THE CARRIAGE ROCKED back and forth as it traveled down the dirt path, sending Violet swaying slightly along to the beat of the horses’ hooves. The rhythmic clicking of the animals’ steps had nearly sent the lady into the world of sleep on more than one occasion yet she managed to keep herself awake at the last minute each time.
Her seat was facing the direction they were traveling in while Maddox sat on the opposing side. As such, whenever she dared a peek out of the window and past the red velvet curtains, she could see the passing country homes and farms, as well as the farmers working hard to toil the fields before they had even reached. She was sure that their seating arrangement was completely random but nevertheless, she was glad that Maddox offered her a sight ahead instead of looking at what was behind them.
It felt symbolic, in a way.
“If you are feeling sleepy, you can always take an afternoon nap,” Maddox remarked. In his hands was the newspaper, his eyes still glazed across the words even as he spoke. Violet wasn’t sure how he kept himself from getting sick. If it were her, she would surely already start to feel nauseated from reading on a moving carriage— backward, no less. “We still have a long journey ahead of us.”
“I’m not sleepy,” Violet lied through her teeth, her eyes glued on the forestry ahead.
They had just left the countryside and were about to enter the woods. For someone that had never seen the world beyond the Harper family mansion and Steinfield Asylum, she wasn’t sure if the trees were a sign of nearing their destination or if they were going to spend the night in the wild. She shivered at the thought of the latter. After all, there were definitely beasts that would crawl the grounds once night falls.
“Suit yourself.” Maddox shrugged. His eyebrows were raised in disbelief but he chose not to call Violet out on her lie.
Silence enveloped them after that was said and done. There seemed to be no common topic that Violet could bring up to break the awkward tension. Actually, she wasn’t even sure if Maddox felt any bit of unease with their arrangement. He had been so engrossed with the newspaper that his eyes had never left it to even admire the view outside. For someone that had been kept behind bars, Violet thought that he would’ve at least appreciated a whiff of the outside air. Yet, he seemed unmoved, unbothered, weirdly placid.
“What’s got you so enthralled?” She couldn’t help herself but blurt out. When Maddox finally looked up questioningly, she gestured to the newspaper in his hands. “In the paper,” she clarified.
“I am simply trying to predict where they might be,” Maddox replied. “The paper will report about the latest findings. That, in turn, will tell us how long we have before we need to move on. This safety window has to be accurate or we would be trapped in the next town before we get to the capital.”
“The capital?” Violet echoed. “Is that where we are headed?”
“To hide in plain sight is the best solution,” answered Maddox. His words brought up a memory. It was what Arthur had said back in his office. He, too, had suggested hiding in plain sight. “Besides, I have some unfinished business there. There is something I need to make sure of.”
“Is it…” Violet faltered, not knowing if she should ask. When met with Maddox’s pressing gaze, she bit her lip and mustered her courage. “Is it related to what was behind your arrest?”
At her words, Maddox stiffened. His eyes darted back and forth between the newspaper and Violet’s face, expression unreadable. He didn’t utter a single word. Instead, the man slowly brought the two ends of the newspaper together, bringing it to a close with a soft sigh. Leaning back against the backrest, he cracked his knuckles, looking outside the window for the first time since the journey had started.
“I just hope that I can find something of importance there,” he uttered. Then, in a softer voice, he continued, “My case is hard enough to plead already as is.”
Violet chewed at her bottom lip, at a sudden loss for words. Without knowing what had truly happened behind the scenes, there was nothing she could say that would bring comfort to Maddox. After all, he was a wanted criminal for murder. On top of that, he was recently branded as a kidnapper with herself as the victim.
Complicated webs weaved the story of Maddox Haster’s life. It wasn’t something that could be untangled so very easily. If Violet wanted to travel by his side and help him prove his innocence, more work has to be done than whatever she was ready for. As clues started to form together through the days spent together, Violet knew that there was definitely more than what the newspaper had revealed to the world. Perhaps even the law enforcers had no clue of the treachery that was behind the murder case.
Only Maddox knew for sure. Or at least, that was what Violet had hoped for. After all, if he didn’t even know the name of the person that had used him as a scapegoat, how would he rid himself of the guilt that smeared his good name?
“Whatever it is, whatever you are looking for, I will help you to the best of my abilities,” Violet announced after a moment’s worth of silence. “I just hope that you will remember that always.”
Outside the carriage, the sound of melodious chirping and leaves brushing up against one another could be heard. It was a symphony orchestrated by Mother Nature herself, a beautiful lullaby that was free for all who kept an ear out for it. However, all that Violet heard at that moment was the short chuckle that broke loose past Maddox’s lips. It was fleeting, lasting only a mere second but it was already more precious than many other things that Violet had heard before.
Along with his laugh, Maddox wore a bright smile. The furrow between his eyebrows was already gone, now smoothened out as the tilt of his lips formed dimples in his cheeks.
“Thank you,” he murmured breathily. “As long as I am not alone in this war, that is all the comfort I need.”
Red bloomed across Violet’s cheeks at the sight of his sincere gratitude. The man that she had been so wary of when she had first laid eyes on him turned out to be someone that could show such a genuine expression. That brought warmth to Violet’s chest, and in turn, only made the smile of her own even more radiant than before.
Silence returned to the carriage after that. None of the two spoke. However, unlike before, there was no longer any awkward tension. Finally, they were given a moment to let down their guard and relax in safety. And with such tension gone, it didn’t take long before Violet realized that part of the reason for the silence was because Maddox had his eyes closed. His head leaned against the back of his hand, his elbow resting on the windowsill.
Lulled by the chirping of the birds and the music of winter’s gale, it seemed like Maddox Haster had fallen asleep.