19 - Temporary safety

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The morning air was chilly, their now dried clothes crusty and dirty. The fire had burned out, only a small pillar of smoke rose from the pile of ashes. Birds welcomed the morning sun with joyful melodies. Jonathan was still asleep on the other side of the fire. It was not like Nora to put blind faith in a man she just met. But in the spur of the moment, escaping from the Gisela, Nora had desperately wanted to trust somebody. And Jonathan was an honourable English soldier after all. A gentleman, hopefully nothing like the soldier who had told her secret. Watching Jonathan peacefully sleep made it seem like the right choice to trust him. He might even be Nora's ticket home. With the protection of an English soldier and his contacts, she would surely be able to find passage home on a honourable ship. That was if James didn't find her. Nora knew that if he ever caught her, her days would be counted and her death would come without mercy. But the mere thought of that fate sent cold chills through her body, and Nora refused to think about it. It was not worth her time or her thoughts. The only thing that mattered was getting home.

They walked through the forest as the midday sun slowly traveled over the tree tops. Jonathan told stories of his adventures as a soldier, and Nora told him about her hometown in return. He was quite the pleasant company, the soldier, with a bright smile and glistening eyes, he was quite the charmer and Nora thoroughly enjoyed his company. Not only did she feel safe, but she felt calm. After spending so much time in the company of pirates, Jonathan's well behaved manners was a breeze of fresh air, swirling around her.

"What made you become a soldier?" Nora asked, not looking at him as she was too busy keeping an eye on the ground, making sure she didn't trip on any rock or branch that was scattered across their path.

"My father. He was a soldier in the English army, served his country proudly and died in honour. Ever since I was a little boy, I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps. My mother was devastated of course-", Jonathan smiled a crooked smile. "-she did not want her son to meet the same fate her husband had. But I was determined, and the day of my eighteenth birthday, I joined the army. Later I would switch to the navy, as I was one of the few that did not get seasick. And since I've always been very fond of the ocean, it fit me quite well." Still smiling his crooked smile, Jonathan threw a glance at Nora. She did not return it however, but noticed him looking at her.

"Sounds like you found your calling then", Nora said, still too busy trying not to fall over to look at him.

"Suppose I did. What is your calling? I doubt it's being a servant." Nora snorted. The person who had servant as their calling in life must be someone without any lust for fun.

"No, it's not. I have always wanted to travel. See the world, experience adventures. But after this adventure, I'm not so sure I'm cut out for it. Pirates, thieves and death wasn't what I had in mind when I dreamt of a more exiting life."

"It might not have been what you wanted, and it's a cruel fate to have experienced what you have, but I do believe you're more than cut out for it. I've never seen a woman keep such calm in a situation like you've been in. Escaping from that ship took bravery and wit. It may not have been what you wanted your adventure to be, but from what I can see, you're mastering it with flying colours." Jonathan's smile had faded, a more serious expression on his face. Nora could feel her cheeks turn red as blood rushed to them. She did not know what to answer, or if there even was an answer to give. No one had described her as brave before. She'd always been invisible, lived so that others could enjoy their lives. But out on the ship and out there in the forest as they made their way through trees and bushes, she was living for no one but herself.

When the sun had made its way over the trees and started hiding behind the blue mountains by the horizon, lights could be seen through the trees. With precaution and care, the two made their way out of the forest and into a small village. Here and there a few people walked. Some carried food, others supplies. Horses stood by the trees, peacefully chewing on the short grass. Children ran through the streets, screaming and laughing as they played. It was all very joyful and it reminded Nora of her hometown.
"Where do we go now?" Nora asked, suddenly unsure of what to do.

"There should be a soldiers cabin somewhere, every village has one. We can seek shelter there and get provisions." Jonathan sounded confident and this time he took the lead, making his way through the village. Soon they found a small tavern, a big wooded sign hanging over its door. The swinging buck. The sign was hand carved and painted in bright yellow and a deep maroon, antlers on each side of the name. As they stood outside, the door swung open and out came two men. They were laughing loudly, their faces red and eyes shiny. From inside the tavern, laughter and singing was heard. As the two men walked away, the door closed and the laughter got muted.

"Should we go in?" Nora felt insecure, her heart pounded hard in her chest. The fear of meeting a familiar face in there made her want to throw up. Unsure of how far James and his men would travel to get revenge, she feared drawing too much attention to herself, needing to stay as invisible as possible.

"I'll go in and ask for directions, but we shouldn't linger." Seeming to have the same thought as Nora, Jonathan disappeared through the door and the laughter was once again turned up in volume only to be swallowed into silence when the door shut again. Nora waited impatiently, not wanting to get seen. Every second that passed seemed like a decade. Her pulse was so loud in her ears, Nora thought she might go deaf. Every sound, every movement, she feared. Ghosts echoed in her mind, familiar voices seeming to be heard behind her. But every time she turned around, no one was there.

Not a minute too soon, Jonathan stepped out of the tavern. Nora scanned his face, wishing that it would tell her if the news was good or bad.
"Well?" She said, eager to find out what had been said inside the Swinging Buck.

"There is a cabin, just down the road. They will surely provide us with shelter and provisions." Nora sighed in relief, feeling her body relax a bit.

"That's wonderful news!" Jonathan nodded in agreement, but did not share Nora's face of relief. "Is something the matter?" Nora asked, tensing up again as she feared what he had to say. Jonathan frowned, his eyebrows furrowed, casting a shadow over his face.

"I asked about any sightings of pirates." His voice was monotone and Nora stopped breathing as soon as she heard the word. "There hasn't been any here. But word has traveled that pirates has been seen in nearby towns. We need to be careful." The news froze Nora's body to solid ice. Unable to move or even breathe she stood frozen in fear. Knowing that they could be close made every cell in her body want to flee.

"Don't worry", Jonathan said, his voice now calm as he studied her terrified expression. "We'll be safe in the cabin." Nora could only managed a single nod, but followed Jonathan as he made his way down the road. And surely enough, they soon reached a small cabin. Nothing much to the eye. But as soon as Jonathan knocked on the door and a soldier stepped out on the stairs, Nora dared to believe that they were actually save. For now, at least.

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