Chapter 1 - Myrtilles
As I walked through the woods, I could not help but smile. Spring was beginning to depart, and summer was just beginning to open her bright and cheery eyes. All around me, the wild roses were bursting into bloom, the bluebells ringing, the sweet violets chattering amongst themselves, and, naturally, the orchids were poking into everyone else’s business.
On my arm hung my basket, slowly being filled with all sorts of wild bush berries. One always had to be careful what berries they picked, as some were poisonous, and some did nightmares on both the stomach and digestive track. However, the berries that could be eaten were wonderful. There was a lovely field not far from my home that was covered in low growing blueberry and crowberry bushes. Visiting it was an especially useful venture as I was planning on baking a delicious blueberry galette for dessert. I licked my lips at the thought.
Reaching the field, I quickly settled myself down next to a particularly large bush and began to fill my basket. As I picked, berry after berry, I hummed whispers of the little songs that I believed my mother had once sung to me. They were lovely songs that spoke of love, loss, nature, and magic. I had been very young when she died. Growing up, I had heard stories of her beauty, elegance, and energy for life. I hoped that I was like her. I wanted so very much to be like her.
As my thoughts wandered, I was brought back to the present by a slight rumbling in my stomach. Looking around, I very quickly noticed that the sun was high, nearly at mid-day. My shoulders tensed. Oh no, I had to get back home at once and help with lunch. My stepmother and stepsister would become terse when food was late, often when it was on time, and occasionally when it was early. If I wanted a calm, peaceful, and quiet evening, then both lunch and dinner needed to be prompt. Then with our happy moods we could all sit, read, and embroider together.
Placing the last of the blueberries in my basket, I stood up and quickly wiped my hands on my apron. Careful not to step on any of the berry bushes, I positioned my feet with precision and worked my way back to the woodland path. In a way, each of the little steps felt like a complicated dance that connected me to the earth while sending me gliding above it. I smiled at that thought.
After exiting the clearing, I very quickly went on my way, while doing everything possible to not bump my berry basket too hard. I was not about to make all my berry picking efforts go to waste. If I was going to risk a late lunch, I ought to at least get something in return, and a blueberry galette sounded so perfect. My tongue and stomach were already moving in anticipation.
As it was, my basket would get more than a little jolt. As I was walking along, I became quite distracted by the birds and my thoughts. I had to figure out what to make for lunch. We still had some bread left from the loaf I had bought at the baker’s the previous day. That would work well. Just as I was thinking of precisely what type of soup would be fast to make and taste delicious too, I was disturbed from my reverie in the most jarring and unexpected way.
“Beautiful day we’re having.”
My stomach lifted into my chest as my heart rate skyrocketed and I swear that I jumped two feet off the ground in fright giving an alarmed squeal in the process. Unfortunately, I had always been a little jumpy. I checked my basket to be sure that I had not lost any of the berries. Fortunately, the cloth I had placed over them had kept the majority safely inside the basket. Checking my heart rate, I turned towards where the voice had come from.
There, sitting against the tree, I saw a boy. He was not much older than me, perhaps a few years, and was dressed rather finely in the green uniform of a castle courier. Unfortunately, the green had not made him easier to spot in the middle of the forest. For the first time, the thought crossed my mind and I wished that his Majesty could consider putting all his couriers in red. This courier was wearing a light brown undercoat; however, his green coat was lying right beside him. Turning my attention to him, I noticed the wide grin covering his face. A part of me recognized how I must look with my hair coming out of its updo, berries around my feet, and a look of shock on my face, yet, another part of me wanted to give him a good shake for startling me so, especially while he seemed so eager to laugh at the sight I made.
“I’m sorry for startling you.” He stood and walked to me, holding out his hand. “I’m Nick.”
He was much taller than me, nearly a whole head, and though I felt small next to him, it wasn’t due to bulging muscles. He was lithe and lean, and strangely I felt rather comfortable in his presence. I gazed up at him, considering my options. “You shouldn’t have frightened me so!”
“I am very sorry for that. Will you tell me your name?” He asked, gazing down at me.
I debated for a second, but I’ve always been a more trusting individual. “I’m Mariella.”
His smile grew wider, if that could be even considered possible. “Well lady Mariella, I hope you will accept my apology and allow me to help carry your basket as penance for my follies.” He declared, descending into a small, yet gracious bow.
I smiled at his playful airs, which seemed to relax him slightly. I considered that perhaps he had been truly worried that he may have caused some offence. I made the action of a small curtsy. “Why thank you Sir Nick. Your apology is accepted, and your offer graciously received.”
We tried to stay serious as I handed him my basket, yet on that account we failed miserably. Before we had even taken two steps we were laughing and smiling as though we already held some secret joke between us.
I noticed that he had shortened his steps to match with mine. “Do you have a favorite flower?” I asked, looking up at him.
He seemed surprised by my question, and I would have scolded myself for asking such a random question, but, thankfully, he thought about it for a moment and then answered. “I really love those little blue ones. Forget-me-nots I think they’re called.”
My head nodded. They were a pretty flower and one of my favorites too. I didn’t realize what I said next until I had already said it. “You don’t want to be forgotten.” I cursed inwardly for my foolishness, but again, he answered.
“I don’t think anyone wants to be forgotten. Perhaps some of us have loftier dreams and wish to be remembered by many and others are content with being remembered by the few souls we hold dear, but we all want to be remembered.” His face held a contemplative air that made me want to pick his brain and ask him more questions.
He grabbed a blueberry from the basket and popped it into his mouth before I could stop him.
“Hey!” I gave him a small playful shove. “Don’t steal my blueberries!”
He laughed while jumping away from me as he held the basket. “But they’re so delicious.”
He ate another.
I jumped after him. Turning it into a game of cat or mouse, unfortunately he was faster and continually slipped through my grasp. I was sure that he was toying with me, waiting till I almost caught him and then jumping out of my reach. “You’re playing with me! Stop it! You’re going to drop my blueberries!” I cried, trying to stop from laughing.
A mischievous glint filled his eyes. “If I can’t play with you then how will I get to know you?”
I jumped for the basket, missed, and then jumped again. Unfortunately, I was less lucky the second time. As I jumped, the tip of my shoe caught against a root and I fell, very unladylike I might add, flat on my face.
He hurried over to me, bending down to the ground. “Are you alright?”
I took this as my chance as I grabbed the basket and held it to me. My mischievous gaze looked up into his somewhat worried expression, which, after seeing my actions, broke out into one of relief and laughter.
“You had me worried there.” He stated, helping me to my feet. “Did you fall on purpose to get the basket?”
“Not at all. I merely took advantage of a great opportunity.”
He nodded his head. Seeming to respect my answer. “What are the blueberries for?”
“They are for dessert if you must know.” I licked my lips as my eyes raised up dreaming at the thought. “A delicious blueberry galette.”
I felt that he would have asked me more about the galette and maybe even requested to try some, but before he could do so we had turned around a particularly large bend and passed an old gnarly tree as Swanwell Manor came into view.
“So, this is where you live?” his voice came out quietly, as if he wasn’t even asking me a question.
“Yes. This is home.”
He nodded almost imperceptibly. “I don’t know much about this estate. Is it large?”
“Quite large.” I told him enthusiastically. “We have many acres of beautiful forest and hunting ground. If my father wasn’t always away either dealing with our interests or maintaining his responsibilities for the King’s court, then he would be out here hunting almost every day!”
“Then you are the lady of the house.”
I felt my cheeks heat up as I blushed at those words. “Only one of them. My mother and older sister are above me in hierarchy.”
For an unknown reason, his eyes seemed to look at me somewhat quizzically, but he didn’t say anything else as we walked the rest of the way up the road.
Kindly, he accompanied me to the door. As we reached it, he turned towards me and took my hand into his, pulling it to his lips as he kissed the back of my hand in a very grand fashion. “I thank you Lady Mariella for spending some of your day with a humble courier like myself and I hope that I will have the honor of seeing you again and continuing our acquaintance?”
Engaging with his playful grandiosity I answered, “of course Sir. I would be delighted.”
We smiled at each other before I heard the voice of Emilee call from inside. “Mariella? Is that you?”
I turned towards the door for a second before turning back and kissing Nick upon his cheek. His eyes went wide and he began to smile as my eyes went wide in almost horror and I began to realize what I had done. I gave a quick curtsy. “Thank you for your help Nick. It was most lovely.” And then, before he could respond, I ran inside the house and straight to the kitchen