When I first wrote it, it was the best thing I had done. Now I can see that it was just a stepping stone, but it was an important one for me.
While it was important personally speaking, I doubt that I will ever be able to sell it. It's too long to be a fairytale and too short to be a novel and my writing still had a long way to go, when I wrote this.
Before this, mainly what I wrote were stiff, formal sounding fairy tales with tortured English. Some of that overly formal manner remains in this piece.
Also, I have to thank my editor friend for her work on this piece- she is responsible for straightening out a lot of my phrases and catching my repetitive grammar mistakes.
In order not to make massive blog posts, I'll share roughly three pages every other day or so. Anyway, I'll try that and see how it goes.
If she had known, she never would have taken hold of it. She should have known that any herb blossoming that late in the season and that deep in the wood couldn't do so naturally. Such a thing did not bode well for any mere peasant girl just wanting to get enough fire wood for dinner and then to return home before night fall.
But seeing that glimpse of green amid all the tawny browns of autumn, half hidden in a drift of leaves, she couldn’t resist. She took a sprig of it away in her hand.
Though the shadows of late fall, she hurried home, a bundle of firewood humped on her back. All around her there was only the sound of the leaves crunching under her feet and the sough of the wind in the empty branches.
A blur of movement caught her eye, a glow of white. Outlined against a slight clearing of trees, she saw a great buck standing, his rack of antlers blurred into the bare branches of the trees around him. In that moment it seemed as if his antlers were as vast and tangled as the forest itself. And then he was gone again, turning with a flash of his white tail into the deeper woods.
The girl made the sign of the cross, and turned back to her task. Her feet were bare and calloused, her steps sure and steady. She wore only a dirty cotton shift with a rough woolen smock over it, dyed nut brown and unevenly hemmed by her own hand. Her hair was bound up in a gray handkerchief, but strands of her dark hair had fallen out and lay limp with sweat against her neck.
Her father waited at home, wizened and old before his time. His body broken by the unlucky fall of an ox, his days were spent hunched by the ashen hearth, drinking what he could barter or beg. Anger would take him sometimes, with no warning, and he would scream at her, the spittle flying from his slack lips. He had broken most of the crockery her mother had used when she was alive.
He and his daughter were serfs, bound in servitude to the lord of that land. Their labor belonged to him. For years now, since childhood, she had bent her body to the work her father should have done in the fields. She had tended as well to the small strip of land that was theirs, to grow what they would eat during the winter, the beans and barley.
Deep in the woods, at the end of autumn, the twilight falls hard and fast. One moment, the sky is full of a pale, pewter blue and the next the shadows have over flung the light, poured out shadow all over the shifting leaves.
The darkness of the forest began to lighten a little as she reached its edge. The girl lifted her head, thinking of the dinner she must make when she reached home, a simple pottage, the last of the barley bread.
At first, in the dim light, she thought he was another tree, so still did he stand. Then he raised his arm and beckoned. Her eyes focused and her heart sank, for she knew she must be standing before a great lord.
Despite her heavy load, she dropped into a trembling, clumsy curtsy. He stood, his back straight and strong, arms folded against his chest. He wore a sleeveless, copper studded brigandine with a dark shirt under, but around his neck and sleeves he wore white and in the dim light, the white glowed.
“Good evening, my lord,” she said.
“You have taken something of mine.”
“I assure you, my lord, I could not have,” she whispered, her fear growing.
“What is that in your hand?” he asked sternly.
She looked down, her eyes wide, forgetting for a moment what it was. She opened her trembling fingers and there in her palm lay the sprig of rosemary. The herb lay now limp from the heat of her hand, its grassy, spicy scent filling the chill air.
“It’s just rosemary, my lord,” she stammered.
“The woods are mine and so is the rosemary mine. Who sent you into these woods, to steal from me?”
“I must go, for my father is crippled…”
“Come into the light, girl,” he commanded abruptly.
She made her halting way out of the last of the trees. They stood upon a shorn field. Looking west toward the red sunset, she could see her village, the dark shapes of thatched roofs, thin spirals of smoke wafting up into the darkening sky. She heard the faint echo of someone’s voice calling, drifting up over the hills.
In the better light, the lord’s face came into focus, revealed itself to be narrow and hard planed. His eyes glittered from the deeper shadows around them, and shadows lay under the bones of his cheeks. The lines of his eyebrows were hard and straight, as was the line of his jaw.
The lord took the girl’s chin in his hand and tilted her face up, startling her. She let go of the cord in her surprise and firewood cascaded down behind her. Giving a cry of alarm, she tried to turn to catch it.
“Leave it,” he commanded, releasing her “You must come with me now.”
“But my father!”
"You are forfeit to me. No other has a greater claim to you now.”
There was no recourse for her, whatever law or justice there might be in those lands belonged to him. Abandoning the scattered firewood, she turned her back to the faint lights of her village and followed the lord into the dark of the eastern horizon.
Over the darkening hills rose the sickle moon, bright and pitted. The stars began to fill the sky as they walked. To her left she could make out the Ursa Minor, above him Delphin’s arch shown out. Just ahead of her was the bright star spray of the Saer. The cold deepened and she shivered, wrapping her arms around her body.
They reached the hills and plunged into the woods that lay thick around them. The lord was like a cat in the dark and never put a foot wrong, though the ground was hard and frozen, and the woods thick. The girl followed so close after him that she could smell the scent of him, the sweet, smoky scent of sandalwood and cloves.
After they had walked for a long time in the dark, lights appeared before them though the trees and then the trees fell away. They stood before a great stone gate, lit by lanterns upon each side.
The embossed doors of some dark, polished wood swung open at their approach, revealing a cobblestone court yard, the stones of many shades of gray and all lit by lanterns. At the far end rose a great tower with all the windows lit. To either side of the tower were low buildings, storage buildings and stables.
The front doors of the tower were swung open, men at arms standing to either side. The open doors revealed a wide central hall with a great, curving staircase rising up to the second floor. There were doors around the outside of the stair, closed now, some of them barred.
The lord led her up the stairs into the hall on the second floor. The stone floor of this hall was covered with eastern carpets of red, green and cream, robin’s egg blue and marigold. The ceiling was high and crossed by dark beams. Here the doors to left and right were open and there was the smell of fresh bread, roast meat and cinnamon.
The lord flung open a door and gestured for the girl to go in. Within the small room was a wooden tub of water, before the fire place. There were thick towels piled upon a wooden chair. A sheepskin lay on the floor beside the tub and glass bottles stood gathered nearby, filled with bath oils.
“Wash,” he commanded, “or you won’t eat. Toss your old clothes into the fire to be burned.”
He left, drawing the door shut behind him.
He left, drawing the door shut behind him.