My Name is Honor: Chapter 8
Another mad dash. Orin clutched my hand, leading me at a breakneck speed away from danger, yet again.
"Orin.." I panted
He jerked my hand suddenly.
"Keep up." He said between breaths.
Dropping my hand, he ran even faster. Burning spread from my feet steadily up both legs until my hips tingled dangerously, coordination began to slip, and finally, my muscles screaming over the last hours of exertion; Archu ran ahead, anticipating his master's every move, until finally we heard his big paws splash into water. Orin halted at last, but not for long. Barely illuminated by the first gray light of early morning, a wide marshland spread before us as far as I could see. Archu danced anxiously in the shallow water rimmed with thick black mud as Orin pulled off his boots.
"It'll be easier barefoot, hurry. Rafter won't distract them for long."
I followed suit, though hesitant to part with the sturdy boots I'd stolen from Carrick's house. They'd been Kaya's, made for her by her husband's own hands. She certainly wouldn't be needing them, she'd only ever worn them on special occasions anyway. In moments we were plowing through the march, at times knee-deep in muck. I toiled to keep pace with Orin, often being tugged at the waist by the rope he'd tied between us. After nearly an hour in the marsh, the mud gave way unexpectedly to deep water,murky water, concealed by the tall grass. It went on for hours, deep mud at times giving way to waist-high water, then back to mud again with me scrambling to keep up until finally our feet landed on soggy but solid land. I collapsed in a heap, praying silently we could rest now, even just a moment. Orin sat down heavily next to me, his heavy breathing echoing in the still air, his breath coming in puffs of steam in the first bright orange rays of sunlight. Only Archu, who had managed to carry his hulking frame, bounding with ease, over the mud, seemed unaffected, pacing nearby, tail wagging, ears pricked alertly.
"Where are we?"
"Nearly to the Cathedral. A bit off course, I believe, from the usual point of entry, but we're not far, we'll make it."
After a moment's rest, during which Orin paced anxiously, eyes scanning the marsh we had just come from for any sign of movement, he crouched next to me, looking me over intently.
"Can you do it?" His tone implied genuine concern, he probably would have carried me if I'd asked.
Even through sheer exhaustion, I was insulted.
"Can I make it?" I ignored his offered hand and hoisted myself up painfully, my legs screaming in protest. I winced, kept quiet, but all the while felt his eyes on me.
A sigh, barely audible. "Have it your way, then."
It was nearly full daylight as we moved on into the dark span of looming Pine forest, thick with Juniper and Holly, before us. Orin called to Archu, commanding him to stay close. Something about our new surroundings made him nervous, He insisted I stay directly behind him, no more than a foot away, within reach at all times, and that I stay quiet. Again, I had a line of questions and again, I held them at bay. It was these very questions I pondered, eyes locked on Orin's back, when he stopped short, inhaling sharply and cursing under his breath.
"Honor get away!"
"What?" a strange swish sounded in the silent forest around us, the creak of a rope straining.
"Move!" he spun to shove me away, eyes wide.
Suddenly the world turned upside down, a pain shooting through both my head and ankle at once, and the world, yet again, went dark.
For the second time in recent days, I awoke in strange surroundings, without any immediate recollection as to how I arrived there. The place was dim, rouge rays of sunlight beaming their way through dingy blankets hung over what few openings there were in the gray stone walls. A soft, plump face floated into my blurred line of vision.
"Awright, then, love?" The face chirped jovially.
I sat upright, too quickly, my head throbbing.
"Easy dearie!" two doughy hands reached out to gently guide me back down to the welcoming comfort of the pillow. "Got quite a bump on the head, there, amongst other things. Don;t try to move too much, yeah?"
It all began to come into focus, a woman perched tentatively on the edge of the bed...a bed so soft, none of the poke and sticks of a straw mattress, the pillow certainly made of goose down. The smell of the air, sweet, aromatic, slightly bitter... slightly bitter... it was familiar, like the ones they used in church. It rushed back in a terrifying flood. The Council, my escape with Orin. My heart raced as I came to the last moments I remembered. The world gone topsy-turvy, and an almost dream-like image of Orin dangling next to me from his legs. I shoved the woman away, scrambling clumsily off the bed in the opposite direction, dragging myself across the dirt floor after the immediate realization my legs had no intention of supporting my weight.
"Oh No!" came the woman's fretful voice as she rose, hurrying around the bed.
I looked around desperately for anything to defend myself as she approached slowly, hands held up for me to see.
"I mean ye no harm, love. Just calm down before ya hurt yerself, yeah? I daresay your young man will have my hide if anythin' else happens to ye!"
Her accent reminded me too much of the apostles in the village for her words to trigger any sort of trust.
"Who are you!" I demanded "Where am I?"
"Yer safe, dear." She stopped a few feet from me, smiling. "It's all right now."
"Just in the next room, resting, come now, let me help you back to bed."
I stared at her, trying to read her face, her eyes, for any sign, any subtle twitch or expression with might betray her underlying intentions. I found none, only the simple, smiling face filled with concern. I searched myself for some feeling or instinct against trusting her, finally, under the condition I see Orin at once, allowed her to help me back to bed.
"Now I won't wake him, dear, I'm sorry." She crooned softly, tucking the soft blankets around me. "But the moment the boy opens his eyes, I'll bring you to him. Now rest." She patted to bed softly, smiling, slipping from the room before I could utter my protest.
My eyes adjusted to the dim light, and the distraction of that strange round woman gone, I took stock of my surroundings. The room was small, the walls stone with three covered windows. A large tub for bathing sat at the far end, opposite the door. The bed and night-stable were the only other furnishings, save for the enormous rug covering most of the floor and the full-length mirror, something I had seen only once in my life, standing in the corner. The herbal vapors eased my thoughts, no matter how I fought it, my eyes growing heavier with each breath.
I was adrift in a seemingly endless span of water, the waves lapping against the sides of my skiff, the sun absent from a charcoal sky, a violent light streaking it's way across, cracking loudly as it went. A cold wind spun across the water, sending a chill up my spine.
"Honor...wake up.." the voice floated into my dream, carried on the wind. It brought inexplicable comfort to the impending storm, calling out to me again. "Honor..." A wave rocked my little boat, jolting me from the serenity the voice had brought. "Open your eyes..."
Orin's face hovered over me, one eye blacked, but smiling, speaking softly, his hand gently rocking my shoulder.
"There you are." He grinned wider.
Sitting up, I couldn't help but return his smile.
"Orin! Are you alright?"
"Aye" He gestured to his dark swollen eye. "Just a precaution."
"Precaution?! They beat you as a precaution? where are we? There was a woman.. when I woke up before, but she told me nothing..." I began
Orin held up his hand, expression the definition of patience. "It's alright, that was Carra, she's one of us, we're at the Cathedral, Honor. We made it, and you've done so well..."
He explained about the snare traps, how we had been set off-track escaping from the dogs, entering the space protected around the Cathedral, set with traps and patrols, making sense of my clouded, fractured memory of swinging upside-down beside him. When we were discovered, I was already unconscious, and Orin had been interrogated at length before being allowed to pass.
"What is so special about this place? How are there guards, do these people live here?"
Orin sighed, looking at me strangely, almost like one might watch a troubled child. "Yes, they live here. They have dedicated their service to caring for these strongholds. When their time is up, they will return home and others will take their place. There are few places like this, undisturbed, protected, safe places kept for weary travellers making their escape. Men train for years and risk their lives to patrol these grounds..." he shook his head sadly. "And yet so few pass through these doors on their way to freedom."
"Orin, how many are after us, do you think?" It had been troubling me since the first night of our exodus. How many men would join the chase, be commission by the Council, just to kill me.
"All of them." He said simply, shrugging as if I should have known that already. "Honor, the Council did not want you alive in the first place, I'm certain Carrick would have had to plead and deal just to take you from the wilderness the night your parents died. He must have made great promises, perhaps even paid for it, he must have loved your father dearly."
I felt my every muscle tighten at his words. "Are you honestly trying to say he was a good man? After the brutality he has wrought on me all my life?" My voice was rising as fast as the anger burning in my chest. I was temped to turn my back and show him the patchwork of scars laid across it. "He may have loved his brother, my father, but his love of the Council is greater, his devotion is to them. Orin, he killed my father!"
Orin nodded slowly, "I'm not saying he was a good man. But I suppose even an evil man can love."
"He was there! He helped! he told me himself, he looked his own brother in the eye, heard his last request, and put the noose on my father himself!" my heart was racing now, cheeks flushed, reliving the tale Carrick had relayed to me so coldly.
"I"m sorry." he says quietly
I steered him back toward the long list of questions I'd been saving.
"Last night, when we had to run, that was a hunting party?"
"Yes. A big one from the sounds of it. They are covering ground quickly, I think the Council's Ghosts are driving them hard... they are not taking this lightly...the escape of the girl who wasn't supposed to be born much less live..Kaya's death....you could do more damage than you know, they will do anything to find you." He stared at the floor, hands folded stiffly. "I won't let them." he mumbled the last words through gritted teeth.
"Where's Archu?" I queried, not wanting to think about the Council looming over us anymore. Orin turned to me, seeming to have lost all of the smoldering anger of just a second before.
"No doubt in the kitchen with Carra, begging for scraps, probably getting a better portion than we will. She loves that him."
"He'll be along shortly, if he's not around here somewhere already, don't you worry. Not the first time he's run off without warning. And Gods know he wouldn't be pleased to know we'd been lounging around in bed." even in the shadows the half-smile illuminated his face, spreading slowly, as in someone were whispering a joke in his ear. He nodded, more to himself then I and stood up suddenly, taking my blankets with him, tossing them across the room.
"Orin!" I shouted, pulling the long nightshirt someone had put me into (hopefully Carra) down over my knees.
"Time to get up! I'll send Carra with clothes, you're to clean up and dress, and get downstairs to get some food in you. You're going to need it!"
He was barely out of the room before Cara rushed in with the promised from clothing and a bucket of steaming hot water.
"Well, love, feel better now?" She piped brightly. "Now, I know you'll be wantin' a full bath but a quick wash will have to do for now."
Catching sight of myself in the full-length mirror mounted on the wall near the wash-tub, I could hardly contain my haste to get clean. I scrubbed vigorously through the grime on my face, legs and arms until my skin was red, Cara all the while waiting patiently, her back turned. I gripped the hand-made brush Cara had produced from her apron pocket and wrestled it through my hair until finally it lay smoothly down my back again. When I'd finished Cara unwrapped and inspected the wound on my neck.
"It's fine" I protested, waving her hand away.
"hold still, dear." she persisted, and before I knew it, had removed the stitches. "There now, no need for those anymore." She held the remains of thread in one hand, the other applying a similar-smelling salve to the one Orin had carried with him.
"There now, all cleaned up and good as new!" Cara clapped her hands and stepped back, looking me over just as my stomach growled furiously.
"Can we eat?"
Cara ushered me out of the small room into a vast, drafty hallway,lined with several closed, heavy doors, lit with torches hung from the walls. The smell of herbs and incense was everywhere, and only served to exacerbate my hunger. Cara seemed to sense my urgency and quickened her pace, leading me down a wide spiral staircase which let out into an open courtyard, filled with sunlight and the most beautiful blossoms I'd ever seen. Four impossibly tall walls surrounded up, each covered with climbing vines. I found myself frozen in place, taking it all in.
"Ah yes, it's beautiful isn't it?" A voice that seemed to come from all around us and yet whispering in my ear at the same time.
Cara turned abruptly, knowingly, toward the farthest corner where an especially exquisite rosebush gushed forth blood red blossoms.A man who seemed to apparate from beside it stepped into view
"Tadhg! How many times have I told you not to sneak up on me!"
The man, draped in simple brown robes similar to those of an apprentice apostle, strolled toward us fluidly, his face a picture of serenity.
"My apologies, dear Sister Cara." He bowed slightly, smiling impishly. "I wished only to welcome our new arrival." He turned his soft brown eyes to me, extending his hand. "I am Tadhg, Priest and more often gardener, of these grounds. so very good to meet you at last."
I shook his hand. "I'm Honor -"
"Yes, I know." He interrupted gently. "Orin has told us much about you already. I will leave you in Sister Cara's very capable hands, my roses are impatient for their attention." with another small bow and a wink to Cara which turned her cheeks nearly as crimson as Tadhg's roses.
Cara hurried me through an arched doorway on the far wall, out of the bright warm sunlight into another dimly lit hall.
"This is the east wing, here you'll find the chapel, dining hall and Priest's quarters."
Finally, my mouth watering from the smell of roasting meat and fresh baked bread, we reached the dining hall. A long table, appearing capable of seating a hundred people, sat in the center, benches running the length of it. Several men were seated already, some in the same brown robes Tadhg had worn, others in common farmer'r or hunter's attire; all of them stared ravenously at the meal being set before them. Two women scurried back and forth from a door set across the room with trays of roasted meats, vegetables, and fruits, some of which I had never seen. Cara wrung her hands anxiously as one of the women nearly dropped an entire platter of roast goose.
"Oh dear, oh dear. I really should be in there... Honor, have a seat, love, we'll be ready to eat shortly." She rushed off before I could protest, leaving me alone in the doorway.
The prospect of sitting down at a table surrounded by strange men seemed less than appealing, in fact I was frozen where I stood at the thought of it.
"They won't bite." came Orin's voice softly from behind me. I spun to find him grinning his odd little half-smile,
"I'm not afraid."
"No, no. Of course you're not. Come on." He led me to the table, pointing me to a seat I hoped might be inconspicuous. Disappointingly, it was not so. Instantly, they fell silent, and though I pretended to be taking in the feast before me, I could feel their eyes on me as if it were the sting of Carrick's lash. A resounding string of curses and shrill shouting followed by the clatter of a pan crashing to the floor thankfully took the attention from me as a booming roar came from behind the kitchen door.
"Woman! I'll have it if I please!"
"Out!!" came the shrill reply.
The men at the table, who had risen from their seats in preparation to investigate the ruckus, slowly began to sink back down, some laughing and shaking their heads.
"Awright! I'm goin'!"
Rafter burst through the door, tearing into a turkey leg like a hungry dog. "Women!" He huffed, making his way to the table.
"Ah! Orin, M'boy! Was wondering if the two of you intended on spending all day in bed!"
Orin laughed good naturedly at his mentor's jab and shook his head as Rafter went about the table greeting each other the others, it appeared they we all old friends. Finally, he worked his way around to where Orin and I sat and dropped down on the bench next to us, still gnawing on the turkey joint. He nodded at me curtly.
"Girl." It came out more of a grunt than a word, Rafter immediately turning his attention to the resuming conversation around the table.
I began to feel more and more inclined to despise him, certainly not seeing whatever it was Orin saw in him that made him admire the man so. When Cara and the others finally brought out the last loaves of bread and a cask of wine, then men filled their plates unceremoniously and dug into the food, the sound of mastication and satisfied grunts from Rafter the only things to be heard throughout the dining hall. As, one by one, plates were cleared, refilled, and cleared again, men began to file out, others coming in to take their places. Orin, my only connection to this world, seemed to have forgotten I existed, leaving me alienated , as the discussion launched. It didn't matter,as I was far too interested in the feast before me to care about the musings of men. By the time I had finished, feeling like I could never eat another bite, Only a few men remained at the table, sipping from the steaming mugs of tea Cara had brought after the table had been cleared.
"Tell us. then, Rafter. How many were there?" A ginger-haired, bearded brute shouted from far down the table.
Rafter drained his wine glass an poured another, shrugging nonchalantly.
"Oh I couldn't be sure, ten, twenty, maybe? Doesn't include the Ghosts." He reached out and snatched several pieces of a steaming, sweet smelling bread Cara had just toted from the kitchen.
I inhaled the familiar scent deeply; sweet seedcake, my favorite.
"Twenty!" the ginger cried incredulously.
"And that was just one party." Rafter uttered between bites.
"They will never find us here."Orin piped in confidently, smiling around the table. His optimism was not returned by all. A wiry man, jagged features mismatched to large, round brown eyes, all set in a thin olive-skinned face scowled furiously from beneath the hood of his his simple brown robe.
"Let us hope so." His even tone came out forced, his eyes trained fixedly on Orin.
"Bah!" Rafter scoffed at the man's pessimism "Once Phelan has learned we had brought her, he will come for her, and with him, you know full well what comes."
Suddenly my tea became less interesting. Phelan?
"If our messengers make it to him! The sentinels say the entire marsh is surrounded by hunting parties." Thin-face squeaked. "If you had waited until the right moment to remove her, instead of going off half-cocked!"
Rafter slammed his massive fist on the table. "I didn't want to bring her at all! And it wasn't me who rushed things along!"
"It was me." I heard a clear, concise voice speak out over the others before I realize it had been me, my mouth working ahead of my mind, compulsively spitting out words without my consent.
Five sets of eyes turned on me as if I were a talking fish. Even Orin seemed shocked I had decided to pipe in to the discussion.
"That's right!" Rafter confirmed indignantly, jabbing his thumb at me.
"Young lady.." A raspy voice tinged in a accent I didn't recognize, drifted from the other end of the table. I peeked around Rafter's massive frame to place to voice to it's owner. Only when it continued could I pinpoint it's origin. A slumped form, also in brown robes, straightened to to face me, the depths of his over-sized hood barely revealing the craggy face, lined with years of worry. "You have not been addressed at this table." he scolded me, straining the limits of his worn vocals in emphasis.
I drew a deep deliberate breath, ignoring Orin's sharp look and brief shake of his head signaling me to be quiet.
"I am guilty of murder. That's why they have sent so many."
suppressed chuckles sounded around the table, from all but Orin and the old man.
"Child, they have sent so many because the flame they tried to extinguish, nemesis they thought they had held at bay, has just slipped through their fingers. The wolf is at the door."
His cryptic way of speaking left me irritated, though a bit deflated.
"Honor.." Orin spoke my name softly, a clear warning to choose my words carefully. Again, I ignored him.
"Flames and nemesis and wolves? Am I supposed to find meaning in your riddles?!"
Orin stiffened beside me, eyes flitting nervously to the old man. Rafter looked as if he'd like to slap me. I had grown impatient with the secrets, here I was with them, I had a right to carry the same knowledge as the rest of them. My cheeks flushed as I stared at the wrinkled face, a strange little smile coming over it.
"Your uncle will be here soon, if all goes well. I'm sure he will find no doubt you are his blood." With that, the old man rose slowly to his feet, thin-face and his mute friend, apparently the old one's attendants, rushed to his side to escort him from the hall.
Uncle... The word echoed in my mind deafeningly.