Warning: This work has been rated 16+.
I stayed at the edge of the town of Lindow as Gideon rode through it, seeing what buildings lay inside. At this point, we were both looking for an inn for a good sleep after the hard week we left behind us. If there was no inn, there was no need to show my face here. We both didn't want to leave too much of a trail behind for my father to follow.
Akela, underneath me, could feel my nervousness and began to shift uneasily. His step was eager to leave and I had to keep a tight hand on his reigns. I didn't need to lose him over my own stupidity. I tried to calm myself down and relax, hoping Akela would follow that feeling as well. It worked over a few minutes and he eventualy settled back down, much to my relief.
As I relaxed in the saddle, Gideon appeared in my line of sight again. He rode casually back to me, a very neutral look upon his face. It wasn't until he was closer that I could see the little twinkle in his eyes. He nodded his head and I clucked at Akela, letting him follow Gideon as we both rode into the small town.
I did my best to look normal but I couldn't help but look this way and that, constantly waiting for someone to attack. My mind raced but even as I watched the townsfolk go about their business, I knew that no word had reached them...yet. I didn't think it would be long before aquiring supplies would become a tricky business. I wasn't looking forward to the time when my father caught up to us. Maybe not in his own, physical form, but in the vast connections he held with everyone in the country. A man such as him didn't need to be present to destroy. The mere fear of him could do the job without any hindrance.
"Elaya, it's here." Gideon said, stopping. My mind snapped back into my surroundings and I looked back, realizing he had stopped a few yards before I had. I smiled and turned Akela around, chuckling to myself as I caught sight of his obvious confusion.
"You should be used to me dazing off by now, you know." I chuckled as I stopped beside him. He rolled his eyes which I noted looked especially green.
He ignored my comment and said, "You go in and get a room for yourself and I'll get settled in the stable."
I stood still and looked him dead in the eye, "We can't afford a room. We need to just sleep and get going," I said and seeing his protest forming, I quickly added, "I'd rather just eat, sleep and continue. The more time and money we spend here, is the quicker we'll run out of them both. You know it as well as I do."
He sent a chilling glare my way but I didn't budge. He must have been able to tell because he offered no further argument and waved me into the inn. I smiled, knowing I'd won. If I could say I was anything, it was definitely stubborn. You didn't have to know me to know it either. I have been approached by strangers before and told that I look like a woman to be reckoned with. Of course, John and Gideon had been right there to agree with them, immediately confirming their suspicions.
I opened the wooden door and stepped inside, fully expecting to be hit with a wave of alcohol and sweat. I was pleasantly surprised as I was met with a very quaint inside. Small, unadorned tables were laid out in a circular pattern. All of them were decorated with a variety of spring coloured tablecloths. They were worn and threadbare but they brought an unexpected warmth to the room.
I looked around more fully and noticed an older woman watching me from behind what could be served as a counter. She had a pleasant smile on her face, instantly making me feel comfortable approaching her.
As I made my way to her, she smiled wider, if even possible and asked, "How can I help you today, my dear?" Despite what I thought, her voice was surprisingly deep.
"Hello, my partner and I are passing through and are looking for a place to stay until tomorrow morning." I said, trying to stay as neutral as possible.
"Well, we have plenty of rooms to rent out," she paused as the door opened with Gideon in tow, "Will that be one or two rooms?"
"Oh, well, the stable would do." I said, aching with every word. I desperately needed a bath but as far as money went, I didn't.
Her eyebrows furrowed, obviously taking in what I was thinking, "I see. Well, it is available. Am I to assume that you have horses as well?"
I nodded my head.
"For overnight that would be," she began visibly tallying the price, her eyes squinting, "Five copper and the baths, young lady, is on the house."
Despite what I wanted, I immediately said, "No, that's fine. I don't want to over-extend my welcome. Thank you for the kind offer."
Completely ignoring my words, she turned and yelled, "Linda! Two hot baths!"
Gideon stepped in, "Really, we cannot pay you."
The woman shook her head and chuckled, "I don't expect pay. I've been in your shoes before and it's not pleasant. Now stop your arguing and take what I am offering you. Go settle in the stable and I'll call for you when they are ready for you. There are blankets in that closet there at the door." She pointed at a barely visible door and I thanked her for her kindness. Something I was still yet to become accustomed to. Without suspicion at least.
We both made our way back out to the stable which was positioned on the side of the building. The set up was different but I rather liked it. There were two sets of stables on either side of the building that extended past the front steps. It gave it a very alley-like feel to it but it was homey at the same time.
Gideon had chosen the one on the left as it was less occupied. I noticed that he also chose the stalls at the very back of the building. Although it looked perfectly normal, I knew he chose them because they were closest to the back exit. A quick escape if needed. It wasn't likely but like him, I would rather be safe then sorry.
The horses were content in their stalls as they munched on some very nice looking hay. This place really knew how to upkeep the area. She was surprised that the cost was so low. It was expensive to her but she knew that compared to other places, it was rather low.
I saw a small mirror in the back corner and groaned. I didn't want to see what I looked like. Despite that, the woman in me had to see. I surpressed a cry of surprise as I took in my appearance. My long, brown hair was matted with sticks and leaves and definitely was greased from a whole week with nothing to clean it. Dirt was smudged along my cheek and forehead which oddly brought out the golden hues in my brown eyes. At least I had one saving grace.
I caught sight of the scar that ran down from my left earlobe to the base of my collar bone. An everlasting reminder of what I was escaping. Forever a memory that would show up in my dreams. Forever a monster inside my mind.
I shuddered and cast my eyes away from the mirror. I found Gideon, laying on the course blanket with an elbow to prop him up, watching me intently. I could see the hidden anger in his eyes as he saw my fingers caressing the near death experience. Of course, it hadn't been pleasant for Gideon either, who had to care for me while John told my father to back off.
"It's not going to happen again, Elaya," his eyes were hard as steel but his voice was softer then I'd ever heard it, "I promise, okay?"
I nodded my head but his words were barely a reassurance. I knew that if it came down to it, Gideon would only be a dead body to my father before he cut me down. I shuddered again, praying silently that the day would never come.
I knew Gideon didn't buy my act and he was about to say something when who I assumed was Linda, came bounding in.
"The baths are ready if you are." She said, her voice light and full of endless energy. I was so very thankful to see her. She didn't know it but she just got me out of a very pointless conversation with Gideon. No matter what way he put it, my fear would see it any other way.
I nodded my head and followed her immediately, not giving Gideon the chance to open that conversation up. He followed but by his stiff movements, I could tell he wasn't too happy with how I got away from it. I didn't care. I wanted a bath and quite frankly, I wanted it now. No broody man was going to stop me from it at this point.
Linda took me to my bath first, leading me behind the counter and into a quaint room behind. Usually that's where the kitchen was set up but the whole format of the building was odd. I wasn't going to ask questions though.
I thanked her and she smiled wide as if no one had said the words to her before. She left shortly after urging me out of my clothes so she could wash them as I bathed. I had felt slightly awkward about the thought and undressed in the privacy of the towel she left for me. I wondered for a passing moment if the kindness was just a facade for darker purposes. The thought left me as quickly as it had come.
As soon as the girl left, I made my way to the tub, filled with hot water. The heat burned my legs as I put them in but instead of pulling away, I emmersed my whole body in it. The water swirled around my shoulders and traveled higher as dark strands of hair floated. I squinted my eyes and plunged my head into the scorching water. The initial sting subsided into a general throb and I relished in the sudden feeling in my body. A week's riding caused more then enough stiffness in my body and the water was already working to get them out.
I resurfaced and just lay there for a few minutes, enjoying the peace and quiet it offered. The moment of serenity I knew would only be coming few and far in between.
My eyes began to feel heavy, relaxing in the water. I would deal with the worries later. For right now, I let sleep overtake me.