The Lady's Beloved

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The boat shifted listlessly on the dark water of the lake. An eerie calm hovered on the water and through the hushed spring wood along the bank. Unperturbed by the stillness, the Lady’s eyes wandered across the fast fading morning mist, picking out the familiar shapes of trees and reeds. Rocking slightly on an unseen current, the black boat felt like home. Built by a master craftsman at the behest of her father, fashioned with the meticulous precision only money could buy, the glossy black wood was inlaid with filigree and obscure Latin phrases. A painted gold curl adorned the prow of the boat, pretentious bordering on gaudy. Like many of her father’s purchases, the boat and all its ornamentation served the single purpose of proclaiming her father’s importance.

She shifted her slim hips and stretched her spine, with small movements to keep the boat still. Even with heavy quilting, the seat cover under her did not stave off the hardness of the wooden seat. After an hour of sitting no amount minor shifting could return the feeling to her hind end. The Lady leaned forward slightly, wishing desperately for some distraction from her seat.

Two thrushes flirted through the warm, muggy air, perching on a stand of cattails and reeds. Their song trilled through the air, piercing the calm and startling the Lady which subsequently rocked the boat sending black ripples across the lake. From across the lake, another thrush called, and from off to her right yet another, causing the momentary joy in her heart to freeze in place. A third call? In four months, never had another thrush come to this lake in the morning. Always these two thrushes singing to each other, and then the second call from across the lake followed by stillness and then the soft splash of oars signaling her Beloved had come. Slowly she looked to the right from where the sinister third call had come.

The sun, risen in full, burned away the morning mist, but still the mist lingered in the shadows and recessed places along the bank. Shivering despite the warmth in the morning, the Lady peered deeply into the shadows, longing to see nothing yet knowing – knowing! – somewhere lay hiding a cause for heartache and fear. Forestalling tears, yet knowing they would come, she lifted her chin with dignity and pride, waiting for whatever may come. She heard the familiar soft splash of an oar in the water followed by silence at the coming boat glided through the somber silence of the morning. From the shrouding mist the boat emerged, plain, unadorned, the kind of boat any many could buy for a small price. Her heart thrilled at the sight of the boat and the hooded man steering it.

From a distance he was nothing, a common man in a common boat on a common errand. But beneath the dull brown cloak, curls of brown hair untempered by oils or powder, flashing blue eyes the color of the sky at noon in the summer, a rugged but handsome face made of angles and planes and tanned by unrelenting work in the sun. The sight of him brought forth the memory of his scent, musky and dry but clean and honest, unlike the heady perfumes men of stature wore. Her pulse quickened at the memory of his worn, rough hands on her hips and the heat of his body as he drew her close, and for a moment she forgot any peril awaiting them. The coarseness of his unshaven cheeks, the softness of his voice whispering her name, the freedom that came with his embrace. Her life was myriad of restrained moments and stifled passions. Except with him. With him her life was the wind, soft and sweeping or a screaming gale, a tempest. He asked no restraint of her and mocked her when she tried to assuage her love for him in the name of decorum.

Her focus on him she did not see the archer slide out from the shadows. The beating of her own heart drown out the quiet step into shallow water and the keening sigh of a drawn string. The unmistakable thrum of an arrow released was her only warning and the splash of the oar was the sound of her despair. Crumbling over the side of the boat, her Beloved fell with an ungainly splash.

Her chin still lifted in indifferent elegance, she smoothed her face of her horror and grief, refusing to turn to see the archer disappear back into the wood. She sat for another hour with her unrelenting heartache, watching as the empty boat drifted aimlessly across the black of the water.