“The Escape of Motley’s Rose” – Chapter 3

by Aylya Mayze
© 2021 Wittily Writ Publishing

Chapter 3

Motley did not return that day or any day after, for so long I began to fret. I worried about his jaw. I had not wrapped his jaw again before he left and now, I feared, it might fail to heal properly without something holding it still. How was he eating and drinking? Was he safe? Another critter might have gotten him, as vulnerable as he was now, or he might have died of thirst or hunger. The thought near tore me to shreds. I had not realized until now how dear he had become to me. I wanted to help him, but it had been his choice to leave. There was nothing I could do.

On the other hand, he had not claimed his portion of the moose, so I did. With winter breathing down my neck, it was a push to stock all I could against the snow that would come soon, trapping me in my cave like a hibernating bear. I needed meat and roots, nuts and whatever berries I could preserve, and always much more fire wood than I ever wanted to chop, as well as all the supplies for all the crafting I would do to pass the time during those dark, drear months. So, while I fretted uselessly for Motley, I kept active, racing against the season.

One day as I was coming back from the stream, toting water and carrying the fish I’d caught in my traps, I saw a strange person climbing from the valley toward my cave. I had left candles I had been dipping hanging to dry from nearby trees – too close to the cave entrance to hide the fact that I was living there. In my solitude, I’d grown careless, I realized. I doffed my load, hanging the fish from a nearby tree, and reached into my jacket pocket for my hunting knife.

The figure was cloaked heavily against the cold wind and morning mist. With the hood up, I could see naught but that it was a tall one – over 6’, though it hunched with the effort of the rising path.

“How ye, cousin?” came a male voice in the typical greeting of a friendly woodsie, but the accent was clipped like a townie. He might be a new one, I thought, with a daughter to hide.

“Well, thanks to God. And ye, cousin?”


He stopped 10’ feet away, where I could get a good view of him and not feel crowded, then straightened his back and pushed off his hood. 6’-3” at least, I thought. Probably more by a measure. He was young – only a bit older than I was. 18? He might have been as old as 20. He had a full beard that made it hard to tell. His hair was tow-head blonde, his beard so light it was hard to notice against his pale skin, even though it was thick and covered his chin and cheeks completely. His eyes were strange. Mostly they looked dark brown, but with rings of amber in the center around his irises. Overall, however, he was comely.

“Have you need?” I asked, my hand still gripping my knife hidden in my pocket.

“That’s what I came to ask you.” A friendly smile lit his face, showing perfect teeth. “I’m Isaac. We’re new here – my father, mother, sister and I. We’ve settled in the valley and are building a house, but we decided to take some time to meet the neighbors and see if there is any use we can be to you.”

“The valley floods in spring,” I said. “You’ll want to be far from the river and up a bit. How will you hide the house?”

“Hide it?” he frowned. “Why should we hide it?”

“So it don’t get seen, of course.”

“By whom?” He chuckled, a warm, merry sound.

“By any who be looking?”

“We’re too far out,” he said. “No one will come this deep into the forest.”

“You did.”

Lord help me, he was a fool, I thought. Likely the whole family were. They would not last long, and I worried that they might bring down the others near them as well. This one had found me too easily. When townies came snatching up him and his, I had better make sure I was well hidden, then hope they didn’t tell. If my da were here, he’d want us to leave right now, go deeper yet into the forest and find another place to stay. It was the best thing to do but moving was so much effort. It would take time to find a good spot and I hadn’t the strength to move so much stuff alone, even in good weather. Now, with winter almost here…aye, but my laziness could get me killed, I thought.

“Maybe you can help us find a better spot and a better way,” Isaac suggested. “We’d be grateful if you shared your knowledge with us. You can come talk to my parents. In fact, we’re hoping to host a Christmas gathering. We would love for you and your family to come.”

“We don’t go to gatherings,” I said.

“Why not? It’ll be fun.”

My parents had told me of a party they were intending to go to when they were newly arrived to the forest. There was to be a music and dancing, lots of food, and the opportunity to meet every other woodsie in the area with little effort. It was exactly what they both would love. I was an infant and, at the last minute, got sick, so they had to miss out. The party was raided by townies and everyone at it was taken. Every girl of age was sacrificed to the beasts and the rest were held for “stealing” them away and rebelling against the town’s authority. Apparently, the townies had been watching and waiting for just such a gathering to make it easier to round us all up. There had been other parties since, and most of them proved safe, but my parents never trusted enough to go to any. I saw their wisdom in that.

“I’ll tell my folks about it,” I lied.

He grinned. His smile was a warming light cutting through the chill. I returned it before I knew. He had not mentioned having a wife yet but, no doubt, with all the woodsie girls seeking a husband to keep away the beasts, he’d find one soon enough.

He glanced around and his eye fell on the pile of wood I had been splitting but had not yet moved inside.

“Can I chop some wood for you?”

“I can do it.”

“It’s no problem. I like chopping wood.”

Before I could say yay or nay, he had shed his cloak and jacket, rolled up his sleeves, and grabbed the axe I had foolishly left out nearby the pile I had been splitting. He had fine arms, I noted, muscular and strong and his chest beneath his shirt, in fact his whole body was beautifully shaped…I blushed, embarrassed by thoughts I had no right to have. It was pure lust, and for a man too foolish to live. There was nothing good that way.

“Is there any place you are clearing?” he asked.


“I guess you’ve been here long enough to have already cleared your planting patch.”

“No. I mean, we don’t have one.”

He looked surprised.

“What do you eat?” he asked, as innocent as a baby.

I glanced toward the fish I had caught and shrugged. “We do well enough.”

He eyed me up and down with a look that made me want to squirm.

“You do look…healthy,” he said. Something in his voice set alarms ringing in my head, but I could not say why. “If you want to clear a planting space now, I can help you. We brought seeds and starts with us – all kinds, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onions, garlic, herbs, and potato slips. We’d be happy to share.”

“Bad time to plant, isn’t it?”

“For some things, but it takes time to clear the spaces and prepare the ground. If we start now, we can have the ground prepared by spring. Just tell me where you would like it.” He started looking around as though he meant to clear right next to my cave.

“Thank you, no. If you want to chop for us, though, we’d appreciate it. I climb the hill so I can drag the trees down. I thin. I don’t clear. I pick up ones that have fallen first. When I cut, I only take one from a space, then move on out of sight of it to get the next.”

He frowned. “That’s a lot of extra work,” he said. “Why not do several at a time and drag them back together?”

“You know, the townies have satellites.”

“What?” He looked confused by my strange word. Many woodsies, and so, I guessed, many townies, didn’t know about the satellites. My da used to work on them and he told me all about them, though they were supposed to be kept secret.

I pointed upward.

“Eyes in the sky. They can see us. We count on them not looking too closely so far out, but if we start clearing large enough spaces, they’ll notice. They’ll know it’s people, and they’ll come to see. A tree here and there – especially if you cut low and bury the stump – won’t draw attention.”

“You’re making that up!”

“I’m not. It’s why you don’t clear spaces or build houses above ground.”

“Then how do you live?”

“You can find a cave or a large tree hollow, or you can make your own underground home. You can set up a canopy that looks like the forest and, under its cover, dig your space. Inside it can be as townie as you like, as long as no one can tell from the outside.”

He glanced toward my cave.

“Is your home townie inside?”

I shrugged. “I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been to a town.”

I could tell he wanted to peek inside, but I didn’t want him to. I didn’t want him to know I was alone.

It was a relief when Isaac left to fell some trees, though I worried he would ignore my instructions or, worse, steal my axe. The metal head of the axe was town bought and I had no way to replace it. It was therefore a relief when Isaac returned, near noon, dragging a couple lighter trees, though they were heavier ones than I might have managed, even singly. He had shed his shirt, now that the sun was higher. I watched his muscles on his arms, chest and legs flex as he hauled the wood, a fine sheen of sweat making them glisten, and found myself blushing at my thoughts. He was a truly handsome man.

He dropped his load, wiped his brow, then turned and smiled at me. “I never got your name,” he said.

“Rose,” I answered. I was brining most of the fish, preparing them to smoke, but I had chosen four to fry over a campfire outside and a little away from the cave. Still, it was too close, I thought. Really, I had been careless. I poured a cup of water and offered it to him by way of invitation. He took it gladly, eyeing the fish.

“It smells delicious,” he said.

“It’s for our lunch,” I told him, “then you can take the rest of it home for your family.”

He sat down next to me, too close for my comfort, his gaze fixed on my pan.

“Where did you get the onions and garlic if you don’t plant?” he asked.

“It grows wild. I can show you where.”

“It seems you have a lot to teach us,” he said.

I felt my cheeks heat with embarrassment, but also pleasure that someone might think me of value. I had boiled some rice, so I served that up, with the fish and fixings on top.

Isaac took it gratefully and seemed about to eat with vigor but, after the first bite, he stopped and closed his eyes. He seemed to be having problems swallowing it, which I took to mean he didn’t like it.

“This is delicious,” he said at last.

The compliment surprised me. I didn’t know what to say so I only nodded.

“Where is the rest of your family?” Isaac asked.

“Hunting. Gathering. There is a lot to do with winter coming.”

“You’re not going to save some of this fish for them?”

“There’s more. They like it fresh. Besides, I cannot know when they’ll return. Could be any moment or not for days.”

“And they left you behind to guard the home?”

I shrugged.

He ate heartily after that, asking for seconds and even thirds. I had made a lot, but even so I began to worry that there wouldn’t be enough left for his family.

“Are you the girl they talk about who has a pet wolf?” he suddenly asked.

The question caught me by surprise.

“I have no pets!” I answered.

“They say you’ve been seen hunting with a wolf.”

“Who is ‘they’? Who is talking about me?”

“I don’t know. My father told me. I don’t know where he heard it. There is a beautiful, red-headed girl who hunts with a gray wolf. I thought that it might be you.”

I frowned. “Beautiful” and “red-headed” had to mean someone else, though I knew of no woodsie nearby who had red hair. I had suspected Motley had befriended other woodsies as well as me. I had imagined him working with a man, though I had no reason for that assumption. To hear that he was working with another woman disturbed me. I could not fathom why. It made sense when I thought about it. Men are quicker to kill but another woman, like myself, might be caught by his beauty long enough to realize he meant no harm. Also, women, being smaller and weaker, might be less threatening for a wolf to approach.

There was an instinct in me that wanted to keep silent about Motley, but it lost the battle to the part of me that wanted to keep him safe.

“There is a wolf in these parts who sometimes hunts with people for a share of the meat. He’s not a pet. He has recently been injured, though. If you see him, please, don’t hurt him. You can tell him by his green eyes, and he has more color in his coat than a normal grey wolf, although I’ve never seen his winter coat.”

“Green eyes? That’s unusual for a wolf, isn’t it?”

I nodded. “Most have brown or amber eyes like the center of yours.”

He startled and turned away, hiding his eyes from me. Had I embarrassed him? If so, I didn’t know how.

“He’s tame then?”

“No. Not tame. He’s no threat, though. Not if you treat him with respect.”

“How can you be sure?”

I thought about it but couldn’t explain. I was without clear reason, but I was sure I spoke truth.

“Most critters aren’t a threat if you treat them properly,” I answered at last. “It’s men you cannot trust.”

He laughed. “So you don’t trust me?”

“Course not! I don’t know you at all.”

His smile was suddenly not the friendly, cheerful smile of before, and his eye took on the gleam of a predator.

“I would be happy if you would get to know me, and let me get to know you.”

Something in his voice made the hairs on the back of my neck rise in warning. Suddenly all I wanted was for him to get gone. I packaged the rest of his fish in a scrap of oiled leather and sent him home with it so his family could enjoy it while it was still tasty. Meanwhile, I resolved that the very next morning I’d head out to find a new home.

Please comment on this chapter, while it is fresh, before proceeding to the next chapter. If you really cannot wait to read on, however, please let me know.

Chapter 4

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