The next morning Sarah was fitted out with some spare pants and shirts of Brad’s. She kept a couple of Jessica’s old vests and one pair of old shoes. Jason assured her she’d get better things once they were back with the scout troop. Sarah took a couple of the embroidery skeins, but left the rest with Rebecca.
Rebecca didn’t say anything, but Sarah felt her puzzlement. Sarah was glad to be going. She felt more at ease with Jay around. It wasn’t that he was the only familiar thing to her in this world. It was that she could say anything to him and not be judged. Sarah hadn’t answered many questions while she was at the farm because she was afraid to give offence, or be judged poorly by them. She could already tell Rebecca had a low opinion of Sarah's mother because of all the things Sarah didn’t know. It was ironic since Sarah could have told Rebecca why she did certain things the way she did, beyond tradition and superstition. Sarah sighed.
Jason looked back at her. “Tired?” he asked. Sarah shook her head. He stopped them under the next shade tree and handed her the canteen. “Doubts?” he asked as she took a swig.
“No,” she said truthfully, “I’d rather be with you.” Jason looked at her quizzically as she handed the canteen back. Sarah smiled; he always seemed to be able to tell when thoughts were running around her head. “I was just thinking how I can explain how wood burns, or why you add salt to boiling water for cooking, but how my explanations would mean nothing.” She laughed. “You know I feel I’m better prepared to survive in the wilderness with you, than in the house with Rebecca. I can’t even sew a straight seam.”
Jason chuckled and they headed off again. They went at a quick pace and Sarah was tired when they finally stopped for the night. When Jason went off to catch something to eat, Sarah forced herself to look for herbs. Though exhausted, she managed to make a fire by the time he came back with a rabbit. Before they left in the morning, she made sure to cover the fire pit with the piece of sod she’d removed to build it. Jason nodded to her as soon as she was done and they were off again.
For the most part they traveled in silence. Occasionally Sarah asked a question. Because of the pace, she kept them simple. Like 20 questions, she carefully phrased each question so Jason could answer with a yes or no. The more answers she collected, the more like Medieval and Renaissance Europe this place seemed to be. Or so she thought, based upon what she knew from her father’s collection of books on the subject.
It was mid day on their fifth day of travel that they reached the scout camp spot. Jess was the only one there; his eyes betraying his surprise at seeing Sarah, but he made no comment. So, while Jess gave Jason a report on the days he’d been absent, Sarah quietly slipped off to a nearby stream. She washed her hair, as best she could, and some of her clothing. Sighing, she walked back to the camp with her hair down. She found a place in the sun to sit and took out some of the floss and started to work on some macramé. Jason and Jess had left. Probably hunting she thought, judging by the absence of the bow that had been leaning against one of the trees.
As Sarah worked, she began to think. If this really was the dark ages, then she had a lot of adjusting to do. For one thing, and she already knew this, there would be no daily showers, let alone washing her hair twice a week. There was no way she’d be able to stand letting her hair get that dirty, so she took out the belt knife Ted had given her. It was sharp. Sarah set it aside and made two braids in her hair. Trying not to think about it she sliced each braid as close to the scalp as she dared. She pulled the elastic off the end of one braid and fed it into the fire. She was about to do the same with the other braid when she stopped. Sarah looked at it for a moment then used the free elastic to hold the other end together. She pondered the braid for a while. Standing up, she held it loosely over the fire. Sarah thought about all she had lost, her family, her friends, the places she’d been and the places she’d wanted to go.
“That’s an interesting outfit for a scout.”
Startled by the voice behind her, Sarah dropped the braid into the fire. She turned to glare at Matt.
He raised an eyebrow at her. “So our fearless leader brought you back to us, eh?”
“Yeah,” Sarah grunted at him, annoyed at having her impromptu letting go ceremony cut short, just like her world. Sighing, she sat down and went back to her macramé. Matt sat down across the fire from her and began to whittle.
“So,” Matt broke the silence, “decide that being a man was more fun than being a farm girl?”
“I grew up on a farm,” Sarah replied, “and I’ll always be a woman,” she looked pointedly at Matt, “even if I’m wearing pants and have short hair.”
“Oh that will go over well with his parents.” Matt smiled slightly. “No wonder he didn’t ship you off to them, even if he gave you a promise ring.”
“A what?” Sarah asked, Matt was obviously hinting at something, but at what she didn't know.
He looked at her hand and then her face. “I saw the ring he put in that package for you.”
Sarah’s hand went to where the ring sat under her shirt. “The ring belonged to my mother.” She kept her voice as steady as she could. “It’s all I have left of my family.”
“Oh,” Matt looked back at his whittling and Sarah returned to her macramé. Another silence stretched between them.
“Did he tell you we’d be fighting soon?”
Sarah glanced up at Matt, who wasn’t looking at her. Taking a deep breath, she retained herself from saying anything. She didn’t trust herself to not snap at him.
“Well,” he continued, “there’s always a possibility of getting into a fight. We are here to patrol and scout the border.” He looked up at her, “I hope you can do more than just pin someone.”
Sarah sighed. This is the reality I now live with, she thought to herself. She put away her macramé and stood. “I’ve been taught how to do more than pin someone, yes.” She studied Matt who was now gazing back at her. “Look,” Sarah groped for the words she needed, “I’ve been raised like a peasant, educated like a king, and worked like a man. I can’t change who I am. I can only try to adapt.” Sarah left the camp to gather herbs for dinner.
She exchanged smiles with Jason as she passed him and his catch of fish. If only I had a lemon, she thought as her herb search brought her back towards the camp. Now within ear shot, Sarah could hear Matt and Jason talking. She tried not to listen, but it was hard, especially since she was the topic of discussion.
“I didn’t realize you were going to bring her back,” Matt stated.
“What did you expect me to do?” Jason asked annoyed.
“Propose and send her to your parents.”
“Forget it,” Jason snorted, “there is no way to explain things well enough in a letter, to even think of asking my mother to take her in.” Jason signed, “not to mention the torture she would have to endure from my sister-in-law.”
Matt grunted an acknowledgment, “Fair enough, but I did see you put a ring in the package.”
“The ring was her mother’s (may she find peace) who asked me to give it to her and to take care of her.”
“And keeping her with us is caring for her?” Matt was clearly taken aback by that thought.
“Yes,” Sarah stepped back into the camp site. “Jay,” she looked at Jason, “I have to tell your men about where I come from.”
He looked up at her uncertainly. “I don’t know, Sarah. Your world is so far fetched for even me, and I’ve known you for,” he paused.
“Almost 15 years,” Sarah finished. Matt looked at the two of them in disbelief. “Look,” Sarah sat down next to Jason, “it’s only fair. You can not expect them to accept me, especially with the place women have in your society, unless they know more about me. Even Matt, who knows a little bit about how different I am, isn’t sure I belong with you.” Sarah took the now gutted fish from Jason.
Jason looked at Matt, “I doubt that is his only reason,” she heard him mumble. Sarah chanced a glance at Matt, but he had returned to whittling. Jason looked back at her. “I have heard you explain thing so many different ways that some of them have begun to make sense, but we don’t have the luxury of that much time.”
“I know.” Sarah looked up from her fish preparations to smile at Jason. “That’s why I was asking you all those questions on the way here. And I’ve been thinking hard on how to word things.”
The bushes rustled and Jess appeared. The bow was still unstrung. “All the game I saw was too big,” he told them, “so I went fishing.” He smiled as he handed one fish to Matt and another to Jason, keeping one for himself.
“I’ll go get some more herbs.” Sarah rose and went back into the woods to forage. She thought she had seen some watercress at the stream where she’d washed her hair. Mike and Allen eyed her curiously when she returned. They must have been warned, because they didn’t look nearly as surprised to see her as Kevin and Brad did. Sarah just smiled at each man in turn as she cooked the fish.
The scout troop ate in silence. Curious looks were given to both her and Jason. The men, though clearly willing to accept their leader’s judgment, were hungry for an explanation. Hungry for food too, apparently, Sarah thought, as the food disappeared quickly. She cleaned up and banked the fire, while they gave Jason their reports.
When silence, like dusk, had settled over the camp, Sarah looked at Jason. He was staring into the fire. She gently touched his shoulder. He looked at her and she raised her eyebrows questioningly. He studied her for a moment and then looked around at his men. Each one seemed to mimic Sarah; their eyebrows rising in question. He looked again at Sarah and gave her a nod.