She told me she needed to see me. I didn’t give it a second thought.
She snuck away from the palace and I left my family sleeping in our tiny cottage, my baby brother all hooves and knees next to my mother on her sleeping pallet on the dirt floor. The house still seemed too empty without my father. This week marked six months since his death, and grief weighed on every one of us.
I tiptoed out onto the cobblestoned streets, knowing full well that my hooves were too loud on the stones. I didn’t exhale until I hit the dirt path, and then I ran.
We were to meet at what we called the Crossroads, one path leading to our prisons inside the village walls, and the other leading to the freedom of the river. I slowed to a walk half a mile from our meeting place, knowing I was early. But as I neared the fork in the road I saw the she had beat me to it again. Downwind from me, she didn’t sense my presence.
I studied her, the princess of the Centaurs.
Face tilted up at the moonlight and blacker than pitch, she was nearly invisible in dark. But the scant light of the moon didn’t lie. Her beauty was written in the curve of the line from the crown of her head to the base of her tail, the seamless transition from ivory skin to velvet coat, and the way her hair tumbled down her back in raven waves that were all silk and obsidian. She stood with one hoof lifted, totally relaxed, waiting for me. She took my breath away.
“Sierra,” I whispered into the night.
Her head snapped around to me, and her smile tore my heart with longing.
“Quinn. You’re late,” she teased. ”Ready?” She grabbed my hand and took off. We galloped down the hill, our speed and momentum sending us careening into the woods. Elated to be away from the scrutiny of everything and everyone, we whooped and bucked like foals, full of the night.
We slowed as the woods got dense, and followed the river’s gentle song to its bank. She lowered herself to the sand right on the edge of the water, and made herself a ghost in the forest that only I could see. I sat next to her, tucking my legs under me. Her green eyes were far away.
I trailed my fingers through her hair, marveling at the softness and the subtle scent of jasmine that played in the strands. She leaned in to my touch and I met her halfway, my lips pressing against hers like they were made for it. My arms looped around her waist and her hands met at the back of my neck. Kissing her was like being wrapped in the rhythm of our crashing hearts, so alive.
But our rhythm shattered and her hands were on my shoulders and her tears were on my face and she said, “Stop,” and then, “I’m sorry.” She covered her face with her hands and sobbed, and I crushed her to me, as if I held her tight enough I could fix whatever was broken.
“What’s wrong?” I asked after she was calm.
“They have chosen.” More unshed tears glistened in her eyes. “I can’t,” she said.
“You’ve been promised to someone?” The words sounded wrong in my mouth, as if she was a trinket to be bartered. She was so much more than that.
“To the prince in Cain.”
“Cain?” The desert. Thousands of miles from here. I’d never see her again.
“Father says it is a good match. I believe the word he used was ‘lucrative.”’ The words were mocking.
“It’s not fair,” I said, my own voice bitter.
She chuckled once, the sound sharp and hard, nothing like the petal soft laugh she saved for when I made her dance with me or attacked her face with kisses.
I didn’t know what to say, because I loved her. I wasn’t supposed to. She was never mine to love. But there we were, fingers laced in the darkness with only the moon to witness whatever we were.
“I’m not going,” she said firmly, staring hard at the shallow riverbed. “I’m not going to Cain. I won’t marry a desert stranger so my father can be richer while his people die in mines and starve in the street. I won’t do it.” I couldn’t look at her as she told my family’s story so plainly.
“What will you do then?” I ask. Her words were brave, but their truth was precarious.
“I’m leaving. Tonight. I only need a year, and then I’ll be free to do as I choose. In a year I’ll be eighteen, and I’ll come back. I’ll come back, and I’ll change everything.” Her eyes blazed in the darkness and I knew she was serious. Her face was all shadows and tears and brazen hope that maybe she could control her fate. I wanted to kiss her again.
“Where? Where will you go?”
“To Roan. I’ll work in their bakery, or maybe get a blacksmith’s apprenticeship.” Ovens and bellows, prefect for a lover of fire.
I exhaled loudly. Roan was still days away from here, a poor town close to the coast, with enough traffic that a solitary girl would never be noticed. The last place anyone would ever look for her.
She turned from me and pulled a rucksack out of the bracken. She was really going.
“I’ll come with you.” I closed the gap between us, our faces only inches apart.
She smiled, but those unshed tears finally fell from her eyes like tiny stars. She brought a hand to my face. “You know you can’t leave your family.”
Her words were true. They would starve without the meager coins I got from assisting the fletcher. I’d throw the arrows away in a heartbeat to follow her if not for my mother and brother sleeping just a few miles away. The needed me, but I needed her.
“I know,” I said. A tear slipped down my face. She wiped it away with cool fingers. “Don’t go.” My voice was pleading, but the words were so weighted that I didn’t care about their desperation. “Stay. Stay here. We’ll think of something. We’ll tell them. About us. Please? Just stay.” I wrap my arms around her again, knowing none of my words would work.
“You know they would kill you. This is forbidden. I wouldn’t have a say. I will not be the death of you, Quinn Taylor. I love you.”
And there they were. The words we danced around. Showing each other in touches and glances and time, but never out loud. We were never supposed to love each other, she a Fresian princess and I a poor Haflinger who didn’t have two coins to rub together. “I love you, too.”
She just nodded, and kissed me so that our tears mixed and our lips started a fire that sang in my veins and wrenched through my chest. She stepped back, smiling bravely, twining her fingers with mine and squeezing once before letting go.
She turned from me and stepped into the river, knowing it would cover her scent and her prints. It would lead her to Roan, and far away from here.
“Sierra,” I said. But I had no other words that wouldn’t hurt the both of us, so I just looked at her looking back at me. I wouldn’t say goodbye.
“I know,” she said.
I watched her disappear into the night, until the sounds of her footsteps were swallowed by the river, and the moon and I were the only ones left in the woods. I knew that I would fall towards her forever.
Stay tuned for Rebecca’s answer to this prompt on Wednesday. Follow us on Twitter to get updates and news.