A world of horror raged farther behind us as our horses galloped along the river. Though Bradley’s death clenched firmly around my heart, heaviness had been lifted from my shoulders. Had I remained with my regiment, I would have missed the unobstructed view of flaming oranges and soft pinks that kissed the horizon in front of me. I would have been surrounded by the thickness of my best friend’s death.
The girl steered her mount toward the river. I followed. Both animals brought their mouths to the cool water and drank before we could lower ourselves to the ground.
“What, may I ask, is your name?” I asked.
She smiled. “Jill. And yours, noble deserter?”
“Contradictory. I like that. My name is Jon.”
Jill picked up a stone and glided her fingertips along its smooth surface.
“It seems as though we have entered another realm,” I said.
We both laughed.
“After our adventure, I want to bring you back to your parents’ home.”
She tossed the pebble into the water before crossing her arms. “I made no mention of wanting to do that.”
“We can’t live like this.”
Her eyes matched the same intensity as her older brother’s. She stepped toward me. “I already told you. I am not going to stay with my parents. Do you not see? My life would be suppressed and planned out for me as soon as I step through my father’s door.”
“Adventures come to an end quickly once hunger and exhaustion set in.”
“Do not speak to me as an imbecile, Englishman.”
“How do you propose we purchase food and acquire shelter with no money or livelihood, rebel girl?”
She threw both her hands in the air. “People survived long before towns built general stores. Think of the Indians.”
Despite how outlandish her line of thinking was, I was attracted to its spontaneity. I could have laughed at life’s unlikely turn of events had everything else not been so morbid. Only hours ago, entrapped by war, I would have never thought I would come to care for a girl who wanted nothing more than to be reckless.
I did not have the heart to ask her about her husband. Pushing aside what I knew was better judgement, I told myself that it did not matter whether or not she was someone’s wife. To me, she was Jill the brave adventurer. To her, I was anyone but a puppet of King George. That suited me just fine.
“Where shall we go, then, my dear?” I asked, gesturing to the glowing sunset.
“Where the wind blows.”
We had transformed into birds, ready to flee the nest of expectations and commitments to take flight at last.
“Let us ride as far as we can go!” she cried.
Her mare snorted at that before continuing to drink. She patted the strong animal’s smooth neck and gave me a concerned look. “We should allow the horses to rest for tonight. I don’t suppose your old friends would chase us this far to find you. They do, after all, have a big war to fight.”
I cleared my throat. “What do you think of this conflict?”
“While I believe that we can and should govern ourselves, separate from the King who happens to rule across the ocean and tax us overmuch, by all that is vested in me, I am against this dreadful war.”
“I used to believe in it, you know. Since … my recent tragedy, I cannot tell you how much I agree that this war has gone on for much too long, while old men responsible for all of this attend balls and sit twiddling their thumbs at their desks.”
She nodded rapidly. “Wars are always fought at the expense of the young, but we can escape this.”
“What about Henry?”
My stomach tightened at the blunt question I had not intended to ever escape from the reservoir of my thoughts. She looked away from me, but I did not miss the blush that covered her delicate cheeks in the waning light.
“Henry, the man that coaxed my father into throwing me into a quick marriage with him when I was two months shy of eighteen? Henry, the man that shoots at animals for sport and drinks too much grog? Henry, the man that would rather have me scrub his floors, cook him meals, and provide him with sons than allow me to pursue any of my interests?”
I had no idea how to respond. The world was a cruel place to be. It was filled with selfish husbands taking their wives for granted and with young men in possession of high aspirations subject to violent deaths.
Jill’s soft laugh interrupted my dark musings. I became mesmerized by her gentle smile as she studied me.
“How about that?” she said. “You fled an army; I fled a marriage. I must say that things are turning out quite well for us.”