18 - Freedom

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The cold, rough rocks were a god sent as Nora heaved herself up on one of them, coughing up buckets of saltwater. She'd always been a good swimmer, but the crashing waves had swept her under one too many times. Perseverance and stubbornness had help her conquer the sea, landing her on the rocks by a high cliff. Next to her lay the soldier, breathing heavily, his face towards the sky, praising god - which Nora thought was ridiculous as god had nothing to do with it. Their escape hadn't been noticed yet as the ship seemed as calm as ever. No screaming or yelling, no bells ringing. But the peace wouldn't last for long and they needed to move if they wanted to live. The rocks were too vulnerable to be a good hiding spot.

"We need to move. Find better shelter", Nora said between deep breaths and coughs. The soldier only nodded, closing his eyes. "You are welcome to stay here, but I will certainly not be a sitting duck." Heaving herself up on her knees, Nora stared to crawl over the rocks towards the bay. The rocks were both hard and sharp, causing her hands to get both cut and scraped. The pain didn't bother her however. Nothing but getting as far as possible from the Gisela and it's crew was on her mind. Behind her the soldier followed, cursing now and then as he too cut his hands open. Soon the relief of grass under their hands washed over them. Nora gave herself thirty seconds to rest whilst she took in her surroundings. They were at the very end of the bay, away from the docks and the market. A few houses covered them from view. Not a lot of people was around to see them wash up from the water and Nora thanked her lucky star.

"You need to toss the coat. No one can recognise us."

"If you don't mind me saying, Miss, you are one determined lady", the soldier said and smiled as he unbuttoned his coat.

"I cannot see why I would mind." Nora did not return his smile, as she did not think it was a time for happiness. Time was running out and she would be damned if she found herself on that bloody ship one more time. Allowing herself one more deep breath, she got up on her feet, ready to move. Where she was headed or what she was going to do next, Nora did not know. As long as it got her as far away from James Haddock as possible, it was good enough and option. A part of her however, couldn't help but feel a slight ache for losing James. It only came now and then, and Nora got rid of the thought as soon as it came, but it still lingered. An itch she couldn't scratch, no matter how hard she tried. And honestly, Nora would rather have that scratch than be in any sort of proximity to her former captor.

Her breath was short, her lungs screaming for air. Her legs and feet were tired, ached from never getting any rest. The sun dried her clothes, slowly but steadily. The soldier walked behind her, panting just as much as Nora, the heat taking a larger toll on him than her. Nora suspected that the soldier was injured somehow, as his face was pale and his mouth pressed together, indicating that he was in some sort of pain. A part of Nora felt for the soldier, but her survival instinct and desperate need to put as much space between herself and the bay as possible, stopped her from giving herself or the soldier any time to rest. As they walked, the sun traveled over the light blue sky, soon painting it in pink and orange. The afternoon heat started to disappear and cold winds blew through their clothes.

"We need to find shelter for the night, Miss", the soldier said between ragged breaths. Nora knew he was right, but she also knew that she wanted to cover even more ground before stopping.

"One more hour... eh, what's your name?" Nora realised that they had never actually been properly introduced. Then again, the way they met hadn't exactly been the kind where proper introductions were possible.

"Jonathan Bellway, Miss." The soldier bowed a bit and extended his hand.

"Nora Beckam", Nora said and placed her hand in his before giving it a firm shake. At the mention of her name the soldier frowned, a look of uncertainty appeared in his eyes.

"Pardon me, Miss, but I thought your name was Guinevere." Nora froze for a minute, wondering if she had made a mistake giving the soldier her real name. But then she realised that there was no need to lie to him. He was after all an English soldier, not a filthy pirate.

"Well, yes. That is a long story. If we cover a few more miles I might tell it to you later." The soldier named Jonathan smiled and nodded.

"Very well then, Miss Beckham."

As the sun disappeared behind the trees and the darkness fell, the tired two finally stopped walking. With their last energy they gathered enough wood for a fire big enough to warm them and keep away wild animals, but small enough to not draw unwanted attention from those who might share the woods with them. They had no food and no water, Nora's throat was to parched she found it hard to swallow. But every time her stomach growled she reminded herself of the fact that she was free. And with that thought in her head, hunger nor thirst mattered at all.

"So, Miss, are you going to tell me how a lady like you ended up on a pirate ship? And why they called you Guinevere?" Jonathan sat on the other side of the fire, his hands stretched out before him to keep them warm. Nora watched him, tried to figure out if he could be trusted, or if he was just as bad as the rest of the men she'd encountered on the ship. And even though it might be stupid and careless, Nora wanted to trust him, to desperately believe he was good. To believe he was an English soldier who was filled with honour, a respectable man, an allied.

"Well... I worked at Governor Monroes, been doing it my whole life. One night the Gisela and it's crew raided our town. They came for the Governors daughter, Guinevere, but she wasn't there. Unfortunately, I was. They found me hiding under her bed and believed me to be her. I did not dare to argue, so I found myself a prisoner on the ship. They believed I was Guinevere for some time. Until your ship came." Nora took a deep breath, closed her eyes for a moment. "A soldier found me on lower deck. He tore my lie apart, told the captain that Guinevere Monroe was safe and sound on land, that I was an imposter. He died for those words, but had still managed to sew seeds of doubt in James's mind. Today was going to be the day I died." There was a heavy silence that layed between the two for a while. Jonathan looked at Nora whilst she stared into the fire. None of them knew what to say.

"I'm sorry." Jonathan whispered after a while, searching for her gaze. "And thank you. For saving me, for taking me with you. Normally it would have been the other way around, but I'm still thankful."

"Well, I suppose it's not more than right that a man is the one in distress once in a while." Nora smiled a small smile, the first genuine smile she'd had in a long time.

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