A Helping Hand
Allyna would have stayed in the tree until Paetir left. If not for an ominous creak from the branch the stood on. She knew she had to move before the branch, and her, fell from the tree. As she looked down to go back to the previous branch, the one she stood on broke. She had taken too long to move. But Paetir had reacted the instant he heard the crack.
He maneuvered his horse underneath Allyna and as she tumbled forward off the falling branch, he caught her. She had her breath knocked out of her from the fall, but luckily it wasn't as far thanks to Paetir and his horse. As soon as she caught her breath, she scrambled away from Paetir. "Whoever you are, it's best you get far away from me", she told him. Allyna didn't know if he would listen, but she had to take a chance that he would just go. It would be less to worry about.
Instead of galloping away as she hoped, he laughed. He clutched at his sides and laughed. Allyna shook her head at him, and turned to continue follow the river. If she couldn't stay here, she might as well keep moving. Each step took her closer to the city.
"Hey, wait!" He shouted at her, and Allyna could hear him scrambling to turn his horse and follow her. "Wait, wont you just hold still for a moment?" Paetir asked as he caught up to her. She hadn't made it far after all.
"You should just go your own way," Allyna told him, unwilling to bring him into her danger, or take the chance that he was working for Lomash. It was unreasonable, as they must believe she died days ago. Or weeks. She still wasn't sure how long she had been here. That led to her worrying about Brynn and the others.
"I don't know who you are, but I'm sure a woman wondering around unarmed and without provisions would not last very long out here," He said, following her on his mount.
"Why does it concern you? I may not need your help. How do you know I am trustworthy?" she couldn't resist asking. It was the question haunting her mind about him and his insistence. She continued forward, not waiting for an answer.
"Please stop and talk to me. Would it hurt just to have a conversation? Share a meal beneath these lovely trees?" Paetir pleaded. Allyna stopped. She was starving, having run out of berries earlier. She hadn't seen anymore since, nor any other edible plants. She wondered what he had and knew she would let him feed her. Hunger is a great motivator.
Allyna turned back to Paetir. Somewhere in following her, he had dismounted and was waiting for an answer from her. She heaved a great sigh, and walked back. "I'll join you for a meal. I admit it has been sometime since I have really eaten," she said and he grinned in response. She admitted he could almost be attractive with a smile like that. Almost.
Paetir led his horse over to a small meadow, with Allyna following behind. He tied the beast next to a tree, and begin to set up a camp. Allyna didn't plan to spend the night here, but she would wait and see what kind of person he was. As he walked around setting things up, Allyna watched him. He seemed honest in his work. His hands were sure and his animal trusted him, and even showed affection. When Paetir moved into the forest for firewood, Allyna walked over to the hose.
She hadn't interacted with many while in the city. Mostly just seen them pass by. He seemed a gentle enough beast. He nodded his large head at her as she introduced herself. His snorts ruffled her hair and she laughed. He was white, dappled with grey on his head and his rear end of his back and down his legs. He let her pet his cheeks, and seemed particularly fond of a small spot in the center of his forehead being scratched, as one of his back legs kicked in joy. Allyna was so entranced by him, that she didn't notice Paetir returning.
"His name is Starborn. Although when he gets contrary, I call him stubborn. I'm not surprised you two get along," Paetir said, making Allyna jump. Starborn didn't like the surprise either, and huffed towards them both. Allyna couldn't help but smile at them.
Paetir set his fire and finally brought out the food while Allyna kept Starborn company. As the smell of cooking meat filled the air, Allyna's stomach rumbled mightily. She drifted towards the fire, and took a seat to watch.
Paetir silently went through the motions with his cooking. Allyna only half watched as her mind was plagued with 'what-if's'. Allyna wondered if the goddess could help point her in the right direction. She was trying to figure out how to speak to Her, staring into the fire and letting it mesmerize her when the silence was broken by a loud bang.
Allyna shot up and swung around, prepared to run from what ever the threat was. She was sure they had come back for her. Instead, it was Paetir, he had dropped his pot on a rock. Paetir apologized, but Allyna turned back to the fire. Her sudden fear and the relief from it being a simple accident made tears come to her eyes.
Paetir had continued with putting his small pot away, and sat next to Allyna with the simple food he cooked upon a small trey. Allyna hurriedly wiped her eyes, but her hands were still shaking badly. She knew she should eat, but the fear had driven away her appetite. Paetir set it down between them.
"I only have the one trey, so we'll have to share. Are you okay? I'm sorry again for the pot. I didn't mean to scare you, it just slipped," he sounded so apologetic, that Allyna sent him a small smile. He sighed, then said "I still don't have a name to call you by. I don't suppose you..." He trailed off, hoping she would tell him her name.
"Allyna" she said, watching him closely for any reaction to her name. All she got from him was a cocked eyebrow. "I'm sorry I reacted badly to the pot. I guess I got more used to the quiet out here than I realized," she added. Could she trust him with the truth? He didn't seem to recognize her name.
"It's not the most common name, sure. But at least I can but a pretty name to a pretty face. How long have you been marching about the woods?" Paetir just seemed full of questions. She didn't even know how long it had been since she was kidnapped. The weather is very consistent outside of some snow in the winter months. If she knew how to read the sky, she might be able to guess.
Allyna decided to be honest. "I don't know. I was left to die a.. a while ago. A few days? Weeks? I can tell you last I remember in the city, it was the first week of summer. Perfect time for a handful of herbs in the garden." She saw Paetir's eyes go wide, and her heart fell to her stomach. "How.. how long have I been out here?" She asked, fearing the answer.
He shook his head. "Only maybe two weeks if your garden is close to my sister's. I know who you are! They've been looking everywhere for you!" At his last words, Allyna stood up and prepared to run. "No, wait! I know Ms Brynn! They've been asking all over the city! A neighbor, the baker across the street saw some men carrying you off. They thought you were dead, but your followers were sure it was the King! It's been a strike ever since, and Ms Brynn refuse to bake even a single pastry until you were found, alive or.. or otherwise. I can get you home. I have to get you back. They'll be riots when they find out what happened," He finally paused, then said, "Wait, what did happen? They just left you out here?"
Allyna couldn't think, he mind was racing. 2 weeks? And they've been looking for her? What did he mean by her followers? She only told stories, she wasn't some great artisan. But then she remembered her background, her heritage. She was born to lead, to rule. Of course people were drawn to her. Allyna pressed her hands against her eyes. Followers. People looking for her. She was missed, maybe even loved. It was then that she felt Her. Like a warm hand across her shoulders. The Goddess was with her. Whatever Paetir was, this at least was meant to be.
"Alright then," she said,wiping her eyes once again, and told him how she was kidnapped and woke in the forest. She kept her heritage to herself. "Come morning, you have to sneak me in. I need to get back. It's the will of the Goddess," she told him, revealing Her was a risk. They were forbidden to worship Her or speak Her name.
His eyes went round and his mouth gaped like a fish. He knelt in front of her, taking her hands in his. "Who are you, to have received word from Her at last?"His eyes were moist and filled with hope. Allyna wanted to explain, but to tell him would put her very life in danger. She would tell them all about her mother when the time was right.
Instead she told him, "The Goddess still moves through us, and was waiting for the right person. I will do my best to be that person. Praise Danu." She smiled, and could feel Danu smiling through her, and knew he saw a brief glimpse of Her. The wind pulled through the trees at Her whim, and they both closed their eyes to the feel.
After the breeze died, Paetir said, "I will be your champion, and get you back safely. Any where you go, Blessed One, I will follow and guard your back," Allyna nodded.
"Tomorrow, Paetir, we'll go. But please, call me Allyna. Can't give me up to them that easily!" Allyna laughed. She didn't want to put anyone in harm's way, but she needed help getting back into the city. Tomorrow. "But first, let's eat!"
The sat quietly and ate the meal Paetir had cooked. He apologized for making such simple fare, but it had been so long since she had truly eaten, it didn't matter. Afterwards, they slept. Tomorrow was a big day.
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Note From Ash
Hey guys, Ash here. I'm sorry I haven't gotten this out sooner, so thank you for your patience. Two kiddos with colds and being sick myself left me doing a bit of resting. I'm back on it now, and should be posting more. For new readers, this is part 4! Please feel free to check out my previous chapters.
As always, if you spot a mistake, let me know! I proof read as best I can, but sometimes one or two slip through. Thank you for reading, and leave me a comment or a vote!