For the next few days, Rowena walked all day, only stopping to sleep when night fell and it was too dark to see where you were going. She spent her nights in whatever shelter she could find, in hollowed out trees or in ditches or even just under the branches of a very thick tree. She couldn’t afford to be picky about where she slept.
On her fifth day, the night was clear and as she couldn’t find anywhere to hide for the night, Rowena had to sleep in the open. Her supplies had almost gone, so she ate as little as she could and drank nothing. She shook out her blanket and climbed underneath it, cuddling her bag against her chest. As usual she was so exhausted she was asleep as soon as her head hit the ground.
Seven hours later, she was still asleep, but what she didn’t know was that she was being watched. Leaves crackled underfoot as a strongly build man approached. For his size he was pretty light on his feet and knelt down beside his colleague with hardly a sound.
‘What have we got here?’ he whispered as softly as his deep voice could manage.
‘Young girl,’ the other responded, ‘not your usual sort, she’s got nice hair and her dress is a little bit more extravagant than I would have expected from peasant girls.’
‘Do you think nobility?’
‘Possibly, I’ve seen enough in my time to know one when I see one.’
‘Brilliant,’ the big man chuckled. ‘Arty will love this. A nice posh girl to bring us in some extra cash.’
‘Exactly,’ the other man said. ‘As soon as it starts to get light you’ll have to run back to camp and get him. We don’t want him to miss this one do we?’
The men remained still, watching the sleeping princess with eyes like hawks, waiting for her to move. When the sun began to show its face, the big man crept away from their hiding place and ran back in the direction he’d come from. The man who remained didn’t move until he heard footsteps approaching from behind him.
‘This had better be good Ishak for you to have got me up so early.’
‘Oh I assure you your majesty, you’ll want to see this.’ The man, Ishak, pointed to the sleeping figure of the girl and a smile spread over the newcomer’s face.
‘Good work Ishak. I knew you wouldn’t let me down.’ Breaking cover, the newcomer walked out of his hiding place and towards Rowena, who knew nothing of what was going on around her. She was on the cusp of sleep, not quite asleep, but not willing to wake up. She stirred, rolling over onto her other side. She hit something hard and her eyes opened, having been jolted back into the real world.
The first thing she saw was a strong, dark brown boot, made of good leather and well crafted. Panic started to set in as her eyes travelled up the boot to a long leg, going higher towards the torso, then the head of a man, staring down at her, a hungry look in his eyes. She squealed and scrambled away. She got to her feet and began to run, terrified that he had been sent by Narcissa. The man had been expecting her to run, that was the effect he usually had on people, but he hadn’t realized she’d be able to run quite that fast. Within a matter of moments, he was on her tail, but Rowena had already disappeared into a thick patch of trees. She ran as fast as she could, not thinking or caring about which direction she ran in, she just wanted to get away from the man who had been standing so imposingly over her sleeping body.
She could hear him running through the undergrowth behind her. He was fast, and agile, dodging trees and unexpected roots like running through this forest was second nature to him. Rowena turned to look over her shoulder to see where her pursuer was, and didn’t manage to get her head back round in time. She tripped on a root, hidden under a patch of thick foliage and she went flying onto the floor. Battered and bruised, she tried to get back on her feet but before she knew it, her attacker was on her, his hands pinning her arms to the ground and one leg on either side of her body.
‘Wow,’ the man said panting. ‘I don’t think I’ve seen anyone run like that for a while. You’ve certainly made me notice that I need to get back in training.’ The man’s face was only inches from hers, and Rowena could smell the musky scent of his skin and feel his breath on her face. If she hadn’t been so scared she might have noticed how attractive he was, in a rugged sort of way. He had high, defined cheekbones, which gave his face a sculpted appearance and his eyes, although almost black in colour, shone with laughter and the thrill of the chase. His dark brown hair was cut fairly short, but managed to look messy by sticking up at every possible angle.