Sarah thought about his comment as she walked back. He’d hoped to be her knight in shining armor. She wondered if there was such a thing here, or if he’d picked the phrase up from her. Had she really seemed in need of rescuing? She smiled; she could think of a couple times it felt that way.
Brad had the fire going and was getting a spit ready for the bird he’d caught. Sarah started to make a paste of some of the fresh herbs she’d picked which she then used to dress the bird. Brad watched her curiously but put the bird on the spit when she was done. Sarah took over turning the spit.
Slowly, the men came in from their forays and gathered around the fire. They talked in low voices about what they’d do when they got to town. As night began to fall Jason stood and silence fell. He sat back down and everyone faced him.
‘Brad and Allen,’ Jason said, ‘what’s your report?’
Brad and Allen talked of where they journeyed and what they had seen. Jason called for Jess and Kevin next. They too reported on where and what. Lastly Mike and Jason gave their report. The consensus was that it was fairly quiet.
‘Almost too quiet,’ Jess said, shaking his head.
‘I know, but we have our orders,’ Jason shook his head. ‘We can’t cross and scout no matter how much we think we need to.’
Murmurs rose and Jason held up his hand. ‘I understand your concerns. When we reach Shelby, I’ll be able to report. We’ll have to wait till then.’ The men grumbled, but fell to eating.
Sarah was given compliments on the food again. ‘What do you do?’ Jason asked her quietly.
‘Herbs,’ she replied, ‘thankfully they are pretty similar to those from home, though I’ve never seen them grow wild the way they do here.’
Jason nodded. They ate in silence. At the end of the meal Jason stood. ‘We’ve got a long trek ahead of us men, time to turn in.’ Mathew helped Sarah bank the fire and she slipped off to sleep almost as soon as she was in her bed roll. The next day they had a quick breakfast and packed up, the rations now thoroughly replenished.
They walked at a hard pace the next few days. Sarah was glad she’d always kept in shape or she wouldn’t be able to keep up, lightly burdened, as she was. On the move they didn’t talk much. At night they stopped only to eat a small supper before sleeping. On the fifth night, Sarah was woken up by Jason. Silently he motioned her to follow him. They walked into the woods, away from the camp.
‘Tomorrow evening we’ll be entering Shellsbye,’ Jason broke the silence. Sarah nodded. ‘You have the choice of entering as a woman or disguised as a man. Your cooking has been appreciated, but my men are uncertain about your staying with us. We have four more weeks of patrol, with the next two brining us into contested territory.’ He looked at Sarah for a moment. ‘I don’t know what you would do in town. Matt has relatives that could take you in till I am off duty. They are farmers, so you’ll likely be expected to help around the house.’
‘But not in the field,’ Sarah sighed.
‘No, not in the field, but with woman’s work.’
Sarah looked away into the dark woods. Woman’s work, the term felt outdated to her, but she already knew things here weren’t the same as home. Home, Sarah cut that thought short, now was not the time to cry. ‘There are no exceptions?’ she asked, hoping, turning back to Jason.
Jason looked at her, almost mournfully, ‘Those that are, disguise themselves as men and live as men.’ Sarah looked toward the ground poking it with her big toe. ‘I am sorry. I should have made the effort to speak to you sooner, so you would have more time to think.’
Sarah nodded. This world, this place, reminded her of her father’s history books. Studying Medieval Europe had been his passion. But there was so much more she wished she knew and there was no time to even formulate one question.
‘Your patrol ends in a month?’ Sarah asked looking up at Jason.
Jason nodded, then shook his head and sighed, ‘There is a chance it will be extended.’
Sarah looked out into the woods. On the one hand it would be good to know what a woman’s life might be like here. On the other, Jason was the only one she knew, and the only one who had any idea of who she was.
‘Sarah?’ Jason reached out and touched her hand. She turned back to look at him.
‘I’, she stumbled, ‘I guess I’ll stay female.’
‘We’ll drop you off before we hit town tomorrow. Go get some more sleep.’ Sarah nodded and returned to her roll.