The ground was hard and rocky, every bump vibrating through my body and causing it to become even sorer. Thankfully, we did have a horse, making the long journey more comfortable, though still tedious and unpleasant.
I leaned back into my companion, sighing. "Caleb, where are we going? We've been on the road for 3 weeks and I long for a bed other than the dirt on the ground!" I gently turned my head towards his face, awaiting his answer, knowing he must be tired of my never ending questions.
He looked down at me and chuckled, "Josephine, unfortunately, we still have a couple more days, but with every step, we do get closer."
I pursed my lips, not wholly satisfied with the answer, but knowing it was the best I would get, at least for now. Caleb said he would help me, and I trusted him, so I would rest easy for the time being. Instead, of focusing on what was currently happening, my mind wandered to the events leading up to this exhausting escape.
My Mother, Alainna, was a beautiful woman, but however beautiful she may be, she was equally foolish. At the age of 15, she met a more esteemed man in town, Gherry Vidennstorm, a well to do shop owner who had taken a liking to my Mother with her charming and youthful ways. However, he was already a taken man, having had a wife for 8 years and counting, and 2 children of his own with his aforementioned wife, Corina. My Mother, knowing he was married, took up with him regardless and became his mistress, getting pregnant within the first month of meeting him with my older sister, Marguerite.
The townsfolk became curious when they saw my Mother was single, yet heavily pregnant, but they turned a blind eye to it, as no one had any clue who the father was. Gherry set up my Mother, privately, into her own little cottage to raise their daughter, which also created a place for him and my mother to have secret trysts in the middle of the night.
Corina, unbeknownst to Gherry, was becoming more and more curious as to where he was disappearing in the middle of the night, becoming concerned that her husband had run into bad business or was visiting the local brothel. She would try to follow him when he snuck out at night, but always ended up losing the trail, and she would dejectedly turn around and go home, not wanting to run into any lecherous or undesirable men in the night.
At the age of 17, my Mother was impregnated again, this time with me. Gherry was not as ecstatic as my Mother was about the pregnancy, realizing that his wife was beginning to catch wind of the affair. He continued visiting my Mother during the pregnancy, to check up on her and of course, sleep with her, but 4 months in, he was caught by Corina, and soon, the news spread like wildfire through our small village, and into the villages in the surrounding area.
My mother was devastated. Corina forbade my father from visiting my Mother and sister, as she had a stranglehold on him since her family was a more prominent one in the area. Having become the town pariah, my mother and my sister moved to the outskirts of town next to the woods, into a shoddy cottage with a dying vegetable garden.
Disillusioned and afraid, my mother thought she would not make it through the end of the pregnancy and that Marguerite would be taken away and sold to the brothel or the Aedian sisterhood. However, luck was on her side. The king and his convoy would be traveling through the area, and the town was buzzing with excitement to see the man who ruled them all. There was an influx of food and festivities, as this was the largest village, at 1500 people, in the 50 mile radius of land. My mother was able to make some extra money helping set everything up for the King, as her status of adulteress was temporarily forgotten by the rest of the villagers. She made enough money to buy seeds for the garden and materials to patch the cottage, but more importantly, she met Caleb.
Caleb was a few years younger than my mother at only 14, but he is what helped my Mother survive. He was a part of the King's convoy, a stable boy brought along to help with the horses. For whatever reason, he took pity on my mother and helped her out fixing our cottage, planting the garden, cutting trees and the like. Basically he was a godsend for my mother.
Unfortunately, after about a month of the King visiting the village and contiguous areas, it was time for them to leave. My Mother became fretful again now that Caleb wouldn't be there, but he assured her he would be back at most in 5 months' time. Caleb cut some more wood and left extra food for mother and Marguerite, and the next day, along with the King and the rest of the convoy, he was gone. Only a few weeks later, my Mother bore me.
She continued living off the resources Caleb left behind, hoping he would stay true to his promise. My Mother was no longer being employed by anyone as they remembered again that she was unwanted and abhorred for being an immoral harlot. Working at home, she tilled the garden and continued repairs on our shelter, becoming weak and thin as she took care of Marguerite and breastfed me. The 5 month mark had already come, and yet Caleb had still not arrived. Anxious and concerned, my Mother chastised herself for depending on the word of a boy she barely knew, not even yet a man, but a boy 3 years younger than herself. A week later, much to Mothers surprise, Caleb appeared on our doorstep, meats and cheeses in hand to provide for my ailing Mother. He apologized to my Mother for coming later than expected, as his family had celebrated his 15th birthday for longer than he had anticipated. My Mother later told me she was suspicious as to why a lowly stable boy would have such an extensive birthday celebration, but she decided to just brush it off, happy that he was there.
Caleb stayed with us for another 3 months before returning home to Kendlen, the capital of the kingdom in which we are loyal citizens, Desenovo, where his family lived, but he returned yet again, this time only 2 months later. This happened for next 5 years, give or take, Caleb staying with us for a few months at a time, but then returning home, back and forth, back and forth, until one day, he returned to us, now 20, and told us he wouldn't be returning home anymore and would just like to stay with us, if it was okay, and my Mother agreed, happy to have Caleb around us permanently. Caleb informed my Mother that there might be men looking for him, but to apprise anyone that asked about a man similar to him that she didn't know anything. This scared my Mother, as she became anxious that Caleb had committed a crime, but decided to let him stay since he was so helpful and delightful to us girls. I asked my Mother later when I was about 9 why she and Caleb did not marry, but she smiled at me gently, stating that that there were no romantic feelings between them.
As I grew older, Caleb really took care of us, always ensuring we were well fed and warm. My Mother had her hands full with Marguerite, always a mischievous child with a twinkle in her eye, so she asked Caleb to be my protector. After this, Caleb and I grew very close, comforting me when I had nightmares and always being a friendly face I could talk to. His room was right next to mine, and when the night became too dark or the sounds from outside became too eerie since we lived on the edge of the woods, he would let me climb into his bed and sleep beside him for comfort, wrapping his arms around me to chase away the darkness, his scratchy beard rubbing onto my head, quite like a father might let a daughter, though I considered him more a great friend than a father figure.
A sudden, loud cracking sound brought me out of my thoughts. I looked into the dying light of the sun, realizing it must be about a quarter past 7 now. Suddenly the forest seemed more menacing, and I leaned into Caleb even further, glancing into his heavily shadowed indigo eyes as he tentatively glanced down into my own light gray orbs. He put a finger to his mouth, indicating for me to be quiet, and I timorously looked around us, trying to discover whatever was lurking in the forest shadows as I cursed in my head the people who had brought us to this situation. I heard another cracking sound, somewhat closer than the one before. I closed my eyes and hoped for the best.