Summary: The fate of her Kingdom already depended on Cecilia but now she bore the burden of a wounded young man who could not remember anything. Sequel to Rejected.
Cautionary Note: Mind the errors.
Author's Note: As all my other stories this is also set in a historical time. A few years have passed from the time Rejected ended. Those who've never read Rejected don't need to though it'll be very helpful in framing the society and characters I'm presenting.
The cloying stench of roses invaded her senses as soon as she set foot into her temporary abode. It coiled like a nasty serpent and clung to her, leaving her gasping for breath. Her shaking hand stilled on the canvas cover of her tent opening and after a pause she knew she was defeated. It had been six months since she had fought for her life but it seemed the events had left her scarred mentally as well as physically.
"I am afraid I could not possibly indulge in such an early lunch after my large breakfast, Beth," Lady Cecilia clenched her quivering hand into a fist betraying her agitation to her homely maid.
"But, my Lady, you just mentioned you were famished-" Red nosed Beth blurted and looked regretful for her impulsiveness. There was something terribly familiar about the young maid's spontaneity and that had been the reason Cecilia had hired her on the spot though in times like these it was rather inconvenient.
"I was mistaken. I believe a walk is in order," Cecilia turned around and smiled in a dazzling manner that clearly didn't impress young Beth, "I would also prefer not to see that particular set of flowers lying on the dresser after I return."
Beth blushed redder, "I apologize for the surprise. Lord Fanning was rather persistent."
"Oh, I know Lord Fanning and his pushy ways. I should rather like not be greeted with any more surprises. It simply would not be proper," Cecilia couldn't help but wince at how much she sounded like her cousin, "We are far away from home and there is already much talk about the irregularity of my presence. Any more and my cousin will me whisk me back the moment she hears it."
With a more genuine smile Cecilia turned around to find a way to make her escape from the prison that was the camp and the jailors the company of gentleman she kept. Even in such enlightened times it was absurd how a group of well bred men was inclined to treat a young, unmarried noble woman as either a mindless infant or a fragile flower on the verge of wilting. The consequence was that they insisted she keep to the perimeter of the camp and never allowed her near the results of their findings because she was apparently too simpleminded to understand it. The silence and the deliberate topic change whenever she made the mistake of trying to make her way into their conversation was grating.
The younger Cecilia would have probably rammed Lord Fanning's inappropriate gift in his face and run off with all the collected specimens of the study out of sheer spite and frustration but she was steadier now. She knew the consequences of jeopardizing the expedition. But that did not mean there was no respite to be had.
Under the guise of her thick, woollen clock she slipped out from behind gaming footmen and headed out into the sun sliding down the grey sky. The marsh squelched under her kid leather boots and the wind nipped at her face making her smile. This was the scent of freedom; earthy and subtle.
The camp was set up on an elevated position in the desolate marsh near her Kingdom's eastern border and from that vantage point it really did seem they were truly far away from civilization. Cecilia admired the scenic view and slid down the incline, still on her feet, landing into wetter ground made brown by the peat.
It was said the bogs contained traps for the unfortunate traveller but Cecilia was more well read then her companions seemed to think she was and she knew she was prepared. Delilah had over the years slipped her books that contained fanciful tales and daring escapades of adventurers but it had only been in the last few months when Cecilia had first opened the dry tomes that had contained her salvation. A book was no substitute for practical knowledge but she had been away from home for almost two fortnights. The change from castle life to living on horses was a teaching experience.
Cecilia pushed forward with bare hands hidden in her cloak until she reached another incline. The strange colour of the small white flowers stilled her. The Labrador tea was a pretty flower she only knew because it looked lovely while sitting on her red hair. Currently hiding in the shadow of the hill the tiny flower was a brown shade it was not meant to be.
"Odd," She whispered and decided she needed to find more flowers to see if this was new kind of breed. It would certainly make a nice gift for Delilah back home though there was another plant her cousin was waiting for back home that had the fate of the whole Kingdom resting on it. Ignoring the dreary thoughts that always stayed on the back of her mind she climbed the hill by holding onto stray shrubs and moss. Once she reached the top she placed a heavy hand expecting more cold plant and instead it landed on a softer, fleshier surface. It took her only but a moment to realize what it was.
She hauled herself up and found her worst fears confirmed; there was a body lying on the ground covered in blood. There were three arrows sticking out from the man's back. She nearly lost her balance in fright.
The body was clearly fresh; the blood not even dark after being released from the wounds and the man not pale enough to be a corpse long enough. In a fit of madness she fell to her knees and tried to pull out one of the wooden arrows. This proved to be as helpful, as it was detrimental. The man roared in agony revealing how un-dead he was.
"Who are you? Can you hear me?" She shouted as she pushed the heavier man into a more comfortable position without touching the arrows. The man's long eyelashes fluttered heavily and he uttered something she could not understand confirming what his darker skin could not. He was not from her Kingdom at all.
"I am so sorry," She fretted and wished her cousin was with her to give her sensible advice, "So sorry."
She took off her cloak and placed it on top of the shivering man and mopped off the cold sweat forming on his smooth face.
"Help, please," She called out hoarsely hoping one of the meandering footmen in the camp area, which was still visible, would hear her but her voice did not seem to carry over the wind. Cecilia lifted her head in desperation towards the sky and then let out a blood curdling, scream. She doubted anyone could have missed that.
End Note: Cecilia has grown up from when we last saw her in Rejected. Don't worry that she's been turned into Delilah 2.0. All the book reading she's mentioned in this chapter was purely educational or adventure, romance novels. All those who read my profile carefully eons ago know who the mystery man is :) It's not a huge spoiler because there's a bigger adventure at stake.