The day was beautiful, in spite of the steady drizzle. Sharp shards of sun rays pierced through the grey blue sky, illuminating the rain droplets. A half rainbow was forming, framing the scene perfectly. But they saw none of it, deep as they were in the forest.
They’d crossed the open plains hours ago, and were now walking leisurely through dense but picturesque greenery. They could hear the pitter-patter of raindrops against the thick canopy, accompanied by the gentle rustling of the leaves above them, but the trees kept most of the rain away and them dry, which they were thankful for.
“How much longer?” Rue asked.
William turned round and searched her face for signs of fatigue. He found nothing but glee.
“Not tired, are you?” he asked anyway.
She shook her head, beaming at him.
“It’s…it’s soo pretty,” she said breathlessly, her eyes round with awe.
“I was just wondering because it’s almost three o’clock, you said we should make it to camp by four?’
“Yup,” he grinned with a sense of satisfaction that she was happy to be out here.
It had been long since they’d hiked together and he’d been afraid she would turn down the request. But Rue had, as always, surprised him.
“But where Will? This forest doesn’t seem to have any camping spots,” she said, spreading out her arms and brushing the thick undergrowth to make her point.
“I know a spot, shall we?’ he bowed, offering her his arm. He looked comical with his huge backpack.
Rue laughed and grabbed his arm. Sometimes, her husband behaved strangely, she often said. But she loved how much she laughed around him. Contented, she strolled along, absorbing everything around her.
The different hues of green were more visible as the tiny shafts of sunlight streamed between the trees; the smell of the wet earth and the fresh air, the soft sounds of the raindrops alongside the whoosh of gently fluttering leaves… Oh, she was happy she’d let him talk her into joining him on this hike.
The warmth of the day was fast fading under the shadows of the trees. Rue shivered involuntarily. She stopped to pull her jacket out of her backpack.
“Hear that?” Will said smiling and cocking his head in the direction of the sound.
She paused for a second then grinned back. There, behind the rustling of leaves and the drip-drip of rain was the unmistakable sound of rushing water.
“We’re almost there and you’ll see, it’s…” he tapered off to the sound of a loud crack shattering the silence with unnerving ferocity.
“Wha…what was that?’ she gasped. She knew the sound of a gun.
“Stay here,” he said.
Rue blocked his path.
“Are you crazy?” she whispered.
“What are you going to do?”
“It’s probably just hunters, it’s the season you know….”
But even as he said it, William felt a weight settle in the bottom of his stomach.
“I won’t go too close, I’ll just check what’s going on…really, it’s probably nothing,” he said.
William shrugged off his heavy backpack and pulled his pocket knife out, ignoring Rue’s heavy breathing as she watched him.
Quickly pressing his lips to her forehead, he squared his shoulders and walked quietly into the forest.
Rue stood there a moment, then began to busy herself to contain the avalanche of emotions rising from within her. She dragged his bag and sat on the ground to wait for him.
The minutes turned into an hour and she begun to get antsy. What was keeping him? What if she crept down towards the river to find him?
She quickly rose to her feet and groped through her backpack for the pocket knife William had gifted her, an identical one to his.
“I’m bringing a knife to a gunfight,” she murmured to herself, a wry smile on her face, as she fought to control her nerves. Then with a deep breath, she moved stealthily into the forest.
Off the path, the going was painfully slow, with the knee high, tangled growth, low hanging branches and impassable sections of dense bushes.
Rue was panting as she reached a steep slope leading down to the rushing waters. Crouching, she approached the edge of the ridge and stared down into a valley with the crystal clear river flowing through it against the jade green trees.
Rue stopped a second to catch her breath. Then she began skirting alongside it, peering intensely through the trees.
She suddenly stopped. She had spotted him. There, in a clearing on the river bank, William stood by a tree, his arms bound behind him. Four men surrounded him. A fifth man was lying face down a few feet away. Rue’s stomach rolled.
“Well he’s seen us, and we’re not sure he came alone,” a man standing directly in front of William said.
“So? He’s the only one who’s seen us, let’s finish him off and leave!”
“No, you stay here. You two, let’s go.”
Three of the men suddenly turned and Rue ducked down, lying flat on her face. She was sure they hadn’t seen her, but they were coming up the ridge! Her heart hammering so loud she could hear the dull thud in her chest; she lay motionless as they passed within metres of where she lay. Waiting until she was sure they’d left, she craned her neck to assess the situation. An opportunity presented itself for an escape. The man on guard had turned and walked away to relieve himself. She didn’t hesitate.
Rue walked slowly over the ridge and slid down on her bottom towards the river.
Then she tiptoed until she was behind the tree Will was bound to. She took out her knife and neatly sliced through the cords on his wrists. William came free in quiet shock, only a silent “Oh,” escaping him as he turned to see Rue. Even after years together, she really was always surprising him.
“What the heck!” the guard had returned and was fumbling with his handgun.
William, however, already had an escape route. They’d never make it up the ridge, so he grabbed his wife’s arm and hauled her to the river’s edge, jumping in before she had a chance to protest.
Streaks of white clouds drifted lazily across the endless blue sky. The sun was out but it wasn’t hot, thanks to the constant cool breeze that blew gently from the east.
“Hey love, want to go on a little walk?”
Rue put the magazine she’d been flipping through down and turned to face William, her eye-brow arched, only to be met by his twinkling eyes. She smiled and then laughed, oh, he’d rule the day; he tried that again.