Eve continued to cover her ears and crouch low in the raspberry patch. She was concentrating so hard on avoiding making any sound that she did not notice the change at first. Then she realized that she no longer heard the horn or the cries of the hunters. Slowly lowering her hands, she continued to strain her ears. Not even the sound of their crashing through the brush could be heard. She was about ready to climb out of her shelter when she heard a groan.
She froze and listened. She heard a distinctly male grunt about three feet to her left. Cautiously she turned her head to look. Unknowingly she must have made some sound because he had also turned and was looking directly at her through the tangle of bushes between them.
He had deep blue eyes and a wild mess of dark brown hair that was falling in his eyes. His face was strained. He looked like he was in pain. Her eyes began searching for the source right before he fell forward and rolled onto his back. Releasing a muffled cry of pain, he lay still. Eve hurried to untangle the prickers from her dress and gathered her pail.
Free at last, she crept out of the patch and approached him on hands and knees. Fighting the urge to run, she paused. She was going to be beaten for this for sure. Her master was very careful to stay out of the King’s business. The men who had been chasing him had not looked like the King’s men, but she was not sure. The least she could do was see if he needed help.
“Go away and leave me be,” he spoke when a twig snapped under her knee.
“What is going to happen to you if I leave?” She asked the top of his head because he had continued to stare into the sky above the trees.
“The same thing that will happen if my pursuers return.” His breathing was still labored from his recent exertion. “I die.”
Eve immediately said, “I know of a place you can hide that is close by.” She watched his lean form for a reaction.
He did not move. Finally, sensing that she was not leaving, he spoke. “Come over here so I can see you.” She crept to his side. Looking at him, she easily spotted the source of his pain. There was a shallow gash in his left forearm and his right pant leg was torn and caked with a combination of dried and fresh blood. The wound in his arm looked very recent but his leg had been there for a few hours at least. She was calculating how she could slow the bleeding when he spoke. “You are only a child,” she brought her eyes to his face and bit her tongue. This was not the time to argue her age. She returned to assessing his injuries with her eyes. “If you are wondering if I am able to walk, you can stop.” He was being difficult.
“I will help.” She met his eyes with a cool determination that left no room for doubt.
After a moment, he broke from her gaze and returned to looking at the sky.
“What if I want to die?” His voice was hard. She was still thinking about the best reply when she found he had turned to look at her. When their eyes met, he said, “I see I do not have a choice.” He stopped her as she reached for his wounded arm.
“You have to promise me something first.” She paused and looked at his face. “If we are spotted or do not make it to this hiding place, I want you to kill me.” She looked away from the pleading and pain in his eyes.
“I promise.” Her voice was barely audible, but he seemed satisfied. She was glad he had not asked her to say it again. Repeating a promise, she was not sure she could keep, made her nervous. They would just have to make it.
She bound his leg and arm with strips of her petticoat. After numerous false starts, they finally got him to his feet. With her half carrying him, they started off. She noticed immediately that he was very strong in spite of his exhaustion and loss of blood. She was thankful, because he was also heavy. She was sure she would not be able to support him without his help.
He did not say anything about dying once they started moving. Eve figured that it was because he was out of breath, but later she changed her mind. At a time when she sensed that his strength was beginning to fail, she glanced up at his face. There was a decided look there. She saw he had determined that he would make it to the goal.
The usual three-minute walk took them forever. It was dusk when they finally reached the broken-down door of the old shed. The last few steps were brutal. A few feet from the door, his good leg gave out. Eve could not carry all his weight.
Stumbling under the sudden added weight, she tripped and came down painfully to her knees in the mud. Realizing that he was going to crush her, the man rolled to the side and landed on his back in a small patch of grass.
After his stifled cry of anguish, they were silent. She crawled over to where he lay. “I will go in and make a place for you to lie down before we try to move you again.” He weakly he nodded his agreement. He had no breath to speak.
She moved as fast as her sore muscles would let her and stumbled in the door. Only a hermit’s shack, the one-room structure did not offer much comfort. A fireplace took up most of the right wall. A small cupboard-like lean-to had been added for storage to the left of the hearth. It was hidden behind a rickety door. When she opened it, she discovered a collection of leaves and bugs. The clutter on the dirt floor in the main room and rotting window coverings did not help her first impression. The only thing resembling a bed was along the length of the left-hand wall. It was a wooden shelf with an old straw mattress on it. She pulled off the rotting mess and using her skirt she brushed off the bugs. Now came the harder part.
When she stepped out the door, she almost cried at the sight of him. While she had been inside, he had managed to prop himself against the outside wall. In this position, he had dozed off. Every line of his face screamed pain. Gently as she could, Eve woke him. Together they got him to his feet and in the door. He practically fell onto the hard pallet. Eve winced as his face contorted in pain. She knelt near his shoulder to see what she could do to make him more comfortable. The gash in his arm was going to need stitching. She was going to have to find a way to get some thread. She glanced at the only window. Night had almost fallen and she had much to do before she left him.
“What is your name?” His voice was so weak she almost did not hear him. Looking up from his arm, she met his eyes, dark and glassy with pain and fatigue.
With a shallow, bitter laugh, he said, “How ironic.” Then, as if he could not fight it anymore, his eyes closed and his head rolled to one side.
For a frantic moment Eve was afraid she had lost him, but his weak pulse reassured her. She watched his chest rise and fall and tried to decide what to do next.
This is an portion of the first section of my book. I hope you enjoyed reading it and feel free to comment. Thank you, Rachel Rossano
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