I stood by the fire, hopelessly trying to get warm and considering how to get home. I knew Aunt Amelia and Uncle Isaac must be worried about me - I was worried about me!
I had just about gotten the tips of my fingers warm when I heard soft footfalls behind me. I gulped once and then slowly turned around for the first time since waking up. I saw the brightly colored caravan first. How had I not noticed that? Then she emerged from the thick brush and smiled at me. I think it was meant to comfort me but all it did was make me more anxious.
"Lost my dear?" the gypsy asked, her voice raspy in the still darkness.
"Um..." I wanted to just say no and run into the brush again. I may yet find my way before I froze but someone had to have lit that fire as I lay on the ground. "A little bit..."
"Well come along then." she reached out for me and I pulled back, stumbling over a rock and almost falling to the ground. She didn't seem to acknowledge my actions and kept walking toward her home. "Come along dear."
She had a cup of tea waiting for me when I finally followed her inside and I drank it gratefully. "Rest now deary, we'll get you home in the morning." In the warmth of the building, her voice sounded soft and gentle. I must have drifted off to sleep because when I opened my eyes again, I could see the rich hues of sunrise peeking over the horizon.
She was standing by the window, staring outside in some sort of a daze. "Um...thank you..." I ventured, taking a seat at the table. She turned in the direction of my voice but didn't respond.
"You live on the coast..." her voice sounded far away as she spoke. It was as if she wasn't speaking in this time and place.
"Um...not really..." I said thinking about the little cottage. The coast was a small ways away - in fact I think the Castle was the only house near the coast in the village. "The Delafords live inland..."
She didn't acknowledge my words, or even my presence. "The coast...and there is some sort of animal...a giraffe." Her brow furrowed as she focused on something only she could see. "Only it is not...hmm"
"Well I know we don't have any of those sorts of animals!" I protested. I wished I could see what she was seeing, assuming she we seeing anything at all and wasn't just making it all up. Maybe it would give me some sort of memory of my former life.
She grunted in response and started pacing around the small space. Following her movements wasn't difficult given how small the little caravan was but her circling was making me dizzy. Finally she stopped and put a hand on my arm, making me jump a little. "No, no that is all I can see just now..."
I stared at her hand for what felt like several minutes. It was speckled with spots of age and time in the sun. It looked like her skin clung directly on the bone. Beyond her I could see that creepy skull with the hollow eye sockets looking at me. It was all too much!
I pushed away from the table and she stumbled back as I ran from the caravan. I shouted my thanks again, just to be polite but they were lost in the wind. It was now full daylight out and I was sure I could find my way home without the help of the gypsy.
When I finally found my way back to the cottage, I collapsed into the waiting arms of Amelia. She held me and stroked my hair softly as Isaac got a bowl of stew for me. I remember apologizing dozens of times for running off the way I had. They didn't scold or reprimand me that night - I think they felt I'd scared myself enough so they didn't say much about it at all.
But it did come up eventually, weeks after the original event. "You know we love you right Su?" Amelia said, she sound unsure and anxious. "As if you were our own..."
"Of course!" I said.
"Good. When you ran off that evening...we were very worried for you and..." she hesitated.
"I am sorry about that. I wasn't thinking..." I couldn't really give a fair excuse for my actions.
"We just want you to know you're loved here." she said, she sounded a little sad as she said it and I wondered if she was thinking about her own daughter again. She smiled sadly and stroked my hair.
Despite Amelia's anxiety regarding George, I still waited anxiously to see him whenever he came around. I did try to be more aware of our activity and stayed closer to home. Instead of disappearing for hours across rambling fields, we would stay on the farm - albeit toward the back and mostly out of sight.
Although that first kiss was wonderful and tender, it soon led to George wanting more than a light kiss. He would hold me tightly and press his lips to mine roughly. I pushed him away from me and he would always look heartbroken. "Su...I thought..."
"Oh George, I just do not think we ought to do such things yet..." I said. Soon it seemed like every encounter ended like that and George and I started seeing each other less and less.
When Aunt Amelia came down sick, I very nearly forgot about George as I stayed by her side constantly. He stopped by once or twice with a basket from home for us but seemed anxious to leave almost as soon as he'd stepped into the cottage.
"Thank you." I said softly, taking the basket from him at the door this time. I wouldn't force him to come inside and feel obligated to talk to Uncle Isaac. It was just painfully awkward to watch the two of them.
The illness lingered on and I could tell Uncle Isaac was losing hope that she'd make a recovery at this but she did! Just when it seemed unlikely that she would break the fever, she woke up one morning feeling much better and smiling. "Oh dear - have you been nursing me all this time." she said grasping my hand.
"Of course I have Aunt." I said, sitting by her bedside.
"You're a good girl." she was still weak but she reached up and patted my cheek. "Good girl."
"Why don't you go get some fresh air Su." Isaac suggested. "You've been cooped up in this cottage for weeks and I think you could use it." Amelia seemed to agree so I nodded, giving her a light kiss on the forehead.
I wandered into the village and gave the good news about her recovery to a few people and looked in the various shops. I felt happy and relieved as I made my way back to the cottage.
When I stepped inside, nearly all the candles were out -either blown out or allowed to burn down to stumps. Uncle Isaac was sitting, unmoving, in one of the chairs and there was an eerie silence hanging in the air. "Uncle..." I whispered, afraid to speak too loudly as if everything would crumbled if the silence was shattered too abruptly.
He answered me with a racked sob and I knew. I knew that when I looked into their small room, into their bed; I knew that she'd be gone. Even knowing what I knew, when I saw her lifeless form in the bed I felt caught unawares. I sputtered and shook as I looked at her peaceful face.
After Aunt Amelia passed away, it wasn't uncommon to come into the cottage and find Uncle Isaac passed out on the floor. He would work until he very nearly passed out from exhaustion and would barely make it inside, let alone into bed.
This left all the household work and the farm to me. We didn't have a large farm by any means but it was a lot for just one person to manage. I had to cut back on some of the plants just to make inside in time to make dinner for Uncle and I.
I found comfort in George though. He'd come around after he'd heard about Amelia's passing and it was like old times. Although I couldn't steal away with him for hours at a time like before, I could count on him to be there just when I needed a comforting shoulder to lean on. He tried to help me on the farm as well when he wasn't busy with other jobs around the village.
"You are always here just when I need you." I said, leaning onto his shoulder. We were curled up together on the stack of hay we had behind the barn and it had been a particularly long morning since Uncle Isaac had been out cold when I woke up this morning. George had helped me get him into his bed and stayed for a bit of breakfast.
"Happy to be of service." George said smiling at me. He hand a strand of my hair wrapped around his finger and was playing with it as we spoke.
He leaned forward and his happy, innocent grin had transformed to that hungry smile I knew all too well. He was eager to kiss me...and to push for more. He hadn't really changed in the intervening time - in fact he'd become pushier lately. Part of me thought his help around the farm came at a price but I tried to keep that sad thought from my mind.
"George.." I said, pushing weakly against him.
"Su...you know I love you..." George said, pushing his lips against mine. "Why do you fight me so much?"
"I'm just...I do not think we should...it's not proper..." I protested, still trying to push him off me.
"You sound an awful lot like your Aunt." George said as he angrily got up and brushed hay off of him. He was already walking away when I'd blinked away the tears that had cropped up.
"George!" I called out meekly. I don't think I really wanted him to turn around but I wanted to try.
Months had passed since then and while George still insisted he loved me, I couldn't seem to say it back to him, which was odd since I'd felt like I'd loved him almost as soon as I'd seen him that first time years ago. He came around often but usually didn't stay too long anymore. That didn't bother me as much as it should. It freed me up for other activities. With the farm culled back a little bit, I was able to get away now and then for a walk through the country.
"Oh what beautiful apples!" I exclaimed as I came on a grove of various trees - including some apple trees. As if on cue, my stomach yearned for a bit of food as I looked upon the shiny red apples. I reached up and plucked a couple from the branches - Uncle Isaac loved apples and I hoped this would bring a smile to his usually sullen face.
"I do not think you're supposed to be picking those..." a deep male voice said. He sounded amused as opposed to angry as he said it so I didn't turn around right away. I was still trying to reach this one, particularly yummy looking apple.
Grabbing the apple firmly in my hands, I tugged and then turned toward the voice addressing me and found not one but two young men watching me. One looked bemused by me and the other looked annoyed.
I looked them both over twice and then saw the guards and entourage standing not too far off. Suddenly everything clicked in my mind and I dropped to the ground. "Oh your highnesses! My apologies!" I sputtered into the ground. I'm not sure they could even hear or understand me.
"Let's turn her over to the guards and let them deal with her. She's a thief after all..." the annoyed one said. He had a higher pitched voice than his brother.
"Now John, they're only apples and it isn't as if she took a whole bushel of them." the other said. I was still looking at the dirt, afraid to look up and unsure of what exactly was protocol in this situation.
John scoffed at the idea of letting me go without some sort of punishment but ultimately seemed to defer to his older brother. "As you say brother." he muttered. I heard him walking away and felt a hand on my shoulder.
"You can rise you know." the amused one said softly. I did stand up straight but couldn't meet his eyes. "These are royal lands - I do not mind who takes the apples but there are others who are not so forgiving miss."
My eyes were glued to his feet but I nodded. "Thank you your Highness." I was trying to recall everything Aunt Amelia had told me about the family and finally grasped on the name Adam...this was Prince Adam and the other, younger one, was Prince John.
"Can you find your way home now or do you need an escort?" he asked. I looked around nervously. I was sure I could find my way home but I was too flustered to figure out which way to go first. He chuckled softly again. "Well, where do you live?"
"Delaford farm." I answered automatically. "With my Uncle."
"Ah well then you'll want to go along that path." he pointed through the grove of trees. "Good day Miss."
I practically ran back down the path he'd indicated but didn't go to the cottage, I detoured to the village in search of George. The further I got from the Princes, the more excited I got about the chance encounter and I wanted to share it with someone. Uncle Isaac didn't show excitement for much of anything anymore so George was my next choice and I knew he'd be at the Inn helping the keeper tonight.
I threw open the door to the inn and stopped dead in my tracks.
I forgot about the Princes as I watched George flirt with the maid. I could have even managed to forgive that much if he hadn't kissed her as well!
She seems to like hanging around in her under clothes lol
Hey. you aren't supposed to be here Eowyn! lol