Four years ago, almost to the day, I wrote a short story (very short) inspired by a movie I fell in love with. I took those characters and made them my own, if only for a very brief time, and eventually let go again.
I re-read it today, and felt equally embarrased by the writing, my inner-critic groaning and cringing at the romantic drivel that came from my Mind’s Eye, not fit to be published. It was a fun, light piece, meant to make me smile when I was having trouble smiling. I was writing very selfishly then, as I look back.
yet I am slightly sad, thinking of how much time I used to have for writing, that I don’t anymore, and how much I miss creating characters that become like family members. And as I re-read it again, I remembered the process I had creating this character, her situation and ideas, and all the emotions of that time in my life came to the surface. It was a very pivotal time in my life. It was a couple of years B.H.A.B (Before husband and baby) and I was about to make a leap from one phase of my life to the next, unknowingly.
So… *deep breath* I am going to be courageous, and post it here to share (after a few tweaks and edits, of course… darn you Inner-Critic). I’m not sure why, I had adesire to do so, and perhaps put to bed some of the ghosts I have been carrying forward, hiding between the lines of this story.
He is there, just ahead of me in the marketplace. His broad shoulders and back are standing out in the crowd, the pattern on his leather vest curling over the rippled material, moving as he laughs amongst a group. I can always spot him in a crowd, surrounded by the men.
Well… not men… Warriors. Knights.
I can see a puckered, red scar run in behind his shoulder, disappearing under the edge of the armhole. I see another one run down his neck in the same fashion. It is all I can do not to lift my hand and pretend to trace them from where I am standing.
But, he turns, and now I am a statue. I cannot move, and my eyes cannot tear away from him. My sister notices and jabs my ribs with her fingers. I slap at her hand, but I do not turn my gaze. He smiles and turns to one of his companions, pointing at us.
“Here now, stop staring.” She says as she piles out more food from baskets. “S’unladylike.”
If only I could! I snap back to the present, and arrange baking out in front of us in the tiny, cramped booth we share. I can feel my skin heating, I know I am blushing scarlet red. Damn my shyness! It will make a fool of me when they arrive in front to look at our wares.
One side of our booth is covered in spun and knitted clothing for sale, the other with bread and sweets. We have all manner of apparel, including these things called socks, that a traveller from Byzantium showed us how to knit when he stopped to ask for shelter. The Roman soldiers love these socks, and wear them in their sandals during the cold seasons. We sell so many! I wonder idly, as I concentrate on them to regain myself, if he would enjoy a pair under his big, hobnailed riding boots. I would make them a golden yellow, to match his hair. Or a rich blue, to match his eyes.
I am folding a scarf when I see a shadow cross the tabletop. I stop and look up, my hands stilling. He is smiling at me, and it is all I can do to put the scarf down and not hide behind something, my heart beating so hard it will come through my chest at any moment.
My sister, as is her way, fluffs out her hair and thrusts her bosom up out of the flimsy fabric of her dress. She pushes me out of the way. Our father always says her breasts are what sell more sweets than hungry stomachs. She leans forward and winks at him. One of his companions peeks over his shoulder with mischievous eyes and a toothy grin. He is a charmer. I can see my sister take a step back and lift her eyes to him.
Who’s staring now? I think to myself waspishly. Always she plays this game with this man until he wins and she goes to him. How many times has she come home sobbing when he has brought another girl onto his lap once he is finished with her? She will never learn. But I can understand. He is devilishly handsome, and his smile could melt the snow on top of the mountains.
“Hello Sirs. What can we help you with today then?” My sister purrs.
There is a whole group of them gathering. I curtsey and return to arranging our wares as they gather themselves in front of her. No doubt to stare at my her bosom, which she is affectionately throwing out over the baking. They’ve got a good look at her now. She’ll be warming a bed by evening, and crying in mine by morning.
Not that being seen with a knight does any harm to her reputation.
These men are legends among our people, not real. They are God-like in their feats of bravery, and lifted in stories around village fires like deities that will be worshipped for eternity. I loved the stories as a child, listening to the elders talk about Arthur and his great knights. Lancelot and Tristan, Dagonet, Owain, Perceval, Galahad, Bedwyr… The stories we heard growing up, the battles they fought, the brave deeds they accomplished.
And Gawain. Always I would make my father tell me the story of Gawain and the evil Green Knight over and over. Laughing and jumping about when he would come to the part where Gawain had slain the man with a stroke of his sword. His mighty sword swung from arms like tree trunks. From shoulders that could move boulders. Such strength as to crush a man’s skull with his hand.
Legends, I remind myself as I look at him from under my eyelashes. These men seem real enough to me now. Flesh, blood. Not like the Gods they are praised to be, and the ones I once heralded as such, when just a small girl, them just boys fresh into service. But all the same, I feel awed and I know I am blushing again. I can feel it creeping up my face. Well… awed and, especially for him, an unrequited desire.
I am reminded of the first time they came by our booth, a rowdy bunch, fresh off horses and smelling of one. I remember his hand touching mine just briefly as he put the coin in my upheld palm, and picked a round of bread out of the basket in front of me. I think it was then I fell in love with him. I didn’t know who he was.
The next time he came around, he asked me what my name was. And then he told me his. I nearly fainted, which my sister will never let me forget. Every time since then, he has come by, we have shared small talk, he has bought bread, and touched my hand with his coin, smiling, sharing a quick glance across our tables. It is the closest I have ever come to intimacy with a man and I realize I am hopelessly gone in my daydreams of him between our meetings, spurred by those brief touches.
If he knew, he would think I was mad in the head. I’m sure of it.
I pretend to be busy as he comes over to my side of the booth. He pretends to look over some of the spinning, but I see his eyes sneaking back to my sister’s bosom. Of course, I have nothing to offer in that department. I am neither buxom nor swan-hipped. My mother calls me “twiggy”, my father tells me I have a seamstress’ body, and Both hope that I will grow into something more comely. They hope in vain. I am already five and twenty. I am done growing.
I don’t mean to, but I sigh loudly and bend over to fix a tie on my sandal as my sister giggles and swats playfully at one of the other knights. Her boldness irks me, moreso today than usual.
I straighten and feel a thrill run through my body as his voice resonates. It’s deep, and rich, and full. So with an inward push that would rival the bravery of these knights, I look to him and attempt composure.
He is standing, hands on the edge of our booth, leaning casually, a glint of amusement in his eye. It’s enough to relax me, at least right now. If he speaks again I may just jump out of my skin. And my sister would laugh. She is now feeding small bits of sweetmeat to her favorite knight with her fingers. The corner of my eye catches another man in the group, watching and crossing his arms.
I just know he is waiting his turn. He won’t get it.
“Your sister seems to like him.” He says, his voice rumbling into my ears again. I relax. Somehow, with him this close to me, I feel my inhibitions leaving me, maybe just a little bit. I nod and, much to my chagrin, snort, crossing my arms and leaning on the other side of the booth to mirror him, turning my head to look towards my sister, where his eyes have now travelled.
“My sister likes his attentions.” I say, then immediately regret it. He will think I am a bitter spinster. I twist my lips woefully.
He has smiled, Gods but he has smiled! And his eyes crinkle. I smile again, the warmth from him making it impossible not to do so. His hair has come forward, dangling loose. He gives an irritated growl and flings it back over his shoulder as he turns back to me.
I have an idea.
Since my hair is equally as long, I have taken to making leather thongs, that are held by sticks, or pieces of bone my brother finds and brings home. I had been working on one in the evenings by the fire. Somehow, suddenly, I think that he should have the one I just finished last evening. It was him I would think of as I carved the picture on its face. A lion, fierce and proud. Much like him, or as I would envision him in battle against the Green Knight.
I dig into my pocket and produce the thing.
“Here, try this. To hold you hair back.”
He tilts his head at me, then gently picks it out of my fingers, rolling it about, looking at it from all angles.
“How does it work?”
So I pull it back, my shyness gone as I show how the bone spike goes through the holes when the hair is wrapped under the leather. He furrows his brow and I can’t help but laugh at his expression. He laughs then too, and the world stops. I have caught his eyes, and feel the blush coming for a third time. We stand for what seems like forever. He traces the carvings on the top with his fingers while I hold it.
“This is very pretty. It should be in a pretty girl’s hair, not my filthy mat.”
My heart has ceased to beat. I don’t know what to say. My hand has stilled with the thing in it, forgotten. But he hasn’t. He takes it back.
“Turn around then.” He says matter-of-factly.
So I turn, and I can feel his hand touch my shoulder as my back is turned. The shock through me, the heat from it, I can feel goosebumps under my dress. My hair is being gathered up behind me, and I feel the snugness of the tie as he binds my hair at my nape. When he is done I can feel a coldness from where his fingers brushed the back of my neck, his hands now gone.
I know I am blushing. Any more red and I could be the breast feathers of a robin! I reach back and touch my hair with my hand, then turn in place, hands outstretched. He smiles and we both stop, our eyes meeting once more, but this time, I feel something more is transpiring.
“What do you think?” I ask, wanting to break the silence. He reaches forward and runs a finger just under my jaw, his eyes so warm and inviting. He is leaning towards me and I lean forward into his touch, feeling myself turn to liquid fire. We are mere breaths away from each other, and the world around us has gone silent and still.
“I was right. It is a pretty piece,” He says quietly and then winks. “For such a pretty girl.”
I blink, and he straightens. He holds out a hand. “Walk with us.”
Without thinking, I have abandoned my apron, and stepped out from behind the booth. My sister is spluttering as I leave, Gawain meeting me at the side doorway, his eyes dancing playfully.
He told me I was pretty.
For the first time in my life, as he hold my hand aloft and helps me around the table, I feel that way.