Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for violence.
There was no way to be sure, but Carris slept for what felt like a day and a half. All she knew for certain was that Alec had said that someone would be over in the morning and that it was light when she awoke. She was tangled in a mess of blankets. It seemed that despite sleeping for at least a full night, it had not been entirely restful. Her face was pressed into a pillow with a blanket draped over half her face. The half uncovered was warmed slightly by a sliver of sunshine sneaking in from above somewhere.
For several minutes Carris lay still, not entirely sure that she was in fact awake. Her first attempt to roll on her side quickly answered that as her entire body stiffened. It felt as if her limbs were made of lead and her torso was one giant bruise. She shoved the blanket off her face with one grunt and rolled onto her back with another. That’s when she felt the presence in the room. It was the slight creak of a chair to her right. She shoved herself up into a sitting position and promptly crashed her back onto the headrest as all the strength went out of her arms.
“Hey, there, easy now,” came a voice from the unknown presence.
Carris turned to face whoever had spoken. It was an older woman, maybe forty or so. She closed a book she had presumably been reading and rose, placing the book on the squeaky chair where she had been residing.
“My name is Laura,” she said with a warm smile. It reminded Carris of Gwyn, the way her cheeks rolled like a chipmunk. She wiped a dark curl from her eyes. “Alec wasn’t sure how exactly to take care of you, so he asked me to come by and help out.”
Carris nodded but said nothing. Her brain seemed to be unable to get into gear as of yet. She let Laura continue as she wiped the sleep from her eyes and ran a hand through her messy hair.
“I brought you a pair of clothes. It was hard to guess your measurements so they might be a bit on the large side. We can get you into them later, but first, you need some food and drink.”
Laura turned to the fire that seemed to still be going as it had the night before. Carris noticed the strong aroma of Mint again, this time mixed with something spicy, perhaps foreign even. Laura grabbed a mug from the nearby counter and filled it with steaming tea from the black pot over the fire. Unlike the previous night, Carris was able to take the cup for herself. The warmth in her hands brought a sigh to her lips and she raised the cup to her lips, sipping cautiously.
“Need some help,” Laura asked, turning from where she was preparing what looked to be a bowl of something.
Carris shook her head and cleared her throat, which was still dry beyond belief. “Just have a sensitive mouth,” she said, feeling that a smile went along with the statement, but not entirely sure that it in fact appeared on her face. Regardless, she sipped the tea again, feeling the hot liquid run down her throat like a knife. After a few more sips she began to feel as if she was finally awake. She lips her chapped lips and inhaled the steam from the tea.
Laura arrived at her bedside with a bowl of something that was also steaming, and apparently the origin of the spicy smell. Carris looked up in curiosity.
“Is that tera-vine?” she inquired, thankful that her voice got through a whole sentence without squeaking or choking up as it had the previous night.
Laura nodded. “Indeed. I thought it might help clear up your lungs and rouse you a little. Gods know after what happened to you you’re going to need some rousing.”
“What exactly did happen to me?” Carris asked in between a sip of tea.
“Alec said that he found you floating in the water, bumping again his dock. Said you were unconscious and nearly frozen. He dragged you out of the water and brought you here to his hut as fast as he could.”
“And that was just last night?”
“More like afternoon. Sun was still up, else he wouldn’t have spotted you in the water. He takes late afternoon strolls on the riverside. Helps him clear his head. But enough of that. Try to eat as much of that stew as you can while I warm your clothes up by the fire.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Despite how good it smelled, Carris’ efforts to finish the bowl failed halfway through. She felt exhausted like her whole frame was empty of any energy. Laura helped her through the process of standing and getting a fresh pair of clothes. Apparently Alec had stripped her of her outer garments and had Laura replace her undergarments at a moment’s notice the previous night. That was slightly disconcerting to Carris, but it paled in comparison in light of her overall situation.
“I can’t just sit here,” she said as she sat back down on the bed, thoroughly exhausted from having to stand for five minutes. The new clothes were a bit baggy. Things could be worse though. Her new clothes were almost dry, and she could soon be on her way.
“Does anyone here own a horse?”
Laura, who was cleaning Carris’s dishes across the hut hesitated. “A horse? For what, exactly?”
“For me,” Carris said, annoyed at such an obvious question.
Laura laughed in one of those “motherly” high-pitched mocking tones that reminded her of her mom. “You’re in no condition to be riding anywhere, girl. You couldn’t even mount a horse right now if you had one outside.”
Carris huffed. “Yes, well I don’t have much of a choice. I need to get out of here.”
“And exactly why is that? Who you running from?” Laura asked matter-of-factly, not turning to face Carris.
“I-umm- no-no one?” Carris said. “Why would you think that?”
“Lived here my whole life. Plenty of folks have come through here looking for a horse or a boat ride down the river to the shore.”
“Well, not me. I'm trying to go east, not west. And I’m trying to get to a friend, not run away from anything.” Carris folded her arms. Although was that entirely true? Would she not be running from Astoria if she were in the same predicament but Gwyn was not in possible danger?
“Is that a fact? What exactly happened to you?”
“Doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I get to Atheron before it’s too late.”
Laura turned at that.” Too late for what?”
Carris looked at the floor. Should I tell her? Would it even help?
“Nothing. I’m just trying to help a friend out.”
She wasn’t sure if Laura believed her, but she seemed to accept the answer and made no move to continue the conversation. Laura finished with the dishes. She grabbed her book from the chair and made her way for the door.
“Alec won’t be back for another hour or so. I suggest you try to get more rest. “Whatever your reason for getting out of here, the faster you get stronger the quicker you’ll be able to leave. I’ll be back tonight to check on you.”
With that, she was out the door. Carris clenched her teeth. She hated to admit it, but Laura was right. She could barely stand for ten minutes, let alone ride a horse twenty miles.
I’ll give myself one day. Then I’m leaving.