She should be used to the feel of floorboards by now.
Her body relaxed against them because her muscles simply had no more power to support her, but in the past they had cradled her in times like these. When isolation threatened to crush her, the floorboards were there to keep her from sinking into the Void.
These particular boards were even more familiar; she had stood at this window many times before. She had sunk to her knees here; her palms knew the knots and ridges of the planks and the smell of their polish.
In this room.
She remembered that this was the room Oendir had assigned to her and Neilia when she first joined the Wayfarers. She would watch the wind rustle the leaves of the Chestnut from the window, and so often she had thought of climbing out to disappear again from the world of Men for good.
But she had honor. And obligations. And she had the honor to see them through.
As she lay there, the memories flooded her vision. She could not stop their flow; they would drown her.
They had not found the floorboards that day; he had taken her against the wall and in the open doorway. Even has he brought her to ecstasy again and again, she had the underlying terror that someone would turn into the hallway and see them there against the door-frame.
The fear only heightened the experience of him, though, and by being able to identify the fear, she was able to finally master it. She pushed past everything that ever held her back before and her heart opened to him without its cynical armour, and she understood.
Here is someone who comes for her out of love, not hate. Here was a man who was devoted to her care and pleasure, not her pain.
And Rheb came for her, always.
Now, she would go to him.
The gate of Durrow was still blocked by the avalanche and the orcs still probably roamed the hills, but despite their presence and despite the warg attack, she knew that she was safe. She had offered herself to the orcs to buy them time not because she was brave. Not because she wanted to be a hero like young Margaret claimed, but because she knew that Rheb would protect her from the orcs and men and half-orcs of the camp and anything else besides.
She could not claim bravery when she knew there was no danger.
The view from the window was breathtaking as always, but she did not look forward. She looked down.
Rheb had lowered himself from the windowsill easily; Oendir claimed he was not a climber, but he appeared perfectly capable of climbing to her. Oendir so often refused to see what Rheb was capable of or what Rheb needed. Tears stung her eyes as she let herself hang from the window before letting herself fall to the grass below. Alone. Rheb had always been so alone and had anyone truly been there for him?
And she was just the same.
Her eyes never wavered from her path; night was falling and the moon was nearly full as it rose above the treetops.The melodic song of Fiddler Falls soon met her ears and she hastened to the bank of the river. The high cliffs rose above her; without pause, she plunged into the cool water and swam for the cave she now swore that Rheb had told her about not so long ago.
How had she forgotten that detail? It had been raining that day; she had been standing in the broken shelter of the tree for a long time before he found her there. They had talked about other things and it must have gotten lost in the overwhelming presence of him. The little things they shared like the floorboards of Garden and Pinecrest-these are the things she remembered. These are the things that were branded into her mind and prevented her from recalling the little things like caves that led out from Durrow.
Like how much he loved her.
And how persistent he was in trying to claim her.
The force of the falls did not daunt her. She plunged into them and swam through to find the mouth of the cave just as he said it would be. The passage was narrow as he claimed. The men would have had a hard time fitting through, but the women and children had a way out. He had shown her the way.
But why? Why wait for so long when he could have told her from the first day? Why not go to Oendir with the information? Why make them suffer?
She climbed through cautiously, ducking low and eventually having to turn and twist to fit through some of the more awkward spots. Her bun caught on a sharp claw of overhang; she pulled her hair down to unhook herself and finally she felt the air lighten and the thought she could see a change in the darkness of the narrow passageway to freedom. Lights seemed to flicker ahead. She sped up and soon emerged outside of Durrow and took a deep breath of the fresh air.
She half expected a company of orcs waiting on the other side of the tunnel to capture her and drag her away. Only the lightning bugs and stars greeted her and she looked around for signs of his flight. Nothing. Stillness.
And then the sound of tree frogs began and the noises of the living forest at night washed over her.
The lack of silence startled her. It seemed to scold her for not seeing things sooner.
Here she was, standing on the other side of the cliffs surrounding Durrow, and he had known of escape the entire time. His garb when she saw him-dirty breeches when he saved her from the wargs and then only the loincloth moments before in her room at Ravenhold-were not right for a Rheb that lingered in Durrow. She had put him in fresh pants herself after washing the blood away from his skin and they had not been lying on the floor when she woke the next morning.
Where have you been? she had asked and he had no answer.
Suddenly she knew and the weight of it knocked her back to her knees.
He came for her, always.
But he hadn’t come alone.
Cwen stayed there bent over at the hips until the moon began to set. The hands covering her head could not ward off the realizations as her tears watered the grass tickling her face. The cold and the damp seemed to sink into her bones and she wished she would dissolve with the morning’s dew once the sun rose and cast her ignorance in its glaring light.
She had been about to give in. She had been about to admit she loved him more, and only her obligations to the Wayfarers held her back. She had been about to tell him that she would go with him wherever he wished and that they would find their way somehow. She was going to ask him to only wait for her to get her things situated, but she had been too late.
It doesn’t matter anymore.
He wasn’t the one alone.
And he wasn’t going to come for her anymore.