I wandered that afternoon. I knew it would get dark soon, but I had no clue where I was in relation to where I had been earlier.
“Hey you!” I heard a voice call out.
I stopped and turned toward the sound. Then, I pointed at myself when I spied an older man a few houses away.
“Yeah you!” he called out again. “You look lost!”
The accent registered with me and I nodded. I felt numb.
“I am,” I tried to shout back in my best interpretation of the local accent. “My house…” I said motioning behind me and swallowing hard.
“You caught in the quake, lad?”
I merely nodded feeling so tired.
“You need a bunk?” the man called out to me still.
“That would be lovely,” I replied walking toward him.
“My wife, Evelyn, will have supper done soon now. Fill your belly and we can make up the couch. The name’s Foster, Foster Pembrooke,” he stated holding his hand out.
I took the offered hand and gave it a firm shake. “I would appreciate that so much,” I breathed. “I am Winthorpe…James.”
“Nice to meet you, lad. Come on in, rest a little.”
It was such a relief to be welcomed by someone. After many hours of walking, he was the one to extend his hospitality. There was a light in his blue eyes that I took an immediate liking to. He was a good man and I would be off the streets for the night.
“So you say there’s a problem with your house?” he asked me as we ventured inside his humble home.
“There is nothing left, I’m afraid,” I replied. “I saw men get buried in the wreckage out there and knew the remnants of my home were not safe. I just started walking…”
“You poor dear!” Evelyn exclaimed bringing a pot of fresh tea into the front room.
I liked their home. It smelled like a home should. Like bread.
“I appreciate your hospitality,” I rambled taking a seat in a rocking chair next to the window.
“You are welcome as long as you need a place to stay, laddie,” Foster said quietly. “You look like you’ve had a rough few days of it.”
I chuckled and rocked the chair methodically. “You could say that.” My head fell back against the wood of the chair and I sighed.
I thought about Jack and his meaningless death and I had to wonder if my decision caused him to be taken so early from this world. Now, I was not a religious man by any definition, but it did make me wonder. Did Jack die so I could succeed? Was there another force that knew he would be mutilated until he “talked”? My friend died a swift and merciful death, if there is such a thing…I took comfort in that.
“We are ready to eat now, Mr. James,” Evelyn said resting her hand on my shoulder and speaking softly as to not startle me.
I sat upright and looked around and smiled. I followed the missus into their meager dining area and took a seat at the empty plate that was set.
Evelyn sat at the table to my right, Foster right in front of me.
“We rarely have company, it is a nice change,” she smiled shyly.
Evelyn reminded me of the perfect wife. She was quiet, demur, and kind. I could imagine them sitting in this very room together with a gaggle of kids, everyone making conversation and laughing together.
I smiled in response to her remark.
“Shall we ask a blessing?” Foster asked without meaning to be answered.
As if it were routine, he reached out and took his wife’s hand and she bowed her head. Her left hand snaked out from her lap to take mine and Foster reached over the table to take my other. I obliged and bowed my head as Evelyn had.
The sound of Foster’s soft spoken voice filled the room and my ears, lifting a sense of hope in my chest. I admired the love he emitted for God and wondered briefly how anyone could possibly love someone they didn’t even know existed for sure. That feeling, that electrical feeling that passed through me at that moment almost made me envy the man.
The food was simple, cold meat sandwiches and roasted potatoes with a glass of frothy milk. It felt like their milk was much thicker than what I was used to. It stuck to my lips and coated my throat. The bread was fluffy and soft, but still warm from coming out of the oven. The sliced meats were salty and full of flavor. The potatoes were swimming in butter with their shining red skins. It was the best meal I’d eaten in a very long time and I went back for more.
“I can show you where you can sleep when you are done there, Winthorpe,” Foster said taking his plate into the kitchen beyond.
I stopped chewing long enough to look up and nod. I did feel better, but I was so tired.
Evelyn was already tucking sheets under the cushions of the weathered old couch in the front room when Foster and I emerged from eating. She fluffed a giant pillow and threw a blanket over the top and I nearly swooned with the pleasure of comfort extended to me by strangers.
“Would you care to wash before you sleep?” Evelyn asked as she worried her hands a bit.
I stared at the bedding like a wolf stares at a sheep and shook my head to the negative. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to just crawl in and rest,” I replied.
She laughed a merry sound. “I don’t blame you. But let me show you where the loo is if you need it in the night.”
Motioning me to follow her, I trudged along just thinking about those crisp sheets and soft pillow. Just down the hall and to my right was the bathroom, or the loo. It was a very tight room, quite small compared to the community shower I was used to at the base. There was literally a toilet, a sink and a tub. I could turn on the water of the sink and wash my hands while sitting on the toilet if I so wanted to, they were that close together. My knees, I imagined, would smack against the side of the tub across from the toilet if I dared sit on the seat. I suppose small was an understatement.
“It’s old…” Evelyn said quietly.
“It’s lovely, Mrs. Pembrooke. Thank you for letting me stay with you,” I smiled. I was pretty sure they were tired of hearing my statements of gratitude, but I didn’t care. That was what I felt at the moment. I was comfortable and safe with friends.
I waited until Foster took his wife in their bedroom before I took out my flat tab and plugged my ear buds into the jack. Quickly I opened up the program that was an all frequency radio and clicked through each station in hopes of hearing any communication about Jack…or myself.
A thick British accent hit my ears and my finger stilled a moment. I listened with intent as words like “monarchy”, “money”, “food”, and “resistance” filled my ears. The voices changed from time to time as different people spoke their mind.
“We must take matters into our own hands, boys! We got families to feed! If the monarchy won’t help us, we had better take it ourselves! I say we plan a time at the change of the guard. Some sort of distraction should lure them all there and we take the gates. Kill anyone who gets in our way, I say! Even if it is the king himself.”
“What if we take the princess with us? Show her a little something about what we are going through?”
“Wouldn’t be a bad idea there, my friend. I’m tired of being hungry and not having but one bottle of water a day. I want a place to sleep where I’m not on the bloody ground! My kids won’t be quiet and my baby is sick now. Perhaps stealing the princess is the thing to do. Maybe it would wake up that king who lies comfortable in his bed tonight.”
“When are we doing this?”
“I think we could manage on Sunday. We should be there by ten in the morning. Then, when the change takes place, we set off some firecrackers down the street. When the guards investigate right at the 11:30 time, we break through the gates. Get all our friends together. All of us are suffering right now and the castle don’t care about us at all. What do you say, boys?”
“Sounds like we have a plan, boss.”
“Naw…I’m no boss. We are a team. A team of citizens under the protection of a crown full of holes and now we are getting rained on.”
There were cries of agreement coming through and I knew this was bad. I had to get to the castle to warn the family of the danger lurking. Surely they weren’t the only ones planning an attack of some kind. Perhaps the king didn’t know just how angry his people were. One thing I knew, they would not take what I had worked so hard to find. Paige.
I abandoned the search of frequencies and tucked my belongings away in the satchel. Then, I allowed myself to drift off into a deep sleep where dreams held color and the sound of rebellion rang in my ears.
My eyes fluttered open early, as I was used to. The house was quiet and it took me a moment to remember where, and who, I was. The weak light was just beginning to filter through the picture window across from me. Although the heavy drapes had been pulled shut the night before, I could see its brilliance finding the crack between the panels and glowing against the darkness of the living room.
I needed to get to London. It was just that simple. I had to warn the royal family of the impending attack on them.
I sat up on the couch and rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands. Why did I care so much? Why was I willing to risk my very life to just marry this princess, much less show up to defend her family?
There was no way I could answer my own questions.
Slipping my feet into those fancy shoes, I grabbed my satchel. I had no toiletries at all so using the washroom held little interest to me except to use the loo. It felt funny even thinking that word. To me, it was one of those words that made no sense at all and it made me feel like laughing.
So nature’s call won out and I slipped into the tiny washroom and emptied my bladder. When I flushed, an awful noise rang out. It was like it came from under the house and was like a ship being crushed in the mighty weight of ocean waters. Quickly, I washed my hands and took no time to dry them. I had to get on my way, no Evelyn to talk me into staying longer.
Opening the door when I had finished, water still dripping from my hands, I ran into her. Evelyn. Her warm smile that morning made me freeze in my tracks.
“I’m getting breakfast on, Winthorpe. It will be just a few minutes, I swear,” she said kindly.
“What in the world was that noise?” I blurted out.
She laughed. “Sorry ‘bout that. We forgot to warn you that our plumbing screams. Especially in the morning.” Then she motioned me back in the washroom. “Shower, and dress. You will feel a little better.”
Feeling a tad defeated, I complied and retreated back into the cramped room that looked like something out of the classic Alice in Wonderland. I had to ask myself, “When did I eat the cookie?”
But I quickly stripped and started the bath pouring. I could smell toasting bread teasing my senses. My mouth watered.
It was odd, using a small bathtub. I couldn’t remember ever being in a tub in my life. Maybe a spa tub, but not a regular old bathtub. The thought of how many germs were actually invading my body as I sat in that water made my skin crawl. So I quickly soaped my hair and rinsed, using the bar of soap in the corner to wash my body. It came to rest over the tender area of my wrist. My alteration was healing nicely, but was still pretty angry.
My mind wandered to the real Winthorpe and if I had been found out yet. I drew a deep breath and had to believe I covered my tracks the best I could. But I also knew I had to put enough distance between myself and the RA so they couldn’t track me down. But if they did figure out what I did, I would be stuck in this country for the rest of my life, living low and sticking to the shadows.
When I could no longer stand it, I jumped out of the water and quickly dried. I did feel better being clean. I hated to put on the same clothes again, but I did. I had no choice.
I opened the washroom door one more time, looking both ways down the short corridor before I emerged.
“Breakfast is ready!” Evelyn called out.
I made my way back to the table where I had most enjoyed myself the night before. There was toast, a small stack of it, eggs that looked light and fluffy, sausages that were browned just so, and more of that delightfully thick milk.
Foster sat in the same place as before and appeared alert and excited. We prayed over the food once again and I felt that strange tingling sensation one more time.
“Did I wake you this morning?” I asked them, referring to flushing their toilet.
They both laughed. “No, not at all. We had been awake for a while before you woke. We just wanted you to sleep as you could get it. Sounded like you had a rough night.”
“It did?” I asked and dropped my fork a notch, eggs wiggling as my hand shook ever so slightly.
“It was a night of nightmares it sounded like. Crying about dead bodies and falling stones then yelling to Jack that there were guns at the castle,” Foster shook his head as he smiled at me. “Must have been a hell of a night for you!”
I poked my fork inside my mouth. I had said Jack’s name. Out loud.
“I never knew I talked in my sleep,” I grinned in response. “This has been an awful time for me.”
There was no way I was going to talk about Jack and who he was to me.
Evelyn’s hands fluttered to her chest in sympathy. “I can only imagine. I thank the Lord each day that the quake spared us.”
“You are most lucky. It is a war zone down there,” I said trying to be mindful of the information I had found before I went to sleep. My expression sobered and I pointed my fork right at the both of them. “Please listen to me…I know there are many who are devastated. Who knows what these poor victims will do when they have had enough. Please promise me that good people like yourselves will not offer lodging to any more strangers until conditions get better. I don’t want to watch the telly and see that you were hurt in any way. Promise?”
I was rather proud of my very British reference to the television.
But Foster and Evelyn stared at me as though it were my funeral and nodded their agreement.
“Just be careful,” I mumbled and continued to shove food in my mouth.
We ate the rest of the meal silently.