Anywhere Was Better ... Or Not ...
Anywhere was better than here.
Sure, the small cabin was warm and comfortable, but the company was less than desirable. He was gone now, though, leaving me in the middle of the woods with no way back to civilization except my own two feet. Maybe it was because he didn't expect me to do anything stupid that he didn't lock the front door. Maybe it was because he simply forgot. After all, crooks aren't usually up there on the 10 Smartest People list.
It had only been one day that I was here, but that day was much too long for me. If no one had come looking for me yet, then I was going to get out myself. Only now that I look back I realize how badly that could have turned out for me. I got off the couch and grabbed my backpack from where it had been thrown into a corner. I looked inside. A water bottle, a couple of granola bars and my first aid kit were all that was in there.
You see, I had planned on going on a hike yesterday. It was sunny, not to cold, and I was bored. So I left the house only to find that there are some very creepy people that live behind my grandparent's farm. I had always thought my grandma was nuts when she said that she was afraid of people breaking out of prison and hiding out back there. Now I wasn't too sure. If that guy hadn't escaped from jail then I was born yesterday.
Well, if I was going to escape I might as well take some of his things with me that might come in useful. I had no idea how far I was from the farm or town so there was no knowing how long I had to walk before getting to freedom.
I was almost too afraid to see what was in his fridge and when I looked it was nothing but frozen burgers and beer. I opened a closet and found microwavable Mac – and – Cheese and laughed out loud. The guy had no microwave and it didn't look like he had much in the way of pots either so how he was going to cook anything was beyond me. There were also some bottles of whiskey.
If there's one thing that's consistent about this guy it's that he likes his alcohol.
I wound up grabbing a penknife in case I ran into trouble. In retrospect I should have brought a lot more stuff with me. But at the time I was worried, scared, and since it was sunny and warm out, didn't think about the fact that it would soon get dark and cold. So I put the knife in my pocket and looked out the front door a crack.
His car was still missing. The only thing I heard was the call of songbirds. At least he wasn't on his way back from wherever it is that kidnappers go during the day. I ran outside and into the trees as quickly as possible.
After the initial rejoicing, it took me about fifteen minutes for me to realize that I had no idea which way I should go. Suddenly I felt as small, lonely, and scared as I did when I was in that cabin last night. But I refused to let myself be like that. Being scared shows weakness and crying is even worse.
Miss Hudson told us once in girl scouts how to find our way if we were lost. Well I was certainly lost now. I couldn't follow the sun because I couldn't see it through the tree tops. It wasn't night time so I couldn't follow Polaris and there would be the same problem with the trees. So I resorted to looking at the moss on trees to find which direction was north.
Now, I'm no moss expert but the stuff seemed to be growing everywhere. Rocks, dead trees, live trees, the ground – it seemed to be growing on everything as long as it stood still long enough. And that's including the entire circumference of the trees. So I went to Plan B. Walk in a straight line.
I walked and I walked and I walked. I was scraped and had God knows how many brambles in my hair when my hunger finally overcame my will to get home. I sat on a, who would have guessed, moss covered rock, and opened my backpack. I ate one of the Chewy bars, and drank some of my water. It was only then that I realized how stupid I was. I was almost safer back with the kidnapper. At least I wouldn't die of starvation, dehydration, or bears.
I began walking again. It wasn't too long after that I began to hear crunching of dead leaves and twigs. It seemed to be coming from all around me. I knew I was in the forest and blamed deer and squirrels for the racket. But soon those deer and squirrels turned into bears and cougars.
And then it was kidnapper.
The joy I felt when I first escaped had definitely worn off by about 3 that afternoon. I tried to push the uneasiness to the back of my mind but failed miserably. There was nothing I could do but walk and walk and walk. I knew that I wouldn't be able to get to a house by nightfall and wasn't too happy about spending the night alone in the forest with who knows what following me.
And it was what was following me that scared me the most. I didn't know who or what it was. The forest that at first was friendly and welcoming was quickly becoming a hostile enemy, the motives of which no one knew. There were too many things I couldn't see yet could feel or hear.
Suddenly something jumped out of the forest from my left directly into the path in front of me. I'm a little ashamed to say it, but the first thing I did was scream as loud as I possibly could. I then reached into my pocket with shaking hands and drew the pen knife, fumbling a bit before it opened. The man in front of me smiled, showing rows and rows of uneven, jagged teeth.
You know how sometimes you think strange things at the most inappropriate of times?
Well this was one of those times for me. The only thing I could think was just how much alcohol one had to drink for your child to become that deformed. The guy was mostly bald with some long, dark hair covered with grease. His brown eyes seemed to bore into me, but I was too transfixed on the slightly pointed ears and the grayish skin. Maybe he had some kind of skin disease? But my thoughts were quickly interrupted when he pulled out what looked like a short sword.
My eyes widened and the thing just let out a menacing chuckle. That sword made my knife look like nothing more than a pin. He took a step towards me. I took a step back. There was nothing I could do. I didn't know karate or anything. But I certainly wasn't going to die in the middle of the woods where my family would never find my body, and definitely not after escaping from that kidnapper's house. I came too far for some deformed freak to kill me. I wouldn't let that happen. I just wouldn't.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I was majoring in history. I studied battles and swords before. And I certainly had read enough books set in the Middle Ages so that I knew the basic theory behind sword fighting. Maybe I could….But my thoughts were cut short when it charged at me, full speed ahead. I did the first think that came to mind.
Scream and duck.
Apparently it wasn't expecting that, but I don't know why. I'm sure that would be most other people's first reactions too.
I stood and looked around. I couldn't find it and sighed in relief. Maybe it tripped and bashed his head on a rock. But the sudden pain in my left side right under my ribs told me otherwise. I dropped the knife as my right hand clutched my side. I fell to one knee in pain. Everything in my mind was screaming for me to get out of the way, to move, to try to fight off the guy attacking me. But my body just wouldn't move. I couldn't get my limbs to do anything. All I could think of was the pain. I picked up my hand and saw that it was covered with blood.
Maybe seeing that was what brought action back to my limbs. Maybe seeing my own blood was what made me move. And it was an awfully good thing that I did, because the sword came down right on the spot where I had been kneeling. If I hadn't had moved, my skull would have been split wide open.
I was still on the ground, and was about to push myself up when I heard a crash and saw the thing dead in front of me. I hadn't been looking up at the time. I was looking at the ground, which I realize know was a very stupid thing to do. But hey, I was never in a situation quite like that before.
But if he was dead and lying a pool of his own black blood, and it wasn't me who killed him that would have to mean …
"Are you alright, miss?"
The girl looked up at me and gasped. For a moment there was genuine fear in her eyes. She must have thought me to be another of the orcs which had attacked her, though they do not speak as we do. After a moment the fear passed, though she still looked on me with distrust. This was still natural though. I was dressed in the garb of a ranger, whom are usually distrusted by the men of the Breeland region, full of mud from the journey and now the blood the orc which I had killed. I wiped my sword on the hem of my cloak. A little more blood wouldn't hurt the mixture.
She was dressed oddly, but I had little time to dwell on that. A long gash stretched across her ribs on her left side. "Yeah," she finally responded to my question. Her voice was breathy, though she was trying her hardest to sound normal. The girl began pushing herself up before I could stop her. She winced and doubled over in pain, clutching at the wound.
I strode quickly to her. I began to carefully pry her fingers from where they so desperately clutched her side in an unconscious attempt to stem the bloodflow and stop the pain. I ignored her stare and concentrated on the wound. It was deep. Too deep. And bleeding freely. I had nothing with me to patch her up quickly. All the supplies were back at camp.
She was still watching me with a distrustful eye. If she wouldn't accept my help I'd have to wait until she was unconscious to help her. Not the best of plans but from the stare I was getting at the moment that seemed to be what was going to happen. "I won't hurt you." I tried to reassure her.
The girl was looking up into my eyes. "You promise?" It was barely above a whisper, so childlike.
"Of course. I saved your life didn't I?" My pride was only slightly hurt that she didn't believe me. She looked down at the carcass of the orc. "What was that?" Either she had never encountered an orc before or was loosing consciousness faster than I had anticipated. No matter which it was I had to get her to camp quickly, in case she did collapse, as the blood did not look like it was going to slow or stop soon.
"An orc." I responded. Her head shot up from her studies of the dead orc.
"Are you serious?" I nodded curtly.
"I never saw one before. I thought that they were just in stories."
"I hope you understand now that they are very real. Your wound doesn't look good. You'll have to come back to my camp before you can return to your companions." I wasn't sure where she was from precisely, but wherever it was must have been a place similar to the Shire. She had such innocence, as far as I could tell. Even Frodo and the others new that orcs and goblins were very real dangers not only to be found in the old stories.
"I don't have any companions."
If anything she had said before had surprised me, this topped them all. "You mean to tell me that you're out in these woods alone?" The girl nodded, as if a woman traveling alone miles from any village were a commonplace thing. "These are dangerous parts. Many evils lurk here." I turned and began leading her in the direction of camp. The camp itself wasn't very far. But with how bad that would was beginning to look it was much too far indeed.
She half smiled at my words. "No kidding. I escape sleaze ball's house only to get attack by an … an …"
"Orc." I finished the sentence for her. She nodded slighly. I was walking even with her, made difficult by the extremely slow pace she was keeping. "You can lean on me, if you wish. That wound looks painful." I was torn between carrying her back to camp for her own good and risk her fainting or injuring herself further because of her fear of me and letting her continue on as she was. Asking her was the only middle ground between the two which I could think of. What course I would take would depend on her answer.
The girl looked sideways at me, considering my words. Part of her wanted my help, that much I could tell. But she didn't concede. Whatever had happened to her before she encountered the orc must have frightened her to death, or worse. I was used to not being trusted, but not on this grand of a scale by someone with such a grievous wound.
"I'll be fine."
But she inched closer to me, though just barely. We walked in silence for a few minutes. I was watching her movements without staring outright. She was getting sluggish. My worry increased. Suddenly she began to wobble. It was a root that she had tripped on. I had her round the waist before she fell. She straightened up, but was leaning heavily on me. "Thanks," she said, not quite meeting my eyes.
"Will you be alright to walk?" She shook her head, not saying a word. I put one arm under her shoulders and the other under her knees, sweeping her off the ground. The wound in her side touched my chest. She cried out in pain, no longer trying to hide it from me. There was no longer any point to the charade. "I'm sorry." She didn't respond. I looked down at her. Her hazel eyes were slightly unfocused. She was beginning to loose consciousness. We were too far from camp for that to happen. She had to stay awake as long as possible.
"What's your name?" I asked in an attempt to keep her awake. I cringed slightly, thinking how asking her name at the very least would have gotten her to trust me even just a little bit earlier.
"Cathleen," she told me. "But everyone calls me Cait."
"Cait." I repeated the name softly. I had not heard it before. "You have a beautiful name."
I had to keep her talking in order to stay awake. "Where do you hail from?" It was the next natural question.
"Right now, Maplewood. But my family's from Cardigan. In Wales."
"Wales?" I had never heard of this land before. My immediate reaction was to say that Cait was becoming delirious. Yet the strange girl with her odd way of speaking and odd accent, let alone the her wardrobe was something I wasn't going to immediately going to dismiss. Perhaps she was simply from a distant land, lost and separated from her companions. Thinking back on her words, perhaps something more than that had occurred. I wasn't sure what exactly 'sleaze ball' meant and I wasn't sure I exactly wanted to know. "Who is the King of Wales?"
"Right now, Elizabeth II's the queen. But before the Norman's took over about 1000 years ago I guess you could say that my family was more or less. At least in that part of Wales."
I hesitated before responding. I was not expecting to hear something like this. Yet the way Cait carried herself, trying to hide her pain from me even though it was obviously there - that is the way of a king, or queen. "You are a daughter of kings then, however long ago it may be." I was waiting for confirmation of this, but it never came. That, in and of itself was more of a confirmation than admittance would ever be. "I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn. I too know what it is like to be descended from kings of old."
I am still not sure why I admitted this to a woman who I had only just met and barely trusted me. But I did. I looked down at her. She rested her head on my shoulder. Long brown hair fell across my cloak. Her dark brown eyes were half closed. I hurried my pace. Time was now of the essence.