Alysia S. Knight
The Road of Deception
Her father would be furious if he knew she was traveling alone. Aliea took a deep breath of the spring air and stroked her hand down the palomino’s golden coat. A smile crested her lips. She preferred riding alone, just as she preferred wearing boy’s breeches. Now, traveling outside her homeland, they made the perfect disguise. With her hair pulled back and hood tied around her head, no one could tell she was a woman, and who would bother a simple boy?
Surely she could look after herself for the remaining two days to reach Kallone. She needed a last taste freedom. Once at the palace, she would be trapped in formality as she took her place among the other young ladies of the court. Aliea frowned. She really didn’t want to go. She’d rather stayed with her father. He needed her just as he needed every man on patrol against the raiders in the western mountain region.
A low mournful bellow of an animal broke the stillness as Aliea reached the hill’s crest. Below, she saw a cow sinking in a bog. The farmer had a rope round its neck, pulling with no avail. With each frantic movement, the animal slipped deeper into the mud.
Kicking her horse to a run, she raced down the slope, sliding off as she reached the farmer. Aliea grabbed the rope, and quickly tied it to her saddle. “Back, Maree, pull,” she urged her horse, knowing the farmer’s livelihood was at risk. Gripping the rope, she pulled with all her might. The new efforts brought the cow forward a little, but the grime would not give up its prize. Aliea’s muscles screamed for relief as she pulled with the exhausted farmer.
“Pull,” she groaned out. They couldn’t give up, but it was beginning to feel hopeless as the cow started to sink back in, then out of nowhere another rope sailed over the cow’s head.
“Back, Jester, back.” A strong male voice sounded behind her. Two hands gripped the rope as a man moved in front of her.
“Quick, get some branches and twigs. Throw them under the cow’s hooves,” the new arrival ordered over his shoulder.
Aliea let go of the rope and did as ordered then took back her place on the rope. She could hear the puffing of the farmer and the stranger’s strained voice calling, “Back Jester, back, pull.” Gradually, the cow moved forward. It struggled to get its footing then moved free of the bog. The farmer ran forward throwing his arms about the beast and hugged it as if it was a rescued child, then he turned to his helpers.
“How can I ever thank you?” the farmer gasped between mouthfuls of air. He gripped Aliea’s hand between his large callused ones. “Thank you. Thank you.” Tears streamed down the tanned, weather-wrinkled face. He looked to the man, repeating the process of gripping his hand but bowed to them as he shook. “I am in your debt.”
The man placed his hand firmly on the farmer’s hands. “I’m just happy I was able to help.” His voice was strong, smooth.
“Thank you,” cracked the farmer’s voice again.
“It was my pleasure,” Aliea spoke, keeping her voice low.
“Please come to my home. Let my wife feed you. You’re welcome to stay as long as you’d like,” the farmer invited, grasping the other man’s hand again.
“That is very kind of you, but I must be on my way,” the man declined politely. “Tell me, how is it that the cow managed to get stuck.”
“I was taking it home when some riders broke through the trees and raced passed. The cow was startled and bolted across the meadow into the bog. I would’ve never gotten it out by myself. Please, is there not some way to repay you?”
“No payment is necessary,” Aliea said sincerely. “I, too, must be leaving.”
“Which way are you headed?” the man beside her asked.
Turning, Aliea looked at him from under her hood, taking her time to study the man. He was young, probably only a couple years older than her eighteen years. He was handsome, tall, a full head taller than her. His body was muscular, lean, toned. He had wavy, light-brown hair and soft gray-blue eyes. A slight smile crowned his features that made her breath catch. She didn’t know what it was, but there was something about him that made her like him immediately.
“Southeast, toward Kallone,” she answered, again conscious of keeping her voice low.
“I’m headed to Kallone myself. I’d enjoy some company, if you’d like. My name is Jon.” He extended his hand.
Aliea hesitated for a moment, debating. It would be better traveling with someone. But it wasn’t really proper traveling alone, unchaperoned with a man. Had he guessed she was a woman? She didn’t know anything about him. Inside, she wanted to trust him, felt he could be trusted, and again, it would be safer traveling with someone rather than alone.
“Yes,” she answered. Slowly extending her hand, hoping he wouldn’t notice how small it was and that it was obviously not a farm boy’s. She would hide that she was a woman. “My name is Lee.”
“Well, Lee, let’s get riding. Goodbye.” Jon extended his hand back to the farmer.
“Goodbye. Thank you, thank you.” The farmer’s gratitude came through once more.
“You’re welcome, farewell.” Aliea turned and followed Jon in mounting their horses, waiting as he wound up his rope. With a final wave, they were off.
Aliea stayed about half a length behind Jon, saying nothing. After a few minutes, he broke the silence. “Where are you from, Lee?”
“Taklaun.” She decided it was best to keep her answer short.
“Taklaun, that’s a long way up north. Do your parents know where you are?”
“I’m on business for my father.” It was close enough to the truth.
“Aren’t you a little young?”
She smiled to herself, relieved. Obviously, he believed she was a young boy. “I’m old enough.” She decided to change the subject, turning it toward him. “Where are you from?”
“Kallone. I’ve also been on business for my father and am on my way home now.”
“What kind of business?”
“He is over a wide range of projects and holdings.” His answer was as vague as hers. “Aren’t you hot in that hood and cloak?”
It was getting close to midday, and she was indeed hot but was still unwilling to reveal her identity. “No, I’m quite comfortable.”
Jon shrugged. She wondered what he was thinking as they rode on in silence.
Several minutes passed before Jon asked her another series of questions. It started a routine. They’d talk for a few minutes then fall back into silence.
Suddenly, Jester, Jon’s horse, whinnied and began to prance skittishly to the side. Jon straightened. His hand dropped to the sword fastened at his side as he surveyed the area.
“What is it?” Aliea followed his action, looking around.
“I don’t know. Something is spooking Jester, and he’s seldom wrong. Let’s get out of here, fast.” Before he could urge his horse forward, two figures dropped from a tree, knocking him from his horse. Jon rolled to his feet coming up with his sword in hand facing his attackers.
Maree reared up as another form dropped to the ground beside her. One huge hand grabbed the reins as the other burly arm wrapped around her waist, dragging her from her frightened horse, squeezing the air from her body.
In front of her, Aliea could see Jon had already brought one man down. The other was losing ground fast. With another swing, Jon took his opponent off balance. Jon came in, shifting at the last moment, his sword found its mark once again. In the same motion, he arched the sword around and sliced it down across the arms of Aliea’s captor. Aliea dropped to the ground gulping in air. Jon twisted his sword around to finish off the attacker.
Another man appeared from between the trees, with a sword in hand. Jon turned to face him. They moved in a circle testing each other’s movements. This man showed more skill than the others. Jon blocked and swung his sword around in a crescent motion, cutting across the man’s sword arm. The man howled in pain and staggered back a few steps. Switching the sword to his good arm, he came forward again. Jon’s back passed by a large tree trunk. As he did, Aliea saw a man reach out from behind with a club raised over Jon’s head.
Watch next month for another portion of My Lady.
Alysia S. Knight - Heroes for all times.