This is a continuation of last week’s Short Story “Go.”
Old man Evans knew, Dale was sure of it. Evans knew that Dale was hiding something, and every chance he got, Evans scrutinized Dale behind those bushy, white eyebrows. It probably hadn’t helped that Dale said good-bye rather than good night to the head of the kitchen staff once Dale’s shift had been over. Dale had just been lucky that he escaped before Evans could call him out on his words.
Dale walked slowly through the estate toward the servants’ quarters, his eyes taking in the comfortable surroundings that he would be abandoning in favor of the wilderness. He nodded to and greeted other staff members that were working, just starting or finishing their own shifts, and Dale was acutely aware that he would never see them again. Quite a few of the other servants Dale would call friends, and his steps were heavy with the thought that this would be the last time he would see their faces.
He made it to his bunk and glanced at the clock. In a few hours, he would be meeting Mauve outside of the mansion walls, and Dale wasn’t sure if he had the hope to escape without being seen. The punishment for abandonment wasn’t something to look forward to, but Dale didn’t want to leave in the first place.
He settled into his blankets and faced the windows, staying still to pretend to be asleep to avoid the other servants, and he briefly wondered if Mauve would leave without him if he actually did sleep through their meeting time. He needn’t have worried about that, for his anxiety kept him wide awake until he heard the grandfather clock in the hall chime the hour he needed to leave.
Dale moved slowly, used to moving about quietly and efficiently from being assigned as a server multiple times whenever Master Jefferson had company. It was fine to be seen, but never heard, and even better if he could imitate a ghost whenever possible. In and out without a sound. He almost wished he was clumsier when he grabbed his knapsack from beneath his bunk and tiptoed out of the bedroom.
“I wasn’t sure if you’d actually show,” was the whispered greeting he had gotten from Mauve when the pair met at the back of the kitchen. Dale shrugged, taking in the light armor she wore, the small packs around her waist, and the little quiver of arrows and bow strapped to her back. Her spear was in hand, and Dale felt inadequately packed with his knapsack full of blankets and snacks.
“Here.” Mauve handed him his skinning knife that he had dropped the day before in the meadow. “I found it earlier today. You’ll probably need it.”
Dale murmured a thank you and took one last glance around the kitchen before following Mauve out of the mansion.
The grounds were eerily dark, and Dale almost bumped into Mauve more than once while trying to keep up with her. She skulked around the grounds, avoiding the guards with an ease that distinctly made Dale uncomfortable, and if they weren’t leaving Master Jefferson forever, then he would have definitely reported the poor routines the guards had in place. He was snapped out of his thoughts by Mauve taking his hand and leading him into a run across the garden.
“We’re almost there,” she whispered, and the pair reached the stone wall that encompassed the grounds. With practiced hands, Mauve tied a rope to the end of her spear and hurled the weapon over the wall. She tugged on the rope to be sure it was taut and began to climb the wall. Up and over, she disappeared and Dale figured that it was his turn.
He could turn back right now. Take off at a run, find a guard, and keep Mauve from making the biggest mistake of her life.
Dale glanced behind him, seeing the light of the guards’ torches begin to come back around, and he grabbed the rope. With a slip here and a near-fall there, Dale eventually scrambled over the top of the wall and landed back on the ground on his rear. Mauve pulled the rope over to their side as Dale dusted himself off, and she led him away from the only home he had known in his life.
He hoped this would all be worth it.
The pair made it to the meadow, the scattering of stars and the half moon up in the sky as their only light. Dale shivered and contemplated taking out one of the blankets he had packed, but Mauve was fidgeting and glancing around the area.
“Sage?” Her voice was an exaggerated whisper. “Where are you–?”
Dale yelped, prompting Mauve to whirl around and ready her spear, when he felt cold steel settle on the back of his neck.
“Griffin!” Mauve’s grip on her weapon faltered. “What are you doing here?”
“Following you.” Griffin shoved Dale ahead of him, and Dale stumbled until he was standing next to Mauve. Griffin stared at the pair of them, his gaze somehow more frightening than Sage’s had been the day before. “What do you two think you’re doing?”
Dale glanced at Mauve, not trusting his own voice. She kept quiet as well, apparently not sure what to say to the guard either. Griffin stood up to his full, bulky height, his sword glinting in the moonlight. The guard took a deep breath, exhaling with a deep sigh.
“If you come back with me now,” Griffin said, “Master Jefferson doesn’t need to know about you two attempting abandonment.”
“No.” Mauve stepped backwards. “Griffin, go back to the manor. You never saw us leave.”
“I did see you,” Griffin said, “and I will inform the master if you do not come back willingly. Mauve, I need to do my job.”
“Please,” Mauve pleaded, “we need to go.”
“Go where?” Griffin asked. “There is nowhere else for you besides the master’s manor. Mauve… You can’t be serious. And with a kitchen aid?”
His sword pointed to Dale with that exasperated question, and Dale wasn’t sure if he should feel insulted or not.
“I’m not going back to the manor,” Mauve said, her voice strong. “Dale has agreed to come with me.” Her spear mimicked the position of the guard’s sword. “I will fight you if you do not let us leave.”
Griffin swung his sword and placed it in a sparring position. “So be it,” he said, and lunged.
Dale leaped back as Mauve jumped forward to meet Griffin’s blade, the steel clashing down on the spear’s handle. The strong wood of the spear was steadfast against the steel, and Mauve shoved back, dislodging the sword before swinging her spear in a wide arc. Griffin twisted away, but the spear’s head nicked his arm guard with a crack. He ignored it and dove back at Mauve a thrust. Dale’s hand went to his skinning knife, his sensible inner voice telling him he was mad for even considering going to Mauve’s aid when it was clear that she needed none, but someone else joined the fight before Dale could even move.
Sage had appeared from nowhere, charging at Griffin from the side with a mighty roar. The guard scrambled away, falling over his own feet in an attempt to get away from the beast, and Sage took the opportunity to clamp down on Griffin’s leg. The guard cried out in pain and swung his sword, cutting the tip of Sage’s ear, and Sage lifted Griffin from the ground by the ankle.
“No!” Mauve stopped Sage from throwing Griffin like a child’s doll across the meadow. “Let him go!”
Sage stared at Mauve, heedless of Griffin’s whimpering, but did as she said. I warn you against this… He has seen too much…
“He’s had enough,” Mauve said, glancing at the guard crumpled on the ground. “Let’s just put some distance between us and him.”
Very well, Lady Mauve. Sage nodded to her and to Dale. Let us take our leave.
The beast loped toward the other end of the meadow, and Dale stole one last glance at the crying guard before following Sage and Mauve.