The Woman in the Woods (Edited)
She paused for a moment, a flash of lightning exposing her face as she glanced back, making sure she wasn't followed, the following crash of thunder startling her and causing her to move faster. She had no idea why she needed to get home so quickly, but she couldn't stop the feeling of nerves washing over her.
She let out a sigh of relief as she saw her moss-covered door. To any passing stranger, they would think it was just an old fallen tree, that had become overgrown with moss. She loved the fact that she could live in peace and solitude. As she opened her door, she paused, another flash of lightning through the air, and the following crash of thunder deafening her ears, but in the following silence, she heard it. The sound of hoofbeats.
Edward urged his horse to run faster, glancing back over his shoulder at the men pursuing him. The slow drizzle turning quickly into a downpour, making it harder for him to see, and the tracks harder for him to see.
He turned to glance back once more, but as he did so, a strike of lightning flashed and landed in front of his horse. The horse spooked, rearing up on its hind legs, throwing Edward in the process. The horse, unaware of the loss of its rider, took off again, in a different direction.
Edward landed against a fallen tree, groaning in pain as he struggled to move. His vision slowly started to fade, but he could've sworn he heard a woman's voice, soothing and whispering to him softly. "You'll be alright. You're safe."
The soft sound of rain pattering against wood woke Edward, his eyes slowly opening to the sight of tree branches. He groaned, trying to remember how he got here, sitting up in a panic when he recalled being thrown off his horse, and the men chasing him. He looked around, but his gaze froze as he saw a woman with long ashen hair, stirring something in a pot over the fireplace.
He grunted in pain as his head throbbed, the woman turning and coming over to him, her hands gently laying him back. "You've got a concussion, as well as a broken arm and a sprained ankle. You shouldn't move too much." The woman turned to walk away from him, but he grabbed her wrist, her young face turning to look at him.
"Where," he coughed, his throat dry and raspy. She turned, grabbing a small cup from the table beside him, pouring in some water for Edward to drink. He started to drink greedily, but she pulled the cup away, looking at him sternly. "If you drink too fast, you'll choke. Drink slowly."
He looked bashful for a moment, but obeyed, sighing in relief as the dryness subsided from his throat. "Where am I?" He asked, looking around the humble cottage. It was plain and bare, except for a small picture on the wall, a small silver hand mirror, and a sword and shield hanging above the mantle on the fireplace.
"My home. I brought you inside after you fell. I'm sorry about your horse though. It ran off and I couldn't find it." The woman's voice held genuine sorrow as she spoke. Both of them sat in silence for a moment, only to jump at the sound of something boiling over, the woman hurrying over to the pot and stirring it. She removed the pot and put it on the cobblestones in the front.
She turned to the man, smiling softly as she dished up two bowls of the stew. As she worked effortlessly, Edward was sucked into his thoughts, wondering how in the world he was going to get home in the state he was. He was startled out of his thoughts by the woman helping him sit up, sitting beside him on the bed.
"I never asked your name. May I know what it is?" Edward said, admiring the woman's face for a moment. "It's Celeste." She said simply, putting the spoon to Edward's lips. They fell into a lapsed silence again as Celeste fed him, only the sound of the spoon scraping the bowl filling the air.
As soon as they had finished their meal, Celeste stood. "I need more bandages. I'm going to have to go into town. I'll be gone for a few hours. Do you think you'll be okay on your own that long...?" Celeste paused, realizing she didn't know his name either.
"It's Edward." He replied. "And I'll be fine. Please, you don't need to keep me here, I'll just be a burden." Edward tried to sit up, but he couldn't due to her hand on his shoulder. She was stronger than he looked, and he realized how weak he was in that simple action.
She smiled gently and placed a damp cloth on his forehead. "Sleep." She whispered before she stood, grabbing a cloak and a basket, before leaving.
Celeste walked through the forest, the sun shining through the leaves creating a halo on the ground as she walked. She marveled at the contrast in life activity compared to during the storm. Where it was silent, and not even a single mouse scurried about, it was now full of life and movement.
The birds were chirping and singing as if gossiping to each other as young girls would, and the forest creatures moved about actively, exploring the freshly upturned dirt, the birds going after the worms and insects that had come to the surface after the heavy rains.
By the time Celeste got into town, it was nearly high noon, and the streets were full and bustling. She pulled down the hood of her cloak, going to the tavern where she got her typical medicinal supplies. She froze when seeing that it was full of soldiers, but quickly recovered, and went towards the bar, where Bertha Bartem, the tavern owner's wife was serving ales.
"Why hello Dear. What brings ya back to town so early?" Bertha asked as Celeste came into her sight. "Hello, Mrs. Bartem. I ran out of bandages so I came back into town to get more. It's nearly that time of the month again." She lowered her voice, the lie slipping through Celeste's lips easily.
She felt a small amount of guilt for lying to the woman, but she didn't know if the man was hiding from people or not. So better to make up a reason.
Bertha nodded in understanding and bent under the counter to start grabbing some supplies. "Bertha, what are all these soldiers doing here? Has something happened in the war?" Celeste asked once Bertha came back up with the cloth.
"Why dear, haven't you heard?! The Crown Prince went missing last night during the storm! And it seems his younger brother is trying to declare himself King! Poor King Albert has become so weak he might not live past this next fortnight."
"And what's worse of all! Even if the Crown Prince is found, he might have to fight his younger brother just to keep his birthright!"
Bertha shook her head, her voice lowering so only Celeste could hear it. "If you happen upon any strangers in the woods, I'd best suggest that I'd be keepin their whereabouts to myself, so they don't come looking for trouble." Bertha smiled and slips some extra herbs and bandages in the basket, before handing it back.
"Be careful Lassie. Don't go looking for trouble now ya' hear? Oh, and here's a poster for you, in case ya stumble upon you know who." Bertha said, handing her a poster of the Crown Prince. Celeste didn't pay much attention to it, sliding it into her basket and turning to leave after paying Bertha.
She was stopped by a grim-looking soldier, his eyes leering over her form as he held her arm. "Where ya think you're going, Missy?" Celeste calmly removed her arm from his grasp, stepping back away from him. "I'm on my way to go finish my shopping, Sir. If you'll excuse me." Celeste turned, making sure she wasn't being followed as she walked out into the bustling street of the town.
As soon as she knew she was clear, she ran down the street between the smiths' shop and the butchers' house, taking the back road into the forest. She ran for about a mile, before finally stopping for breath, panting and gasping as she sat against the forest floor.
From the corner of her eye, she saw the piece of paper that Bertha had given her fall out of her basket and onto the forest floor. Picking it up, she turned it over in curiosity only to almost drop it in shock.
The face on the paper staring up at her was none other than Edward, the man she had found in the forest.