My horse's, hooves thudded and clopped along the cobblestones. She snorted as heavy droplets of rain began to fall from the sky. They pitter-pattered on the stone, gentle rhythms in stark contrast with those of Copper's walking. Windows were closed and laundry was removed from lines on balconies above us, the city was retreating into itself for the coming downpour. A thin mist rose from the cobblestones and began to snake its way through the streets. Copper's hooves split it as they trotted though. I smiled at the sky, enjoying the feeling of the rain softly falling to my face, trusting Copper to know the way home, I let go of the reins and spread my arms, letting the rain wash over me.
Copper snorted in surprise and twisted her ears in the direction of the sound, pawing the ground nervously. I flinched and fumbled for the reins, pulling them up and trying my best to prevent Copper from spooking.
My younger sister, Mabel appeared from the shadows in a narrow alleyway. She was looking up at me curiously with those gigantic brown eyes of hers, a black umbrella firmly clasped in her hands,
"Vivian, what are you doing?" She inquired, the breeze ruffling the short sleeves of her baby blue and white dress. I slid myself off Copper's saddle, and led her over to Mabel.
"What am I doing? I'm going to the stables to put Copper in the stables for the night, what are you doing out in the rain? May, you'll catch a chill!"
Mabel was 13 now, 3 years my junior, but I worried about her as if she were an infant. It used to drive her mad, the way I'd coddle her. I couldn't help it, some girls had dolls to play mother to, and I had my sister. Not only that, but Mabel always seemed so delicate to me. She was like a little flower, so shy and mousy, hiding her ivory face behind a shield of dark hair, and looking out into the world with her big, innocent cocoa-coloured eyes. She was a plain little thing, pretty in the way that a single orange leaf is in the autumn. A beauty, albeit, not an uncommon one.
Mabel blushed, "Daddy said he was going to go speak to some other Lords about finding me a husband, I was waiting for him to come home," she mumbled, her face beet red. I laughed and put my arm around her shoulder, gently moving us toward the stables, Copper clomping along in tow.
"Father isn't coming home for another few hours, Mabel, it's not worth standing around in the rain for, silly girl! Besides, aren't you a little young to be getting married?"
"Don't be daft, Vivian. He's not looking to marry me off right now. He's making plans for later."
"Ahhh," I smiled down at her, she was almost as tall as me, but not quite, "And I take it you're excited about this?" I arched my eyebrows as Mabel nodded enthusiastically. "It doesn't bother you that you don't know whomever Father is setting you up with?"
Mabel looked at me like I was mad, "No, not at all. Daddy knows what's best for us. He certainly did well for you – didn't he? You get to marry Alistair Churchill. I'm so jealous!" She elbowed me playfully, but I could feel my good mood slip away as soon as she said his name. I felt myself bite my lip.
Alistair Churchill was my betrothed. I'd met him only a couple of times, brief greetings at social events, mostly. Once our fathers had taken us on a hunting trip together. That was the extent of it. He was handsome enough, and pleasantly polite. I'm sure if I'd married him – something I curse myself to this day for not going through with – I'd have had a pleasant, quiet and comfortable life. The only problem was; I already had a plan for my life, I already had plans with the son of the man who had bred our horses. Blake Dunn.
Puddles had formed in the dips between the cobblestones, and I splashed through one as we arrived at the stables. I led Copper into her stall. Mabel gave me a sidelong glance. Those big brown eyes of hers never missed anything, and I was certain they hadn't missed the way the smile had drained from my face at the mention of Alistair. I just hoped she didn't bring it up. I was a very bad liar, and Mabel would see through anything I told her as if it were spider webs. She didn't mention it.
"What happened to your dress?" she asked, as we exited the stables and began walking home, sharing her umbrella. I blinked, having forgotten all about the mud streak up the front of my gown.
"I fell," I said simply, and picked up my pace.
Early the next morning, before mother and father awoke I snuck out to the stables. I saddled up Copper, today I had on my riding boots, a pair of pants I'd bought without my father's knowledge at the market, and a battered old blouse – today I was ready to get as muddy as I wanted. The night before, in celebration of having found Mabel a suitor – a fellow by the name of Cullen McCloud – he told us we both have the day off our classes. Not that I was planning to attend in any case, but now that I was actually allowed to be wherever I wanted, no one would question my coming home filthy and disheveled.
Copper grunted and pawed the ground, waving her head back and fourth.
"Copper, hey, calm down," I soothed her, gently grabbing her head and stroking her neck, "what's gotten into you? I'm the only one here, come on." Once she stopped fidgeting I led her out of her stall and hoisted myself onto her back. I gripped the reins, worn leather soft and familiar in my hands. I kicked my boots against Copper's tawny sides and snapped the reins, she barreled out of the stables and down the streets. Her hooves thudded loudly against the cobblestone, sparks flew from the ground as we sailed through the streets. I could spend the whole day with Blake today – the whole day! I hollered out just to hear my voice reverberate over the stones of the streets and the walls of the buildings, my heart racing like a beating drum. I wasn't even certain why I was so happy – I managed to find the time to see Blake almost every day, be it for riding lessons, or to pick up fresh grain for Copper and our other horses, or if I just flat out lied to my parents. But something about today felt different. Something about today felt lighter than air – I just can't explain it.
I kept Copper trotting, and running in short bursts until the stone streets of the city dissolved into narrow dirt roads flanked by rolling fields of golden wheat. We arrived at Blake's farm and I silently dismounted Copper and put her in the barn with the other horses, most of which she was related to. Not only did we buy here from Blake's family, we even chose her parents.
I tip toed across to the door into Blake's farm, putting all my effort and concentration into staying silent. I heard the thudding feet of a rabbit behind me and quelled my urge to shush it.
I creaked open the farm door and stole into Blake's house. Unlike my own parents, Blake's knew all about us. Blake was an even worse liar than I was, and his father was a smart man, he said, and would have found out weather Blake confessed or not. I didn't have to worry about being discovered by them, and in fact, if they saw me they would probably be more likely to sleepily offer me a cup morning tea than fly into a rage as my parents would have.
I snuck into Blake's room – a tiny space only big enough to fit a bed and literally nothing else. I saw a pile of blankets on his shabby bed and tip toed closer, daring not breath incase I awoke him. I got just close enough, and then pounced – only to find the pile of blankets was just that, no one was sleeping beneath them. Before I had time to think, something hooked me by the armpits and lifted me off the bed.
"Ack!" I cried, and I heard Blake laughing. He had the strong arms of a farmer, and could lift me as if I were a mewling kitten.
"And so the hunter becomes the hunted," he commented as he placed me back down.
"How did you know I was coming?" I asked glumly, not once, not ever once had I been able to surprise Blake. It was like he could read my mind.
"I was already awake – and I can recognize Copper's trot from a mile away. I knew it was you as soon as I heard her coming."
"You can recognize my horse's hoof-beats?" I exclaimed in exasperation, "That gives you an unfair advantage! How could I possibly be expected to ever sneak up on you?"
"Who said life was fair?" he asked, and grinned. How I'd come to love that unabashed smile of his. When he smiled, it took over his whole face. His green eyes – just the same shade as mine – glimmered, his ears moved, his mouth stretched wider than you can imagine, he had dimples in his cheeks and he just had this general warmth about him that drew people in. Or, at least, had drawn me in since the first time I saw him, about two years ago when we first visited his farm to pick out the parents of the horse that was to be my birthday present.
I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him. When I pulled away his smile was impossibly wide and his eyes danced. He ran a hand over a strand of dirty blond hair that had fallen over his eyes.
"Vivian," his word trailed off at the end and his gaze fell to the ground.
"Come with me," excitement was written all over his face and he grabbed my hand and pulled me away from the house, out into the forest, toward the brook. The sun was just rising now, causing every tree, every leaf, every flower to cast dramatic black shadows behind it. The sky was full of pinks and purples, and they reflected on the water. The water itself sang as it traveled over the pebbles within it.
Blake sat me down on a mossy rock, and sat himself on a rotting log across from it. He held both of my hands in his.
"Alright, so, I've thought a lot about this," he said, his voice – for once – serious. He sounded so strange with only sincerity to colour his words and no sarcasm or joking. I composed myself and waited to hear what he had to say. My heart was sinking, as he looked deeply into my eyes, more contemplative than I'd ever seen him, "so, you don't have to agree – I-I know you probably won't – a-and that's okay – just, as a favor to me, please don't laugh, whatever your answer. Okay?"
"Blake, what is it?" I leaned in closer to him, very concerned now. It wasn't Blake's way to be nervous like this.
"Well, I've been– " his voice cracked and he tried again, "Whenever I see you I –" his voice faltered again, and he frowned. Instead of speaking again, he dug down into his pant pocket and produced a tiny wooden box. He held it out for me, and I looked at it, my eyes widening. I said nothing – my throat was suddenly parched.
Blake licked his lips nervously as the silence went on, and flicked the lid of the box open with his finger,
"There's a r-ring," his voice cracked and he swallowed, "a ring in there, it belonged to my grandmother – I-I know it's not the sort of thing you're used to but it's the best I can do for now, I can buy you a better one, once people start buying my paintings and –"
"Yes!" I yelled, I didn't care who heard me. Joy filled my chest, the depth of which I had never known before – and would never know again. My heart felt so light, I feared it would grow wings and burst from my chest, my whole being felt charged with life and excitement. Wrapping my arms tightly around Blake, I kissed him. I could run away from the life of a Lord's daughter, I could run away from the grey city and live out here in the golden fields with the boy with the golden hair. I felt like singing, and dancing and screaming into the streets about what had just happened.
And then I was rudely snapped back to reality.
I turned from Blake, and the world seemed to move in slow motion as my eyes met the horror-stricken cocoa irises, of my sister Mabel.