Our group pressed on, not sure of where we were or exactly where we were going. Many of us were not of this area and were just as lost as the rest. Though another woman, who was mainly silent up until this point, took the head, leading us as best as she knew to where she thought to be a river.
Fortunately, we heard the soft murmur of water up ahead, and the woman, named Gertrude, said that this was the Blue River, where we could quench our thirst and then follow it to civilization. But what were we going to do once in civilization? Would it not appear odd that a gathering of ragged women-which we were-and several children showed up in a village like a group of gypsies? Would it not arouse great suspicion? Gertrude only answered that “lost in the woods is no place for women”, suggesting rather revealing ourselves in town and gaining some shelter would be safer. I glanced to Nellie, the small child holding her hand. I would beg to differ, yet for now I said nothing.
The sun was quite high and hot as we reached the shore of the Blue River, the simmering heat only lessened slightly by the woodland umbrella of leaves. We were thirsting from all the “adventure” of the day and of the previous night, and eagerly did we bend to cup the water in our hands and sip from our makeshift containers. A few others waded into the river, soaking their skirts and washing away the grease of sweat from their limbs. Half smiling, I watched as two of the children charged inside and began to splash playfully at one another, Gertrude quick to scold them. It half-ways appeared….normal.
I briefly tossed away my shoes, stepping into the river after the others, Nellie at my side. “We should not spend long here,” she murmured, glancing about. I nodded, looking briefly into the brush where a spy could easily be veiled.
“We shall be quick about it,” I returned, leaning over to splash water across the back of my neck. The biting chill against the searing heat made me shiver involuntary, something of a pleasure as it dribbled down my back and too reached into my hair. I held back a wince as the damp trails stung at the arrow wound at my shoulder. I brushed aside the slight pain, sighing half-contentedly, the cool current moving about my bare ankles. Nellie followed my motion, dousing her arms and face in the water. I laughed slightly as she dunked her whole head into the river, standing up and shaking her hair out like a dog.
“Ah,” she grinned mildly, running her hands through her hair. Happily I did as she did, soaking my hair as well.
“Where to now?” came another woman’s voice, who I had come to know as Marianne.
“We will follow the river’s current south,” Gertrude instructed, beckoning the children from the water and to the shore. Silently, we did as she bade us, and went after her once more. We mainly walked in quiet, like a strange mourning parade in our rag-tag appearance. The lack of noise left me pondering over the previous night, the horrifying screams, the fire……I shuddered. Thus was the nature of war; indeed, I had offered to enter into its terrifying affairs voluntarily.
One particular pair of younger children did not remain quiet for long, deciding to splash through the river, giggling, instead of walk along the shore. Gertrude and some of the other women sharply hissed to them; their noise could lead enemies directly to us, and they seemed not to understand the impending danger we strolled through.
A rustle in the underbrush caught all of our attention, and for a brief moment we froze, and the only noise was the pounding of my heart in my head. It did seem the children’s play noise had led something to us. We all glanced about; there seemed to be no way of organized escape, almost walled in by the slight hills of which the river was surrounded and the river itself, deep and quick moving in the center. For what seemed like the longest moment, we all waited, tense.
From the dense forestry stepped a single man, one who we had all least expected to see. I most of all felt like falling over from relief and something of a sheer joy, for it was the one of the most familiar face from home and among the closest to my heart, Jon Hanway.