Mostly everyone agreed that option one was the best this time. I think there's just something attractive about dumping characters in moats...So I'll not delay you from reading more about falling into moats.
We hit the moat with a fountaining splash.
One slight problem: I was wearing a long, heavy dress, and I couldn’t swim very well.
I came up gasping for air, kicking my legs in a desperate attempt to stay afloat. The weight of my dress dragged me under the cold water once more. My legs tangled in my skirts and my arms floundered uselessly. I need to breathe. I need to breathe. I need to breathe! My thoughts chanted over and over, but I couldn’t remember which way was up and the murky water swirled around me in a disorientating manner.
Just before I gave up a hand grabbed my shoulder and pulled me up out of the water. I gulped in the air, feeling grass under my hands.
“Well, up ye git, now,” Maree said, hauling me to my feet. “I’d sey eet’d be a good toime t’ leg eet.”
“Leg it?” I moaned. “What’s that meant to mean?” But Maree was already running, and I was forced to choose between running as well or being dragged along behind, as she still had a firm grip on my hand.
Maree couldn’t even seem to run straight, but instead kept turning suddenly and twisting around in the most unpredictable fashion. A wicked hiss that was all too familiar shot past us and an arrow skidded along the ground and buried its point amongst the wildflowers.
Now that I realised just how serious Sir Creighton and his men were I discovered reserves of speed which I never knew I had. I wonder what Governess Kathryn would say if she saw me now? I thought absentmindedly, before realising that what she would say matter least just at that moment.
Maree pulled me into a large clump of trees, slowing slightly as she pushed through the branches. “Where...are...we going?” I panted, remembering why I hated running.
“I havena decided queet yit. Eway moostly,” Maree replied. “Horses coold o’ come een handy, but we dinna ‘ave the toime.”
“We could get some in the town,” I suggested.
“Ah, but we ‘ave to git there first,” Maree said. “And Hacaz and ‘is men have horses alreedy.”
I pressed my lips together and Maree redoubled her pace. Leaves slapped my face and I tripped on the hem of my dress more than once, and would have ended up face-first in the dirt if not for Maree.
“Weet there,” Maree released her hold of my hand and vaulted over a tall fence on our right, running like an athlete toward a small farmhouse.
She disappeared inside it and I looked around nervously. If any of the soldiers turned up I wanted Maree to be next to me, not away in some farmhouse.
I crouched under a bush, my eyes on the farm cottage, waiting for Maree to reappear. The sound of horses behind me and to my right made me freeze, my heartbeat quickening. I remained as still as a living being could as the sound came closer and closer.
“Come oon!” Maree’s voice hissed at me.
I almost jumped out of my skin, and I certainly jumped out of the bush. “How did you get here?” I asked. “And where did you get the horses?”
“The farmer were happy ter lend ‘em whin I toold ‘im what was happenin’,” Maree replied cheerfully. “I seid I’d geeve ‘em back.”
“By the look on her face, she might be enjoying this,” I muttered under my breath, but I swung up into the saddle anyway.
Maree cocked her head, as if listening to some distant sound. “Heer thet?” she asked.
I began to shake my head but then caught the sound of horses galloping.
Maree looked at me and nodded once. “Run,” she said.
Galloping bareback across fields and hills on a half trained horse was not my idea of an adventure. Maree had only bothered to throw a bridle on the two horses before we started and I can tell you that galloping bareback is difficult at the best of times. But wearing a long, soggy dress? On a barely trained horse? At that moment I actually missed my peaceful rides with Governess Kathryn.
Maree was obviously more experienced in the quarter of riding badly trained horses as well as secret passages. She stayed beside me, looking back every now and then. I dared not look for fear that I would fall off. “Are they following us?” I asked, raising my voice over the sound of our horses, the words coming out in jolts.
“Een a manner o’ speekin’,” Maree agreed, grinning lopsidedly at me. “They keep losin’ us oover the hills.”
“That’s comforting,” I murmured, not caring that Maree wouldn’t be able to hear past the wind and horses.
My clothes began to dry out from the wind and the speed at which we were travelling. As we topped the next rise I caught my breath; the view was magnificent. A huge forest spread across the land below, a river cutting a path through it and then flowing down to a distant lake, just visible on the horizon.
We pulled up the horses in unison, both of us gazing at the picturesque scene. “Preetty, ain’t eet?” Maree remarked, tossing her wild hair out of her eyes.
“Amazing,” I agreed.
“P’raps we shoold git doown to thet rather large bunch o’ trees,” Maree suggested.
“Good plan,’ I concurred, remembering the soldiers behind us.
I urged the horse forward with a nudge with my shoe, and the horse, who seemed to be enjoying itself immensely, shot away down the steep incline, cantering for the forest, or rather, the ‘bunch of trees’ as Maree had christened it.
Maree raced beside me and we plunged into the wood, the horses slowing to avoid collision with the trees. My hair caught on twigs and I had to duck several times or get knocked from my horse by a protruding branch.
The trees block our view of any pursuit and vice versa, or so I hoped. We cantered slowly deeper into the forest, listening for the tell-tale sounds of our hunters.
In front of me, Maree’s horse swerved and skidded to a stop. My horse too took great efforts to stop, and reared on its hind legs, dancing to the side so as not to crash into Maree and her mount.
I grabbed onto the light coloured mane, only just retaining my seat. “That was close,” I gasped when the horse settled down.
The river I’d noticed earlier lay just in front of us and it looked much less attractive to fall into than the manor moat did. The edge was slippery clay-like mud and the brown water was low. Not for long, I guessed, soon it’ll swell from the melting snow up on the mountains.
“We’re een luck, epparently,” Maree said. “A feew deys later ‘n we’d be stuck oon thees side.” Apparently she’d been thinking along the same lines as me.
“So do we look for a crossing? Or just cross here?” I asked, turning to Maree’s superior knowledge in matters such as these.
Maree ran her fingers through her thick hair. “I dinna ken,” she said. “Ah, sorry, I dinna know. There’s a possibility as thees es the best crossin’ for aeons awey and we’d de weestin’ our toime lookin’ for eet.”
I saw the indecision on her face as she chewed her lip thoughtfully, and I stared at the river. “What if we used a stick to test how deep it gets?”
“Hmm, thet coold be an ideea,” Maree nodded. She steered her horse up beside a tree and, reaching up, grabbed a small, dead branch and gave it a hard tug.
A crack shot through the forest, echoing off the trees as sound is wont to do in woodlands. My mount neighed shrilly and danced to the side but Maree’s was more energetic in its response. It reared violently and when its front hooves hit the ground it didn’t stop. Maree, holding a stick in one hand and the reins in the other, had barely a chance.
Somehow she managed to stay on for the first half a second but when her horse bucked she did the natural thing. She performed a neat flip over the horses head and landed – standing upright, to my astonishment – right at the very edge of the river.
Sadly for her the edge of the river was, as I mentioned before, very slippery mud. This meant that she immediately slid down into the brown water.
I stared, slowly comprehending exactly what had just happened; it seemed too funny to be true.
Maree surfaced, a slimy-looking piece of river weed in her hair. She swam to the edge and took hold of a clump of grass, pulling herself out of the water.
“And jest when me clothes were as getin’ dry agin,” she spluttered, before slipping in the mud on the bank and falling back into the water again.
I dismounted and offered a hand to Maree who continued to have struggles to surmount the riverbank. She looked at my hand and then at me. “You’re noot afreed as I’ll pull ye en?” she asked.
I raised an eyebrow. “No, you wouldn’t dare,” I returned, and took her hand and pulled.
It was a close call thing, I almost joined her, but eventually she was lying on the forest floor, grinning up at me. In the process of getting out of the water she had become even muddier than before. Her face was now a mud brown and her legs were barely visible.
“You look like you need to get back in again,” I told her as she stood.
“Wooldn’t dare,” she said definitely. She suddenly fell serious, “But what were the reeson as the horses did thet?” she mused.
I frowned. “What do you mean? It was the branch breaking, wasn’t it?”
“It coold a been ‘cept as they did eet jest after I broke eet,” Maree observed thoughtfully.
I opened my mouth to reply but then something, on the far side of the river, caught my eye and I turned. My eyes widened as I saw what it was...
1. A long legged, wolf-like animal was watching us carefully, its teeth bared in what looked nastily like a snarl.
2. Sir Creighton was leaning casually on a tree, one foot propped up on the trunk behind him.
3. I am no great expert at large birds, but the bird sitting by the far bank was the biggest I’ve ever seen.
I must say, I probably enjoyed myself too much when I wrote about Maree falling in the river...But it was very funny. It really sounds like something that would happen to me. :) I hope you enjoyed reading.
Fare Thee Well!