Chapter 33: Leaving The Woods
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-33-

Miriel sat next to Mark in the cave - who had finished his recounting - with her head resting on his shoulders. Her body, leaning against his.

The buzzing of insects entered the cave, filling the expanding silence. The cave darkened as the night grew, dim enough that she could barely make out anything else in the cave.

“Mark,” Miriel called.

Mark was still hugging his knees, staring at the ground with his head lowered..

“That is the reason why you delayed the marriage, isn’t it? Not the lessons, but this.”

After a moment, Mark replied.

“Yeah.” His voice was faint, audible only for someone as close as Miriel.

“You were trying to deal with it before the marriage?” Miriel said

“Mm,” He mumbled, nodding his head.

Miriel grabbed his hand - as he let her - and lifted it close to her. His palm was rough and calloused, larger than she remembered.  She traced and smoothed it with her fingers as she examined it.

“What were you planning if you couldn’t?” Miriel asked.

Mark was silent for a moment, then he replied.

“I don’t know.”

He continued, “If I still go through with the marriage like this, I’ll only cause problems for you, for the house, for everyone. I can’t call myself sane as long as my nightmares haunt me.”

She turned his hand around and traced the back side of this hand.

“So you were going to leave?” Miriel said.

Mark twitched briefly, then nodded his head.

“It’s better than tainting your name and dragging you down with me. As long as I’m like this, I’m a danger to everyone around me. I am a danger to me and to you, Miriel. I don’t know what I may end up doing. There are times when I lose control and do things that I regret. I’ve been careful so far but If I slip even once…” Mark stopped and didn’t continue. 

Miriel gently interlocked her fingers between his and clenched his hand.

“Remember, Mark, we made a promise. We’ll get through this together. We’ll find a way, so don’t think about leaving.”

She turned and stared at him. He nodded as he stared at the ground.

“Let us return now. They may bring the whole town to search for us soon.” Miriel said.

She released his hand and slowly stood up.

“Ow,” She winced as she rubbed her behind. The ground was not soft at all.

Miriel patted herself, turned around and extended her hand to Mark.

“Come on,” She said.

Mark raised his head and stared at her, at her outstretched hand and back at her.

“Okay.” Mark mumbled.

He grabbed her hand and stood.

He patted himself clean and nodded to Miriel.

They turned and walked towards the entrance.

As they did, Miriel paused and turned around to see Mark a distance behind her.

Mark had a frown on his face and was walking oddly.

“My leg is numb. You can go on ahead, I’ll catch up.” He grimaced as he trudged to the entrance.

Miriel sighed and lightly shook her head.

She waited for him to catch up and they slowly left the cave.

-

As they left the woods, Miriel could see the few people that were by the entrance, and a carriage a distance away.

“Lady Miriel!” Anne shouted, as she ran towards Miriel.

“Are you fine? You’re not hurt right? I was so worried!” Anne stopped before Miriel, a bowl covered her head that she held at the rims with both hands.

“I am fine, Anne. Have the soldiers departed?” Miriel replied, a faint curve on the corners of her mouth.

“Mm,” Anne nodded, “Captain Hurlstead told them to disperse. So they just stopped searching for you and headed back.”

“He might be the captain but how could he just do that? We hadn’t even found you yet.” Anne frowned, then turned back and glared at Hurlstead.

‘He must have spoken to Molt’. Miriel thought.

She looked at Hurlstead who was standing by the entrance. Beside him were Mir - with a torch - and Louis, and Crausel who was peeking from behind Louis. 

Miriel nodded at Hurlsted.

He saluted - crossed his arm to his shoulder - then turned around and left.

“The soldiers must have informed him. When did Mir and Louis arrive, Anne?”

Anne turned to Miriel.

“When we went to the town to get help, Mister Mir came with the people. The others left with the wounded and also when the soldiers dispersed, but he stayed. Louis arrived a while after the soldiers left.” Anne replied.

“Oh, and there’s Crausel back there cowering behind Louis.” She raised her arm and pointed her finger behind her.

“Did you find Mister Mark, Lady Miriel? Was he stuck in a ditch somewhere? Or was he hiding behind a tree?” Anne said.

“Hey! I’m right here you know.” Mark scowled at Anne as they glared at each other.

“Oh, I totally did not see you there. If I did, then maybe Lady Miriel wouldn't have to put herself in danger to find you.”

“What danger? The captain took care of the spindlefell, and Miriel knows the forest is safe.  Ask her.”

“And,” Mark continued, “Why do you have that stupid bowl on your head? It wouldn’t even help you with a fly.”

“How would you know? Have you ever fought a fly before?” Anne replied.

“I…No but…”

“Then how would you know?” Anne cut him off.

Mark opened his mouth but no words came out as they kept glaring at each other.

“Stop bickering,” Miriel said, ”It is late. We should return”

Miriel left them and went over to Mir.

“You okay girl? Told Jurrie you’d be fine but she said I’d be sorry if I returned before seein’ ya, so she made me stay,” Mir sighed, “An’ she’s aware no one knows the forest better than ya do.”

“What about the kid, he fine?” Mir asked.

“He is,” Miriel nodded, “We are both well.”

“Think he’ll be up to talk right now?” Mir asked.

Miriel turned back and stared at Mark, who was still bickering with Anne.

“I don’t think so,” She turned back to Mir, “Not tonight.” She shook her head.

“That’d be fine, I guess. Can’t be pushin’ him over.” Mir nodded.

“Well, I’ll head back now,” Mir covered his mouth with a hand as he yawned, “Maybe Jurrie’ll let me sleep in tomorrow.”

“You need the torch girl?”

Miriel shook her head. She held a hand to her chest and bowed.

Mir nodded, turned and headed towards the town.

Miriel turned to Louis.

“Is everything well at the mansion Louis?”

“Everything is well my lady,” Louis replied, “Though it is late and we must return soon.”

Miriel nodded.

“We are returning you two!” She turned to them and shouted.

They glared at each other for a moment then walked over to Miriel.

“Crausel.” Miriel called, looking at his hunched figure behind Louis.

“Yes ma’m.” He jolted, poking his head out from the side.

Miriel lightly shook her head.

“We are returning, see to the carriage.”

“Right away, ma’m.” He stared at the forest for a moment, then scampered to the carriage.

“I shall sit beside Crausel my lady,” Louis bowed and followed after Crausel.

“You’re too slow, Mister Mark.”  Anne laughed as she stopped beside Miriel.

“You tripped me!” Mark said, standing in front of Miriel.

“I dare not sit them together...” Miriel mumbled and sighed.

“Anne, Mark, enter the carriage. Anne, sit beside me.”

“Okay, Lady Miriel.” Anne glanced at Mark and sneered.

“Tch.” Mark clicked his tongue and turned away.

They walked to the carriage and entered.

Crausel swung the reins and they were off.

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