October 11, 2010

More from chapter 1

"Well, well, well...What have we here?  Seems we were right about our little runaway being close by." 

The commotion woke her too late to do anything but look out at the man as he peered under the branches into her hiding place.

"Why don't you come out here where we can have a look at you, Miss?",  he said in a friendly voice that almost made her like him instantly.  Almost...

But her guard went right back up as she slid out into the man's camp and looked up at him apprehensively.  She quickly looked down at the ground again and felt the heat rising to her cheeks as she stole another tiny peek.  She didn't see many men in this part of the woods now but she'd seen her share when they burned the village and ran off all the others.  They were cruel and rough.  Uncaring and unfriendly.  But there was something about this one.  A kindness and manner that melted her reserve and drew her eyes back to his.  She knew that there wasn't any hope of hiding anything from this penetrating, but gentle gaze.

Quietly, he spoke again, "Well, hello there!  Now, what are you doing out here so far from town?  Don't you know that it's dangerous to be out here by yourself?"  He smiled with a bit of a condescending air and drew himself up to his full height as if to give weight to his admonition. 

The thought of that made her burst out laughing.  She'd been living out here on her own for nearly 6 months now with no help from anyone.  But he couldn't have known that and she caught herself.  He stopped smiling and gazed at her with a glint in his eye.  He realized that although she was petite she wasn't as young as he'd originally thought.  And even though she had leaves stuck in her hair, she was the fairest maiden he'd seen.  He began to smile a genuine smile this time and her breath caught in her throat.  There was something about this man that seemed to tug at her heart.  He was handsome in his own sort of way but the depth of his eyes was what really drew her to him.

But could she trust him?  How could she be sure?  She decided not to speak until she knew more.

"Are you going to answer me?", he asked, kindly.

Taking a step backwards she just looked up at him, angry at herself for the awed expression she seemed helpless to change.

"Would you like some breakfast?", he asked, moving to the fire and opening one of his packs. 

Perhaps a bit too eagerly, she moved closer to see what he was offering.  While she had the means to get flour by trading syrup from her trees and herbs she'd gathered in the forest, she only had meat when she could find game to snare.  The few folks who knew she remained in the village respected her desire and kept the secret.  Most of them had small farms along the forests edge and didn't have enough meat for their families let alone any to trade or share, although occasionally they brought her a little milk and a few eggs.

The young man brought out an oily packet and unwrapped a few pieces of dried meat and a loaf of bread.

"I'd love to offer you some stew but I'm afraid this dried venison is all I have."  He offered a piece to her and she reached out hesitantly to take it but finally snatched it more quickly than she would have liked. 

"My name is Philip." the man said, smiling.  "I live on the other side of the forest.  Are you from the shire?"

When she refused to answer, only returning his gaze without indicating that she'd heard his question, he asked again. 

"Do you live around here?  What is your name?"  After a pause, he began to look discouraged.

"I'm afraid I'm not very good at interrogating young ladies.  Please forgive my rustic manners and allow me to begin again."  He reached out to take her hand.  Still drawn to the depth of his eyes, she raised her hand to his.  Taking it lightly, he bowed and brought the hand to his lips.  Dropping a slight curtsy in return, she pulled her hand away and hid it behind her back.  It had been a long time since anyone had treated her in such a gentlemanly manner.  She looked at the ground and began to rub the toe of her shoe across a bare spot on the forest floor.

"Ah, I can tell that you are a lady and have seen courtly manners before.  Now, I wonder where you belong.  Would you honor me by telling me your name?  May I take you to your home?" he asked anxiously.

Regaining her sense, she shook her head and again, backed away from the young man. Seeing the concern on her face, he too took a few steps backward.  As he did so his eyes never left hers and he proceeded to step into the fire, startling himself into tripping over the packs and sprawling across the clearing.  His horse whinnied in what sounded suspiciously like a laugh and trotted over to his master.  Grabbing him by the collar he dragged him away from the fire.  Although not hurt badly, aside from his pride, his hand had slid through the hot coals of the breakfast fire and blisters were already forming.  He quickly put the injured member in his mouth to cool the burn and turned to look sheepishly at Gweneth.

Seeing that he was hurt, she rushed to his side and took the hand in her own.  The burns weren't severe but painful nonetheless.  She knew just what to do.

"Stay here." she told him and quickly disappeared into the bushes toward the path.  As he watched her go, a small smile played across his face but quickly disappeared when his horse butted him with his head and whinnied a warning.

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