CHAPTER 4 - IT AIN’T SO BAD... YET...
When we opened our eyes, we were standing on a mound, surrounded by lush green pastures. The smell of immense fresh air and birds singing all around was something unusual to hear for a city-dweller such as me. A forest was not far from where we stood.
“This isn’t so bad,” I said, rather to myself.
Troy looked at me and countered, “Well, as the saying goes, there’s always the calm before the storm.”
Idiot. My ideal Elysian Fields had just been stripped away from something so logical. Finally, we became aware that we were still holding hands, and feeling rather embarrassed, we quickly let go.
“Right,” clearing my throat, I made my way down the mound. I didn’t know which way to go, so I decided to turn left towards the forest.
“Really?” Troy asked, rather annoyed.
I looked at him. “What?”
“Well, what about it, Troy?”
“Forests are never safe, especially when wandering around in an area we’re not familiar with, Tristan.”
I gave him a sarcastic smile. “As the saying goes, it’s either my way or the highway, and besides, I’m not like you. We’re here on a mission and are, apparently, watched over by this so-called Keeper of Stories. So, tuck in your logical thinking and let’s have an adventure!” I turned around and headed for the forest.
“It’ll get dark soon,” he continued.
I stopped and turned around, sighing, “How do you know?”
Troy pointed to the sky. “The sun is at its peak, so it’s about noon. We don’t know how large the forest is or if we can make it to the other end-- ” by that time, I rolled my eyes and turned around, carrying on towards the forest.
I was getting rather sick of his whining and so-called expertise at the time of day. But something struck me. I looked at my wrist and noticed my watch was missing.
I looked at Troy and gestured to my wrist. “Where’s my watch? Oh, that crazy old hag mugged a teenager! How low can you go?!”
Troy raised his wrist. “My watch is gone too, and before you say another word,” as I had opened my mouth at this point to say something that may not be appropriate to write down, “remember what Miss Eden said. We are in a parallel time zone, so I don’t think time matters to us.” I just stared at him, and saying nothing, I turned and continued walking towards the forest.
“Tristan!” Troy called. The best thing any female can do is give the silent treatment. After a while, I heard footsteps running towards me.
“Okay, you win!” Without a comeback, I merely smiled.
It took a few good minutes to reach the forest. By then, I looked at Troy, and doubt began to sink in. Maybe the forest wasn’t such a good idea, but I wasn’t going to give in now. Swallowing my pride, we ventured forward. There is only one thing I can say about a forest: it is incredibly scary. Those scenes with Bambi and butterflies and all things nice are just fantasy. When I get back, I’ll be sending Hollywood quite a long, censorious letter.
We walked for about an hour when Troy stopped suddenly.
“Do you hear that?” He asked me. Frowning, I looked around, craning my ears to hear anything out of the ordinary.
“What is it?” I whispered.
“It’s the forest--”
That’s when I lost it. “No! Really? Gosh, I’m so grateful for that bit of information. For a minute, I thought we were lost in a desert, but thank goodness for your overkill knowledge. I now know that this is not a grain of sand but a tree!” I slapped the tree trunk for emphasis, which really hurt my hand. The throbbing didn’t help my mood.
He narrowed his eyes. “You’re so full of yourself, Tristan!”
“News flash, Troy! I am full of myself, thank you very much. Unlike you, I’ve made decisions I didn’t want to make, but because of this crush I have… on… uh… someone, it hasn’t exactly worked out for me. So maybe you and Miss Eden should go back in time and have tea and scones with Queen Victoria and have a lovely chat about the Industrial Revolution!” I stormed off, and as I picked up the pace, I heard a high-pitched whistle with a sudden THUMP!
Within a few metres in front of me, an arrow was protruding from a tree. Troy ran up to me, and we stood there frozen, trying to listen for any other sounds.
“This was what I was trying to tell you about the forest,” Troy whispered. “No birds are singing, animals grazing around, nothing. Something or someone had scared them off.”
We stood still for a while until we carefully walked over to the tree and looked at the arrow. Once again, we looked around us to see any kind of movement. Finally, Troy reached out and, with time and difficulty, pulled out the arrow. It was deeply embedded in the tree. He was panting by the time he pulled it loose.
I gave him a smirk. “Strong, much?”
“Oh, shut up!”
We examined the arrow. The shaft was under a metre long, and the feathered end was green in colour, with black lining. The arrowhead was a wicked looking thing. I had no doubt in my mind that an arrow like this could have killed a person instantly. My focus was on the arrowhead itself. It had a leaf-shaped hat with a feather in it.
For some reason, I’d seen that symbol before.
Smiling, I said to Troy, “This is probably where the saying comes from, “got a feather in your cap! Get it?! Feather?! Cap?!” He only looked at me, then dropped the arrow and walked off. I stood there for a while, pondering.
When Troy saw I wasn’t beside him, he turned and asked, “What’s the matter?”
“Do you want to play Hansel and Gretel, Troy? If we leave this arrow here, we’ll be followed.”
“We are being followed, Tristan!” Keeping his gaze, he looked again at the arrow and said, “You’re probably right. We should take it with us, just in case.”
I picked up the arrow and caught up with him, swinging the arrow around. Troy was by now very moody.
“And for goodness sake, just keep that arrow away from my face!”
“Alright, Mr Grumpy!”
Evening came, and before I lost all hope, we saw a faint light a good distance from us. We picked up our pace and finally reached the end of the forest. Down the hill was a small village, with torches and pyres for light. At first, I thought they had a power cut, but then I remembered we are now in medieval times. When we came to the village, the people looked at us rather suspiciously.
I realised it was our clothing: sneakers, denim and hoodies weren’t exactly the latest fashion. If we were going to do this, we needed to blend in. Luckily, someone tossed away some worn down clothing. When I say clothing, I mean rags and patchworks that would have been an instant ‘F’ in Home Economics. We quickly put them on.
Troy suggested we rub some dirt on our faces, but that was where I drew the line.
“It’s enough I’m wearing this flea-infested garment!” I hissed. “If you want to look like a dirty beggar boy, then go right ahead. I’m saving what dignity I have left!”
Troy didn’t argue with that. Afterwards, we took in our surroundings. The village was peaceful enough, and though the people visibly showed signs of hardship, it didn’t seem to matter. Back in our world, this would be deemed as low and disagreeable to the middle class and, of course, high society.
The sun had already set, and we both realised we had nowhere to go when suddenly we were approached by an elderly woman.
“I see you are new in these parts,” she wheezed. “I have a place for you to spend the night if you wish. It may be small, but I am sure you will find it comfortable than sleeping out here in the open.” We thanked her and accepted her generous hospitality.
After a good night’s rest, I woke to the sound of a cock crowing, really strange to hear an animal wake you up instead of modern technology, better known as ’alarm clocks’. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and saw the room I spent in for the first time. When we came in the night before, it was by candlelight, so taking in what was around was impossible. I do recall, however, a bed that seemed very inviting. I crashed on it and woke up in the same position. My body was stiff and sore. An old, wooden table just across the bedroom had a bowl filled with fresh water, a cloth and clean clothes. When I mean clean clothes, I mean woollen rags.
I sighed. “When in Rome,” I muttered.
If I was going to be in the world of medieval England (yes, I took in what we experienced and found myself believing), I washed my face and dressed.
As I got near the bottom of the stairs, I heard Troy speaking to the old lady who took us in. They both greeted me as I took a seat next to Troy and were treated to a humble breakfast. The lady’s name was Gertrude. She was sixty-one years old and had outlived her two sons. Her two granddaughters were all she had left.
Ethel was nine years of age, and Winifred was twelve. The latter was of a quiet and subdued nature, while Ethel was the kind I could see who would keep her grandmother on her toes.
“Tell me, my dears,” Gertrude said while pouring us a cup of milk. “Where exactly are you from?”
I looked at Troy and mouthed, “Keep it short.”
“We’re, uh, from out of town.”
What a genius.
“Oh, I can see that,” chuckled the old lady with a twinkle in her eye. “I have not fathomed it out yet, but your demeanour tells me otherwise. No matter. We all have our secrets, and I shall not push you for anything.” I felt touched by her words. She was genuinely a kind old soul. That was also when I did something spontaneous.
“Have you ever seen this before?” I blurted out, pulling out the arrow and waving it in front of her. Troy spat his milk all over Ethel, who was sitting across from him.
“What are you doing?!” He hissed.
“Asking a question, duh!” I whispered back. Frankly, since Miss Eden sent us here and we don’t have a cooking clue where to begin, I may as well start our adventure by asking someone of this world if they may know something. Gertrude studied the arrow intensely. The symbol on the arrowhead had kept her gaze.
“Where did you get this?” She asked with wonder.
“This arrow nearly killed us, and we would like to know why.”
Gertrude chuckled. “My dear young lady, the arrow was shot by someone who never misses. It is a sign.”
Troy asked, “What do you mean? Who is this person?”
Gertrude stayed quiet for a while and then said, “You will need to venture back into the forest. This person obviously has an interest in you. Go and find him, but do be careful. Not many of us are as trusting, and waving this arrow around for everyone to see will not be a pleasant experience for either of you.”
“Him?” Troy asked.
“Yes, him. He had saved our village countless times and provided us with enough food to last the winter seasons when a ruthless man burned our crops. Your secret is safe with me, but for the safety of us all, you must leave as soon as you can.”
I looked at Winifred and Ethel and couldn’t imagine anything bad happening to them. Their grandmother was all they had, and with this unruly man destroying what little these people had wouldn’t sit well with my conscience. Troy felt the same.
After we finished our breakfast, we thanked Gertrude for her hospitality and gave each of the girl’s hugs and kisses.
“Here,” Gertrude said, passing a small sack to Troy. “It is not much, but I know you will come by just fine.”
Inside were assorted fruits, a skin of water, bread and cheese.
“How can we ever thank you?” I asked.
Gertrude smiled at me. “Because your journey will be hard, I guess every bit of kindness will ease your hearts.” With that, she turned around and ushered her granddaughters back inside their wooden house. Troy and I stood outside for a moment. Then, looking around to see if anyone may have noticed us, we quickly ran back to the forest we so desperately wanted to get out of.