Darkness fell as they reached the edge of the woods. Before them lay a large meadow, now gray in the light of a half moon. The knee-high grass swayed to and fro in the gentle breeze, eager to do the bidding of the wind. Perhaps not quite a half mile beyond the meadow, the land dipped and swelled, and Allewyn recognized clusters of homes built much like her own back in the glade. Some stood as mere shadowy shapes, forlorn and quiet, whereas she could see others that glowed happily with firelight. This must be a village, she mused somewhat bitterly. All this time, she thought, and the village was so close. She felt no thrill or excitement at the sight, only a wearisome ache that made her think of her grandmother. Tears stung her eyes.
Beyond the village, hills blanketed in green rose progressively, giants rivaling for the sky. Allewyn wondered whatever had possessed the earth to rise so.
A path suddenly appeared beneath the steel-shod hooves of Sir Calvin's roan, and soon after, a broad road. As they approached the village, Allewyn began to hear the sounds of voices, laughter, singing, shouting, and even music. A few people milled through the streets, but to Allewyn, it seemed like many. She had never seen so many people in her life. And after dark? Was there some kind of celebration?
No, in fact it was a typical night in the main taverns and streets of Faldin, replete with food, drink, drunken brawling and the occasional indiscreet pair of lovers in a hurry to finish their business on borrowed time. A group of cats fought noisily in the street. Allewyn grew tense. The sounds and smells were overwhelming to her.
Sir Calvin felt her abrupt shift. "Welcome to Faldin, m'dear," he grumbled, voice rusty with hours of disuse. Allewyn, still gagged and with bound hands, did not reply. But she had resolved herself to silence anyway, at least for as long as she could bear it.
Sir Calvin dismounted, reins in hand. Allewyn noticed that, despite the apparent revelry, people seemed to step away when he approached. He led the horse off the main street and into a small, gable-roofed barn; to Allewyn, it was nothing more than a large empty house that smelled of hay and horses.
She noticed Sir Calvin looking at her, which she took to be her cue to get off the horse. She slid from the back of the roan somewhat less gracefully than she was accustomed to, as her elbows and knees trembled from exhaustion. Embarrassed and angry at herself, she stumbled into an upright position.
"Now." Sir Calvin moved to untie her wrists and remove the inelegant strip of cloth from her face. Allewyn flexed her wrists and her jaw smoothly. Her eyes strayed to the rafters of the barn, to the cracks in the roof, and fell upon the open door they had entered, ten paces away. She risked a glance at Sir Calvin. He was fumbling with the rope that had held her wrists. Bags had collected under his eyes. He was tired.
Allewyn sprinted out the door. But the momentary indescicion of which way to go caught her off guard, and she next found herself falling towards the ground, propelled by Sir Calvin's substantial weight at her back. She fell with a thud, and Sir Calvin muttering curses on top of her. "Filthy whore," he spat, and delivered a hefty swing to the back of her head. Allewyn felt her chin scrape against sharp pebbles in the dirt. She dizziness swept over her. Oh, but she had tried to escape, hadn't she? And she had lost her chance, she thought angrily. Sir Calvin stood up, brushing the dirt from his trousers. He steadied himself, about to kick her in the ribs and then thought better of it. He leaned forward and grabbed one of her thin wrists, giving it a sharp tug. Allewyn cried out.
"I was beginning to think you had actually fallen mute," Sir Calvin chortled. "Get up, Witch Girl." He dragged her to her feet. Allewyn didn't feel strong or brave anymore. Whatever courage she had been left with had drained into the earth. She was scared and ashamed, and most of all, very alone. Tears streaked through the dirt on her face.
Sir Calvin squinted at her. "Wipe that blood off of your chin," he commanded. "I can't take you into a tavern looking like that." Allewyn did as she was told, using the back of her sleeve to blot the crimson. "Now, don't you go trying to run off anymore," he glared at her. "Or it'll be far worse for you the next time I catch you. And I will catch you," he emphasized. Allewyn's eyes fell to her shoes.
"When we go in there," Sir Calvin gestured to a well-lit and noisy building up the street, "you are not to speak a word to anyone. Witchery is a crime in Faldin that bears the price of hanging." Allewyn did not know what he meant by "hanging." Sir Calvin lowered his voice and glowered at her. "And don't give me any of that poppycock that you aren't a witch; I've seen your ears." He nodded. "So keep those hidden too, behind your hair." Allewyn didn't know what he meant about her ears, either, but she obediently pulled her tresses forward over her ears. "In the unlikely event that anyone speaks to you," he said, "you are to not respond. I will tell people you are a mute and a beggar, and that I found you on the roadside outside of Faldin." He gave her a satisfied smirk, and added, "You certainly look the part. If you wish, you can pretend to be deaf as well. I don't care."
With that, Sir Calvin turned and began walking briskly toward the tavern, leading Allewyn by her wrist.
Inside, the tavern was less likable than it had appeared. A fire burned the far corner of the room, where several boisterous men sat, laughing at their own drunken jokes. Tables, stools and men were scattered about, and along one wall there was a particularly long table, behind which stood a man wiping his hands on a yellowing cloth. Four or five men sat on stools at this longer table, drinking something frothy from wooden mugs and sharing two loaves of bread between one another. Allewyn noted that the place stank like horse sweat and leather and something else, a fermented kind of smell Allewyn couldn't identify.
Sir Calvin grunted and gestured towards a windowless corner in the room, where a table stood unoccupied. Allewyn drifted towards that table, looked back and discovered that Sir Calvin had met another man he knew. The two were exchanging friendly greetings. Allewyn realized she would be left alone for the rest of the evening. This came as a relief to her. She surveyed the table and stool critically, and after little contemplation chose instead to seat herself underneath the table and against the wall, so as to draw as little attention to herself as possible.
She found the floor underneath the table stained and dusty, but it didn't matter to her so much. Allewyn set herself at an such an angle that would be most conducive to a view of the goings on in the tavern, without being seen herself. She drew in her knees and spread out her skirts, set her arms on her knees and her head on her arms and closed her eyes, tired but unable to sleep. Her ears buzzed with the sounds of men eating, drinking, laughing, arguing. She could not distinguish a woman's voice above the din. Allewyn was bereft, and very lonely. Every voice sounded deep and crude and brazen.
Except that one.
Allewyn lifted her head slightly, and found herself peering into the face of a man, but he was very young. Or was he a boy? She had never seen a boy before, but she had heard about children. Whatever he was, he was young, quite young, perhaps not much older than herself. And he was of the male variety, she thought curiously. She had grown to very much dislike men recently. Allewyn's eyes widened as they adjusted to the light, inspecting the specimen before her.
"Why are you under this table?" the man/boy asked. His tone was not mocking; he seemed curious, and slightly sympathetic. Allewyn felt unsure. She hastily decided not to respond, but lifted her head and set her chin on her arms. The man/boy smelled like that fermented scent she couldn't identify. It became clear to her that he was crouching, and in his right hand, which he had set on the floor to steady himself, he clutched a wet, yellowing rag similar to the one she had seen the other man holding when she entered the tavern.
The man/boy smiled at her, but his grin turned worry when he noticed her chin. "What happened to you here, miss?" He extended his left hand, reaching to stroke the scrape on Allewyn's face. She instinctively drew back, shoes scuffing rapidly against the wood floor as she attempted to push herself futher into the wall, loathe to be touched by anyone at all. She turned her face away from him.
"I'm sorry," he blurted, sounding thoroughly embarrassed. "My Da is always telling me that I should think before I do things. I'm sorry, really I am." He paused. "It's just, I noticed you sitting here under this table, and I was wondering why you were hiding under here." Allewyn noted his word choice carefully. "I thought perhaps you were ill and I could get you something..." His voice wavered, he seemed to be loosing confidence in what he was saying. "That's a nasty scrape on your face there, if you like I can bring you some hot water and a clean cloth."
Allewyn mutely tilted her heads toward him and looked at him very sadly. Yes, she thought. Yes, I would like that.
"Right." The man/boy eagerly retreated from under the table, but not before clumsily knocking his head against it twice.
He returned with a wooden bowl of hot water with a white cloth floating in it. Allewyn accepted the gift gratefully by granting him an intense gaze before busying herself with the task at hand. Her onlooker sat back, keeping some distance between them now. Allewyn noted the distance he gave her appreciatively.
After some time, he began to speak again. "What is your name?"
Allewyn looked at him briefly and then continued to press the cloth to her face, pretending to ignore him.
"Is it true that you're a mute?" Allewyn looked at him again. Indeed, he had a lot of questions. He seemed quite friendly, but she decided it best not to answer this question just yet.
"Is it true that you're a beggar Sir Calvin found?" Allewyn shook her head. No. He seemed taken aback by her response. Had he thought she was deaf as well?
"How did he find you, then? How did you get hurt?" Allewyn gave him a blank stare.
The man/boy bit his lip and furrowed his brow. He appeared to be thinking deeply. There was something endearing in his efforts to discover who she was, but Allewyn wasn't ready to reveal anything yet.
"Did Sir Calvin hurt you?"
Allewyn nodded, apprehensively, slowly.
"Oh," the man/boy said. His eyes fell to Allewyn's muddied skirts, and then quickly to the floor. "He... he shouldn't have done that." Allewyn raised an eyebrow inquisitively. Why was this kind and curious stranger so abashed?
When he looked up at her again, Allewyn still had a blank expression, albeit, one raised eyebrow.
"My name is Atticus," he told her. "My father is the tavern keeper." Atticus turned and looked back towards the long table on the other end of the room. "I'm needed now. But I'll bring you something to drink and eat as soon as I can."
Allewyn nodded. Atticus. What a peculiar name. After he left, she let it roll off her tounge in whispers, trying to discern the nature of his name. The name sounded to her like it held a secret, somewhere in the fold between the last two syllabbles.
When Atticus returned, he found her indisposed on the floor underneath the table, a slumbering pile of homespun skirts and auburn tresses.