Clarabella closed her eyes and sighed; this was the first real moment of relaxation she had gotten in several days. The restless nights spent camping on uncomfortable ground had made her lower back ache and throb with pain. Every stranger she passed on the road was a potential murderer or rapist. Or, heaven forbid, both. Worrying about every movement and sound in the darkness; what kind of predator was it? Was it a native? Or was it a wolf or a raptor? None of these had done her many favors when it came to her anxiety level. Now, her body soaking in the warm, soapy bathwater, all she wanted to do was fall asleep.
She reached to her side and picked glass of whiskey off a small side-table. bringing it to her lips and swallowing with a grimace. It was strong, but after so many days suffering fried nerves, she needed something strong. She replaced the glass, cupped her hands in the bathwater, and brought them to her face; the water washing away the last few days of tension. She sunk lower into the tub, letting the water come up to her chin. She blew out a breath and the bubbles collecting around her face blew into the air.
She was in a hotel bathroom. It wasn't a high-end hotel, but it had a private room and offered a bath for a reasonable price. The room was lit by a few oil lamps, their wicks burning low to keep the room at a warm and relaxing light. The large, metal tub sat in the center of the room. The only other piece of furniture was a storage cabinet that held all the bath essentials. It had been cleverly disguised as an armoire to keep up appearances. There was a curtained window, but on the second floor with no surrounding buildings to give sight-lines, Clarabella felt she had an appropriate level of privacy.
She heard Brutus groan from outside in their stables. One would think they would have a place large enough for an animal of his considerable size, but one would be mistaken. He wasn't happy, but she believed he needed the rest as much as she did.
She lolled her head to one side; a candle sit on the table next to her whiskey. She stared into it, the flame reflecting off her dark brown, almost black, eyes.
She remembered the fire. She remembered waking to thunder and rain, her body crying in pain. Reminiscently, a hand trailed below her left breast, caressing the scarred and knotted flesh where the bullet had struck her. She took another long sip of her whiskey, savoring the burn as it flowed down her throat. The bullet had narrowly missed her heart, the only major injury she sustained was a couple of broken ribs. She should've been dead. The family name wasn't well known, so to those who knew her, she was dead."Jezisa,"
she muttered, downing the rest of her whiskey. "What kind of word is 'Jezisa' anyway?"
She poured another three fingers from the bottle she requested be left behind and fought the urge not to drink from it."Do not go after them, Miss Cain."
The words echoed in her mind.'Joseph'.
That was the name she knew him by. His skin dark as night, his upper body covered in scars that resembled crocodile flesh. He was a killer, a soldier, a savior in his homeland. But here, in a world that didn't belong to him, he was a slave. But he trained her, and he trained her well. She lied about the black eyes, the cuts and bruises and muscle soreness, saying it was the fault of an overenthusiastic Woolly Rhino or Parasaur. But it was his fault. He damn near beat her into submission a dozen times."These natives fight like animals. You think they will stop when you lose your feet?""Lose your footing."
She had corrected him. He had struggled with her language initially. A mispronunciation here, an awkward metaphor there. She learned not to correct him when they were training…"No,"
he stated harshly, stomping on her bare feet with his heel. "You think they will stop when they destroy your feet? Cripple your opponent before he cripples you. Hurt him so he never has the ability to do so again."
Her hand drifted to her collarbone and touched her other scar. She remembered the feeling as it went in; red-hot, like 100 piercing needles. The audible sound as it bounced off her collarbone and buried itself deep in her chest. She winced at the memory.
After wandering the eastern coast for a week, living frugally and discretely to not draw attention, she had gotten the foolish idea in her mind to head West only a couple days ago. She rationalized the decision not as running away, but as starting over. She had the skills to find placement on a ranch or, if she was lucky, build one of her own. She entertained the thought of what she would call it and what she would raise, then stowed it away to not lose focus.
The windows shook as some massive beast descended into town. A screech was heard, and the animals in the stables below her responded with their own vocals. It wasn't an unwelcome disturbance; hearing other animals after days of hearing nothing but Brutus' flatulence and her own heartbeat.
There was a knock on the bathroom door and Claire sighed. "I still have 20 minutes."
She declared."I know, Miss Cain. A letter arrived for you."
A meek, female voice responded.
Claire cocked a brow. "Well, come in then. Give it here."
The door opened slowly, and Claire draped her hand over the other side of the tub where her holster hung. She felt the cold steel and wooden handgrip caress her fingertips. She fingered the hammer back out of caution with a 'click'. A young woman, younger than her but not at all lacking in her upstairs assets, entered the room. She dressed in a blue and white frilled dress. Her hair piled tight on top, was loose enough to allow a few strands to tumble down to her shoulders. She caught sight of Claire's body and blushed.
Claire, noticing the discomfort, released the grip on her revolver. She pulled a pile of bubbles towards her and tried to cover herself. "Come on, now. I don't have anything you don't."
She said with a chuckle.
The woman stammered. "I know, Miss Cain. Just…trying to maintain your privacy is all."
She handed the Claire the letter.
Claire waved her off. "Read it to me. My hands are wet."
She raised one hand out of the water, but the other hung over the side. Just in case.
The girl, taken aback by being allowed to read someone's mail, delicately went about opening the ornate envelope.
As the girl read, Claire stared into the candlelight. This letter wasn't meant for her; she was sure of it. The thought ran through her mind that she might've received the letter by mistake. She doubted anyone would deliver a letter to a random hotel in a place like this. When the girl had finished, Claire still hadn't broken her gaze with the candle."Sounds exciting, Miss Cain."
The girl said, the smile audible on her face."Did whoever give this to you say who it was for?"
Claire ignored her statement."All's he said was the original address wasn't there no more. That it'd burned down."
Claire swallowed. It was for her. "How did he know to bring it here?"
She asked, pressing her tongue against the inside of her cheek nervously."He said some man directed him where to go. Said you'd be in this town, in this hotel, at this time."
Claire scoffed. "Joseph, you bastard…"
She muttered under her breath.
The girl looked up from the letter. "You say something, Miss Cain?"
Claire shook her head. "No,"
she said. "Would you mind handing me a towel, I'm starting to prune."
She stood up out of the tub and onto the floor, not caring that the girl damn near fainted from the sight. She took the offered towel and wrapped it around her body. Claire waved off any other help the girl tried to give her and asked her to leave.
She threw on the nightshirt they had given her. Her clothes were being washed and wouldn’t' be ready until tomorrow morning. She fixed her hair as best she could, combing it and tying it back into a loose ponytail. She had already eaten, so she wasn't planning on going out. The desire to lay on a warm, soft bed was overwhelming. Collecting her belt, she walked back to her room, entered, and locked the door behind her.
Claire flopped onto the bed and examined the letter. As she has suspected, the letter wasn't for her."Mr. Archibald Cain & Family…"
She said, reading the name on the front of the envelope. It was for her father.
She had guessed word didn't reach Lakewood about his unfortunate death. But, then again, living a couple hours ride from any established fort or town, word wasn't known to travel far unless it was required.
She pondered the letter, examining all its intricacies and beauty, Clarabella Cain drifted off to sleep an hour or so later. Though, when she awoke, she had the same thought in her mind from the night before."What the hell have I gotten myself into?"