I Do Desire We Should Be Better Strangers
Althea carefully gathered the items she had used in the night knowing she’d have to make her way down from the tree. Though she felt her strength returning and her pain at bay, her ankle surely needed to be used, or it would go stiff and make her vulnerable. Her arm was more complicated, but she would make it through. If a cold stream was nearby, she could soak it to reduce the swelling further.
She made her way down the same side of the tree she climbed up as she knew those footholds would hold. Last thing she needed was some break in a limb and undo the healing she had done.
Once upon the ground, she stopped for a moment, listened to the earth with her ears, her skin, and through the bare foot exposed through the wrapping. She could not sense the constant and uneven strides of Immortuos. Her muscles relaxed only slightly to the thought of being secure on the hill and near the tree.
She walked slowly to the edge of the hill to look out over where she found herself. The Woods were a dense, thick maze, and where you could emerge was anyone’s guess. She had surely reached the end of it, because a Plain stretched out from the other side of the hill. And beyond, barely even visible in the distance, she could see its outline and undeniably distinct shape. The Hill and the Castle on top.
Dammit. Had she truly made it so close? Dammit!
“This must be Shimmer Plain then,” Althea thought to herself. It truly upheld the name and shimmered in the sun like a pool of gold. Though she didn’t want to be any nearer to Base Village or the Hill than this, she knew that Shimmer Plain had some plants for salves unique only to that area, and she could use it. “Just one stop.”
She turned to go and immediately tensed. Before she registered consciously, her body reacted with muscle memory and poised in a ground-based stance. And so had he. How could she not notice someone on the other side of the tree? How did she not sense him?
Both Althea and this stranger found themselves still as posts despite the breeze and movement of the earth. Both in a stance could bear against attack or bolt in an instant. Both clearly startled, even somewhat frightened behind their guarded eyes. Neither willing to make the first move even to breathe. They both silently assessed the other without making a single motion, both obviously trained to do so.
The stranger relaxed first after his assessment. This girl’s eyes were clear and unclouded, her hair was recently put up in a thoughtful and calculated manner, and her stillness was not the driven impulse for violence of the Immortuos. His things were behind him, so he was safely guarded in his position.
But her things were on the other side of him too, on the side of the tree she had descended from. Stupid! Althea remained on guard.
“If I swear no harm, will I get the same?” His voice was not of music, but it was calming in a way that can’t be taught. Despite her strong guard, Althea felt her muscles relax at his voice. His stance was confident without arrogance, short hair and dark, and in no way did he show any signs of nobility. But he was obviously trained, and the natural lilt of compelling calm in his voice was not common.
Both bodies relaxed a little. In times where fear and suspicion had made the world bitter, even the small chance of a moment peace was too rare to pass up.
She looked at him closer, and he did the same. Something about him was still and soothing, nothing in him seemed startling. HIs eyes brown of the earth, dark like his hair. His skin was darkened beyond its natural tone from the sun almost as much as hers was, so he was not of a large and fortified village...the only places left with homes. But there were no scars or signs of a clumsy existence of hiding in nature as most had, at least those who were left. Clearly he was adapted to living away from shelters. He was unmistakably handsome and not just in features and symmetry, but in the aura around him. Even those without the Healers eye for such things would be able to feel an aura as warm and gentle as his.
She hadn’t even noticed his scan of her lingered on her wrapped and injured ankle. His continence suddenly changed and livened. He even developed something of an attempt to conceal a smile he couldn’t help that came to him.
“You’re who they’re looking for. You have to be!”