It seemed like it took forever for Phoenix troop and the Prince to go to sleep. Sarah lay awake, listening until at last they all seemed settled. Then she quietly got up and went to see Jay. ‘I really, really need a bath,’ she told him.
Jason stopped his continual scanning of the horizon to look at her puzzled.
‘Please Jay,’ she nearly pleaded, ‘I’ll bathe just below the waterfall, I feel so grubby.’
Jason looked at her, ‘You are not any grubbier than me.’ She saw him glance into the cave.
‘Please?’ she begged. ‘You’re used to this, I’m used to bathing once a day.’ She seriously felt like she was caked with dirt. ‘I just, I just need to wash that Camp off.’ She shuddered.
‘I’m sorry you had to be exposed to those men,’ Jason said quietly, beckoning her as he stood and started to make his way down. He led her to an alcove beside the waterfall. He turned and studied her. ‘They did not harm you did they?’
‘No,’ Sarah said, ‘not physically, but just being near them, with their looks,’ she shuddered again.
Jason put a hand on her shoulder. ‘I know. I was once a captive of the General myself.’ Sarah nodded. ‘You can bath here.’ Jason dropped his hand to point uphill. ‘I will keep watch from over there.’ He turned and left, not waiting for her to reply.
Sarah watched him leave and sighed. Everything was skewed. There had been little of the camaraderie between them that had always been there in the Grove. Sarah turned away as she saw him reach the spot he’d indicated. She stripped to a bare minimum, wondering if he was watching, wondering if she wanted him to. Quickly slipping into the water Sarah’s thoughts shut off as she shivered at its coldness. She scrubbed herself as best she could and then scrubbed what she could of her clothing. She set them out to dry before resting on the grass to air dry herself. At least the air wasn’t freezing. Her thoughts revolved around the Grove and Jason.
Sarah stood and pondered Jason’s form for a moment before putting on her clothing. You will always have me, his voice echoed in her ear from their talk in the orchard. In the Grove, he had always been there when she needed him, but now. Sarah looked back up, but he was gone. He startled her by appearing in front of her.
‘Jay!’ she jumped slightly, though her voice was low.
‘Sorry,’ he said, looking a little embarrassed. ‘I saw you were done.’
‘You should get some rest. We will be moving non-stop until we are well within Vervell’s boundaries.’ Jason parted the branches for Sarah to pass through, before following.
Sarah stopped at the entrance to the cave and turned around. Jason had already re-taken his watch post. She wanted desperately to talk to him, but she didn’t know what to say.
Jason glanced over at her. He gave her a half smile, ‘It will be over soon.’
‘Then what?’ Sarah asked. ‘I’ve been taking it day by day, but that’s not working anymore. I can’t even imagine what kind of future I could have here.’ Frustration and anguish filled her voice more than she meant it to.
Jason’s eyes flicked over the bushes. Sarah took deep breaths trying to calm herself. Jason looked towards the moon.
‘I’m sorry,’ Sarah whispered. She turned to go inside, but turned back at Jason’s touch.
‘As soon as I am off duty, we will talk about our future.’ Sarah nodded. He scanned the horizon then looked back at her. ‘I promise, Sarah. Right now I must focus on getting us safely home.’ Again his gaze left her and scanned the horizon. ‘Go get some rest.’ Sarah gave him a half smile and went inside.
For a while Sarah stared at the roof of the cave. The closeness to Jay she’d always felt in the Grove now felt far beyond her grasp. He seemed so distant, except for a few moments, once in the other cave, and once in the orchard. But his statement had reminded her that this was his job. She couldn’t expect him to be close to her right now. Not while he was in charge of these men and this mission that could avert war and bring peace. Sarah sighed as she thought about everything she had learned of this world. Wondering if there was any future for her, other than becoming a wife and mistress of the hearth, she fell asleep.