Mist and the last of the smoke blended together when Eli looked back down into the valley at the manor. Beyond that, the fog completely cloaked the river and what he knew would be the boat house at the crossing. He was grateful to be above the stench of the charred remains of animals that they could not save. Eli shuddered as he wondered if some of the burned flesh smell was from any of the people who lived at the manor. Possibly even the master, if the rumors he’d heard in the night were true.
There was a chill in the air, but Eli’s skin still felt the heat of the fire of the night before. His right hand was burned from when he pulled on the iron closure of the last of the horses’ stalls. It was a wonder the animals hadn’t run him down in their panic to be free of the heat and flames that covered the back of the stables. He touched the gash near his temple. The gelding just missed killing him when he leapt past the gate that Eli was trying to open.
They’d managed to save all of the horses that were in the stable. His father and his brothers were collecting the ones who wandered back to the manor when the flames finally subsided. Eli was sent to the hills to start rounding up those animals who had not returned. As the youngest of the farrier’s sons, he did what he was told.
Eli chewed a piece of bread as he checked over the fourth horse he’d tied to the makeshift corral in his temporary camp. It would likely take a few days to gather up the lost horses. He hoped that the missing ones would smell the others and start coming back together on their own.
He had a little bit of food with him; the kitchen was still intact and one of the maids handed him a bundle as he left. He was on foot – his father didn’t want to spare any of the horses for him. Besides, he would find horses that he could ride if he needed to. That meant that he couldn’t carry much for supplies, but his father didn’t seem to care.
“You’re strong and summer is still with us. You don’t need much.” he’d been told when he asked.
And so Eli climbed up the mountainside on foot, searching for the horses. He was a good tracker; not that his father knew. Eli spent most of his life ignored by his father. His older brothers taught him their family’s farrier trade when they had time and Eli begged them to. His tracking skills came from when he’d been a child and served with the master’s hunting parties. Eli paid attention to what the men were doing and saying. He was quiet and no one ever noticed the boy hovering as they discussed hunting and tracking while he poured their wine.
Eli checked his burned right hand. It didn’t burn as much now that he’d been applying the salve that the master’s wife left with him years ago on one of the hunts. It was almost all gone now. He always carried it with him, just in case. Eli doubted that she remembered that day. He would never forget it.
The other men didn’t notice when the wine-boy tripped over the carelessly discarded coat one of the men had cast aside. When he fell, Eli’s leg brushed against the hot rocks of the cooking fire and burned. But she noticed.
The master’s wife – Eliza – rushed to his side and helped him up and back to her tent. The 16 year old “boy” was taller than she was and he felt silly limping along beside her, feeling every inch of her arm around his waist. His face burned more than his leg did as her soft hands applied the salve to his injury. He prayed that she wouldn’t look up to see his embarrassment pressing against the front of his breeches. Eli gripped the wine flask close to cover himself.
“There. Now keep putting this on for a few days and it will heal well.” Eliza stood up from where she’d been kneeling and offered him some water from the bucket beside them.
Their eyes met as he drank and Eliza quickly looked away from him. Eli guessed that she couldn’t be much older than he was. She always looked sad whenever he glanced her way on the many hunts they’d been on. The master rarely went anywhere without his wife coming along behind him. She’d been with him for a little less than a year, but never did she seem to be a blushing bride.
Many rumors fluttered around the manor about where the master’s wife came from. No one knew the truth and the master did not tell anyone. He’d returned from a journey over the pass with her in his group and claimed only that she was now his wife. The Brute was so close to her side that everyone wondered if she was with the Brute or with the master. The only time anyone saw her was when she came on the hunts with them. Out there, the Brute seemed to leave her alone.
The Brute wasn’t with her last night. Last night, when Eli saw her jump down into the hay wagon. He couldn’t imagine what she was doing, he just knew that he needed to help her.
Even in the darkness, he knew it was her. He knew every curve of her body. He couldn’t see her dark eyes very well, but the outline of her face was unmistakable. Especially to him who had looked her way so many times.
Where was she going? What was happening? Why was she choosing to run? Would she make it to wherever she was going? How could she, with so few supplies? His meager food he’d given her would not take her very far. How could a women survive in this wilderness? The master would surely be out looking for her. The Brute was probably already on the hunt.
Eli chewed harder on another piece of bread and re-wrapped his hand. He knew that it wouldn’t take them long to find her. His jaw clenched…he had to find her first.
See the previous part of the story here: https://cevraini.com/2018/08/19/escape/