with someone that I did not care for, and possibly becoming pregnant with an unwanted child as a result. If that happened, escape would be much more complicated.
Along with the likelihood of pregnancy, I was worried about the overall experience of sex. I knew about sex, of course, but I had never had it. Even though Joseph and I had been together, we had never come close to sharing that part of a relationship because the close quarters of the cave allowed us no privacy. I did not want my first time to happen because I was trying to keep up with a charade that I had constructed to carry Cub and me to freedom.
I thought about doing something to destroy the progress I had made with the plan, but then I remembered that this was not just my life I was playing with. There was not another way that I could safely get Cub and myself out of this horrible situation. I decided again to go through with it.
That night, the southern king and the prince left to go back home. Cub and I were informed the next morning at breakfast that I was going to be his new wife. We acted as though we were distraught by the news, although we were jumping for joy inside. We argued with the king and the Hawk profusely. Cub even threw herself on the floor and acted out a very convincing tantrum, screaming that she would no longer take part in training. The Hawk picked her up and sat her back down on her chair firmly. Cub pouted and crossed her arms. I was very amused by the whole scene but was careful not to show it.
“There’s more,” the Hawk announced, once we had settled down. “The southern king says that he wants to take Cub as well for his son once she is old enough, but there is a stipulation.”
“What?” I asked, surprised.
“He wants her to go to a school, right now,” the Hawk grumbled, annoyed. “He doesn’t want me doing her training anymore.”
“What kind of school?” I asked, alarmed. I was nervous about any change in the plan because sometimes changes bring unknown obstacles. If she remained with the Hawk I knew that I would have Rossannah here to watch over her.
“It’s a school for young ladies,” the Hawk answered me, clearing her throat. “It’s in the southern kingdom. The prince would be able to visit her there whenever he wants. It’s very remote, and very well guarded.”
I looked down at my plate. It was good that Cub would be closer to me than I originally thought. However, that wouldn’t help me escape with her if I couldn’t find the school, or get Cub out of it.
“The southern king is sending someone for Cub tomorrow,” the king said abruptly, wanting to end the conversation. “He will come for you next month.”
“Wait!” I responded, alarmed. “Tomorrow? That’s not enough time to say goodbye. I thought we would have more time.”
“It’s going to have to be enough,” the Hawk said tersely. “We don’t want to hear another word about it.”
I silenced myself. I knew it was not worth it to try to start an argument now. Still, it was going to be unbearable to be stuck here without Cub. I had to remind myself many times that I would see her again in a better situation which we could escape so much easier.
I met up with Rossannah after breakfast to discuss what was happening and to tell her about my escape plan. She seemed upset when I told her that I was going to be married to the southern king, even though I told her it was exactly what I wanted.
“When you hear about my escape,” I stated excitedly, trying to cheer her up, “you come into the forest and look for me, and I will eventually find you. You can come live in the forest with my tribe!”
“I just didn’t know that you were going too,” she sighed, crestfallen, “I knew Cub was going to be sent off to school. I heard the two kings talking about it. The southern king said he didn’t want the Hawk teaching Cub anymore because he didn’t want Cub to become as frigid as she was. They must have spoken about you before that.”
I began to laugh uncontrollably as I imagined the southern king telling the king that his mother was frigid. Rossannah looked at me, confused, but then she realized what she had just said and we both collapsed on the floor in a fit of giggles.
“I’m going to miss you,” Rossannah breathed through her laughter, “I don’t know of anybody that I care about as much as I care for you.”
“If I didn’t have to take care of Cub,” I smiled, sadly, “I would go to the garden right now and jump the wall, and then you could join me in the forest.”
“That would be nice,” Rossannah agreed.
“Joby!” Cub appeared, running up to me. “I have a great idea. We can escape tomorrow and never be apart!”
“Shhh,” I hushed Cub urgently. “What are you talking about?” Rossannah and I leaned in close so that Cub could whisper to us.
“Remember how you said that I was too slow, and that the southern king and prince wouldn’t expect us to try to escape?” Cub said, excitedly. “Well, we are going right through the forests on the way to the school they want to bring me to. I know I am pretty young, but I remember a lot about the forest and how to navigate it. I’ll watch where I am going and when we get pretty far away in a thick part of the trees I can tell whoever they have sent for me that I have to go to the bathroom. They won’t think twice about giving me a little privacy and when I walk into the forest, they will never find me again. I will head back here to the part of the forest that I can see outside of my bedroom window. I will hang a red scarf in the trees so you know that I have gotten away and then try to find Sheena. Then you can escape from here because you aren’t too slow to get away.”
“That is a good plan, Cub,” I agreed. “And if you manage to get away I will follow you into the woods. Just remember to keep yourself up in the trees once you get a chance to climb one. From my experience, they never look up.”
So we had a new plan, thought up by the increasingly more intelligent Cub. I remember at one point I was that smart, but the forest had been taken out of me. I became a little jealous of Cub then. She never had, and never would be stripped completely of the forest.
The next morning came and Cub was shuffled around frantically by the Hawk. She was bathed and dressed and fed while her things were being packed and stacked close to the entrance of the castle, ready to go. I stared at the piles intently, praying that it was the last time Cub would ever see most if not all of those things inside the cases. I was nervous that the plan would fall through and we would be found out and punished for our misdeeds.
Cub and I made a good show of her leaving. We cried and held onto each other and had to be pulled apart. Most of it was an act, but there was a little part of it that was real for us. The hope that everything would work out was stifled a little by a very small pinch of doubt.
“Time for lessons,” the Hawk announced to me as Cub climbed into the carriage and was taken away.
“I can’t today,” I whispered, sadly, allowing a tear to fall from my face. “I feel empty.”
“Today I will allow it,” the Hawk sighed, showing an uncharacteristic bit of mercy. “But tomorrow we are back to training.” I nodded in agreement.
“I think I will just go up and sit in her room for a while,” I sighed heavily. I turned away quickly to hide my smile.
“I think I will go with you,” the Hawk glared at me suspiciously. I tried not to show alarm. Maybe she had overheard us talking and knew what we were up to.
She followed me to Cub’s room. I sat myself down by the window. I knew that it would be a while before Cub would be able to escape, but I wanted to be there the second that she mounted the scarf in the trees.
I sat and waited at the window until nightfall, while the Hawk watched me. I began to get nervous when I could no longer see the tree line in the darkness. I wondered if Cub had ever escaped, or if she had been found out. I thought she should have been able to make her way back by now. Maybe she had exaggerated about her ability to find her way through the forests. Maybe she had just gotten scared and changed her mind. I could no longer see the trees, so I decided to go to bed and check them again in the morning.
When the morning came, I quickly made my way to Cub’s room again without bringing attention to myself. I scanned the trees for any sign of red. Once again, there was not a trace of red.
I went to breakfast. It was unbearable to sit there with the Hawk and the king without Cub. I felt out of place and lonely. Not even Rossannah’s presence and warmth could make me feel at ease.
Then I had my training. It was like a crash course of everything that I had learned. There were a few new things thrown in pertaining to how I should act in a marriage, and the duties of a queen, which I was soon to be. I was irritated with the implied responsibilities that I would have that came along with my new station in life, mostly because I didn’t know yet if Cub had escaped and paved the way for my own flight.
I checked in the trees for the red scarf again that night. It still wasn’t there. I began to accept the fact that we would have to return to the original plan. Cub was obviously not able to get away. Rossannah came to comfort me that night. We talked a little about the forest and she said she would like to go there one day. It gave me a little hope. I promised to write to her while I was in the southern kingdom, even though she couldn’t read.
I checked the trees for three nights. Nothing ever appeared. I lost all hope and decided not to drive myself crazy every night looking for something that was never going to appear. I began to focus a little harder on the things I was being taught by the Hawk. I might not agree with them, but at least it gave me something to do instead of pity myself.
Then during breakfast on the fourth morning that Cub had been gone, a messenger came. He explained that Cub had gone missing a day ago and they couldn’t find her. They had looked everywhere for her. The king immediately sent some of his own men out to the forests nearest to his castle. They were told to watch for her because she would probably come back to alert me. Then I was locked in my room.
The Hawk came to my room every day with my meals and to teach me. Even though it was well known that I would probably try to escape, she wanted to make sure that I knew that they weren’t going to give up on me being their bargaining chip. I did as I was told, always looking for an opportunity to get away when they weren’t looking, but I was guarded night and day.
I figured that Cub would be smart enough to figure out that she couldn’t send me a sign without getting caught, or at least I hoped she was. The best thing for Cub to do would be to forget about me and save herself. I would eventually figure out how to get out.
Then one night while I was sleeping, I was roused awake by hands shaking me gently. I opened my eyes to see Rossannah hovering above me. I opened my mouth to ask her what she was doing there, but she held her finger to her mouth so I would stay quiet. She quickly pulled me out of bed and I knew that she had somehow managed to pave the way for an escape for me.
I pushed the bed away as quietly as I could and pulled the floor boards up to put on my forest clothing and hid the necklace in its old place. The sweet smell of the leather filled my nostrils and I smiled and ran my hands over it.
We left my room and I noticed that the guard who had been assigned to sit at my door for the night was lying on the ground, unconscious. I looked at Rossannah, surprised, wondering how she had managed to put the big man to sleep. She gave me a smile that promised she would tell me later.
Rossannah took me around the corner where there was a basket full of dirty clothing. She pointed to it without saying a word and I knew that she wanted me to climb in. I did and then she covered me with the foul smelling cloth. Then I felt myself being lifted. I wondered who it was that was carrying me. It couldn’t have been Rossannah. She was a servant woman, of course, but her features were still so delicate I couldn’t imagine her having the strength to lift me.
I was in the basket for about ten minutes before I felt myself being set down. Then all of the cloth was pulled off me and in place of the stench of dirty laundry I could smell the musty smell of hay all around. I sat up and looked around.
“Where am I?” I asked, looking at all of the animals around me.
“My family’s barn,” Rossannah replied. “It’s not safe to go to the forest yet, but I thought I better get you out of the castle at the very least. I think that when the king finds you gone he will pull all the men out of the forests to search the castle for you. And since he thinks there is no way you could possibly get out of the castle because everybody is in the forest, and that you really have nowhere to go, he will have them all search the castle for you.”
“What did you do to the guard?” I asked.
“I didn’t do anything to him,” Rossannah laughed, “except wait for him to pass out himself. I’ve known that guard for a very long time, and I know that he has a problem with drinking. When I heard he was assigned guard duty, I knew that was my chance to get you out.”
“It’s a good thing you did before the southern king came back for me,” I grinned. “There wasn’t a lot of time left.”
“Tomorrow we will figure out a way to get you past the fields.” Rossannah said, changing the subject. “I’m thinking that if I pull a little cart of my belongings out there nobody would think anything of it. If people stop me I could tell them that I am going to live with my mother. I could hide you under clothing and blankets.”
“That sounds like a plan,” I agreed, “but are you sure you want to do this. I don’t see you ever being able to come back here if we manage to get away.”
“I’m not worried about it,” Rossannah responded. “My father ran off last night, I have nothing holding me here anymore. And the only person I care about is you, and you are leaving. I want to be with you.”
I felt my face turn red. It felt good to hear that I meant so much to Rossannah and I looked forward to having her be a part of my family, but there was still something about her comment and sincerity that made me feel embarrassed. I think it was because I was so unaccustomed to emotional tenderness.
The next morning we followed through with the plan that Rossannah had formed. As I felt the jostling of the cart as it hit each little bump in the fields, I cursed myself for being such a coward and not jumping out and running the fields myself. I realized, however, that I would not only be putting myself in jeopardy, but Rossannah as well. She was risking her life for me and the least I could do was be patient and cautious.
I felt the difference in the way the cart moved as soon as we hit the forest line. Then I could hear the rustling of the leaves again and felt the urge to shout out for joy. I quickly reminded myself to wait until Rossannah gave me the okay.
Half an hour went by and then the cart finally stopped. I knew at this point that it was safe to get out. I threw cloth off of my body and jumped out of the cart. I breathed in the forest air and dropped to my knees to kiss the ground. I scooped up a handful of dirt and let it run through my fingers back down to the ground.
Then I turned to Rossannah. I grabbed both of her hands and began dancing around in a circle with her. We both laughed like little children as we spun around and began to sing songs of nonsense.
Then we heard men’s voices shout out to us. We turned around and saw some of the king’s men, running after us, telling us to stay where we were. They must have followed Rossannah the entire way. I grabbed Rossannah’s hand and we began to run.
I dragged Rossannah through the forest as fast as I could. I tried to make us vanish, but Rossannah kept stumbling and slowing us down so that the men were catching up little by little. I realized that the problem was Rossannah’s dress. It was long and kept tripping her or getting caught on tree branches. I knew that if I didn’t do something that we would never get away which scared me because even though I was still needed, Rossannah had no use except as a servant. I shuddered to think of what would become of her if we were to be caught.
“Hold still,” I ordered, stopping for a short moment. Rossannah didn’t move as I reached down and ripped her dress off of her body. Now all she had on was underclothing and would be able to run through the forest faster.
I grabbed Rossannah again and we went deeper and deeper into the forest, where the trees became thicker. The men were falling farther behind because they seemed to have the same problem with their clothing that Rossannah had with hers. Soon, I was satisfied with the distance between us.
“Grab the branch of that tree,” I commanded Rossannah hurriedly when I thought the men couldn’t see us anymore. Rossannah reached up and I pushed her up so that she could swing her body onto the branch. I directed her to keep climbing and hoisted myself up behind her. We stopped and stayed completely silent when we were far up in the trees and hidden by leaves. A moment later we saw the men staggering past the tree we were in and we both breathed a sigh of relief because we knew that we were safe as the bounded past it.
“We’ll stay here until we either see or hear them come back around this way.” I whispered to Rossannah. “They’ll eventually give up trying to find us and then we can go and find Cub and then hopefully find my mother, Sheena.”
Rossannah nodded her head in agreement and we sat in that tree for two or three hours while waiting for the men to come back. They finally did and I climbed out of the tree when I could no longer hear their voices. I instructed Rossannah to stay in the tree for a few moments while I looked around and listened for any sign of the men being close by. Then I allowed her to come down as well and we began to walk deeper into the forest.
We looked through the forest for two days before coming into a clearing inhabited by a tribe. I walked up to one of the women and told her my name and asked if she had seen a little girl that looked like Cub. The woman told me to wait and she would go and get the Grandmother of the tribe. I sighed when I heard the term and thought back to Grandmother. The woman smiled at me and walked off toward one of the caravans.
Rossannah and I sat down by a fire with our backs turned toward the caravans. We were both exhausted from lack of sleep and neither of us had had very much to eat.
“Joby!” I heard a familiar voice cry and I turned around to find Sheena running toward me from the caravans. I immediately started to cry and stood up to run to her.
Behind Sheena a tiny figure came bounding out of the caravan. It was Cub. I shrieked her name and opened my arms to accept both Sheena and Cub into them. Sheena kissed my cheeks and forehead repeatedly, and Cub wrapped herself around my waist and wouldn’t let go.
After a while, we finally all let go of each other and I looked down at Cub to realize that she had been dressed in forest clothing. Then I remembered that I had ripped Rossannah’s clothing off of her and mentioned to Sheena that she needed to be dressed. Sheena took Rossannah off to her caravan and borrowed her some of her own clothing. I remember thinking that Rossannah looked like she belonged in them when they came back.
Then we sat down and talked about what had happened in the two years that we had been gone. The tribes had all formed new groups and Sheena had become the Grandmother of this one. I looked at Sheena and thought that she was not old enough to be a Grandmother to a tribe, but as I looked around, she seemed to be the oldest one there. It made me feel a little sad.
Cub apologized for not going through with the plan. Apparently she had run into Sheena on her way back to me, and Sheena would not allow her to leave. Sheena was one person that you listen to no matter what. I was grateful for that because Cub and I might never have made it back to the forest if Sheena had not stepped in and protected her.
That night I fell asleep listening to all of the sounds of the forest that I had missed for so long. I slept on the hard ground next to the fire, with Rossannah and Cub both lying on either side of me.
Rossannah would toss and turn: a sign of someone who had slept in a bed her whole life. I felt a little guilty for dragging her into this mess, but I was so happy that it didn’t get to me too much. I was finally home.