-Oh, she’s not sitting with us. Have her sit by the driver’s seat.
Laurel gave her brother a harsh stare, her eyes almost telling him exactly seriously, what are you thinking? Slaves are dirty, they don’t sit down with us. Rosa could tell she wasn’t exactly loved, but she didn’t mind; so long as she could be with Life, nothing else mattered. She stared coldly at the lady, before making her way to the front of the carriage where the driver moved a bit to leave a place for her. She climbed easily and sat down, her expression dark.
Behind them she could hear the nobles discuss a moment, before finally entering the carriage and closing the door behind them. She could still make up part of their conversation through the curtains, but she paid it no mind. Before long the driver gave his horses a signal and the two of them started moving forward.
The noise of their hooves on the cobblestones was soothing and, noticing the driver wasn’t paying any attention to her, she finally allowed herself to let out a long sigh. She grabbed her own arms, feeling her heart beat awkwardly strong, feeling weak and shaking. What had she been thinking, making up all of these lies in front of a noble? She wasn’t sure, but so far the lady had believed her. She was silently thankful that Life had caught on and played along, but she was afraid she might not be able to keep up the act for too long if she was asked too many questions.
She slapped her own cheeks. No. She had to keep this up. If anything, she had to take all the blame; not Life. He was her master now, even if he was against it. She was ready to do anything for him, and so she would. She lift her head to look ahead and realized with horror they were headed towards the town’s exit. She caught a glimpse of Charlotte and Greg through the corner of her eye and couldn’t help glaring the young man. Both of them stared at her in shock, before the girl ran off in the direction they had left, as if about to ask some kind of explanation to Martha. The young man followed her quickly, frowning back at Rosa.
She turned her attention back to the road, frowning to herself. She felt a new wave of panic remembering where they were. She looked at the familiar stones and had a hard time swallowing when she realized she might never see them again. Everything she knew stood here. Everyone she knew lived here. She had never seen anything outside. She had never really taken the time to think about how big the world might be. She knew there were other places outside their town; Life had told her; but she had never taken the time to really think about what that implied. Or, rather, she had never thought that it would one day affect her.
Soon the walls of stone and cobblestone were gone, to give way to trees and a road made of dirt. To their left, between the branches and leaves, she could tell there was a river of sorts. Before long it became eerie calm and even the nobles behind them had stopped talking. The only sounds that could be heard came from the horses and she tried hard to not worry or panic any more than she already had.
How long had they spent like this? She wasn’t sure, but as they went on and on, only trees were visible. She had never seen this road, and she wasn’t certain she’d be able to find her way back to town on her own, were she to be left on her own to go back. The sun was slowly setting down and she was deep in her own thoughts when a knock on the window brought her back with a jump. She turned to see Life looking at her and, once he realized he had caught her attention, smiling. He moved a bit so that she could see his sister sleeping a little further away.
Without warning, the curtains fell back off and, as she tried to figure out what he was doing, she heard the carriage’s door opened to reveal the man who awkwardly tried to join them, not without attracting the driver’s looks of reproach. He finally managed to make his way to them and sat between the both of them. He lost his smile as he looked at Rosa, serious.
-Do you know where we’re headed?
-To your sister’s house?
-But do you know where that is?
-Outside of town, I’m guessing.
-London! We’re going to Britain, Rosa!
She grimaced. Now that was a name she knew. She might not know much about the place itself, but even she knew that the Queen lived in Britain. But was it big, was it small, close to her home, or far away, she had no idea. She had assumed they would eventually get there, but, having never gone outside of her town, she didn’t know how long going to the other country would take.
Seeing as she wasn’t getting it at all he sighed and let himself sit more normally. He looked at the sky, seemingly worried about something.
-What’s the matter?
He turned to the driver, ignoring her question and she couldn’t help but feel a little irritated.
-How long until we arrive to the port?
-We’ll be there in an hour or so, sir.
They stayed in an awkward silence for a moment. They were sitting so close in their cramped space that their legs were touching and Rosa was almost half sitting on nothing. She could feel that he was just as tense as she was and, as he was about to say something, one of the wheels hit a bump and he hit her forehead with his chin, resulting in the both of them holding their own faces. They exchanged a few funny expressions before he finally decided on voicing what was on his mind.
-Have you ever been on a boat before?
-I’ve never even seen what a boat looks like.
He gave her a curious look, but seeing as she was serious, he had no choice but to believe her. They once again fell into a long silence and by the time night had fallen, they were still on the same never-ending road. She heard an owl in the distance and, trying to locate it, was surprised by Life’s head suddenly falling on hers. She paused for a moment, before trying to see what he was doing when she realized he wasn’t moving at all, and it took her a while to realize he had fallen asleep while sitting, his arms crossed. She shivered a bit, glad that they were in the summer, but still not used to the ocean’s breeze, and scooted closer to him.
She, too, was snoozing off when finally there was a change in the scenery. The trees were less and less present and a small fence appeared, sculpted in stone. Shapes were engraved in it and Rosa guessed they were words, possibly indicating where they were. She tried shaking the young man to wake him up, but it was an incredibly loud, ear-breaking noise that woke everyone up with a jump.
The horses stopped, the driver stepped down and walked to open the door. It took Rosa a moment to realize she and Life were clinging to each other strongly, tails fluffed up, their hearts beating fast from the shock. He, too, seemed to realize and they let go of each other quickly, but as he stepped down to reach his sister, she took a moment to calm down and take a deep breath.
The place they were at looked like nothing she had ever seen. The land in itself was pretty small, but long bridges of wood stretched down to the water, to which large boats were attached. A tall red and white tower sat at the edge of a cliff, on top of which a light was illuminating the sea, moving from left to right across the horizon. A few small houses were placed here and there, most of which were closed off for the night and Rosa guessed they were some kind of shop or restaurants, rather than habitations. A man in white uniform with a funny hat rushed off to them just as she was jumping off the carriage herself to join the others.
-Madam! Your boat is ready.
-Good, good. We’ll be there in an instant.
What followed was a discussion about who would carry what and, impressed by everything new she could lay her eyes on, it took her a moment to realize that she was expected to carry them. She apologized quickly, under the lady’s glares, and hurried up to get the luggage, only to realize that there were more than she had expected, especially considering Life hadn’t brought anything. Considering whining about it would be a pretty bad idea, she grabbed the different suitcases as best as she could and followed the others without a word, unsure as she was as to where she would have to drop these.
Laurel was doing her best to keep her little brother’s attention no matter what and one must have to bee blind to realize he couldn’t care less. He was, however, polite enough to walk by her side nonetheless, and Rosa had a hard time keeping up their pace, even though it wasn’t all that quick. When they arrived on one of the strange floating bridges, though, the man in uniform from earlier took care of them for her and if at first she wasn’t too sure about it, a nod from Life told her it was the right thing to do and she gave them to the man, secretly relieved that she didn’t have to carry them any longer.
She then allowed herself to look at the waves and her eyes brightened up with how beautiful a sight it was. She wished she could stare at it forever but, feeling the lady’s glare burn into her skin, she forced herself back to reality and caught up with them. They had installed a strange piece of wood, one of which Rosa looked at with uncertain eyes; as a matter of fact, she was afraid of heights and, while the distance between the water and the wood wasn’t all that great, she had no doubt that the sand underneath was much further, and she didn’t trust in her own abilities to keep her head out of the choking water, were she to ever fall down.
She swallowed hard and, not wanting to show her fear to the lady, tried to keep a straight face as much as possible. She set a food on the board and, while it was certainly large enough for even Martha to step on without having to fight for her balance, it wasn’t exactly stable and she found herself lightly running to the other side, where she almost bumped into Life. She was surprised to find him nearly as tense as she was and, for whatever reason, found it comforting.
The sky was still painted a deep indigo when the ship set sail. Rosa had never been on a boat before, never even seen one, so everything her eye could be set on was something new and amazing. When they had opened the sails she had been standing close by and refused to look away. Thankfully for her, the nobles had to fix their cabins and she didn’t really have anything to do in the meanwhile. She was glad they hadn’t asked her to set up the beds, even though logically she should have, or else she would have missed the show.
The men had yelled to each others words she did not really understand the meaning of, pulled on some ropes to set the sails free, then the rope had been taken from the docks and the everything had moved on its own, smoothly. No matter where she looked, all she could seem to think of were how many ropes there were and how big this thing was. Everything was so much more peaceful and smooth than the train and she couldn’t help but enjoy the cold breeze of the sea as well, nearly forgetting how far she was from home. It was like a dream and, as always, she would wake up the next morning in her bed, as if none of this had ever happened.
-It’s pretty, isn’t it?
She jumped a little when she realized that Life was standing next to her and she wondered how long he had stood there. He was smiling at her and she couldn’t help but look away and blush, feeling some kind of shiver coming up from her spine; but whether it was from the breeze or him, she wasn’t sure.
She was about to move, but he motioned her to stay where she was, joining her to stand over the guardrail like she had been doing, breathing in the cold air. She looked at his profile and from this angle could only see his white ear. She couldn’t help but think that he really did look like a noble like this and she felt ashamed to be even next to him. She was about to walk away when he pulled her close against him. He didn’t say anything, but she couldn’t help but feel he knew she was about to go away and had refused her plan. She didn’t want to go against any of his wishes, especially now that she had decided to follow his orders as a slave. Besides, his warmth was comforting.
They stood like this for a long time, one that Rosa wished would go on longer but, as it was to be expected, his sister eventually came to fetch him, not failing to mention about how he needed to be taught some discipline and matters. The comments about how slaves were dirty and he should not touch them didn’t fail to be caught by her ears either and soon the lady was implying that she might have fleas or some disgusting illness, as if she was talking about an errant cat, all of which Life replied to saying she was making no sense. She had then sighed and pulled on her hat some more, laying her head on her arms and closing her eyes, wanting to miss out the rest of their conversation.
Soon Laurel told him she was about to get some sleep, since it would take a few hours before they reached Britain anyway and it was a pretty pale Life that came back to her. At first she thought that he was simply exasperated by it all, but it soon became clear that he didn’t feel well and worry swept over her.
-Life? Is something wrong?
-I don’t like the way it moves… I don’t feel so good.
-You should get some rest.
He nodded and mumbled some words that she decided to accept as an agreement to her idea and she let him put an arm around her and rest his head on hers while she was leading them down to the cabins. He had grown again, she couldn’t help but notice, and she wondered just how tall he would become. He certainly had a few inches more than she did now, and were they to stand up next to each other, her nose would arrive to his chin. She remembered with a pang of nostalgia the days where he was smaller than she was and couldn’t help out a small chuckle. He twitched his ears as only sign of having heard her, but he was most likely feeling too unfit to comment about it.
It took her a while to bring him to his room, not because she was lost, but because boats had this weird habit of being complicated and having a lot of stairs. They were walking slowly and had to take a few breaks when Life felt his nausea was about to get the best of him, but won over it every time.
It was not without relief that he let himself fall down on his bed, whimpering about how he didn’t feel good at all. She brushed away the hair from his forehead and checked if he had any fever at all. His eyes were closed and he barely reacted at all; for a moment she wondered if he hadn’t fallen asleep already. He let out a small sigh and she guessed that must have been the case.
She tried to think for a moment about what she should be doing and the simple answer that came to her was changing him so that he would be more comfortable. Rosa wasn’t usually shy over these sort of things; she had seen Charlotte change in front of her before without flinching, after all. Only, something about undressing a sleeping and vulnerable Life felt awkward yet appealing. She hit her head in embarrassment and decided to get started instead of staying there wasting time blushing.
She slowly untied his shirt and wondered for a moment if he even had different clothes to put on for the night. She sat down next to him after a moment, her chin on her hand and her elbow on her leg, thinking. In the corner of the room was one of the suitcases she had lifted earlier, a simple thing made from brown leather with a belt tying it up. She got up and walked to it, opening it carefully and as quietly as possible and was satisfied to realize they contained his clothes. She took the time to ponder when Laurel had picked it up, seeing as they hadn’t stopped by the Wilkes household, which was a good thing in and of itself, and decided that the lady must have had dropped by earlier to pick them up, for whatever reason.
She shuffled though the various clothes and finally found what she thought must have been his night clothes. She turned around and yelped when she realized he was behind her, looking at her doing with an amused smile on his lips. He grabbed the clothes and pulled her gently to kiss her forehead.
-Thank you; I can change clothes on my own, though.