As she stepped foot into the village, the huntress looked for one face. His. No one else, just him.
She went through the street, people politely saying hello and she responding in kind but only halfheartedly.
She searched as she passed the bakers shop, his sweet tooth was not active today. She passed by the milliners shop hoping he had stopped by there. Giving up the chance to pass by him in the street she started home.
Her younger sister came up and wrapped her arm through the huntresses arms was babbling about the dance tonight in the village hall. A masquerade ball. Didn’t people wear enough masks?
She felt that these balls were a waste of her time. She had better things to do than put herself in a place she didn’t want to be and deal with boys she didn’t have interest in.
She would go, she was expected to go. There would be people watching the door waiting for her to walk in. Letting a huge sigh, she walked into the house, hugged her father and kissed her mothers smooth cheek.
“Girls, go up and start getting ready for the dance and I will be up later to assist you”.
The huntresses bath water had already been drawn in a pan and was sitting there on her bed waiting for her.
She removed her cape and laid it on the chair. She would not wear it tonight. Everyone in the place would know it was her. No tonight she would wear her black cape for that is how she felt. Black, void, as if she were nothing.
She went to the rail hanging on the wall and pulled the scarlet gown and laid it across the bed. Her mother had strongly suggested that she wear it. Not wanting to start a scene, she had agreed.
She stripped of her hunting togs and began to wash her face. She was somewhat grimy from being in the woods all day so the cool water felt nice on her skin.
She ran the cloth over the rest of her ivory skin feeling the heaviness of the day wash away as well. For just an instant she shivered as she washed her skin and assumed it was the temperature of the water causing it.
She wanted sleep. She wanted to just curl up in her bed and let her body rest. She knew her mind would not rest but a few minutes of relief for her body would have been welcomed.
Just as she finished drying the water droplets from her flesh, she heard the gentle tap, tap, tap on the door. She well knew that on the other side of the door her mother was waiting to help her into her corset and to slide the red dress over her head.
“Come in mother”, she said wearily. “We must hurry”, said her mother, “you mustn’t be late”. In her head the huntress was figuring a way to not go at all. She knew he would not be there. He did not attend such functions.
She allowed her mother to cinch the corset until it dug into her flesh. She was standing in front of the mirror and instantly saw the benefit of the garment and if allowed to wear just that and her hunting togs, she would have been fine. She did like corsets. She didn’t even try to deny that. That long, heavy dress, well that was another story.
Once she was dressed, she went down the steps almost too narrow for the dress she was wearing and met her sister at the bottom.
As they began their walk up the street, her sister was blathering on about the boys who wanted to dance with only her, she would comment from time to time but she was only attending this function because she was required to be there.
As was custom in the village, the dance where were people were paired up and it was unthinkable that the younger sister be mated up before the elder. That was a disgrace. Let it be, she thought, let it be.
She was not looking for a silly boy she needed to pretend with, she needed someone to encourage her to be herself and accept her as such. Someone who would allow the wanderlust in her soul to be free. Someone who allowed her to spread her wings and fly among the sparrows.
As they reached the hall, they pulled their masks over their faces. As she did, she felt a shiver of anticipation. Where had it come from? What if he were there? She had mentioned it in passing but never asked directly. That would have been unthinkable. She knew he would not come, she was just wishing her life away.
As the doormen opened the double doors, she stepped inside. She handed off her cloak to the attendant and began to walk toward the crowd milling about. She wanted to run. She needed air. She could not stand being among the group, although she knew each and every one, she needed space.
She turned to make a dash from the building when she collided with another body. Instantly, it reached out to steady her. She felt firm hands grip her shoulders gently as if she were a delicate rose. She looked up and for just an instant, she forgot to breathe.
As she gazed up at the face of the person, she knew she had never been safer in her life. It was him. He was here. He was holding her safe so that she did not do herself mischief and for a moment, all was right in her world.