Chapter 13: Gray eyes.
The first sunrays were making their way through the clouds, painting the sky with beautiful pinks and warm oranges. The youngest of the Whiteclay, lord Aram, was pulling a strand of my hair and mumbling baby nonsense. He was a beautiful chubby baby of eight months, his hair dark like his mother and green eyes like his father’s, filled with curiosity. Lord Henry II, on the other hand, was creating havoc inside the carriage while lady Krishna tried to convince him to stay still. The little lord Henry had just made it to his second birthday and proved to be an adventurer full of energy, a little troublemaker with bright red hair, warm brown eyes and a face sparkled with freckles; in a decade or so he would have all the noble ladies falling at his feet.
“Why is a door on top of the carriage?” I asked to no one in particular when I noticed the rectangular structure above me.
Baroness Krishna gave me a side glance while tying her son’s waist to the seat of the carriage, a security measure to keep him in place in case of an abrupt stop or an especially bumpy road. “We’ll change it before crossing the border; it has the crest of my family. This means we are citizens of Sion; it grants us free passage through the territory and a little protection.” She answered, motioning for me to enter the carriage.
After I tied myself to the carriage, an additament I wasn’t familiar with since in the Seven Lands we didn’t have those elaborated ropes in the seats of our carriages, we started moving. Our caravan was very small, only our carriage with little luggage, mostly things of the kids and my small suitcase, and a dozen knights to protect us. Lord Henry had some things to deal with before joining lady Krishna at her parents’ house in a couple days; it would be only us and the kids for the next five days and security was tight.
Baroness Krishna and I take turns to carry the baby during the long trip. I recognized the path we were following as the way to the residence to lord Roquefort. When I pointed it out, she explained that we would travel north near the border almost all the way to the mountain region before turning east to enter the lands of Sion.
We spent the following hours admiring the view and trying to keep little lord Henry entertained when he wasn’t sleeping. The trip felt longer for we had to make a brief stop every few hours so the baroness could feed her baby. In the Seven Lands Kingdom it was customary to have a matron to take care of that; apparently, sioness women would breastfeed their babies longer than a year under the belief that made them stronger. She told me she couldn’t breastfeed her first son as much as she wanted to because duchess Whiteclay insisted it wasn’t appropriate, but that she was glad she could do it for a couple months at least; thanks to the trip to her lands, she’d extend that time with the baby Aram. My admiration for her grew when I realized she wanted to keep her traditions but was willing to compromise with ours.
A little after the sun set, we arrived at a small inn near the border to rest and let the knights change the door of the carriage for the one with the crest of the baroness’ family. The four of us shared a room, making it easier to protect us. It concerns me a little that we need to be so heavily guarded, but I remind myself I’m traveling with the wife of the next duke of the forest region and his heirs.
I change into my nightgown and step back into the room, finding the baroness cuddling with her oldest son in the middle of a story telling. I lay on my bed swiftly, giving a quick glance to the crib where the dark-haired baby is peacefully sleeping, and tune into the tale; sleep finds me before I can hear the end.
The next few days went by just the same. We would leave early in the morning, struggle with the kids in the carriage, take breastfeeding breaks, and spend the night at an inn. I noticed we never stopped before reaching one particular inn every day, the owners greeting baroness Krishna with sincere smiles and familiarity; even though she hadn’t visited her parents that often since she got married, her route was always the same, as far as I could tell.
Being back in her home lands was doing wonders to the baroness. Her sight was firm and her head held high with confidence. I hoped once the old lord Whiteclay retired and moved with his wife to their summer house, this attitude of hers would prevail.
Little lord Henry was glued to the window and pointed to the plants and animals he didn’t recognize from my lap. Somehow, he’d convinced two grown up woman to untie him as long as he remained seated on one of us.
“You’ve been a lifesaver, Enid, I don’t know what I’ll do without you the rest of the trip” Lady Krishna said, one hand holding tightly the baby and the other waving a teddy bear around to keep him entertained.
“What do you mean, Krishna?” A slight frown crossed my face, confused at her statement. During our little trip we became very familiar with each other and were now on first name basis.
“It’s our sixth day traveling, Enid.” She laughed, pointing out the window. “Don’t tell me you forgot. I thought you were just being polite about our delay.”
Then it hit me. I completely forgot about the town. I was enjoying so much my time with the children and with Krishna, that I stopped counting the days; and now, all the expectations and pent-up anxiety came rushing as a furious wave.
A concerned look crossed Krishna’s face and she extended her arm to gently squeeze my hand. “You can come to my parent’s house if you want to. I’d love to have you there.” Her voice soft and sincere. I refused, shaking my head slowly and breathed deeply before answering.
“I’m just so nervous… I kind of pushed it back.” Right then, the carriage came to a halt and the voice of the driver announced we were “here”. I laughed shakily and gave her an amused look. “I guess it was good you gave me a heads up or I’d have freaked out right now”
I put little Henry down and tied him tightly to the couch, his big eyes filled with curiosity at my actions for we would step down the carriage while his mom fed the baby. “I have to do some things now, Henry.” My tone serious but a friendly smile on my face, catching the infant’s attention. “You have to take care of your mom and little brother until your dad arrives. You promise?”
He hesitantly glanced at Krishna before returning his gaze to me and gifted my eyes with a toothy grin. “Yes, miss Enid. I’ll protect them.” I hugged him and stepped down the carriage to grab my suitcase. We were in the middle of nowhere at a road intersection; instead of names, the wooden signs had the crest of what I assumed where the nearest towns. My heart beat fast when I recognized the tree and the setting sun that plagued my dreams.
A knight dismounted and helped me tie my luggage to his horse; I was about to protest when Krishna’s voice interrupted me.
“I’m sorry we can’t take you closer, but we are behind schedule as it is and I can’t risk it with my boys” concern written all over her face. I approached her and hugged her tightly, careful not to squash the baby between us.
“You’ve done so much for me already. I don’t know if I’d ever repay you” she gave me a teary smile and handed me a piece of paper.
“My parent’s address. We’ll be there a couple months, write me if you can, or go there if you don’t find what you are looking for.” She hugged me once more and then the knight said the horse was ready. I mounted it and waved her goodbye before heading in the direction of the mysterious town of my visions.
The town was further than I expected, after a few hours of riding leisurely I spotted a creek a few steps behind the tree line. I wiped the slight coat of perspiration from my forehead and eyed at the empty road ahead of me. After a few more moments of hesitations, I finally caved in and directed the horse toward the forest. It drank greedily without waiting for me to dismount; when I finally got my feet on the ground, I kneeled down to take a few sips, the cold water calming my thirst and cooling down my body.
I looked around and found the view oddly familiar. At first, I thought it was because I’d been playing “I see something” with little Henry, but then I started noticing the difference in the plants. The ground was covered by dry orange, yellow and marron leaves; vines creeped up some trees adorning them with red flowers to attract the last living bugs of the season; and some bushes here and there had juicy and tantalizing blue fruits hanging from their branches. I approached the later, trying to figure out if the fruit was edible, when a ruffling and grunting startled me.
I turned around so quickly I almost lost balance and then a muffled snarl caused the horse to bolt away, passing me at high speed. “Wait!” My scream was filled with panic; but the horse didn’t stop, his survival instinct too strong to wait for its new master. A louder second snarl made me forget the horse and I started running in the same direction, hoping its wild instinct would guide me to safety.
I picked up my dress so I wouldn’t trip with it and ran as fast as I could, jumping over branches and avoiding bushes like an expert, adrenaline pumping through my veins. The sound of paws against the forest floor was getting louder behind me; I could swear I felt the hot breath of the beast in my legs. I turned my head slightly and saw a terrifying gray wolf, its teeth bared, saliva drooling down its snout, and eyes crazed for the chase. The motion distracted me, delaying my step long enough for the wolf to lap over me; a searing pain cut though my back making me scream in pain, a hot wet liquid coating my dress almost immediately, and I fell.
I looked around frantically and found a fallen branch. I grabbed it with all my might and blindly swung it with all my force rolling in the ground, the burning feeling of the ricks and dirt against my wounded back making me scream at the effort. I lost grip of the branch, a whine telling me I’d landed a blow to the wolf and got up swiftly to keep running.
The pain was overwhelming, my back burned and the blood loss was kicking in making everything look a little fuzzy. I tripped and landed with a loud thud; a menacing snarl was heard behind me and I froze at the realization I’d die right there and then. I’d feel the wolf taking a leap to finish me and I closed my eyes waiting for its final blow, but the metallic sound of a sword cut through the air followed by a whine and a loud thud right next to me. I turned around and saw the dead body of the big grey wolf a few feet away.
“Are you all right, miss?” the voice of a man interrupted my thoughts. I raised my head to see him but the sun blinded me; I caught sight of gray stormy eyes filled with concern and I frantically scanned over his tunic. The golden crest embroidered in the deep green material told me he was the man of my visions.
“It’s you” I muttered, looking up at those eyes I’d been dreaming of for months, before I let darkness drag me into oblivion.