Late one afternoon, I was gathering up a handpicked bouquet
of wild flowers. I felt the grasses brush against my ankles as I walked towards
the opening in the trees. It had become as much a comforting thing for me as
anything growing up had been. I wasn’t paying attention to what was in front of
me. My feet knew the path without me having to look. But this time around,
there was something there.
I stopped short, a shadow meeting me halfway through the
break. The flowers slipped from my limp fingers, landing on top of each other
like pick-up sticks. It was strange to think of such an image, like it belonged
to a fairytale or some other story. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the path
ahead of me, or, rather, the strange man who stood there.
He was tall, five or so inches taller than me, and slender
but well built. He had the kind of shoulders a girl could cry on. His light
reddish hair moved in the breeze in an almost mesmerizing way. But it was his
eyes that held my attention. They were deep eyes, green and perfect, with
little flecks of dark amber. A girl could drown in those eyes.
He wore a tunic-like shirt over dark breeches, also green.
He had a cap on his head with an emerald-green feather sticking out from the
side, like a hatpin. He reminded me of the pictured I’d seen back at the
castle, the Robin Hood picture I noticed my first night there. The eyes were
similar, but more alive.
He looked just as surprised as I felt, staring with
uncertainty in my direction. Then he swept a low but graceful bow, sweeping off
his cap as he did so. The long feather stirred the grasses but didn’t fall out.
The next moment he was by my side, gathering my fallen flowers and handing them
to me. An almost shy smile touched his lips. I took the flowers without
thinking, unable to break my gaze from his face.
“Please, pardon my intrusion,” he said with a voice that ran
like bells, tenor bells. “I did not expect anyone to be here.” I blinked a few
times. I tried to remember how to breathe again as I turned to put the flowers
between the loops of the reins, hoping they wouldn’t fall again. Part of me
didn't know if I cared. He'd help me pick them up again, I was sure.
It registered in my mind that it was possible he’d known
about this place long before I had. A sense of sadness washed over me, knowing
that the one place where I’d felt like I belonged wasn’t really my own. I
grabbed onto the edge of the saddle and closed my eyes. I turned my face toward
the hardened leather and tried to will the sudden pain away. I felt unsteady on
“Are you all right?” He placed a hesitant hand on my
shoulder. It was clear that he didn’t understand. How could he? “Are you… unwell?”
I could feel that he was uncomfortable, or was it concern? I couldn’t tell for
sure. His hand was gentle and warm.
“I’m fine,” I said and opened my eyes with a sigh, relaxing
my grip on the saddle but not trusting myself enough to let go yet. My voice lashed
out faster than I’d intended, even though it was nothing compared to the tone I
might have used a month ago.
He removed his hand, even if it was slowly. I could tell I’d
hurt him somehow and was sorry. I took a deep breath and let goof the saddle, leaning
against Beauty’s flank as I turned, eyes downcast. “Forgive me,” I said. “I
didn’t mean to be sharp. You just surprised me and I’m not used to having
others around much.”
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