Two Sides of the Forest

by E. Sparkweed
He was stumbling ahead, every step slipping on the wet ground, leaves gliding under his feet. His clothes were wet and hanging in shreds off his sharp frame, sweat and blood on his forehead, dripping into his eyes. Though he blinked, the stinging and pain would never go away; he’d seen too much. For four days he had been running though the forest: four cold, wet, long days. He was used to hunger, but the strength he was using now, getting up after falling, again, was nearly his last. He knew this. It had been two days since he heard the barking dogs, but he was not safe yet. The stream to his right ran cold and clear, and because of it he was still alive. On the second day he came across it in the woods and it saved him, twice. It quenched his mad thirst, life streamed back into his body with every gulp he swallowed. Then, as he heard the dogs closer and closer, he waded into the quick waters, up to his waist in its icy flow, and walked in it until he could no longer endure the cold. He crawled up on the opposite bank and lay motionless for a few breaths, a terrible cramp growing in his legs, not feeling his feet at all, cold as ice to the bone. The stream saved his life, and then nearly took it. He knew he would surely freeze to death unless he could somehow get warm. He forced himself to get up, on legs throbbing with pain, and feet which seemed no longer a part of him. He started walking, or hobbling, whilst manically rubbing his stiff limbs until they stopped throbbing and started buzzing instead, and a sensation of fire and ice awoke in his toes. They were a blossoming reddish colour, but any colour was better than the blue and yellowish white they had been. He kept moving.

On the third day he found a small wild apple tree and on it, a couple of brown, shrunken, sour crab apples. He managed to eat them, horrible as they were, and although they made his tummy ache, he was temporarily cheered. But then the following night was terrible, the coldest one yet. He had no way of making a fire, and he couldn’t risk one anyway. It was too cold to rest; he had to keep moving, but had barely a faint glimmer of energy left in his body. Somehow he was able to keep going, still following the stream which snaked along on his righthand side, going east, only his instinct guiding him away from the camp and the pursuing guards. He could barely keep upright now, was on his hands and knees at times, crawling. But still moving, still following the stream, still going east.

She was in the chicken shed, collecting eggs. She would wipe each egg as she found it with a small cloth before putting it down carefully into her wicker basket. She was alone at the farm for a few days. The men had gone with the cattle to the winter pasture and would not return for weeks. Her mother and aunt, and the three young children, had taken produce to the trade town and were not due to return for two more days. They were hoping to trade the potato vodka they had made for some medicine or fuel, things they had seen little of in the last years, and get some salt, maybe wool, or even better: a sheep or goat. Their own friendly little sheep had all been killed by wolves last summer. The children had been inconsolable when they found the carcasses, and she’d cried too, and her mother had ridiculed her for it. She’d cried again, just as bitterly, when her father and uncle went out with their guns and came back with a emaciated female wolf and her two little cubs, just skin and bone. She did not hate the wolves; she understood their hunger. But she could not understand, or forgive, her father’s vengeance or her family’s joy as they celebrated the kill.

Her basket half full now and the chicken shed empty of eggs, she stepped outside and drew a long, luxurious breath. As much as she despised living out here, she loved the air, the forest, and the silence. These few days alone were so precious to her; it was difficult being cooped up in that house with too many people in it, and with Jeb, the hired hand whom everyone expected her to marry. Her parents approved of him of course; they saw him as a sensible choice, her only choice. True, he was the only man, not counting family, she had seen in years who was not a guard. Townsfolk didn’t count, they were all sick and weak, and had nothing, less even than her family. She knew her family saw themselves as better than others, they were healthier and supposedly they were not sinners, like everyone else. She didn’t see it like that at all; to her they were all equal, all pathetic. She would never marry Jeb, or anyone else for that matter. She thought of her bag, tucked under her bed, filled with everything she had; clothes, a couple of books, dried beef that she’d snuck out of the cellar, apples, and a leather pouch filled with water. The women were expected back the day after tomorrow, sometime in the evening. In the morning she would get up and feed the animals, then she’d set off, through the woods. She would never come back. They wouldn’t look for her. She had no idea where she would go, maybe she could make it to the sea, she had heard things were better there. Maybe catch a boat somewhere. Probably everywhere else would be the same though, just more dead-eyed people. That was the thing, everyone around her, they were all broken people. Their eyes were missing something, blank and expressionless, and when they spoke they all sounded so tired. It was fear, a constant terror. She had never questioned this until that day at the market in town.

She was there that day with her mother, selling cabbages, carrots, and honey. It had been a busy day, a train was expected to come in and the town was buzzing with anticipation. Trains meant people and goods, meant business and a chance to see something different for once. The marketplace was a throng of people, most of them moving toward the station, children trying to squeeze through so as to not miss the iron monster roaring in, steam gushing from its nostrils and scores of people spilling in and out of its metal belly. She’d seen trains before, of course, so she stayed with her mother, but no one was buying much as the crowd pushed back and forth. As usual there was an awful ruckus: the murmurs of hundreds of people, sellers calling out their wares, the train whistling, the noise made by the wheels of the coaches rattling past on the cobbled road, and the occasional screams as a fight broke out. Then something seemed to change, all the sounds died down to a collective whisper. The crowd parted, as if swept to each side, divided by a giant, invisible hand.

Who could be coming? her mother had whispered. Must be someone important. Fear in her voice. She was curious then, and climbed up on their cart to get a better view. Her mother tugged at her skirt, soundlessly begging her to come down, not to draw attention to them. She kicked out with her foot and her mother shrank away, hiding her face in her shawls. There were only a handful of people between her and the corridor that had opened up through the full marketplace. Through this came a procession of guards in two groups, heavily armed and looking grimly at the crowd, signaling don’t you try anything. Between them, bound with leather straps in a row by their hands and feet, were three women. Rebel scum! a voice from the crowd exclaimed. She gasped. Rebels? They really did exist?

The women had been beaten, they were in their undergarments, they were in bad shape. She leaned closer, fascinated. People whispered excitedly, Rebel whores!, Deserve whatever they get! Some were spitting at the captives, some picked up rotten fruit from the ground to throw at them. But the women did not lower their heads in shame like prisoners tended to do; they marched on. As they came past her, the girl in the middle raised her head and suddenly she was looking at her, they were looking at each other, straight in the eye. She was devastated. She had never seen eyes like that. There was fear, yes, but something else as well, a fierceness, strength, and pride. Without thought, she nodded her head slightly in a sort of acknowledgement of the existence of that face, those eyes. A faint smile flashed across the prisoner’s swollen lips. Then the moment passed, and the crowd closed behind them and they were gone. People were breathlessly discussing what they’d just seen. Be going to the camps. Serves them right. Get what they deserve for stirring up trouble. They won’t be doing that anymore, that’s for sure.

She had thought about those eyes so many times since then, and whenever she did she would feel a stirring sense that there was something out there for her to discover, that the life she knew was not all there was. She’d feel suddenly rebellious and strong, and she dreamt of going away to find adventure. Alone in her cold bed at night sometimes she would close her eyes and imagine those eyes and their pride, and she’d feel less alone at the thought of that woman and how brave and fiercely beautiful she was. Sometimes when she laid there thinking about this, she felt a warmth emanating from between her legs, spreading outward, beckoning her touch. She would stroke herself under the blanket, wishing it was someone else’s hands on her skin, someone fearless and free, who would stroke her hair and laugh, kiss her softly on her neck, ears, between her breasts… Slowly her hands would caress the inside of her thighs, fingers finding their way up to the soft hair and warm skin of her cunny. Wetting a finger in her mouth she’d gently circle her clit, enjoying the feel of that tingling sensation beginning to build up and her body beginning to hum as she moved her finger closer and closer. She had to be quiet because her “room” was just a corner of the main room upstairs, sectioned off by a large bookcase, and her cousins were sleeping at the other end of the room. So she would silently bite her lip and focus her energy inward instead, thinking of that woman’s wetness and what her wet lips would taste like in her mouth, wishing their bodies were rubbing against each other sweaty and warm; until she was so wet that the juices seeped out from between her lips. Then she would push a finger inside herself and move it, faster and faster, while working her clit with her thumb until at last she came, shaking in spasms, her eyes closed, stars appearing on the insides of her eyelids.

Suddenly the air around him felt warmer and there were glimmers of light around him. He thought he might be losing consciousness, but then he realized he was nearing the edge of the woods, and up ahead he saw a sunny field and at the edge of it, a farm.

She was coming round the corner of the chicken shed when she saw him, stumbling out of the woods towards her. She froze for half a second, terror gripping her across the chest and back with icy, steely fingers. Then she took a quick step back around the corner, instinctively. She needed to get into the house before he did. Had he seen her? He must have. She ran to the back of the house, out of sight for him, running with long springy steps, adrenaline pulsing through her body like liquid fire, heart pounding, fists clenched. She made it through the back door and bolted it quickly, then as she heard the front door open, she threw herself at the gun on the rack by the cellar door, grabbed it, and was halfway up the stairs to the loft in one frantic heartbeat. The closet in her parents room had a secret hatch, leading to a crawlspace which ran along the length of the house. When guards came, she would hide there on her father’s insistence, to keep them from getting ideas. Young thing like you, he’d say, worth almost as much to them as a horse. The space had a blanket and, luckily, a leather pouch of water, almost full. It was unlikely he would find her here, unless he knew where to look for the hatch. Besides, she had the gun.

He collapsed on the floor in the hallway. He’d expected someone to come out and wave a gun in his face, maybe even shoot him. He didn’t have a choice; he needed warmth and water, and some food, or he would die anyway. But no one came. The house seemed abandoned, but it was warm, so someone would be coming back any time. He lay for a while unable to move but as warmth seeped into him he found a last glint of energy and made it to the kitchen. There was a bucket of water on the floor with a scoop in it, and he lay down next to it and drank. When he woke up it was twilight and he hadn’t been shot or tied up. Maybe whoever lived here had been scared into the woods and would come back with help, or was hiding somewhere close, just waiting him out. Well, he wasn’t planning on staying too long. He found some food in a cupboard: bread, cheese and apples, and some hard boiled eggs. It was the best meal he’d had in two years.

There had been no sound from the man downstairs for a couple of hours, but she stayed hidden. She was just beginning to think he might have left when there came a sound, a crash or something being shifted, followed by the sound of steps on the stairs. She held her breath as the steps came closer. There was a tiny hole in the wall facing the main upstairs room. She moved soundlessly towards it and put her face up against the wall to try and see who the intruder was. She could only see a tiny portion of the room, and he was not in view. Then she heard him in her parents’ room, and for a moment she thought he might know exactly how to find her. She lifted the gun and pointed it towards the hatch. But the steps moved away again, and she put her eye to the spy hole once more. This time she saw him, his back at least as he walked across the room and descended the stairs. She was puzzled. He hadn’t really touched anything, not even rooted around. What did he want? Unless he was planning on taking his good time with the place, but he didn’t seem to be looking for valuables or weapons. It was more as if he was just curious and having a look around.

There was no one in the house, no one in the outbuildings; but the chickens had been fed, there was a shed filled with rabbit cages inhabited by fat and sleepy rabbits, and he found a basket full of eggs by the back door. It was certainly not an abandoned house. He’d poked around for a while but there wasn’t a trace of anyone, and then he simply decided there was no point in worrying. He was safer here than he’d been in years, he’d found a pistol and some bullets in a desk in the front room. Not that he could actually shoot anyone, but he was pleased, it evened the playing field. He had eaten and drunk and slept, and eaten and drunk once more and then he was beginning to feel like himself again. Not quite back to his old form, but he decided a bath would cure that. There was a big wooden tub in the storeroom which he pulled into the kitchen. He then fed several big logs into the big black stove and lit it. He had found some clothes; a shirt, a pair of socks and trousers and a coat, from a chest in the cellar. There were some holes and tears here and there, but they were soft and clean and all he could think about was how great it would feel to put them on after the bath. He didn’t feel good about stealing, but he needed new clothes that weren’t ripped, bloody and generally signaling escaped prisoner. He would take the clothes and the gun, and some water and food, out of necessity; but he was leaving the money that he found in the pot in the cupboard and the pretty necklace he’d seen in the bedroom. He carried in water from the well and had a shave on the back porch, letting the long straggly beard fall onto the nettles by the stone steps. He cut his hair close to the scalp. He kept warming water and putting it in the tub, which filled very slowly. He had found a bag of hay so he took some out to the rabbits, changed their water and stroked them softly while he waited for the next round of bathwater to warm.

She heard him rummaging about in the kitchen. Then the back door opened. A few minutes later he came back in again, and then he went, and came back. What was he up to? He seemed to be preoccupied with strange activities so she decided it would be safe to sneak out into her parent’s room and peer through the little window onto the front yard. She saw him walking across the grass towards the rabbit house. Oh no, not the rabbits. But then he stopped at the well and filled a bucket, which he brought with him into the shed. He’d been carrying something else as well, that she couldn’t quite make out, under his arm. When he came out again after a few minutes, and started to approach the house, she could get a better look at him. How young he seemed! But his face was blurred by the twilight of the evening and it was hard to be sure. He wasn’t carrying dead rabbits though, rather he was carrying their feedbag. He fed the rabbits? What kind of intruder was this, what was next, was he going to scrub the kitchen floor, as well? She made her way to the stairs and snuck halfway down them, until she could see into the kitchen. She was hopefully cloaked by the darkness; it was quickly getting dark outside, but the kitchen was quite bright, he’d lit the ceiling kerosene lamp. He had his back towards her, was pouring hot water in the bathtub, and there was a soft smell of marzipan in the air, from their pine oil soap that she had made with her mother. He slid his tattered shirt over his head and dropped it on the floor. His back was muscular, and covered with bruises and scars. He looked like he’d been whipped. Seeing the dark vertical lines on his skin she realized he must have escaped from the prison camp on the other side of the forest.

She watched him as he slid his trousers off and stepped out of them into the tub, then lowered himself into the water until he was sitting down. At the sight of his naked skin she felt a tingle running down her back. The hot water seemed to be painful for him because he tensed up as he submerged his body, before relaxing and leaning back. He rested his head on the edge of the tub; it tilted towards her and she could see his face. He wasn’t quite as young as she had first thought, rather about her age, or late twenties maybe. She wondered how long he had been in that camp, and how he managed to get away. Some people never got out of there, and she’d never heard of anyone escaping before. He sloshed about in the water as he scrubbed himself all over and washed his hair. She watched him bathe; she wasn’t scared anymore. How do you fear a man who bathes, and feeds rabbits? …Especially when you’re the one holding a shotgun. Eventually he stood up, poured a bucket of water over his head and shook his head like a dog. He was facing her now, his eyes closed, suds on his nose. Seeing him like this she suddenly felt strange, and she understood that this feeling was an intense attraction towards this man who stood there wet and naked in front of her. He was too skinny, of course, like everyone she knew, but in a tough way, and broad shouldered. All over his body there were traces of pain. Burn marks, some old and faded, some fresh and still healing. Pale lines leaping across his skin, scars from cuts probably, and bruises blooming across his entire body. He’d been beaten all over, in the kidneys, on his thighs, in his face. He had light brown hair on his chest and his nipples were oval and pink brown. Her gaze followed the contour of his waist and hipbone; it led her eyes to his thighs and his cock which shook a little as he tried to shake more water out of his ears. That’s when he looked straight at her and smiled.

He had seen her standing on the stairs, silently in the shadows like a ghost, as he was lowering himself into the tub. So someone was home, after all. It was a young woman holding a shotgun. He didn’t know what to do. The pistol was on a table out of reach. Oh, stupid. He pretended not to have seen her, trying to buy some time, trying to think of a plan. The water was like hot iron pins sticking into his skin. He closed his eyes and laid there, not knowing what else to do. Would she shoot him? But she didn’t, she didn’t do anything. After a couple of minutes he decided he wasn’t about to waste the first warm bath he’d had in years. At least he would die clean, and warm. If she wanted to watch him then fine. So he washed, scrubbed himself raw with his nails and the sweet smelling soap. He glanced over at her and saw her staring at him with her mouth open, gun now pointing at the floor. The situation felt… less threatening. So he stood up, facing her.

She didn’t even realize at first that she’d been discovered; when their eyes met she couldn’t think. She felt like she was being struck by waves of lightning coming towards her. The eyes! He was different; he was like the rebel woman. No fear, just presence. She moved down the steps, towards him, her face, arms, legs, her body was pulsating. Her heart was pounding in her ears and her hands felt heavy, like they did after she had been carrying buckets of water from the well. She tried to say something but couldn’t, there was too much to say. He stepped out of the tub, water dripping all over the floor. Sorry about the mess, he said.

She was staring at him with her intense eyes and a strangely solemn expression. He didn’t know what to do so he got out of the tub and just stood there, watching her as she came towards him. She put the shotgun down on the shelf by the door. He started saying something, wanted to explain, apologize for being in her house uninvited and taking things, but she just reached her hand out and touched his, softly. I am very sorry about what they have done to you, she said. He nodded, and at this very moment it caught up with him, the realization that he was free, that he had made it out of that hell. He sobbed as he felt the loosening of the knot he’d carried in his chest for so long, and she held him tightly. It’s ok now, she whispered. You know, I never would have thought I’d find a friend in this kitchen. She smiled. Eventually, he smiled too.

They were undressing her. His hands were warm and real on her skin. She pulled her blouse over her head and he reached around her to loosen her stay. She leaned into him and kissed him where his neck and shoulder met, then rubbed her nose up against his face and their lips touched for the first time. His cock responded to this quite strongly. She tasted him slowly, circling her tongue around his, trying to pull it into her mouth. He was struggling with the stay so she helped him, and together they quickly got her out of it. As it dropped to the floor he put his arms around her, scooping her up and bringing his face down between her breasts, kissing her there, then each stiff nipple. She moaned quietly which encouraged him to continue, circling her nipple and the soft, delicate skin of her large areolas, before licking the nipple again, harder, and then almost violently rubbing it with his tongue. She reached down and grabbed his hand and guided it in under her skirt. He stroked along her thigh and the soft downy hairs on her legs stood up expectantly. As his hand reached her cunny she let go and grabbed his cock instead, softly tugging at it. He let out a soft moan and pushed his hand further up towards her warmth. He stroked her cunny lips and slid a finger in between, gently parting them. She was dripping her juices over his fingers and sliding her hand up and down his shaft. They locked eyes and she stroked his ass and back softly, forcing herself to be gentle with him because of his wounds, as he slid two fingers deeper inside her. She pulled him closer and wrapped one leg around him. They were up against the wall now, and he grabbed her ass and lifted her up slightly and moved himself in between her legs. She was pulling at him; her body was humming with longing to have him inside her, a feeling close to seasickness. She wrapped her arms around his neck and they held on to each other as he pushed his hard cock past her cunny lips, and deep inside her. He was warm and as he moved himself in and out slowly, gently, she could feel herself around him, a pulsing surge involving her entire body tensing and relaxing to their movements. Let’s go on the floor she whispered. He nodded and pushed inside her once more, quite hard, then pulled out and set her down.

They laid down together, wrapping around each other, kissing softly for a while and she very gently stroked his skin and kissed his bruises. Then she moved in between his legs. She stroked his inner thighs and explored his balls, kissing the soft skin there. She could taste herself on his skin, which turned her on, even more. She started kissing his cock, taking the tip into her mouth slowly, letting her tongue continue its survey of him by sliding around the tip a couple of times before she pushed her head down to take him fully into her mouth. She grabbed the base and pushed down gently there, which made him moan loudly. So she did it again, this time simultaneously going up and down on the shaft with her mouth. She continued this for a while, analyzing his responsiveness to her motions; how he groaned, tensed and relaxed, until she stopped abruptly and straddled him. As she sat on top of him she leaned forward towards him, he wrapped his arms around her, held her there as they shared a deep, wet kiss. She moved herself up and down towards his erection, brushing against him, teasing him with her wetness until he tried to grab her and attempted to push himself inside her. But she evaded him and bit his nipple instead, hard, until he let out a little yelp, surrendering, and laid back. She brought herself down and guided herself onto him, hovering for a moment with the tip of his cock just between her cunny lips. Moving her hips back and forth, she teased him even further; until she couldn’t wait any longer and she took him inside her, deep and hard. She rode him quickly and firmly, leaning back and rubbing her clit in rhythm to their movement. He reached up and grabbed her breasts, breathing faster now as he softly kneaded them with his palms. As she felt herself tightening around him, waves of pleasure begun to wash over her bringing her closer and closer to climax. As the orgasm started to flow through her, it seemed to flow between them and into him, because his pleasure was intensifying as well, his legs shaking and moans escaping his lips. As he came, deep inside her, their backs arched and she grabbed his arms wildly, adding bright new hues to the muted patchwork of bruises on his skin.

They walked through the woods together, talking and laughing, keeping close to the road but making sure they were out of sight from it. She knew the way to a village a few towns over, where he knew of someone who might be able to help them hide for a while. He was going to move on after that, to continue the mission he’d been arrested for plotting. She was going to stick around, ask some questions. She was looking for someone, a girl with fierce eyes.