CHAPTER 5 - GO SOUTH HE SAID, NO MENTION OF HOW TO CROSS A RIVER, HE SAID
“We’ve been travelling for days now!” I complained. Technically, it had only been one day, but at the pace we were going, it felt as if many days had passed. Robin had said we would pass over into the forest of Leicester once we reached the River Trent. He pointed us in the direction we needed to go. After a while, the River Trent finally came into view.
We stopped at the riverbank and took in our surroundings. Nothing but forests and clean air. My lungs were burning, as they weren’t used to the fresh air. I made a mental note that when I got back home, I would inhale the exhaust pipe of my dad’s car, just to get my lungs ‘back into shape’.
Robin Hood had given us enough supplies to last a week, as well as clothing that made me itch constantly, but I was grateful for the blankets, cloaks, food and skins of water. I forgave him for shooting arrows at us when I saw the food, but I crossed the line of forgiveness when it came to the clothes. I was given a fitted, dark green linen dress with long sleeves that flared out. I was grateful for the hood and was rather flattered at how the garment was able to compliment my slender waist. However, I won’t tell you what I was given as ‘underwear’. That secret will go with me to the grave.
Troy was wearing a knee-length tunic of dark blue. He wore black leggings and boots. He too had a hood, but he didn’t seem interested in covering his face. At least now we could blend in with the locals. Robin said if we wore bright colours, it would signify us being highborn, for bright colours could only be afforded by the rich. Of course, he’d know that. He steals from them.
At least we were able to attract less attention to ourselves. (Oh frack, I can’t believe I just said that. Me… the one who’s always seeking attention!)
“Robin said to be careful of this river,” Troy lowered his voice, forcing me to snap out of my musing.
“What about it?” I asked, not particularly interested in the answer. It seemed safe to me but according to Troy, the River Trent is the third-longest river in England and over fifty metres wide. I looked up and saw the other end of the river. The forest of Leicester was in view.
“We could swim for it?” I suggested. I bent down and placed my hand in the water, but immediately regretted it. Shrieking, I jerked my hand out, accidentally spraying water over Troy, causing him to yelp from the cold.
“What the…?!” He looked at me.
“Robin said England is going into spring!” I tried to explain.
“This river freezes over the winter seasons,” Troy went on to say, wiping his face at the same time. “The last bit of ice has melted, and this river is also known for flooding and the currents are unpredictable.”
“Did Robin mention a way across?” I lifted one eyebrow. Troy looked up and down the river, but there was no bridge in sight. Biting his lower lip, he looked again at the forest of Leicester.
“We can’t stray from the path,” he finally said.
“What path?!” I demanded. Spreading my hands out, looking around for emphasis. “There’s no path and no bridge. There,” I pointed towards Leicester, “is our destination. You said this river is over fifty metres, I say we swim for it.”
“You just felt how cold the water is!” Troy snapped at me.
“Nothing beats a last-minute panic,” I shrugged. “That’s my secret before I write tests.”
Troy’s eyes widened. “You study on the day of the test?”
“Not always, sometimes I read through the textbooks and hopefully remember most of the information!”
Troy closed his eyes and smacked his forehead. “I can’t believe Miss Eden would pick you for this mission!”
I will say this… that hurt me more than I cared to admit. I thought with me being practical would outweigh Troy’s ability to dissect every clue we came across, but his words struck hard and I faced the river, blinking back tears.
Taking a breath, I walked along the bank to see if there were any shallow areas since the water was crystal clear. I came across a section that was about ankle deep. Looking up, I made sure Leicester was straight ahead. Smiling, I braced myself for the task ahead. At least I was a good swimmer. Last year, I won a gold medal when Farthing High competed against another school for the quarter-finals for swimming.
I heard Troy approaching me, but I didn’t look at him. His words stung and I needed to gather my wits. Without a word, I stepped into the water and gasped. It was freezing. It felt as if nails were being hammered into my leg. I took another step. My mind became hazy.
“Tristan!” Troy called, “there has to be another way!” I looked along the river. There were no bridges (or anything that could be deemed as ‘cross worthy’). Shrugging, I took a deep breath and dived into the river.
The water was so cold, I thought I would freeze and sink to the bottom, but I kept my mind focused and as I swam, I kept Leicester in view. After what seemed like a lifetime, my movements became sluggish, and the image of Leicester became a blur. I don’t remember how it happened, but I found the waters began to flow over me.
While I was underwater, my mind began to remember details I had long forgotten. I recalled the day I lost my first tooth, and how my mother had told me the tooth fairy would give me money if I placed my tooth under my pillow. I saw my grandparents - who died years ago - yet somehow, with vivid clarity, their features swam across my mind and I felt my chest tighten. I missed them so much. I saw my grandfather stretch his hand out towards me.
“Take my hand, sweetheart!” grandfather said. It was so enticing, I felt I wanted to let go and be with them.
“How come you’re here? You died!”
“No, sweetheart. We are here with you. Take my hand and all your troubles will be gone forever!” He gave me that winning smile my grandmother fell in love with. Reaching out for his hand, I felt a strong arm around my waist. I tried in vain to get out of the unsought grip. I thrashed underwater, trying to keep my grandfather in view. But his face began to distort, and I desperately tried to keep his face and voice in my head. Eventually, I found myself floating upwards.
As I surfaced, I gasped and cried out, as I couldn’t feel anything. My lungs were burning and the cold water wasn’t helping my situation.
“Hang on, Tristan!”
I know that voice. It sounded familiar. But who did it belong to?
“Tristan! Stay awake! Listen to me, we’re almost at Leicester!”
Leicester? Was that a brand name? Or the name of a commercial for hairspray? As hard as it was to breathe, so too was it difficult to focus on anything. My body no longer felt stabbing pains - I was completely numb.
“Tristan! Work with me! Kick your legs!”
I finally managed to speak. “W-who are y-you?”
“It’s me, Troy. You went into shock and almost drowned. You’re going to have to work with me, okay? If you don’t move your muscles, hyperthermia will take control of your body.”
“Too late for that,” I thought.
My eyes became heavy and Troy shook me to stay awake.
“Come on, talk to me. What’s your surname?”
“Wh-why would… you a-a-ask… s-such a… s-stupid que-question?”
Troy laughed. “Ha! There’s the Tristan I know! Come on, that’s it! Leicester is right over there.”
I looked ahead and sure enough, we were heading towards an embankment on the opposite side of Sherwood Forest. As we crawled onto the grass, I laid down, shivering uncontrollably.
“Oh no, you don’t!” Troy bent over and helped me into a sitting position against a tree on the outskirts of the forest. Sluggishly, I began rubbing my hands to get the blood flowing. I had never trembled so violently before and my teeth were chattering to the point where I thought I would grind all my teeth away, like logs going through a woodchipper.
Troy had gathered wood and was preparing to make a fire when I noticed his lips were blue and his hands began to tremble. At first, it wasn’t noticeable, until it dawned on me that his adrenaline was running wild only because he focused on saving me from drowning. Now, the beating his body took from the ice-cold river was catching up with him.
“T-Troy?” I felt panic rise and tried to get up, but my body refused to cooperate. “Troy!” My voice was hoarse. I found it hard to shout. Troy remained still… too still for my liking. I tried calling him again but gave no indication that he heard me. My lungs wouldn’t work with me, either. I finally managed to stand and clumsily staggered towards Troy. I dropped next to him and saw his eyes were closed.
“Troy!” I grabbed his shoulders and shook him. “R-remember y-you told me to s-stay awake! Now, it’s your t-turn!” He mumbled something but couldn’t make out what he was saying. I looked over at the supplies Robin had given us and swore loudly. The blankets and cloaks were soaking wet. Not knowing what else to do, I pressed myself against Troy and held him, rubbing his arms and trying to keep his muscles from stiffening, all the while trying to get him to talk. When that wasn’t working, I threw one last desperate act. I turned his face towards me and kissed him.
Troy’s eyes flickered open and I pulled away, blushing. Moments later, he took my hand, his trembling was still visible, but not as bad as it had been a few minutes ago.
“Y-y-you near-nearly d-drowned, Tristan,” he whispered.
“T-there was n-no other way, T-Troy,” I countered.
“I’m n-not mad, Tris-Tristan. Only glad that you’re al-alright.” I sat down again and looked at our supplies.
“Th-the blankets a-and cloaks a-are wet. L-let me help y-you build a f-fire.” Starting the fire would’ve been a simple task had it not been for the clumsiness of our hands. Finally, what seemed a lifetime, the first few sparks began and we sat back, watching as the flames began to grow.
Troy put his arm around me and drew me closer to him. “W-what are you d-doing?”
“S-since our b-blankets are w-wet and it’ll b-be a while before t-the fire will keep the c-cold at bay, t-the only way t-to keep warm is if w-we huddle t-together,” he stammered. I was too tired to say anything, but I rested my head on his shoulder while he held me tightly. After a while, the warmth of the fire graced us and Troy shifted.
“We haven’t spoken about that kiss,” he whispered.
He could feel I was taking in a deep breath. “You were going into shock, Troy. I tried to keep you warm, but there was no point since I was also sopping wet. It was the only logical thing I could think of.”
“Is there more to it?” Troy teased.
“I would talk about it, but I’m mad at you, Troy!” I blinked back tears. He gently pulled me away and looked into my eyes. His expression showed concern.
“Why are you mad at me?” he sounded perplexed. I told him how he hurt my feelings about what he said before I dived into the River Trent. He looked away and I saw he was uncomfortable.
“You didn’t deserve that, Tristan. I’m sorry. I had no right to say such things. Since we’ve been here, I’d been trying to put things together and work out how we can defeat… whoever it is that makes even Robin Hood afraid.”
“Troy,” I sighed, “sometimes in life, you just have to go with it. Try not to analyse every situation. Take one step at a time. You’re already thinking of an unnamed enemy when all I could think of was how to cross this river.”
When Troy said nothing, I continued, “We both don’t know who this enemy is. The only information we were given by Robin is that this is the sorcery kind. We can’t sit here and go insane trying to figure everything out. Robin said the answers we seek will be given. But for now, enjoy the moment.”
Troy raised an eyebrow. “Enjoy the moment. Like you sinking to the bottom of the river!”
I gave a wry smile. “I thought I could make it. How did you manage to swim across and still pull me out?”
Troy looked towards Nottingham. “I was afraid I lost you,” he whispered. “It was my worry for your safety that kept me going. All I could think about was you.” I felt a wave of warmth course through my body. Troy had revealed something I had only wished for. Since he was being open and honest, I felt he deserved to know the truth. “Troy, in all honesty, I took history as a subject because I knew we would be in the same class. I’ve had a crush on you for a long time.” I kept his gaze, waiting for a scathing remark. But Troy had never been one for using feelings and weakness as a weapon. Another one of his traits that I’ve come to admire.
Smiling, he said, “and to think I thought you’d never give me a second glance!”
I looked at him, bewildered. “Come again?”
“What I’m saying is, I have liked you the moment I saw you. I’m glad we’re in this together. We were destined for this!” He drew me into an embrace, and we sat there in content silence. I felt at peace, despite the situation we were in, but having Troy beside me made all the difference. After a while, we heard a commotion coming from the forest. Troy turned and shrieked, causing me to scream at his outburst. We quickly got up and I saw what made Troy scream like a girl. Three women dressed in long, swirling white dresses were floating towards us. Their eyes were red as blood and had long, needle-like teeth and had talons for nails. Their long, black hair flowed as if they were underwater. I stood rooted in my spot. Too shocked to scream or run.
While my poor brain was trying to comprehend these flying women, one of them pointed at me, “You should have been dead! You were supposed to be with your grandfather!” They screeched so loudly, Troy and I clutched our ears, hoping we won’t go deaf.
“What are they?!” I yelled at Troy.