Dawn flew up the steps, hurried to her bed chamber, and gathered the few items she needed. She then carefully retraced her steps, watching to make certain that no one saw her. She wanted everyone to assume she was sleeping. That way she wouldn’t be disturbed for hours, and it wouldn’t be until much later that someone discovered her gone.
She crept through the keep, staying to the shadows so she would not be seen. She hadn’t enlisted anyone’s help with her plans for fear that Cree would punish them. She would be responsible for her own rash actions, though to her, her plan made perfect sense. She would join her husband, though she wouldn’t make herself known until they were far enough away from the keep so that he could not send her home.
The decision had been an easy one, especially after she had seen how upset Cree had gotten when Sloan had told him that Wintra had been abducted. It was then she understood that he would not return home until he found his sister, and while she was confident that he would be successful in his quest, it was how long it would take that worried her.
She wanted him there with her as his child grew inside her. He would keep them safe, and he would help assuage her fears that the child might be born voiceless like her. It was her greatest fear that she would pass her affliction onto their child. She prayed every day that the child would scream loudly when he slipped out of her. If not?
She shook her head, not wanting to think about it. She wanted Cree with her when the time came, and she wanted him with her now. There were many willing and eager to help her, especially her best friend Lila and Elsa, Cree’s healer, who assisted Lila in birthing young Thomas. Dorrie, once a foe, now a friend and Flanna, who had turned out to be more friend than Dawn could have imagined, were also eager to do their part. The list went on, and she was grateful to have so many friends willing to do most anything for her, even if it meant facing Cree’s wrath. But she would not ask that of them.
Old Mary’s words had also aided in making her decision that much easier. She trusted the old woman who had been a constant in her life, and in her ability to see things that were yet to come. So when Old Mary had suddenly appeared out of the shadows as she had walked to Lila’s, she had paid heed and listened. Old Mary had warned her that Cree would not find his sister so easily and when she was found, secrets long kept would be revealed.
Dawn had decided to keep her decision to herself. This was for her and her alone to do. She had not spent the night sleeping as all believed. She had made use of the time to gather what she needed and had hid the bundle she had prepared by the kitchen water barrels, which was where she was headed now. She would change into garments that more suited a young lad than a woman, wrap her legs in the fur strips the warriors wore against the winter cold and twist her long, dark red hair up to tuck under a helmet that she had borrowed. Lastly, she would wrap the Carrick plaid around her finishing her disguise.
Dawn felt her excitement build as she made her way out of the keep without being detected and in no time switched to her disguise. She caught the tail end of the troop as it left the keep and blended in with the other lads who tended the warriors’ horses and weapons, keeping her head down against the swirling snow just as they did.
Hours later with the snow falling more heavily and the cold biting at her, she wondered if her plan had been a foolish one. She had not given enough thought to the weather and how difficult it would be to travel in the falling snow. Hadn’t she learned her lesson that time she had braved a winter storm to save Old Mary? A snowstorm was not something to take lightly, but Cree being gone for several months wasn’t something she could take lightly either.
Dawn wrapped her plaid higher up around face and kept walking. Sooner or later they would stop and she could rest.
More hours passed and still they didn’t stop, and the snow now pelted them as if it would never end. Dawn worried the endless white flurries would swallow them whole, or so it felt that way. The constant trudging kept her somewhat warm, but there were parts of her that kept getting nipped by the cold until she could barely feel them.
She continued to tell herself that they would stop soon, and she would not waste a moment. She would go find Cree and let him know that she was here. She tried to convince herself that he would be pleased. After all, he had told her that he would miss her, so why wouldn’t he be pleased to see her?
Minutes suddenly began to feel like hours and she feared she wouldn’t be able to take another step. She admonished herself for not having given her sudden plan more forethought. It hadn’t been wise of her to rush off, but when she had thought of days and nights without Cree an aching emptiness had filled her and had spurred her into action.
She would brave a winter storm to be with her husband and that was the end of that. She kept pace, or at least she thought she was keeping pace until she raised her head and saw that the troop was several feet ahead of her.
She stopped and held her hand above her eyes to block the falling snow and try and get a better look. What she saw frightened her and got her moving. The troop had disappeared from sight, the heavily swirling snow blurring her path. She hurried to catch up, but after a few minutes she realized that she could not see the troop at all.
Panic rose in her. No one knew she had joined the troop. No one would search for her. If she didn’t catch up with them there would be a good chance—a very good chance—that she would die in the snowstorm, not to be discovered until spring.
She hurried along, praying she would come upon the troop and what seemed like hours later, her legs unable to support her any longer, she collapsed in the snow too exhausted to move. She told herself she would take a brief rest and start again and not stop until she caught up with them. She kept promising herself that as she curled up in a ball on the ground and her eyes drifted closed.
Cree rode alongside his troop of men, calling out, “You know the drill. Stay shoulder to shoulder or suffer the consequences.” He and his warriors had traveled through many a snowstorm, and they all knew that if they didn’t stay close, touching shoulders, that they could very well fall behind and that would be the end… the snow would claim them.
As he traveled the line, Cree counted. When he got to the end he yelled, reminding the young lads to keep a tight formation. With his count accurate, he was about to turn his horse when he noticed a sizeable lump of snow in the middle of the road only a few feet behind them. He thought to take a look, but with his count accurate it couldn’t be one of his men. Besides, he wanted to get his troop to the abandon croft about an hour away. There would be enough shelter there to get everyone warm and fed and to get a good night’s sleep since tomorrow they would travel until they reached the abbey. And that was a full day’s ride away.
Cree turned his horse and rode to the front of the line, thoughts of Dawn weighing heavily on his mind.