From somewhere far off, I heard the footsteps. I could hear the crunch of leaves and gravel as someone approached but this person seemed so very far away. Surely I didn't have to open my eyes just yet.
Besides, it hurt too much to think. It hurt to much to even consider opening my eyes. It just hurt.
"Oh my...what have we..." his voice sounded surprisingly close to me considering how far away he'd been before. Had he run over? Had I drifted off? Sleep sounded so good right now.
Oh wait, he was calling someone over. Perhaps now would be a good time to open my eyes. I didn't even know who had found me. Or where I was...
Somewhere in my mind I knew that was something I should be concerned with - where was I? But the more I laid there in the dark, the more my mind wondered. I realized there was a far more important question.
WHO was I?
I was vaguely aware of a hurried conversation taking place over me as I considered this very important fact. I should know who I was shouldn't I? But the more I concentrated, the more frustrated I became. I couldn't even pick something as simple as a name from my mind!
Warm arms were cradling my body and lifting me up. Now was really the time to open my eyes and let them know I was fine. Except I wasn't fine! Not really.
The soft breeze that had been caressing my skin before, was replace by the warm embrace of the indoors. I felt myself being lowered and placed on a soft surface of some sort. My thoughts, now distracted from the alarming lack of memories, returned to the heavy throb in my head. And sleep.
I don't know how long I slept, I'm not sure I even did sleep but the air around me was warm and comforting - more so than it had been on the cold ground before. I heard the rustle of paper and the crackle of a fire. It was both terrifying and fascinating that I could recognize these sounds but still couldn't recall my name or anything about myself.
With some reluctance and fear, I opened one eye just a sliver and then the other. I was in a small home of some sort. My mind kept settling on the word "rustic" but I couldn't tell you why. An older man was sitting nearby reading while his wife, at least I assume she was his wife, was cooking something over the fire.
Unable to stall much longer, I slowly rose and gave an exagerated stretch as if I'd just woken up from a long winter's nap.
"Ah, there you are deary!" the woman said, relief crossing her features. "It is good to see you awake."
"Yes, you gave us a fright." the man chimed in, setting his book aside. "How do you feel? You hit your head I think..."
I rubbed the sore spot on my head and nodded slowly. "I think so..." I said quietly.
"Well I, for one, am glad you're awake now. Perhaps we can get you back to your family now - sorry to say I did not recognize you or I would have had Isaac take you home right off." the woman said. "Where abouts do you live dear?"
What small hope I'd clung to that these people might be able to give me back my identity vanished in a puff of smoke. I looked between them and shook my head finally, "I don't really know..." I explained to them that I couldn't seem to remember anything really and they both looked at me with a great deal of pity and perhaps a bit of fear.
"Well well, we have an extra bed you can sleep in until we can set things to right..." the man was the first to offer, though his wife looked less willing to house me as a guest at first. "I am Isaac, and this is my wife Amelia by the way." Amelia nodded reluctantly but offered to show me to the bed in question.
"It's not much..." she said, not looking directly at me. I noticed her eying my clothing nervously and after having seen how she and Isaac dressed, I imagined I was quite a sight. "Your clothing is quite...peculiar for these parts..." I didn't know how best to respond seeing as I didn't know which parts I may have come from. Was this the fashion where I was from or had I been robbed on the path or something?
"Our daughter..." she paused and looked heavenward. Her face was a picture of sadness for a moment as she recalled some memory I wasn't privy to, "we have some old things of hers you might use - just while you are here.."
Finding out to whom I belong seemed like it ought to be a simple enough prospect but days wore into weeks and months. Still, no one recognized me and not even the barest of memories came forth. Unwilling to simply call me "girl" forever, Amelia had given me the name of Sue - after her daughter actually. While we'd gotten off to a rocky beginning, we'd become very close in the intervening months.
I tried to help her our as much as I could around the house and in the garden but I didn't seem to have a green thumb like she did. Still, I could pick fresh vegetables and carry them inside for her. I fed the animals and hung out the laundry. The three of us had settled into a fairly normal routine - of course anything was normal to me at this point.
Still, it all seemed off to me - like these daily chores should be easier or there ought to be more to occupy our time than tending the land and keeping house. I couldn't explain why it felt this way - just that it did. I tried to push these pesky thoughts from my mind though and focus on the new family I had acquired, while trying not to think about the family I probably lost. We're they looking for me? Did they miss me? Maybe there was no family, maybe I was an orphan and no one was missing me or cared...
These thoughts, and others, swam through my mind as I became accustomed to life on this little farm, in this little cottage. There was a village not to far away. And then there was the castle. I saw it often and wondered freely about the inhabitants. Amelia and Isaac told me about the King and Queen and the two Princes. They told me all the recent history of the land and I was fascinated by it all. I wanted nothing more than to meet them and see inside the luxurious halls of the castle - though that seemed unlikely.
But in lieu of Princes, I had George. I'd been on the farm for a couple months when I first saw him passing by. He didn't look like her was going to stop until he looked over at me and caught my eye. He looked away and then looked back, this time looking curious. After looking around as if to be certain he was where he thought he was, he crossed the small dirt path and approached.
"I didn't know the inventor had a daughter..." he said as a was of introduction.
"Oh I'm not their daughter..." I said blushing slightly. Shortly after my arrival, we'd all agreed on a story to explain my presence. I tried to ask why we couldn't simply tell the truth - surely doing so would garner more response about my situation - but Isaac and Amelia assured me that it was for the best. "Mrs. Delaford is my aunt." I lied.
"Ah, that might be why I have not seen you before. I would have remembered you." George said, leaning a little closer to the fence railing. He had a playful smile on his face. "I'm George Henley, if it pleases you..."
"Pleasure to meet you Mr. Henley." I said with a bashful smile. I wasn't typically this shy I don't think but George had a way about him - plus he was one of the few people I'd met that was my own age at this point. Embarrassed by my own shyness, I pretended as if I'd heard Amelia calling and made some excuse to George and ran off.
"Might I have your name?" he called after me but I only smiled and waved him off.
That night I mentioned the encounter to Amelia while tending the fire and she was smiling as I described how shy I'd been. "Oh George is a good boy..." she said.
Knowing that she knew him, I started peppering her with questions about him. She indulged my curiosity and told me just about everything she knew about him. He had a couple younger sisters and often worked at the various farms as a hired hand during harvest or just doing odd jobs to help his family. His mother, who was born in a higher station than his father, had taught him how to be a gentleman even if he wasn't have noble blood.
I laid in bed for hours thinking about him and replaying that initial encounter. Various scenarios about what I could or should have said played threw my mind and I was unable to fall asleep. Finally I gave up and pulled out the small bound book Isaac had given me the week before to try and banish the thoughts from my mind with the stories of someone else.
Thankfully that wasn't the last time I saw him. He came around often on his way into the village or too another farm and would stop at the cottage. Eventually I told him my name - or at least the one I'd been given by the Delafords - and we began a friendship.
"Uncle Delaford brought home a new horse last week but she's a bit wild.." I said, grasping at anything that might keep him here a little longer. I knew from Amelia's stories that he was good with animals.
"Can I see her?" he asked, taking my feeble bait. With a nod and a smile, I showed him back to the stables.
Isaac was tinkering at the work bench he had set up back there and nodded to us as we came in. "Come to see the new mare eh?" he asked. "She's as gentle as a lamb..."
I blushed a dozen shades of red and looked down at the hay strewn floor. My little white lie had just come back to get me. I could hear soft, gentle chuckling coming from George but didn't dare look up at him. My cheeks were still flaming in embarrassment.
Finally we left the stable, my eyes were still firmly planted on my feet. I couldn't bring myself to look up even if it meant I'd walk into a tree in the process. "Perhaps...would you like to take a walk with me tomorrow?" George was shuffling his feet a bit, since I didn't want to look up I didn't see that he was also blushing some.
I nodded toward the ground and he laughed again. "Is that a yes?" Finally I brought my eyes up to meet his and nodded again, this time so he could see it. "Good.."
George and I walked about the countryside a lot after that. Amelia expressed a little unease about it - seeing as we were unchaperoned during this walks - but she agreed anyway.
I got lost often but George always found me again. "You really don't know you're way around do you?" he asked with a teasing laugh. "Come on, I'll show you..."
"Where are you taking me today George?" I called over the tall grass. I knew he was there, within arms reach, but I couldn't see him. I could only hear the shuffle of the grass as he walked.
"You'll see soon enough." he called back, I imagined him smiling and laughing as he said it.
When we came to a clearing, there was a fire pit next to colorfully painted caravan. It looked like the home of a gypsy and I probably jumped in surprise as I took it in. There wasn't this much color in the whole village it seemed and here it was, all on one little building.
I'd lost track of George as I took in the colors and when I turned toward him, he was no longer there. I found him staring into the fire pit, lost in some sort of thought. "What's the matter?"
"Oh.." he looked at me and smiled. "Nothing." With a flourish he spun around and motioned to the caravan. "What do you think? The old gypsy lives in there..."
"Oh my...well then I don't suppose we ought to be here." I said, suddenly anxious that she would pop out of the caravan or materialize out of the grass.
"She's harmless, parlour tricks mostly I think...but if you want to go..." his hand brushed mine for a moment and we both pulled back, a little embarrassed by the contact.
"I wouldn't want to impose..." I said, looking away from him.
"Then we shall go. I'll walk you home." he offered. I smiled at him and nodded. We started back toward the path - not the way from which we'd come.
I didn't hear her approach and didn't even know she was there...
Until she cleared her throat. "Come children...come inside and warm yourselves before you depart..." she offered. There was nothing malicious or frightening about her offer but still, I recoiled from her a bit.
For his part, George looked excited about the prospect of seeing inside the caravan. "Come on Su, it will be fun..." he took my hand and practically dragged me toward the gypsy.
She motioned us inside and I tried to keep the swirl of emotions off my face but when I saw the skulls and various other items hanging there, I couldn't help but want to turn and run the other direction. "I shan't hurt you deary." she said, I could feel her breath on my neck she was so close to me. I shivered. "Come, sit..." she motioned us to the little stools at her table.
She barely looked at George, her eyes were fixed on me and I couldn't make myself look back at her. Something about her gave me the creeps, or maybe it was the skull sitting a few precious feet away. Was it real?
"You've been touched by a gypsy before my dear haven't you?" she said finally.
George looked at me curiously. I looked at her in surprise. I had?!
Outtake (only one this time since I needed some particular pictures - not as much time for them to run around doing weird stuff lol)