Jumbly woke with the dawn and his eyes sought the woman. Bundled in her blanket, she was still asleep. He prepared himself, fire, breakfast and brew before she woke. The woman roused from sleep panicked, calming when she saw Jumbly on the other side of the fire. She groaned as she stood, muscles and injuries stiffening over night. Without a word, Jumbly handed her a cup of water, then the bowl of steeped herbs. She took it and tended to her wounds. The woman returned the bowl and meeting his eyes, pointed to herself and said, “Deirdre.” Jumbly smiled and burbled at her encouragingly. Her dark eyes watched him solemnly. Deirdre nodded and settled herself by the fire for breakfast.
When everything was packed and put away, Jumbly and Deirdre began their walk back to the village. Jumbly took her by the river road. It took longer but he saw that she was not ready yet for company and at the river she would have a chance to wash. They walked for hours in silence until Deirdre stumbled. Jumbly stopped and began setting up camp. Deirdre jumped up and said she could go on but somehow he gentled her and communicated that they were not in any hurry. He made their midday meal and indicated the river for a wash.
Deirdre went red with shame. Jumbly was horrified but had no way to tell her that it was not her shame. He hung his head. After a long time, Deirdre came closer and tugged on his shirt sleeve. He looked up, his eyes sad. The corner of Deirdre’s mouth lifted and she assured him that she understood that a swim was just what she needed. Jumbly beamed. Deirdre looked momentarily startled then smiled back. Jumbly found soap root for her and a place in the river that was more sheltered and private.
Once she was settled, Jumbly returned to the river near their camp and waded in for his own wash. He sang as he scrubbed and his melodic voice curled in ribbons of bright sound along the river to Deirdre. She stopped and listened. There were no words but she heard the heart of the big man in his song and the fear left her.
Deirdre returned to find Jumbly stoking the fire with a pot bubbling already. Deirdre was famished. Exhausted by her ablutions, she sat abruptly on her bed and stared at the pot. Jumbly rumbled a laugh and Deirdre turned to look at him. His clothes, which he had worn into the river and washed, were lying in the sun to dry. His spare britches were all he wore, enjoying the last of the sun on his skin. Deirdre saw a tall, very tall, well built man, with close cropped hair and kind brown eyes. His beard was neatly trimmed and his smile. Deirdre realised she was staring and sighed, looking away. Jumbly rumbled away at her and Deirdre found if she listened to his voice, not the words, and watched him, she understood him very well.
Jumbly wanted to know if she needed help with her wounds. She shook her head. Taking a breath she told him that the cuts and scratches were clean. Jumbly patted his belly, then pointed to hers. Deirdre looked away. Another deep breath. She looked back toward him and said that she was alright there too, just badly bruised and sore. Deirdre was startled by a growl and involuntarily glanced at him. He looked furious. Deirdre realised that he was angry on her behalf. She forgot to breathe for a minute. Pushing up painfully she walked toward him, patted his arm and looked straight into his gaze. “Thank you.” Jumbly breathed. The anger went out of him. He looked into her green eyes, his own dark with sadness for her. Deirdre’s breath caught. Here was a good man, a good good man. She was safe with him.
The moment passed and they busied themselves with food, drink, herbal brew and sleep. Jumbly lay looking at the stars for a long time, thinking about Deirdre. In the morning they continued on, stopping when Deirdre was too tired, letting her sleep, heal, rest and recover from her ordeal. Finally they were one night from home and Jumbly indicated they would be in the village the next day. He saw the flare of panic in her eyes, saw her master it, reason herself through it and was angry all over again about what had been done to her. It seemed to Jumbly that Deirdre was a brave, good, modest, kind woman whose life had been torn apart. He suddenly realised that while he had been taking her to his home, he hadn’t asked about hers. He was mortified.
It took awhile for Deirdre to understand what he was asking. She shook her head, eyes brimming with tears. She explained that the men who took her to use had killed her elderly father and there was nothing left for her. A great surge of pain and helpless fury swept through Jumbly. He was brought to his feet by the power of his emotion. He roared his fury into the night. Sanity returned and he feared he may have terrified her only to hear her matching roar as Deirdre screamed her loss, fear, pain and grief to the stars. Then she tumbled to the ground. Jumbly swept her up. She stiffened then relaxed in his hold. She wept, great tearing sobs that abated only when she had passed out from exhaustion.
Jumbly laid her down on her bed and bathed her poor swollen face in cool river water. He wrapped her in her blanket. She whimpered when he moved away, so he dragged his bed next to hers and held her through the night. Deirdre slept soundly, safe in his arms, for the first time in weeks since she had been taken, tortured, escaped and traveled lost and hurt.
Morning came and Deirdre felt ready to meet the villagers. She helped Jumbly tidy the campsite and they set off. All too soon they came out of the forest to the road that ran alongside the river and into the village. Deirdre moved behind Jumbly and shuffled along falling further and further behind. Jumbly stopped and looked around at her. He rumbled at her, nodding. Deirdre knew he meant to be reassuring but she just couldn’t move.
“Jumbly! You’re back!” and Jumbly’s young friend flew to greet him, fishing rod clattering behind him onto the road, barrelling into Jumbly. The Jumbly Man laughed and wrapped his young friend in a big hug. Deirdre smiled and moved closer. The lad looked shyly at her. Jumbly did the introductions which made them all laugh. Chattering excitedly, the boy looped Deirdre along with them and they lurched into the village like a drunken three legged race.
Lauren Higgenbottom, Jumbly’s very closest friend, saw him and waved, hurrying over to say, “Welcome back! We have missed you!” then noticed Deirdre who hung her head and tried to hide behind Jumbly. Jumbly hurried to explain what had happened but got so jumbled up that he just stopped.
“It’s alright, Jumbly. I can see that this young woman needs some care.” Lauren looped Deirdre, bundling her off to her house, leaving Jumbly and the lad standing open mouthed in the middle of the road. They looked at each other and laughed. Returning to pick up his rod the two talked their way down Jumbly’s path to his cottage and settled in.
Lauren, who lived vicariously, learned Deirdre’s story and soon had her soaking in an hot tub with herbs. When Deirdre was soothed and her injuries treated and bandaged, Lauren made her an hot herbal brew and bundled her off to bed. Deirdre slept the rest of the day through to morning. When she awoke she was greeted by an anxious Jumbly and amused Lauren.
“He had to see that you were alright dear. He’s been here since daybreak. Sit down and I’ll make you both breakfast.” Lauren happily bustled about while Jumbly and Deirdre smiled at each other. Deirdre sighed. She did feel better now he was here. Lauren smothered a giggle but neither of them noticed, which made her giggle all the more. She placed an enormous pot of tea and huge breakfast before them and soon they were all tucking in and talking.
“I think Deirdre should stay here for the time being, just until her wounds heal and she’s feeling a bit stronger.” Jumbly looked up in surprise and burbled a question at Deirdre.
“You’ll come and visit every day, won’t you, Jumbly?” He stared, disconcerted, looked at Lauren’s stern face and huffed his agreement. Lauren snorted in a most unladylike manner. Jumbly scowled at her which made her snort again. Deirdre looked from one to the other, perplexed, then smiled at Jumbly, poured a cup of tea and went on eating.
to be continued
(c) CLHHarper March 2014