I had to jog to follow Friendless (yes, I will be calling him that from now on). His long strides were no match for my short ones, so I guess it’s fair to say I grew tired rather quickly. I would obviously never show my discomfort, it would make me seem weak. My nurse would have been proud of me if I had fainted (flatteringly, obviously) or if I had summoned tears in my eyes. I was not about to do that anytime soon. If I fainted, it would not have looked flattering as the ground below me was covered with dirt and I suspected those little patches were animal remains. Tears were another business altogether, they were hard to assemble at any given moment. Also, even if I had shown any of these weaknesses, I don’t believe that Friendless would have shown any sympathy. He wasn’t a gentleman, not like the ones I met at court everyday. If my nurse was here, I would be standing in a corner in my room and be thinking about what I had done wrong.
“Pick up the pace,” I was startled as this was the first time since we’d started walking that Friendless had formed a whole sentence. When I had asked him anything, his responses always used to be one words that did not show him to be intelligible. I smiled in my head. He was changing his demeanour as there was a lady present in his company. He obviously could have asked that sentence instead of ordering me but he was changing, that is what mattered. “You are as slow as a snail.”
The little smile inside my head instantly disappeared and I felt myself frowning at him on the outside. I soon realised what I was doing and tried to keep my face reasonable. I still could not believe he had compared me to a small, slimy creature that is no use to anyone. It was enough to bring unwanted tears to my eyes and I extinguished that as quickly as known possible. I was alone in this dirty forest, with it’s prickling twigs and nosy birds, with only the company of a savage that had no respect for what I believed. The least I could do was not cry in front of him.
What did you expect? For this man to carry you all the way. For him to be a gentleman and care for your every need. The sad answer was, yes. Yes, I did expect all of that. It shouldn’t be that hard for someone to be nice and offer a lady whatever she needs. Apparently, it was.
As we walked further and further into the woods (well, he walked, I lingered behind), I got more tired and tired. My legs ached and my breath came in short gaps. I didn’t understand how someone could walk that long and not have pain in their foot, I sure did. My feet were burning. I’d never felt this kind of pain before and so it was safe to say, I was worried. What if I had a terrible disease and my feet needed to be chopped off? How will I be able to dance? How will I be able to do anything?
I would just have to be brave and ride through the pain like a soldier in battle, bleeding but never letting go of the hope-
“We’re here,” Friendless said as we stopped in the middle of the woods. I didn’t see any landmarks and was sure he was making this up just to get rid of me. That wouldn’t have been too terrible if it wasn’t for the fact that I had no idea where I was going. Mother had just said that I should run, there was a sanctuary in the woods that might take me in. I don’t think she expected me to get there alive as she never gave me instructions. “C’mon then.”
Friendless walked into a wall of leaves and instantly disappeared leaving me alone in the unfriendly shelter of the looming trees. As I looked down, I saw a little slimy creature climbing on my right shoe. Trying hard not to scream, I helplessly kicked it off and ran into the wall of leaves.
It was not a lovely experience. Twigs caught at my dark hair and my plain dress. Mother had told my nurse to dress me in indistinguishable clothes. I wore a light blue dress without a corset. I felt uncomfortable and free at the same time, at least I could breathe. As I finally got through the prickly brambles, I saw little tents set up all around haphazardly. There were some children running around but most of them were sitting near their parents, nursing injured body parts.
“What is this place?” I asked Friendless as I came to stand next to him, surveying the land.
“It’s a sanctuary, folks are taking refuge here, away from the war. It’s not much but it’s safe. They probably won’t find us here.” He turned away and went to help a little boy trying to wrap a blood-soaked cloth around a woman’s arm. I followed him helplessly.
“Probably?” I repeated.
“Yeah, you never know with those lot,” he grimaced. “If we’re lucky, they’ll just ignore these parts.”
“If we’re lucky?” I realised I was just repeating what he was saying and sounded ridiculous. I shut my mouth quickly.
He didn’t answer my question and just indicated with a free hand at the people on the far side of the camp.
“Go help some of these folks out,” he said focusing on the wrapping in his hand. “You better start getting to know them.” With that he completely ignored me and I set out in the direction his finger had pointed. These people would know my father. He was after all a general officer, a fact my mother loved to declare to all of her friends. If these people knew who my father was, they would be much more lovely to me than Friendless had been.
With that thought in mind, I skipped towards the family. There were two children and one woman nursing them.
“Do you want any help?” I asked her in my politest voice. First impressions counted.
“Not from the likes of you,” she said and turned away leaving me confused.
I tried again. “I have been trained to heal injuries, I am a very good medic,” I exaggerated. The injuries I had healed was a paper cut that my nurse had told me to cover with a napkin. The very good medic part: I had a very good doctor, the best in the country. It didn’t matter that I had learned nothing at all from him. Remember, first impressions.
“From a prim and prissy life,” she muttered to herself. “Dun’t know anythin’ ’bout war. Why are you not in your rich life huh? With your petty ‘father’ and ‘mother’?” The questions were aimed at me and even though I was baffled by what she’d said before, I thought it would be a good time to tell her about my father.
“My father’s a general officer,” I said proudly. “He’s busy with the war.”
The woman, to my surprise, didn’t look impressed. There was even a frown on her face.
“Go to ‘ell.”
My eyes widened and I gasped. Before I could summon a reply, which I didn’t believe I could, a rough hand landed on my shoulder and pulled me away from her. I spun around and found Friendless looming above me.
“You shouldn’t go around saying that if you wanna live,” he said. “It ain’t gonna get you anywhere here.”
With that, he left. Probably to help another injured person. I couldn’t believe they let him help them but not me. I looked more friendly and I was nicer. If it was up to me, I know who I would have chose. I was completely helpless. This was so unfair.