“Christopher is dead.” Aurora’s words echoed through the tiny room, leaving behind a dreaded, deafening silence. Ruth’s face was fixed in anguish, until the tears rolling down her cheeks melted away the expression into pure sadness. She buried her face in her hands while her body shook with soft sobs. Aurora and Lucio sat across from her completely silent; they knew to let her have her own moment of grief.
“My oldest son is dead,” whispered Ruth. She lifted her head and looked at Aurora and Lucio. “How? When?”
“About five days ago,” said Lucio.
“Yes,” said Aurora. She could feel that painful tightening in her throat that comes before a good cry. “Christopher and I wanted to get married, but I was thrown in an engagement I couldn’t stand, so we decided to run away and build a life for ourselves somewhere else. But our estate was attacked the night we tried to escape. He died trying to protect me, and everyone else he cared about.” She felt the stream of tears run freely down her face. “I managed to escape, and L–Thomas, took me in. We’re here to tell you, because you deserve to know. And I wanted to meet you so much! I’ve never had anything close to a family before!” Ruth smiled through the tears raining down her cheeks and reached out her hand. Aurora sheepishly took it, and Ruth gave her hand a firm squeeze.
“Thank you, Aurora, for delivering the news,” said Ruth. “I’ve always wanted a daughter-in-law, and I can see that Christopher made a very good choice.” Aurora chuckled and smiled back.
“No, thank you,” said Aurora. “I’m so glad to have met you. But that’s not the only reason why we’ve come. You see, we planned that once we were settled in our new life, Christopher wanted to come and rescue you and his brothers from your husband.” Ruth let go of Aurora’s hand and lowered her eyes.
“You know about Stephen then? Well, it wouldn’t be that hard to guess, what with the state of my house and children. But what was Christopher thinking? We don’t need rescuing, we need all the alcohol in this estate to disappear!”
“Please, we want to help you,” said Lucio. “It’s what Christopher would have wanted. We are simply carrying out his unfinished plans.”
“It’s true,” said Aurora. “He wanted to take you all away from his father long before we decided to run away.”
“He wanted to give you a better life,” said Lucio. “Please, just think for a moment. Do you have any connections? Is there anyone out there who would be willing to take you and your family in?” Ruth thought for a good minute. This was the deciding moment on how their plan would play out. Aurora glanced at Lucio; he seemed cool and collected, but she felt like her heart would beat out of her chest.
“I have a brother,” said Ruth. “He has a farm in my home estate a few hours from here. He’s estranged from me now. Stephen forbade me to have any contact with my family several years ago, so I’m not too sure if he will be willing to let five people live under his roof. That’s all I have. I know nobody else.”
“Then we can start there,” said Lucio. “If your brother refuses to take you, then we will take you ourselves, until we can figure something out.”
“Yes,” said Aurora. “I made a promise to myself that I would help you escape. I can’t bear to leave you here and go on with my life! I’m sure your brother would be happy to see you after all these years.” Ruth shrugged and rested her face in her right hand.
“Well then, how do you suggest getting me and my family out of here without Stephen noticing? He sleeps very deeply, but my boys are loud when they shuffle through the house, especially the little ones. And who is going to stop Stephen from coming after us? That would be the first place he would look.”
“You and your family will have to keep a low profile for a month or two,” said Lucio. “And if Stephen does come by looking for you, then you should have a hiding place designated if he demands to search the house. But as for the escape, I have a plan.” He reached into a little bag attached to his belt and pulled out a small vial no bigger than Aurora’s palm. “Pour the contents of this vial into Stephen’s drink tonight, and he will sleep deeper than any alcohol-induced coma. Don’t worry, it’s completely tasteless. He won’t wake up until late the next day, giving us plenty of time to get you settled and ready for a visit from him.” He handed the vial to Ruth, who looked at it with a tinge of fear in her eyes. “We will come back at midnight, when the sleeping potion should take full effect. In the meantime, pack your things, and get the children ready. We’ll sneak you all into our wagon, where you can hide in the straw until we leave the estate. Then we’ll travel through the night and arrive at your brother’s farm in the morning.” Ruth stared at the vial for a moment, then back and Aurora and Lucio.
“It seems I have no choice then. I can’t possibly pass up an opportunity from my daughter-in-law and her kind friend. I will have the children ready by midnight.”
“Thank you. We won’t let you down, I promise,” said Aurora. She offered her hand out to Ruth, who took it while a warm smile spread across her face.
Lucio shook Aurora awake a little bit before midnight that night. They were just on the outskirts of the village, where they had made themselves comfortable while they waited for nightfall. Aurora managed to doze off a bit in the wagon while Lucio and Lothlorien stood watch.
The girl propped herself on her elbows while she tried to shake the sleepy fog out of her head. It was completely dark, save for torches that lit the streets further into the village. She saw Lucio hitch Lothlorien back up to the wagon and give her a small hug around her neck.
“Just a little bit longer,” she heard Lucio say. “Then you’ll be free again. I hate doing this to you.” Lothlorien’s glowing horn cast its light over Lucio’s face, making him look old and worn.
“I wonder how old he really is,” Aurora thought to herself.
“Thank you Lucio. You must remember, though, that I wanted to do this.” said Lothlorien. Lucio chuckled and stroked her long face.
“Are you all ready Aurora?” asked Lucio.
“Yes,” said Aurora. “I know what to do.”
“Good. I’ll just give us a layer of protection and be off.” He walked up to the wagon and put his hand on its side. “dydrung,” he whispered.
“What did you do?” asked Aurora.
“Just put on a little illusion, to anyone who sees us,” he replied. “We are at the east end of the estate, and Christopher’s family is on the west. To appear as natural as possible, we will walk quietly through the village and stop to get everyone along the way. But if anyone sees us when we stop, they will only see us stop to tend to our beautiful mare,” he stroked Lothlorien’s nose while the Guardian shook her head, “and continue along our merry way. That way no prying eyes will see what happened to the family.”
“Brilliant,” muttered Aurora.
“Glad you think so,” said Lucio. He climbed into the driver’s seat of the wagon and grabbed hold of the reigns. “Go ahead Lothlorien.” The Guardian started off back into the village at a walk, her fake horseshoes clicking lightly against the stone road.
They pulled up to the house about ten minutes later. All the lights in the house seemed to be off. Lucio got out of the wagon and knocked lightly on the door. Ruth opened it within a second, and she ushered out the four boys before slowly closing the door behind her. The boys shuffled up to the wagon, and Lucio lifted the younger three up while Aurora helped them get in. Aaron climbed in on his own. The boys burrowed under the straw while Aurora helped Ruth climb in. She sat in a corner of the wagon and helped cover anybody that wasn’t completely covered. All of this was done in less than a minute, and nobody spoke a single word. Lucio climbed back into the driver’s seat and shook Lothlorien’s reigns. They started off again in silence, and managed to stay like this until the castle of the estate was far out of sight.
“We’re safe now,” said Lucio. “You can come out!” Christopher’s brothers poked their heads out of the straw one by one and looked around. Ruth only removed the straw from her face and nothing else. She looked desolate; despite all that happened, it was clear leaving her husband was one of the hardest things she had ever done.
“Where are we going mama?” asked Terence.
“We are going to your uncle’s farm,” said Ruth. “If you behave, he might let us live there forever.” Terence’s little blue eyes widened.
“What about father?” he asked. “Is he going to come too?”
“No my dear.” She wrapped her arms around him and held him close. “Your father wants to live at home. Where we’re going is much better. You’re going to have so much room to run and play!” Terence wanted to protest, but the late night made him drowsy. All he could do was nod his head in a foggy agreement.
“Should be just a few hours,” said Lucio. “But we’re safe now. You all should try to get some sleep.” The tired family didn’t object, and they all drifted off, except for Aurora. She spent the remainder of the night staring at each of their faces, trying her best to etch each one into her memory forever.
They arrived at the farm about an hour before sunrise. Aurora woke up Ruth while the children continued to sleep. Her eyes filled with tears when she saw the darkened farm.
“It hasn’t changed a bit,” she whispered.
“We can knock on their door at sunrise, when they’re awake,” said Lucio. “Get some rest in the meantime.” Ruth nodded, but she didn’t lie down again. She stared at the house the entire time while Aurora sat next to her and held her hand.
A tall man with wavy brown hair and a short beard appeared in the doorway at sunrise. Ruth instantly hobbled out of the wagon and walked a little ways toward him. She stood there for a minute or two while the man gazed at her in surprise.
“Baldric?” whispered Ruth.
“Ruth? Is it really you?” whispered the man.
“Yes, it is. I’m so sorry, for everything. I couldn’t–” Ruth’s speech was cut off by Baldric running up to her and giving her an enormous hug. He lifted her off the ground and spun her around so playfully that Ruth laughed. It was a high pitched trill that gave Aurora a glimpse of what Christopher’s life was like before his father became an alcoholic.
“I’ve been waiting for you to come back,” he said when he put her down. “Look at you! What has he done done to you? Please, come in!” They woke up the children and everyone was given a proper introduction. Baldric was most pleased to meet Aurora and Lucio, and he offered for them to stay as guests for the night as a thank-you. Lucio declined to stay the night, saying they were wanted back home, but he agreed to stay for the day. Lothlorien was untied from the wagon and sent to graze in a pasture with other horses nearby. Baldric showed them around the farm, and they quickly decided to hide in the loose straw of the barn if Stephen decided to come looking for them. It was a lovely day of fun and relaxation, and Aurora got to play games with Christopher’s brothers while Ruth and Lucio watched with Baldric. As the late afternoon approached, they had a light supper together and talked like one large family. Aurora couldn’t remember a happier day.
After supper, Lucio mentioned that it was time for them to head back. The boys whined and groaned when they heard this. Even Aaron had some objections. They said goodbye to everyone in the front doorway, and Aurora gave each of them a long hug. Tears were stinging her eyes when it came time to say goodbye to Ruth.
“Please, stay with us,” whispered Ruth as they embraced. “I would love to have my daughter-in-law with me.”
“Thank you,” whispered Aurora. She turned back to look at Lucio hitching Lothlorien back up to the wagon. “But this isn’t my home. I’ve found my home elsewhere.” Ruth nodded.
“Come and visit then,” she said. “As often as you’d like.”
“I will” said Aurora. She let go of Ruth and climbed back into the wagon.
“Yes please come back,” said Baldric. “Both of you are forever welcome here!”
“Thank you dear friends!” said Lucio. “But now, we must be off!” He flicked Lothlorien’s reigns, and she started off. The new family waved and shouted goodbyes until they faded into the distance.
Baldric had given them a bag of money as an added thank you before they left, so they decided to take advantage of being near a town to get some provisions before heading back to the forest. They headed into the village near Baldric’s farm, where Aurora bought green fabric for a new dress and new shoes, while Lucio bought dried meat and some bread for the road. It was well past nightfall when they were heading down a cobblestone road in the middle of the village. They were a little ways away from a massive stone bridge over a river. Everything was dark and quiet, except for the sound of the gushing water.
“I wonder what’s going on up ahead?” whispered Lucio.
“What do you mean?” Aurora crawled up to the front of the wagon. There looked to be the profile of a young woman standing against the stone wall of the bridge. Her head was down, and seemed to be looking at a parcel in her arms.
“We’d better get a closer look,” said Lucio while he made Lothlorien come to a stop. He jumped out of the wagon and started to creep up to the bridge.
“Why?” whispered Aurora. She jumped out after him and inched along the empty road behind him in the shadows. “She doesn’t look like a threat!”
“No, but I’ve heard of this happening before,” said Lucio.
“Heard of what?!” hissed Aurora. The Magician didn’t answer. They crept up to the bridge and found a staircase that led down to a little stone landing next to the flowing water below. They waited a few minutes in the shadows, but the figure never moved. Aurora was about to mention going back up when the figure flung the parcel from her arms into the murky water. Lucio gasped and ran up to the water’s edge.
“Alynian!” he whispered. The parcel stopped and hovered just a few feet above the water. “Nú cymst!” he whispered again. The parcel floated toward the Magician of Light and landed lightly in his arms. Aurora thought quickly, and threw a stone into the river so the figure wouldn’t become suspicious.
“What is it?” she asked.
“There’s no time now,” said Lucio. “We mustn’t be seen!” They hurried back up the stairs and looked at the bridge. The figure was gone. Aurora paused to ask another question, but Lucio was already halfway back to the wagon. She scurried back into the straw and Lucio asked Lothlorien to continue. He held the parcel in his hands, and didn’t speak to either of them until they were completely out of the village.
“I’m sorry I was short with you earlier,” he said to Aurora. “I didn’t want us to be discovered. I’ve heard of this happening all the time when I lived with a human family, but I never saw it. When I finally did see it tonight, I wanted to help, because this little one was given the same fate as me.”
“What…what are you talking about?” asked Aurora. Lucio turned and got into the wagon across from Aurora. The parcel in his arms looked to be a wad of wrapped-up fabric. He undid a few of the wrappings at one end, and Aurora gasped at the thought of it being thrown over the bridge.
The loose wrappings revealed the small, squished face of a newborn baby.