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Escort Duty – Part 6

It seemed to be only a moment before Erika awoke with Greta tapping her arm, but her maid’s face was lit with the gray light of a pre-dawn sky. Erika sat up with a groan, then arched her back.

“Good morning, my lady,” Soren said as he rolled up his bed and tied it closed.

“It’s still dark out,” she replied, “Tell me good morning once the sun is up and I’ve had breakfast.” Her stomach chose that moment to grumble loudly.

Erika stood and walked to the stream, dipping her hand into the frigid water. She almost squealed at its touch, but splashed a bit over her face and into her hair before standing and walking back to Greta. Her maid motioned her to sit on the bracken next to her, then pulled her braids apart and ran a silver brush through her blonde hair.  The curls from her braids caused it to catch occasionally, but Greta was gentle as she unwound the knots and replaited her mistress’ hair.  Erika endured the morning ritual while glaring at the men as they packed and loaded their sleeping rolls.

“Breakfast shall be what is left of our apples and cheese, my lady,” Simon said, “And there’s some meat left if anyone wants it.”

Erika made a face, but took the food Simon offered and bit into an apple. She did not notice that he had not cored or sectioned it for her, chewing mechanically as Greta finished setting her hair for the day. Once all that remained of the apple was a core, she held it out to Simon.

“Oh, feel free to toss it in the grass, princess,” he said as he continued his task of loading bundles on the mule, “The field mice will bless you for the treat.”

Erika looked at him with a hard expression, then threw the core in his direction. He let it sail over his head, then turned as it disappeared in the undergrowth. He did not look at Erika as he said, “Next time, aim for my middle, princess. You’re throwing about a foot and a half high.”

Soren, who was saddling the horses, froze at this, but Erika only sniffed and took up a piece of the meat. It was cold, and a little greasy, but her stomach gurgled again when she smelled it. She took a dainty bite of it without saying anything. Soon, the rest of the squonk’s leg had joined the apple in filling her belly.

Soren looked up when he saw Hollo coming down the hill, his hand pointing to the west.

“That group from the north is on the move,” he said, “They’ll be here in less than an hour.”

“So much for a leisurely breakfast,” Simon said, lashing the last of the bundles to the mule and walking to his horse, “I suggest we make haste and try to be over that ridge before they find our camp.”

Hollo emptied his water bottle into the fire, causing a sizzling cloud of steam to rise a few feet before dissipating like the smoke had the night before. Soren offered the princess his hand as she climbed into her saddle, then helped Greta onto hers. He tied the mule’s lead to his own saddle, then mounted his horse.

Erika looked down and said “Stop!”

All three men turned to her. Simon waited a few moments, then said, “Is there a problem, my lady?”

“I’m wearing the same gown as I did yesterday,” she said indignantly, “Why, I slept in it! I can’t go about looking like this.”

Simon and Hollo exchanged a glance. Simon shrugged and said, “My lady, there is no time to unpack another dress, nor is there anywhere for you to change in privacy. Tonight, you will be able to change, but for now, we must get moving.” With that, he nudged his horse in the flank and set off uphill.

Erika glared at his back, then looked questioningly at Soren. He just shrugged and motioned her to go before him. Erika’s lips tightened into a colorless line, but she set off with Greta in tow. Soren and the mule took up the rear as the group left their campsite and headed higher into the hills.


Other episodes can be found here.  The entire anthology can be purchased at Amazon.

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2 Comments

  1. Women… sigh…

    • Eh. I’ve had to deal with men who couldn’t conceive of not looking like a recruiting poster on the second day of a field problem.

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