I was far too tired to stay awake, but the tipping and jolting of the carriage combined with my fear prevented me getting any sleep. So, as the brougham made its way through the darkness, I curled up against the bulky pack of my belongings and closed my eyes, pretending to rest.
I tried to think about Havenwing. It was safe there. There I would be beyond the reach of the wild country and the creatures that inhabited it.
What sort of creatures? I didn't know. In truth I knew very little about the world that surrounded our tiny little outposts of civilization. I only knew enough to fear it, and to anyone interested in my well-being, that was enough.
The road started uphill, where the rain had washed the slope into ruts and holes, causing the carriage to lurch and careen even worse than before. I leaned into my pack, trying to stay in the comfortable position I had found, but it was no use. A jolt of the carriage banged my cheekbone into something hard inside the pack--probably my jewelry box or one of my hard-backed books--and I abandoned the idea of even pretending to rest. I sat up and huffed out an exasperated breath.
The air inside the carriage was stale and stuffy. I wondered... could I open a window? The idea was a completely new one to me. Since the outset of my journey at dawn this morning neither the door nor the windows of the carriage had been opened. My father had shut them securely after kissing me goodbye, and as there were to be no stops on the trip it was assumed there would be no need to open them until I arrived in Havenwing.
Really, there wasn't a need. I had survived stuffy carriage rides before. But now I was curious. At seventeen years old I had never seen the forest, exept as a green expanse in the distance. The few times I had been close enough to see more, I was always in a carriage with the windows shut. The thought of the forest being so close--all around me outside the carriage--was frightening, and I reminded myself that the windows were kept shut for safety's sake.
The carriage rattled over a harsh series of ruts, and I could barely hear the muffled voice of the driver calling encouragement to the horses.
If it was safe for the coachman to ride outside on the box, I realized, then surely there could be no harm in my opening a window, just to let in a bit of air.
I scooted over to the side of the passenger compartment and undid the window latch. Working my gloved fingers under the frame, I saw a thin bar of moonlight and hesitated for a moment. Something like fear wiggled in my chest, but it wasn't pure fear. It was fear mingled with excitement. I was afraid of the forest, yes. But I wanted to satisfy my curiosity. I gripped the wooden panel covering the window opening and slowly raised it.
A rush of cold wind pushed into the carriage, carrying with it a strange, tantalizing scent. I had smelled it before at my home in Castlebrook, when the winds blew down from the north, only never this strong. Was this where it came from? Was it the smell of the forest?
Slowly, and rather timidly, I leaned close enough to peer out into the moolit night. Trees--I had never realized just how tall they actually were--rose high above the road, their glossy leaves reflecting the moon with a soft sheen. I could see the shapes of branches silhouetted against the sky; some were gnarled and twisted like arthritic fingers, while others were more graceful and straight. I could see a breeze stirring the leaves, but the clamor of the carriage wheels drowned out the sound of it. I wondered how the sound would differ from that of the wind in the grain fields.
I brought my eyes down to look at the tree trunks moving past the window. The moonlight failed to penetrate the canopy to the forest floor, plunging the woods into deep, ominous blackness. I felt a chill crinkle its way up my spine. What sort of creatures lived in this place? I had no desire to find out tonight, but I did wonder--were any of them nearby?
In the utter darkness beyond the edge of the road, anything could be sitting, lurking... watching. A hulking monster could be a stone's throw away and I would never see it. I cast a sideways glance at the small lantern mounted near the front of the carriage. Though angled to illuminate the road ahead, it cast a faint glow along the carriage's side where now sat in the window. Would a goblin or troll crouched next to the road be able to see me?
I shuddered and slid to the back of the leather seat. I had no idea what either goblins or trolls were like, having only seen their names mentioned in books on occasion, but one thing was certain: I did not want them staring at me while I sat gawking like a fool out a carriage window. I lowered the wooden window panel back into place and turned the latch, locking it.
The road was somewhat smoother now, and I could once again hear the coachman's voice as he called guidance or reprimands to the horses. I was exhausted, but if my calculations were correct it would be at least another two hours before we reached Havenwing.
I turned my pack on its side and scooted it over, then pulled my legs into the seat and lay down with my head on the bag. It was not the most comfortable arrangement I had ever been in, by far, but I was too tired to sit up any more. I closed my eyes and drew a deep, settling breath.
A remnant of the fresh, wild scent of the woods still lingered about the compartment.