To her surprise, she found that her companions, although technically her captors, were very kind and considerate to her. Jem offered her his bedroll as she didn’t have one, but she refused, saying she would survive with her blanket. And when they sat down to eat, she got the same share as the rest of the group. They might be thieves, she told herself, but at least they’re civilized thieves.
The only one who seemed to be annoyed at this treatment of her was Erik. He seemed to have been expecting harsher treatment of her.
As they sat around the fire after they’d eaten Artem turned to Rowena. ‘So I’ve told you about us, not it’s your turn. What’s your story Ena?’
‘I’m not very interesting,’ she said, hiding behind her hair, wishing she could disappear. She hated lying but could not tell them the truth in case they changed their intentions towards her.
‘Well we still want to hear it,’ Artem insisted.
‘Well then I was born and raised in Fersere.’ She looked out of the corner of her eye to see what Artem’s reaction would be on hearing she was from the country that was constantly at war with his homeland. But there was no reaction and she carried on. ‘You’re right I am the daughter of a rather important man back home.’ It wasn’t lying; she just wasn’t saying what job her father did.
‘So how did a girl like you end up hundreds of miles from home with only a blanket, a diary and some jewellery?’
She didn’t have an answer to that one. ‘I’d rather not talk about it. It’s still a sore subject.’ There was a series of groans from around the circle and Rowena feared they would force her to tell them. But surprisingly Artem came to her rescue.
‘Now boys, let’s not push her. She doesn’t want to talk about it now, that’s fine. We’ve got a long journey; we don’t want to hear the stories all at once. Now time for bed.’
There was lots of noise as people scrambled around in the dark trying to find where they’d left their bedroll. When everyone was safely tucked in and everyone had mumbled good night to everyone else, the clearing went quiet. And for the first time in days, Rowena didn’t fall asleep as soon as her head touched the ground. Instead she listened to the sounds of the forest around her and the heavy breathing of her companions, staring out through the trees at the starry sky, until her eyelids felt too heavy to stay open any longer and she fell asleep.
What felt like moments later, she was awake and getting ready for a day of walking.
Even with Lukas at the head of the group, it took them days before the trees began to thin out and there were signs of other life. On the first night they reached an inn where they could spend the night indoors, there was much excitement. For Rowena, the prospect of a hot meal and a comfortable bed, two things she had never been without until now, was irresistible. Unfortunately, it was also a point of contention among the others.
‘We can’t let her have a proper bed and the luxuries of staying at an inn,’ Erik argued. ‘She’s our prisoner for God’s sake Artem; we should be treating her as such. Not as a friend.’
‘This is my decision Erik,’ Artem replied, flexing his authority, ‘and Rowena will be sleeping in a room, alone, tonight.
‘Well this tops it off doesn’t it. She gets the privacy of a room to herself when the rest of us have to share. What’s wrong with you Artem? Something tells me it’s not your head your thinking with.’
Erik was stunned as Artem hit his jaw with full force, knocking him backwards. ‘Ena is a lady,’ Artem said defensively, ‘and as a lady I would expect you to treat her as such. Do you understand what I’m saying?’
Erik begrudgingly grunted his assent. ‘All I’m saying Artem, is I don’t trust her. How do you know she’s not going to do a runner in the middle of the night?’
‘Because she’s been with us for four nights now and she hasn’t tried to leave.’
‘How do you know that wasn’t part of her plan? Luring us into a false sense of security, making us believe we can trust her, then as soon as she’s alone, she runs.’
‘Do the rest of you agree with him?’ He looked around at the faces of his men.
‘I think it would be wise to keep an eye on her,’ Ishak suggested. ‘Just in case, you know.’
‘Well if it bothers you guys that much, I’ll stay awake and watch her tonight to make sure she doesn’t run away. Happy?’ With this, he stood up from the table they were sitting at in the main room of the inn, and headed for the stairs. Artem was feeling stressed. Ena was starting to tear the group apart and he had no idea how he was actually going to return her to her family with the promise of a reward without holding her to ransom. He was so deep in his own thoughts as he opened the door on the left at the top of the stairs; he forgot he was now sharing a room with Ena.
‘Who’s there?’ A voice called out from behind a screen in front of the fire.
‘Oh God sorry Ena, I forgot you were in here.’
'That’s OK, I just think you should know that I’m having a bath.’ Rowena crossed her fingers, praying that he would leave and go back to the room he was sharing with the boys.
‘Yeah I’m sorry, but I’m sharing with you tonight.’ Rowena’s heart froze. Alone in a room at night with a man. How would she explain this when she got home?
‘Oh,’ was the only reply she could come up with. ‘Why’s that?’
‘Do you want me to be honest with you Ena? The others don’t think you can be trusted in a room alone. They think you’ll run away when we’re not looking.’
‘And what do you think?’ She waited, not sure what she wanted his reply to be.
‘I didn’t think you would. Not after the way you’ve behaved over the last few days.’
‘But how can you say that about me, you hardly know me.’
‘I don’t know,’ Artem said, thinking hard about it. ‘You just seem like someone I can trust, my gut instinct is rarely wrong.’ As Artem confessed this, Rowena began to feel guilty about thinking of deserting him. She knew it was something she had to do. She could never tell Artem who she truly was, he wouldn’t treat her the way he was doing now, talking to her like she was his equal. But then she didn’t want to lie to him; she hated it.
‘Am I right to trust you?’
‘Of course you are,’ Rowena replied without a moment’s hesitation.
‘Good,’ he said and she could hear the smile in his voice. She knew exactly which facial expression he would be wearing, a small smile on his face, head bent towards the floor and his eyes glittering. ‘I like to know who I can trust. I’ll leave you in peace to have your bath.’ Rowena heard the door shut as Artem left the room and relaxed, sinking into the bathwater.