It's a strong theme throughout my historical romances set in Anglo-Saxon England. My heroine is either escaping from danger, running in defiance, fleeing towards freedom, or running to someone's aid.
In a world where men ruled and woman had little say in their fate, often escape was the only way a woman could show her defiance.
In DARK UNDER THE COVER OF NIGHT, Raedwyn escapes an outlaw who is using her to blackmail her father. In NIGHTFALL TILL DAYBREAK, Freya tries to escape a life of slavery by running away from her new master, the King of the East Angles. In THE DEEPENING NIGHT, Saewara runs away from her domineering brother, Penda of Mercia, who is forcing her to marry the enemy. And in THE BREAKING DAWN, Merwenna runs away from her parents' home twice – first, in search of her betrothed, who went off to war and never returned, and then to warn the Prince of Powys about a plot to assassinate him.
In my current novel, DARKEST BEFORE DAWN, my heroine is possibly the most strong-willed and feisty of any woman I've written about so far. Alchflaed is actually based on a real historical figure – a 7th Century Northumbrian princess who was married to the King of Mercia in order to weave peace between the two warring kingdoms.
On the journey south from Northumbria to Mercia, I originally wrote a scene in which Alchflaed escapes her Mercian escorts, and the man she is helplessly attracted to – Maric – in an attempt to ride north and seek aid from her mother's kin in Rheged. However, after realizing that this wasn't going to sit well with her confrontational character, I have deleted it. Alchflaed will try to resolve her problems in other ways...
Here's the scene – enjoy!
Alchflaed peeked her head out of her tent and glanced up at the sky. A full moon rose above the tree tops to the east, casting a silvery veil over the world. She noted that the moon had a shimmering halo around it – a sign that bad weather was coming.
Hopefully, I will be on my way to Rheged before it arrives.
It had been an agonizing wait. Alchflaed was so tense that she could feel her pulse beating in her ears. Still, she had made herself be patient. She needed to make sure that the men slumbered deeply before making her move. There would be warriors taking their turn at the night’s watch, but the later she waited the better.
With the glowing moon cresting high into the night sky, Alchflaed stepped out of her tent and wrapped her woolen cloak about her shoulders. It was a chill night, so none would question her bringing it with her while she relieved herself. She had left all her other belongings behind, except for her seax at her waist, and her slingshot looped next to it on her belt.
Alchflaed forced herself to shuffle, as if half-asleep, towards the edge of the encampment. The fire pit had burned down to glowing embers, although a few pitch torches burned around the perimeter. A shadow in the darkness, Alchflaed moved towards where the horses had been tied up for the night.
The man’s voice close by nearly made Alchflaed cry out in fright; her nerves were stretched taut and it took all her will not to let fright show on her face. A warrior, a tall, bald man with a craggy face stepped forward, bearing a torch.
“Where are you off to?”
“I drank too much ale with supper,” she replied, feigning an embarrassed smile. “There are some trees behind the horses, I won’t be long.”
“Aye,” he grunted, appearing satisfied by her response. “Make sure you aren’t.”
Alchflaed continued on her way, her heart now skittering against her ribs. She had seen the warrior’s shrewd expression; he would be awaiting her return. She would have less time than she had hoped, for he would be the first to go looking for her when she did not re-emerge from the shadows.
Stepping out of the circle of torchlight, she headed to the line of horses. Her pony was the last in the line, she had deliberately tied it at the end so that it would be easy to find in the darkness. Ahead, she spotted the outline of a man’s form; another warrior who had been posted to watch over the horses. He would have to be dealt with, but Alchflaed had come prepared.
She could have used the seax her father had gifted her, but she had no wish to kill a man in order to escape. Instead, she withdrew a heavy stone from inside the lining of her cloak. She had dug it out of the ground inside her tent using her knife.
Holding her breath, Alchflaed crept forward. She moved swiftly towards the guard – the man never saw his assailant coming. Alchflaed clubbed him hard, on the back of his head and he fell like a sack of barley to the ground. She had judged the blow carefully – just hard enough to knock out, not hard enough to kill. Over the years, she had watched her father’s men spar enough times to know the difference.
Not wasting a moment, Alchflaed skirted around the fallen man and rushed to the end of the line of horses. The beasts sensed a disturbance and some of them shifted nervously, while others snorted, the whites of their eyes gleaming in the moonlight.
Fortunately, Alchflaed’s pony was not of nervy temperament. It nickered a soft welcome, recognizing her scent immediately. Moving as quickly as she could without making a noise, Alchflaed undid the rope that tied her pony and looped it over the beast’s neck, tying the other end to the rope halter the pony wore. There was no time to saddle her mount, she would have to ride north bareback.
Alchflaed sprang lightly up onto the pony’s back and reined it away towards the trees. She sucked in a deep breath upon reaching the deeper shadows under the towering ruins of the Roman fort.
I did it.
Away from the torchlight, she had only the moon to guide her.
It would be enough.
A grin spread out over Alchflaed’s face then, and excitement ignited in the pit of her belly. This was who she was – brave and free. Beholden to no man. By morning she would be far from here.