Escape

A woman's gentle, plain, face peered into Alyxe's as she regained consciousness. It looked worried and fascinated all at once. She looked wildly about her, and attempted to rise from the crackling straw mattress she lay on. The woman pushed her back down onto the bed, not unkindly, saying, "Aye, but there you go, miss, you have naught the strength for that. My man pulled you out of the river yesterday, and, to be sure, I'm glad you've finally woke up."

Alyxe looked around her again. Now she noticed two dirty children sitting in a corner, eyeing her solemnly. It was a girl and a boy. The boy looked about five or so, and the girl was around eleven or twelve. Alyxe thought she could be wrong, though; common children always looked older than they were.

She didn't know what to do. If she told this family who she was, then they would return her to her husband, like a naughty child. All she was now was property. She had to escape Count Felani, one way or another; and this was as good of a chance as any she'd get.

The woman asked, "Would you be having something to eat, then?" and motioned to a plate of cheese and coarse bread on the small table.

Alyxe didn't want that food. She didn't want to be healthy, alive, anything. She resented the man for rescuing her. Most common folk would have left her to float by, afraid to get into the noble's business, which all too often, ended in deaths.

To avoid having to speak, she grudgingly took the slab of cheese and bit off a small piece, its sharp flavor filling her mouth. The woman looked pleased and turned away, bustling about the cottage. The boy leapt up from the corner he had sat in and began running about the small room, laughing happily, like small children do. His mother sent him outside right away, as if afraid to have him disturb Alyxe.

The girl bent over a pair of ripped trousers with needle and thread, quiet and demure, as girls were expected to be. Her mother was sweeping the dirt floor with a tattered broom, turning occasionally to stir the contents of a big black kettle over a crackling fire. The home looked cheery, but the three women in it could feel the tenseness in the air.

The silence was unbearable to Alyxe. She could imagine the woman's fright at having a strange noblewoman in her home. Alyxe, unfortunately, felt fine, and rose from the cot. She heard the girl behind her take her breath in at the sight of the red dress cascading around Alyxe's frame. She ignored this and said to the woman, "I thank you for taking me in. I am better now and I believe I should go. I am sorry I do not have a purse to compensate you."

As Alyxe said she could not pay her, disappointment shone for a moment on the little farmwife's face, but was quickly concealed. "Aye, but should we not inform your family to send for you, I couldn't just send you walking out of the village on your own, now could I?"

Alyxe smiled grimly. She had no family and no desire for her husband to know where she was. "I will be safe alone, safer indeed than if I was sent for. Thank you for your care, Mrs.?"

"Alwin, madam, I am Edith Alwin. Let me at least send off a bit of food with you," Mrs. Alwin turned quickly and began piling the bread and cheese from Alyxe's near-untouched plate in a small basket. Alyxe closed her mouth over the refusal she had been ready to make. Only when she saw the woman grab a simple dress, fold it, and lay it in the basket did Alyxe protest.

"Oh, you mustn't do that, I couldn't accept it," she said.

The woman shut the lid and held out the basket, saying, "That finery you wear is hardly fit to walk in, you might wish to change after a spell, I warrant. Besides," and in the woman's eyes Alyxe saw more understanding than she wished to, "it might help you avoid extra attention." Opening the door, she led Alyxe outside. "There's the way you came floating from, that road yonder," she said, pointing down a muddy, rutted road on the nearer side of the river.

Alyxe thanked her and walked determinedly from the yard and down onto the road. She passed the lad playing in a puddle, who ran to his mother's skirts. He inserted his filthy thumb was in his mouth and over his fist he stared balefully at her. Looking back again, she saw the girl had come forward to stand beside her mother, wistfully watching Alyxe walk on. A lump caught in Alyxe's throat, seeing the little family framed in their doorway of their happy house. At least they could enjoy life, she thought mournfully.